Commentary on John 1:[1-9], 10-18
The Prologue of John’s Gospel is one of the finest pieces of literature in all of the New Testament.
It introduces the reader/hearer to Jesus as fully human and fully God. This theological conundrum is delivered by John in poetic, abstract, but clear language that could expand with the audience.
Jesus, the Word, is presented as a character from another realm: the logos was in the beginning and then became flesh. The logos was with God and then lived among us. There is something unique about this character.
There is in this text another unique character, another one who is sent. His name is John, and he is sent by God. When one is sent by God, there is the indication of a purpose.
The Gospel writer clearly states John’s mission immediately upon introducing him: John “came as a witness to testify to the light” (verse 7). The same Greek word that means witness, testify, or speak approval on behalf of (can be in a legal setting) is used of John in both the noun and verbal forms 4 times in this prologue. This Evangelist never describes John as “John the Baptist.” (see 1:24-28).
We might want to name him John the Witness to Jesus. That is how he functions in John’s Gospel. There is a wonderful painting that visually depicts the Evangelist’s John.
To the right of the cross is John with his finger ever directed towards Jesus. This is who John was sent to be. This was John’s mission. This is the Gospel message for this day.
John’s Prologue ends by saying that no one has ever seen God, that the Son is the only one close to God, and that the Son has made God known. This begs a further question: Who makes the Son known? How do we remember the Son?
The visual above gives the answer from the Evangelist’s perspective and from Matthias Grunewald’s. John the Witness made Jesus known. There have been countless others throughout the ages. The word translated as witness also means “martyr.”
The gospel message does not go forward without witnesses like John, and one of the tasks in this sermon is to help show what it looks like to point our fingers towards Jesus. In the age of talk of missional churches, how does that work out practically? How can we point towards Jesus in mission in such a way that others come to know him and come to know and love God?
It may be helpful to look at John’s mode of witness. Verse 7 claims that John testified to the light. This might be characterized as highlighting the “light” (a name for Jesus in John) or it could be more expansive. Looking for and pointing towards bright spots in the world and in life rather than always directing others towards darkness and unpleasantness is a gospel kind of testimony.
Verse 8 is clear that John the Witness was not the light. Knowing his role and that he had a gospel sized task that was not all about himself would have kept him on his toes. He must have had to be ever mindful that the finger had to keep pointing outward. John was not the light. He was the witness to it.
Verse 9 clarifies that John only had to testify. The Gospel task of clarifying and creating understanding was not his task. The light was the subject of his testimony. The light would shed light or open understanding for all. That is God’s good Gospel work through Christ.
In the concluding verses of the Prologue, John finally speaks for himself. Here he clearly gives personal voice to his mission and his place in the world. The One, the logos ranks first. John is the one who testifies.
May we all come to such clarity of understanding of the Gospel order and be empowered by that so we might take up the places to which we have been sent. May we forever point the finger to Christ.