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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
December 24, 2006
The Word Became Flesh
Tomorrow is Christmas, the day that we celebrate the birth of our savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. There is much about that story that we can understand. Most of us can understand the birth of a baby. Many of you are parents and remember well the experience of the birth of your own children. Or you may be an aunt, uncle or have younger siblings and understand the birth of a niece, nephew, brother or sister. We can understand the joy that would have been present at the birth of Jesus.
Most of us can also understand having to travel someplace when you don’t really want to go. May I dare say that may even be true for a few of you tomorrow. Even though Bethlehem was Joseph’s ancestral home and there would been relatives there that he would probably like to see, it was not a journey he wanted to make for several reasons. First, he was going under compulsion by the command of Caesar Augustus so that a census could be taken for tax purposes. Most of us are resistant to things the government forces upon us and none of us like to pay taxes. Second, Joseph was settled in Nazareth and it was a long journey to Bethlehem and remember they would have to travel by foot or hoof for there were no modern means of transportation. Third, and more important than all the other reasons, Mary was with child and there would have been concerns for them.
Most of us can also understand going someplace and finding it crowded. In the case of Joseph and Mary it was so crowded that they were unable to find accommodations they would have liked and ended up having to stay in a stable. That is a scene that is either made out to be a lot worse that it would have been or romanticized to such a point that it seems like a place we would all like to stay. The reality was that while it was a stable, you can be sure it was cleaned up for them. There are not even any references in scripture to animals being present. They were innovative and adapted a manger for use as a bed for their baby. (By the way, the word crib not only refers to a certain type of bed used for babies, but also for “a barred rack for animal fodder, a manger”). Some of you may understand that as well since young parents sometimes have to be creative in providing for their first child. I know of one couple that used the bottom drawer of a dresser as a place for their baby to sleep.
While there are many things we can understand about that day so long ago, there are also many things we cannot understand. We cannot understand the presence of the heavenly host praising God for that is outside our reference of experiences. We cannot understand having shepherds show up just to see our baby, for people do not leave their places of work to go see the baby of strangers. But the thing about Christmas we understand the least is the very thing that is it all about, the incarnation. We do not understand God taking on human flesh. It is that radical truth that most people in the world have rejected by either refusing to believe that Jesus was also God or refusing to believe that Jesus was actually human. Turn to John 1 and let us see what God Himself has said.
John 1:1-18 1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
6 There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came for a witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but [came] that he might bear witness of the light. 9 There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.
10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, [even] to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 John ^bore witness of Him, and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.'” 16 For of His fulness we have all received, and grace upon grace. 17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. 18 No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained [Him.]
THE WORD REVEALED (1:1-5)
John begins by reaching back into eternity to establish the identity of this one revealed here as oJ lovgo” / “the logos,” the Word.” Who is the “Word?” It is none other than Jesus, for only Jesus fits all the declarations about the Word given here.
There are those that spend much time trying to connect this to the “logos” of Greek philosophy, especially that of Philo, but John is a Jew and writes from a Semitic point of view, not a Greek one. The concept of Logos, the Word, among the Jews is that of the God who creates by speaking and who reveals Himself through speech. Psalm 33:6, 9 – By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, And by the breath of His mouth all their host. . . For he spoke, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast. Heb. 11:3, Through faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. Heb. 1:1,2 – God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son. . .”. Jesus Christ is the “Logos,” the Word, through whom God reveals Himself to man.
HIS NATURE: John establishes the nature of the Word in the first two verses. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
In the first phrase of verse 1 John brings out the eternal preexistence of the Word. This is not something we can really understand for we humans are finite creatures bound by time and cannot grasp eternity past. Without going into the details of the Greek grammar here, a strict translation of this verse into English would say, “In the beginning was continuing the Word.” That is poor English, but it makes the right emphasis. John brings us back to the edge of eternity past and states that the Word was already existing and continuing when God brings time into existence. The Word is eternal past and future.
