"The Word Became Flesh"
(Delivered Sunday, December 17, 2000 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
Christmas has come to mean many different things to many different people. And almost always, those things are very good and very appropriate - things such as the love of family and friends, thankfulness for our blessings, the magic of childhood, or the good feeling that comes from giving to others. And who can help but be drawn by the tradition of it all? I love the colors and the lights and the smells; don't you? And of course, there's the presents!
But we shouldn't let ourselves forget that the true significance of Christmas is a Person, whose birth we celebrate on that day. Sadly, those "secondary" things of Christmas have often become so important, that the primary significance of the holiday gets lost from view. (To be honest, I feel as if I've seen more of "the Grinch" than I have of the Savior this Christmas season.)
It's a problem we have to deal with every Christmas. I read a story recently in an article by Dr. Luis Palau that illustrates it. The story told of a wealthy family many years ago who had a brand new baby. This family was from the tradition in the faith that baptized their infants; and in their case, they wanted to celebrate their new baby's baptism in their home. Whenever a baby was baptized in this family, the event involved a lot of food and celebration; and so lot's of friends and family members were invited. When the guests arrived, they all hurriedly their coats and wraps on the upstairs bed, and ran downstairs to join in the excitement and fun.
When it came time for the baptism, however, the baby couldn't be found. A frantic search began throughout the house to locate the missing infant. Finally, the tiny baby was found - nearly smothered underneath the pile of coats on the upstairs bed. Everyone was so eager to enjoy all the secondary things, they nearly covered up and smothered the primary reason for the celebration.
I believe that's how many of us unwittingly treat Christmas. As followers of Jesus, we must make sure that we don't loose sight of the true message of the season. We must be careful that we don't allow the secondary things to smother the primary significance of Christmas. And what's more, we must be faithful to keep on pointing the true meaning of Christmas out to others.
We're only a week and a day away from Christmas. And though I usually preach a "Christmas message" on the Sunday just before Christmas; I felt that it would be good for us to get our thinking right about the holiday before it arrives; and to help us do so, I'd like to ask that we turn our attention to a very important "Christmas" verse - John 1:14.
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This verse is a part of the "prologue" to the apostle John's marvelous gospel. This whole prologue gives us truth about Jesus that we could never know in any other way than by God telling us. And in it, God reveals to us the true context of Christmas. It describes to us the extent to which Jesus condescended to save us. Read it slowly and carefully; and as you do, think about what it tells us about the Baby whose birth we will be celebrating next week.
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 nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness to bear witness of the light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true light which gives light to every man coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, "This was He of whom I said, 'He Who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.'" And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him (John 1:1-18).
This prologue sets the tone for all of John's gospel. And it's all summed up for us in verse 14. In fact, John's whole gospel is simply an expansion of what he says in verse 14: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
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Christmas is about Jesus Christ. And particularly, it's about the love of God shown to us in the gift of His Son Jesus - the way Jesus condescended to leave His heavenly glory, take human flesh on Himself, become born into the human family, and to be our Savior and Redeemer by dying for us on the cross. We can't genuinely celebrate Christmas if we don't understand and appreciate how far Jesus extended Himself toward us in becoming our Savior. The redeeming love of God through His Son Jesus Christ - that, above all else, is what Christmas is all about. And this verse - John 1:14 - helps us to remember it.
Notice, first, how John tells us ...
1. WHO THE WORD IS.
He said, "the Word became flesh." That's the name John uses to describe Jesus - "the Word"; or "logos" as it is in the Greek. It was a word that was commonly used by the Greek philosophers of John's day. But they meant something quite a bit different from John. The Greek philosophers used the word "logos" to describe what they believed to be the all-pervasive, all-controlling, unifying principle of the universe - the principle which ruled over and gave meaning to all things. It was the perfect word to describe who Jesus was. John probably didn't need to explain this word when he used it, because it was such a common philosophic term in his day. But the Greeks believed that the "logos" was an impersonal force that ruled the universe, John applies this term to Jesus - affirming that the ruling, unifying principle of the universe is not an impersonal force, but a divine Person.
