Sermon Discussion Questions
1. If Jesus is the light, is true, why do people reject Him?
2. If we too are lovers of darkness, how did we come to receive Christ?
3. What does it look like for you to create an environment/community that fosters a love of truth?
4. Why does Peter ask Jesus to depart from him in Luke 5?
Some news doesn’t require anything from you—you are simply informed. So, for instance, I wonder if you have followed bill H.R. 1060 introduced to the 118th congress by representative Pete Aguilar from the 33rd district of California, a bill: “To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 1663 East Date Place in San Bernardino, California, as the "Dr. Margaret B. Hill Post Office Building". If you are biting your fingernails, the bill has only been introduced—it hasn’t passed yet!
Okay, that’s boring news. Bu, that is how most of the news today should work. Some news, however, requires a response. For instance, if you were Dr. Margaret B. Hill and someone wanted, in honor of your prestigious teaching career and advocacy for children, wanted to name a government building after you, you’d need to respond. You’d have to make a decision.
Now, that illustration is totally lame in comparison with what we are going to talk about today. So, let’s try another one. In 2009 Richard Phillips, captain of the Maersk Alabama, a commercial container vessel, is kidnapped by Somali pirates and held hostage on a small lifeboat. Three Navy SEAL snipers take out the pirates, and then another climbs into the boat and extends a hand down to the bedraggled captain, offering him an escape to safety.
The gospel is an offer presented to you.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
…9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:1-5, 9-13)
John, here, compares the son of God with “true light.” What does that mean? I think by “true light” John here is simply referring to the fact that Jesus is not a reflected or artificial light, like the moon or a lantern (cf. John 1:6-8; 5:35), but He is like the Sun who enlightens everyone. At the very beginning of the chapter John gave us a better picture of what this light is. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” (John 1:4-5).
So we are told this light shines in the “darkness,” the absence of light, which is the absence of life that is in God. But the “darkness” we are told does not “overcome” the light as it shines among it. The word for “overcome” here (καταλαμβάνω) literally means to “seize eagerly.” So, it is used later in John to describe the woman who is “caught” (καταλαμβάνω) in adultery (John 8:3-4) or in Mark 9:18 to describe a demon forcibly arresting a boy. And it is that sense that the ESV has used in translating it as “overcome,” the darkness is not able to overpower the light of life—no matter how dark it is, light always wins.
But the word can also mean to apprehend cognitively, that is, to understand. “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived (καταλαμβάνω) that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus,” (Acts 4:13). The word comes from the same word for “receive” used later in verses 11 (παραλαμβάνω) and 12 (λαμβάνω). In those instances, “receiving” Jesus doesn’t have to do with a physical reception, but an acceptance of who He is and what He claims to be, or as John puts it: “to believe in his name.”
So, there is likely a sense in which the darkness does not overcome the light, but also a sense in which it simply does not comprehend it, does not accept it. They see the light, and they just blink, and turn back to the darkness. Why? Why would anyone turn away from light?
“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil,” (John 3:19). John is explaining that we are motivated reasoners. What the heart finds lovely, the mind finds reasonable. You are controlled by your desires. Consider the account of the atheist, Aldous Huxley, explaining why he rejected belief in God:
“I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; and consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics. He is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do,” (Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means).
What is Huxley saying? He is saying, “Don’t think we are being objective here—we don’t want there to be a God, because if God exists, we can’t do what we want to do.”
Of course, a critic might say, “Well that’s not fair. You Christians are just as motivated in your reasoning. You want Christianity to be true.” To which we would say, Of course we do. But we must be able to separate out Truth and our apprehension of it. God either exists or He does not; Jesus either was raised from the dead or He was not. True or false. Those facts exist regardless. But how do we come to know those facts? We examine the evidence of history, of our experiences, of science, of our moral judgments, and weigh them against the various worldviews. But, those evidences all come filtered through our biases, desires, cultural assumptions, etc. And if they only come refracted through our desires, then the only way we can arrive at truth is for our desires to be aimed at truth—we must love truth. We must have plausibility structures that shepherd us to truth.
If someone claims: “I’m not motivated in my reasoning, I only follow the facts, I only believe what is empirically verifiable, what science can demonstrate, what logic can deduce.” There are three problems with that:
(1) there are a vanishingly thin number of things in life that abide by those standards, and the most important things in life, like justice, love, human rights, beauty, meaning, community, can’t be established by those standards.
(2) It is contradictory. If you say that the controlling principle for your life is to only believe what science can demonstrate to be true or what can be empirically verified, then you are in trouble because that very principle doesn’t abide by its own standards. “I only believe in what is empirically verifiable” as a principle cannot itself be empirically proven, so it contradicts itself. “I only believe what is empirically verifiable,” is, ironically, a faith statement, an assertion of first principles.
(3) People who claim to be unmotivated in their reasoning are the most prone to be deceived because they are blind to what actually motivates them, and so unable to evaluate and criticize their motivations based on new evidence.
