We will read from John 1:1-5, 14-18.
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 were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1-5 ESV).
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (John 1:14-18 ESV)
We have been considering the most amazing event in the history of the universe: the birth of Christ. Why do I call it the most amazing event in the history of the universe?
The birth of Christ is amazing because of who the Christ child is. Gabriel announces to Mary that:
- He will be great (Luke 1:32).
- He is the Son of the Most High God (Luke 1:32).
- The Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David (Luke 1:32).
- He will reign over the house of Jacob forever (Luke 1:33).
- His kingdom will never end (Luke 1:33).
- He is called “holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
- The angels announced that he is the “Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
Matthew tells us that:
- This child is born King of the Jews (2:2),
- The place of his birth had been predicted by the prophet Micah 700 years before (2:6),
- That the prophet Isaiah had predicted that Christ would be born of a virgin, again fulfilling a 700 year old prophecy (1:20),
- That he is conceived from the Holy Spirit (1:20),
- That he would be called Jesus because his name means that “he will save his people from their sins” (1:21),
- That he would be called Immanuel which means that he is God with us (1:23).
This is the most amazing event in the history of the universe because this was not simply
- the birth of a baby, or even
- the birth of a baby to a virgin.
- This was not the beginning of Christ’s existence.
No. This was God who had always existed. God in the flesh. God becoming a man. God taking upon himself humanity. This is what theologians call the incarnation: God came in the flesh.
No other religion has anything quite like this.
- In Greek mythology there are gods that come down, but the first time the gods get into a bit of trouble, they rely on their divine powers to save them. They show that they are not really human. Christ went all the way to the cross.
- Hinduism has avatars or incarnations of a sort, but there is no historical foundation for these appearances. Take for example, Krishna. There are no dates or historical evidence for his existence. Furthermore, he was not a moral example to be followed as Christ was. Christ was without sin. Krishna was a trickster and a playboy. Stories are told of him stealing the clothes of girls who were bathing in the river. And when Krishna tries to trick a girl into marrying him, she sees that he is not real because he does not sweat. He did not really become human.
This is quite different from Jesus who “became flesh.” That is he became a real human being. He was born as a baby. He grew up to be a man:
And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him (Luke 2:40 ESV).
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52 ESV).
Jesus got hungry and thirsty and weary. He slept and sweat and bled and died. His existence was a real human existence.
- Buddhism also has avatars, but it does not believe in the existence of God, so there is no real incarnation in Buddhism.
- Yet the belief in avatars and incarnations in Buddhism and Hinduism shows a desire for a mediator, someone to stand between us and God, or us and Absolute Reality.
- Mormonism too believes that men can become gods, but that is the opposite of Christianity. In Christianity, men do not become gods, but the one and only true God – and there is no other God – the one and only true God became a man and lived among us.
- Look at Islam: The official teaching of Islam leaves no room for incarnation, but Muhammad is venerated as having been sinless, “the great intercessor,” “the supreme example of [spiritual] life and an object of devotion” and nearly of praise. According to Professor Geoffrey Parrinder, for most Muslims, Muhammad “is a personal Lord and friend, the mediator between God and man…”[i]
These various religions show that man feels the need for a mediator, someone to bridge the gap between man and God, someone to make things right between us and God. But in none of them does God really become a man.
Job longed for a mediator between himself and God: “If only there were a mediator between us, someone who could bring us together” (Job 9:33 NLT). Someone to stand between man and God. But who could that be? Who could ascend into heaven to represent us?
The importance of the Incarnation is summarized by Professor Parrinder: “If God is unknowable there can be no Incarnation; but if he can be incarnate then he is known as never before.”[ii] The Christian concept of the Incarnation responds to this need for mediation in the God-man, the God who has become man without ceasing to be God.
John, one of Jesus’ disciples, said it like this:
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14 ESV).
So who was Jesus? It is very important that we get this right. Jesus tells us in John 4:
“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24 ESV).
God is looking for true worshipers. Worship is not singing a song about worship. A subtle shift has taken place in many churches. We sing about ourselves instead of about God. We say, “I worship you, I praise you, I adore you,” but we have said nothing about HIM.
Praising God is speaking of what He has done, his creative acts, how he performed great miracles, raised the dead, healed the sick, went to the cross, shed his blood to rescue us from sin, died a cruel death, took the righteous judgment of God in our place, was raised bodily from the dead, showed himself alive for 40 days, ascended to the right hand of God where he intercedes for us. Praising God speaks of his work, his deeds, his acts.
Worshiping God speaks of who He is, his character, his holiness, his grace, his love, his righteousness, his throne, his wisdom, his power, his knowledge, his presence…
We must worship God in spirit and truth. We must know the truth about God and His Son Jesus Christ.
