Yesterday, we thought about how the prologue to John’s Gospel (1:1-18) functioned like an ancient letter of introduction. We concluded by reading the prologue, trying to identify the three key features of a letter of introduction:
- The name, character, and the writer’s close relationship with the one being introduced.
- The impending arrival of the one being introduced, and the addressee should “receive” them.
- The benefits of friendship with the one being introduced, and that the addressee would also benefit from their friendship.
How did you go? Here’s what I had:
The one being introduced in John’s Gospel is named explicitly as Jesus Christ – but not until verse 17. Before that, he’s described as the eternal “Word” (v1) – a term we’ll look at in more detail tomorrow – who has become human (v14). He’s the creator of all things (v3) and the source of life (v4) and enlightenment (v5). And he’s the bringer of “grace and truth” (v17). Indeed, he is God himself (v1). A pretty impressive character reference!
What’s more, this Word is described as having close relationship with God the Father – the Greek behind the phrase “the Word was with God” connotes a face-to-face relationship. Something that even Moses couldn’t do! Just like with dentists, Moses was only permitted to see the back of God’s glory (Exod 33:18-23). But Jesus sees him face-to-face. In fact:
John 1:18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.
In ancient letters of introduction, often the person being introduced was to be a representative of the sender. They would often send a son, or trusted servant, to do business on their behalf. Many of the letters authorise them to “make known” the sender whom they represent.* Here, Jesus is the one who’s being authorised to make God the Father known to the recipients of the letter – namely, us.
In ancient letters of introduction, there was a call to action: to “receive” the one whose “coming” was mentioned in the letter. Particularly if they were an important person, this receiving (showing hospitality) was the first step if you wanted to have an ongoing relationship with them, and experience the benefits of their friendship:
John 1:9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.
John 1:11-12 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed /trusted in his name, he gave the right to become children of God
Here we have the language of patronage. Showing hospitality to an important person – and then trust that they were able to provide for you – resulted in being given favour. In this case, welcoming Jesus as God’s representative, trusting him that he did indeed have access to God the Father, results in being given something incredibly valuable: the right to become part of God’s family.
Many of God’s people didn’t receive him. He was rejected by most of the Jewish leaders – indeed, most of Israel. But to those who did receive him (people we’ll meet later in John’s Gospel, like Nathaniel and Philip and the other disciples later in this chapter, not to mention Nicodemus in chapter 3, the Samaritan woman in chapter 4, the man born blind in chapter 9, Lazarus in chapter 11…) he gave the favour of God – the benefits of the kingdom. He gave life now, and in the age to come.
In Luke’s Gospel, we see this principle of an initial response determining whether more favour is given:
Luke 10:8-11 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’
Even today, I’ve seen this happen time and time again – some people hear a bit about Jesus, and dismiss it straight away. Christianity is a crutch for weak people. Or it’s a myth for the superstitious. Or it’s too judgmental and authoritarian for our liking. For whatever reason, people reject the gospel message without giving it a fair hearing. And most of the time, that’s that.
But other people receive the message. They don’t “sign on the dotted line” straight away, but they are welcoming toward it; they are intrigued. Often they first receive the messenger – they become friends with Christians first, even become part of a church community. And over time, they look into the gospel: what’s it all about? Is it true? They seek God, and they find him. Because God promises that those who truly seek him will find him.
Notice that “receiving” is not enough. “Receiving” must lead to “believing.” In the world of patronage – and in the language of John’s Gospel – that doesn’t just mean intellectual agreement to a concept. It’s an expression of trust that Jesus can indeed deliver on his promises. And it’s a pledge of loyalty not to entertain rival masters. It’s an exclusive commitment.
So what are the benefits of receiving and trusting in Jesus?
I think we’ve already covered it, but it’s worth a recap. Jesus brings the favour of God (v16), which includes:
- Life (v4)
- Enlightenment (v5, 9)
- Being a part of God’s family (v12)
- “Grace and truth” (v17 – we’ll talk about this more later in the week)
- Knowledge of God himself (v18)
Tomorrow, we’ll start to work through this prologue line-by-line, as there’s so much packed into it! But for now, spend some time thanking God for the benefits Jesus brings us. Because, as we’ll see later in the week, gratitude is the appropriate response to grace.
* For example, the papyrus letter P. Oxy. I.32 authorises the sender in the following terms: “he is empowered to disclose to you all the things pertaining to our business…you may have him before your eyes as myself…whatever he has told you about me may be taken as fact.”