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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Faith or unbelief?
Text:John 1:9-13 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Maintaining the Antithesis

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 100

Hymn 3:5 (after the law)

Psalm 111:1,5

Psalm 33:1,5,6

Hymn 8

Scripture reading:  Matthew 21:33-46

Text:  John 1:9-13

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

When was the last time you heard the word “antithesis”?  If I’m not mistaken, that word used to be mentioned a lot more in Reformed church circles.  Today it doesn’t seem to be heard as much.  People don’t really mention the antithesis or talk about it.  Could it be that the awareness of this has been lost? 

I know some of you are puzzled – which by itself illustrates the problem.  “Antithesis?  What’s that?”  Let me briefly define it and then illustrate it.  A dictionary will tell you that the word “antithesis” means opposition or contrast.  Two things are opposed to one another, contrasting with one another.  When it comes to how we speak about it as Christians, the antithesis refers to the opposition between spiritual light and darkness, or between faith and unbelief. 

You could think of the antithesis like this.  Imagine the world is a divided highway.  Now imagine that this divided highway has no exits.  There are cars moving in a straight line in one direction and cars moving in a straight line in another direction.  In one direction, the highway is much wider.  On one side of the highway, it’s wide, and it’s busy – many, many cars.  But they’re going fast.  The other side of the highway is narrow.  In fact, it’s only one lane.  Occasionally you see a car.  There are occasional turn-arounds leading from the wide side to the narrow.  Sometimes cars make the u-turn and start heading in the other direction.  That’s what the antithesis is like.  The antithesis itself is like the median, the middle strip separating the two sides heading in opposite directions.  Our lives are like the cars.  Some are on the wide road headed for destruction under God’s wrath.  Others, a much smaller number, they’re on the narrow road headed for a blessed life in the new heavens and new earth.  For those on the wide road, God not only permits u-turns, he actually makes them happen.  By his grace, he turns some of them around.  That picture of the highway with lanes heading in opposite directions – that’s the idea of the antithesis.  Lives moving in opposite directions, moving towards opposite goals, guided by opposite principles.

We find this idea of the antithesis a lot in the Gospel According to John.  It’s also found in our text for this morning.  John describes what happened when Christ appeared here on earth.  He speaks of the antithesis.  And it may be surprising, but we find here that the antithesis not only exists out there in the world, but it also runs through the church.  The antithesis is also a reality amongst God’s covenant people.  We’re going to see that the coming of the Light is met with two responses:  unbelief or faith.  That’s the theme as I preach to you God’s Word from John 1:9-13.

Here we’re in the introduction to the Gospel of John, or the “prologue” as it’s sometimes called.  John has introduced us to two key figures:  the Word and his witness.  The Word or Logos, of course, is Jesus Christ.  He was introduced in the first five verses.  His witness was John the Baptist, and he was introduced in verses 6 to 8.  John came to witness to the Light, to tell people with his words about Jesus Christ. 

Now with verse 9, the Holy Spirit is taking us back to the ministry of Christ himself.  Jesus is described here as “the true light.”  That ties back into the previous verse.  John was not the Light – he bore witness, but he was not the Christ.  The true Light, the genuine article, is Jesus Christ.  He was coming into the world, coming to the human race lost in sin, wandering in darkness. 

If you look at verse 9, it says there that Jesus is the true Light “which enlightens everyone.”  What does that mean?  Does it mean that everyone gets saved by him?  Does it mean that he brings everyone out of spiritual darkness and into the light of his salvation?  Well, from what follows, we know that’s not the case.  There are those who did not know him; there are those who did not receive him; there are those who did not believe in his Name.  So Jesus as the true Light “which enlightens everyone” doesn’t equate to universal salvation.  That not only goes against the context here, but against the whole context of the gospel of John and indeed, the whole Bible.  Instead, what this means is that Jesus, as the true Light, brought a message which shone on as many people as heard it, with the intention that it would be met with repentance and faith.  The gospel went out like rays of light from Christ and those rays of light hit everyone he encountered.  It was his intention that all people who heard the gospel would repent and believe.  He wanted them to repent -- that they would turn from their sins.  He wanted them to believe – to turn to him with true faith, resting and trusting in him alone for their salvation.

