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Christmas [2006]: The Eternal Word Made Flesh (John 1:1, 14)

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December 24, 2006

Christmas Message

As I’ve said before, there is a question that is the most crucial question in all of life, which you must answer carefully. If you have not answered this question correctly, you are not ready to die and you are not equipped to live. It is a question that affects every area of your life.

The question is the one that Jesus asked His disciples (Matt. 16:15), “Who do you say that I am?” Your answer to that question determines your eternal destiny. Maybe you’re thinking, “I thought that my eternal destiny was determined by having faith in Jesus Christ.” True, but unless you know who Jesus Christ truly is, your faith is in an imaginary Jesus. For your faith truly to be in Jesus, you must understand who He is. The Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses have some sort of faith in some sort of Jesus, but he is not the Jesus revealed in the Bible. Such faith will not save anyone.

Your answer to that question not only affects your eternal destiny, but also how you live. If God has opened your eyes to see that Jesus is Lord, then He has something to say about whom you marry, about how you relate to your mate and how you rear your children. He tells you how to operate your business, how to manage your money, and how to govern all of your life. If Jesus is the Lord of the universe, then He must be the Lord of every aspect of your life, beginning on the thought level.

I must add that once you have seen that Jesus truly is the Lord God in human flesh, you will have to come back repeatedly to that crucial question, “Who do you say that I am?” John the Baptist, the bold prophet who served as the forerunner to Jesus Christ, had certainly answered that question. He proclaimed Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He went on to explain (John 1:30), “This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” Jesus was six months younger than John, but John affirmed Jesus’ preexistence. John proclaimed (John 1:34), “I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” John was clear on that crucial question.

But later, Herod imprisoned John. As the months passed and he was not released, he began to wonder, “Am I mistaken? If Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and I am His messenger, why doesn’t Jesus open these prison doors and get me out?” Surely, John and his disciples were praying fervently for his release, but those prayers were not being answered. So John sent messengers to Jesus to ask (Matt. 11:3), “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” His difficult circumstances and his unanswered prayers made him waver on the crucial question: Is Jesus really the Son of God? Have you been there with John?

Jesus sent back a clear answer (Matt. 11:4-6), “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.” John would have recognized that Jesus’ words show that He is the promised Messiah, fulfilling the prophecies of Isaiah 35. So even though John would soon lose his head, it really didn’t matter, since Jesus is the Son of God. And when you are in prison and God isn’t answering your prayers, it is essential that you are clear about who Jesus really is.

You will face other times when you struggle with hard issues: Why does a loving God allow so much suffering in this world, especially with little children? Why does an almighty, loving God allow so many people to die with no opportunity to be saved? There was an occasion when Jesus taught some difficult things. He said that (John 6:53-54) “unless you eat the flesh of the son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Many of His disciples stumbled over these words.

But Jesus didn’t soften His words. Rather, He asked them (6:61-64), “Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” He added (6:65), “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” John adds (6:66), “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” But, rather than backing off, Jesus turned to the twelve and asked (6:67), “You do not want to go away also, do you?”

Have you been there? I have! You were following Jesus when you came up against some hard words that you didn’t like. You were tempted to turn away. What did you do? How do you process those difficult moments? Peter goes back to that crucial question. He answered (6:68-69), “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” If Jesus is the Holy One of God, who has the words of eternal life, then you must follow Him, even when He speaks difficult words that you don’t like.

All of this is to introduce our text. John begins his Gospel with no introduction. He doesn’t bother to tell you who is writing. There are no greetings. He hits you right off with the answer to the crucial question, the answer that perhaps you weren’t even aware that you needed! He states (John 1:1), “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Then, after expounding on that statement (1:2-13), John comes back to the crucial question—who is Jesus Christ? He sets forth one of the greatest mysteries that our minds can try to comprehend (1:14): “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The eternal Word, the Almighty Creator, took on human flesh and dwelt among us! John writes his gospel to present the glory of this unique Person of Jesus Christ, “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (20:31). The simple but profound message of our text is,

Because Jesus Christ is the eternal God in human flesh, we must trust Him as Savior and follow Him as Lord.

Let’s look first at verse 1, which shows…

1. The Word is revealed in eternity as God (1:1).

John makes three affirmations in verse 1:

A. Jesus is eternal.

Verse 14 makes it clear that the Word is Jesus. In a moment we will look at the implications of referring to Him as the Word. But for now, focus on the statement, “In the beginning was the Word.” It reminds us of the opening statement of the Bible (Gen. 1:1), “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Both statements hit you with force. They do not let you debate, “Does God exist?” They don’t present themselves as, “In my opinion, if you care to accept it, …” Rather, it hits you before you have time to duck, “In the beginning God….” “In the beginning was the Word….” Pow!

