Devotional 168. 12/21/15. Christmas, Part 4: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
This week’s Reading: John 1:1-14.
Introduction: We rarely hear a Christmas sermon from the books of Mark and John. Why is that? Because Matthew and Luke are the two Gospels with all the historical facts of Jesus’ birth. The book of Mark just starts off with John the Baptist paving the way for Jesus, no explanation of Jesus’s birth. However, Matthew, Mark and Luke are known as the synoptic Gospel’s which means that they are “same” in that many of their stories and explanations are similar. The book of John stands by itself when compared to the synoptic Gospel’s. The apostle John had a different goal in mind when he was used by the Holy Spirit to write his gospel. As we’ve seen before, the beginning of John actually parallels the beginning of Genesis quite closely. Have you ever thought about why Jesus came at the specific time that He did? Some people say Jesus was born a human and then became a god. Is that true? Why did Jesus have to come to earth in the first place?
Let’s read: “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 nothing was made that was made. 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.”
vv. 1-5. In this section of 5 verses there is a special importance to someone called “the Word.” This is before we’re emphatically told that this is someone who “became” human and lived with us in verse 14. Then in verse 15 we’re told that John the Baptist testified of Him and finally we have to wait until verse 17 before “the Word” is named as “Jesus Christ.” Here, in verse 1 we’re told that Jesus (“the Word”) was somehow “in the beginning” and “with God” and actually “was God.” We can understand “in the beginning” to mean “at the creation” which shows us that Jesus existed before anything that was created was created and therefore has always existed. And the fact that Jesus was both “with God” and “was God” can be confusing if we both don’t read on or read what’s already been given us. We see that Jesus was with God (v. 2) and actually was the One actively creating (v. 3). But in Genesis 1:1 we’re specifically told that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
So at this point we can either dismiss this as a bunch of contradictory foolishness or we can see if there’s a way this can be explained. I’m always amazed at the people that walk out of the theater on movies like “The Matrix” or “Memento” after only 15 minutes saying, ‘I don’t get it.’ Any person with common sense would say you have to give it time to see if it’s any good and explains itself. So often people don’t apply the same common sense to the Bible. There is a good explanation for everything we’ve read here. Jesus was considered God and yet not the entirety of God. We begin to see how the Trinity makes sense. The doctrine of the Trinity says that God is One Being and yet there are Three Persons of God that make up that One Being. We shouldn’t be so worried about whether we completely understand this, since a Being who can create our entire world is probably greater than our intellect, instead we can agree that at least there is a good theory for how this is possible and also wonder at what kind of God would be interested in telling us all of this.
Did you notice that verses 1–4 are all in the past tense using words like “was” and “were” and “made” but in verse 5 it is present tense and therefore applies to us today? So that “Light” has always shown and yet there was a spiritual “darkness” that existed with sin and still exists today. I love that it’s in the present tense because it shows that the “darkness” has never, and will never beat out the “Light.” Later, in verse 10 it tells us that Jesus created all life and here, in verse 4, that He was also ‘life that was light’, this means eternal life. And this happened when Jesus died on the cross and then rose from the dead. That happened at a very specific time 2,000 years ago. And that “life was the light of men” which shown in the darkness and depravity of humanity and was unknown by it (v. 5). Let’s look at why Jesus came when He did in the next verses.
Next are verses 6-13:
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. 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 His own did not receive Him.12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, 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.
vv. 6-13. John the Baptist (not the disciple John who wrote this gospel) was sent by God to testify of Jesus. Jesus again is called “the Light” and that He came to His own (those He created) but that they didn’t know Him. Didn’t we just hear something about that? Yes! In verse 5 it said, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehendit” so here we build on that because they were in “darkness” and therefore “did not receive Him.” One commentator says, “The distorted world could not continue to exist for a moment apart from the light imparted to it by its Creator, but fallen man, in spite of the light that is in Him, fails to recognize the worlds Creator and Preserver (see Romans 1:20)” (Source 1).
Why did Jesus have to come exactly when He did?
A. The Pax Romana, or Roman peace, which was characterized by an epoch of relative calm made possible by the sheer power, not to mention the administrative expertise, of the dominant world power of the day, imperial Rome.
B. The [global] presence of the Greek language, attributable to the tremendous admiration the Romans had for all things Greek. The dissemination of the message of the Christian Gospel was aided in no small measure by the existence of Greek as a significant medium of communication.