We use words all the time. Think for a moment about what a "word" is. A "word" is a representation of something. In order for a "word" to do the job that we expect a word to do, it must do three things: (1) it must represent the intelligence behind an idea; (2) it must give expression to the idea itself; and (3) it must communicate that idea to others. And so, it's very appropriate to call Jesus "the Word of God"; because He is the one in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Col. 1:9) and who is "the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person (Heb. 1:3); and because He is the one who does nothing of Himself, but does only what He sees the Father do (John 5:19); and because He is the only one through whom God the Father can be known or approached (John 14:6). He told Philip, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). He is the one whose "name is called the Word of God" (Rev. 19:13).
But notice what John says about this one he calls "the Word". In verses 1-2, he says that in the beginning, before anything else was, the Word already existed. This "Word" is eternal. And he identifies the Word as a distinct entity by saying, "the Word was with God". But he also stresses the deity of the Word by saying, "and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God." John describes the Word as fully God, yet enjoying fellowship as a distinct Person in the Trinity.
Here's the first thing that John wants us to know about the identity of this Word - His full deity. He is the eternal God - the second member of the Trinity. And the way John says it is marvelously precise; He is careful to say that He is a Person, and not a force (that is, a "He" - not an "it"). And He is careful to say that this Person is fully and completely God (that is, "the Word was God"). But he is very careful not to say that He is the same Person as the Father. He was eternally "with God"; and yet at the same time "was God." (This is so wonderfully typical of John. He was a fisherman; and so, he was a man of few words. But those 'few words' were so exact, that scholars and theologians have marveled throughout the centuries at their remarkable theological precision. Truly John was a man who wrote under the guiding hand of God! - 2 Peter 1:21-22.)
Second, John wants us to know that this Word is the Creator of all things. He says, "All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made" (v. 3). This "Word" is not a created being. Rather, He is Himself the Creator. As Paul wrote concerning Jesus;
For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist (Col. 1:16-17).
Or as the writer of Hebrews put it,
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds ... (Heb. 1:1-2).
Finally, this "Word", who is the divine Creator of all things, is also the source of life. "In Him was life," as John says; "and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it" (John 1:4-5; or "has not understood it" as it's translated in the NIV).
When John speaks here of "life" being in Jesus, he means "eternal life". It's certainly true that we can presently enjoy abundance of life in Jesus (John 10:10). But Jesus Himself once said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life" (John 5:24). And as John later wrote; "And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life: he who does not have the Son does not have life" (1 John 5:11-12).
And this "life" is also called "light" - "the light of men". Apart from God, men and women live in spiritual darkness. And because the light exposes us for what we really are, many people hate the light and refuse to come into the light; because their deeds are evil (John 3:19-20). But whenever a sinner ceases from hiding in the darkness, and steps into the light - confessing their sins and admitting their need for God's forgiveness - then they enter into the light of life! Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life" (John 8:12).
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The Word is a divine Person; who is the Creator of all things, and the life which is the light of men. That's who the Word is. And that helps us to appreciate the marvel of what John tells us next ...
2. WHAT THE WORD BECAME.
He says very simply, "And the Word became flesh ..."
Those of us who are familiar with the Bible are so used to those words that we sometimes forget the astonishing thing that they are telling us. This Word - the eternal, divine Creator of all things; the life who is the light of men; very God of very God - became a human being. He didn't simply manifest Himself from the heavens; nor did He simply show Himself upon the earth. Instead, He did something indescribably marvelous; He condescended to become one of us. The eternal God, who is spirit, became "flesh".
