Among the rock climbers of the world there exists a common desire: the infamous quest to climb the 7 summits. Have some of you heard of this? To complete the 7 summits one would have climb the highest mountain on each of the 7 continents. Each of these summits vary in difficulty and elevation, the shortest being Denali in Alaska (20,310 ft.), and of course the tallest being Mt. Everest (29,029 ft.). Only a handful of climbers have done it because it’s so demanding. The youngest person to ever complete this quest was 15 years old and the oldest was 76. As stunning as this quest is and those who’ve completed it are, did you know there are higher mountains man can attempt to climb? Mountains so high and so vast they literally will take your breath away. Of course these mountains I’m speaking of are the mountains of grace found with Scripture. Really they form one gigantic mountain, taller and grander than any other mountain – the mountain of God. Only by grace can one climb and eventually summit this mountain.
As we venture back into John’s prologue at the beginning of his gospel account we come to v12-13, a passage that has within it 7 of its own summits. Let’s turn toward them now, and by God’s grace we’ll summit all of them today. As we did last week and as we’ll do next week let’s read the whole of this prologue to see our passage in its proper context. John 1:1-18 says…
Let’s pray together…
Summit 1: ‘But…’
Reflecting on v1-11 as we did last week may tempt us to believe that the Word of v1-3, the Word that was God and with God, came into the world and only received rejection. We see the presence of darkness in v5, we see an ignorance when it says they didn’t ‘know Him’ in v10, we see that many rejected Him in v11, which taken together shows us that there was a common refusal to embrace the Word when He came. Though we may be tempted to believe that…John won’t let us believe that, because in v12 he shows another side to this story. This small little word “But…” changes everything about the situation laid out for us. Even though many didn’t know Him and rejected Him, not everyone did. There were some who went against the flow, who broke with what was common in society. Rather than doing what most others did regarding Jesus, what did they do? v12 says it, they received Him, they believed in His name!
Is this not descriptive of our current culture? We all have known and experienced the popular ways to think of Jesus in our day. Whether it’s just viewing Him as a good teacher, viewing Him as someone who provided a wonderful example for us, or even just ignoring Him and His teachings all together. That’s very common these days. For some of us this is not only descriptive of our culture but descriptive of something a little closer to home. Some of you feel the weight of the transition from v11-12 heavier than others because this describes your family. When you go home for holidays some of you are the only believer. Or maybe because you’re a believer no family ever comes to visit you here. So whether you feel the isolation coming from the world, the workplace, or from your own family, the “But…” in v12 begs us to ask a question: will you go against the flow? Will you break with what is common about Jesus in our current culture? Would you do this even if you’re the only one who ever does it? There’s a cost to answer yes to that question, but do not miss that there is also a reward. We may forgo much comfort, applause, acceptance, and fame in this world, but when we come to the eternal Son of God and believe in His name what do we get? We get God! And if we gain God what else do we need?! As we continue to traverse the summits of v12-13 we’ll see that this group of people who did not go with the flow, and those today who do not go with the flow, but receive and believe in Jesus gain far more than they ever give up.
Summit 2: ‘…all…’
This second summit is a bit smaller than the first but it’s still a large enough point to mention and not skip over. “…all…” “But to ALL who did receive Him…” Why is this little word ‘all’ an important word? Because it shows us the call of the gospel is universal in its scope. The Word of God, that was God and with God, came, and through Him God is speaking and calling…who? To all. Any person, any nation, any background, any social status, any person who hears the gospel and wants to come, can come! This does not land on us with the force it did for John’s original audience. We are familiar with the Great Commission, we’re used to the idea of missions whether it be sending or going. But for those people reading John’s account for the first time in the first century this would have been simply astounding. For thousands of years it has only been one people, one nation, one physical family…Israel. But now with the coming of the Word the call of the gospel goes out to ‘all.’ Now, since the scope of the gospel call is universal it implies that you and I cannot evaluate or seek to determine if someone is worthy of hearing the gospel or not. Perhaps you think this isn’t really worth mentioning because we don’t do this, but I think we do this more than we realize. As we go out to witness, or go out to do ministry on the streets, or even as we welcome one another during our greeting time, we usually only approach people we’re comfortable with. Perhaps this is why our Volunteer Way ministry with the homeless is our lowest attended ministry at SonRise? “But to ALL…” is a challenge and a reminder to us that our gospel posture towards all people regardless of social or racial differences should be that of the Prodigal’s Father, waiting with open arms for his son to come home.
Summit 3: ‘…receive…believed…’
The first two phrases of v12 form our 3rd summit, “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name…” We’ve seen that not everyone rejected the Word when He came, we’ve seen that the Word extends His gospel call universally to all peoples, now we see what exactly the group who didn’t reject the Word…did with the Word. Rather than following the general flow of the culture, they ‘received and believed.’ John is not creating a theological distinction between the act of receiving and the act of believing here, as if he posits them as two different things, no. Quite the opposite is happening here in v12. When he speaks of these people who didn’t reject Jesus he describes their one response to Him in two different ways. Or we could say it like this. Because these statements about receiving and believing are back to back, John is implying they mean the same thing. What does it mean to receive Jesus? To receive Jesus is to believe in His name. This word ‘believed’ in v12 is the Greek verb ‘pisteuousin’ which is used by many other New Testament authors in its noun form ‘pistis’ which we translate as ‘faith.’ So, to receive Jesus is to believe in Him. And, to believe in Him is the same as having faith in Him. While most everyone else rejected Jesus, these people being described in v12 stopped relying, trusting, or banking on their works or abilities or achievements in life and put their trust in Jesus. John wants us to see the importance of faith here, that’s why he says the same thing in two ways, to highlight that faith is the only way someone comes to Jesus, and that faith is the very thing that distinguishes Christians from the rest of the world. After all this is why were called ‘believers’, because we believe in this eternal Word, the Son of God Jesus Christ.
