"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" (John 1:14).
What an excellent day of worship at the Mount last Sunday! The hanging of the greens service was touching, and always a wonderful service to kick off the various Christmas events in the life of our church. We also welcomed the addition of two new members: Sandy Presley and Suzanne Stephenson. In recent weeks, we have welcomed Paul and Debby Walker, Connie Strider, Kelly Ledlow, Chastity Wilhite, Olivia Gregg, and Glenn and Laurie Lang. Their additions complement the numerous consecutive Sundays in which we have welcomed new additions to our church. For this, we offer our thanksgiving to our wonderful Lord as He continues to bless our church family.
Sunday evening, we delved into the subject of "The Incarnate Word," remembering that God became flesh and dwelt among us. As we enter the anticipated hustle and bustle of this Christmas season, I want to share with you a few principles that I sincerely hope will serve as a reminder and encouragement to you this season.
First, be reminded that God's condescension was a marvelous mystery. The Bible tells us that "The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us...." (Jn. 1:14a). The word "condescension" is defined by Merriam-Webster's dictionary as a "voluntary descent from one's rank or dignity in relation with an inferior." Webster's Dictionary is not exactly the sourcebook for theological terms. However, they deserve the theological award of the year for such a succinct and appropriate definition of what God did--condescending, voluntarily coming down in order that he might relate to the inferior... could Christmas be summarized any better?
It reminds me of the intense public debate between two men, an atheist and a Christian, over the evidence of God's existence. Given a blackboard to provide their answers, the atheist quickly scribbled the words "God is nowhere" on the board, thinking he would simply defend his case by what he perceived to be an insurmountable statement. With quick wit and determination, the Christian debater gazed at those words, smirked, and silently approached the board. Using his sleeve as an eraser, he erased the "w" from the word "where," and placed a new "w" at the end of the word "no." For the blackboard had provided a profound and even more insurmountable phrase, "God is now here." The great news this Christmas for you and me is that "God is now here," as was the case with Jesus in Bethlehem, God incarnate. But God's presence is also with us now, here, in the present tense, through His Holy Spirit which dwells within each of us as the children of God.
Second, be reminded that God's operation was a merciful miracle. It is typical that during this season of giving, shopping, and celebrating we reflect on the Christmases of seasons past, those we spent during our childhoods. I remember the days of Santa Claus, hearing of his operation of the elves manufacturing toys, awaiting the one day every year that Santa would travel the world and deliver toys to children around the world. Hearing of such as a child whose mind was prone to imagination would spark within me thoughts and ideas of Santa's operation. How does he do it? What does he do the rest of the year? Do the elves get paid?
But Christmas is about a much bigger operation than Santa Claus and his delivery of toys... It's about God's divine operation, the mission that Christ was destined to bring to completion for the salvation of humanity, specifically for those who would, by faith, trust Him as Savior and Lord. The profound words John penned, "...the Word became flesh..." connotates a deeper meaning. The doctrine of the virgin birth is of extreme importance because the subsequent life and work of Christ stand or fall with the truth of the incarnation. The reason it was a miraculous and merciful operation is seen by two truths:
First, Jesus' birth was sinless. Paul penned in his letter to the Romans that "just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, so death spread to all men, because all sinned" (Rom. 5:12). While born as an infant, the babe of Bethlehem was not subject to the transmission of original sin because He was conceived of the Holy Spirit of God. Notice this: He was placed by divine operation, not produced by man's conception. In keeping with the spirit and significance of Paul's writing, if Jesus had been born by normal conception, He would have been birthed into sin. However, He was birthed by divine operation, the Holy Spirit of God, in order that He would be sinless, and in keeping with God's holiness. Mary's child was safeguarded from the contamination of sin--the seed was absolutely holy.
Second, Jesus' birth was supernatural. In becoming flesh, the Lord Jesus gathered up into himself all the elements of sinless humanity; therefore, no form of human life has an exclusive right to him. This very fact distinguishes Christianity from all other religions since they are all limited to the people among whom they originated.
But Christ touches men at every point, through every grade and variety of humanity. In our Lord “…there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all” (Col. 3:11). Think of it this way: Italy celebrates Garibaldi, but Italy alone; Germany recalls Bismarck and the old Emperor, but not France; France remembers Napoleon, but England despises him; no foreign nation keeps Washington’s birthday. But Jesus belongs unto all the nations of the earth. He reigns supreme as the universal Master.