John wants us to see that he is writing about a new creation that centers in the eternal Word, who is also the Creator of all things (1:3). The statement means, in the beginning of time, before the heavens and earth existed, the Word was already existing. There never was a time when the Word was not.

You can’t wrap your mind around that concept! I may be able to fathom billions of years ago, although even that is beyond my comprehension. But how can you fathom eternity without time? Everything that we perceive, including the earth, the sun, and the universe, had a beginning. The Word had no beginning!

B. Jesus is the second person of the Trinity.

John continues, “and the Word was with God.” Leon Morris (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans, 1971], p. 76) explains the preposition (“with”), “The whole existence of the Word was oriented towards the Father. Probably we should understand from the preposition the two ideas of accompaniment and relationship.” He notes that John’s repeating this in verse 2 shows that it is not a casual comment, but one of great importance.

In the first phrase, John establishes the eternal nature of the Word as God. In the second phrase, he shows that the Word “existed in the closest possible connection with the Father” (Morris, ibid.). It shows that the Word is not an impersonal idea or philosophy, but a Person. This Person is distinguishable from God, although (as the first and third phrases show), He is eternal God.

Although xxour finite minds cannot comprehend the mystery of the Trinity, Scripture is clear that God is one God who exists in three distinct persons. Each person is fully God and yet He is not three Gods, but one God (see Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology [Zondervan, 1994], pp. 226-258).

C. Jesus is God.

The third phrase is, “and the Word was God.” As Morris states (p. 76), “Nothing higher could be said. All that may be said about God may fitly be said about the Word. This statement should not be watered down.” He clarifies (p. 77), “John is not merely saying that there is something divine about Jesus. He is affirming that He is God, and doing so emphatically as we see from the word order in the Greek.”

If you have had an encounter with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, you know that they claim that the Greek text says, “the word was a god,” because there is no Greek definite article before “God.” Every cult errs with regard to their view of the person of Jesus Christ. Satan knows that if people do not have the biblical view of who Jesus is, then they have answered the crucial question wrongly. If they do not truly know the Son, they will not honor Him as God. If they do not honor the Son, they do not honor the Father, either (John 5:23).

So how do we answer the Jehovah’s Witnesses? First, this is the only way in Greek to say, “the Word was God.” If John had put the definite article before God, it would have equated the Word totally with God, thus negating the distinction between the Word and God that he made in the second phrase. Second, without getting too technical, there is a rule of Greek grammar (Colwell’s rule) that shows that when definite nouns precede the verb, they regularly (about 80 percent of the time) lack the definite article. For example, the same Greek construction is in John 1:49, where Nathaniel proclaims, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” There is no article before “King,” but obviously, Nathaniel isn’t saying, “You are a king of Israel.” He was proclaiming Jesus as the King of Israel. The lack of the article emphasizes the quality of the noun.

Third, there are many other Scriptures that clearly proclaim Jesus as God. When, at the climax of John’s gospel (20:28), Thomas sees the risen Jesus, he proclaims, “My Lord and my God!” The Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that he was making an exclamation! But that would have been swearing. Surely, Jesus would have rebuked so serious a sin. Instead, Jesus affirms Thomas’ confession.

Years later, on the Isle of Patmos, the apostle John had a vision of the risen Lord (Rev. 1:17-18). John fell before Him as a dead man. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” Isaiah 44:6 says, “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me.’” In light of Isaiah, clearly Jesus was claiming to be the Lord of hosts, the only living and true God!

Thus verse 1 affirms, Jesus is eternal; He is the second person of the Trinity; and, He is God. Also, it affirms that…

D. God has spoken in Jesus.

John refers to Jesus as “the Word.” There have been books written on this subject, but to keep it brief and simple, consider two things:

(1). As the Word, Jesus reveals what the invisible God is like.

You cannot know my thoughts unless I put them into words. God is spirit, and thus invisible to our finite senses. As Paul says (1 Tim. 6:16), He “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see.” Or, as John (1:18) says, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God [some manuscripts read, “Son”] who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” Jesus Himself asserted (John 14:9), “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” Thus it is only through Jesus that we can know God personally (Luke 10:22).

(2). As the Word, Jesus shows our responsibility towards God.

Hebrews (1:1-2) begins, “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, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.” If God has spoken to us and Jesus is His Word, then we had better listen to and obey Jesus! As John 3:36 draws the line, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” To ignore God’s word to us in Jesus is a serious mistake! Jesus is the eternal God, the authoritative Word of God. Ignore Him to your eternal peril!