Let’s say that you are a world famous painter. You have paintings in museums around the world. People pay thousands of dollars to purchase just one of your paintings. I don’t know you, but a friend introduces you to me, calling your name, and telling me that you are the painter. But since I’ve never heard of you and don’t recognize your name, I assume that you paint houses. So I tell you that my house needs painting and ask if you would be available to paint it. I have not paid you a compliment. Actually, I have insulted you.
Now consider Jesus. He is the eternal Son of God. He is the image of the invisible God. John will tell us as Paul does and the writer to the Hebrews, that the Son of God created everything that has been created. He created everything that is visible and everything that is invisible. He created all the angels. He created thrones and principalities and powers and authorities. He upholds all things by the word of his power. When he came into the world, all God’s angels bowed down and worshiped him. He is God the Son, but you treat him like a created being, a being that is not eternal but had a beginning like you and me. Does he receive that as praise, as worship? No. You have failed to worship him according to the truth of who He is.
The babe in Bethlehem was none other than God in the flesh. That is amazing. J. I. Packer says that many people find difficulties in the gospel of Jesus Christ in all the wrong places:
- They find it difficult to believe that the death of Jesus of Nazareth could put away the world’s sins.
- Or they have doubts about the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Is it possible that a dead man could rise again?
- Others put into doubt the virgin birth. How can we believe that Jesus was born of a virgin?
- Others find difficulty in the miracles, that he walked on the water, or fed 5000 men plus women and children with five loaves the two fish, or that he raised the dead.
How are we supposed to believe these things?
The real difficulty does not lie in these things. The real mystery is not in the miracles. The real difficulty is not:
- In the Good Friday message of the atonement, or
- In the Easter message of the resurrection.
The really staggering Christian claim, as Packer says, is that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man… that he took humanity without loss of deity, so that Jesus of Nazareth was as truly and fully divine as he was human.
Here are two mysteries in one: three persons within the unity of one God, and the union of God and man in the person of Jesus.
“The Word was made flesh.” Augustine said that before his conversion “he had read and studied the great pagan philosophers and had read many things, but he had never read that the word became flesh.”[iii]
Packer: “…God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is the truth of the incarnation.
“This is the real stumbling-block in Christianity.”
It is not the virgin birth, or
- The miracles, or
- The atonement, or
- The resurrection.
It is the fact that the Word became flesh. Once we accept the fact that God the eternal Son took upon himself humanity, the other difficulties dissolve.
When we understand that Jesus was the eternal Word of God through the universe was created, it is no wonder that he would speak the word and the blind would see, the deaf would hear, the lame would walk.
John says, “In him was life.” So it is not strange that he should rise from the dead, but rather that he should ever die. But when we understand that the immortal Son of God submitted to death, then it is not strange that his death would have saving power for the human race. Once we understand that Jesus as God in the flesh, everything else makes sense.
The baby born in Bethlehem was God.
More precisely, he was the Son of God, or as Christian theology puts it, God the Son. He was not a Son, but the Son. John tells us four times in the first three chapters:
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 ESV).
“No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18 ESV).
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV).
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18 ESV).
In speaking of the Son, John begins by calling him the Word.
1. “In the beginning was the Word” (1:1). Here is the Word’s eternity. He had no beginning. When everything else began, he already was.
“In the beginning the Word already existed” (John 1:1 NLT).
“In the beginning…”
Any Jewish reader reading or hearing these lines would think immediately of the first words in the Bible: “In the beginning, God…” In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
But that is not what John says. He purposely uses the opening words of the Bible to make us think of God, then he says, “In the beginning was the Word.”
The Word! Well, we can hardly think of the beginning without thinking of the Word, for time after time in the history of the creation, God speaks. He speaks words. He speaks the Word:
“And God said…” And it was so.
- And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible (Hebrews 11:3 ESV).
So John points us to the beginning. He points us to the Word. And he identifies the Word with God: “In the beginning was the Word.”
2. “And the Word was with God” (1:1). This points to the Word’s personality.
There is an eternal relationship between God and the Word, for “the Word was with God.” This relationship did not begin with creation, for the Word already existed.
Here we have one who at the beginning was already with God. And yet he is not another God, for John quickly tells us, “and the Word was God.”
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1 ESV).
Yet, John is careful to maintain a certain distinction between the two, for immediately he tells is
“He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:2 ESV).
3. “And the Word was God” (1:1). Here we see the Word’s deity. He is distinct from the Father, but he is not a creature. Like the Father, he is divine in himself. “The great mystery here is personal distinctions within the unity of the Godhead.”
Now there are some who are confused about this verse. They have their own special translation of the Bible. They would not use any translation that has been used by the church down through the centuries. They want their own translation and translate this first verse in their own special way to suit a teaching that is not what the church has taught for 2000 years.
According to their translation, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a God.” Now that might be easier to believe, but it does not stand.
