JOHN THE PREPPER
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
December 29, 2019
19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
— John 1:19-34, ESV
The angst of our current age has given rise to hidden communities of people known as preppers. They are preparing for a coming apocalypse, although it is not necessarily the one spoken of in the Scriptures. They believe our government is irreversibly corrupt, our economy is a thin layer of ice floating upon an ocean of debt, and the technology that runs our cities and systems is on the verge of being hacked and sacked. They are retreating into the wilderness, building camouflaged camps, and collecting weapons, food, and supplies to sustain them after the earth has been scorched. While the sad truth is there is some truth to their hyperextended beliefs, I won’t be joining their ranks. I could not survive three days without electricity, running water, and Kroger.
I do admire greatly, however, the world’s first prepper. He lived two thousand years ago and went into the wilderness to prepare a people for the coming of the Lord. He advocated advent before apocalypse, and spoke of the first coming of Christ to take away the sins of the world. His job was to introduce Jesus to the public and prepare the way for Him. This he did perfectly, and the lessons he leaves behind can help all Christians prepare the way for Christ to be introduced to others.
We prepare the way for Christ to come into people’s lives by displaying humility.
According to Jesus, John the Baptist was the greatest man who ever lived (ref. Matthew 11:11), only he did not act like it. He had the pedigree of a prominent priest and godly mother. He was blessed with an intelligence quotient so high it bordered on insanity. His speaking voice was so bold and eloquent it literally stopped people in their tracks. It is no wonder that people thought he could be the Messiah, or Elijah returned from the chariot, or the prophet to pick up Moses’ mantle and deliver the Jews from Roman tyranny.
At this time of this episode, John the Baptist was the most important person in the room. Think about the huge religious television empire John could have built. Think about all the Prophet’s Prayer Cloths he could have sold. Think about the easy life he could have lived with a cushy job at the Temple or sitting on Moses’ seat in some suburban synagogue. But John was possessed with an amazing humility and actually behaved as if others, especially Jesus, were more important than himself.
John wanted no glory, but deferred to his younger cousin who was actually the Ancient of Days. John could have grabbed the spotlight before the Light of the World appeared, but he steered clear of it. John did not waste a minute preparing his own kingdom, but rather devoted his life to leading people to the real King and the kingdom of God. John the Prepper was successful because his spirit of humility was the exact opposite of the spirit of his age, and ours.
Ours is the age of selfies and being served. We demand our rights and denigrate anyone who disagrees with us. We’d rather see the earth scorched than give an acre to someone else. Our culture is high on personal autonomy and low on genuine humility. We need to take a good look at John the Baptist in order to see what humility is, and is not.
Humility is a beautiful combination of faith and works. It is the belief that others are more important than yourself, then taking action to make sure they know it. It is speaking softly and carrying a big commitment to Christ. It is giving time, treasure, and talents to God that otherwise could have been spent on yourself.
Humility is not using your relationship with Jesus Christ as a means for personal gain or power. John could have done this, but did not. Modern politicians should not do this, but do. Hypocrisy does more to turn people away from Christ than anything else, but humility is the antidote that will eventually lead them in the right direction toward the kingdom of God. Have a humble, active faith, and begin by letting it shine in your own church.
We prepare the way for Christ to come into people’s lives by committing to community.
His original nickname was “John of the Hills,” a reflection of Psalm 121:1 and the elevated suburb of Jerusalem from which he came. He came to be called “John the Baptist” because of his dedication to dunking people in water as an initiation rite into a new community. “John the Prepper” did this, at God’s direction, in order to point out that a covenant with the Lord is not a mere personal relationship with God, it is a corporate relationship with God and His people.
Though baptism does not appear in the Old Testament, it was an Old Covenant ritual used by the Jews to incorporate Gentiles into the Jewish faith. The “baptism of John” (ref. Matthew 21:25), however, was something brand new, and the scandal of it was that most of the people John baptized were Jewish. It was not a baptism into the Old Covenant or Judaism, but a new baptism of repentance and faith into a new community about to receive the New Covenant.
John was not trying to make Jews or Gentiles out of anyone. He was trying to make Jesus followers out of everyone. He was the original prepper, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” He baptized people with water to prepare them to follow Jesus, the Messiah, who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and gives a regenerate heart. That is why after John baptizes Jesus, the Scriptures do not tell of an ensuing baptism of Jesus’ first followers, because most or all of the first followers of Jesus had already been baptized by John. John prepared a community for Christ, one which we now call a local church.
In New Testament Christianity, thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ and John the Baptist, baptism is an intensely personal ritual that places you in the corporate community of Christians, the church. Churches gather for worship and scatter for witness and work. They were vital for the beginning of Christianity and they are vital for the survival of Christianity. John the Prepper prepped people for the first coming of Christ, and now the church has the job of prepping people for Christ to come again.