2. The Word is revealed in time as God in human flesh (1:14).

John 1:14 is one of the most wonderful and yet unfathomable verses in the Bible! How can God, who is spirit, become human flesh? How can the eternal become temporal? How can the unchangeable God take on a human body, subject to change? How can the immortal die as the substitute for our sins? How can the man, Jesus, whom John saw, also be the eternal Creator of the universe? But in spite of the incomprehensible mystery, this is what the Bible declares. As the angel explained to Mary (Luke 1:35), “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” John 1:14 makes four statements:

A. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

“The Word” takes us back to verse 1, meaning, the eternal Word who is God. This eternal one became flesh. John could have used a more mild term, such as, He became man. Perhaps John used “flesh” to counter the false teaching of the Docetists, who denied the true humanity of Jesus (1 John 4:2-3). They asserted that all matter is evil, which the Bible does not teach. Although Jesus does not share our sinful nature, He is completely human.

“Dwelt among us” means, literally, “tabernacled among us.” The tabernacle in the Old Testament was an earthly picture of God’s dwelling place among men. Jesus, in His human body, was God “pitching His tent” among men for a period of time.

B. We saw His glory.

God’s glory was associated with the tabernacle (Exod. 40:34, 35). With regard to Jesus, when He performed His first miracle, turning the water into wine, John 2:11 reports, “This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.” (See, also 11:4, 40.) John, of course, also saw Jesus’ glory on the Mount of Transfiguration, although he does not report that in his Gospel (see 2 Pet. 1:16-18). But there is a deeper sense in which God’s glory was manifested at the cross. When Judas went out to betray Jesus, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him” (John 13:31; see, also, 12:23-28). When John and the other apostles saw Jesus willingly offer Himself for our sins, they supremely saw the glory of God (see 2 Cor. 4:4-6).

C. Jesus’ glory was that of the only begotten from the Father.

The word “only-begotten” is better translated, “unique” or “only one of His kind.” The same word is used to refer to Isaac (Heb. 11:17). He was not Abraham’s only son, but he was his unique son, the son of the promise. Only begotten does not refer to Jesus’ being born of Mary or to His coming into existence at some time in the past (which He did not). Rather, it points to His unique relationship to the Father as the eternal Son. He is God’s Son in a unique way that no one else is or ever could be.

D. Jesus was full of grace and truth.

This phrase probably refers back to the Word. John adds these terms here because both are essential for understanding our salvation. Grace is God’s unmerited favor, shown to those who deserve His judgment. If you can earn salvation, then you don’t need grace. Only sinners need grace. The only way you can receive God’s salvation is to acknowledge your need as a sinner, renounce all trust in yourself or your own merit, and trust in the grace of God as shown at the cross of Christ.

Truth points to God’s character. He is absolute truth. By contrast, Satan is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). As the God of truth, His righteous standard calls us to truth, but we have sinned and fall short of His perfect righteousness. Jesus claimed (John 14:6), “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” Jesus embodied the truth and lived in accordance with God’s truth. When He offered Himself on the cross, as the sinless substitute, He paid the penalty for sin that we deserved. Thus He upheld God’s truth and yet could offer us grace. But, you must respond to God’s truth in Jesus:

3. Our response to the eternal Word made flesh should be to trust Him as Savior and follow Him as Lord.

2 Corinthians 4:4 states regarding those who are perishing, “in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Unless God opens your eyes, you cannot see the glory of Christ, the eternal Word who became flesh. But, Paul continues (4:6), “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” When God opens your eyes to see His glory in Christ, you will instantly see the answer to life’s most crucial question: Who is Jesus Christ? He is the eternal Word who took on human flesh. His glory was especially revealed when He died on the cross on behalf of undeserving sinners, to satisfy God’s wrath. Therefore, I must trust Him as Savior and follow Him as Lord.

Conclusion

Have you answered that crucial question? If not, read the Gospel of John and ask God to open your eyes to see the glory of Jesus Christ. When He does, you will trust in Him as your Savior. If you have trusted Christ, but you’re struggling with difficult matters, come back to that crucial question. You must follow Him as Lord, even if He doesn’t deliver you from prison and even if a wicked king cuts your head off. Everything in this life and in eternity rests on the right answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” Can you say, “Lord Jesus, You are the eternal Word made flesh, the glory of the unique Son of the Father, full of grace and truth for me”?

Application Questions

  1. Why is it more important than anything else to be clear on who Jesus really is?
  2. Can a person deny the deity of Christ and yet be saved? Why not?
  3. What would you say to someone in a cult who said, “I just can’t understand the Trinity”? How would you proceed?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2006, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christmas, Christology, Discipleship, Soteriology (Salvation)