14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Little Charlie was only 10 years old. School was out for Christmas break and the family decided to leave the city and spend the holidays in the country. He was happy to get away from the hustle and bustle and noise of London and exchange that for the snow-covered hillsides of the country. And he remembers the day when he was sitting in the big bay window of their beautiful home looking out over the hills and his mom asked him if he’d like to go for a ride in the car. Well, he wasn’t about to pass up that opportunity because she didn’t do much driving, so off they went on their little adventure.
Charlie was having the time of his life. His mother, however, was beginning to get a bit anxious because it had started to snow and it was getting heavier and visibility was decreasing by the minute. And sure enough, it happened. As they rounded one curve she felt the tires begin to slide and the car ended up in a ditch. Thankfully no one was hurt. The car wasn’t even hurt. But it was definitely stuck. Charlie got out and tried to push it out, but the tires just spun.
Finally, they decided to go for a walk in the hopes of finding a farmhouse where they could get help. About a mile down the road they saw a light in one house, so they stepped up onto the porch and knocked on the door. A woman answered and when they explained their plight, she kindly invited them in, fed them a meal, and got them the help they needed.
Sounds like a pretty ordinary event, doesn’t it? Memorable, perhaps, for Charlie and his mom, but something that happens with regularity wherever there’s snow. Don’t you dare call it ordinary though to the woman who welcomed them into her home because she told that story a thousand and one times. She wrote about it in her journal and shared it with anyone who was willing to listen. Why? Because it’s not every day that royalty appears on your porch. You see, those 2 travelers who were stranded that day were none other than Queen Elizabeth and the heir to the throne, her 10-year-old son Charles.
Well, word has it on the streets of heaven and word has it on the lips of Christians these days that something similar, yet far grander happened on earth just over 2000 years ago, that royalty visited not just our planet, not just our homes, but even our hearts – that the high prince of heaven descended from his throne on high, and not just for an afternoon visit or a cup of tea, but to actually live here. As John puts it in our text for today: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
Let’s think about that verse this morning on this Sunday after Christmas and ponder the meaning that it has for our lives today. Now the technical theological term that we use to describe what that verse is talking about is the incarnation. Don’t let that big word scare you. The incarnation simply refers to the dual nature of Christ. Or to put it another way, he was at both one and the same time human and divine, God and man. One commentator I came across calls this particular teaching of Christianity a lion-sized doctrine. By that, he means that it’s a doctrine that is tough for us to understand, to wrap our minds around. It’s one that people have struggled with for centuries because it doesn’t fit easily into our puny finite brains.
But even though we in our modern day and age sometimes wrestle with the incarnation, the authors of the New Testament had no problems writing about it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Consider a few examples. When doubting Thomas found himself in the presence of Jesus the man who had died a little over a week ago but who had obviously come back to life again, he fell to his knees and declared with full certainty: “My Lord and my God!” Paul told the Colossian Christians: “He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God.” And then a little later he added that “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.” The writer to the Hebrews was even so bold as to call this lowly carpenter from Nazareth “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” Please note, my friends, the incarnation of Christ was not an occasional or casual doctrine that surfaced from time to time in the early days of Christianity. Rather it was an essential teaching of the New Testament writers.
And when John says in our text that “the Word became flesh,” we need to understand what that word “became” really means there. For you see, you can be one thing and become something else and no longer be what you were before. For example, if you were single and got married, then you can no longer be classified as single. Understand that? On the other hand, you can be one thing and become something else, yet remain what you were before. If you are a man and you get married, you’re still a man, right? Only now you’re a married man.
The reason I’m making such a big deal out of this is because we need to know what kind of “becoming” John was talking about when he wrote that the Word became flesh. Did Jesus cease to be God when he became a man? Or did he remain God when he became a man? And I’m pleased to report to you that in the original Greek language in which John wrote his Gospel, he uses a verb here which indicates that in becoming a man, Jesus remained God. As he became a tiny infant wrapped in swaddling clothes on that first Christmas night, he did not cease being what he already was, namely, the Son of God and 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity.
Now let me ask you, my friends, does your brain have room for that? Can you imagine that helpless infant in Bethlehem’s manger being the One who runs the universe? Or can you envision that knobby-kneed boy in that carpenter’s shop in Nazareth as the King of kings and Lord of lords? Does it trouble you that the One whose hands and feet were nailed to a cross was the One who created the wood out of which that cross was made? It’s almost enough to short-circuit your thinking, isn’t it?