Too many people today want to believe in Jesus but not recognize the importance of the church. They don’t want to be a part of organized religion, yet they gladly take paychecks from organized companies, deposit them in organized banks, and shop in organized stores. Lone rangers do not make many disciples, but members of good churches do. John the Baptist was no lone wolf, although he may have looked like one. As the forerunner of Christ, John humbly baptized people into the community of Christ, which was the forerunner of the New Testament church.
Christians in churches are today’s preppers. We conduct our lives with humility, reaching out to others to show them they are important to us, and more importantly to show they are important to God. We commit to the corporate disciples of gathering, giving, and going. Of course, there are other organizations that show humility and gather in communities. But John the Baptist did one more thing that separates Christianity and churches from all other entities and gives them an eternal quality. John the Baptist preached the gospel, plainly.
We prepare the way for Christ to come into people’s lives by sharing the gospel directly.
As a freshman in high school I dated a girl who told me one day, “I found Him.” At first I thought it was another boy, then I figured out it had something to do with religion. She invited me to her church, so I met her there on a Sunday. It was going reasonably well before all the people started speaking in tongues. They were whispering and hissing like snakes, and thinking real snakes might be up next, I excused myself, walked out and walked home, and never came back to that girl or that church.
It would be six long years before I ever darkened the door of another church. This time, I was properly and directly introduced to the Lord Jesus Christ by an earnest Freewill Baptist pastor. He spoke in plain English about the Lamb and the Lord, of Christ’s sacrifice for sin and His demand for repentance and faith, and I was born again.
I believed the gospel, behaved like a disciple, and belonged to a church ever since. I’ve been baptized in water and baptized with the Holy Spirit, and thanks to John the Prepper, I can now have a model that tells me when I’m filled with the Holy Spirit. Fulness of the Spirit brings a certain humility, a longing for community, and a boldness to speak plainly about the person and work of Jesus Christ.
John the Baptist prepped me for this. Now it is my job to prep others, and yours too. We do not need to go out into the wilderness. There is plenty of work to do right here in our world. Let us be humble, and consider the needs of lost and unchurched people and find ways to show them we love them. “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and ball the more as you see the Day drawing near” (ref. Hebrews 10:24-25). And let us tell people plainly the scriptural, theological, and historical gospel of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world who is the Son of God. If we do, our community of preppers will grow larger, God will get more glory, and people will be saved.
A new year is at hand. A new age is coming when Jesus Christ comes again. New lives need to be born again into the kingdom of God before the King comes. Follow John and be a prepper. More importantly follow Jesus. Be prepared to prep other people with humility, the offer of community, and the gospel spoken plainly. The soul you save may belong to someone you love.
IN THE END, JESUS IS
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
December 22, 2019
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.
— John 1:14-18, ESV
When you see a baby in a manger at Christmastime, what are your thoughts? I’m sure they are warm and fuzzy, then perhaps cooled by a chill in the air, only to be warmed again by cookies baking in the oven. But do you think seriously about God, or the theology of the Trinity, or the soteriological ramifications of the Incarnation?
When you imagine Jesus sitting on a hillside in Galilee talking about the kingdom of God to a people marginalized by the kingdoms of this world, what do you hear? You hear a nice man, who loves children and wouldn’t harm a fly, telling good stories and making vague promises to a small crowd without any fanfare, except for once or twice when He gave away free food. But do you catch a glimpse of glory, the glory of God more powerful than a bomb and more valuable than all the money in the world?
When you look at a cross, what do you see? Do you look at the cruelty and injustice inflicted upon the Son of God by religious hypocrites and political power mongers? Or do you see God’s grace, reaching out to sinners like you and me, who are just as guilty of sin as those who crucified the Lord?
Our pictures of Jesus Christ are typically too tame and our images of ourselves are a little too tall. Christ was a baby, born of Mary, to be sure. He was a nice man, a pacifist prophet, and a servant leader without pride or prejudice. He was falsely accused, tried in kangaroo courts, and martyred on an old rugged cross, for sinners like you and me, but He is not like you and me, according to John.
At the beginning of this beautiful prologue, Jesus was. As the end, Jesus is. Jesus was and is Almighty God. Jesus was and is the presence of God’s glory on earth and the promise of His glory in Heaven. Jesus was and is the gift of grace, from God through God to God’s people, atoning for sin and giving everlasting life. Jesus Christ is God, glory, and grace.
Jesus Christ is God
The doctrine that best separates real Christianity from the liberal, heretical, and cultic counterfeits is the deity of Christ. The doctrine of the deity of Christ simply states that Jesus is, was, and always will be, in the words of the Nicene Creed, “God from God, light from light, true God from true God.” Creeds are useful, but Holy Scripture is supreme: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ... and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (ref. John 1:1,14).
