Learning John Chapter One at Providence Church

By: Deji Yesufu

The Sunday before the Alistair Begg “gay-wedding-counsel” broke out, at church we had looked at John 1:11, which reads “…he came unto his own, and his own received him not…”. And while commenting on Jesus’ rejection by the religious and political class, I told the congregation (rather prophetically you might say) that Jesus Christ is on social media. That our Lord has accounts on Twitter and Facebook, and right now, as we speak, there is some fellow, from the comfort of his room, refuting Jesus; calling him a heretic, and canceling him. These were some of the things that were playing out in my own mind, when I eventually reconsidered the position most of the Christian world took against Begg, and then came to the conclusion that there was nothing inherently wrong with Begg’s counsel to that grandmother.

We began to do an exposition of the book of John at Providence Reformed Baptist Church, Ibadan, with the first Sunday of the year 2024. I told the congregation that expositional preaching will take us through a roller coaster of a ride through the Bible. That the study will challenge our preconceived beliefs and that Jesus will use our learning, along with God’s providential happenings around us, to shape our thinking. What was required of us was simply an openness to see where the text of the Bible will lead, a commitment to obey God, and a prayerful disposition to our learning. We opened the study by imbibing the central text of the book of John: “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you might have life through his name” (John 20:31). In other words, the central purpose of the Holy Spirit in penning John through the author is salvation. So, we often reminded ourselves of this central theme – almost to the point of sounding like a broken record. But I explained to God’s people that asserting the genuineness of each person’s faith is only as important as receiving genuine salvation in Christ. There are just too many false Christs out there for one to assume that everyone in church is a true Christian. In our study of John Chapter one, we met with three important personalities: Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, and the Pharisees. Note, however, that I would conclude this essay with one more group of people. Stay tuned.

Jesus Christ. I have stated that the main thrust of the book of John is in bringing people to believe on Jesus Christ. This fact, however, needed to be driven home to the original readers of the book by John stating and proving the divinity of Christ. John’s gospel opens with a statement that is very much akin to how the text of the Old Testament itself began in the book of Genesis. Genesis 1:1ff – “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth… and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the water. And God said…”; John 1:1ff – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was god… all things were made by Him…” In both the Genesis and John scripture, we have a “beginning”. Both stated that there was creation. In the Genesis account, “God” here is “Elohim” which can stand as a divine plurality in some context and we know that this is so because that scripture mentions God, the Spirit (moving on the waters), and “God said…” – the Word of God. So that when John opens and says the Word was in the beginning, he was with God, and indeed he was God, we look on the divine plurality, Elohim, and we see Jesus in Genesis 1:1-2!

John must state this because it is not enough to just talk about Jesus and all that he did while he was in Palestine. John must show that this Person is one of the three Persons of the Godhead. And the only way to prove this is to show that Jesus created the world. In original Jewish worldview, only God could have created the world. The moment John showed that the Word, Jesus, created the world, John was stating essentially that Jesus was divine. Amen.

John the Baptist. John is introduced to this narrative as “a man”. This man was sent by God and was sent to bear witness to the Light (Christ). The picture Apostle John is giving us of John the Baptist is that of the coming of royalty. In ancient times, and even in some places in our day, the coming of royalty is often preceded by a herald: ‘…behold the King is coming…” – they will say. And people will prepare themselves to receive the king. Again, this is a further proof of the divinity of Christ. In the Old Testament, no prophet had such herald, and none of them needed it because none of them was royalty in the divine sense. But as Jesus was coming into the world, entering into ministry in first century Palestine, a herald had to go ahead of him, and that person was John the Baptist.

The Pharisees. At Providence Reformed Baptist Church, Ibadan, the word “Pharisee” took up a new meaning with the Alistair Begg controversy. We saw that it was easy to see the malfeasance of the Pharisees as long as they remained ensconced on the pages of the Bible. The real challenge was discovering Phariseeism closer home – nay, finding out that modern Pharisees were you and me. So, we see in verse 24 that the Pharisees had sent certain people to John requesting to know if he was the Christ. We learnt from our study that the Pharisees were not entirely evil people – by modern standards, an average Pharisee would be like any other church going person in the 21st century. Besides this, we understood that the Pharisees knew their scriptures – they were biblical in their worldview. And they knew enough of the Bible to understand that the Messiah was to come about that time. They looked at John and felt that he met most, if not all, of the marks of the Messiah. In response, John told the Pharisees that he was not the Messiah, he was not Elijah, neither was he a prophet. But when we compare John’s testimony here with Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:7-11, we realize that John was not lying; he was simply trying to help the Pharisees to realize that his calling in life was not in his office but in his duty. He might be Elijah or a prophet, but that was not what was important. What was most important about John’s calling was that he was a voice to the land – and that voice was calling Israel to prepare the way to receive their Messiah. We had learnt at Providence Church that the primary duty of a prophet is to teach people – to bring people to hearing God’s word and do them. Somehow, the Pharisees, in spite of all the head-start, missed the person of the Savior. They took him and they crucified him. When the Pharisees killed Jesus, God was telling us that our best in religion is still his worst. Modern Pharisees, Christians today, need to beware of a debilitating self-righteousness, worse than even those of the Pharisees. When the Pharisees crucified Jesus, they canceled him. They have done nothing short of this to Alistair Begg.

Conclusion. We concluded our study of John chapter one yesterday in church by looking at the last nine verses (43-51). I titled the sermon marks of true disciples of Jesus Christ. Having looked at the person of Christ; having studied his herald – John the Baptist; and having looked at his detractors – the Pharisees, it was fitting to end the study with some points of application. From these nine verses I drew out four lessons: 1. A true disciple is called by Christ himself (v.43); 2. A true disciple hears the call (v.44-45); 3. A True disciple may have little faith (v.46-50); and a true disciple will see great things from just a little faith in Christ (v.51).

When Nathaniel told Philip that they had found the One whom Moses wrote about, we went to Deuteronomy 18:15-19 to see what Moses said about Jesus, and we reached the conclusion that all that God needed from Israel with regards to the coming of the Messiah was that they may HEAR him. It is for this purpose that God sent a herald ahead of Jesus, and gave him a voice. Yet, the nation of Israel did not hear Jesus. Despite our Lord’s profound teaching abilities, his ability to work miracles, and his large heart, the core religious people of his day failed to hear him; they missed their Messiah; they crucified the One sent to save them. It is no wonder the risen Christ continues to hammer even at the churches today to hear what the Spirit is saying. I ended my sermon pleading with God to give all of us ears to hear him Providence Church.

At Providence Reformed Baptist Church, Ibadan, we are excited to go on this expositional preaching trip, and we want to use this medium to invite you to join us on the journey. If you live in Ibadan and wish to visit our local assembly to see what God is doing among us, send me an email on [email protected]. Next Sunday, we move into chapter two as we commence a study of Jesus’ visit to a wedding in Cana of Galilee.

Deji Yesufu is the pastor of Providence Reformed Baptist Church. He is the author of HUMANITY.

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