I chose this passage this morning because it is included in many songs we sing during the Christmas season. And I have always been intrigued by some of the language that the Apostle John uses here. And so I must admit I was driven by some of this fascination and wanted to share some of these great truths with you all. At this time of Christmas, I want you forget some of your familiarity with the story and be “wowed” by what actually happens when we celebrate a baby born in Bethlehem. So this will be less Christmas “story” and more Christmas “theology.” These truths are extremely important and relevant for us. We will talk more of this in a bit.
We are in John chapter 1 verses 14-18. But before we dig in here, we need to read and understand the context of the passage. Let’s read the text and get a feel for the big picture of what John is getting at here. READ John 1.1-18.
You quickly notice that John uses certain words and images to describe Jesus Christ. He writes of “word” and “light” to describe him. Let’s start at the beginning. Actually, it’s “in the beginning.” These are the three words with which John chooses to start his gospel. Matthew begins his gospel with the genealogy back to Abraham. Luke begins with the birth of Jesus in the times of King Herod. Mark begins with the ministry of Jesus without even going back to his birth. John has chosen to go to the very beginning of time. And he indicates that this Word existed before the Creation. John says he was with God and, actually, he was God! The Word was involved in the creating of all things.
John states that there was life in him which was the light of men. He is so powerful that the darkness has not and cannot overcome him. Enter John the Baptist. He came as a forerunner to Jesus to testify about him – the light. The light came into the world and though the world was made through him, they did not know him.
We have been studying the Gospel of Mark and we’ve witnessed the many different responses to the person and work of Jesus. He has been received by some unlikely characters and rejected by those who we would most expect. But largely, he has been and will be rejected by his own people. To this point, John has not even mentioned the name of Jesus, but has used descriptions of him before identifying him.
In our text, John will make it clear who he has been describing. This will actually be a culmination of the things he has mentioned previously. Our first clue is in the first point: God and Man. The Word became flesh! Now here is a phrase that is not used very often and may be a bit ambiguous. What is John trying to say here?
That John uses the term “Word” is significant. This is the English translation of the Greek work “logos.” Here it refers to the revelation or communication of God. And I think John intentionally couples this word with “in the beginning” to communicate something very important. You see, he brings us back to the Creation account in Genesis 1 where it is recorded that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And we are familiar that God did not have to laboriously create everything. He merely had to speak it. It was through his “word” that he created.
In the account of the Ten Commandments given to Moses, you recall that after spending time on the mountain with the Lord, Moses returns to the people only to find they had given themselves to create and worship a golden calf. In his anger, Moses destroys the tablets on which he wrote the commandments. And in Exodus 34, the Lord commands Moses to get two more tablets in order to rewrite them. Listen to the first five verses in this chapter: 1The Lord said to Moses, “Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. 2Be ready by the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to me on the top of the mountain. 3No one shall come up with you, and let no one be seen throughout all the mountain. Let no flocks or herds graze opposite that mountain.” 4So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone. 5The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord.
“The name of the Lord” refers to his character. This is why we pray in Jesus’ name. We pray according to his character and his will. This section of Exodus (and elsewhere) tells us that God reveals himself through his words. And “The Word” is the perfect revelation of God. And the Word became flesh.
So, according to John, the Word was involved in all of creation. That is quite a resume! I don’t know about you, but here’s what I do when I am in the midst of a struggle. In Squamish this is especially effective. I usually stop what I am doing to go find a place to think and pray. Sometimes I find myself just walking down by the river or going to Nexen beach, Alice Lake, or a myriad of other places around here. As I look around at majestic mountains, waterfronts, beautiful forests, and the smells that accompany them, I am quickly reminded of the nature of God – namely his awesome power and creativity. To realize that the Creator is greater than the creation, brings tremendous encouragement and hope because I understand that the One who is for me is greater than my circumstances.
And the Word, the Creator, became flesh and dwelt among us. F. F. Bruce indicates that “God’s very Self-expression, who was both with God and who was God, became flesh: he donned our humanity, save only our sin. God chose to make himself known, finally and ultimately, in a real, historical man: ‘when the Word became flesh’, God became man.”