C. The improvement of transportation throughout the Roman Empire, thanks to the wealth of Rome, not to mention, again, its administrative ability, its military might, and ready access to slave labor to do the dirty work in creating roads, some of which are still in existence today (e.g., the Applian Way, an ancient Roman highway extending from Rome to Brundisium–now Brindisi, which was constructed beginning in 312 BC by Appius Claudius Caecus, and was about 350 miles long). The better the infrastructure of transportation, the more readily the good news could spread to the far corners of the empire.
D. The spiritual state of Judaism at the time Jesus burst on the scene. If ever there was a time for a nationwide revival within the geographical heart of Judaism in Israel, it was the first century of the common era. That is why the forerunner of Jesus, His cousin (John the Baptizer), preached a message of repentance to prepare the way of the Lord. John bore witness to that light which was coming into the world as a testimony not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles (see Luke 2:32, 38). We must remember that God’s covenant with Abraham was a far-reaching covenant which would touch with blessing all the nations of the earth, starting of course with Israel.
E. The receptivity of the people to the message of Jesus, due in part to the [split] within the Roman Empire between the “haves” and “have nots”. If ever there was a time for a Redeemer who would bring a message of hope to the underdogs of society, it was in the first century (see Luke 4:14-21 in this regard).
F. The need for God to fulfill not only His prophecies, but also His promises (Source 2).
Why did Jesus have to come to earth in the first place?
A. Jesus had to be born because of mankind’s sin.
B. Jesus had to be born because God wanted to reveal His own character to humanity.
C. Jesus had to be born to remove the sins of humankind through a perfect sacrifice.
D. Jesus had to be born for mankind to have a Mediator.
E. Jesus had to be born to provide the promised Seed of Abraham.
F. Jesus had to be born for God to make His Spirit available to all humankind.
G. Jesus had to be born for God to redeem mankind. (Source 3).
Let’s finish this section with the last verse:
“14 And the Word became 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.
v. 14. This is the crux of our Christmas message! “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This is awesome because it embodies both word and deed! Jesus, “the Word” spoke to us through the Bible telling us what we need and then “became flesh” in an action of love giving us what we need. The “Word” was not invisible but a physical, tangible Human (“flesh”) who lived (“dwelt”) with us. The people of the first century, including John writing this, were eyewitnesses that God became Man. They “beheld His glory” and this wasn’t His complete “glory” since that would annihilate a person but it was “the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” The “glory” that was shown to us was shown in “grace and truth.” We’ve talked about the “grace” of God in several of these Devotionals recently. The “mercy” of God is not making us go to hell, the “grace” of God is allowing us to go to heaven. You notice that this is different than any sort of grace that a human can give to another human. Only God can make a way for humans to go to heaven and that’s exactly what Jesus did. We saw part of God’s “glory” in Jesus giving us salvation in heaven through the cross. And we also see Jesus’ “glory” in His “truth“. Later in this Gospel, John quotes Jesus when He said, “‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’” (John 14:6). So Jesus is “truth” in that He will never lie to us and will always be honest with us (even when it’s hard for us to hear). But He is also “truth” as unique and perfect. Jesus is one way, one truth and one life, He is the only way to a personal relationship with God and the only way into heaven. We notice “truth” is shown primarily through the words of Jesus, so it is no surprise that we are back to where we started, in that Jesus is “the Word”!
Conclusion: Christmas approaches at the end of this week. But this is the celebration of the event of God coming down in human flesh for very specific reasons, at a very specific time. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Oh, what beautiful words, to have “the Word” come to us, to save us from our sins!
Lord Jesus, we praise you today as we prepare to celebrate your birth at the end of this week. We rejoice in Your willingness to put on the body of humanity to bring your “glory” of “grace and truth” to our world. Our world, which is Your world since You created it. Your world since You, and only You, redeemed it. We kneel in awe of You, the Word, that became flesh at a very specific time, knowing our depravity, and loving us in spite of ourselves. Lord, this year we exalt You with ‘Merry Christmas’ since You alone have given us the “merry” and the “Christmas”!!
Source 1: R.V.G Tasker, John, p. 47.
Source 2: These are from: http://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/23819/according-to-the-lds-church-why-was-jesus-christ-born-when-he-was-born, answered by “rhetorician” about mid-way down the page.
Source 3: Donald Ward, “Seven Reasons Why Jesus Was Born”, http://www.ucg.org/the-good-news/seven-reasons-why-jesus-was-born .