A brief overview for Sunday School teachers and Bible Study leaders, of Lifeway’s Explore The Bible lesson of John 1:1-14, “In the Beginning,” for Sun, Dec. 4, 2022. A video version of this overview is available on YouTube at:
INTRO: A couple of years ago the Nativity Scene in St. Albans, West Virginia received national attention. The scene was notable, because it included a stable, some sheep, camels & a donkey, and even some “visitors” – wise men – and that was it! There was nothing IN the stable – no Mary, no Joseph — and no baby Jesus! Interestingly, the two town officials that were contacted had differing stories about why there was no one in the stable. The parks superintendent said that the Holy Family was left out because of “separation of church & state” concerns. The mayor, on the other hand, (the politician!) said it was just a “technical difficulty” – you know, too hard to get all those characters to fit inside the stable! Either way, it was definitely ironic that the One the nativity scene is supposed to celebrate was left out!
Unfortunately, that is how it often is – people celebrate “family”; their blessings — “the spirit of the season” — but oftentimes, Jesus Christ Himself is left out.
(An alternate introduction you could use might be to ask your group: “Do you know/have you ever known someone with an unorthodox belief in who Jesus is?” (For example: a Jehovah’s Witness friend would not believe that Jesus is God. A Mormon friend would say that Jesus is God, but the Mormon belief is that He was a created being like we are, who became God. This is NOT the Biblical teaching about Christ.) After this discussion, then you can move on to the study of the Book of John, and say something like: “Today we are going to look at who the BIBLE says Jesus is.”)
The Minor Prophets study was good, but I know many of you are ready for the New Testament! And this week we begin a 6 month study of the Book of John; a great book: written with the express purpose that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ (20:31).
We start Chapter 1 with “beginnings” in a sense, but not really. Matthew and Luke have Nativity stories that many will share this time of year — which is absolutely appropriate. But we need to understand that although Jesus was born as a 100% human in Bethlehem, He did not come into being in Bethlehem. He always existed as God, the Son of God the 2nd Person of the Trinity. And John makes this very clear.
This is a great passage to teach about the Person and Work of Jesus. We touched on this in Micah 5, but we can go into more depth on it here in John, with one of the clearest sections of scripture on just who Jesus is. This is a vital section for you to teach, and for your class to understand.
— They will be hit with all kinds of wrong ideas about Jesus which, if they know this passage, they will be able to refute.
— Virtually every heresy is built around SOME misunderstanding of the Biblical view of Jesus. If you can get your group to understand that He is 100% God, and 100% Man, who died on the cross to completely pay for our sins, you will have gone a long way towards guarding your group from heretical religions.
In fact, a chart like this helps us to understand the issues involved:
Orthodox, Biblical teaching about Jesus is that He is ONE Person who had TWO full natures: He is both FULLY God, and FULLY man. Most ALL of the heresies in Church history (and many today) are due to a misunderstanding of one of these Biblical points: either that He wasn’t God, or wasn’t Man, or wasn’t FULLY God or fully Man.
YOU MAY WANT TO COPY THIS AND hand it out to your group, or POST IT on the wall to refer to (maybe leave it up for a few weeks to help implant it into the minds of your group).
It’s important for us to help our group understand, from Scripture, that Jesus is fully God, and fully Man, so that He could die on the cross as the Perfect Sacrifice for our sins.
OK, that’s a little theological background for what we’re shooting for in this lesson — really CHRIST-ology, the study of Christ.
NOW: let’s look at what this magnificent text specifically says about it. There’s so much here; I’m going to focus on the pivotal doctrines of the Person of Christ, how He is “fully God and fully Man.” What does this text tell us about this:
I. “Fully God”
A. John 1:1-4 Teaches that Jesus is fully God. I might have my group look at the first 4 verses of this chapter, and ask them to call out: “What all do you see here that points out the DEITY of Christ, that He is God?”
(Make sure they point these things out/you can add what they don’t find:
— “In the beginning was the Word.” It is NOT “in the beginning He was created.” NO: “in the beginning, WAS the Word.” “In the beginning” when God created the heavens and the earth, Jesus already WAS. He is pre-existent God. He already was when everything came into being.
— “The word was WITH GOD” — the Greek word literally means He was “face to face with God.” (This refers to the Triune relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.)
