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"And The Word Became Flesh!"

MESSAGE FOR DECEMBER 20, 2009 FROM JOHN 1:1-18

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Read John 1:1-18

          The gospels tell the same basic story in four very different ways.  One place where these differences are put on display is in what we call the Christmas story.  Mark distinguishes himself by not treating it at all—he moves right into the beginning of Jesus’ ministry 30 years later.  Matthew writes his narrative of the birth of Christ showing how each major event fulfills various Jewish Messianic prophecies about this King of Israel.  Luke, as a historian seeking to give an “orderly account,” gives the most detailed rendering of the events surrounding the birth of Christ.  In John’s version, he writes more as a theologian than a historian and he focuses on what we call the incarnation—“God became flesh and dwelt among us.”  His account is not character-driven or event-driven—it is driven by the cosmic spiritual realities that lie behind the people and events.  John structures the first part of his letter like a composer would write an overture to a Broadway musical.  He introduces the key themes of the book by giving us brief glimpses of the themes he will develop more fully later on.  John expresses those themes through imagery that he conveys through words like “light” and “life” and “darkness” and “witness” and “truth.”  Those are all very big ideas for John and he introduces them here in his prologue.

          One example of John’s use of imagery is in the first verse of chapter one.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  We know from verse 14 that John is speaking of Jesus through this image of “the Word.”   So why doesn’t he just call him “Jesus?”  Why does he call him (in the Greek) “the Logos?”  “In the beginning was “the Logos…”  Why?  The big reason is because he is trying to communicate that the Person who took on flesh in Mary’s womb was much more than the supposed son of a Jewish carpenter.  The first four verses of John tell us that our fundamental understanding of that babe in Bethlehem should NOT be…as a babe in Bethlehem—as wonderful as that is for us to think about.  From these verses, it’s clear that John’s burden is to communicate that the One who became Jesus of Nazareth is also the Creator and Redeemer…God.  The first four verses of John basically teach one thing about Jesus and that is---His Deity.

          John says this in several ways.  First, in his transparent parallel with the opening verses of Genesis.  John very carefully chooses how to open his gospel and when he consciously chooses to open his letter with “In the beginning was the Word…” he prompts us to see the parallel with Genesis’ “In the beginning, God…”  When John says “In the beginning was the Word,” he is boldly claiming that Jesus is God because he shares an absolutely unique attribute of God alone and that is his pre-existence.  The Word existed before anything.  Whenever you plot the beginning of time or creation or the universe—the Word was already there.  He was pre-existent.  In the beginning was the Word…  John also reveals Jesus’ deity in the second phrase, “and the Word was with God.”  The idea is one of intimacy with God.  The God his Jewish readers knew…was not alone in his existence before creation.  He had company doing whatever he did before the creation of the universe.  There was someone with him—someone else who was not created.  We know the Word was not created because when the creation occurred, he was already there. 

          In the third phrase, John states in concrete terms the identity of the Word when he says, “the Word was God…” In the Greek language, like English, there is always more than one way to say something.  John could have communicated the truth that the Word was God using a variety of grammatical styles and word orders.  The way he chooses to word this however, is the one way that most clearly, most unambiguously, most emphatically communicates that this One called the “Word” is in fact God.[1]  That’s why it is nothing less than blasphemous to claim, as the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses do, that this phrase in John 1:1 is anything less than a naked, brazen claim that the Word [Jesus] is God.  Any attempt to read this, “the Word is a god” or something less than a transparent statement affirming that Jesus is God is an intentional distortion that violates elementary rules of Greek grammar.  Of all the New Testament writers, John most clearly and repeatedly states that Jesus Christ is God and he reveals here that a big purpose of this letter is to teach that.  He states it right here in the first sentence of his prologue.