He is still the true Light which enlightens everyone.  Everyone who hears the gospel, including you, the light is shining on their darkness.  The good news of Jesus Christ is still putting out rays of light – and it’s still with the purpose of bringing people to faith.  The question is:  what do people do with the Light when it shines on them?  What do people do with the gospel, with the good news of Jesus Christ?  What do you do with it? 

We’re at verse 10.  Verse 9 mentioned the world, and now “the world” is mentioned here as well, three more times.  When John uses that word “world,” he’s referring here to humanity in its broadest sense.  He’s referring to mankind after the fall, mankind in darkness.  The “world” here refers to our broken and dysfunctional race in rebellion against God.

“He was in the world” – here the Holy Spirit is reminding us that Christ came and lived in the midst of our sinful human race.  “The world was made through him” – the Son of God was the creator of all these human beings, “All things were made through him,” said verse 3, and that includes people.  He is the Creator and that gives him rights.  By virtue of his role in creation, he has a right to be worshipped, he has a right to be obeyed, he has a right to be believed. 

Yet what happened when he came and lived amongst the world of broken humanity?  The end of verse 10 lays it out, “yet the world did not know him.”  The Light shone on them, but it didn’t have the desired effect.  “The world did not know him” means that sinful humanity rejected him.  They rejected what he had to offer.  He offered himself as the Mediator between sinful humanity and a holy God.  But they refused to know him, to have him as their Mediator.  They refused to have a relationship with him whereby they could be saved from the just wrath of God against their sins.  Now I want you to really understand something here.  “The world did not know him” doesn’t mean that they didn’t know about him.  Oh sure, they knew about him.  They knew some facts about who he was and things he was doing, maybe they could even tell you some things he had said or taught.  But that’s not the same thing as knowing him in the sense described here.  Here the Holy Spirit is speaking about knowing and loving him, being in a friendly relationship with him, having him as Saviour and Lord.  That’s something the world of broken humanity refused.  When the true Light came into the world and shone on everyone, he was largely met with unbelief.

Now this is sad enough, but what we find in verse 11 is even more so.  In fact, this is not only the saddest verse in our text, but the saddest in this whole section.  It tells of a tragedy that gets unfolded in more detail in the following chapters.  The Spirit says, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”  Jesus came to the Jewish people and they rejected him.  What we find here in John is put in different ways elsewhere in Scripture.  Romans 9 describes the same thing in more doctrinal terms.  The Jews have rejected Christ and it breaks Paul’s heart – “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart,” he writes.  Then there’s Matthew 21.  There Christ himself describes in the form of a parable what’s happened between him and the Jews.  This is towards the end of his ministry, right before the cross.  He describes how the king sent his servants to the vineyard to get his fruit, God sent prophet after prophet to his people.  Then finally he sent his son – they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.  That was a response of unbelief.  What Paul writes in Romans 9 in doctrinal form, and what Christ describes in Matthew 21 in parable form, John tells us here in a very short summary, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”  This is the great tragedy of unbelief amongst the covenant people of God.  This is the antithesis running even through God’s people.  Here you see the broad road to destruction and it’s congested, it’s busy with covenant people heading for the cliff.

Now remember that “his own people” were not your average vanilla people in the Roman Empire.  These were God’s people, his covenant people.  These were descendants of the remnant that had come back from the Babylonian Exile.  They had experienced God’s mercy towards them.  They had stories to tell of God’s faithfulness to his promises.  “His own people” had been entrusted with the prophecies which promised the coming Messiah.  “His own people” – the males among them had been circumcised as a sign and seal of God’s covenant with them.  All of that can be summarized by saying that “his own people” had been privileged and special.  This was the Old Testament church of God, his covenant people.  But they didn’t receive him – they didn’t welcome him as the Messiah, they didn’t respond with repentance and faith when he appeared among them.  Instead, they responded with hostility and rejection.  That was a tragedy of unimaginable scale. 

Loved ones, do you know what would be even more tragic?  Do you know what would be even more sad?  If you were sitting here this morning listening to this sermon in essentially the same position as Christ’s people in our text.  I hate to say it, but that can and still does happen amongst God’s people today.  It’s very sad.  You hear the gospel Sunday after Sunday.  Every Lord’s Day the minister comes and preaches Jesus Christ to you.  The light is shining on you.  But you don’t receive it, you don’t welcome it, you don’t embrace it.  In other words, you don’t believe what you hear.  You don’t respond in faith to Jesus.  That is tragic, incredibly sad. 