— “The word WAS GOD” what could be more clear than this? In fact (as the teacher book points out) in Greek the language is literally, “and GOD was the Word.” The word “GOD” is in the emphatic first position there. Jehovah’s Witnesses will try to tell you that this means He was “a god” — but the Greek is very clear: GOD was the Word!
— “All things came into being by Him” — He created everything. It reinforces it by saying, “apart from Him, nothing came into being that has come into being.” In other words, if it came into being, HE MADE IT! (AND notice HE is excluded from “created beings.” He did not “come into being,” and He was not created. He created all things that DID come into being. He is fully God.
— :4 says “in Him was life” — He gave life to everything that exists. HE created the breath of life into man and all creation.
The fact is, scripture could not be more emphatic and clear here, that Jesus is FULLY GOD!
B. But we also need to understand that it is not only John 1 that teaches the Deity of Jesus. Many other scriptures do as well:
— In Matthew 1:23 Jesus is called “GOD with us”!
— Philippians 2:9 says that Jesus was given “the Name which is above every name …” – a lot of people don’t realize that that phrase was a Jewish term for God! The Jews felt like the name of God was so holy, that they didn’t want to pronounce it out loud, so when they wanted to refer to God, often times they would just say: “The name which is above every name.” So it is powerful that Philippians 2 says that Jesus is “the name which is above all names” — it is proclaiming that He is God!
— The whole first chapter of Hebrews is about the superiority of Jesus to the Law and the angels, and it says in :8, “Of the Son He says, “Your throne O GOD is forever …”. It specifically calls Him God!
–Colossians 2:9 says “In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” Paul wrote the book of Colossians to combat the teachings of the Gnostics, who taught that the ultimate “God” was what they called the “fullness” (the Greek word is “pleroma”). This “pleroma” or “fullness” of God, they said, is so beyond us that we cannot directly communicate with Him. So in between us and God, they taught, there have to be numerous intermediary beings they called “aeons” or “archons”, who were god-like rulers and beings who could give humans wisdom. But God made it clear here in Colossians, that in Jesus all the FULLNESS — the “pleroma” — of the Highest Deity dwells in bodily form. Jesus is not some “sub-god” to the Pleroma or fullness of God. JESUS IS THE PLEROMA! He IS the fullness of God! Herschel Hobbs, who was a great pastor/theologian from FBC OKC in the 1900’s, wrote that Colossians 1:9 here is THE single strongest verse in all the Bible regarding the deity of Jesus. He was and is 100% God!
C. And Jesus Himself also taught that He was God. One of the false assertions that I have seen in various places is the assertion that the FOLLOWERS of Jesus called Him God, but that Jesus HIMSELF never claimed to be God. This is a completely ignorant statement, and is totally disproved by the words of Jesus Himself:
— In Matthew 26:63-65 “The high priest said to Him: ‘I adjure You by the Living God, that You tell us whether you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said it yourself.’ … Then the high priest tore his robes and said, ‘He has blasphemed!’” It was obvious that Jesus had made Himself very clear to the Jewish court. They knew exactly what He was saying. The expression He used, ‘You have said it yourself”, is an idiom that in their language was very similar to our expression: “You said it!” When someone asks you: “You aren’t going to the beach, are you?” and you say: “You said it!”, that’s just another way of saying “yes!” So when Jesus says here: “You have said it yourself!”, He was saying, “Yes I am the Christ, the Son of God!” And it is obvious that these Jewish leaders understood what He was saying, because they tore their robes and called it blasphemy. They knew what He was claiming.
— In John 8:56-59 Jesus told the Jews: “Before Abraham came into being, I AM.” “I AM” is the name God gave Moses in Exodus 3 when Moses asked Him what was His name. And here Jesus says HE is that “I AM! Again, the Jews who were listening to Him were aware of exactly what He was claiming. That’s why they picked up stones to stone him, because they knew He was claiming to be the “I AM”, Yahweh God of the Old Testament!
— In John 10:30 Jesus said “I and the Father are one.” Again, it says “(the Jews) took up stones again to stone Him”, they knew He was clearly “making Himself out to be God”!
–John 14:9 Philip had said to Jesus, just show us the Father, and that is enough for us. Jesus responded: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father!”
–John 20:28 after the resurrection of Jesus, when Thomas saw Him, he called Him “My Lord and My God”. Now in Acts 14:13-15, when the people of Lystra began to worship Paul & Barnabas, those 2 men stopped the people, and said to them, don’t worship us, “we are men like you!”! They would not allow the people to worship them. In Revelation 19:10, when John started to worship the angel that was speaking to him, the angel stopped him and said, “Do not do that; I am a fellow-servant of yours.” He wouldn’t let him worship him. But when Thomas called Jesus, “My Lord and My God”, He did not stop him; He did not rebuke him. Instead Jesus said, “Because you have seen, have you believed?” Because that is exactly Who He is!
