My 22-year-old son’s faith doesn’t look like mine—and that’s fine. Colin has arrived at his own faith for his own good reasons. His faith is in the same Jesus I believe in. We just live it out a bit differently.

Colin is also dyslexic, which is doubly difficult when your dad is an editor, your mom a teacher, and bookshelves double as load-bearing walls in the house where you grew up. (No, literally!)

Despite Colin’s challenges with reading, his quest to understand Jesus motivates him to immerse his mind in the Bible nearly every day. It’s just a few verses, mind you, but it feeds him. It also prompts a lot of questions in him. Real faith goes hand in hand with real questions.

One day I got this text from him: “Hey where’s the passage that Paul is talking about ‘the things I ought to do, I don’t do’ and all the tongue twister type stuff?”

I texted back: “Romans 7:21. Romans is the coolest thing ever written, IMO. With the possible exception of John. Depends on my mood.”

“Why Romans and John?” he asked. That sparked a dialogue that ended only with an agreement to meet for coffee—where, of course, we resumed the theological banter. We also discussed hip-hop versus prog rock, the NBA versus the college game, and his next tattoo, but hey, that’s how we bridge the generations in our family.

I love Paul’s letter to the Romans for its logical explanation of life as it really is. Paul takes an unblinking look at our need for rescue from our inescapably fatal human condition. His treatise explains how only Jesus could serve as that Rescuer. In Romans we learn the essential role that personal faith plays, and our obligation to Jesus (and to each other) once we possess that faith. If you want to understand Christianity, start with Romans.

But Christianity won’t make sense if we don’t recognize who Jesus is. That’s where John comes in.

Why John?

John was the disciple closest to Jesus. Along with Peter and James, John was an integral part of Jesus’s inner circle of three. When we find him seated next to the Lord at the Last Supper we learn he was “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23). Of the twelve disciples, John alone followed Jesus all the way to the cross. Significantly, John was the first of the remaining eleven to reach the tomb after Mary Magdalene’s astonishing report that it was empty.

John has a straightforward way of announcing who Jesus is. This is especially helpful because Jesus can be perplexing, bewildering. We might well call him offensive. Jesus seems impossible to pin down, defying description and category.

So when John, in his uniquely elegant style, lets us peer into the life of his best friend, he’s giving us an amazing gift. His first chapter is a rich declaration of exactly who we are coming to.

John leads with his majestically poetic intro: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). No Israelite could have missed his implication. By echoing the very first words of the Jewish Scriptures—“in the beginning”—John alerts the reader that this story is inextricably linked to the Genesis account.

From the very first line, John makes it abundantly clear that Jesus is the Word, and the Word is God. More than that, this “[Word] was with God in the beginning” (v. 2). In fact, Jesus is the one who began the beginning. “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (v. 3). This IS the original origin story. Jesus is the eternal Creator, the one present before the beginning.

We also learn that “in him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind” (v. 4). Neither can this light be overcome by the darkness (v. 5).

John also adds that Jesus visited “his own,” but they rejected him (v. 11). Why does he include this information? “His own” are the chosen people—the people of Israel. Still, it’s important to note that not everyone would reject him. His Jewish disciples believed in him. We can too. John says, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (vv. 12–13). Think of it! Here is an invitation to join the family of God!

At that point in the narrative we arrive at John’s version of the Christmas story. While Matthew and Luke devote two long chapters to the arrival of Christ, John provides an efficient one-verse rendition. He says simply, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (v. 14).

John is telling a different kind of origin story. He wants to present the whole point of Jesus’s life among us. And that can only be understood if we first grasp that Jesus is fully human and fully God. So he returns to the theme of Jesus’s deity. “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” (v. 18, emphasis added). Though “the Word became flesh,” he “is himself God.” He did not relinquish his divine nature to become one of us.

At this point in the story we meet John the Baptist, who tells us Jesus is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (v. 29).

The Word. The eternal Creator. Life and light. Unconquerable. The Lamb of God. The One who takes away our sins. The One who has seen God and is yet God himself! That’s Jesus—and that’s just what John has for us in the first thirty-four verses of his book.

However, as the rest of the account unfolds, the story of this uniquely divine human is not revealed in cut-and-dried fashion. John has plainly told us who Jesus is, but he is about to share how he arrived at this conclusion. Importantly, it is a conclusion he would risk his life to share widely.

What does all this mean? Let’s look at how John concludes his book.

“Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (21:25).

If all the books we could ever write can’t explain this most unique Being of all beings, then what chance do we have in a mere blog post?

The least we can do is to attempt to scratch the surface. Reading John is a pretty good place to start.

Tim Gustafson

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