The book of Hebrews tells us why.  Hebrews is very straightforward on unbelief in the church of God.  In Hebrews 4, the author mentions the Jews who did not respond in faith to God’s promises in times past.  He warns the New Testament church that the same can happen today.  We can hear the promises over and over again, but if we don’t respond in faith, we will actually be worse off for ever having heard.  In other words, if you remain in sin and don’t believe in Christ, being right here in church under the preaching of the Word is the most dangerous place in the world that you could possibly be.  It’s super dangerous for you to keep on hearing the preaching and not to turn from sin, and turn to Christ with genuine faith. 

In Hebrews 10, it gets even more direct.  Hebrews 10:26-27, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”  That’s not speaking about people out in the world.  That’s about people in the church.  Baptized people.  Covenant people.  “The Lord will judge his people,” says Hebrews 10:30.  God reserves a special measure of wrath for covenant people who have the light shining on them, but stubbornly remain in their darkness.            

Oh brothers and sisters, it’s so much better to hear the gospel, to hear Christ preached to you and to respond with faith.  It’s better to say, “Yes, I hate my sin, I turn my back on it, and I rest and trust in Christ alone as my Saviour.”  It’s so much better to be on the narrow road which leads to life forever.  It’s so much better to embrace those gospel promises which were signed and sealed in your baptism.  It’s better to say, “Yes, I acknowledge that I have a loving heavenly Father, that Jesus is my Saviour, and the Holy Spirit is my Transformer.”

Verse 12 of our text explains an important reason why it’s better to know Christ, to receive him, to believe in his Name.  If you are on the better side of the antithesis, if you’re on the narrow road, if you have true faith in Jesus Christ, it’s far better because you have been granted the right to become a child of God.  You have been given the gift of adoption into the family of God.  When someone believes in Jesus Christ, they are brought into God’s household.  What an awesome thing that is!

It’s awesome because it includes the benefits enjoyed by a child of God.  We have him as our Father – he’s no longer our Judge, but our Father.  He loves us as his children.  He maintains us as his children.  He’s always present and actively involved in our lives.  He promises to work out everything for our good.  At the end, he promises to give us the inheritance.  Our Father promises his children life in the new heavens and new earth, a place with him forever.  The gospel doctrine of adoption holds out all these promises to those who receive Christ, who welcome him by believing in his name.  “Believing in his name” simply means trusting in his person, saying that this Saviour is the One you need as your Saviour.  That’s how you get the right to be a child of God and to enjoy all these gospel benefits and more. 

Now as an aside I want to briefly address a possible objection or question here.  Someone might bring up the Form for Baptism.  It appears to say that when we are baptized into the name of the Father, “He adopts us for his children and heirs, and promises to avert all evil or turn it to our benefit.”  The Form for Baptism seems to say that we become children of God through baptism.  But John says that it comes through faith, through believing in Christ’s Name.  Don’t these two contradict one another?  No, they don’t.  There’s no contradiction at all.  They are speaking about different types of adoption.  The Form for Baptism speaks there about a covenantal adoption, being included in God’s covenant, being a child of the promise.  John is speaking about adoption in the ultimate and fullest sense of the word:  an adoption that only applies to true believers in Jesus Christ.  The covenantal adoption in baptism is meant to lead to the ultimate adoption of which John writes, but sadly it doesn’t always.  You see, God promises the gift of saving adoption to everyone baptized, but not all the baptized receive what is promised by faith.  To be a child of God in the fullest sense and to receive all the benefits of a child of God, everyone is still called to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.  And, as we saw from Hebrews, that call is far more urgent for someone who’s been baptized, who has received the sign and seal of God’s covenant.  Now I do have one commentary which says that this verse from John teaches us that sonship or adoption in the fullest sense is acquired through baptism.  It’s by Rudolf Schnackenburg.  But Schnackenburg was a Roman Catholic priest.  You see, it’s Roman Catholic to believe that you are adopted as a child of God in the fullest sense of the word because of your baptism.  No, the Bible teaches us something quite different.  Adoption in the fullest and most ultimate sense comes through believing in Jesus Christ.  Therefore, no one living in sin and unbelief should comfort themselves into thinking that they are an adopted child of God simply because they were baptized.  In fact, you’re worse off for your baptism, not better, if you don’t believe.

