Discovering Jesus through John 1
Almost a year ago now, I sat down to read the Bible with a friend. The book we had chosen was the Gospel of John—a mutual friend had recommended that we start there. “You’re quite literary, right? It’ll be perfect.”
But doubt still brewed in my mind even as we began to flip through those familiar pages. Surely it’d be better to read the simpler, straightforward Gospel of Mark? Or perhaps I should have brought a Bible study along with me. It probably should be someone else here reading the Bible. Someone smarter. Someone more qualified.
I looked across the coffee table to my friend, then down at John 1:1-18.
“Okay, let me pray before we read.”
I am always surprised by how God, in his kindness, uses weak people to achieve his good goals. Throughout that first coffee I fumbled my way with words borrowed from old pastors and Bible studies, constantly backtracking and losing direction. But the Word spoke clearly.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (v. 14)
From the first moment of our reading, it was made clear that Jesus was not an ordinary man. He was not just a teacher or a healer. The claim of John 1 is that Jesus is God on earth—the Word made flesh. He was there at the beginning of time (v. 1), is fundamental to creation (v. 3) and is where life and light is found (v. 4).
Slowly, Jesus was being revealed to us. Perhaps we could have spent more time on what was meant by the “the Word”, but it was enough to know that Jesus is the Word (vv. 14, 17). We could have done a deep dive into the Father, Son and Spirit but it was enough to know that Jesus was not from this world, but from heaven (v. 18).
“The thing you have to remember,” I said, “is that people spend their whole lives reading the Bible. God’s word is so good that you can grasp the big stuff straight away and also spend a lifetime learning more.”
“Yeah, I’m beginning to see what you mean,” my friend replied. “Like, I don’t know about all this ‘before-time’ stuff—but I’m starting to see why you Christians are so obsessed with Jesus.”
“Right! It’s because we think he isn’t an ordinary guy—he is, and is from, God.”
I paused for a moment as my friend scanned the page, chin in hand, brow furrowed.
“What’s this all about light?”
He himself [John] was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. (vv. 8-9)
“This is John the writer, right? He’s talking about himself,” my friend proposed.
“Actually it’s a different guy called John the Baptist; he comes up in the next chunk,” I said. “Actually, let’s read that bit.”
Again, Jesus was revealed as my friend grappled with the context of the story to come. A nation in promised relationship to God (v. 17) awaiting a promised king (vv. 25, 27), and a proclamation by John the Baptist: “this is God’s Chosen One” (v. 34).
“So it’s Jesus? Jesus is the light?”
I affirmed this but pushed for more. What did that mean? After a few minutes of digging through the passage, we came to the conclusion that Jesus was being contrasted against the world; he was light and the world was dark. More than that, verse 4 made it clear that light was also life. It dawned on my friend that this would also mean that the world was death.
We’d arrived at the gospel. Jumping around to Genesis and Romans, I explained how Jesus came to rescue the world from the death that we deserved and gave the Cliffs Notes version of a theology of grace, substitution and redemption. All the while they listened with the Bible perched on their lap.
As we wrapped up our time together I asked them for their thoughts.
“People have said to me before that ‘Jesus died to save you’—but it was just so abstract that it didn’t really mean anything. Reading this has helped… ground it a little? I don’t know. Knowing who you think Jesus is makes a big difference.”
Over the coming months we would meet up when we could and continue to press into John’s account of Jesus’ life. Time and time again we would be called back to chapter 1 as God’s word pointed us to the gospel message of Jesus. It provided a strong foundation, a heavenly perspective, from which to view the gospel narrative that unfolded.
It might not be the right place to start reading God’s word for everyone, but don’t underestimate God’s ability to work through you. Repeatedly I was humbled by God’s grace to the undeserving and his kindness in revealing himself to us. Reading through John gave me courage to ask more non-Christian friends to read about the Word with me. I could trust that God would be speaking.