Finally, be reminded that God's revelation is something worth marveling. John continues, "...and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (Jn. 1:14b). I'm reminded of the Indian who once said to Sir John Franklin, the British explorer, "I am an old man now, and I have never seen God." Well, friend, none of us have directly, face to face, laid eyes upon the ever-living, omnipotent Father, nor could others throughout the Scriptures. Moses could not see the face of God and live, so God had to shelter him with his hand, lest he perish. Elijah was not allowed to see God, so he only heard a still, small voice after the wind, earthquake, and fire. Even John the Seer could not look upon God and see him in the visions he was given on the Isle of Patmos. The fact is, no man has seen God, or can see God, for he dwells “…in unapproachable light…” (1 Tim. 6:16). Yet, wonder of wonders, through the coming of Christ in human flesh, we are now able to see God, to know him, and to love him.
Notice what John writes: “…the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14b). In every way, Christ's life was the epitome of grace and truth, flashing out from his person, his words, and his works. This was the glory and marvel of His divine revelation. It reminds me of an Alaskan girl who was found by her teacher admiring a beautiful sunset. When it was suggested that she try to put the scene on canvas, she replied “O, I can’t draw glory.” In the same way, the most expressive words are utterly inadequate to describe the glory and majesty of the incarnate Word, full of grace and truth.
John continues in this same spirit in verse 16, noting: “…of His fullness, we have all received, and grace for grace” (Jn. 1:16b). Undoubtedly, verse 16 is linked with verse 12, where John tells us that “…as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name" (Jn. 1:12). This Christmas, you and I cannot receive the fullness of God’s grace and truth apart from the Lord Jesus. Paul summarized such truth when he penned the words found in Colossians, "For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and, in Him, you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority" (Col. 2:9-10). The fullness of grace that resides in him is made available to us and in us by the miracle of his indwelling. This is God’s saving grace— “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).
J.I. Packer, the English-Canadian Theologian once said: “The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity—hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory—because at the Father's will Jesus Christ became poor and was born in a stable so that thirty years later he might hang on a cross.”
God’s divine intention through Christ was to provide a way of salvation from the bondage of sin, a rescuing of sorts. But it also commanded a life of consecrated obedience and humility for us to experience and enjoy the blessings of Christ.
The purpose of God in His divine incarnation is not only to show us what He is like but to transform us into that same likeness from glory to glory until, at last, we reach perfect conformity to the very image of the Son of God himself. Jesus came to where we are in order that we might rise to where He is. His first advent brought about the transformation; the second advent will bring about the consummation (completion). “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God, and such we are. For this reason, the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him because we will see Him just as He is" (1 Jn. 3:1-2).
In an issue of Christianity Today magazine, singer-songwriter Sandra McCracken writes:
I visited the National Portrait Gallery recently in Washington, DC. In its elegant hallways, a wide range of well-lit paintings are displayed side by side: politicians, war heroes, athletes, musicians, and presidents. It is a library of human faces—a silent, visual documentary of who we are. In particular, I was moved by Robert McCurdy’s portrait of the late author Toni Morrison. The oil-on-canvas looks like a photograph. She reveals no discernible expression but radiates light from within. There is integrity, sorrow, and tenacity in her face. McCurdy aims for the viewer to be able to have their own personal encounter with the subject. It is a powerful experience to be face-to-face with someone you’ve never met in a piece like this one.
God has designed us for face-to-face encounters. Which is perhaps why God orchestrated the ultimate face-to-face experience in the Incarnation. God himself took on flesh, born as a baby that we would see the face of God in Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:8 acknowledges the mystery that, even though we have an unfulfilled longing to see the incarnate Jesus, we love him anyway: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.”
While we can’t see Jesus today in physical form, we can know him as he is revealed in the scriptures. If I were to paint a McCurdy-style portrait of Jesus, I would use the photographic poetry of Isaiah 53. “Surely he took up our pain, and bore our suffering” (Isa. 53:4). Here we see Jesus in the eternal present and here I can imagine what Jesus looks like. Not only do his hands have scars from nail holes, but his face is etched with love, sorrow, and beauty that we will one day see in glorified form, in his resurrected body.