In the next phrase John sets the eternal relationship of the Word with God. The emphasis of the verb tense here can be brought out by translating it as “The Word was continually with God.” The particular preposition used here, pros / pros, means “with” in the sense of facing and moving towards. [Instead of peri / peri – “with” in the sense of alongside and around]. Some have translated this as “face to face” in trying to bring out the meaning. We could translate the whole phrase as “The Word was continually face to face with God.” This describes the Word as being distinct from but having intimacy and equality with God.
Jesus speaks of this intimacy and equality Himself in John 17:5, “And now, glorify Thou Me together with Thyself, Father, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was.
The final phrase of verse 1 points out that the Word is eternally God. Again, we can emphasize the verb tense by translating it “and the Word was continuing as God.” This refuted the gnostic idea that Jesus was a man that took on aspects of deity at His baptism and then lost them prior to the crucifixion. Jesus is, always has been, and always will be God.
The Jehovah Witnesses translate this verse as “the Word was a God” in trying to back up their belief that Jesus is not the God. Their belief is really just the ancient heresy of Ariansm. That is a very wrong translation for the following reasons.
First, the phrase in Greek is qeoV hn o logoV (theos han ho logos). logoV/logos is the subject and qeoV/theos is the predicate. The predicate is given first for the sake of emphasis. The omission of the article on qeoV/theos was necessary to distinguish the subject and the predicate, and so it cannot be translated as indefinite – i.e. “a God.”
Second, in Greek, a noun may be definite even if there is no article used (anarthrous construction). Many factors can make the noun definite including, as the case is here with qeoV/theos, the use of a noun which is treated like a proper name. In such cases the use of the article emphasizes the identity and the lack of an article emphasizes character of essence. The grammatical construction here places emphasis that the Word was and continues to be of divine essence. This same truth is stated again in a different manner in verse 14 & 18. Jesus stated it plainly in John 14:9,10, “Have I been so long with you, and [yet] you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, ‘Show us the Father ‘? 10 “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? Heb. 1:3 states it this way, He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature. . .”.
Third, if the article had been used, the subject and predicate would be interchangeable without distinction. The Bible declares each member of the triune Godhead to be God in character and essence, yet each of them is also distinct. The Bible teaches that there is one eternal creator God who exists in three distinct persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If you will, the eternal God is a plural singular. This is why the Hebrew word for God, Elohim, is actually a plural, though it is used as a singular. Deuteronmy 6:4 declares, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God (Elohim), the Lord is one! This also explains the plural pronouns used of God such as in Gen. 1:26, “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image. . .”. God is speaking to the other members of the triune godhead. They make up the “us” and the “our.” ]
If the Jehovah Witnesses were consistent with their methodology they would have to translate verse 6 as John being sent from a God; verse 12 as those receiving Christ becoming children of a God; and verse 18 that no man has seen a God at any time. The Jesus of the Jehovah Witnesses is a lesser God. Their Jesus is not the eternal Word described here in John 1. (For details on the grammatical structure, see the Sermon notes).
John 1:1 is an incredible theological statement given in very compact form. The Word was always existing. The Word was distinct from but in perfect fellowship with God. The Word was continuing as God in character and essence. While we may grasp some aspects of the concept here, we cannot comprehend these great truths in the fullness of their reality.
Verse 2 reinforces these declarations by combining the first two phrases and referencing the third by stating that (outoV / outos) this one, this Word (“He” – NASB; “The same” – KJV) was in the beginning with God. John’s opening declaration is that Jesus, the Word, exists from all eternity as a distinct person who is in intimate fellowship with the Father and is Himself in character and essence God.
HE IS CREATOR (3). In verse 3 John demonstrates that this Word is God by attributing to Him the creation of all things. John states this from both the positive side viewed from the past and from the negative side viewed from the present.
First, All things came into being by Him. The Word is not a created being, but the creator Himself. Col. 1:16,17 states of Jesus, For by Him all things were created, [both] in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things have been created by Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. Deity is demonstrated in that Scripture attributes these same actions to God, not only in Genesis, but also in Rev. 4 where the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come (vs. 8), is worthy to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created ” (11).
Second, John states that apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. This is a view from the present stated from the negative and so it makes greater emphasis. There is nothing that exists currently that was not created by Him – no exceptions!
