Where is God?
I want to invite you to John. Chapter one is where we’re going to be this morning. I know this time of year we can … I don’t know if it’s possible to overkill Christmas, but the commercialization of Christmas can certainly do that. The reality is, when you think about Christmas apart from the commercialization of what it’s become and just the simplicity of what it is. There’s something about Christmas that just thinking about that time of year, it brings a peace and calmness to the souls. It’s Christmas.
You think about that. It’s the hustle and bustle and the business that it’s become, yes, but there’s a part of it, as a follower of Christ, you know what it represents. There’s a peace to the soul that comes along with that. But I realize that’s not always the case because there’s circumstances we can go through in life that just make us look at the holidays a little bit different. So I want to use this series that we’re going through together to encourage us to compel us toward not just what the Christmas season is about, but really encourage our hearts in worship, but do that by looking at the Christmas story.
When you think about this time of year, I would categorize myself as someone that just sort of enjoys the holidays. I’m not extreme on one end or the other. I don’t get into all the commercialization of the stuff of Christmas, but I like the holiday and there is a little bit of peace and joy that just comes with the thought of what Christmas is. But then there are those that just go one end or the other related to this holiday. You know what I’m talking about with the ones that might get a little over-animated in the holiday season. They’re the kind of person that as soon as the last bite of Thanksgiving dinner enters your mouth, you look up from your plate and all of a sudden, decorations are everywhere. You’re like, “What happened?” And then it doesn’t matter what’s going on in their life, they turn any word you say into a song and everywhere they go.
It’s just everything related to Christmas. Calm down. If your house, I’m not saying this happens in my house, but maybe even they get so devious as to program the TV for every channel to be the Hallmark station. It’s so confusing because you watch the movie and this girl is lonely in Manhattan. You come back four hours later, it’s the same girl in a different movie and now she’s married in Denver. It’s like what is going on? I love my wife. When we started off our Christmas season, my wife loves decoration. She’s good at decorating and she has an eye for stuff like that. I know we started off very meager in life and we have one tree we decorate. Now it’s just grown into epic proportion.
I will say, she’s downsized a little bit over the last couple years, but it’s like Oprah and Christmas tress in our house now. If you breathe in our home, you get a tree. It’s like, you get a tree and you get a tree and you … There’s a tree everywhere. I remember we got a second tree upstairs for the kids to decorate, one downstairs, and all of a sudden we get one in our bedroom. Okay. She just says … Her only response is, “I like lights.” It’s like all right. And then I go in the kids’ room and now they both got a tree on their end tables. Well, we are getting overrun. We’re not growing a forest here.
There are some that love the holiday season. And then there are sometimes when we face the holidays, it can be a difficult time of year. You look at people that go crazy over things like that and you just don’t understand it. Maybe your heart feels two sizes too small. Christmas is about God drawing near. What do you do when you don’t feel close to God? When you think about the Christmas story in the Book of John chapter one, John really doesn’t describe the events so much as about the theological implications as it relates to Christmas and what this means for all of us.
You turn to the Gospel of Matthew, the first Gospel in the New Testament or the Gospel of Luke, the third Gospel in the New Testament, and in those passages of scripture they tell different aspects to the detail of the story and the events that took place. When you get to the Gospel of John, the author John wrote this with the idea of the world in mind and how we could come to such a story. What do you do when you don’t feel close to God? That doesn’t just have to be during the holiday season. No doubt at various points of your life you may have felt a disconnect from the Lord.
When you read the Gospel of John in the very beginning of this section of scripture, you see the idea of Christmas and the conflict of what Christmas is about taking place here, God drawing near and the struggle within humanity to embrace this God who draws near. When you read it in the first chapter of John, the first few verses, it says this … I think these first five verses are the summation of this entire book. That’s why if you open this up in your Bible, you’ll see these first five verses are often paragraphed to itself from the rest of the section of scripture.
It says this, “In the beginning was the Word.” This word, word, is going to correlate between not only God speaking His word, but it becomes Jesus himself. This word becomes correlated to Jesus. The reason is that God became incarnate in His speech. When God creates in the beginning of Genesis, He speaks and life begins. In His word, you see the incarnation of who He is. When you look at creation, it declares the glory of God. His word speaks and life begins. This word is seen very powerfully. So the author of John parallels this to the Book of Genesis in the beginning. That’s how Genesis starts, “In the beginning.” And now John starts the same way, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
It’s showing this relationship between the Father and the Son, the triunity of God really talked about here. “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him who is Jesus, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” So you see Jesus creating all things. “In Him was life and the life was the light of man.” So it said in the beginning, God speaks, life begins. Now we see the incarnation of the one who creates life itself who is Jesus. And then in verse five, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it.”