The reality of the Incarnation proclaims that God has come to us, not merely as a baby to make us feel good or a teacher to tell us nice things or a dying man to make us feel sorry for the oppressed. The Creator and King of the heavens and earth came down to show us perfect love. He came to teach us perfect truth. He came to lay down His perfect life so that imperfect, sinful people like you and me can be forgiven and free.
The reality of the Incarnation reveals the mystery of the Trinity. There is only one true and living God, yet He has revealed Himself in three persons. The Father is the invisible Ruler. The Son is the incarnate Savior. And, the Holy Spirit is His indwelling Presence in the life of every believer. God is above us, for us, in us, all at the same time, which is something to be pursued and studied for a lifetime.
The reality of the Incarnation and the mystery of Trinity is a direct fulfillment of prophecy. “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (ref. Isaiah 9:6). Which leads to this, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (ref. Isaiah 53:5-6).
This is a lot to think about when you see a manger scene. But if the baby born in Bethlehem is indeed the One who existed before time began (as testified by John the Baptist), then He is God. He is Creator of everything, including you and me. He is alive and watching, over everything and over you and me. He is sovereign King and Lord, over everything and everyone. He is God and He is worthy of our love, faithfulness, and worship.
Jesus Christ is Glory
Jesus Christ came to us to reveal God to us, and more. He came to show and share God’s glory. John said, “We have seen his glory, glory as the only Son from the Father.” Glory is a noun and God’s glory has come to us in a most special person, place, and thing.
Glory is the person of God in Christ. Though John writes, “No one has ever seen God,” the Apostle Paul explains “In [Christ] all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (ref. Colossians 2:9, NASB). This is no contradiction but rather an expansion of the doctrine of the Trinity. You cannot see God the Father, but you can worship Him in spirit and truth, You cannot see the Holy Spirit within you, but He leads you to see the truth. However, John with eyes of flesh and we with eyes of faith can see “the only Son from the Father” who is “the only God,” and catch a glimpse of “his glory,” the best God has to offer, “full of grace and truth.”
Glory is the place built by God in Christ. The prologue has already established Jesus as the maker of all things (ref. John 1:3), and this means all things in Heaven and earth. Glory is the place Jesus left to endure the indignities of His human existence, which included poverty, persecution, and execution. Glory is the place Christ returned to after His work on earth was done. Glory is the place He will take those who believe in His name and submit to His Lordship. Glory struck the earth like lightning in the person and work of Jesus Christ, a stunningly short time on earth, but glory will fill the earth when Christ comes again.
Glory is the thing you can experience through a relationship with God in Christ. To quote again from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (ref. Colossians 1:27). You may know the glory of riches, but they will run out or you will run out on them when you die. You may know the glory of fame, but they will take that championship ring off your finger before lowering your body into the ground, from where you will no longer be able to see your name on some trophy or plaque. But the glory of God that comes now in flashes — like the moment you were born again, or the moments in private meditation or public worship when the assurance of salvation floods your soul, or the baptism of a child or grandchild into the family of God — will shine brighter than the sun in the new Heaven and earth, where God in Christ is the person at the center, Heaven is the place to be, and glory is the thing you will see, feel, and share with Him for ever and ever. How does one receive God’s glory? By grace!
Jesus Christ is Grace
When John looked at, lived with, and finally wrote about Jesus Christ, he saw God. He saw glory. And, he saw the connection between the two, “grace upon grace.” The grace of God in Jesus Christ is a free gift you cannot earn and a permanent possession you cannot lose.
You cannot do anything to earn God’s forgiveness and favor. Jesus can and did. Jesus is the grace of God. He is sovereign grace that saves through the gift of faith in His life, death, and resurrection. What “the law given through Moses” could not do, Jesus did, through the double imputation of the cross (ref. Romans 8:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Moses teaches us we are sinners. Jesus teaches us we are saved, and that is by “grace!”
Once you have received the grace of God by faith in Jesus Christ, you will never lose that grace. That’s “grace upon grace!” The gifts people receive this Christmas will last a short time (for some children) or a lifetime. But the gift of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ will last for all time. Far from being a license to sin and forsake worship, grace allows you a blessed assurance and a burning desire to worship and serve the Lord until the day you die. “’Tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home” (John Newton), this is “grace upon grace.”
The prologue (John 1:1-18) is the first light of the Gospel of John. In he beginning, Jesus was. In the end, Jesus is. There is much more to see, and all of the spotlights will shine on the Lord Jesus Christ. But for now, take a fresh look at the prologue and ponder it the next time you see a manger scene. You will see Jesus and you will see Almighty God. The next time you read the word of God, look for glimpses of His glory. The next time you see a cross, see the grace of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Baptize yourself in God’s grace by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is. Jesus is God, Jesus is glory, and Jesus is grace.