— The Book of John tells us He is God
— Other scriptures tell us He is God
— Jesus Himself claimed to be God.
For an illustration, you could share the story of a Chinese student in the U.S. who had been tutored by some Christians who were witnessing to her. She was asked: What difference would it make if Christ were God? She said, We should respect Him, because He is different from all others; He has another position; He is God!
??? You might ask your group that same question: “What difference does it make if Jesus was/wasn’t God?”
(You could close that discussion time by saying something like:
The question is often asked: “How can believing in some guy who lived 2000 years ago change my life today?” The answer is, because it wasn’t just “SOME GUY” who lived 2000 years ago! It was GOD who came to earth that day in Bethlehem. And though He died on a cross 2000 years ago, Romans 1:4 says “He was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead” and He is alive today! Jesus Christ is not just “some guy.” He was not just a good man, or a religious teacher who lived 2000 years ago. The Christ of Christmas is God. And because He is God, He will change your life, if you’ll respond to Him the way that Thomas did, and fall at His feet, and call Him what He is: “My Lord and My God!”)
II. Fully MAN
John 1:14 says: “And the Word (the Fully God we saw from :1-4) became FLESH and dwelt among us.”
This is the doctrine of the “Incarnation” of Jesus. “In-carn-ation” literally means, “in-flesh-ment.” This 100% God put on 100% real human flesh. Jesus is fully God and fully Man.
The Bible makes it very clear that Jesus DID take on a human body:
— John 1:14 makes it very clear when it says: “The Word became FLESH.”
— To counter false teaching like the Docetic heresy, the Apostle John wrote in I John 4:2-3 that “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and that every spirit that does not confess Jesus (coming in the flesh, like he had just taught) is NOT from God.” Those are strong words — emphasizing the vital importance of the doctrine of the Incarnation.
— Jesus Himself taught His real humanity as well. Appearing to His disciples after His resurrection from the dead, Jesus said in Luke 24:39 “a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see that I have.” Here Jesus made it clear – He was NOT a vision, or an apparition, or just “seem” to be a man; He said He had “flesh and bones.” So just as Jesus claimed to be God, He also taught that He was a real man as well. His “Incarnation” means that He came “in the flesh” as a real, 100% man.
An illustration you might use with this point: A couple of years ago, the President of Ursuline College made headlines when she decided to move into the women’s dorm at the college. So many college professors and administrators are accused of living in their academic “ivory towers,” far removed from what goes on in the lives of their students. So the president decided to do something about it – and moved right in with the students! She said at the time that it would either be the best thing she ever did, or the most foolish, but at least it would help her to understand her students better.
That college president couldn’t be accused of “staying in an ivory tower” and not connecting with her people – and neither can our God. He did not stay in His “ivory tower” in heaven; but God the Son, Jesus Christ, came to earth to live with us as a man. That is what Christmas is really all about: Jesus is “Emmanuel”: “God with us” as Matthew 1 says. God became a man, and came to save us.
Another illustration you could use here, would be Paul Harvey’s classic reading of “The Man and the Birds”:
“The man to whom I’m going to introduce you was not a scrooge, he was a kind, decent, mostly good man. Generous to his family, upright in his dealings with other men. But he just didn’t believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas Time. It just didn’t make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus Story, about God coming to Earth as a man.
“I’m truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, “but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas Eve.” He said he’d feel like a hypocrite. That he’d much rather just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. And so he stayed and they went to the midnight service.
Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound…Then another, and then another. Sort of a thump or a thud … At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They’d been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window.
Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it.
Quickly he put on a coat, galoshes, tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in. So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the stable. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them…He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms…Instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn.
And then, he realized that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me…That I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led or shooed because they feared him.
“If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand.” At that moment the church bells began to ring … And he sank to his knees in the snow.”
The reason that man “sank to his knees in the snow” is that he suddenly realized that what he wanted to do for those birds, was exactly what God did for us in the Incarnation of Jesus: He had to become one of us, so that He could save us.
— Hebrews 2:17 says “Therefore He HAD to be made like His brethren … to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”
Jesus HAD to become one of us, in order to save us.
