13 November 2023

Once we accept the light.

John 1.9-13.

The apostle John described Jesus as the light of life, and says in 1.9 that he’s coming into the world. Not everybody accepts him—even his own people, the Israelis, don’t—but in today’s passage he states those who do accept him, Israelis included, become God’s children.

John 1.9-13 KWL
9 The actual light, who lights up every person,
is coming into the world.
10 He’s in the world, and the world comes to be through him,
and the world doesn’t know him.
11 He comes to his own people,
and his own people don’t accept him.
12 Whichever of them do accept him,
he gives to them, to those who believe in his name,
the power to become God’s children.
13 These people aren’t children by blood,
nor by carnal desire, nor by a man’s desire,
but are begotten by God.

Which was a mind-blowing idea for Pharisees of the first century, who figured they already were God’s children. They figured God had made them his children by befriending Abraham, rescuing Israel from Egypt, giving them his Law, shepherding them through history… Israelis still think they’re God’s children just because they defied the odds and established the state of Israel 75 years ago.

But nope; John states it here pretty clearly. Everybody has the potential to become God’s children; Jews and gentiles alike. But only those who trust the light—trust Jesus, in case you forgot who this “light” metaphor represents—are granted the power to truly become God’s children.

Because we’re not automatically his children just because we’re human. That’s a common idea which plenty of pagans will insist upon: God’s the creator and we’re the creation, so God’s our father and we’re his daughters and sons. Automatically. We automatically have a relationship with him; we’ll automatically go to heaven because of it. Even if we spend our entire lives wanting nothing to do with him, refusing to believe in him, worshiping any and every other god there is, inventing our own gods for fun and profit, even deliberately defying him and being as evil as we can just to show off our autonomy. Pagans might make an exception for truly evil people… but then again they might not, because they believe so very strongly that God’ll save everybody, regardless.

Nope. God wants to save everybody, 1Ti 2.4 but like John the apostle said, it’s whichever of us who do accept the light—again Jesus.

And lemme reiterate: Light, in this passage, means Jesus. Yes, elsewhere in the bible light means other things. Like truth and wisdom. And yes, Jesus is truth, Jn 14.6 and Jesus is wisdom. 1Co 1.24 But don’t mix the metaphors. In accepting the light, we accept Jesus.

Yes, we oughta accept truth and wisdom too, ’cause there are way too many brain-dead Christians out there who believe all the dirty lies and stupid beliefs their favorite preachers and pundits tell them, and won’t even practice basic discernment because they think they’re saved by orthodoxy, not God’s grace. They think they’re saved by trusting all the proper beliefs about Jesus, instead of trusting Jesus. They think all that other stuff is the light because they’ve mixed their metaphors. And y’notice, in so doing, they stop trusting Jesus, and trust their own wisdom, and made-up “truths,” instead. You can tell by their fruits; they get bad because they lose sight of whom they’re meant to be following. That’d be Jesus.

Not for nothing does John point out Jesus’s own people didn’t accept him. Because they figured they had truth and wisdom already; because they figured they were God’s children already. Christians today tend to get the very same attitude. We think, like first-century Judeans, we have the light; we know so much, and we said the sinner’s prayer and were baptized, and we’ve memorized tons of bible verses and Christian pop songs, and “once saved always saved.” We trust all that crap—’cause without Jesus, it’s all crap. We leave the Sermon on the Mount undone, because we trust that crap instead of Jesus.

Pretty dark stuff.

The light coming into the world.

“The actual light, who lights up every person, is coming into the world.” Jn 1.9 That word I translated “world” is κόσμον/kósmon, “universe”—you’re probably more familiar with our English word cosmos, which means the same thing. We tend to translate it “world” instead of outer space, because properly it refers to our known universe—and most of what we know happens to be about our own world. It’s not a precise term, and contrary to those people who claim Greek is more precise than English, it’s not precise in Greek either. It can mean either

  1. our planet and everything in it
  2. humanity in general, i.e. “God so loved the world”
  3. pagan humanity, i.e. “the world is out to get you”

or other, weirder things. Which is why some people struggle to interpret verse 10, where John says the world doesn’t know the light. Does this mean the planet doesn’t know Jesus, or humanity, or pagans? And Christians tend to preach on all three definitions. Sometimes all in the same sermon!—neither the planet, nor humanity, nor pagans in particular, know Jesus.

