The Majesty and the Glory of Incarnation
December 17, 2006 / No. 3337
Dear radio friends,
While in seminary, we were required to take a course called New Testament Greek Reading. The professor chose for us fledgling translators the gospel of John because John, of the four gospel narratives, is the simplest in the choice of words and sentence construction.
We began in John 1. After three weeks, we had covered only the first fourteen verses. This was not because of the inability to translate. It was because the professor and students could not get over the profound richness of what was being said. That is the gospel of John—so deceptively simple and yet unfathomably profound. You may put a new believer on John chapter 1 and he will get it. And you can put a theologian on John chapter 1 and he will never be able to exhaust it.
The four gospel narratives (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are like four galleries in a museum—each filled with a verbal portrait of Jesus Christ. They are word pictures, inspired word pictures, of Jesus Christ. God has given us no physical description of Jesus Christ. That is rather striking. We have a bust of Julius Caesar. We have likenesses of the Greek philosophers. But we have no physical record of Jesus Christ—whether He was 5’ 7” or 6’ 4,” whether He was stocky, lean, or lanky—we do not know. But God has given us four inspired pictures in which He sets forth in words what is essential for us to know and to believe about Jesus Christ, that we might have salvation in Him.
Only in Matthew and in Luke do we have some account of the birth of Jesus Christ. Mark begins his gospel narrative with Jesus as a man in His thirties, assuming and beginning His ministry.
It is in the gospel according to John that we are given the most profound truths about our Lord Jesus Christ (chapter 1). John, more fully, more simply, tells us who Jesus is, how He was born, and why He was born. Jesus is God’s eternal Son in the flesh. He was born in order to die for us sinners who hated God, that we might have life eternal in Him.
I have chosen today to speak for a few moments on John 1:1-4, 14, 29 because no other passage of Scripture tells us more about Jesus whom we celebrate at this time of the year. And I chose this passage in order that we might treasure Jesus and embrace Him and delight in Him and know Him—that we might treasure Him for who He is.
Today the question is asked: Who is going to heaven? And the response of religious pluralism is: “Well, everyone. The way to heaven, or to God, is like climbing a mountain. It matters only that you get to the top. There are various ways to ascend the mountain. The Hindu, the Moslem, whoever—all are going to heaven.” The answer of the Christian gospel is: Jesus Christ is the way, the only way. There is no salvation, save the salvation in the Jesus Christ revealed in the Holy Scriptures. If one is to be saved, he must know Jesus Christ for who He is—as the eternal Son of God in flesh. There is no other salvation, save in His name.
So I want to explain to the best of my ability these words today in order that, by God’s grace through faith, we might embrace the Word made flesh, embrace the Savior, and stand on this Savior for life and for all eternity.
First of all, we learn the majesty and the glory of who Jesus is. Who is Jesus? John tells us that Jesus existed as God eternally and was with God as the second person of the Trinity before He was born on earth. We read in verse 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John is drawing a parallel to the first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis. Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In Genesis 1:1 the first words of the Bible tell us the birth of time. Now John tells us the birth of God’s Son. Genesis goes forward into time. God created the heavens and the earth. But John does not go forward. When he uses the words “In the beginning was the Word,” John goes back. He goes in reverse to what was before time. “In the beginning was the Word.” Before the beginning; before the world began; before time started—before all that was the Word that was made flesh. The Word, says John, was God, and was with God. The Babe of Bethlehem, Jesus Christ, existed before His birth. Always was He with God, and He was God.
Let me make it plain. Children, do you exist before you are born? Do you have a conscious existence before you were born? Yes, I know God said He would make you, but did you have a conscious existence? No, not before you were born. There is no footprint, nothing of you before you are born. Not so, with Jesus. He was before He was born.
John emphasizes it in verse 2: “The same was in the beginning with God.” Before time, He was. And thus, He is the eternal God, for it is God alone who is without beginning, who existed before the beginning, who has no beginning and no end. There never was a time when the Word was not. You may think and you may go back and back and back to the vanishing point, when you think your mind will break—there never was a time when Jesus Christ, the eternal Word, was not.