It had to be a real man who died on the cross. But “just” a man on the cross couldn’t save us; it was GOD on the cross, the sinless sacrifice who bore our sins in His body, and who rose from the dead, who saved us.
Jesus HAD to be both fully God, and fully Man, to save us.
There’s SO much theology here in this text — and it is important. These are some of the most vital teachings of our faith. But don’t just keep it in the “theological stratosphere.” Bring it home to the individual lives of your group members. I’d make the point:
“Listen, as important as all this is, the DEVIL and the demons ‘know’ this stuff, but they aren’t saved. You have to put your trust in Jesus as YOUR own Lord & Savior.
As :12 says: “As many as RECEIVED Him, to THEM He gave the right to become children of God …”. You have to receive Jesus. You have to make Him YOUR Lord & God: like Thomas, you need to say, “MY Lord, and MY God.” And you might say, if you haven’t, why don’t you pray a prayer like this … and lead in a prayer of salvation. There will be several great places in the Book of John to lead class members to Christ, and this is one of them.
There’s so much here; I hope this will help you some as you prepare this week.
— If you write something in the Comments below, I’ll be sure to pray for your and your group by name this week.
Per my licensing agreement with Lifeway:
– These weekly lessons are based on content from Explore the Bible Adult Resources. The presentation is my own and has not been reviewed by Lifeway.
– Lifeway resources are available at: goExploretheBible.com and: goexplorethebible.com/adults-training
– If you have questions about Explore the Bible resources you may send emails to email@example.com
Shawn, I have been teaching for over 60 years in a Southern Baptist Church, using Lifeway literature, and this is the best overview of the book of John and his purpose of writing “that we may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing we may have life in his name”. Thank you for sharing this introduction to our six-month study of John.
God bless you.
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Thank you for your comments on our study for this week. I teach a small class of senior adults most of us are 80 and older. Sometimes I feel I’m not getting through to them. So difficult to get them to respond to questions or just to comment with stories about their life. Any suggestions? I too am in mid 80. God bless, Pastor Shawn
Hi Vici! It’s hard without being actually in the class and with the people to know exactly what to do, but if you have tried various questions and activities, it might be good to consider that not all people learn the same way. Some like a lot of interaction and questions, while others just prefer to learn from a lecture. Perhaps your group does not WANT to respond to questions or to make comments. So I would just make sure to prepare enough to share with them, knowing that they may not participate. But also try to remember that this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not learning, or appreciating your teaching. It may just be their style of learning. I will sure be praying with you this weekend!
I have just been introduced to your commentary/discussion of the Lifeway Sunday School study material. I have very much enjoyed your presentations & have some of your ideas in preparing for my class.
Super; I’m glad some of the ideas were useful to you, Michael! I hope the lessons will continue to be of help to you — and I will be praying for you this weekend!
Thank you, Brother Shawn, your lessons are a real benefit in my lesson preparation. You have a blessed insight into these lessons. God bless you for all your labors.
Thank you Ron; I appreciate your kind words and the blessing. And I’m grateful that the overview is helpful to you. I will sure be praying for you and your class this weekend!
Will you please post Figure 3 here in the comments for us?
It doesn’t appear that I can post an image in the comments – unless I just don’t know how to do it (which I don’t doubt!) Are you not able to drag the image from the post and save it in your photos? If all else fails, send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send it to you attached to an email.
Your comments about heresies is good and thanks for the graph.
I have been interested in heresies for many years starting with “Rev” Moon!!
Over the last few years I have followed the news and postings of Remnant Fellowship in the Nashville area. My parents were good friends with Gwen Shamblin’s parents and so we knew the children. Did not know Gwen well because I was a good bit older, but my sister was the same age and they were friends through high school. Gwen was very smart, high school cheerleader, etc – all the attributes you expect will lead to success. Gwen did well in college and got a masters in nutrition. She developed a diet program promoted as “Christian”, published books, and began teaching her program in churches and reaped financial rewards. Coming from a devout Church of Christ background, somewhere a “screw came loose”. She proclaimed that the Trinity was not taught in the Bible, and that Jesus had nothing to do with salvation. We were saved by obeying God and eating correctly (among other works oriented approaches)
Jesus died on the cross to please God and we should please God by not being obese. Evidently fat people can’t get into heaven! Sadly, she and most of the leadership of the cult were killed in a plane crash about a year and a half ago. Heresies I guess will always be with us.