Perhaps that’s why the New Testament writers referred to the incarnation as a mystery. Paul wrote to his protégé Timothy: “Without question, this is the great mystery of our faith: Christ appeared in the flesh.” Now we have a problem with that, don’t we? And the problem is that we modern-day human beings don’t like mysteries. We aren’t comfortable with them. We like things we can explain and understand with relative ease. We like answers that are cut and dried, not ideas that lead to more questions.
Because of that, people throughout the years have tried to tame the incarnation of Christ. They’ve tried to take this lion-sized doctrine and make it more palatable, more acceptable, more politically correct, if you will. And this has been done generally in one of two ways. There have been those throughout history who have stated that Jesus was all God, but not all man. They say he only appeared to be a man. The theological word for this is Docetism which comes from a Greek word that means “to seem.” According to this ancient teaching, Jesus only seemed to be human. And therefore he only seemed to die on the cross. He didn’t really die because gods don’t die.
This was a heresy or false teaching that sprang up already in the 1st century, only a few decades after Jesus had walked this earth. And in his 1st Epistle, the Apostle John jumps all over this teaching like a hawk on a rat when he begins that epistle, not with the usual greeting, but with these words: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched.” He’s talking about Jesus there and he’s saying, “We saw him with our own eyes, we heard him with our own ears, we touched him with our own hands. He wasn’t something that we dreamed up. He wasn’t an apparition, a figment of our imagination. He was God, yes, but he was also a human being just like we are.”
Now maybe you’ve never heard of that view of Jesus before, and the reason you probably haven’t is because in our day and age the view that many people have of him is just the opposite. This view states that Jesus was all man but no God. It will go so far as to say, “You may call him god-like or godly or god-inspired or almost god, but don’t call him God.” The Muslims won’t; the Jews won’t; the Buddhists won’t; the liberal theologians won’t; the press and the media certainly won’t; Hollywood won’t. All kinds of people today will proclaim that Jesus was a good man or a great prophet or a wise teacher, but they wouldn’t dream of declaring him to be God.
How sad because not only does the Bible make it abundantly clear that Jesus was both true God and true man, it also makes it clear as to why this dual nature in Christ was so necessary. And as we work our way through this over the next couple of minutes, the one word I want you to keep in mind is the word SUBSTITUTE. Jesus came into this world to become our SUBSTITUTE.
So why was it necessary that he be true man? Two reasons. First, so that he could take our place under God’s Law. If he was to be our substitute, he needed to undergo the same temptations, the same trials that we face. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that in Jesus we have “one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are.” But there was another reason why Jesus had to be true man and that was so he could die on the cross for us. If he had been only God, he couldn’t have died for our sins because God can’t die. For he is and eternal and immortal Being.
But then why did Jesus also have to be true God? Two reasons again. First, so that he could keep the law of God perfectly on our behalf, something that a mere human being could never do. I mean, how many of us here today would be so bold as to say that we’ve never sinned. Why, we can’t make it through a day or even an hour without doing or thinking or saying something that is an offense to a holy God. And yet Jesus could do that and did do that because he was fully God while at the same time he was fully man.
Then the 2nd reason why Jesus had to be true God is so that when he died on the cross, his death would be a full and sufficient payment for the sins of all mankind. You see, there’s no way that one human being could pay for the sins of another human being. That would be like you being $10,000 in debt and me being $10,000 in debt and me coming to you and saying, “Hey, don’t worry about that debt of yours. I’ll take care of it for you.” I couldn’t do that, could I? I could say it, I guess, but I couldn’t actually pay your debt off because of the debt that I still owed. But when the perfect and all-sufficient God comes along and says, “I’ll take care of your sin-debt. I’ll pay it all for you,” he can do it because he’s big enough, he’s perfect enough, and he owes no debt to anyone.
So my friends, the incarnation of Christ might be a lion-sized doctrine that’s kind of tough for us to understand, but it’s a doctrine that we need to understand because it reveals the tender side of our loving God. It’s a doctrine that reminds us of the royalty that once stood on the porch of our planet in the person of Jesus. And that royalty appeared not because he needed help from us like Queen Elizabeth and little Charles did in the story I told you earlier, but he appeared because we needed help from him and he was willing to give that help to a lost and hurting and dying world. May the precious news of the incarnation flood your hearts with joy, fill your minds with peace, and inspire you to share this powerful message with others so that they too might know what it’s like to have the high Prince of heaven living in their hearts.