In Proverbs 8 Jesus says that when God made the world, “I was there, I was with Him.” If we were with the shepherds on the night in which Jesus was born, and if we made our way to Bethlehem, we would gaze upon Him who ever was and is and shall be the eternal God.
Now notice that John opens this up a bit. He tells us at least three things. First, the Word had existence distinct from God, and yet He was God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” He was with God and He was God. Some will say that you cannot have it both ways. If He is God, how can He be withGod? The Word was toward the face of God and was God. How can He be God and at the same time toward God? If I am me, I cannot be alongside me. Which is it? Was He God or was He with God? we would ask John. And John responds: Both! He is God, He was God, and He was with God. What is the explanation?
Go to verse 18. “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” John is saying that Jesus Christ is a distinct person within the being of God, yet He is God. He was God. He possessed all of the stuff of deity. And He was with God—that is, He was a distinct person who stood in a relationship within the being of God, within the blessed Trinity. He is the Word, the second person, the only begotten Son. He is the Word. That is, in Him everything that God will say about Himself is seen in this one, Jesus Christ. Hebrews 1:3 declares that He is the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person. He is God and with God. He is the second person, God the Son, of the eternal Trinity. That is who He is.
Still more, John tells us that He created everything and was Himself uncreated. We read in verse 3, “All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.” John writes very intentionally. Already heresies existed in the days of John that were plaguing the church—that Christ was a created son, that there was a time when He was not. John says, “No. Everything was made by Him. And without Him nothing was made that was made.” This means that He was not made. If all things were made byHim, then He is not made. He is uncreated. You were made by Him. If there is a made thing in the universe, Jesus made it. Is there a thing in existence? Jesus made it—babies, fingernails, galaxies, grass, planets, rocks. He made them all. He is God.
He is uncreated. All else was made by Him. Hebrews 1:3: “Upholding all things by the word of his power.” Jesus did not come into being. He came into flesh, but He never came into being. He was never given existence as Himself the second person of the Trinity. But He gave existence to all things.
The third thing that John tells us is that Jesus was life and light (v. 4). “In him was life; and the life was the light of men.” What does that mean? There it is again, very simple in the words of John. But how do you ever get to the bottom of that? The life was the light of men.
Well, you meditate upon that and you begin to look up the words “life,” and “light,” and you pray and you meditate upon the Scriptures. I believe the idea is this: As sinners we are dead and blind. Apart from Him, we are dead and blind. Jesus is the life, the life of God. He is come to give us life through His death and resurrection. And as the life, He is the light. When we are made alive, we see. He gives us life. When He makes us alive, we see. As dead sinners we could not see Him for who He is. But by grace He gives us to see Him—His value, His beauty, His glory. He gives you to see Him a million times more in all of His glory. This is who He is—the one in the manger of Bethlehem, held by the virgin Mary—eternal God in flesh. He is fully God, completely God, yet with God. He is God the Son, He is the person of the Son. He is the creator, He is life, and He is light.
He does not call us to His manger, to come with some sentiment before the manger and say, “How touching.” You must come before that manger to bow down and to worship in wonder and in praise. Do you know who is born for you? Eternal God, Word, Son, Creator, Lord of life and light.
But why? Let us follow John in what he has to say.
The eternal Word was found in a manger, verse 14: “And the Word was made 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.” He was always God. But in a moment of time He became flesh. He did not cease to be God at that point. But now, in addition to His being God, He is united to the flesh. Now He is something that He was not before. He is God in flesh.
Flesh is all that is of human existence. Flesh here means human life—flesh and blood. That He became flesh means that He took to Himself a real human body and soul. He was conceived in the virgin Mary. The egg of Mary was fertilized by the Holy Spirit, it developed, and a baby was born after nine months. So Romans 1:3 can say that He was of the seed of David after the flesh. Or Hebrews 2:14 can say, “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death.” All that human life is He became.
It means that He is a real man who tabernacled, dwelt among us. From birth to death, and everything in between, He was sinless. He was a holy child. But that He was sinless did not make Him less human. We think if He is sinless then He cannot really know human life. But it is the other way around. It is sin, not sinlessness, that distorts human life. Sin is not normal and ordinary to human life. Adam was not created a sinner. Adam was a man, human, before he sinned. Sin is abnormal. Sin is de-humanizing.