In the first light of a new day, No one knew He had arrived;
Things continued as they ad been, While a new born softly cried.
But the heavens wrapped in wonder, Knew the meaning of His birth;
In the weakness of a baby, They knew God had come to earth.
As His mother held him closely, It was hard to understand,
That this baby not yet speaking, Was the Word of God to man.
He would tell them of His kingdom, But their hearts would not believe;
They would hate Him and in anger, They would nail Him to a tree.
But the sadness would be broken, As the song of life arose;
And the First born of creation, Would ascend and take his throne.
He had left it to redeem us, But before His life began,
He knew He'd come back not as a baby, But as The Lord of every man.
Hear the angels as they're singing, On the morning of His birth;
But how much greater will our song be, When He comes again to earth.
When He comes to rule the Earth!
— Robert John Kauflin
RECEIVE AND BELIEVE
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
December 15, 2019
9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
— John 1:9-13, ESV
No one in our church believes in the prosperity gospel. We have better sense. We have better theology. We have a better gospel.
What makes the prosperity gospel abominable is not its thinly veiled greed, although that shows through by the time the second or third airplane hits the air. The prosperity gospel is no gospel at all because it preaches the lordship of man and over God. Man professes it, then God is bound to make sure man possesses it. Man names it, then God has to see that man claims it. Man believes, and God goes to work until man receives.
Such an upside-down gospel belittles God. The true and living God does not work that way, neither does the real gospel. The gospel is for eternal life, not material lusts. Furthermore, you do not believe the gospel so that you can receive Christ, you must receive God in Christ through the Holy Spirit before you are able to believe the gospel and be saved. It is not believing that enables you to receive, but receiving that enables you to believe.
This puts the gospel back on its feet and keeps in step with two of the major themes in the Gospel of John: the sovereignty of God and salvation by faith. No sinner and rebel against God has the right to be pardoned and saved; however, by grace God grants that right to some. Upon them God shines the light, gives the right, and enables them to believe and become children of God.
The Light of God
We received an Amazon Echo from my daughter for Christmas last year. Now I go home at night, speak the word, and the lights come on in the house. It is a very powerful feeling.
But the lighting of the house does not really come about by my own power, does it? Electricity and the light bulb were invented long before me. The current is now produced by someone other than me, the bulbs are manufactured by someone else, even the device that now turns them on was given to me. I received, therefore I believe, and boom, the lights come on.
When it comes to the gospel, the Lord Jesus Christ is “the light, which gives light to everyone.” The first light is God, the second is God’s revelation to man. The first light is one, in three persons, and the second light is two, general and special.
There is a sense in which the light of God indeed comes to every cognitive human being on the planet. Everyone can see creation, which reveals the handiwork of God. Everyone with eyes to see or ears to hear can read or listen to the Bible, the word of God, which contains as its centerpiece the gospel of Jesus Christ. The doors of all of God’s churches are open to all men, women, boys, and girls, where the visible worship of the invisible God can be experienced. But while the general revelation of God has the power to compel and convict, it does not have the power to convert. This is owed to the special revelation of God.
Turn on a light in a dark room and you can see, unless you are blind or worse, dead. Blindness and death are apt metaphors for lost persons or non-Christians. However, when God’s grace turns on the light that enables a blind person to see, or better still a dead person to live, they live and they see. God is the light and God gives the light. We receive, then we live, see, and believe. The general light of God shines everywhere. The special, saving light of God dawns only upon God’s people.
The People of God
Are all human beings in the world the people of God? No, “The world [does] not know Him.” The majority in the world knows about the Lord Jesus Christ, but they do not know the Lord in a personal, saving way. Only a minority, about one-third, even claim to be Christian. Only a minority of the minority, about one-tenth, profess to be born again, a prerequisite to relationship with God. Only a minority of the minority of the minority, probably around two percent of the world’s population, are born again and actually give evidence of vital and ongoing spiritual life. So, the people of God do not encompass the whole world, only a small sliver of it.
What about the Jews? They count as less than two percent of the world’s population. Are the Israelites the true people of God? No, “His own people did not receive Him.” The Jews were God’s people, past tense, in the Old Covenant. Jesus was Jewish, and when He inaugurated the New Covenant, He offered it almost exclusively to the Jews. Yet except for a few fisherman and various other vagabonds, the Jewish nation led by the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians rejected and killed him, with the help of Gentiles, too. It seems as if no one wanted to be the people of God then, and few do now.