- The structure of the Greek text in this verse is to put the emphasis upon the fact that the Word was none other than God.
- If you translate this verse to say that the Word was a god, then you have two gods. Even if it is Almighty God and a mighty god, that makes two gods. That is polytheism, the belief in more than one god. That is not Christianity.
- Verse 3 tells us that the Word was not created, but is eternal. John is very categorical about this. His choice of words is very clear so that we know that the Word himself is not created:
“All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3 ESV).
A Single-Person God?
Some people want a simpler God, a single-person God. A man named Michael Reeves has written about this:
The world is already filled with innumerable, often very different candidates for “God.” Some are good, some are not. Some are personal, some are not. Some are omnipotent, some are not. You see it in the Bible, where the Lord God of Israel, Baal, Dagon, Molech and Artemis are completely different. Or take, for example, how the Qur’an explicitly and sharply distinguishes Allah from the God described by Jesus:
Say not “Trinity.” Desist; it will be better for you: for God is one God. Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son. Say: “He, Allah, is One. Allah is He on Whom all depend. He begets not, nor is He begotten. And none is like Him.”
In other words, Allah is a single-person God. In no sense is he a Father (“he begets not”), and in no sense does he have a Son (“nor is he begotten”). He is one person, and not three. Allah, then, is an utterly different sort of being to the God who is Father, Son and Spirit. And it is not just incompatibly different numbers we are dealing with here: that difference, as we will see, is going to mean that Allah exists and functions in a completely different way from the Father, Son and Spirit. [iv]
So how are we to think of God? Is He simply Creator? Then He needs a creation to be who He is. It seems that He needs us, but that makes him rather pitiful and weak. What was He before He created the universe?
Is He simply a ruler? Then He will be like a police officer to me. I may follow His rules, but not love Him. And if I break His rules and He lets me off the hook, I may be grateful, but I will not be able to really love the Just Ruler.
Jesus reveals to us that God is first and foremost a Father.
“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV).
“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24 ESV).
Before he ever created, before he ever ruled the world, before anything else, this God was a Father loving his Son. [v]
If God simply a single-person God, then how could God be love? Love is other directed. Again Reeves makes this comment:
If there were once a time when the Son didn’t exist, then there was once a time when the Father was not yet a Father. And if that is the case, then once upon a time God was not loving since all by himself he would have had nobody to love. [vi]
The Bible affirms that the Lord our God is one Lord (Deuteronomy 6:4), but that is not a simple oneness. The word for “one” in this passage is the same used in the creation account which says that the two, male and female, shall become one.
God is one, but in that unity, there are three eternal persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
John 1:2 repeats, “The same was in the beginning with God.”
- “All things were made by him” (1:3). Here is the Word creating. It was through him and for him that everything was made that was made. God the Son was not made. He was not a creature.
- “In him was life” (1:4). Here the Word gives life. Created things do not have life in themselves. Jesus promises to give eternal life to those who follow him.
- “The life was the light of men” (1:4). This is the Word revealing God’s truth and His plan.
- Finally, “And the Word became flesh” (1:14). This is the Word incarnate.
Those wise men we talked about last week? They did not come from afar to worship a baby. They worshiped God.
We all want someone to put things right between us and God. We can’t ascend into heaven. We can’t send an ambassador. Who would be able to approach God? None of us, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
So God came down himself.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 ESV).
He never ceased being God. And he will always be the God-man.
“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Timothy 2:5 ESV).
The Son of God became a man that he might die for your sins and mine. Turn to him to be saved. His name shall be called Jesus for he shall save his people from their sins.
God the Son came down that you might be saved.
- There is no other Savior.
- There is no other way.
- There is no other name.
“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 ESV).
[i] Parrinder, pp. 254-256.
[ii] Parrinder, p. 196.
[iii] William Barclay, The Gospel of John, vol. 1, in The Daily Study Bible Series, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), p. 64.
[iv] Reeves, Michael (2012-07-03). Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith (p. 17-18). Intervarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
[v] Reeves, Michael (2012-07-03). Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith (p. 21). Intervarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
[vi] Reeves, Michael (2012-07-03). Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith (p. 27). Intervarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
See also “Gospel of John”:
- The only true God and Jesus Christ whom he sent
- John 12:01-19, “The Triumphal Entry in the Shadow of the Cross”
- John 11:01-45, “When God Is Late”
- John 10:30-42, “Jesus, the Most Controversial Person in History”
- John 10:22-30, “Missing the Obvious: Jesus is the Christ”
- John 10:07-21, “The Good Shepherd, Part 2”
- John 10:01-06, “The Good Shepherd, Part 1”
- John 09:01-41, “Blind Man Seeing, Seeing Men Blind”
- John 08:48-59, “Who Does Jesus Make Himself Out To Be?”
- John 08:31-47, “Children of God, or Sons of Satan?”