The Word Beyond Words - Part Three
Scripture: John 1:14–18
The Word Beyond Word-Part ThreeJohn 1:14-18
Sunday, July 14, 2002
Pastor Randy Smith
As do many of you, I love my dog. Often I wish my life were as simple and uncomplicated as his. Sleeping half the day, chasing toys and not having a single concern under the sun. What a life! But as a human being, I have one definite advantage over him. One advantage that in and of itself makes being a human better than being a dog. I have the ability to know and fellowship with the living God! But if it were possible, would I become a dog if it meant that he and other dogs could become like me? Would I willingly put down my human nature, leave my friends and family, quit my job and forsake my hobbies? Would I give up intimate fellowship with my wife and trade it for the opportunity to bark, lick her face and wag my tail? Would I be willing to make such a supreme sacrifice in the effort to redeem dogs if it meant that I had to be one of them?
As we conclude John's prologue this morning, we'll learn that Christ made even a greater sacrifice to redeem us. As we consider the incarnation, we'll study the Word's preparation, the Word's purpose and the Word's perception.
1. THE WORD'S PREPARATION
As in somewhat of a parenthetical thought (and anticipation of next week's sermon), John in verse 15 reverts back to the testimony of John the Baptist. Last week we discussed the witness of the Baptist. Follow with me beginning in John 1:6. "There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. He came for a witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came that he might bear witness of the light." In somewhat of a continuation, verse 15 says, "John bore witness of Him, and cried out, saying, 'This was He of whom I said, He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me."
The Baptist, you'll remember, was a forerunner who bore witness of Jesus. He prepared the way. He pointed men to the Light, to the One who would soon take center stage. Elsewhere he grounds Christ's superiority by his own comments such as: "The sandals of (His) feet I am not worthy to untie" (Ac. 13:25) and "He must increase, but I must decrease" (Jn. 3:30). But the first century Jew could easily question John and say, "So what if you think He's great. Everybody's got their religious heroes! Why should I let it all hang out for this person named Jesus Christ?" John answers that critique in verse 15. "He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me."
Now it was common in antiquity to put priority on chronological existence. The older was always better. Therefore it went against the grain of Jewish thinking for John to bestow honor on One who would indeed come after him. Again, "John, how is Jesus (vs. 15) 'higher rank' than you when your ministry preceded His ministry and your birth preceded His birth? If anything, you deserve the place of pre-eminence!"
And to that John would say as he did in verse 15, "For He existed before me." As the evangelist made it clear in verse 1 and 2, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God." Jesus precedes the birth of John the Baptist. Jesus even precedes the birth of Abraham. For Jesus said, "before Abraham was born, I am" (Jn. 8:58). Jesus even precedes the birth of the world! Jesus is pre-eminent and superior because He was pre-existent. Therefore He does have chronological priority par excellence and is worthy of our honor and allegiance as the Baptist proclaimed in preparation for His coming.
2. THE WORD'S PURPOSE
But we need to go a little deeper. The pre-eminent One, Jesus Christ, or the Word as He is called, was none other than God. Verse 1 says, "and the Word was God." John has said elsewhere in this letter that the Word always existed in glory enjoying perfect fellowship with the Father before the creation of the world (Jn. 17:5, 24). But at the right time, God the Father sent God the Son dramatically into the world that He created as the ultimate disclosure of Himself. Let's turn from the Word's preparation to the Word's purpose. In other words, why did He come? First, verse 14, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."
Junius the younger, a church father, once commented on his encounter when first reading this verse. "My father, who was frequently reading the New Testament, and had long observed with grief the progress I had made in infidelity, had put that book in my way in his library, in order to attract my attention, if it might please God to bless his design, though without giving me the least intimation of it. Here, therefore, I unwittingly opened the New Testament thus providentially laid before me. At the very first view, although I was deeply engaged in other thoughts, that grand chapter of the evangelist and apostle presented itself to me - "In the beginning was the Word…and the Word was God." I read part of the chapter, and was so affected that I instantly became struck with the divinity of the argument, and the majesty and authority of the composition, as infinitely surpassing the highest flights of human eloquence. My body shuddered. My mind was in amazement, and I was so agitated the whole day that I scarcely knew who I was. Nor did the agitation cease, but continued till it was at last soothed by a humble faith in Him who was made flesh and dwelt among us."
