Friday, April 18, 2008

1 John 1:1-4 (2)

Let’s look at verses two and three together. ‘which we have heard, which have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-this life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us’. Its in these verses that we hit the crux of John’s argument in this prologue, and where he starts to strike the death knell for Gnosticism.

The Apostle claims that he has heard, seen, looked upon and touched that which was from the beginning. He is of course talking about what Christians call the incarnation, the truth that the man Jesus of Nazareth is in fact the eternal Son of God. Notice how in each of the clauses about Johns witness he ups the ante slightly. He has heard and seen that which was from the beginning. Well good, but Moses could say that, so could Isaiah, there’s nothing special or new about what John is talking about yet. Then he says he has looked upon Jesus. The phrase looked upon here has more weight in the original Greek than it does in English. Looked upon means something like to have thoughtfully observed or spent time looking at. It means to have visually examined something like an investigator at a crime scene rather than to have simply glanced at something. He’s not just seen Jesus. He’s looked at him, and he believed in him. There is weight to what John is saying about Jesus.

And what’s more they have touched it with their hands. Again a closer meaning of this phrase would be something like to have examined closely, to have investigated with your hands rather than simply to have touched. These last two clauses seem to refer to a time when the disciples would have had the time to gaze thoughtfully at Jesus and to handle Him in their seeking of the truth about Him. This time could well be post resurrection, and certainly the idea of Jesus being physically investigated reminds us of Thomas touching His wounds and believing at the end of the Gospel accounts.

These things concern the word of life. These things concern Christ. The Gospel announces and offers life in Christ. And this offer of life is only available because it was made manifest to us. That’s how John could say that he has seen and heard and handled the Christ…because He was made manifest to him and to the rest of the disciples.

This is a very important point. Hebrews 1:1 tells us ‘Long ago…God spoke to our fathers by the prophets but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son’. This God who we could never have imagined has made Himself manifest to us though His eternal, divine Son Jesus Christ. And Jesus was not a man who became God, or attained divine attributes at some point during His life. He was not half man and half God, there wasn’t some constant inner turmoil between the divine and the temporal. Jesus was, and is, the God-man. This is a huge problem for Christianity, but when we grasp it, a huge answer to many problems.

In summing up the incarnation the German Reformer Martin Luther says ‘we should point to the whole man Jesus and say ‘that is God’. We’ve become blasé about this as Christians but just for a moment look at the person nest to you. And imagine that instead of sitting next to matt, or Mandy or Ellie, you’re sitting next to God in all His fullness. But at the same time He’s a thirty something carpenter. It is amazing. Jim Packer says ‘the really staggering claim is that Jesus Christ was God made man… The more you think about it the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is as staggering as the truth of the incarnation.’

The life was made manifest, John says in verse two. And how? Though a baby born in the middle of nowhere who grew up and lived a desperately normal life while he worked as a carpenter for thirty years. It’s crazy isn’t it? No wonder so many people have tried to deal with it by separating the two, as was going on in this church. But the clear Biblical teaching is that Jesus was everything a man should be and everything God is in one man. And, just as an aside, he almost certainly did not look like a woman with a beard as so many contemporary portraits make him out to be.

This is how God has revealed Himself to us. And we must work under this truth. So many of our friends questions are misguided away from this point. If you believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the God-man, then suddenly it becomes less of a problem to believe that He walked on water, healed the sick, fed the five thousand, died for our sins on the cross and rose again on the third day. If we can convince our friends of this then all their questions will fall into place. In Jesus the spiritual realm and the physical realm met. This is Christianity biggest problem, but its most glorious, life giving reality. Christ is Himself the life that John talks about in verse 2. This is the central confession of the Christian faith. And it’s wonderful.

What was John’s response to that in the rest of verse 2? The life that has been seen and testified to must be proclaimed. Jesus must be made known. He must be made known to combat heresy in the church, as here, and He must be made known to unbelievers, which we’ll come back to. The point that John makes in verse 1 is so important that he takes the time to restate it here, much like in the first two verses of his Gospel. The eternal life that has been with the Father since the beginning has can be testified to because it has been manifested in the historical life of Jesus.

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