And don't short-change that brief statement from John. When Jesus became flesh, that means he became flesh all the way. He not only became fully human; but it means that He experienced all that we experience as human being (except that He did so without sin). In becoming flesh, He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary; but His body was formed in her womb just as ours was in the womb of our mothers. He was born in helplessness and weakness, just as we were. He was tiny and frail, and needed to be cared for and fed, just as we did. He grew in wisdom and stature, just as we do. He felt hunger, pain, sorrow, and weariness, just as we also feel. He even experienced the anguish of temptation in all the same ways that we experience it. He partook of death, just as one day we must. And He rose from the dead, just as - in Him - we will.
That tiny baby, whose birth we celebrate on Christmas, was the eternal Son of God. He was placed in a manger made of wood; but He had made the tree from which that manger was carved and built. The wise men came to Him bearing gifts; but He was the Maker of those wise men. He had made the star that guided the wise men to where He lay. He had made the animals that surrounded His bed. He had made the angels that sang to the shepherds about His birth. He lay upon a tiny, secluded part of the earth; but He had made that earth itself and had hung it into space with His own mighty hands.
And this helps us to appreciate the depth of His condescension for us. Who of us could ever completely understand what a transition that was for Him - for the Word to become flesh! Paul wrote of Him and said;
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Phil. 2:5-8).
We must remember the immeasurable greatness of His condescending love for us; or we're not appreciating Christmas for what it really is.
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Notice, next, that John points out to us ...
3. WHERE THE WORD DWELT.
He said that the Word not only became flesh, but also "dwelt among us." The eternal Son of God became a man and lived among men. Literally, the idea is that He "pitched His tent" among us.
When He came, He didn't come with a halo, or in shining garments so as to distinguish Himself from us. In fact, there wasn't anything you could see about Him that made Him stand out as the Word become flesh (Isa. 53:2). John wrote about this when he said, "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him" (vv. 10-11). His own people took Him, in fact, and crucified Him. "But," as John goes on to say, "as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (v. 12-13).
And again, this helps us appreciate the greatness of His condescension for us. The Word could have become flesh, and lived in a palace high on a mountain-top - far away from the sin and shame of the rest of us fallen human beings. But He didn't. He lived "among" us. He walked as a man among men and women. He came down - as we might say today - 'where we live'. He became "personal" and "intimate" with us. He rubbed shoulders with fallen humanity.
Many people view God as far away and distant. They believe that He is so transcendent that He could never have any contact with us; let alone want to. And it's certainly true that God is inapproachably holy, and far above us in majesty and glory. But He has not remained distant from us. He has chosen to bridge the gap. He has become one of us, and has come to dwell among us. In fact, when He was born, Matthew wrote, "So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 'Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,' which is translated, 'God with us.'" (Matthew 1:23).
The whole reason the Word became flesh was so that He could make it possible for Himself to dwell among us, and for us to dwell with Him. Jesus' great longing of heart is to live with us forever. He desires eternal fellowship with us. Before He went to the cross, He prayed, "Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me ..." (John 17:24). And we read that, when the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven, there will be this announcement: "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God" (Rev. 21:3).
This, again, is another thing we must remember about Christmas. It isn't simply the celebration of the birth of a baby. It's the humble worship of the God who loved us so much that He came for a time to make His abode with us - to dwell with us in the midst of our sin and shame, and to eventually take that sin and shame on Himself and die in our place. It's the humble recognition that God wants to pardon sinners and dwell eternally with them; and that He has done all that is required to make that fellowship possible though His Son Jesus Christ.
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Next, notice that John tells us ...
4. WHAT THE WORD REVEALED.
John said, "We beheld His glory". He walked among men as a man; but He communicated to mankind the glory of God. As His disciples dwelt with Him, and listened to His words, and watched Him as He lived, they came to understand the mystery of His glory. As it says in John 2:11; through His miracles, "Jesus manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him." As Paul wrote, "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels [or "messengers"], preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory" (1 Tim. 3:16).
God communicated Himself to mankind through His Son Jesus; and the message was received! John wrote;
That which was from the beginning, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life - the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us - that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship wi with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1-3).