You see this God very intimately creating for His intentions and purposes, God becoming flesh. He draws near and then in verse five it reveals the conflict, not being near to the God who desires to be near to us. He doesn’t just leave it there. If you were to jump a few verses ahead, it says the same thing, this same idea as it relates to Christmas. “There was true light, which coming into the world enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made known through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” You see the beauty of the Christmas story in the God who draws near and the conflict within our own soul to embrace who this God is.
What do you do when you don’t feel close to God? The author in John contrasts this between this idea of light and darkness. When I think about this passage of scripture, this light and darkness, this battle with the Lord and His creation as He pursues it while it rejects Him, a couple crazy thoughts about this darkness that I just consider in this story. Some of the darkness that’s discussed here, when you know how Jesus’ story transpires throughout the pages of the Gospel, what you find is that Jesus, it says in the story, is rejected by his own people. So oftentimes when I think about darkness, in my mind, I think evil, bad, wicked, dark. But here in this story, when it refers to the darkness, it matches in correlation to particular people, the society would call these people that are representing the darkness the leaders, the elite, the good people of society.
The very dark people in which it’s referring to are the religious leaders thinking they already have the light. In their perfection, they see … or what they think is their perfection, they don’t see their need for the Savior. It’s a very sobering thought because when you think about darkness, it’s a scary place. You need nightlights there. But when you look at it in society as it’s being lived out in Jesus’ day, these are the people that everyone idolizes and respect and think that if anybody’s got it figured out, it’s these good people over here, the religious ones. And yet this is the very place where the conflict exists. It may be saying to us, as it relates to Jesus, to make sure that you indeed do have that genuine relationship with God for which you were made.
I think John wanted us to realize as he talks to these religious leaders and to us, that what God wanted to do is something different than religion. In fact, in verse 17, it says it like this in John. “For the law was given through Moses,” this religious way of living. But then he contrasts it. “But grace and truth were realized through Jesus.” Religious law comes through Moses and that condemns us because it shows us where we fail. But grace and truth, that’s what’s gifted to you in Jesus. It’s Christmas. It’s peace for the soul. It’s reconciliation to God. As if to say to the common individual reading this, “Yes, you will feel weighed down by religion, but Jesus brings grace and truth.”
You’re enough where you are because Jesus is enough for what you need. I love the way this passage explains this to us. We know in scripture the thing that keeps us from God ultimately, if I just gave a theological explanation, the thing that distances us, all of us from God, that we cannot feel close to God at different places in life, the thing that distances all of us is sin. The thing that we need in order to be near to God is forgiveness of sin and religion is all about trying to perform that, to make that happen. The reality is, it’s impossible because you can never undo the sin that you’ve done against God. You need forgiven. Grace and truth comes to us in Jesus so that while we’re incapable of earning our way back to God, Jesus pays it all.
So we find ourselves in a space where we are enough, not because of anything we’ve done, but because Jesus is enough. We talk about sin separating us from God. Some of us may know that, but the reality is even in this life as we live it and even as we know Jesus paid for sin, there’s still times where we don’t feel close to God. What do I do when I don’t feel close to the Lord? Couple things this passage says to us, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it.” What John starts to illustrate in the story in understanding how we respond when we don’t feel close to God is, John wants us to know that God’s light is greater than our darkness or more specifically, God’s light is greater than my darkness. Because when Jesus came, Jesus came with me on his mind.
His light transpires, overcomes, is not comprehended by the darkness. Now when you read John chapter one verse five, some translations refer to this word as comprehend. Other translations refer to it as overcome. I’ll tell you my preferred translation is to say overcome, according to the Greek. You can translate it both ways. Let me explain to you why I think the more accurate word here is overcome and not comprehend. When you read this story and you just see that the darkness can’t comprehend it, it makes it sound like it just doesn’t understand it, which is true. But I think in 1 John verses one to five, what the author is doing in this verse is to understand the power of Jesus.
I mean sometimes when we look at our own darkness in life, sometimes we can feel so separated from God we think, “God, I’m never going to feel close to you.” What this story is actually saying is that there is always hope because if there wasn’t, Jesus would have not come. But because he came, he had the power to deliver and overcome the places in our life where we are dark and feel separated from God … or we are separated from God. So what these first five verses are a proclamation to the power that Jesus possesses on your behalf so that you can see the magnitude of what this Christmas story is about. Comprehend, yes, the darkness did not comprehend it, but more than that it couldn’t put out the light.
