Responding to the True Light — Reflections on John 1:6-13
John 1:12–13 (ESV): But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Does it ever seem to you that the gospel is too good to be true? The good news that Jesus died on the cross 2,000 years ago to pay for your sins and mine and that by trusting in this fact we can be assured of life eternal and avoid the just wrath of God seems way too good to be true.
Whenever we’re presented with an offer that seems too good to be true, we react skeptically. These reactions are probably justified because for the most part offers that seem to be too good to be true are, in fact, too good to be true.
But the unbelieving world rejects the good news of the gospel not just because it’s too good to be true, but because due to sin we either: (1) don’t think we have a problem to begin with, or (2) don’t think Jesus is the answer to our problems.
In John 1:6-13, we see three things going on here:
- John’s Witness to the True Light (vv. 6-8)
- Rejection of the True Light (vv. 9-11)
- Receiving the True Light (vv. 12-13)
In vv. 6-8, we’re introduced for the first time to this “man sent from God, whose name was John.” This is clearly John the Baptist, not John the Gospel writer. As we’ll learn later, this “man sent from God” is to be the forerunner of the Messiah, the one who heralds the coming of the King. He will bear witness regarding the True Light, which is the Eternal, Creative, Life-Giving Word who will become flesh. He is clearly not the True Light, but comes to point the way to the True Light “that all might believe through him.”
What’s interesting about John’s witness is that it’s all about Christ. John doesn’t talk about himself. He doesn’t talk about how Jesus turned his life around. All he does is bear witness about the Light. The Gospel of John is a book of testimony. John the Evangelist is gathering witnesses to prove his thesis that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. John the Baptist is the first witness that the Evangelist calls.
In vv. 9-11, we see that the True Light was coming into the world. That’s the “good news.” Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God became flesh and dwelt among us (more on that next time). That’s what John is bearing witness too. However, there are those in the world who “did not know him.” Jesus came into the very world that was made through him (John 1:3), and the world did not recognize him. They didn’t recognize him because they love the darkness (as John will say later in ch. 3).
This concept of “light & dark” operates on the spiritual and moral plane. Darkness refers both to the fact that fallen mankind does not recognize God in the world and rejects spiritual truths, and the fact that we are also morally depraved (our deeds are evil). As such, when the True Light, which gives revelatory light to all men, comes into the world, the world refuses to recognize him. The unbelieving world rejects Jesus.
What’s worse is that Jesus “came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” Jesus came as the long-awaited Jewish Messiah, but his own people rejected him; they did not receive him as such.
The moral of the story here is that all kinds of people reject Jesus. Irreligious and unbelieving people reject Jesus because they will not submit to his kingship and renounce their wicked ways and come to Jesus for forgiveness. Religious people reject Jesus for much the same reasons, but they do so because Jesus doesn’t fit their pre-conceived perceptions of what a Messiah should look like.
But it’s not all bad news as there are those to receive Jesus and believe in his name. Receiving and believing in Jesus is (1) recognizing that he is the Messiah and that he is God in human flesh, and (2) trusting and resting in his name (that is how he has revealed himself in the Bible). It is to these people that have been given the awesome privilege to be called children of God.
This privilege does not come through human means. We can’t be born into God’s family, we can’t desire to be in God’s family, and we can’t orchestrate it through human ingenuity. The privilege of being called children of God comes only by God himself. John will later tell us the story of Jesus and Nicodemus in which he tells Nicodemus that in order to enter into the kingdom of God one must be born again. This is spiritual rebirth, and not something that fallen human beings can do. It is solely a work of the Holy Spirit.
So if you’re a child of God, if you have received and believed in the name of Jesus, praise God! This was not something you achieved on your own, but it is a gracious and merciful act of God for the glory of his name!