He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received 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.
John 1:10-13 (NIV)
Imagine the scene: It is a cool summer evening; the sun is just setting. Thousands of people are gathered outside of the brand new Johann Smith concert hall, fortunate enough to have gotten tickets for the opening night concert. Some big names are in the crowd, and some even bigger names are on the program. This multi-million dollar concert hall is named for Johann Smith, the man who provided all of the funding for the structure and its operation, believing that no city should be without a beautiful, acoustically excellent place to present and hear fine music. And Mr. Smith is no huge celebrity. He is a simple man who had conscientiously put aside and wisely invested savings during his 46-year-long career with the railroad, and who, after his retirement, just wanted to do something really nice for the city that he loved.
As the doors open, the crowd begins to move into the magnificent foyer. The line starts to back up a bit as a short old man with a walker gets it stuck on the threshold of the doorway. He tries to get it loose, but the crowd is impatient, wanting to get in and see this wonder of engineering. Several people make rude remarks, and a few start to jostle the old man trying to move him out of the way so that they can get inside. The more the crowd pushes against him the more anxious the old man gets, and the less he seems to be able to do with his walker. Finally a few people manage to squeeze between the old man and the door jamb, and then more, and finally the crowd starts to surge past him. Nobody remembers seeing it happen, but as someone pushes past the old man, he falls to the ground, and is stepped on, tripped over, and crushed by the rushing crowd that follows.
The next morning the papers carry the tragic story of Johann Smith, who was crushed to death by a crowd trying to get into the concert hall that he had built for the city. The people were incredulous, especially the people who had seen him struggling with the walker, who had brushed by him, who had maybe even been among those who caused his fall or been part of the crushing crowd that had caused his injuries. They had no idea that that was Johann Smith. He looked just like a plain old man with a walker. If they had only known who he was they surely would have treated him more kindly. They probably would have helped him with his walker. And they definitely wouldn’t have said the things that they had said to him or about him.
The fictional story of Johann Smith is tragic. But the tragedy of that story pales in comparison to the real-life tragedy that John tells us about in verses 10 and 11 above. Jesus Christ, the Word of God through whom the world and everything in it was made, came to earth that He had created, to the people that He had made. But, instead of being warmly welcomed, worshiped, and adored as the creator, the people to whom He came rejected Him, beat Him, and crucified Him.
John is, I think, very charitable in telling us that the reason that they rejected Him was that they didn’t recognize Him. He looked just like any other ordinary guy; who knew that this was God in the flesh! If they had only known, surely they would have treated Him better! But I don’t think they would have. Jesus told them repeatedly and quite clearly exactly Who He was – that He and the Father were one. He clearly and powerfully demonstrated it by performing miracles among them that no one had ever seen before. He spoke to them of heavenly things as one who had first-hand knowledge of them. And He reached out to all people, from the highest religious authority to the lowliest outcasts, with a powerful love, pleading with them to turn to the God who loved them and wanted to draw them close to Himself. But too many of the people were not willing to receive Him for who He was (cf., Matthew 27:37).
But, thankfully, verse 13 gives us the other side of the picture: Yet to all who received 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. Jesus was rejected by the majority of the people that He tried to reach – they just couldn’t receive Him for Who He really was. But there were some who did receive Him, and they became legitimate children of God, and the core of believers through whom the Christian Church would grow and blossom and spread throughout the world.
Today the two viewpoints on Jesus are still alive and well. There are many people who still reject Jesus, refusing to receive Him for Who He is, willing only to accept that He was a good man or a great moral teacher, but definitely not God in the flesh. And in the process they end up putting themselves solidly outside of the grace of the loving God Who gave His very best to save them. But there are also people today who receive Jesus for Who He really is: the eternal Word of God, one with the Father since before the world began – God Himself in the flesh who came to earth to die for the sins of all mankind. And those people have received the right to become legitimate children of God, loving Him and living in His presence from now all the way to forever.