Jesus overcomes. There is always hope because darkness will not overpower the light that is in Jesus. Not only is he stronger than your darkness, but I think it’s important just to focus on the light in which he truly brings to us. I love the way John in verses 14 to 16 says it to us. He says, “And the Word became flesh,” very personal, “And dwelt among us,” which is tabernacle. You think of the Old Testament, that word, tabernacle, where God’s presence was. Well, Jesus now tabernacles with us. “And we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father,” I’ll explain that in a little bit. But it’s, “full of grace and truth. John testified about Him and cried out saying, “This was He whom I said He who comes after me was a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.”
Now I don’t want you to get confused because this John is not the same John that wrote the Book of John. There’s John the Apostle who writes the Gospel of John, then there’s John the Baptist. They didn’t have a whole lot of names, I think, in the New Testament. There’s lots of Marys and Johns that just sort of float around in scripture, so figuring out which one’s which is important. But John the Baptist declares this about Jesus. His position higher than he because he existed before him. Verse 16, “For of His fullness, we have all received and grace upon grace.” Not only is it important to know that His light is greater than your darkness, but just to examine the antidote by which He delivers the cure for our darkness and the way He says in verse 16 is, “grace upon grace.”
As if to say that if you come to God and you give Him your excuse as to why you’re not good enough for Him, His response back is grace. In fact, it sort of creates the idea of the waves of the ocean. Whatever you put next to the waves, eventually those waves will have its way. The power and the force, grace upon grace. So the author delivers this thought to us and the identity of Jesus, that we would understand and comprehend exactly what’s taken place. When we don’t feel close to God, we would understand the idea behind this God and who He is and how He is in pursuit of us. I think beyond that, that we begin to act on faith and response to understanding what this God desires in our life, that He is after your heart.
In fact, John testified to this in verse 15. He goes around the world and he encourages people to act on faith. He declares who this Jesus is so that we gather in the understanding of this knowledge, and we respond by trusting in him. The reality is that we find that we don’t draw near to God in darkness, but rather He draws near to us in light. What I mean is we can’t draw near to God in our darkness because we are unholy. I think we cry out to Him in the darkness and God brings in His light. John shared this truth, in fact. I’m not going to put it on the screen, but if you were to skip further down into verse 19 to 23, you see in that story that John goes back and quotes Old Testament scripture. There’s a foundation to this truth that he is proclaiming.
This isn’t just some story that was invented. This is something that God has foretold from the beginning, that one would come for us. The way that John describes him is pretty interesting, this identity of Jesus. He says it in verse 14 and he uses similar language in verse 18. Look at this. He says, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. We saw His glory, glory as the only begotten.” By the way, the only one that receives glory is God. God will not allow anyone to receive glory in which He deserves. But he describes him, “Glory is the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” And then in verse 18 at the very bottom he says this, “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten who is the bosom of the Father. He has explained Him.”
You see in verse 14 and verse 18 he’s describing Jesus as the only begotten of God. He’s also in the bosom, it says, of the Father in verse 18. Now what does that mean? That is weird. Both of those are weird really. I mean you think, I don’t know anyone else that talks like this today, at least in a way that we want to hear you talk. Do you love me? What kind of love? In your bosom kind of love or? It’s just what in the world does that mean? Let me explain these thoughts because what’s he’s creating in our mind is the identity of Jesus which shows the sufficiency of who he is so that when passages like this call us to know him and put our faith in him, that we rest secured in the identity of exactly who Jesus is and what he is capable of because in him there is grace upon grace.
This word only begotten is unique because what it’s saying about Jesus is different than any other person that walked in flesh. Jesus became flesh. It told us in John one that from the beginning, he’s always been there. He created all things and then he takes on flesh and in taking on flesh, there’s this uniqueness to him that’s different than any other thing that’s been in flesh in this world. He’s only begotten. And the word literally means monogenes, which is where we get the word, genetic or gene, kind or class. It’s how we categorize things scientifically in the animal kingdom. What it’s saying of Jesus is that he is the only one like this. This is why he and the Father are one because he possesses the only one in kind and class that the Father is.
No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten or the only kind or class, and so it’s able to say this word at the very end that, “He has explained Him.” That word explained literally means exposiation, meaning if you want to know what God the Father is like, look at Jesus. He exposiates God in the flesh. And then he says this, “Who is in the bosom of the Father.” In Jesus’ day, when you were to eat together at a meal, the way that they would eat together they … I know that sometimes you see the picture of The Last Supper and you see this straight table across and all the disciples just sit down together and have this wonderful meal at this straight table. They’re all looking at the camera as if it was posed, right, or the painting as if they were supposed to be posing for that.
