One word makes all the difference.
Marketing experts preach the importance of putting the customer in the present. They say you need to help the customer imagine themselves actually using your product in the here and now. So when you’re writing copy, you don’t say, “Kids will love the fruity taste of Twizzlers!” Instead, you say, “Kids love the fruity taste of Twizzlers!” Removing that one word puts the customer in the present and automatically makes your product more appealing. According to the marketing gurus, that one word makes all the difference.
Several years ago, conversation analysts John Heritage and Jeffrey Robinson examined the impact when doctors changed just one word in their questions to their patients. They noted a dramatic difference when doctors replaced the word “anything” with the word “something.” For example, medical school training recommends that, after discussing the initial problem, doctors then ask, “Is there anything else we need to take care of today?” However, analysts have shown that questions containing the word “anything” typically receive negative responses. But the same research suggests that the question, “Is there something else we need to take care of today?” evokes a more positive response. Again, that one word apparently makes all the difference.
John’s Gospel points us to the one word that makes all the difference, the one word that makes all other words irrelevant. It is the Word of God, Jesus Christ.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. (John 1:1-5)
With this prologue, John echoes the creation account of Genesis. Whereas the Gospel of Mark begins with the ministry of Jesus and both Matthew and Luke take us back to the birth of Jesus, John goes back even further to the beginning of creation. Life, light, darkness, “in the beginning”…these words and phrases remind us of Genesis. John points us to the eternal nature of Jesus as the divine Word of God. When God said, “Let there be light”, the Word of God (Jesus) was the active agent to accomplish the Father’s will. We this elsewhere in the Bible – Colossians 1, for example.
Here’s the idea central to all of this from Genesis 1 and John 1: When God speaks, creation occurs. And in Jesus, God has spoken a word of new creation.
According to John, Jesus was present with God the Father in the beginning: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. We can see here a distinction between God the Father and God the Son – they’re two distinct entities. But in the next line we see that, despite this distinction, they share an essential unity: and the Word was God. Now, John’s not trying to be confusing. He’s simply reiterating the unique status of Jesus: He is the Son of God, distinct and differentiated from God the Father and God the Spirit. Yet He also shares the same divine essence as both the Father and the Spirit. Father, Son, and Spirit together make up the entity we know as “God.”
But again, one word can make all the difference here. There are some who have chosen to translate the verse this way, “and the Word was with God and the Word was a God.” One little word can change the entire meaning and, in this case, with tragic results. This mistranslation undermines the uniquely divine status of Jesus.
As the Word of God, Jesus brings life and light. And John expands on these themes in v14:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Last week we noted that faith is not an abstract enterprise, but rather it is an active verb, “a word that sweats.” And right up front, John articulates the Incarnation of Christ as a translation from the abstract to the concrete. The Word of God has come among us and made his dwelling among us. I love the way Eugene Peterson translates this in The Message: The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. Literally, John says that Jesus has “tabernacled” among us. In ancient Israel, the tabernacle was the dwelling place of God among His people prior to the construction of the temple. So in Jesus, God is among His people again…he’s tabernacled among us…he’s moved back into the neighborhood! He’s done this by sending His Word into the world.
In order for God to speak to us, He has to come down to our level, using language we understand, because we have no way of getting to His level.
Last Monday, our youngest son, Jackson had an accident, cutting his leg open with a pocketknife. It could’ve been much worse, but the incision was large enough that he needed seven stitches. As the doctor was getting ready to sew him up, a child life specialist came in and talked with Jackson. She said it was her job to make sure that young patients at Women and Children’s Hospital understood what was going on. So she got down on his level and explained to him what was going to happen, using language that he could understand.
John points us to Jesus and he says, “This is a Word from God, a Word we can understand, a Word spoken in our language.” (Jackson is okay, by the way!)
And in v14, John gives us two descriptors to help us hear the Word properly: he says Jesus comes full of grace and truth.
Last week, we talked about Jesus as “The Truth” from John 14:6. And here in the prologue, John says that Jesus moves into our neighborhood “full of truth” – and John emphasizes this throughout his Gospel.
The first sign Jesus performs in John’s Gospel is turning water into wine. When you read through that story, Jesus seems a bit reluctant to perform this miracle. But his mother, Mary, is pretty insistent. Despite his objections, she turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever he tells you to do,” (John 2:5). That’s what you do when you recognize Jesus as the Word of God, a Word full of truth. You do what He tells you to do.
At the end of John 2, it says that Jesus didn’t need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man (2:25). He knows our condition, he knows what’s “in” us because He is Truth. And what is “in” us? Brokenness, corruption, depravity, evil…in a word, sin. The Bible says, “Your sin will find you out,” – because Jesus is Truth and you can’t run from the Truth. But the Bible also says, “The truth will set you free,” – because the Gospel truth is that Jesus came full of grace as well.
Jesus is the perfect expression of God’s grace toward us. As I was reading through John this week, I was struck by the references to John the Baptist: he was a witness, he came to bear witness, the testimony of John was to declare Jesus as the Lamb of God. And the reason this is significant is because – as John says – the Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world.
Jesus knows what is “in” us – because He is the Word of God full of truth.
But He takes away our sin – because He is the Word of God full of grace.
So here’s this week’s dare: would you dare to speak a word about Jesus to someone this week? Would you follow the example of John the Baptist by bearing witness to Jesus this week? Last month, we talked about the fact that one conversation can have an eternal impact. This week’s dare is to seek out those conversation points, to find a way to speak a word about Jesus.
And specifically, the dare is to speak a word of truth about Jesus and a word of grace about Jesus.
Maybe someone in your life needs to hear the truthful Word of God this week:
- Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.
- If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other cheek also.
- Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…
- Apart from me, you can do nothing…
- If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
These are just a few of the truths that Jesus left us. Can you think of someone in your life that might need to hear these words of truth? And would you be daring enough to speak those words this week? If you’re going to be a truth-teller in someone’s life, it probably needs to be someone who really knows your heart. I’m guessing it’ll be a family member or a close friend.
Maybe someone in your life needs to hear the gracious Word of God this week:
- It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick.
- Do not let your hearts be troubled.
- My grace is sufficient for you.
- Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
- I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.
These are just some of the gracious words Jesus left us. Can you think of someone in your life that might need to hear these words of grace? And would you be daring enough to speak those words this week?
This is our dare this week: to speak a word of truth and to speak a word of grace this week — all in the name of Jesus.
One word of truth could make all the difference
One word of grace could make all the difference
What are you daring by faith?
May the Word of God, Jesus Christ, be the word on our lips and the word on our hearts this week!