That’s along the same lines as how John wraps up our text in verse 13.  The Jews had a strong ethnic pride.  They were proud to be God’s people.  They thought that they had a special privileged position before God – which they did.  But they thought that was their ticket to heaven – which is where they went wrong.  Later in John’s gospel, we’ll hear them boasting that they have Abraham as their father.  They thought their bloodline would give them special consideration before the Judge of heaven and earth.  That he would say, “Oh, you’re descended from Abraham, well then, no need to say anything further, welcome!”  What verse 13 is saying is that natural birth and your genealogy aren’t going to give you any status as a child of God. 

What really makes you a child of God is believing in Christ’s Name, knowing and receiving him.  What makes you a true child of God is faith.  Faith comes from being born of God.  This is the first time that John introduces that concept of spiritual birth.  It gets laid out in far more detail in chapter 3.  Here it’s just introduced and not much is said about it yet.  What we find here is that being born of God is what results in faith.  In other words, regeneration is responsible for faith.  It’s behind it.  You don’t have faith without regeneration first.  The Holy Spirit is speaking here of initial regeneration, what happens before someone first believes in Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit is speaking of his own work in taking a cold, dead heart and bringing it to life.  He’s speaking along the same lines as he speaks in 1 Peter 1:23.  There he refers to believers as those who “have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.”  “Have been born again” – that speaks of a completed action that took place at a particular moment.  It’s the same as what’s described in articles 11 and 12 of chapter 3-4 of the Canons of Dort.  There we confess that regeneration is something which has happened to every believer.  They have been brought to life, raised from the dead, and therefore they believed and repented through the grace received.  That’s what John is speaking about here too.  If you’re born of God, the Spirit has made you alive at a certain moment, and now you believe in the Name of Christ.  It’s something that God works in us in a mysterious and powerful way. 

Therefore, when we have faith, we know who to praise for it!  We praise God for the gift of faith and the gift of regeneration.  It’s not something we’ve received through our family tree.  It’s not something that was somehow magically conferred on us in baptism.  Neither is it something we’ve earned.  A baby doesn’t earn his birth.  Christians don’t earn their spiritual birth.  God gets all the credit and all the praise for our salvation.  He takes the initiative, he sustains us, and it’s because of his power and strength that we’ll finally enter his blessed presence.        

So verses 12 and 13 speak of those on the narrow road to life.  They’re contrasted with the vast majority in verses 9 to 11 who are on the broad road to destruction.  We’ve seen that especially verse 11 tells us that those on the broad road in Jesus’ day were part of the church too.  The antithesis ran right through the church.  We saw from Hebrews that it continued to run through the church in the apostolic period.  We know that it still does today.  Today, two antithetical paths are set before you.  Two opposite roads.  Some of you may be on that broad road, I don’t know. If you’re on the broad road, hear the warning that this road is deadly and ends in a lake of fire.  But also take heart in that God announces that a u-turn is possible.  You don’t have to keep going down that dangerous road.   In fact, God is calling you right now to turn around.  Turn around, turn away from your sin and rebellion, and find life in Christ.  Faith or unbelief.  Life or death.  It’s something we’re all confronted with.  Loved ones, by God’s grace, believe or continue to believe in the name of Christ, receive him, so that you truly will be children of God.  AMEN.          



We thank you for sending Christ as the true light of the world.  We also thank you for the gifts of regeneration and faith.  We praise you for working faith in our hearts so that we may be your children and receive the benefits of children.  It’s good for us to have you as our Father.  It’s good for us to be your children and to be in your loving hands.  Father, please let your Spirit continue to do his work in our midst.  We pray that he would continue to regenerate hearts.  We pray that he would continue to bring the gift of faith, not only to our children and young people, but also to others.  Father, we pray this because we care about our loved ones, but we also pray because we want to see your Name praised by your people.   We want to see your Name lifted up by hearts that have been brought to life by your Spirit. 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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