"The Word Became Flesh"
(Delivered Christmas Sunday, December 24, 2006 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
This morning, we will be looking at just one verse; but I believe that it's the most important single “Christmas” verse in the Bible. I don't believe it's possible to express more truth about Christmas, and in fewer words, than what we find in this one verse.
The verse is John 1:14; where the apostle John writes these majestic words:
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It's so very easy to lose our perspective about Christmas at this time of year. With all of the activities—all of the traveling, and cooking, and shopping, and wrapping, and preparing—it's easy to forget the simplicity and beauty of the nativity of the One we're supposed to be celebrating. It's easy to fall into the trap of doing a whole lot of things at Christmas time, and fulfilling a whole lot of expectations, that—quite frankly—have nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus Himself.
I sometimes think of Mary and Martha when I think of all the hustle and bustle that has come to surround this wonderful season. Do you remember the story of how Jesus and His disciples once came to the home of Martha? The Bible tells us that Martha's sister, Mary, sat at the feet of Jesus and learned from Him as He taught, while Martha “was distracted with much serving”. She was so busy with the chore of celebrating Jesus' presence that she was missing out on the simple joy of just being with Jesus Himself and sitting at His feet—as Mary was doing. Jesus had to tell her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:41-42). I wonder if, during all of the busyness that surrounds this time of year—the Lord isn't, in a sense, calling our attention back to Himself and saying, “You are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed.”
That's one reason why I love this verse. In remarkably few words, it calls our primary attention back to where it belongs at Christmas time—back to the One whose coming into this world we celebrate. It lifts our view above lesser things, and invites us to join the shepherds and kings and angelic hosts in worshiping and wondering at the scene of the Christ-child lying in a manger.
But if I may say so, this verse does even more than that. It does something very remarkable. It lifts our view far beyond even the earthly scene of the manger—far above earth itself—and gives us a view of Christmas from the heavenlies.
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The event we celebrate on Christmas—the birth of Jesus Christ—is nothing less than the fulfillment of an eternal agreement1 that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit entered into with one another. It's an agreement to bring about the redemption of fallen mankind.
At some point in eternity past, the Heavenly Father purposed—out of love and in accordance with His own will—to chose a people from out of fallen humanity for redemption from sin, and to give them to His beloved Son. It would be a people beyond number—a people whom His own precious Son would wash clean of their sins and endow with His own righteousness. It would be a people that the Son would preserve unto Himself until the day that they are brought before the throne of His Father. It would be a redeemed people that the Father would eternally love and glorify by the merits of His own beloved Son, adopt as His own sons and daughters, and at last give to His Son as an eternal Bride—without spot or wrinkle or any such thing—to share in His glory forever and ever.
This was the eternal purpose of the Father. It was His role to make this plan, and to choose some people from out of fallen humanity for redemption. And the Holy Spirit agreed to the divine purpose of the Father for the Son, and covenanted to do His part in bringing it to fulfillment. He covenanted that all whom the Father had chosen for the Son would be —at the right time—given spiritual life by Him. He agreed to open their eyes to the truth, empower them to understand their need for redemption, draw them away from all the false hopes they place in works and religious ceremonies, give them the faith to believe, and apply to them the blood of atonement for sin as a result of their faith. He agreed to do the Son's work of preserving His redeemed people—cleansing them, instructing them, guiding them, and empowering them to leave their sins behind and follow their Lord in obedience. He agreed to reveal the Son to them, and to be the guarantee of their future redemption in Him.
And as for His part in this great, eternal agreement, the Son Himself covenanted to execute the Father's plan by being the Redeemer of those the Father chose. He agreed to become a man—made of the same flesh and blood as those the Father purposed to redeem. He agreed to take on Himself the nature of fallen humanity, become born into this world as a man, live a sinless life of perfect obedience to the Father's law for mankind, and—in due time—submit Himself to take all of the sins of fallen humanity upon Himself and die as a man in their place. He agreed to suffer all the punishment for mankind's sin in His own person, and to become “accursed” before God for humanity's sake so that the Father could fully and justly satisfy the demands of His violated law through the Son. And then, to testify to all men and angels that the holy demands of His law had been satisfied through His Son, the Son agreed to be raised from the dead. He would then ascend bodily to the Father; He would sit at the right hand of the Father as a man in order to intercede for those He redeemed; and He would one day come to the earth, share His glory with His redeemed ones, and take them to His Father's house to dwell with Him forever.
This is the great plan of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit that finds its expression in the fact of Christmas. This is the divine plan that makes Christmas the greatest news mankind could ever receive. This is the great purpose in the heart of God that stands behind these glorious words:
We will never see Christmas as we should until we come to see it from heaven's perspective. And in this one, short verse, we are given heaven's perspective.
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Let's s look at this verse in greater detail; and see what it tells us of the Baby whose birth we celebrate on Christmas Day. Let's first consider what it tells us of . . .