          What John has said up to this point is more than sufficient to prove he is claiming that Jesus—the Word, is God.  But John in verse two to reiterates it and in verse three, reinforces it.  In verse two, he evidently wants us to know that his pen didn’t slip in verse one so he says again, “He was in the beginning with God.” He repeats this divine pre-existence and the intimacy shared between God, as the Jews understood him, and the Word.  They were there together in a pre-creation existence—before the angels—before anything. He then says in verse three “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”  John is saying, when the creation did occur, the Word was doing the creating.  Again, this is a clear claim to deity for the Word because the Bible consistently identifies only God as the Creator.  In Revelation chapter four we read in verse 11 that the creatures around God’s throne cry out, “11 Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” The reason our Lord and God is worthy to receive the glory and honor and power due God alone is—he created all things.  The Creator is to be worshipped as God and the Word is the Creator.

          John continues, “All things were created through the Word” and then he states it negatively, “and without him was not any thing made that was made.” John is not wasting words here by stating this both positively and negatively.  He is laboring to remove any speck of reasonable doubt that the Word is in fact God—he was pre-existent, he accompanied the One the Jews understood to be God before creation, and he did something only God can do—he created everything—nothing that was created has a different Creator than the Word.  In verse four, he makes another claim that can only be true of God himself. He says, “In him was life…”  He is not simply saying that the Word was alive.  No, this is a claim that the Word is the source of life and there is only one source of life and it is God. Jesus says later in John 5:26, “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.  The Bible does not teach that life and death are purely physiological realities.  They are spiritual entities as we saw from Acts chapter two.  Death is not fundamentally when a person stops breathing, it is a spiritual power.  Likewise, life is not simply the maintenance of physiological function, but is a spiritual power that has its source in God.

          When Jesus says in John 5:26 that “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” he is implying that only God—the Father and the Son have life in their Persons.  All physiological life comes from God who is the source of life.  It is on loan from God and as the Lord of life he can remove it whenever he wants.  The hymnist has it right in “All hail the power of Jesus’ Name” when he says, “While all that borrows life from Thee is ever in thy care.  I not only have no spiritual life apart from God, I have no physical life apart from God’s gracious loaning it to me.  When John says of the Word “In him was life…” he is making another bold claim for Jesus’ deity.

          But again, why does John insist on using a cryptic term like “the Word” or “the Logos?”  The best place for us to understand why John uses this term is in the Old Testament and as we cite some texts, notice the qualities God attributes to the spoken word of God.  Psalm 33:6 says, 6 By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.  God created the universe—with all its starry host through the word of his mouth—the word has creative power—sound familiar?  Psalm 107:20 says of the Jewish exiles returning back to Israel, “20 He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.  Again, we see the word having divine powers.  The word of God heals and delivers his people from destruction.  God employed his word to create the heavens and he sent out his word to heal and deliver his people. 

Do you hear how what the word does is also what God does?  In Isaiah 55:11, God says of his word that it “…goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Again, God sends out his word and he sent Jesus as THE Word.  And the spoken word of God has power to accomplish God’s purpose and to succeed in whatever God wants it to do.  The word of God is invincible in that it cannot be stopped from accomplishing what God intends it to do—it will not return empty.  The same could be said of Jesus, could it not?  In those references, we mustn’t miss the fact that the spoken word of God functions like God in what it does when God sends it.  Hebrews chapter one connects the rest of the dots between the spoken word of God and Jesus Christ as the pre-existent Word of God.  The author says,

1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,
2 but in
these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” Don’t miss the connection to John chapter one here.  God spoke through the Old Testament prophets and now God speaks through his Son, THE Word—the heir of all things--the Creator of the world.  He’s not simply saying that in the Old Testament, God spoke his message through the prophets and now Jesus has come as the best prophet and God has spoken through him.  He’s saying that God revealed himself through the inspired word of the prophets, but that self-revelation was incomplete.  Now, he has revealed himself finally and ultimately through His Son, the Creator God.  God has revealed himself finally and ultimately through God, the Word. John calls him “the Word” because Jesus is the final and complete revelation of God.  The written word of God and the way God uses it point to the ultimate Word, Jesus.

