Read: John 1:4, 10-13, 17
They are some of the saddest words in the entire Bible, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” (John 1:11 ESV) I can only imagine how I would feel if I knocked on the door at one of my children’s houses, and they completely ignored me. Everyone’s inside, having a great time, while I stand on the porch, knocking. Eventually I go to the front window. I can see them all in there, eating and drinking and laughing. I try knocking on the window and waving to get someone’s attention. One or two look up briefly to see me standing there. They wave to acknowledge my presence, but no one comes to the door. No one invites me in. All my children are in there, and I’m standing outside. And I’m the father! Something’s terribly wrong here. That’s how Jesus must have felt.
We are his people, first, by right of creation (v.10) and second by his own choice of self-identification. Before he made the world, Jesus had already agreed to step out of his glory, and put on flesh, to become one of us. He identified with us, unashamedly calling us his friends (John 15:15) and his brothers (Hebrews 2:11) He walked among us and talked to us on our level so we could know him and understand him.
As he stood within Pilate’s Judgment Hall on that fateful morning, stripped and bleeding, he looked out upon his own people. And they said, “No, thank you.” Actually they said,” Crucify him!” The point is, they refused to receive him.
There were, of course, some exceptions. John goes on to say, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12 ESV)
So, let me ask you, Are YOU a believer? Really? More important, are YOU a receiver? It’s possible, you know, for someone to say they believe in Jesus, but that by itself doesn’t mean much unless they go on to receive Jesus. It would be like the children I mentioned earlier who waved at me through the window, but never came to the door to invite me in. Some people may even come to church every Sunday, smiling and waving; but they keep the Lord at a distance the rest of the week.
If you haven’t already, start by opening the door of your heart to Jesus, just like you have already opened your heart to every other person you love. You know how to let people in and how to shut people out. Now open your heart to Jesus. Invite him to come in. But know that when he comes in, he’ll want to enter every room and take over your entire house. He’ll start by taking out the trash. Then he’ll begin to re-arrange your furniture. Some of your old “stuff” isn’t working for you. He’ll want to remove that. He’ll also want to introduce some brand new things into your life. I call these “holy habits.” If this feels like a radical lifestyle change, that’s because it is. BUT WARNING! This is not about making a few changes on the surface of our lives. We’re not simply adopting a new set of rules. (Start doing this. Stop doing that.) God wants to change us from the inside out! Notice John’s words, “to all who did receive him, . . . he gave the right to become children of God, who were born . . . of God.” (John 1:12-13 ESV)
Think about it. If we have been born of God, we have received a new spiritual DNA. This is God’s DNA! Just as our physical DNA determines everything about our physical appearance, our spiritual DNA ,which we received from the Holy Spirit when we were born again, begins to change us at the level of our spirit. We’ll begin to love the things God loves—and hate the things God hates. We will start looking forward to growing up spiritually, and becoming just like our heavenly father. Most important, we’ll no longer instinctively run away and try to hide ourselves from God. We’ll actually develop the habit of running toward our Father with our arms up, looking for his smile, eager to receive his hug.
There’s another way to think about receiving Christ. We can think about Jesus as God’s gift to us. Ask yourself, what’s the first thing you do whenever you receive a gift? Answer: you open it to see what’s inside, of course! So, in these verses, John helps us open our gift (Jesus) to discover the things we receive when we receive him.
First, we receive life. “In him was life . . . “ (v.4a) Don’t be fooled. This is more than the natural life we have, simply because our heart is beating and our lungs are breathing. John is talking about the spiritual life we receive when we are connected, or re-connected, with God. (Ephesians 2:4-5) It is the abundant life Jesus promised to bring those who come to him. (John 10:10) It is nothing less than the discovery and fulfillment of God’s purpose for our life. (Jeremiah 29:11)
Remember Adam and Eve, hiding among the trees, trying to cover themselves with fig leaves, hoping God won’t find them. (Genesis 3:7-8) What’s wrong with this picture? We could list many things, of course, but the point I want to make right now is that none of us can possibly experience the abundant life Jesus promised while we’re hiding, trying to cover up ourselves and blame someone else for our trouble. We need to come out of hiding and run toward God. This life can only be discovered as we consistently walk with him and talk with him.
Second, we receive light. “ . . . and the life was the light of men.” (v.4b) When you were small, were you afraid of the dark? Most of us were. Why? I think the main reason was simply because we can’t see in the dark. We didn’t know what was out there, so we let our imaginations go crazy. We invented all kinds of scary things that might be out there, waiting for us. None of it was real, of course, but you can never be too sure—in the dark. Then again, there are many very real dangers in the dark. That’s the thing. You just never know what you might run into, or fall into—in the dark. We might even suggest that the things we fear most aren’t even there—but the things we don’t consider are the things that trip us up every time—in the dark. “The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.” (Proverbs 4:19)
In contrast, the first words of God recorded in the Bible are, “Let there be light.” (Genesis 1:3) Immediately, the light conquered the darkness. In fact, from the beginning, darkness has never been able to remain in the room when the light comes.
In his first epistle, John declares that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (I John 1:5) Furthermore, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his son cleanses us from all sin.” (I John 1:7)
These verses describe two opposing kingdoms, warring this minute over your soul and mine. The kingdom of darkness is characterized by lies, and fear, and destruction. Since Adam and Eve, men and women have been stumbling in this darkness. Jesus came to introduce us to the kingdom of light. (John 8:12) And it’s found in him. In fact, “The path the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.” (Proverbs 4:18)
Furthermore, when we open this gift God has given us (Jesus) we receive grace. John says that “ . . . grace . . . came through Jesus Christ.” (v.17) You ask, what’s that? Grace is every good gift God gives you—because he loves you. It’s exactly what you need—exactly when you need it.
The truth is, your heavenly Father thinks you’re beautiful. (Even the guys, believe it or not!) Don’t worry about what anyone else says. His opinion is the only one that matters. And that’s where grace begins—every time. In fact, the root meaning of the word grace is— “beauty.”
It works something like this. Whenever your Father sees you running toward him with your arms up, calling for him, “Daddy! Daddy!” He thinks, “That’s my boy!” (or my girl) “And he’s/ she’s beautiful!” He smiles real big and reaches out to pick us up and carry us. In that moment, his first impulse is to give you anything you need. In fact, he has promised to do exactly that! (Remember, he has unlimited resources, unlike most of our earthly fathers.) He will forgive your sin and heal your hurts. He will equip you to perform any task he’s asked you to do. And he’ll give you the necessary wisdom for whatever difficult choice you might be facing while you’re doing it. It’s all a demonstration of his grace toward you. And his grace just goes on and on.
Did you catch the strong contrast in verse 17? “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” This simply means the Law came to show us what’s wrong with us. But it could never fix us. The Law, by itself, is only bad news. Only Jesus can heal our brokenness. That’s good news. That’s grace.
Finally, when we receive Jesus, we receive truth. “. . . and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (v.17) This simply means we can believe everything Jesus has told us in his word. This is because first, Jesus knows the truth. Also, because he always speaks the truth. Many people who talk to you every day either don’t know the whole truth about whatever they’re saying, or they’re, for some reason, not telling you the whole truth. They’re either dishonest, or misinformed. Jesus is the only one I know whose words are absolutely trustworthy. If I read something in his word that seems wrong, or impossible, to me, I can assume the fault lies within me somewhere. I either don’t have all the facts, or I’ve misunderstood what he’s trying to say.
That’s one reason we’re so often reminded in this book how important it is to believe these words we’ve received. Only Jesus has the words of eternal life. (John 6:68)
So, I’ll ask again: Are YOU a believer? Are YOU a receiver?