1. HIS IDENTITY.
We read in the first three words of this verse, “And the Word . . .” The Child whose birth we celebrate, then, is called “the Word.”
What does it mean to say that He is “the Word”? Take a look at that first word; “And . . .” It lets us know that this verse is a continuation of something that was said prior to it. It picks up from what was said in verses 1-5; where we read,
So; first, we see that He is “the Word” who was “in the beginning”. That reminds us of Genesis 1 and the creation story. In the first verse of the Bible, we're told “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). We're told that He simply spoke the word, “Let there be . . .”; and it was! And here, we see that this creative “Word”—the spoken expression of God—is a Person. He was in the beginning with God. He was before all things. All things were made through Him, and without Him, not one thing was made that was made. As it says in verse 10, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him.”
What's more, we're told that this Person—“the Word”—was not only with God, but was—Himself—God. He not only stood in the closest possible relationship to God—that is, “the Word was with God”2, and was thus a separate and distinct Person. But He also shared deity with God. He possessed and manifested the very nature of God whom He was eternally “with”. This teaches us that “the Word” was the second Person of the trinity—the Son.
And finally, notice that in “the Word” was “life”; and that this life “was the light of men”. He was the expression of God to mankind that illuminated men and women who live in spiritual darkness, and gave them life. As John says in verses 9-13,
So then; when we consider that Baby that was born on Christmas Day, let's not have narrow and shallow thoughts of Him. Let's have heaven's own perspective of His identity. He was “the Word”—the very Word by which all things were made; the Word that was eternally with the Father and that shared full deity with Him; the Word that shines into the world as the light of men and gives them life!
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Now; how could it be that this eternal Word—the very Son of the heavenly Father—should be found lying in a manger as a helpless baby on earth? How could this marvelous thing have happened? This leads us, next, to consider . . .
2. HIS ACTION.
John tells us that the Word “became flesh”. This is the Word “incarnate”.
First, consider the word “became”. To say that He “became” something suggests that He existed before He “became” that thing that He later became. Here, we see that this eternal Word consdesended to become “flesh”. He never ceased to be God; but as God, He assumed full humanity to Himself—fully God and fully man.
And consider the word “flesh”. Isn't it interesting that it doesn't simply say that the Word became “man”? Instead, it says that He became “flesh”. This underscores the fact that He stepped into our weakness and frailty with us. To say “flesh” is much more to the point than to simply say “human” or “man”. It highlights the fact that He took unto Himself the nature of that which could be tempted. What's more, it highlights the fact that He took unto Himself the nature of that which could, in time, “die”. He knew what it was like to suffer as we do, and to be tempted as we are, and to die as we will.
The Bible tells us of Jesus Christ
And as the writer of Hebrews puts it,
What a picture this gives us of the condescending love of the Word! He eternally existed as the Son in perfect fellowship with the Father—the One through whom the Father created all things. And yet, in the mystery of the incarnation, He took full humanity unto Himself and became “flesh”. The eternal Son of God became one of us! We simply don't see Christmas rightly—that is, from heaven's perspective—if we don't understand from what heights He came down for us, and to what depths He humbly descended on our behalf; and then worship Him for it!
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This leads us, thirdly, to consider yet another 'wonder' about the Word . . .
3. HIS CLOSENESS.
It would have been enough of a wonder and marvel if we were to think only of the Word becoming flesh—even if He then chose to isolate Himself from sinful humanity. He could have come to this earth and dwelt apart from us, so as not to be contaminated and defiled by the presence of us sinful, fallen human beings. But instead, we're told that the Word became flesh, “and dwelt among us”. He came to us, and remained up-close and personal toward us.
Think of the word that is translated “to dwell”. It's a fascinating one. It is a verb3 that is related to the Greek noun for “tent”4. It literally means that He “pitched His tent” among us, or “tabernacled” among us. It's a word that suggests a willingness to become associated with us—as if He chose to become our close neighbor and dwell were we dwell.
Christmas not only means that the eternal Son of God—the Word—became flesh for us. It also means that He became one of us to the point of identifying Himself with us and “pitching His tent” were we live. He has drawn as close to us poor, needy sinners as possible. He clothed Himself in the same kind of human flesh we are clothed with. He felt the limitations of a human body. He felt hunger and exhaustion. What's more, He tasted of the trials we taste because of our fallenness. He experienced the pain and sorrow and suffering that we brought upon ourselves as a result of our sin. He knew what it was like to be tempted; because as the writer of Hebrews says, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16). He even become so identified with us that He experienced death for us.
When we consider the tiny Baby in the manger; let's be sure that we remember that He is the Word in human flesh who has “dwelt among us.” He loved us so much that He came to 'pitch His tent' with us, so that He could redeem us and make it possible for us to dwell with Him in His Father's house forever.
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So far, we've seen who He is (that is, the Word), what He did (that is, become flesh), and how close He came to us in doing it (that is, He dwelt among us). And this leads us to . . .