John unpacks this later in his gospel.  In 14:9 he is addressing Philip before his crucifixion and says, “…Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip?  Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  The Word—Jesus, is nothing less than God’s expression of himself on earth in the Person of his Son.  That truth is the foundation for everything else we are going to say and everything in John’s gospel.  Verses one through four of John chapter one reveal Christ’s deity.  In verses 5-13 we see His relationship to the world.  John introduces this relationship in verse five where he says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  Again, John is speaking in images here—light and darkness.  The Word came as the light to shine in the darkness.  The light is another image representing God here.  In First John 1:5 John says “…God is light and in him is no darkness at all.”  In the Bible, God uses light to describe truth as opposed to error which is darkness.[2]  Psalm 119:105 says, “105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  When John says God is light—he is saying that God is truth—there is no error in him.

But light here also speaks of moral purity.  Later in John, Jesus says in 3:19, “19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”  The light of Jesus is contrary and opposed to evil works and wicked things.  Darkness is more than just the absence of light—it is active evil that runs from the light.  Those in spiritual darkness hate the light. When John tells us in 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” he is telling us there is a clear conflict between light and darkness.  Though the darkness opposes Christ, it has not overcome him.

That opposition between Christ this world is seen more clearly in verses nine and 10.  9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.”  To understand this better, we need to see what John means as he speaks of “the world.”  John is not saying that in the incarnation, the Word was transferred from heaven to a morally neutral destination.  That is not what John means by “the world.”  For John, the world is far more than a destination for Jesus; it is an organized spiritual system under Satan’s control and  fiercely opposes all things of God. He says in First John 2:16, “16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.” The world is the spiritual breeding ground for all the evil desires that serve as an incubator for sin.  This world is a spiritual cesspool, teeming with lethal spiritual bacteria.  John wants us to know that when the Word came into this world as a baby, he was entering an inconceivably hostile environment.

Sending the Word into this world would be the spiritual equivalent of placing a lamb into a den of hungry lions.  They would instantly attack the animal.  This is like introducing a germ free organism into raw sewage—instantly the bacteria would converge and try to break it down.  John structures his argument here to heighten the profound sense of this irony involved in the world rejecting the Word.  The Word is the Creator, but when he comes into the world he created and over which he, as Creator has absolute authority, he is opposed, not welcomed.  Verse 11 heightens this even more.  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”  Jesus comes, not just to any part of the world as its Creator—that would have been enough on any rational scale to ensure him a worshipful welcome.  But he comes to his chosen people—people who, through the law, through the temple, through the prophets, through the priests, through the kings, through the Psalms, had been intensely prepared by God to receive him as their Lord and King Messiah.  These were people who for 400 years had been without the light of God’s word and when the babe was born in Bethlehem, the light of all lights had come into the world and was shining in their own back yard. 

The rational response would have been ticker-tape parades from the Jews, but instead, the very ones who had been prepared—the ones who had been waiting for him to rescue them—the very ones he came to deliver and heal and teach and lead—they killed him.  This is the mother of all ironies and John wants us to see it.  The Creator… is killed.  Those who owe their very life to him—whose lives are on loan from him…take his life.  This One who performed that uniquely God-like feat of creation came to this world in the helplessness of a baby and lived underneath a death sentence from the moment of his birth.  In Revelation 12, John pictures Satan as a red dragon brooding over mother Israel as she is in labor with her Messiah—waiting to take the helpless new born and dash him to bits.

The point is clear—when Jesus came to this world, he was very much stepping into enemy-held territory and this world’s biggest, most lethal weapons were trained on him from the earliest moments of his incarnation. Opposition was by far the majority response of the world, but in verse 12 John tells us of another splinter group that had a very different response to him.  His own people did not receive him, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.  In the midst of this massive opposition, there was a remnant of people who, would welcome him, receive him, believe on him and be reborn—not by physical birth, but spiritually birthed by God out of this world and into his family, becoming his children.  This remnant group by the grace of God would be birthed out of the darkness into the light as God acts upon them through his grace.