But in Jesus’ day really, the tables were lower to the ground and oftentimes were more in a U-shaped. They would lean under the table and rest on their arm, and they would reach on the table and they would grab food and eat. There was a seat of favor. It was at the right hand. That guest of honor was at the right hand of whoever was the host. What would happen in those homes when you would have that type of meal together and you would lean in under the table on your arm, when your guest of honor wanted to talk with you, if they were the preferred person you would want to have that kind of conversation. Whoever was behind you, they were never going to hear what you had to say, but whoever was in front of you, you would be talking to the back of their head.
When you wanted to be intimately close with one another, what would happen is the person in front of you would lean in on your chest. Be like, “What’d you say?” That’s the picture of the Father and Jesus, the Godhead. Here’s this Christ who’s taken on flesh in perfect relationship with the Father. Now taking on flesh in the darkness of our world to present his light to our lives so that we could receive grace upon grace in him. God drawing near. But what do you do when you don’t feel close? Well, I think what John is starting to get us to recognize is that there is always this war that happens within our soul because we live in a sinful world. So that sin is eradicated, that battle will take place between light and darkness.
In order to move into the light, the first step for us in life is to act on faith. To act on the truth of the faith in which John goes and proclaims, John the Baptist and John the Apostle writes in the scripture. We act on faith knowing that there is a battle, there is a conflict within our soul that we’re not always going to feel the way that God might call us to feel. More than anyone, I want to experience the joy of what it is to follow Jesus and to have the positive feelings that come along with that, and that may not always be the case. I think related to this story then, it’s also important to recognize that we prioritize feelings based on faith.
When it comes to faith, we are a very feelings-based culture meaning it’s great to have positive feelings when we worship, but it’s not always going to be the case. But with some people, just because we don’t have the positive feelings that we want, we just throw the faith out with it. But when you study scripture, feelings aren’t always promised with where we are. I don’t think that following Jesus by faith necessitates that we always need to have those positive feelings to affirm what’s true. What’s true is true regardless of whether I feel it or not. When you even read a passage of scripture like Acts chapter 20 … Let me throw these passages out for you just to give us some context and thought.
When the Apostle Paul in pursuing after God in his life, I don’t think he always had positive feelings. In fact, for anyone that would try to emphasize pursuing Jesus means you always have positive feelings, I just want to call it to the rug and say, “Garbage.” Acts chapter 20 is what I would use as the basis. I mean listen to these verses. Acts chapter 20 verse 19, this is Paul on his missionary journey coming back from his third missionary journey, going to Jerusalem. It’s been prophesied by people now that he’s about to be chained and persecuted for his faith. And look what he says as he’s journeying back now. It says in verse 19, “Serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews.” And verse 23, “Except the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city saying that bonds and afflictions await me, but I do not consider my life any account as dear to myself.”
If you read to the end of the chapter, verses 36, “When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all, and they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul and repeatedly kissed him, grieving especially over the word which he had spoken that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship.” It’s not always easy. I think feelings are important. God created you as a creature with feelings. But I think it’s also important to prioritize feelings based on faith. The reality is that I think it’s great to feel the joy of following after the Lord. I think joy is deeper than a feeling. But I think it’s great to feel that.
But you know, sometimes it’s not always the case. You know what God does in those seasons of life? I think God uses those opportunities, the challenge of feelings, to show me the depth of my faith. Meaning when hard things come and you don’t always feel it, where does your faith go? Is my faith deeper than feeling? The only way that my faith would be deeper than feeling is that there would need to be a truth in which it rests on that’s deeper than the feeling itself. I think God can use those seasons of our life to grow the depth of our faith, to show us that we’re just not on the surface level pursuing God because it feels good, but because of who He is.
James said, James chapter one, “Consider all joy, my brethren, when you face for his trials knowing that the persevering of your faith produces endurance and let endurance have its perfect work.” The truth is according to what this section of scriptures says to us, even though you may not feel it, what this passage is saying is that you’re never alone. And what demonstrates that is the truth in which John proclaims to his God in the midst of the darkness that we know that we go through that God has come near. God comes near. I think about the Christmas story when you see it come into the lives that those that first get it pronounced to them, especially Mary and Joseph.
There’s a lot of risk to that, being a virgin lady, not married, in that culture. Luke chapter two, look at how they respond in Luke chapter two. “But the angel said to them, Do not be afraid.” Their immediate feeling as it relates to Jesus is, “Can we act on this feeling because, God, I don’t feel like I’ve got it today.” They said, “Don’t be afraid for behold I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people. For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you. You’ll find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” So he acknowledges where they’re at in their feeling. I love that in this passage of this scripture. Though they don’t feel close to God, but then he leads them by resting in the truth of who God is and what God desires to do for them in coming near to prioritize their feelings based on truth so that their feelings may follow the truth rather than lead their faith.