There can be no doubt that we all concur with Junius that God in His wrath toward sinful human beings is a terrifying thought. The beginning of John's prologue begins with the deity of Christ, but now in comforting terms the prologue ends with the humanity of Christ. The text says in almost a crude fashion that the Word took on flesh. Theologians call this the incarnation ("in fleshing"). Though He never ceased being God, Jesus Christ came to us as one of us (yet without sin) in a way we could both recognize and understand. The Word left His ideal fellowship with the Father. The Word left His position of glory, and in humility took on flesh. He dwelt amongst the humanity He came to save. "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:5-8). "For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form" (Col. 2:9).
What tremendous humility! What an incredible sacrifice! He was infinite, yet an infant. He was eternal, yet born of a woman. He was supporting the universe, yet needed to be carried in His mother's arms. He was glory, yet was found in the appearance of man. He was King of all, yet the despised carpenter's son.
Adding to this humility, John in verse 14 says the incarnate Word "dwelt among us." He eskanosen(ed) among us. The word is the derivative from the verb skenoo meaning "to dwell," similar to the noun skene meaning "tabernacle." Literally put, Jesus Christ pitched His tabernacle among us. Looking forward in time, we find the same word used elsewhere only in the book of Revelation. "And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle (skene) of God is among men, and He shall dwell (skenoo) among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them" (Revelation 21:3). Heaven is described as the tabernacle of God where He will perpetually dwell amongst His people.
Looking backward in time, when we consider God pitching a tabernacle and speaking to the people, our minds go to Moses in the wilderness. You may recall that the nation was confused. They were without law living in defiance. They had Moses, but felt abandoned by God. So in Exodus 25:8 God said, "And let them construct a sanctuary (or tabernacle) for Me, that I may dwell among them." "I want a place Moses where I will bring revelation to the people and manifest My dwelling in a unique way. I want a place Moses where I can directly reveal My glory (My Shekinah)." Once Moses finished the work, God fulfilled the promise. Exodus 40:34-35 says, "Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle."
This was truly a climatic event in salvation history, but nevertheless not the most climatic event to occur. Presently God has chosen to meet with His people in the most ultimate and intimate way. No longer does He sporadically meet His people in a man-made tent. Now He directly meets with His people by dwelling amongst them, taking up residence, pitching His own tabernacle in none other than a human body.
Though the tabernacle was the center of worship and the single most important object for the Israelites spirituality, John is making a contrast by saying that something better has come: a second exodus, a second tabernacle. We don't gather at the tabernacle, we gather at the feet of Jesus. We don't receive revelation at the tabernacle; we listen to Jesus, our new lawgiver. We don't "do law" to achieve righteousness, we trust Jesus who "did law" to achieve righteousness for us. The old pointed to the new, Jesus. The old is fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus truly is the final and supreme revelation of God to man (Heb. 1:1-2).
Verse 18 defines His revelation and further explains the purpose of Christ's coming. "No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him."
Though our world and even the church is clueless as to the character of God, the Jews knew the wrath and fury of this God first hand. They saw it both in His judgment upon the Egyptians and then His judgment upon themselves. The Scriptures are clear that God is not to be approached in a flippant manner. He is not our buddy, or the old man upstairs that winks at our sins. He is a consuming fire that is to be feared and respected and honored and worshipped
His being is altogether holy. The psalmist said, "Clouds and thick darkness surround Him; Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne" (Psm. 97:2). Paul said He "dwells in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen or can see" (1 Tim. 6:16). Paul picks up on the Old Testament assumption that a direct encounter with God would bring instant death to the sinner. Even to Moses (whom the Lord knew "face-to-face) God said, "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live" (Ex. 33:20)! Moses only saw His "back" during that encounter as God shielded Him from the fullness of His glory. Isaiah came close to seeing the fullness of God and exclaimed, "Woe is me, for I am ruined" (Isa. 6:5).
How can we see this God who is holy in glorious perfection? For one, He is invisible. For two, if we saw Him, we'd die. John explains in verse 18 that Jesus came to explain God. "The only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him."
The "only begotten God." Jesus Christ, God Himself, the second person in the Trinity. The "only begotten" One, (monogenes), better translated "the only One, the unique One, the beloved One." The One dwelling in the bosom of the Father, sharing union with the Father and enjoying intimate connection with the Father. He is the One at the Father's side in a special position of favor. This One who knows the Father better than anyone else, this One, God Himself, took on flesh and (vs. 18) "has explained Him." The verb is exegeomai. It is only found in the writings of Luke where it speaks of a narration. Today from exegeomai we derive the English word exegesis. Literally put, Jesus is the narration or exegesis of God.