There is more, but that will help us with some application as we celebrate Christmas in the week ahead. Here are three points of application.  First, if you are a believer,  Allow the truth of the world’s overwhelmingly hostile reception of the Word to produce in you a profound gratitude for your salvation.  A few years ago, I heard a leading pastor theologian confess that perhaps the hardest theological question for him to answer is: Why are so few people saved?  Why do so few people genuinely receive Jesus?  That question is rooted in a well established, immovable Biblical truth and that is—out of all the billions of people in human history and all the billions of people alive on earth right now, only a very small percentage of them will be in heaven.  Jesus says in Matthew 7:14, “14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”  Later, in 22:14 Jesus says, “14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”  The vast majority of people alive today are part of this hostile world and they remain in opposition to God all their lives—successful rebels to the end.  Though many may outwardly mouth respect for Christ and even worship him in church, in their hearts they want no part of him and his loving reign over their lives.  If you love Christ and treasure him, it’s solely because in his infinite grace, God birthed you into his family.  Nothing you did or could ever do would cause him to do that for you.  Most people still reject Christ.  If you have truly received him, if you have recognized him and treasured him as God, if you have been drawn to his light and worshipped him as your Creator, be grateful for his grace to you in salvation—you are part of a small remnant of people saved by grace.

Second, In our understanding of the truths of Christmas, we must stay Biblically balanced.  What I mean by this is—we must let all the gospels that speak of Christ’s birth inform how we process Christmas.  We rightly delight in the narratives of Matthew and Luke that bring out the glorious truth that in the fullness of time God acted in history to bring about this amazing series of events surrounding the birth of baby Jesus.  The stories are filled with fascinating details and are very profitable for us to study hard and learn well.  But, if those historical records of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke are not informed by John’s theology of the incarnation, they are drained of all their power and are sadly reduced to little more than sentimental stories we haul out once a year to give us a warm-fuzzy.  What ultimately gives meaning to the events recorded in Matthew and Luke is the fact that this little baby, born in a stable and laid in a manger, is the King of the Universe—the Creator God, pre-existent in Glory with the Father.  He’s the Light of the world, the source of all life—God-incarnate.  The One before whom all heaven bows down and worships, took on human flesh and became a baby unable to feed himself or wipe his bottom.  We must spend much time meditating on the ultimate wonder of Christmas, which isn’t ultimately about angels and shepherds and a virgin girl named Mary.  It has to do with the fact that God veiled himself in flesh and invaded this putrid, sewer-of-a-world and rescued out of it a remnant people for himself by allowing this satanic world to kill him on a cross.

Finally, if you are here today and haven’t done so, Surrender to the reign of this heavenly King who came to rule in people’s hearts.  I’m not talking about going to church, or mentally agreeing with what the Bible says about Jesus.  After hearing again of the incarnation, do we really believe that the Lord of the Universe left his glorious heavenly throne and became a helpless baby to die on a cross so that people can read the story of his life and death and say, “That’s true, I believe it” but then live as if it had no real impact on them?  Is the ultimate purpose of the infinite God clothing himself with finite flesh to produce a people who believe in the incarnation, but who treasure this world that killed Jesus?  John says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”  That tells us that if we truly receive him, believe in him, we will become children of God and children are recognized as those who resemble their Father.  Do you love God as your Father?  Do you know him personally—is there an intimate Father/child relationship there?  If not, then it’s doubtful you have believed in him in a way that God recognizes.

This is an urgent matter because the Word John speaks of here in chapter one will be making a second appearance and it will not be as a baby, or as One who willingly submits to his own crucifixion.  In Revelation 19, John speaks of his return and says, “11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.”  This Word will be revealed, not as a baby who comes to this hostile world to save it, but as the Warrior King who comes to destroy all opposition to him—all those who do not submit to his reign. 

Now, we can come to the Word as our Savior and bow before him in faith as our Creator, as the Light of the world who has invaded our darkness, being adopted into God’s family, having God as our Father.  But if we do not recognize his reign over us, then we will meet the Word of God who brandishes a lethal sword, bringing eternal judgment upon all who oppose him.  This year as you celebrate Christmas, make sure you are trusting in what the Word has done for you in paying for your sins and giving you a righteousness you could never earn.  May God give us the grace to live and celebrate the incarnation rightly before the Word made flesh.


[1] Carson, The Gospel According to John, Pillar Commentary Series, p. 117.

[2] Stott has a helpful discussion on light and darkness in his Tyndale commentary, from which I draw, The Epistles of John, 1960, p. 71.


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