Sunday, January 02, 2011

God With Us: Word Made Flesh

Read the Scripture:  John 1:1-18

So much has been written and said about this rich text.  It’s very difficult to condense it down into just a few words.  Someone once wrote that this is John’s Christmas story to the church, and I think that’s a pretty good summary, for this reason: In the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, salvation has come decisively into the world.  I invite you to really think about that for just a moment.  Salvation has come into the world.  So much of what we call “religion” in contemporary society consists of people putting together elaborate lists of rules and regulations so that humans can reach up to God, to come up to God’s level, as it were. We build grandiose edifices and structures and systems in an attempt to obtain the things of God, things that we might find helpful to us in life. Salvation from sin doesn’t work that way.  Salvation doesn’t come to us through us constructing towers and ladders of religion.  Salvation only comes from God directly.  Salvation comes to us by means of the transcendent God of the universe coming down to earth.  Salvation comes to us only when the eternal Word becomes flesh to dwell with us.  When that happens, we get far more than just the things of God.  What we get is God himself in human flesh.  In Jesus we receive, as a free gift, the one true God who speaks to us with his mouth, who sees us with his eyes, and who touches us with his hands.  If we were to try to touch God in our sin, we would be incinerated, just as Uzzah was struck down when he tried to keep God’s most Holy Ark of the covenant from falling into the dirt and mud.  But in Jesus, God incarnate, we instead get stories like the one where Thomas is invited to reach out and touch the very wounds of the Messiah, the Word made flesh, the Word who is God, and not be incinerated.  In Jesus, God has come to us.  That’s just amazing.

The importance of this truth cannot be overstated. This truth alone sets Christianity apart from all other religions in the world.  The essential teaching of Christianity is that we are sinners who, due to our rebellion, are disqualified from ever being with God.  There are no human means by which we can fix this problem.  And so God fixed the problem for us by becoming flesh.

James C. Goodloe IV, preaching on this passage, gives a great summary of the gospel hope in this text.  He writes:
“In the beginning was the Word…and the Word was God.…The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Here we find hope, joy, and gospel. Here we find strength, comfort, and courage. Indeed, here we find love, peace, and life itself. For these three—Word, light, and flesh—address the silence, the darkness, and the loneliness of the world and of our lives. These three tell us the good news that in Jesus Christ God has spoken, God has triumphed, and God has reclaimed us as his very own.”
I love that.  God has spoken.  God has triumphed.  God has reclaimed us as his very own.  So many people live in isolation, in physical and spiritual places of silence, darkness, and loneliness.  Are you living in silence?  God brings his hallelujah chorus to you in Christ.  Are you living in darkness, dreading the future, and dreading death?  The eternal light of eternal life has come into the world!  Are you experiencing loneliness or are feeling friendless?  God comes in the flesh to provide His eternal companionship.  God’s glory is revealed to us in his Son, and here we learn just who the Son is.

He is the Word of God, the agent by and through whom all things were made in the universe.  He wasn’t created, he was with God from the beginning.  More than that “the Word was God.”  That is why Jesus is called God incarnate.  He is God in the flesh.  He ate with sinners and tax collectors.  He was born into this world, the world you are in it now.  This is God who is in the manger! Can you see now how far he came down to save us?