4. HIS IMPACT.
What did this all result in? What was the effect of His coming and drawing so close? John says, “. . . and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father . . .”
The word translated “beheld” 5 is one that means “to gaze upon” or “to discern with the eyes”. And it's the same word that is used in John's first letter; where He describes the close intimacy with which he and the other disciples were able to “behold” Jesus:
The “we” in our verse, then, speaks of the apostles. They are the ones that the Word revealed Himself to so directly and so intimately that they could touch Him and handle Him and see Him. They are the ones who “beheld” His glory.
But this “we” can also include us; because it is to us that they then bore witness and declared “that eternal life which was with the Father”; so that our “fellowship” may be with them, and with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.
And this is the impact of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. He became one of us and dwelt among us, so that we would behold His glory as the only begotten Son of the Father. He came as the divine “Reveler” of God the Father to us; and in knowing Him, we know His Father. “No one has seen God at any time,” John says. “The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared Him” (John 1:18). The Father sent the Son because He wanted to reveal Himself to us; and Jesus willingly came in obedience to the Father because He wanted to reveal the Father to us. “He who has seen Me has seen the Father”, Jesus said (John 14:8).
Jesus came from the very heart of the Father, in order to reveal to us the very heart of the Father.6 And because He came, “we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father”. When you behold that Baby in the manger, then; know that you are beholding the revelation of the Father. He came from the Father in order to reveal truth about the Father; so that, through Him, you and I might know God as He really is.
Christmas means, then, that if you don't know God as He really is, it's not because He hasn't gone to great lengths to reveal Himself.7 If you do not know the inner peace and satisfaction that comes from knowing God and being in a relationship with Him, it's because you have not sought Him through His Son. If you want to know God the Father, then you must go to the manger at Bethlehem and behold His only begotten Son; because that's who the Father reveals Himself through.
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And what does 'the glory as of the only begotten of the Father' reveal? What do we learn about God from beholding this One who is born on Christmas Day? This leads us, finally, to . . .
5. HIS MESSAGE.
We learn, from beholding Christ, that the Father is “full of grace and truth”.
When God came down upon the mountain before Israel of old, He came down to give His law. The people trembled at Him. He spoke; and they feared for their lives. But there was a time when Moses prayed, “Please, show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18); and God answered His request by revealing that He is not only the dreadful Lawgiver; but that He is also “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth . . .” (Exodus 34:6).
Think of those last few words—that God is “abounding in goodness and truth”. And then, think of the glory of the only begotten of the Father that is revealed to us—that God is “full of grace and truth”. That's what Jesus' coming into this world has revealed to us about His Father. As John says in verse 17; “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
You see; Jesus came to establish that God is faithful and true to Himself. He shows us things as they really are. He has shown us what God the Father is really like—that He has spoken His law; and His law must be obeyed. The fact that the Son needed to come on our behalf shows us that we have broken His Father's law; and that the Father's justice demands that a penalty be paid. That's truth. God the Father is true to Himself; and does not change. If He permitted His law to be broken without penalty, then He would not be true to who He is or faithful to His own law. And Jesus came and fulfilled the demands of God's law by paying the death penalty on the cross for us—thus satisfying the demands of “truth”.
But the Son's coming also satisfies the need for “grace”; because He died on the cross for us so that the penalty would be paid on our behalf. His coming satisfies the demands of both “grace” and “truth” in full abundance. The Father is “full of grace and truth”; and by sending His Son for us, God demonstrates that He is both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).
Remember this as you think about that Baby in the manger. From heaven's perspective, we need truth. But because of the truth, we also need grace. And both “grace and truth” are expressed to us as qualities of the heavenly Father through Jesus His Son—who is “the Word”. In Jesus, we have both in perfect and complete abundance; because He is “full of grace and truth”.
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Dear brother or sister in Christ; that's heaven's perspective of Christmas. Is it yours? Do you have a need this Christmas to regain a proper perspective the birth we celebrate? Does your vision of Christmas Day need to transcend the mere hustle and bustle of the season? It will if you look upon the Baby in the manger.
But this verse also teaches us that our perspective of Christmas needs to go further than that. Does your perspective of Christmas transcend even the nativity scene? Does it capture a sense of how Jesus' coming has fulfilled the great agreement that the Godhead has entered into from eternity past in order to secure your and my redemption from sin? It will if you allow the Holy Spirit to teach you from this wonderful Christmas verse.
2In fact, not just “with”, as would be the case if the preposition meta had been used; but the use of the preposition pros suggests a deeper and more intimate sense of the Word's presence with the Father—that is, “toward” God, or “beside” God.
3Skanoo; to pitch a tent, to tabernacle or dwell in a tent; hence, to dwell or have one's abode.
4Skanos; a tent.
5Theaomai; to gaze upon or to see and discern with the eyes.
6John G. Mitchell, An Everlasting Love (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1982), pp. 20-21.
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