And this is reinforced by other Scriptures. 1 Timothy 3:16 16Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. Philippians 2:7–8 “7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Romans 1:3 “3concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh.” Galatians 4:4–5 “4But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
So why is this important? Why would Jesus need to come to earth to live and eventually die as a man? I think Hebrews 2 offers the most complete answer to these questions. It says, “Hebrews 2:14–18 “14Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death 1) he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and 2) deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, 3) so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, 4) to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
So it seems as though it was necessary for him to become like us in every way so that these things could be accomplished. And apparently this is a very important teaching. In fact, to deny that Jesus came in this fashion was identified as heresy. Listen to some of these passages: 1 John 4:2–3 “2By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 2 John 7 “7For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Pretty strong words.
The Word who was before all things, created all things is God. And yet the Word became flesh. Emmanuel – God with us. Jesus is fully God and fully man.
Next, we see God’s Residence. “And he dwelt with us.” The word that John uses refers back to the tabernacle and could be rendered, “he tabernacled with us.” In Exodus 25, the Lord commanded his people to make a sanctuary for him. He said that it was so he could dwell in their midst.” What John indicates here is that God has now chosen to dwell amongst his people in a yet more personal way, in the Word-become-flesh, Jesus. He has superceded any Old Testament dwelling place for the Lord. The passage we just read in Philippians was preceded by the fact that Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing. In other words, the Lord Jesus sat on the throne in heaven in perfect bliss. And yet out of his love for us and for the glory of the Father, he left his throne to become a baby, to be hungry and thirsty, to experience pain and temptation, and ultimately be hanged on a tree. He dwelt among us.
John was one of the three of Jesus’ most intimate friends. He is the “one whom Jesus loved.” I can only imagine listening to the teachings to the crowds, watching the miracles, conversing with him along the roads. As his faith is increased as he witnesses his sinless life, his faithfulness and obedience to God the Father, and sees him humbly hand over his life to his creatures, he can ultimately conclude that he has seen his glory.” In John 2:11 he recorded, “11This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” In John 11:4 he wrote, “4But when Jesus heard it he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’” And in verse 40, Jesus concluded, “’Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’” And Jesus was supremely glorified in his death and exaltation.
Then we see God’s Revelation. In verse 18, John notes that no one has ever seen God. You recall from Exodus that Moses once asked to see the glory of God. In chapter 33, it is written, “18Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”
We come across a similar encounter with the prophet Isaiah. In chapter 6 of his book, Isaiah says that “1In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” 4And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” 6Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” I am not sure that he looked upon the Lord in all his glory but rather a glimpse. He was protected from death.
So when John says that no one has ever seen God, the next words are pretty significant. But the only God (or the only One who is God) who is at the Father’s side has made him known. Jesus has revealed the Father. He is the Word of God and the revealer of the Father. How does he reveal the Father? Well, he is the only one who has seen the Father according to John 6.46. Check this one out. Colossians 1.15 says that he is the image of the invisible God. 2 Corinthians 4 says the same thing. John 12:44–45 “44And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.”
Back in verse 14, John says that he and the others have seen the glory of Jesus Christ. He then further explains that it is the glory as of the only Son from the Father. The Greek word, monogenes, emphasizes the uniqueness of the Son. Think back to Abraham for a moment to get a sense of the uniqueness. Do you remember when God asked Abraham to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice? Genesis 22:1–2 “1After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 2He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” Verse 12, “12He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And verse 16, “16and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son.”
You’re familiar with this story. Can you tell me what seems odd from this? God says to take your son, your only son Isaac. Didn’t Abraham have another son already? Ishmael was born back in Genesis 16. So why would the text read “your only son Isaac?” Because he was the son of promise. He was unique. The blessings were not going to be passed on through Ishmael, but Isaac. And this is what Hebrews 11:17–18 indicates: “17By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”
So also Jesus is unique. He is the “one and only” Son, as some of the translations render this phrase. There is none like him. Jesus is the only son who can claim to be Son of God and Son of man. He is fully divine and fully human. Now think of some of the ramifications of this. John said a few chapters later in 3:16 that God so loved the world that he gave his “monogenes” (the one and only) son from the Father, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. He is unique and exclusive.
As Jesus is the only One who reveals the Father and his glory, so he is the only way to the Father. John 14.6 says, “6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” I am he who reveals the Father and the only way to him.