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (v 4).  John was sent by God to tell others about the light.  The light himself, Jesus, charges his disciples to go into the world not just to proclaim the light, but to show it to everyone.  Jesus is the true light who enlightens. The only enlightenment we need in life is Jesus.  Do you shine with his light in your life?  Have you been so consumed with passion for him that your life literally beams with joy at the precious salvation you have received?  If so, will you not tell others about it?  Will you not bear witness to it?  This pass year we temporarily parted ways with our brother Arnie Untiedt.  I’ll never forget my last visit with him.  He knew his death was very near, but he couldn’t stop telling me how he was full of joy and of the certainty of his hope in Jesus Christ.  I think he was probably more alive at that time, a leg missing due because due to diabetes, and about to enter into eternal rest, than I had ever seen him before.  That is the power of gospel living.  It’s the power to say to death, “So what?”  or, as Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 15:55:
 “Death is swallowed up in victory. "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
His Own People Did Not Receive Him
[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. [11] He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. [12] But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, [13] who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
As we approach the conclusion of the Christmas holiday, we should be challenged a bit by what John writes here.  The very creator of the world has come, but the world did not know him.  “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”  We should ask ourselves each Christmas, each day, have we missed him?  Have we been so caught up in ourselves and our obligations and duties and shopping and gift given and gift receiving that we actually missed the light of the world?  The question is crucial because it says here that the right to become children of God is given to those who receive him.  Not everyone receives him, and even his own people forget about him.  Children of God will always look to Christ throughout life, because he is the only reason for our hope.

Grace Upon Grace
[14] And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. [15] (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) [16] And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. [17] For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. [18] No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.
With the coming of Jesus into the world, the glory of God has been revealed to us, full of grace and truth.  That means you cannot know what grace is apart form knowing the Son of God.  You cannot know what truth is apart from Christ, the embodiment of truth.  Perhaps the most precious verse in the 18 we’ve read today is verse 16:  “And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”  The way this phrase is structured in the Greek gives us the full meaning here.  This is not moving from one kind of grace to another, the way a checker moves from one square to another.  Instead, this means those who have received Christ receive grace upon grace, grace that flows forth as a fountain flows from an aquifer infinite in size.  That means our sins can never overwhelm his infinite grace.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  Grace covers our sins by the blood of Christ, and there’s no way our transgressions can exceed the mercy of his grace for those who have received him.  That’s why Christians are counseled to rest in His grace.  There is nothing we can do to earn forgiveness, before or after we receive Christ into our lives.

Before Jesus, before the incarnation of Christ, there was silence, darkness, and loneliness.  These characteristics look like depression, except this is a kind of spiritual depression. Years ago, Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote a book called Spiritual Depression.  The book was written to help all Christians who go through seasons where they feel detached due to sin. David Mathis found this quote and I think it fits here for this first sermon of the New Year, when so many Christians will go about the business of resolution-making.  If you find yourself experiencing theses symptoms of Spiritual Depression, what can be done?  Jones’ writes:
Would you like to be rid of this spiritual depression? The first thing you have to do is to say farewell now once and forever to your past. Realize that it has been covered and blotted out in Christ. Never look back at your sins again. Say: ‘It is finished, it is covered by the Blood of Christ’. That is your first step. Take that and finish with yourself and all this talk about goodness, and look to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only then that true happiness and joy are possible for you. What you need is not to make resolutions to live a better life, to start fasting and sweating and praying. No! You just begin to say:
"I rest my faith on Him alone, Who died for my transgressions to atone."1
The key to Christian happiness is not to make resolutions to do a bunch of things, to make, as it were, a bunch of new rules to follow in order to secure happiness.  Instead, for Christians who have accepted Christ by faith, the solution to spiritual depression is to once again fall back on what God has already done by becoming like us in Jesus Christ, in every way except sin, so that we might once an for all be unburdened and set free from the silence, darkness, and loneliness of the world.

When God speaks his Word, the universe is created.  When God speaks, healing happens.  When God speaks, sinners are convicted of their sins.  When God speaks, sin is forgiven.  When God speaks, new life is created. When God speaks, the dead are raised. My prayers this new year is that you will hear God speak decisively through his Son, the Word made flesh, and that you will live as someone who is a child of God, so that others may see the glory of God through you.  “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”  We have seen and heard the God who speaks.  He says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me” (Revelation 3:20).  Is his voice speaking to you, right now?  Then open the door and be saved.

Now to the One who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Jesus Christ to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.

1Lloyd-Jones, Martin. Spiritual Depression. Eerdmanns: Grand Rapids, 1965. 35.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
January 2, 2011
Second Sunday in Christmastide
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew

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