What though do we believe in?
Summit 4: ‘…in His name…’
Believers trust ‘in His name’ John says. Again, this is something that seems peculiar to us right? I mean, names aren’t a very big deal to us today, we seem to be more interested in the person and not their name. This reveals itself when we stop using someone’s name when we get close to them. For example, I don’t call Holly ‘Holly.’ I usually call her ‘honey, love, or babe.’ Or for another example we can quote Shakespeare, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Names to us are mere labels. But in this time, in John’s time, the name of a person and the person were so bound up together that you couldn’t have one without the other. When the Biblical authors use the phrase ‘the name of God’ in the Old or New Testaments they don’t just have God’s literal name in mind, but all of His Person, all of who He is. To believe ‘in His name’ then, is to trust His Person, to embrace Him as He is, and to depend on what He says. It is to truly ‘know’ Him. Not just to know about Him, or even to have the right knowledge about Him, but to trust in Himself and offer all of ourselves up to Him. It is to know and embrace the entire scope of His redemptive work: virgin birth, sinless life, atoning death, victorious resurrection, powerful ascension, and present reign – to believe in His name is to embrace all of this as the most precious gifts of all.
Johannes Brenz, a 16th century German theologian, states it like this, “Now, to receive Christ is to believe in the name of Christ. The name of Christ is wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Therefore, for those who trust in the righteousness of Christ or in His redemption, sins will not remain, death will vanish away, and hell will be extinguished.”
What does believing ‘in His name’ lead to?
Summit 5: ‘…become…’
“But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become…” The phrase “…become…” is summit 5 and like the word “…all…” before in summit 2, this one is smaller but filled to the brim with new creation power. Have you ever thought about it? That at the moment of conversion God makes people something different? Indeed, He makes us something entirely different, He makes us new. Ironically this newness is something every person searches for, and in our day you could say we’re so preoccupied with who we want to be one day we forget who we are now. Amidst all the books and philosophies swirling about us today about ‘becoming a better you’ or ‘becoming the person you’ve always wanted to be’ stands the gospel of Jesus Christ, through which God does what nothing else in the world can do to anyone who believes in His name – He makes us new. And this shouldn’t surprise us because John’s point in the prologue is that through the eternal Word made flesh God is doing a work of new creation.
What does this newness look like?
Summit 6: ‘…children of God…’
What do those who believe become once they believe? We become children, adopted sons and daughters of God. It is said that ‘God is the Father of all men’, yet it is also true that not all men are children of God. Does that confuse you? True, God is the Father of all men in the sense that He made all men. But in another and truer sense, God is Judge to all men, and only Father to those who believe. Only those who’ve been saved can pray with the Lord Jesus “Our Father in heaven…” Only those who come by faith are made new and adopted into an eternal family. The glory of our adoption is that once God has made us alive He then brings us into a family we were not naturally born into. So when, through faith, we believe in His name, or receive Jesus Christ as He is offered to us in the gospel, God then receives us, brings us into the number of His children, and gives us all the rights, blessings, and privileges belonging to the sons of God. There is a double reception did you notice that? Once we receive Him, as v12 says, God makes us new and acceptable in His sight, then He receives us into His family.
To quote Johannes Brenz again, “Christ is the Son of God, so those who trust in Him become children of God. What greater benefit can be granted by God to a person than to be received as a child of God?” That fallen men and women like us could be the children of God through faith should make us exclaim with John as he later says in 1 John 3:1, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”
We’ve seen six summits, all in v12. Now we move onto v13 where we see the 7th and largest summit of the whole mountain range.
Summit 7: ‘…who were born, not of blood, not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, BUT OF GOD.’
Lest we think this work of being made new children of God belongs entirely to us John lets us know that behind all of our receiving and believing in His name, behind our being made new, behind our being adopted as children of God – is God who brings all of this to pass. John goes out of his way to make this clear. v13 is a preview of John 3 where the subject of new birth is dealt with in full. Just note this for now: though we are alive physically, we are dead spiritually. And in that state God makes our dead hearts alive, they then reach out in faith to receive and believe, and then it happens, we’re born again. F.F. Bruce, in his commentary on John, states “…the repeated negatives insist that birth into the family of God is quite different from physical birth. The divine birthright has nothing to do with racial or national family ties. It is spiritually irrelevant to be descended from Abraham physically if one is not a child of Abraham in the only sense that matters before God – by faith.” Physical birth is the product of the will of blood, the will of flesh, and the will of man. Spiritual birth is of an entirely different sort. Not the will of blood, man, or flesh, but only by the will of God.
This is nothing short of a divine miracle.
7 summits of glory. 7 summits of the grace of God. Revealing the wonders of faith, adoption, regeneration, and the new birth.
Church, if you find within you a love for Christ rejoice, God loved you first.
Church, if you find that at one time you chose to follow Christ rejoice, God chose you first.
Church, if you find that you now know God rejoice, God knew you first.
Church, will you go with the flow of culture and think little of Jesus, or will you go against it and become new through the gospel?