When they claim kósmon refers to the planet, their messages are usually about how Jesus created the world, Jn 1.10 but now the world doesn’t recognize him. Most Christians teach when God created humanity, he created us perfect, or at least very good. Ge 1.31 But we fell. We sinned, and surely aren’t perfect anymore. That, I definitely agree with. Humanity is mighty depraved.

But some of us go further: When humans fell, we took down Earth with us. We rule the world, so when we went wrong, the world went wrong. Nature, plants and animals, weather, all of it meant to serve us, is now it’s as sinful as we are. Now it has plagues and poisons and man-eating animals and tornadoes.

I take some issue with the way Christians talk about our fallen world. They presume because of us and our sins, the globe itself is in upheaval against God. I would say it’s really in upheaval against us. Earth was created to be tended by good people. Not sinners who think it’s disposable, pollute unthinkingly, pretend climate change can’t be real because it’d force us to stop polluting, and drive various species to extinction out of sheer apathy. Nature is recoiling from its evildoing occupants, and rejecting us like the human body fights a virus. Nature still largely obeys the creator, y’know—as proven when Jesus stops the weather. It’s a mess because we mess it up, not because it sins like we do.

For the Christians who claim kósmon refers to humanity: I usually fall into this camp. God loves humanity and gave us his son. Jn 3.16 Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away humanity’s sin. Jn 1.29 And we’re to go into all humanity and preach the gospel. Mk 16.15 Not “all the world” so much; there’s no reason to visit some uninhabited desert island to preach the gospel to the birds. Nature knows its God. Humanity, not so much.

This is why verse 11, “He comes to his own people, and his own people don’t accept him,” is a way of narrowing down what he means by “the world”—he was talking about humanity in general, and now he means the Jews in specific. Humanity doesn’t know the light; the Jews don’t know the light.

It’s why the light had to come into the world. He wants to be known.

Those who embrace this light.

Today’s Christians tend to forget Jesus’s first followers—all the earliest Christians—were Jews. There weren’t any gentiles in his church yet. They came later.

And the earliest Christians weren’t a small group either. Some 3,000 people became Christian after Simon Peter’s first sermon. Ac 2.31 After Peter and John cured a beggar, 2,000 more joined up. Ac 4.4 That’s a congregation of 5,000 in just its first year. It only got bigger from there.

So we can’t say “His own people don’t accept him” Jn 1.11 was meant to be interpreted literally; lots of Jesus’s own people had accepted him. His brothers and sisters, who had doubted him all throughout his earthly ministry, were Christian too by the time John wrote his gospel. True, many Jews still held out against their own Messiah, and still do. But many did believe, and do believe.

Over the centuries, Christianity has become a predominantly gentile religion, as Peter and Paul and the ancient Christians realized Jesus is our Lord too, and as Jesus himself revealed himself to more and more gentiles. And as the early Jewish Christians began to act more gentile over time, and intermarry, and lost track of their Jewish ancestry. There are a lot of Christians of Jewish descent who have no idea they’re descended from Israel ben Isaac, and are only just finding out thanks to DNA analysis. But one of the points of today’s passage is to remind us ancestry doesn’t matter. It’s not what makes us God’s kids. We’re saved by his grace, through our faith. Ep 2.8 Believe in Jesus, and he’ll save us and make us God’s kids. A new family.

Verse 13, in which John states we’re not children “by blood, nor by carnal desire, nor by a man’s desire,” are usually interpreted to mean biological parents. “Blood” refers to both the parents. “Carnal desire” refers to their sex drive—there are some pretty powerful biological, hormonal urges to have sex, which many people never bother to resist, and will sometimes argue they shouldn’t resist, ’cause they don’t think it’s healthy. (More like they don’t want sexual self-control to be healthy.) “Man’s desire” refers to wanting a kid for cultural reasons: The ancients took pride in their fertility, and wanted lots of kids so they could show this off. They felt it increased their wealth, ’cause look at all this free child labor!

All this, and all the other ancient and current attitudes about procreation, stand in contrast to what God wants: He wants kids. He wants us to be his kids. He not only adopts us, but John goes so far as to say he begets us. We aren’t just some kids who asked to join the family, so God took pity on us. He made us—and with the deliberate intent for us to become part of his family. He made everybody for that reason. Not all of us accept him. But those who do, he gladly includes.

Recognizing the light—Jesus—as one of our own, is simply one of the marks of family. When we trust Jesus, we’re family. Family to God, family to one another. Just that simple.

Well… okay, trusting God is really hard sometimes. But the concept is just that simple: Trust Jesus, and you’re in.