Christmas cannot be celebrated properly if it isn't understood as God's revealing Himself to mankind through His Son in such a way as man can behold and understand. God didn't leave Himself a "mystery" to mankind. He revealed His glory through Jesus.
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John next tells us ...
5. HOW THE WORD LIVED.
He said, "We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father ..." Jesus lived among us as the only begotten of the Father.
"Only begotten" is a phrase that means more than simply the idea of someone being the "only son" that a man has. It was meant to convey the idea that a son is unique and preeminent. For example, Hebrews 11:17 says that Abraham offered up Isaac as his "only begotten son". Isaac wasn't the only son Abraham had, however. He wasn't even Abraham's first son. His other son, Ishmael, was born to him several years before Isaac through Hagar (Gen. 16:15). But Isaac, who was born thirteen years later, was the son through whom God's promised blessings would be passed on; and so, he was called the "only begotten", to emphasize his uniqueness and preeminence.
Likewise, when John refers to Jesus as God's "only begotten Son", he is using this phrase to emphasizes the fact that Jesus is the unique and preeminent Son of God - or "the one and only Son", as it's translated in the NIV.
God has begotten to Himself many children, as we see in verses 12-13. But only Jesus is given the title of "only begotten". God said of Him in Psalm 2; "I will declare the decree: the LORD has said to Me, 'You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession" (Psalm 2:7-8).
And as Jesus lived among men, He lived a life that gave evidence to Himself as the "only begotten of the Father". Many turned away from Him during His earthly life. But when He asked His disciples, "Do you also want to go away?", Simon Peter said, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (John 5:67-69).
We need to remember Jesus' unique identity at Christmas. It is a day in which we celebrate the one who lived the life of the "only begotten of the Father" among us; so that we could believe and have life in His name.
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Finally, John tells us ...
6. WHAT THE WORD BROUGHT.
He said, "... we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." He was filled with "grace" and "truth" for us; and He brought grace and truth to bear in our lives.
Grace is what sinners need from God. Apart from God's grace, we have no hope of eternal life. If God gave us what we deserved, we would be separated from Him forever in hell. That's what God's law demands; and we have broken God's law. What we need from Him is what we do not deserve - that is, forgiveness of our sins, justification before God, and eternal life. And that's what grace is about - God's gift to us, free of charge, of that which we don't deserve. Jesus came to us "full" of "grace". John said, "And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace [or, as the NIV puts it; "one blessing after another"]. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:16-17).
And Jesus also came filled with truth. He revealed to us the truth about God, the truth about ourselves, and the truth about God's redeeming love for sinners like us. John said, "No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him [or as the NIV says, "made Him known"]" (John 1:17).
Again, this is the thing we must remember about Christmas. It's the celebration of the full gift to us of God's Son, who is full of saving grace and truth for us.
And so, let's be very careful that we don't allow the secondary issues of the coming holiday to smother it's primary significance or to hide it from our view. Christmas is all about Jesus - first and foremost. Let's celebrate it by celebrating Him. Let's deliberately set time aside and thank God personally for each of the realities represented in this verse:
- that the babe in the manger was no less than the Word of God; the eternal, divine Creator, who is the life and light of men.
- that this eternal Word became flesh; partaking of the same humanity as our own, and suffering under the experiences we suffer under.
- that this one who is God came to dwelt among us; not to be distant and far away from us, but to "pitch His tent" where we live.
- that He came so that, in Him, we might behold His glory; not only now, but one day perfectly in heaven.
- that He lived among us as the only begotten of the Father; to show us personally what His Father is like and to let us know that He loves us.
- that He brought all His fullness of grace and truth; grace by which we're saved and given eternal life freely, and truth by which we know how the Father wants us to live.
Celebrate Christmas by giving thanks to God for these realities; and you'll really be celebrating Christmas.
(copyright 2000 by Pastor Greg Allen and Bethany Bible Church. Reproduction without permission, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.)
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