Moses only saw God's back and out came the glorious law. Jesus Christ dwells in the bosom of the Father and out came God's most complete revelation. FF Bruce said, "The only One who fully knows the Father came to make Him fully known." Jesus said it better, "Not that any man has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father" (Jn. 6:46). Elsewhere He said, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (Jn. 14:9). God in His mercy has given us sufficient revelation of Himself through the mysterious incarnation of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to reveal God and then die for sinners to bring them to God.
3. THE WORD'S PERCEPTION
We've seen how John the Baptist prepared the way for the Word. We've seen the purposes as to why the Word arrived. But now, in point 3, we'll see how the word is to be perceived.
First , He is to be perceived as the bearer of glory. Back to verse 14, "…we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father…" What John is saying is that he and other eyewitnesses in the first century visibly saw the glory of God in the literal person of Jesus Christ. Obviously he saw that glory in the signs and miracles, but also the glory of Christ was demonstrated in His humility and His desire to become man and suffer on the cross. His glory was ultimately manifested in a way that even exceeded the transformation as Christ came back from the dead 3 days later and appeared to His disciples in a resurrected body.
Just as the Old Testament links glory to the immediate presence of the Lord when God dwelt among His people, the New Testament links glory to the description of the incarnate Word when God dwelt among His people in the person of Jesus Christ. For those who have spiritual eyes to see, back then and now, Jesus Christ is the greatest manifestation of the glory of God. As DA Carson said, "If we do not walk away with this conclusion, God's purpose of the incarnation is nonsense. We didn't need another Moses. We needed someone who would supercede Moses. We needed someone who would bring a final word of revelation. We needed One to become like us in order that we might be like Him (Athanasius). We needed a substitute to bear the penalty of sin on our behalf. God sent His only Son and He came in glory. Paul said, "to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever" (Eph. 3:21).
>Second, in addition to His glory, Christ is to be perceived as the bearer of grace and truth . Again verse 14, "and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth . Verse 16 says, "For of His fulness we have all received, and grace upon grace . Verse 17 says, "For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ."
John says Moses brought the law. But Moses didn't write law; rather it was given to him from God. The law served a purpose. It was a gift to the Israelites. Paul said in Romans 7 that the law is "holy and righteous and good."
But now, God's revelation has progressed. And through the mediator of God Himself we have a more excellent revelation. It is a revelation that fulfills, surpasses and replaces the old, a new wine that surpasses the Jewish waters of purification (Jn. 2:10), a new temple that surpasses the old (Jn. 2:19), a new birth that surpasses national birth (Jn. 3:3), a new living water of the Spirit that surpasses the water in Jacob's well (Jn. 4:13), a new bread from heaven that surpasses manna (Jn. 6:32). The law was grace and truth but revealed in a limited way. Now a revelation has come that enables us to fully realize grace and truth, for Jesus Christ was and is the embodiment of grace and truth and as verse 16 teaches, we as His children have received that fullness.
Grace is a word commonly misunderstood in the church. Grace does not mean that sin is ignored. Grace does not mean that worship can be lukewarm. And Grace does not mean that the standard for Christians is to be lowered. Rather grace is the means by which we can be lavished by something we don't deserve through our union with Christ. If we deserved it, it would no longer be called grace!
Grace is ultimately the ability and desire to follow God. Grace teaches us that we are forgiven. Grace teaches us that we will see the face of God. And Grace teaches us that we can become more like our precious Savior every day.
For those who trust Jesus Christ have received the fullness of His grace. Verse 16 says, "grace upon grace," or as the NIV puts it, "one blessing after another." The Christian is pummeled like one caught in 5-foot breakers in the surf. He or she is engulfed with constant waves of grace in an unlimited supply from his or her Creator. The grace never ceases, it never diminishes and where sin increases, grace increases all the more (Rom. 5:20). God told Paul that His grace is sufficient (2 Cor. 12:9). Thanks to God's grace, we cannot only desire, but also have the ability to be all that God wants us to be, to draw ever deeper into the blessings of Christ. That's grace! May we never trample His grace, be ungrateful for His grace or sin that grace may increase (Rom. 6:1). Oh we don't deserve grace, but God has given us grace, not based upon what we have done, but rather based upon who He is as a gracious and loving God. Ultimately this grace was manifested in the person of Jesus Christ.
