I’m not enough of a student of how the Scriptures were put together to know why the books of the New Testament are ordered they way they are. But if someone told me I could take one book from the New Testament and put it in a different spot, I think I’d take the Gospel of John and move it to the front of the line. And that, because of three words — In the beginning.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
(John 1:1-5 ESV)
It would provide a nice balance, don’t you think? Starting the New Testament with the same words as the Old Testament? A not too subtle connection emphasizing that the God who was declared to be in the beginning in the Old, is also the Word–the Word who is God– who was in the beginning in the New.
But more than just for literary emphasis , I might start with in the beginning because of the difference it makes in how we think about the past, navigate the present, and anticipate the future.
Thanks to a couple of back to back road trips, I recently finished listening to an audiobook that, in 15+ hours, pieced together a brief history of humankind. And at it’s core, in the beginning was matter. Matter that eventually evolved into man. And as man’s cognitive abilities randomly became more advanced, they came to rule the planet. And, in order to explain and help navigate life, they created realities that existed purely in their own imagination. Imagined realities such as God. So, for the author, in the beginning was matter. And matter became man. And man, in his own mind, created God.
While the book is a fascinating account and piecing together of history and human dynamics, ultimately the author admits there’s a struggle with understanding why we are here. At best, he offers up that it might be so that we are happy. But then he wonders if, even with all the advancement over the past five centuries, we are any happier today then we were 500 years ago. Thus, it felt to me, this learned man, with a huge capacity to put together a ton of facts and data into a compelling narrative of human history, is unable ultimately to answer the great questions of life, who are we and why are we here?
But what if, as stated in Genesis, and as I read this morning in John, in the beginning was God? That far from being a creation of our imagination, we are in fact His creation. That instead of the Scriptures being the culmination of human imagination and creativity, they are in reality the revelation of God’s purposes and plans. That rather than take our physical, biological, and material realities and invent some metaphysical realm for them to exist in, there really is a spiritual realm that gives context to all our earthly realities. What a difference, in the beginning was the Word makes.
Then, as we look back, we are in awe of the common grace of God at work throughout history. Having been made in His image, we marvel at the ability to explore His universal handiwork as the heavens and earth and all creation reveals the glory of God. Having also received His narrative as to our rebellious nature, we have a framework for understanding and navigating evil, suffering, and even death. What’s more, we have the anchor which secures a sure, eternal hope. For the Word that was in the beginning, is the Word that became flesh, the Light that came into the world to rescue people from the darkness. And to all who receive Him . . .
. . . who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
(John 1:12b-13 ESV)
So that’s why I might put John’s gospel at the front of the parade. Because sometimes you need to be reminded of where you came from, in order to keep on keepin’ on to where you’re going to.
And that only by His grace. And that only for His glory.