“Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10).
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him;
yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own,
and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him,
who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,
who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh
or of the will of man, but of God.
“Oh, height of human madness! wonders rare!
No place for Him! without Whom no place were.”
So mourned 17th century poet Richard Crashaw at the world’s rejection of Jesus by whom all things came to be. The rejection was about far more than one careless innkeeper not making room. The world’s rejection of its Savior was long foretold by the Hebrew prophets. Seven centuries earlier Isaiah laid out the world’s rejection of Messiah:
“He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hid their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:3-4).
In spite of centuries of looking for Messiah, the world tragically rejected Him when He came. The heartbreak of personal rejection, His unrequited love, brought tears to Jesus’ eyes: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37).
In today’s Scripture this is the first time John in his Gospel uses the crucial word “believe”, which he connects to “receiving” Jesus. Receiving Jesus is tantamount to believing in Jesus’ name. In Bible times a person’s name was far more than a tag or label. A name “captures the essence of a person.” (Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, ed. Leland Ryken, James Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III) A name signified a person’s character, essence, who the person really was. Thus, to believe in Jesus’ name is to believe He is the revelation of the Father’s essence: love. The name of Jesus reveals God’s longing to make us His children.
The Greek word pisteuo, translated “believe”, is about personal trust, not mere mental or intellectual assent. There is a world of difference between believing Paris is the capital of France, and believing in my wife. It is significant here that in John’s Gospel pisteuo is never a noun but an active verb signifying “believing into” someone. “John characteristically associates this act of faith (pisteuo) with the preposition eis which means “into, on to“. (Bruce Milne, The Message of John) Believing into Jesus joins us intimately into the very life of our Savior and God. He shares our life and we share His.
To “receive” Jesus by believing into Him signifies the most intimate of relationships. The Greek word paralambano, translated as “receive”, is the word used of Joseph when told by an angel that Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit; Joseph “received” her as his wife (Matthew 1:24).
I love a story my Greek professor Dr. S. Lewis Johnson used to illustrate what it means to receive and to believe into Jesus. He related the words he had heard from an African woman who testified to being a new Christian. She said excitedly, “I had heard about Jesus by the hearing of my ear, then one day I went in and sat down in my heart.” I think she really got it!
Today’s Scripture links together three important verbs: receive, believe, born. As we receive and believe we are born of God into new life. The inclusiveness of God’s good news is emphasized in the text. This new life is for all: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” On the human side we have the responsibility to receive and believe, while on the divine side God births us into divine life, “not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” We are God’s new creation! We have seen His glory!
- What is the significance of the “name” of Jesus?
- What would it mean for me to “believe into” Jesus?
PALMS DOWN/PALMS UP
For a moment hold your PALMS DOWN in a symbolic gesture of letting go to God your worries for the day, the busyness of the season, and expectations of the way the holidays ought to be. Release all of these concerns to God.
Next, hold your PALMS UP as a symbolic gesture of receiving God’s gifts, provision, and guidance for today.