(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
The Word Made Flesh
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
John’s prelude was like the overture to a great musical work. “In the beginning” was the first of many allusions to Genesis 1-2—Jesus the creator was creating anew. The “life” and “light” images also came from those “beginning” stories. “The Word” told both Jewish and Greek readers why Jesus mattered so much. “The Word,” who was with God and WAS God, “made his home among us” (verse 14). God did not shun our darkened world, but came to live here—and in this world, Jesus’ life created new life and light for all who trusted in him.
John the gospel writer introduced us to John the Baptist (or Baptizer), a fiery preacher of repentance. People wondered if he might be the long-awaited Messiah, but he directed their attention to Jesus. Andrew and Philip answered Jesus’ call, and then invited Peter and Nathanael to join them in following Jesus.
Jesus changed water in jars used for ritual purification (verse 6) to wine as a sign that he offered a better way than his day’s rigid, repressive ritual system. When he cleansed the Temple, he challenged an ugly, lying trade. The Temple rulers exploited their control of Temple shekels and ritual animals to make huge profits from pilgrims who came to worship God. In linking these two stories, John said Jesus was declaring that he was the way to God, not rituals that had become more obstacle than signpost.
John’s story introduced one powerful man–Nicodemus, a Pharisee—and returned to John the Baptist, the great prophet. The two men drew their power and greatness from very different sources. Nicodemus’ authority came from religious status attained through strict outward piety. John the Baptist’s authority came from his God-given message, pointing to the greatness of the coming Messiah, not to himself. John’s humble joy as Jesus “increased” (verse 30) showed the inner change Jesus spoke of to Nicodemus.
Jews and Samaritans tended to shun each other. But John said Jesus “had to go through Samaria” (verse 4). That wasn’t a geographic requirement, as the map on page 2 shows. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear John was describing a spiritual necessity. Jesus talked openly with a woman even the Samaritans no doubt shunned. He offered her “living water,” and her response made her the first witness to Jesus in John’s story.
Jesus was at ease in Samaria, but his disciples probably weren’t. Jesus must have amazed them by saying, in that hostile city, “Open your eyes and notice that the fields are already ripe for the harvest” (verse 35). But the fields WERE ripe—many Samaritans accepted Jesus’ message. John then underscored Jesus’ inclusive caring by telling of his “long-distance” healing of a royal official’s ill son. The man probably worked for Herod and/or the Romans, but that didn’t bother Jesus, and Jesus’ power richly repaid the father’s trust.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Oh God, thank you for the Bible, which can almost let us feel as if we talked and walked with Jesus as he appeared to the people of New Testament times. We offer our bodies, minds and hearts to the message of Jesus as we bask in his light. We humbly acknowledge that the best that we are, have been and will ever be comes from your transforming mercy and grace. We offer ourselves to you in Jesus’ name, Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
Do you feel that we live in wonderful times, with amazing new technologies and know-how, or do you feel that we live in difficult times? Do you find this world beautiful or ugly? Do you wish your departed family and friends could experience today’s exciting times, or are you glad they don’t have to witness and experience today’s difficulties?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read John 1:1-18. John helped us to understand that the coming of Jesus Christ changed the world and our lives. What did his life on earth change? How does the very idea of God deciding to live among us affect your view of the nature of God? What if God had chosen to remain “at a distance”? John used the term “new life” and said that we had become God’s children. How have you found that true in your own life, and the lives of others you know?
Read John 1:19-51. When asked where he was staying, Jesus said, “Come and see.” Do you think that Jesus meant to say something more than simply seeing where he was temporarily housed? In what ways has your faith grown when you have been willing to “come and see”? Do you think, at this early stage of Jesus’ ministry, the disciples understood the significance of the terms “Lamb of God”? What does the title “the Lamb of God” mean to you? How can we, especially during this season of Lent, “listen” to Jesus more intently?