But Jesus was without sin in this cursed world. And He was the one, as no one else, who could feel the horror of sin and death. He had a real body and He experienced all that is true of the body. And in that human body He placed Himself squarely in that human condition. He was begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. He was conceived within the womb of the virgin Mary. Modern technology can show us the development of a child in every stage, week after week, day after day. We look at this and we say, “What a great God He is—the Creator of life.” Now the Word became flesh. All that He was as God and with God He remained without any dilution. But He who took to Himself a human body and soul in Mary’s womb is the Creator of the galaxies. The little Babe in the manger is the one who upholds all things by the Word of His power. He did not cease to be what He was. He became what we are. He was made of the substance of His mother.
Behold the glory and the majesty of the incarnation of the birth of Jesus Christ. Bow down and worship One who rightfully is worshiped of angels and has now covered over His glory with our weak flesh. He who spoke the world into existence and He who parted the Red Sea with His hands and He who holds the whole earth still for Joshua’s victory—He lies in a manger, dwelling among us.
And we behold His glory, the glory of His love and grace and mercy.
Why did He come? John gives the fundamental answer to why He came in verse 29 of John 1. “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” Why did the eternal Word dwell among us? He did so in order to be God’s Lamb, to bear away the sin of the world. Take away the cross, and there is no explanation for the manager. Take away a substitutionary, wrath-bearing death of Jesus Christ on the cross, in the place of all those given to Him by the Father’s election, bearing their death—take that away, and you do not have an explanation for the birth of Jesus Christ. Why did He come? He came as God the Son. For it was God the Son in flesh who alone could do this. He came to bear away my sins.
Eternal God, God the Son, Creator, Life, and Light became man in order to lift up from our shoulders the damning and infinite weight of our sins. To bear them Himself and to cast them all away upon His cross. He came, the One who is with God, so that we might be with God in love and fellowship. He came, so that we might come to God. He, the Word, was born as the baby Jesus, so that we might have life and light.
Notice, He is the One who taketh away the sin of the world. John does not leave that indefinite. He becomes very particular. For instance, in John 10 Jesus says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” And He goes on to say that the sheep were the ones whom the Father gave to Him. Yes, He lays down His life for the elect of God. But the elect of God, throughout the whole world, then and now, Jew and Gentile, white, black, Chinese, Indian—the whole world.
But no one in the world can have sin removed without Jesus Christ—no one shall escape the flames of Hell and the judgments of the One and only God without Jesus Christ, God’s Lamb, God’s Son, God’s perfect sacrifice, God and man.
Oh, may God by grace awaken us to the glory and to the reality of who He is. He is the only Savior. There is none other than He.
You must know this, for without this knowledge personally brought to you by the Holy Spirit through faith in your heart, you will perish. You must know this, for it is the only way of salvation. You must know this in order that you might treasure and embrace and follow Him as the Word made flesh, the only Savior.
Do you? Do you do this personally and truly?
Verses 10, 11: “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world know him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” Those are the most horrible, the most awful, the most terrible words: “They did not receive Him.” Why? Because of ourselves we are born dead sinners who hate Him. Therefore the Word, the eternal Son of God, the Creator, the Savior must open our hearts. For our sin is that we reject Him, the eternal God.
It is by grace. John puts it this way in verses 12, 13: “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Born by the gracious will of God.
In this way we receive Him. And to receive Him is to embrace Him as precious, as treasure and delight. It is to live out of Him. It is to follow, obey, trust, and cherish Him. For in Him is salvation. He is the One who is the Word, the Word of God, the One who is able to speak as none other to our hearts. He says, “I, God in flesh, am the Lamb of God who hath taken away your sin. I give you life and light.”
Then let us bow in wonder before the manger and let us lose ourselves in praise.
Let us pray.
Our Father, we thank Thee for the blessed Word. And we pray that its simple yet profound truth may ever live in our souls. To Thee be praise and honor for ever and ever, Amen.