All those who seek to deny the deity of Jesus Christ must reject what John says here or be crushed under its simple, but powerful proclamation. Jesus is not a created being. He is the Creator.
HE IS LIFE (4) In verse 4 we find that in the Word was life and that this life was the light of men. The concept of life here is not just the physical, biological existence given to us by our Creator. All of God’s creatures have that. What is referred to here is the fulness of spiritual life. John will expand on this concept in chapter 3 in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus about being born again. Paul understood this concept and expressed it in Ephesians 2 when he stated that we were dead in our transgressions, but God, by His grace, saved us and made us alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:5). True life, the fulness of life, spiritual life is only found in Jesus Christ. And this life was the light of men. In contrast to the secrecy of gnosticism, the truth of spiritual life in Christ is not hidden but shines forth and is available to all
HE IS LIGHT (5). John uses the analogy of light to describe that which belongs to God, and he uses darkness to describe that which opposes Him. As 1 John 1:5 states, God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. Darkness is the antithesis of light. The light of the gospel of life in Jesus Christ is shining to all including those still in the darkness of false religions, cults and vain philosophies. But those in such darkness do not comprehend what is before them and so they resist it. As Paul states in 2 Cor. 4:4, the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
It is like a police officer walking a beat in a dark alley with his flashlight. Those who understand the joy of truth, righteousness and justice welcome him, but those who practice evil will reject and resist him. So it is that the truth, righteousness and justice of the gospel is proclaimed throughout the earth, but those holding to their false religions and vain philosophies will reject it and resist it, preferring their darkness to the light. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not comprehend it.
THE WORD MANIFESTED (1:6-13)
In the first five verses John declares the character and nature of Jesus who is the Word, the Life, the Light. He next presents the witnesses to the truth of his declarations.
THE WITNESS OF JOHN (6-8)
6 There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came for a witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but [came] that he might bear witness of the light.
John the Baptizer was sent by God with authority to prepare the way for the Lord and be a witness for Christ who was the light so that all might believe.
THE LIGHT IN THE WORLD (9-13)
REVEALED: 9 There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. Jesus was the true light who came into the world and revealed Himself to mankind. The evidence is present & the witness of God is proclaimed. In Roman 1:18,-20 Paul points out that all of creation cries out in witness of the Creator so that all men are without excuse.
REJECTED: 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. John again points out that Jesus brought the world into existence. However, this time the emphasis is more on the relationship that should be there because of that. All creation belongs to Him, yet the world did not know Him. The word “know” here is from ginwskw / ginosko, the knowledge of relationship. The world has intellectual knowledge of Jesus in that they can know about Him, but they have no personal relationship with Him.
Even more personal in nature is verse 11, He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. God had chosen Israel out of all nations to be His special people (Ezek. 20:5). They were to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex. 19:6) and proclaim Him to all the other nations, yet they would not even receive Him themselves when He came to them. Perhaps you can get a hint of what this means if you can imagine good, gracious and generous parents who are rejected by their children. They are not even welcome to come to their homes. The promised Messiah came with all the hope of the Old Testament prophecies, but the nation would not receive Him as such.
RECEIVED: While most people reject Jesus, there are the few that do receive Him and they also gain an additional blessing. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, [even] to those who believe in His name. Here is the universal offer to all mankind. To all who will receive the Word, clarified here as believing on His name, there is a wonderful gift. They are given the right to become the children of God.
To believe on His name is to have faith and trust all the truths about Him. In just the few verses we have looked at this morning that already includes His eternity, His deity, His being the Creator and His coming into the world to bring the life and light. The rest of John’s gospel will bring out additional truths about Jesus including His sinless life, His many miracles, His voluntary death as an atonement for sin, and His resurrection from the dead. If a person believes these truths about Jesus the result will be a life of following Him. This is a radical change which John describes here as becoming part of God’s family. The individual that places their trust in Jesus is given the authority, the right, to become a child of God. The new believer will then grow and mature taking on the qualities of godliness that now belong to them as a child of God.