Who then are the people of God? “All who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” The people of God are receivers, who become believers, because they have been granted by grace “the right,” divine authority not dependent upon human agency, to be children of the King and citizens of the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God is not a democracy. We do not elect our president. The kingdom of God is a monarchy, and Christ is King. The King elects those He chooses and bids them to enter in by grace through faith. Upon them He shines the light of the gospel until it penetrates the heart. Upon them the Holy Spirit bestows faith and repentance, gifts from the King (ref. Acts 11:18; Ephesians 2:8; 2 Peter 1:1). Upon them authority is given, God’s authority, to become the people of God.
You do not have that right, unless God has given you the light. You do not believe, unless you first receive. The light of God transforms us into the people of God, and all of this is owed to the will of God.
The Will of God
Some people think they are Christians because they were born into a Christian family and brought to a Christian Church. That makes you blessed, but it does not necessarily make you saved. The gospel declares that the people of God are “not of blood,” meaning that parents do not pass on faith to their children genetically. So many Roman Catholics and mainline liberals are going to be shocked on Judgment Day. They were baptized by their parents and have their names placed on church rolls, but they were never born again, nor did they act as true worshipers and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. Such people are not the people of God.
Some people think they are Christian because they responded to a so-called altar call or some similar gimmick at a Vacation Bible School, youth camp, revival, or church service. Charles G. Finney can be discredited as the one who gave fuel to this fire, taking for himself the motto that salvation occurs by “the right use of means.” When John wrote that people are not saved by “the will of the flesh,” an accurate translation could read, not by “the right use of means.” So many Baptists and Methodists are going to be shocked on Judgment Day. They have come forward, made a decision for Christ, but too many of them were not truly born again, as attested by their indifferent and immoral lifestyles. Such people are not the people of God.
Some people think they are Christians because, by God, they decided to be Christian. If this is you, you may actually be partially correct, but you have to ask yourself a question. What made you decide to decide? Many would say it is free will. But the gospel says no one is born again by “the will of man.” Do not despair, for as I said many of you have been born again. But you need to understand that before you decided for God, God decided for you (ref. Ephesians 1:4). Before you chose to follow Jesus, Jesus chose you to be His follower (ref. John 15:16). And when you were born again into the kingdom of God, this did not come about by your parents’ will, some preacher’s will, or even your own will, “but of God”’s will.
The people of God are those who have been born of God by the will of God. God’s light gave them that right. We receive grace; therefore, we have faith, and by grace through faith we are saved.
If you are among the people of God, this passage of Scripture should serve to help you know God better, make God bigger, and enlarge your love and devotion to Him. You are chosen, you are saved, you are forgiven, you are free!
If you are not a Christian, the same text should scare you to death by making you aware that you that you are already dead, spiritually, apart from God’s grace. You may be thinking, “What if it is not God’s will to save me?,” or, “What if I want to believe, but I just don’t receive anything from God?”
Then know this, “The Lord is … not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance [and faith]” (ref. 2 Peter 3:9). And know this, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (ref. John 6:37). Receive the light, believe the gospel. Jesus loves you and desires for you to live. Receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and you will believe in Him, and live for Him, now and forever.
Christ is the Light, you must receive,
Before in the Lord you can believe,
He shines in the world, but the world does not know,
He shines on His people, grace to bestow.
Life for the dead, sight for the blind,
Saving the soul, renewing the mind,
This cannot be done, by mere mortal skill,
It is only by grace, an act of God’s will.
This gospel is for all, so please come to Him,
God will not refuse, He will let you in;
But know this is true, on the day you believe,
The faith you possess comes from the Light you receive
LIGHT AND MIRRORS
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
December 8, 2019
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
— John 1:6-8, ESV
Perhaps you have been fooled by smoke and mirrors. It may have been at a magic show, or a speech given by a politician running for president, or perhaps you tuned in to a prosperity gospel preacher. Believe what they are saying, and you’ve been smoked and mirrored. Early magicians and mystics used a flash of smoke to divert or hide, then mirrors to cast a reflection of someone or something that wasn’t really there. Politicos and heretics do the same thing, figuratively speaking, and by the time people realize they are being swindled, it’s too late, their minds and wallets are empty.
The term, smoke and mirrors, represents an antithesis to reality, honesty, and truth. A better way to see is with light and mirrors. Put a clear, bright light in a room with a good, honest mirror and you can see yourself, and other people, as they truly appear. This may not be desirable to those wishing to hide the effects of aging or weight gain. I pity the poor husband who answered his wife’s question, “Does this mirror make me look fat?,” with “No, you are fat,” but at least he told the truth.
In this brief and somewhat odd excursion in the poetic prologue of the Gospel of John, the Apostle John interjects another John, John the Baptist, as a mirror to the light, a witness for the Lord. The Lord Jesus Christ is clearly the one and only light, and the best a mere mortal can do is receive and reflect that light. In the annals of biblical and human history, there has never been a better mirror than John the Baptist.
