A Sermon for Epiphany Sunday on John 1:1-18
Several years ago, I had a powerful experience of grace. The Holy Spirit came into my life in a new way and brought a greater amount of forgiveness and freedom into my heart than I ever thought was possible. It was like light entered into the dark places of my heart. New life was breathed into me. God’s forgiveness and love were not ideas, but palpable realities. John 1 ceased to be nice, poetic words and began to be God’s honest truth.
Immediately, I wanted others to know what I had experienced. I eventually found Alpha, which was, and still is, in my humble opinion the best introduction to the Christian faith in the history of the church. Alpha became my primary way to help people experience what I had experienced.
As I began to invite people, I noticed something about myself and the invitations I would make. I would look at some people and say, “That’s an Alpha type of person.” But I’d look at other people and say, “I just don’t know if that’s an Alpha type of person.”
I soon had to admit to myself that what I really meant was “I don’t just don’t know if that’s a Jesus type of person.” In other words, I’m just not sure that Jesus is for that person.
I wonder if you have anyone in your life that you think about and say, “they’re just not the ‘Jesus’ type of person.” Maybe they even come to church. They’re too rough. Too intellectual. Too poor. They’re not a touchy-feely type of person. Too damaged. Too needy. Too whatever. Maybe you’re not even sure if you’re the ‘Jesus’ type of person.
The question that I’d like for us to ask ourselves today is this: Who is Jesus Christ for?
This is Epiphany Sunday, and Epiphany is the day that we celebrate the revealing of Christ to the Gentiles. Gentiles, in case you didn’t know, are just people who aren’t Jews. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. Jesus was for Israel. On Epiphany, we typically celebrate the coming of the Magi or wise men, because the Magi foreshadow that Jesus is not only for Israel, but that Jesus is also for the Gentiles. In the Magi, Gentiles who were physically away are brought near by Christ. What was true in a physical way with the Magi is true of so many more Gentiles in a spiritual way. In his letter to the Gentile Christians from the city of Ephesus, Paul says, “remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you [Gentiles] who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
Jesus isn’t just for Jews. Jesus is for Gentiles, too. Jesus isn’t just for people who think they should be near to God. Jesus is for everyone, no matter how far off they are.
The Gospel of John tells the same story, but in a different way. It’s an echo to the first verses of the whole bible. The book of Genesis. In Genesis 1:3 it says, “And God said, “let there be light,” and there was light.”
John is saying, look at the power of the word of God. The word of God, which was spoken at the creation of the world, is all-powerful. This word of God, brought everything into being. And John says this in chapter 1:14: “The word became flesh dwelled among us.” Jesus is the word of God become flesh. And that Word of God brings light.
So back to our question. Who is Jesus for?
John says, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”
Who does the light enlighten? Everyone. This Word, this Life, this Light,– it is for everyone. The tiniest bit of light shatters darkness. You have never met a person unaffected by the light of Christ. In the words of bible scholar Marianne Meye Thompson, “Shining in the darkness and shedding light on all, this light makes it possible for all to see, while simultaneously exposing or convicting those who do not come to the light.”
This is what Methodists call “prevenient grace.” Even before we put our trust in Christ, Christ’s light shows us a measure of who we are. And the closer we come, the more we can see, spiritually.
But what John says next is troubling. He says, “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.”
The world he created didn’t know him. Even his chosen people, Israel, did not accept him. So here is where the plot thickens. Jesus is for everyone, but not everyone will accept him. Then John says, “But.” There is a sad reality, but that isn’t the final word. There is still good news.
12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
This is good news for Jew and Gentile. It’s good news for anyone who can receive it. God came to the earth for you to make you part of God’s really big family. We complicate things so much. But here’s how you become a member of God’s family, according to John, the Gospel writer.
- You receive him.
- You believe in his name.
That’s it. Receive him and believe in him, and you have the power to become a child of God. It’s not your ancestry, whether Jewish or 8th generation Methodist. It’s been said that God has no grandchildren. Receiving and believing is not something others get to do for you. You get to do it yourself.
Being in church isn’t the same thing as receiving and believing in Jesus. You don’t have to be a “church person.” You don’t have to dress like church people or talk like church people. You can, but outward appearances don’t make you a member of God’s family.
You don’t have to have your life together to receive Jesus and believe in his name. You don’t have to have great mental health. You don’t have to be undamaged or virtuous. You don’t have to be someone that cries during sappy movies. You don’t have to have an instagram perfect family or house or car. Or maybe you live a picture perfect life and have been coming to church forever but still feel left out. You’re not disqualified either. Jesus is for you.
It’s what we call the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. He came to save people that “aren’t the spiritual type.” He also came to save people that are. Jesus is for everyone. If you’ll receive him.
Sometimes the simple Gospel message gets knocked, but it’s straight out of John’s gospel. It’s the doorway into a life with God. It doesn’t begin with what we do, but it begins with what God does. God sends his only begotten Son. God initiates. We respond.
That’s always the character of the gospel message. It’s always God’s action first. God sends Jesus to offer us the status of “child of God.” We respond by receiving Jesus. We don’t clench our fists and say, “not today!” We open our hands and receive the gift.
We receive and we believe. How do you believe? Biblical belief is simply confident trust. You trust in Jesus. You have questions like, “what will people think of me?” “What if Jesus asks something of me that’s hard?” Or “What if Jesus teaches me something that’s unpopular to believe?” John says that Jesus is full of grace and truth. Most of the time, folks are keen on the grace, but they’re not so keen on the truth part. But isn’t that just a clenching of the fist? It’s crossing our arms and saying, “nope! Not today!”
[Our world is full of lots of people claiming they have a bits of truth. But Jesus says, “I am the way, and the Truth, and the life.” He is the whole truth. We aren’t left to wander around aimlessly. The Lord sent the star to the Magi, and they chose to follow it and found Jesus, the embodiment of light, life, and truth. Each of us has a choice too.]
The covenant prayer that we’re about to pray is a traditional way for Methodists to start the New Year. The whole prayer is essentially about believing and receiving. It’s about unclenching our fists and saying, “Come what may, Lord Jesus, I still receive you. I trust in you.”
I am no longer my own, but yours.Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;put me to doing, put me to suffering;let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,exalted for you, or brought low for you;let me be full,let me be empty,let me have all things,let me have nothing:I freely and wholeheartedly yield all thingsto your pleasure and disposal.And now, glorious and blessed God,Father, Son and Holy Spirit,you are mine and I am yours. So be it.And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.Amen.