As I mentioned before, a misunderstanding of the definition of grace can be dangerous and an unwarranted excuse for carnality and error. Therefore grace must always (as in love) be balanced with truth. As John said, "Grace and truth were realized through Christ Jesus." A relative world fails to understand that truth is found in the triune God. Isaiah 65:16 calls God truth. John 14:6 calls Jesus Christ truth. John 15:26 calls the Holy Spirit truth. And John 17:17 calls the Word of God truth. God deals in truth; therefore He hates lying and error. He is the embodiment of truth. If we wish to know the truth, we must turn to His Word which is truth!
James Montgomery Boice said, "We do not deal with the opinions of men when we deal with Christian doctrine. We deal with the truth. Thus, a person's eternal destiny depends upon his relationship to the eternal truth in Jesus Christ. I have been impressed by the extent to which we have seen the opposite of this in our day. That is, we have entered a period of history in which truth is supposed to be relative and in which no system of ideas is recognized by the majority of all men to be binding…(Before,) if one fact was true, the opposite of that fact was believed to be false…After Hegel, the idea grew that reality was to be represented not by what is true as opposed to what is false but rather by what is true now, or worse yet, by what is true only for the individual. Under this system my truth is not necessarily your truth, and what is true for me now may not be true for me tomorrow."
Grace and truth are two beautiful gems from God that go hand-in-hand like two sides of the same coin. Every Christian convert comes to a personal understanding of grace and truth. Every testimony is unique and miraculous. For example, consider this man who came to a special understanding of grace and truth first hand.
In the seventeenth century a young boy was born into a Christian home. For the first six years of his life, he heard the truths of the gospel and was dearly loved. Sadly, though, his parents died. The orphan boy went to live with his relatives and was maltreated, abused, and ridiculed for his interest in Christ. The orphan couldn't tolerate that situation and, though still a boy, fled and joined the Royal Navy. In the Navy the boy's life went downhill. He became known as a brawler, was whipped many times, and participated in the keelhauling of some of his comrades. Finally, while he was still young, he deserted the Royal Navy and fled to Africa, where he attached himself to a Portuguese slave trader.
There his life reached its lowest point. There were times when he actually ate off the floor on his hands and knees. He escape, and then became attached to another slave trader as the first mate on his ship. But the young man's pattern of life had become desperately depraved. He stole the ship's whiskey and got so drunk that he fell overboard. He was close to drowning when one of his shipmates harpooned him and brought him back on board. As a result, the young man had a huge scar in his side for the rest of his life. He could not get much lower. Finally, in the midst of a great storm off the coast of Scotland, after days and days of pumping water out of the boat, the young man began to reflect on verses he had heard as a boy and was marvelously converted. His new life was recorded in a little song he composed. Possibly you are familiar with his tribute to grace: "Amazing grace-how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see." That man's name was none other than John Newton, one of the greatest preachers of the seventeenth century.
Working backwards by way of review. God has brought to His children a biblical understanding of grace and truth. Grace and truth come from Jesus Christ, for He took on flesh to reveal God and die for our sins. And John the Baptist came to prepare the way for the One that would make it all possible. Praise God for the glorious incarnation! I described the incarnation in my introduction by needing to become a dog. Author Philip Yancy describes it by his needing to be a fish.
"I learned about incarnation when I kept a salt-water aquarium. Management of a marine aquarium, I discovered, is no easy task. I had to run a portable chemical laboratory to monitor the nitrate levels and the ammonia content. I pumped in vitamins and antibiotics and sulfa drugs and enough enzymes to make a rock grow. I filtered the water through glass fibers and charcoal, and exposed it to ultraviolet light. You would think, in view of all the energy expended on their behalf, that my fish would at least be grateful. Not so. Every time my shadow loomed above the tank they dove for cover into the nearest shell. They showed me one emotion only: fear. Although I opened the lid and dropped in food on a regular schedule, three times a day, they responded to each visit as a sure sign of my designs to torture them. I could not convince them of my true concern. To my fish I was deity. I was too large for them, my actions too incomprehensible. My acts of mercy they saw as cruelty; my attempts at healing they viewed as destruction. To change their perceptions, I began to see, would require a form of incarnation. I would have to become a fish and 'speak' to them in a language they could understand."
God has come to speak to you in the person of Christ. Have you heard and heeded His voice?