When you don’t feel close to God in our lives in examining, this is what I would say for us is, look, it’s seasons of life that we go through. It won’t always be the case, but the prioritization of faith over feeling becomes important in the foundation of truth. The foundation of truth for us, we get to demonstrate in those seasons of life what we are really about. Is it just feeling or is there something deeper that transcends? I think for us, God calls us to live in promises because then it’s on the basis of truth that God’s joy comes. Look what it says, “Don’t be afraid, for behold I bring you good news. This is the truth of great joy which will be for all the people.” This is the basis. The truth is the foundation for which God delivers His joy into our lives.
He prioritized rather than lead with this feeling of fear. Don’t walk in this fear, walk in faith based on truth so that in God you could have what’s promised to you and him. There are seasons of hardship. In John chapter one, he gives us some of His promises. I just want to highlight these and be done. But he says this in verse 12, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God, even to those who believe in His name who are born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we saw or beheld His glory, glory as to the only begotten from the Father full of grace and truth.”
He says in verse 12 the first promise is, “Many as received Him, to them gave Him the right to be the child of God.” So though you may not feel you have this promise, notice it doesn’t say, as many as feel they’re near to God, but rather it says, “But as many as received Him.” God came offering Himself and you take it or don’t. Here God comes and He’s offering Himself and to those that receive it regardless of feeling, this promise is where it’s based for us. And then he’s says in verse 14 this word, “And we beheld,” or, “We saw.” I love the translation more, beheld. I think it’s more of a King James translation but, “We beheld.” This word, beheld, literally means this idea it’s of apprehension.
It’s as if to say in our lives that God is so glorious that we couldn’t comprehend the glory of who God is. But now in Jesus you have the opportunity to behold it. You think about in life today, recently we had the … What was it? The solar eclipse happen. I was the one person, I think, that tried to look at the sun while it was going down without my special glasses, and President Trump. The two of us did that. He looked longer for whatever that’s worth. But you think about the glory of the sun. At best, looking at the sun out in the middle of the day, at best it looks fuzzy to you because you can’t really fixated on it. And at worst, it burns out your retina. So it is with God. His glory we cannot comprehend, but now it’s drawn near for you.
God’s come near to you and you can behold how Jesus as many as receive him. Jesus promised his people that he would be with you always. In verse 12, you are his child. God didn’t kick you out in the street. Behold. You know what’s interesting about the sun, I know when I moved out West I was amazed at how few clouds there are. There are months I feel like we can go in the summer and maybe see a cloud. It’s so notable that you have to tell people, “I saw a cloud today.” But there are those times when you go outside and you can’t see the sun. But is it there? Yeah. How do you know? The evidence of its presence. There’s light. There’s life. The same’s true for Jesus.
The statement of these verses are to indicate to us that, yes indeed, He has drawn near. Sometimes there may be cloudy days. Does that mean He’s distant? No. It may mean you don’t feel like it, but He cares and He’s near. How do I know? Because His word says and He’s already demonstrated His desire for us by coming in the world in the midst of our darkness, in the darkest places of our hearts and giving His life. So there may be cloudy days, but His presence is there. What’s John saying to us in verse 15 when John goes around and proclaims this? He wants you to get used to hearing the promises of His voice because when that darkness comes, when those clouds are near, that’s what you hold onto.
This maybe is a little dated, but do you remember the days in life when the phone would ring and you didn’t have Caller ID and maybe you and your siblings would run and fight for it, wrap the cord all up in your finger? But you know when you picked it up sometimes it just took one word before you had the comfort recognized of the person on the other end. You got so used to hearing their voice that even though you may not have been in proximity to one another, you felt close to them. You knew the sound of their voice. Same thing’s true with God. When there’s a darkness that looms in our world, there’s the hope that He proclaims. What voice do you choose to hear?
Even in the midst of cloudy days, God’s presence is near. I think the Christmas story is for everyone that feels distant from God, which reality is it’s all of us, that’s why Jesus came. I love Psalm 94 verse 19. It says this. “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” What better consolation is there than Jesus pursuing you? Grace upon grace in our lives. You may have times when you don’t feel near to God. I don’t want to undermine those feelings. In fact, I would rather encourage us through it and say this, know there is always a greater hope than our darkness. God draws near to you with grace upon grace. He frees us from sin.
In those hard moments, we have opportunity to prove that our faith is deeper than feelings. The reality is in all of it, God gives us opportunity to behold Him. Christ wrapped himself in flesh so that you could behold the glory of the Son.