John the Baptist Reflected Jesus Christ in his World
John, the son of a Jewish priest and a devout mother, had an impressive resumé. He was the last Old Testament prophet, breaking through a barrier of silence that had lasted nearly four hundred years. He was the first New Testament preacher, know for his bold sermons on repentance and faith, for baptizing believers with water, and baptizing Jesus at the inauguration of Christ’s public ministry, thus earning the nickname “the Baptist.”
But the best thing that can be said about John the Baptist, and the best thing anyone could ever say about anyone, is that he was so much like Jesus Christ, he could have been His reflection. Christ’s light was reflected in John, and John shone it to the rest of his world. Consider how close the two were, Jesus and John:
Jesus and John came into the world through miraculous births. John was born first, about six months before Jesus. Both of John’s parents were old, and Elizabeth had proven to be barren, unable to have children all her life. The angel Gabriel visited John’s dad, Zechariah, and told him to trust God that Elizabeth could and would bear a child. Nine months later, out comes John, naturally but miraculously. There was nothing natural about Gabriel’s visit to Mary, nor the way in which the virgin gave birth to the Messiah. Jesus’ birth was supernatural and miraculous, but you can see the obvious parallel with John.
Jesus and John shared the same family. When Jesus’ mother Mary found herself unmarried and pregnant with the Lord, she got out of town for a while and went and stayed with John’s mother Elizabeth until the Baptist was born. Mary and Elizabeth were relatives according to Luke’s Gospel. The KJV uses the word “cousin” (ref. Luke 1:36), but the Greek word literally means they had the “same genes.” Mary and Elizabeth were family, so the Lord Jesus Christ and John the Baptist were family, too.
Jesus and John both lived very short lives. Separated by six months at birth, Jesus and John died less than three years apart, at the time when both of them were in their early thirties. John the Baptist was murdered for telling the truth, by the coward Antipas and his evil wife, Herodias. The same man judged one of the three trials of Jesus that led to His conviction, also for telling the truth about God, man, sin, salvation, judgment, and the kingdom of God.
Jesus and John had a similar purpose in life. The whole of John’s Gospel will reveal that God came to us in Jesus Christ so that we may believe in Him and be saved from sin and death. John the Baptist’s purpose was the same, “That all might believe.” John led Jesus’ first followers to Jesus. Jesus, highly and lifted up, draws all men to Himself. They were light and mirror, shining and reflecting God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jesus and John left this world with a beautiful and rich gospel legacy. We speak of Jesus every Lord’s Day when we congregate to worship, and I pray every day in our everyday lives. We speak of John the Baptist every now and then. We glorify one, the Lord Jesus Christ, but we give thanks for the other, John. But think about this: without John, the mirror, you and I would have never seen the light, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Light and Mirrors Reveal Jesus Christ to our World
Let’s keep the Apostle’s prologue in view and try to understand the Baptist’s intrusion. We have already seen in the first five verses that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Word, true deity and one with the Trinity, the Life who gives life, and the Light, the revelation of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ. After this brief look at John the Baptist, we will focus again on Jesus as light, power, grace, truth, God, and Savior. Why the look away from Jesus for a moment to glance at John?
Because John here is not the Baptist, or the prophet, or the preacher. He is simply John the “witness,” stated three times for emphasis. Without a witness, no one will know the truth about the greatness and glory of God in Christ. Jesus is the light, but the light is off stage now, at an angle just out of human sight. So how is He revealed, so others can see Him? With mirrors. It is not smoke and mirrors, but one true light and many, many mirrors.
First there was one, John the Baptist. Then there were a handful, including the author of this Gospel. Then there were hundreds, then thousands, now millions. There are millions of little mirrors in the world today, reflecting the goodness of God and the good news of Jesus Christ. He is the Light, we are the mirrors, revealing Jesus Christ to the world. How? When people see Christ’s likeness in us and our commitment to the gospel, the church, and the kingdom of God.
We have been born again, a true miracle of God. John the Baptist’s birth was a miracle, Jesus’ birth an even greater miracle, but if you are in the family of God, you were brought in by a miraculous birth, too. There is more to come on this in chapter three, to be sure, but no one is born a Christian in this world. We are born depraved, sinful, and it shows soon enough. We have to be born again, literally born from above, by God’s gracious gift of the Holy Spirit, who brings repentance and faith. Then we live for Christ, reflecting that grace, but not for long.
We are family with Jesus, the family of God, by being a part of His church. I am sure there are a few Christians outside of church life, but I guarantee you they are not mirrors properly reflecting Jesus Christ, leading people into His church. When you are in the family of God, you love the family of God, and as John will go on to say, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (ref. John 13:35).