Read John 2:1-25. Jesus turned water into wine (his first miracle) using jars that were used for Jewish ritual purification. Do you see any significance to using these jars? How was Jesus’ way better than the rigid, repressive ritual system of the Jews of that time? What upset Jesus about the Temple practices of selling sacrificial animals and changing foreign monies? Do you find Jesus’ actions surprising? What message was he sending to the religious leaders in Jerusalem? What would their reaction have been? Reread verse 25. What does this verse say to you?
Read John 3:1-36. Nicodemus was a leader of the Pharisees. Why did Nicodemus come to Jesus at night? What did Nicodemus saying, “…we know that you are a teacher who has come from God” imply? Do you think Nicodemus’ talk with Jesus changed him? What makes you think so (see John 7:45-52; John 19:38-42)? What does “born again” mean to you? John said, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven.” Has this been true for you? What does this say about our need for humility in the wake of our successes?
Read John 4:1-30. Although women usually came to the wells together, this woman came alone. Why? With that in mind, when Jesus offered living water that would become “a spring of water welling up to eternal life,” what reaction would you have expected her to have? Do most Christians have a similar hopeful reaction, knowing that, without Christ, their sins will keep them from eternal life? Jesus said it wasn’t important where we worship, but rather that we worship “in spirit and in truth.” What does this mean? Why is there value in worshipping together whenever possible?
Read John 4:31-54. John did not only tell us that people came to believe, but reported why the people believed. Briefly share why each of you believe in Jesus. What have you seen, heard, read or felt that has strengthened your belief?
From last week: As you went through last week, did you do your best to live out the admonition to “love others as you love yourself”? Did you mentally project yourself into their situations? Were you concerned about their well-being, while not ignoring your own? Did you, as much as is possible, offer others the support they needed? Did you do this especially for those you have not been especially friendly with? Please share with the group whatever you experienced.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Hamilton’s sermon of February 24, 2013:
Let’s jump in with the big idea, the premise of the entire gospel, that Jesus embodies God’s Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God…And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth…No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Fathers heart, who has made him known.”
The Greek word used by John for the Word is LOGOS. It is the root of our words Logic and Logical. The Stoics spoke of the Logos as the mind and purpose of God that permeated all of creation. John says that this Word he is about to tell us about was in the beginning, was with God, and was God. He goes on to say: “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” Remember, in Genesis, God speaks and creation happens: “And God said, ‘Let there be light!’ and there was light, and God saw that it was good.” This Word is the heart, character, will and mind of God. It is the Logic that created the cosmos. It is by this logic that we “live and move and have our being.”
So far no philosopher or theologian of the first century would object to what John has said. Jews and Greeks would agree that the universe is logical, and that its logic is the mind of God. God is logical. Further, God desires to speak to us. The premise of the Bible is that the God who created the universe wants to be known by human beings. Again, few in the first century would have debated this lofty and powerful statement.
But then we come to verse 14 and John makes his outlandish claim: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” As he begins his gospel on the life of Jesus, John is telling us that God’s heart, mind, logic, will and desire to reveal himself to the human race has been wrapped in human flesh, coming to us as a person, in Jesus Christ!
He’ll end his prologue restating the claim, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Fathers heart, who has made him known.”
We call this the doctrine of the incarnation. “Incarnate” means to enflesh. John does not tell us how this happens—that Jesus embodies God’s word. The church would spend the next three hundred years working out how to express Jesus’ divinity and his humanity, and the nature of the Trinity. John’s not concerned about that—he is concerned that you know that everything else he will say in this book about Jesus is pointing to who God is and what God is like.