Lastly, God’s Vehicle of Grace and Truth. So John indicates that Jesus, the Word became flesh and dwelt with his people. He and others have seen the glory of Jesus that reflects and reveals the glory of God the Father. This glory is full of grace and truth, verse 14 says. Verse 15 is merely a parenthetical insertion that indicates that John the Baptizer testified to him and interestingly indicates that Jesus is before him and more important than him.
Verse 16 says “from his fullness, we have all received grace upon grace.” And he further explains this by referring both to the law of Moses and grace and truth that came through Jesus Christ. Most commentators see a close relationship between all these thoughts: Jesus reveals God and his glory and this close connection with Moses seeing God’s glory. When Moses requested this of God, do you remember what God said? The Lord replied, I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name. This asserts that God’s glory is supremely his goodness. Do you see it?
So Moses stands on Mount Sinai, and, we are told, ‘the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” in Exodus 34.5-7. D. A. Carson adds, “The italicized words spell out the nature of that goodness which is God’s glory. The two crucial words in Hebrew are ḥeseḏ (variously rendered ‘steadfast love’, ‘mercy’, ‘covenant love’—but it has recently been shown quite clearly that it is the graciousness of the love that is at stake) and ’emeṯ (‘truth’ or ‘faithfulness’). This pair of expressions recurs again and again in the Old Testament. The two words that John uses, ‘full of grace and truth ’, are his ways of summing up the same ideas. The glory revealed to Moses when the Lord passed in front of him and sounded his name, displaying that divine goodness characterized by ineffable grace and truth, was the very same glory John and his friends saw in the Word-made-flesh.”
Verse 16 states that we have all received grace upon grace. This concept is a bit ambiguous here. And it has left commentators divided on its meaning. I think the understanding of it comes from verse 17. Some see a contrast between the law given through Moses and the grace and truth through Jesus Christ. There is no contrastive word in the text and I would suggest that it is a matter of the latter fulfilling the first. And there is grace in each.
As we saw earlier, the law given through Moses serves a couple of purposes. God desired to communicate his character to his people and has done that through the Law. This is one way that God is able to show the people his holiness. The introduction to the Ten Commandments, God says “I am the Lord your God…” and then he prohibits other gods and he is a jealous God. And the Law shows how people are they are to be in relationship to him and to be blessed in life. This is evidence of God’s grace.
But also the Apostle Paul said the Law was good because it showed him his sin and true character. Without the law, he said, he would not have known sin. This, too, is grace for he would have remained in his sin had he not been confronted with the Law.
And then along comes Jesus. Jesus himself stated that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. And he also met the Law’s requirements for us, for we were unable. Paul wrote in Romans 8:1–4 “1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” It is the grace and truth of this one and only Jesus that saves us from our sin and frees us from its condemnation!
Ok. So I just bombarded you with a lot of Scripture and theology. I hope I didn’t overwhelm you. This is important, however. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or maybe it’s mostly been in my neighborhood lately. But I’ve noticed more and more of those folks come knocking on my door on Saturday mornings this time of year. Do you know what I’m talking about? The Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe Jesus is God. And what is it that we most celebrate this season? Emmanuel – God with us. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word who is GOD!!! They missed it!! It’s shortsighted teaching, false teaching. There’s no hope because God had to become man to redeem us. We just read it all over the place. I see lots of people entertaining these false teachings and we need to present the grace and truth that comes through Jesus Christ alone! Pray hard and proclaim much!
But I want all this doctrine to penetrate more than the intellect. Don’t you find this such a fascinating truth? God… God the Creator of all things, the one who holds all things together, and controls the hearts and actions of world rulers, controls the seas, hurricanes, who will bring all things to a close in dramatic fashion… came to our world… as a tiny baby… in a small town… to humble parents… to die on a cross… for us… who turned our backs on him.
John 1:10–12 10He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
Don’t miss it. Don’t miss Emmanuel this Christmas. I know we Christians are good at pointing out materialism, and the evil of Santa Claus and saying that we’re about the Reason for the season. I ask that you seriously contemplate the Word that became flesh, God became a man. He is full of glory and grace and truth. And he shows us the Father and takes us to him – forever.