We live short lives, shorter than we know. John lived to be thirty-something, Jesus thirty-something plus. We would all consider such a span to be a short life. You or I might live to be a hundred and three. But what is that against eternity? “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (ref. James 4:14). “We’ve only one life, and it will soon pass, only what’s done for Christ will last.”
We live with purpose, the purpose of bearing witness to Jesus and the gospel. The purpose of a Christian’s life is not to be faithful spouse, good parent, obedient child, good worker, active church member, although we should strive to be these things and more. The purpose of a Christians’ life is to “to bear witness about the light, that all might believe.” God put you in whatever place you are in life to be a witness for Him, in word and deed, so that the people God puts into your path might believe and be saved. How you handle this responsibility will be your everlasting legacy.
Like Jesus Christ our Lord, like John the Baptist, like every believer (and unbeliever, for that matter), you will leave a legacy. Whatever you’ve built on earth, whatever money you’ve made, whatever fame you may have achieved in business or sport, will be left behind and mean virtually nothing in the long run. But if you have received the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and if you have reflected that light so that others can see Jesus, then they will be your legacy, and they will join you in Heaven, for all eternity. What, or whom, will your legacy be?
There is one true light that shines in this world,
Not the sun, the moon, nor the stars unfurled;
The Lord Jesus Christ is the true light above,
Giving grace and peace with covenant love.
He shines on our sins, the mistakes we have made,
He shines on the cross, where the price for them was paid;
He shines in the hearts of those called to be His people,
He shines in His churches, underneath every steeple.
Yet Christ cannot be seen, by the mortal eyes of men,
He lived on earth once, but is now in Heaven again;
But His light still shines abroad, for everyone to see,
In the lives of devout Christians, I pray like you and me.
We are not gods of glory, for there is only One,
But we each tell a story, of coming to the Father through the Son;
A gospel of grace through faith, Jesus died and rose to give,
Now reflected in our faces, so that others, too, may live.
Heed the words of John the Baptist, John the Apostle, too,
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and let Him live in you.
Shine the light of our God and Savior, reflect it strong and true,
For the hope of a lost and dying world is to see Jesus Christ in you.
IN THE BEGINNING, JESUS
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
December 1, 2019
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
— John 1:1-5, ESV
The prologue to the Gospel of John (1:1-18) is the finest poetry and purest theology ever written. Reliable insight into the identity of the author comes from the imminent early church historian Eusebius, who learned it from his predecessor Irenaeus, who was told by the highly esteemed pastor Polycarp, who was personally discipled and ordained to the ministry by the author, the Apostle John, brother of James, son of Zebedee, the fisherman.
That a simple fisherman could pen such words, even under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has often seemed surprising to some. We often fail to notice that when Jesus called John and his older brother to follow Him as fishers of men, they left their father, boat, nets, and servants behind. In that era, the upper class had servants, the middle class had none, and the lower class were the servants. Furthermore, at the end of Christ’s work on earth when John needed to get close to the proceedings that ultimately crucified the Lord, he was let in because he was known to the High Priest. Such entrepreneurial success and political connections belie an intelligent young man from an erudite family.
By the time he wrote his Gospel, his Epistles, and the Revelation, John was an old man. He could reflect upon a life in which he had been closer to Christ than perhaps any other person on the planet, lived longer than all the other Apostles, and had accumulated the combination of experience, wisdom, and inspiration to produce this masterpiece of Holy Scripture. His telling of the good news begins with a word about the one who is the beginning of every good and perfect work, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Gospel of John is Jesus-centered, for John knew Jesus best. It is gospel-centered, for John’s purpose in writing is given with the greatest spiritual clarity. And, it is salvation-centered, for those who read, believe, and obey it can be assured of a right relationship with God, forever.
Four sermons will spring from the prologue. The first will cover 1:1-5. We will begin at the beginning, and the beginning of all things is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus was, is, and always will be the Word
“The Word,” logos is Greek, meant more to ancient cultures than our own. Postmodernism has polluted the power of the written, spoken, and symbolic word in our age. But back in the day, to call someone or something the Word was the ultimate compliment. In Greek or Hebrew or Aramaic, and John was fluent in all three languages, the word referenced something central, profound, superior. It could speak of something absolutely true or somebody absolutely truthful. It could speak of God.
Fifth century BC historian Herodotus may have been the first Greek to use the Word as a reference to God. By the first century AD, Jewish translators of the Targum referred to the Supreme Being of Scripture as the Word of God. John, fluent in both cultures, summoned the term to tell the absolute truth that there is absolutely one, true and living God, and the Nazarene carpenter he followed around for three years, who was born in Bethlehem and died in Jerusalem, is Him.