Everyone is motivated in their reasoning, it is unavoidable. The goal isn’t unmotivated reasoning, but properly motivated reasoning. What is properly motivated reasoning? Look again at the verse, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil,” (John 3:19). You should love the light—not, know the light with detached cold objectivity. We must love the truth; love leads to truth. The greatest commandment isn’t to understand the Lord, but love the lord.
Consider an analogy: I love my wife. I know my wife. Now, someone could ask me, “How do you know that your wife loves you? How do you know that she is being faithful to you?” I would say, “I know my wife.” They could push back and say, but how do you know? How do I know? I cannot prove it the way I can prove an algebra problem, I cannot put it under a microscope. It is possible that my wife doesn’t love me and is being unfaithful. But is it likely? Not at all. If I were pressed, I could provide evidence and reasons for why I believe that, but my confidence in my wife’s love is more than the sum of those parts. The longer our marriage continues, there is a virtuous cycle of more love between us, and thus more evidence and more reasons, and thus more love. So, it is with God.
Here is the sum of the idea: you are controlled by what you love, and your reception or rejection of Jesus Christ will be affected by your love of God. If you are interested in learning more about this, come to our Wednesday night.
Application: the Church community as a plausibility structure of faith.
The problem restated, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him,” (John 1:10-11). The world doesn’t know Him, His own people don’t even receive Him! Paul, in Romans, explains it bluntly: “No one understands; no one seeks for God,” (Rom 3:11). What are we to do?
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” (John 1:12). Woah, where did that come from? If we must love God to receive Him, but we love the darkness instead, how do we receive Him? Before we get to that, let’s understand what is being said here.
To receive Jesus is to believe in His name. In the Bible God’s name is a summary of His character, it is who He is and what He does. And to believe is to trust, to pledge your allegiance, to rely upon completely. So, we can receive Jesus by trusting Him and what He has done in His life, His teaching, and His death and resurrection.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed,” (John 8:34-36)
“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” (John 10:9-11)
Here is the question: can we trust that? Can we receive Jesus as He presents Himself to be, not as we would like Him to be?
If so, then what do we receive? “The right to become children of God.” It may surprise some to see that the Bible does not teach that we are all inherently children of God, but are instead, in the words of Paul, “children of wrath” (Eph 2:1-3). In other words, we are not the victim, but the perpetrator; we are not Captain Phillips, we are the Somali pirates. We were not neutral bystanders, but active participants in sin.
“…who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God,” (John 1:13).
Explanation: to become a child of God, you need a new birth. Jesus later in John 3 will explain to Nicodemus that in order for anyone to be saved they must receive a spiritual birth, a second birth from the Holy Spirit (John 3:1-11). This is saying much the same thing, but now John is going out of his way to explain how this doesn’t happen.
It doesn’t happen by blood—that is your family descent. You cannot inherit faith.
It doesn’t happen by the will of the flesh—the flesh is what is natural to a human being apart from God.
It doesn’t happen by the will of man—what comes from mankind, could possibly refer to a husband here. If so, it doesn’t come about by marriage.
Where does it come from? Of God. God must do it. Consider the analogy John is using here: birth. Birth is something that happens to you, not by you. You don’t contribute much to being born, you just show up. So too with the new birth. You are born by God and that, I believe, is the explanatory grounds for why you can now receive Jesus.
Hang on, doesn’t the verse say that if you receive Jesus, then you are born again? Well, no, it actually doesn’t give us that “if-then” clause. It says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” (John 1:12). That could function like an if-then clause (so, receiving is what leads to new birth), but it is just as possible for the final clause to be the ground of the first (new birth is what explains the receiving). But because verse 13 excludes human will and choices as the basis for new birth, then it makes the most sense to see that God’s new birth is the basis that leads to the decision to receive Christ.
So, you must receive Christ, which requires a decision that you must make. But, the only hope we have of anyone making that decision, is if God intervenes ahead of time and gives them new birth. Here is how Jesus explains it later: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit,” (John 3:5-8).
The wind (Spirit) blows where it wills—it is up to the will of the Spirit. We are of the flesh and so, left to ourselves, the only thing we can produce is more flesh. The Spirit alone can bring life. We may see a dilemma between how God can call us to be responsible to respond to the call of the gospel and how we cannot respond unless He gives the gift of faith, but God doesn’t see a problem there. How those two reconcile together is a mystery of our faith, but God has not called us to trust Him to the degree that we have intellectually mastered everything. When a parent tells his child that he loves him, and he also spanks him when he disobeys, the child at first may not understand how those two seemingly contradictory principles can be reconciled, but the parent has not only a higher knowledge than the child, but a deeper understanding of what is best for him.
Application: An encouragement in our evangelism
The Two Components of Receiving Jesus:
And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:6-11)
12 While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 13 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. (Luke 5:12-13)
This isn’t merely a description of Jesus back then, but Jesus now, for you.