Human beings have always believed in God, but what is this God like? Prophets and lawgivers and preachers have tried to describe God based upon their experiences of God and their own logic. But in Jesus, God stepped into our world. The Word became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth. This is why Jesus is so central to our faith as Christians. His birth, life, teachings, miracles, death and resurrection answer the questions, “Who is God? What does God expect of us?”…
In the prologue, John says, “In him was life and that life was the light of all people.” Notice this mention of “life.” In him, the “Word made flesh,” in Jesus, was life. This is a hugely important idea in John. In fact, John 20:31 says that he wrote his gospel “So that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
42 times John uses the word “life” in his gospel. Most of the time it is Jesus who speaks of the life he offers, and usually he describes this as “eternal life.” The most famous of these is the most famous verse in the entire gospel, what Barth called the “gospel in miniature,” John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
But in John eternal life is not just what happens after we die. It is certainly that, so Jesus says in John: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will never die.” Of course most who believed in him would physically die, but there would be life after death. But for John, eternal life begins now—it is a state in which you are not afraid of death, in which you experience a new life in Christ. In John 5, Jesus says: “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
We have eternal life now. It is a promise that we have life after death, a promise Jesus will dramatically illustrate in raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11, and in his own resurrection. But it is also living in God’s kingdom here and now, living with purpose, receiving God’s forgiveness, knowing we are loved. We walk in his light. His presence sustains and keeps us.
How do we access this life? In John the primary way we access life is by believing and trusting in Christ. You trust in him. You trust that his words are the words of life. You trust that he is the way and the truth and the life. And you begin to walk with him.
This is what we mean when we speak of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ—it is trusting in him, talking to him, listening for him, believing him, following him, knowing him, walking with him. “In him is life, and that life is the light of all people.”
I read this great quote from Russell Moore in Christianity Today recently: “For too long, we’ve called unbelievers to ‘invite Jesus into your life.’ Jesus doesn’t want to be in your life. Your life’s a wreck. Jesus calls you into his life. And his life isn’t boring or purposeless or static. It’s wild and exhilarating and unpredictable.”
Why is Jesus called the “Word” in John 1?
The answer to this question is found by first understanding the reason why John wrote his gospel. We find his purpose clearly stated in John 20:30-31. “Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” Once we understand that John’s purpose was to introduce the readers of his gospel to Jesus Christ, establishing Who Jesus is (God in the flesh) and what He did, all with the sole aim of leading them to embrace the saving work of Christ in faith, we will be better able to understand why John introduces Jesus as “The Word” in John 1:1.
By starting out his gospel stating, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” John is introducing Jesus with a word or a term that both his Jewish and Gentile readers would have been familiar with. The Greek word translated “Word” in this passage is Logos, and it was common in both Greek philosophy and Jewish thought of that day. For example, in the Old Testament the “word” of God is often personified as an instrument for the execution of God’s will (Psalm 33:6; 107:20; 119:89; 147:15-18). So, for his Jewish readers, by introducing Jesus as the “Word,” John is in a sense pointing them back to the Old Testament where the Logos or “Word” of God is associated with the personification of God’s revelation. And in Greek philosophy, the term Logos was used to describe the intermediate agency by which God created material things and communicated with them. In the Greek worldview, the Logos was thought of as a bridge between the transcendent God and the material universe. Therefore, for his Greek readers the use of the term Logos would have likely brought forth the idea of a mediating principle between God and the world.
Jesus was the expression of God’s love the way you or I might use a word to express our love. It’s kind of a spoken event that inspires or causes actual action. But God is so powerful and all-encompassing that in Jesus His word becomes flesh—a human being, a separate entity yet still part of the Holy Trinity (that is united. A paradox, but that’s another question.)
The Greek word was ‘logos,’ and it corresponds to the Hebrew thought in the Old Testament that God spoke, and things happened. The Greeks used ‘logos’ to mean either an inward thought or an actual word. John knew that this word would’ve made sense to the culture he was writing in and would resonate in a certain way with Greeks and Jews both.
This week, focus on this season of Lent. During Lent, many Christians prepare for Easter through fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. The purpose is to set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ, his life, suffering, and sacrifice, his death, burial and resurrection. Do this and next week share with the group how these practices affected your week.