Jesus was, is, and always will be God. He did not begin in Bethlehem, although it is fair to say it was His first advent. Jesus was already there “in the beginning,” meaning He has existed from eternity past to creation and will exist from recreation into eternity future. He is eternal, He is the creator, He is God. The deity of Jesus Christ is central, it is “the Word” to Christianity, and John’s words begin with this absolute truth.
Jesus was, is, and always will be with God. How can God be with God? It is called the doctrine of the Trinity, another central “Word” to Christianity. In the Old Covenant, the Jews saw God only as the invisible Father, though there are references to God the Son and God the Spirit. In the New Covenant, biblical Christianity, God the Father can be seen in the person of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and experienced through the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit. John puts forth in the prologue and consistently through his Gospel that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit are One.
The deity of Christ and the tri-unity of God has been unbelieved and attacked by religious Jews, pagan Gentiles, and false cults of Christianity like the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and liberal Protestantism. But John keeps these doctrines front and center. They sum up “the Word.”
Jesus was, is, and always will be the true and living God. Jesus can do what only God can do. Jesus is the God who gives life, and He gives it though the light of the gospel, a gospel made plain in the Gospel of John.
Jesus was, is, and always will be the Life
In the beginning, God, or more specially Jesus, created all things, visible and invisible, organic and inorganic, the living and lifeless. Matter matters to God, if not the Gnostics, who thought all matter and flesh evil, therefore, God could not have come to us in bodily form. This is one of many heresies refuted by the Gospel of John, and the Apostle’s other works.
The matter that matters most to God in Christ is the species He crafted in His own image, homo sapiens, human beings, people. People bother me sometimes but they matter to Jesus all the time, so much so that He gives life to all, at least on one level, and gives a gift to some in order to enable them to live life on a much higher plain.
People have physical lives, and barring tragic exceptions we all have brains that function, hearts that beat, limbs that walk and work. This we owe to our Creator, Jesus Christ, who purposely endowed mankind with His physical and moral image in order to give Him glory and do good for one another. It does not always work out this way, and subsequently our life spans are limited. But God’s part of the plan was, is, and always will be perfect.
People had spiritual life in the beginning, but with our own free will we chose to sin and let the Spirit depart, rendering all mankind spiritually dead before the true and living God. But God, the Lord Jesus Christ, is life, and to many He gives new spiritual life, an experience He calls the new birth, which we will discuss more fully when we reach the Gospel’s third chapter.
Those who experience spiritual life during the span of their physical life will enjoy eternal life, and all of this is a gift from our God and Savior Jesus Christ, who is the life. This part of the prologue hints at the major thesis of the whole Gospel, which becomes crystal clear at 3:16, 10:10, 14:6, and 20:31.
Jesus was, is, and always will be the true and living God. Jesus can do what only God can do. Jesus is the God who gives life, and He gives it though the light of the gospel, a gospel made plain in the Gospel of John.
Jesus was, is and always will be the Light
While “Word” is clearly a reference to God in Christ, and “Life” is the ultimate eternal gift He gives, “Light” is a reference to how it comes from Heaven to mankind. He gives it by way of revelation, truth, good news. The “Light” in John’s Gospel is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The antithesis to the light Jesus gives is the darkness in which most people choose to live. “Darkness” is sin, separation from God, enmity, lostness, and ultimate condemnation and death. The only reason anyone would choose to live and die in darkness is that they have not seen the light and do not know the way to eternal life. The literal rendering of the last part of this part of the prologue is tragically illustrated by the wonderful Don McLean song about Vincent van Gogh, “They would not listen, their not listening still, perhaps they never will.”
Please listen to the gospel in the Gospel of John, so beautifully and plainly told. It is a light, a revelation from God, through His servant John, to tell the world the good news about the God who has come to us to save us from our sins and give us eternal life. This life is found in the Life, Jesus Christ, God incarnate, who lived, loved, died, and rose again so that the one who believes, and John will have so much to say about believing, will live forever.
Jesus was, is, and always will be the true and living God. Jesus can do what only God can do. Jesus is the God who gives life, and He gives it though the light of the gospel, a gospel made plain in the Gospel of John. Come along for the complete journey, a journey we have just begun at the beginning, with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Hear the wise fisherman tell the tale,
For no one else can tell it as well.
The greatest news to ever be heard,
Of the light, the life, and the living Word.
He was, He is, He always will be,
God incarnate, true Deity.
Same as the Father, embodied in the Son,
With the Holy Spirit, three in one.
Who is this Word and where does He trod,
The One who is the true and living God?
Revealed in the gospel, whenever it is heard,
He is Lord, He is Savior, Jesus Christ, the Word.
Copyright © 2019 Lake Hamilton Baptist Church, All rights reserved.
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org