But notice in verse 13 how this birth occurs. “Who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” This birth is not a matter of your lineage. You do not become a child of God because of family heritage. Blood lines do not matter. This spiritual birth is not because of your own desire either. Galatians 5:17 tells us that your flesh is against God, and Romans 3:11 tells us that no one, including you, seek God on your own. This spiritual birth does not happen because somebody else wants it for you. No one can force another person to believe. Being born into God’s family is due to God’s mercy & grace as He works upon the individual and that individual responding to that work. No one can boast. All glory goes to God. The good news is that God is at work. The question that remains is how people will respond.
THE WORD INCARNATED(1:14)
In verse 14 John gives further testimony to the truth of the nature and character of the Word along with another incomprehensible idea. “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John alluded to this truth earlier, but now it is plainly stated. The Word became flesh. This one who is eternal, is God and is the Creator became a creature. How could that be? Yet it is true.
The “we” and “us” in this verse are those who lived with Jesus, especially the Apostles. As John states in 1 John 1:1, “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life.” They were first hand witnesses. They heard Him. They saw Him. They touched Him. Peter, James and John were with Jesus at the Transfiguration when Jesus’ face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light
(Mt. 17). John may be alluding to that, but in specific the glory he speaks of here is that of grace and truth that reflects Jesus being the only begotten from the Father.
The term “only begotten” speaks of the eternal relationship of God the Son with God the Father. It does not mean that Jesus was created by the Father, for we have already seen that Jesus is eternal, that He created all things and that He possesses the character and essence of God though He is also distinct from the Father.
Jesus was full of grace and truth that reflected the Father. His message was one of the Father’s unmerited favor to sinners and demonstrated in the miracles, His sermons and His atoning death. Jesus himself is the truth, the final reality. The Apostles were first hand witness to all these things.
There are some things we can understand about Christmas, but there are also things about it that are beyond our full comprehension. Jesus was born as a baby in Bethlehem, but He is also eternal, the Creator of all things and has the character and essence of God. The Creator became a creature. God took on human flesh, and He came that we might have life in Him and become part of God’s family. Those are truths we accept by faith.
John has made his declaration about Jesus and backed it up with the testimony of others. The question must now be put to you. What do you believe about Jesus Christ? Why? Have you received Jesus? If not, why not?
There is nothing more important than your relationship with Jesus Christ. Only in Him is there is life. If you do not yet know Him, then take a step of faith and ask God to help you understand Him and start seeking Him. Heb. 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please [Him], for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and [that] He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” If you are a believer, be diligent and do not let anything hinder you in your relationship with Christ. Do as Heb. 12:1,2 says, . . . let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith . . .”.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times the “Word” is mentioned.
2) Talk with your parents about Jesus becoming a man.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What about the Christmas story do you easily understand? What do you have a hard time comprehending? Who is the “Word / Logos”? Why does John use that term? What is the importance of each of the three phrases in John 1:1? The Jehovah Witnesses erroneously translated the last phrase as “the word was a God” – why is that wrong and what is their heresy? Is Jesus a created being? Why or why not? What is Jesus’ relationship to the Creation? How does that correspond to the actions of God in creation? What does it mean that the “word was life”? What kind of life? What is the spiritual contrast between light and darkness? How is Jesus the “light”? What was the witness of John the Baptist? What was the witness of the “true light”? Why didn’t the world know Him when He came? In what sense can a non-Christian “know” Jesus”? In what does he not know Jesus? Why did the nation of Israel refuse to receive Jesus? What were they looking for? What does it mean to “receive” Jesus? What is the benefit of doing so? How does that change a person’s life? Why can’t a person be born into God’s family by their genealogical heritage? Why can’t a person be born into God’s family based on their own will to do so? Why can’t a person be born into God’s family based in another persons desire for that to happen? How is a person born into God’s family? Explain as best you can what it means that “the Word became flesh.” How does a person receive God’s mercy & grace? Have you received them? Are you living according to them?
Sermon Notes – December 24, 2006
The Incarnation – John 1:1-18
The Nature of the Word
The Word is Eternal God – vs. 1,2
The Word is Creator – vs. 3
The Word is Life – vs. 4
The Word is Light – vs. 5
The Word Manifested
The Witness of John – vs. 6-8
The Witness of the Light – vs. 9-13
The Word Incarnated – vs. 14
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