The Glorious Truth of Christmas

The following message was delivered at SGBC on Sunday, December 21, 2008.

THE GLORIOUS TRUTH OF CHRISTMAS

John 1:14

INTRODUCTION

The main thrust of Christmas is the incarnation of Jesus Christ. It may be easy for some of us to talk about what Christmas is not, and we can even rip on the commercialization and secularization of Christmas, especially, how churches are the biggest guilty party of all. I’m sure we can find many other things that we can rip on.

But if not careful, sometimes we would be best known for what we are against than what we are for. There are times churches need to clearly let others know what we are against. But it is equally true that we need to let others know what we are for. Thus, tonight I would like for everyone to know not what Christmas is not, but what the main thrust of Christmas is, namely the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

The word incarnation comes from Latin incarnare, which means “in flesh.” Theologically, incarnation refers to “the act of God the Son whereby he took to himself a human nature.”[1] Biblically, there is no reference that displays incarnation better than the Prologue of John’s Gospel, namely the first eighteen verses of chapter 1.

Almost every Greek student or NT exegete would tell you that this portion of Scripture is easy to translate than let’s say Luke 1. It is because Apostle John’s writings are generally easy to translate. But don’t let easy translation fool you. Although it is simple that a child can understand, it is also deep enough to drown an elephant. Trust me. I speak as one who had the firsthand experience. As I was studying the Prologue of John’s Gospel, I was in a deep drench of one particular verse, which is the chosen text for this evening.

It is said that these eighteen verses are the summation of what the rest of John’s Gospel is about. And if these eighteen verses are the summation of the whole John’s Gospel, then verses 14 to 18 are the summation of these eighteen verses. And if verses 14 to 18 verses are the summation, then verse 14 is the focal point. Hence it is argued that John 1:14 is the Mount Everest point of the entire John’s Gospel. Some would even argue that it is the fundamental distinction of the entire NT. In fact, it is the focal point of Christianity and what sets Christianity different than all the religions of the world.

I normally give you a general outline at the onset of my sermon, but tonight I want to do that at the end. Rather, I want to quickly take you along on an exegetical tour of this text and have you experience its richness for yourself. So consider me as your exegetical tour guide this evening. We will make six stops on tonight’s tour.

I. And the Word

As you can see our text begins with conjunction. The question, then, is where is it connected to? A casual reading would see it as it is. But grammatically, perhaps it is best argued for joining with verse 1, since the reference to the Word is directly connected to verse 1.

The title ho logoshas multiple meanings in Greek language and its literatures, and usually the meaning is determined by its context. This is especially true in the NT Bible. For example, ho logos is seen as a means of normal communication.

·NAU Colossians 4:6 Let your speech (ho logos) always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.

The word or ho logos is also seen as God’s revelation, namely the word of God.

·NAU Luke 8:11 “Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God (ho logos tou theo).

And the word can also mean God’s proclamation. For instance,

·NAU Luke 4:32 and they were amazed at His teaching, for His message (ho logos) was with authority.

Hence in the Bible the word can refer to communication, revelation, proclamation, and also a means of God’s creation, since it is by his word the world was created. However, the Word in our text is a title that refers to the deity of Jesus Christ. And Apostle John makes a strong argument from the onset of this Gospel, namely the first three verses.

·In the beginning was the Word, which parallels to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning was God.”

·And the Word was with God, meaning, from the beginning he was with God. I say he because in Greek ho logos is nominative masculine singular.

·And the Word was God. In case anyone missed the first two clues about his deity, John uses a definitive and indicative language to point out who this Word is, namely he was God!

·He was in the beginning with God. Has anyone been with God since God was? Absolutely no one from the members of God’s creation, but the members of the Trinity were, namely the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Hence the inference is made concerning the eternality of Jesus the Son.

·All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. This clearly points to the reality that Jesus was not a created being, unlike what the Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses teach.

All this is to say the Word refers to the deity of Jesus Christ.

II. Became flesh

This particular phrase “became flesh” or sarx egeneto of John 1:14 speaks of “the point of transition.”[2] It refers to the point of transition because it implies what he was not prior to what he had become. In other words, prior to taking on the human nature, he was not in the human nature. That is the precise point of what incarnation means. It is “the act of God the Son whereby he took to himself a human nature.”[3]

Let me briefly say what incarnation does not mean. Incarnation does not mean:

1)God’s Spirit came into a human body.

Although the Holy Spirit played the role in the birth of Jesus, it is the Second Person in the Trinity that got incarnated, not the Third Person.

2)Jesus was God but in a ghostly figure.

The very definition of incarnation means the Second Person in the Trinity took upon himself a human nature, namely a physical human body.

3)He was fully man but not fully God.

The heart of incarnation is about both deity and humanity of Jesus Christ. This does not mean Jesus was 50% God and 50% man. Rather he was 100% God and 100% man.

4)He was made by God.

Unfortunately, KJV render it “and the Word was made flesh,” which gives a notion that the Word is a created being, though that was not the translators’ intention. That is why many cults like the Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, and many others teach that Jesus is a created being and reject the doctrine of Trinity. But almost all NT students would say that sarx egeneto of John 1:14 is best translated “became flesh” for several reasons, and one being because of the context. For instance, if Jesus was a created being, how can he function as the creator of all creations, as verse 3 indicates? That is why at the onset John made a clear declaration that “the Word was God.”

Thankfully, all those views have already been discussed throughout the church history and clearly been rejected as heresies in the past, but sometimes they get recycled or come repackaged.

As already stated the heart of incarnation is about both the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ. No wonder Apostle John spent a lengthy section arguing for the incarnation of Jesus in his first epistle (cf. 1 John 4:1-3).

·NAU 1 John 4:1 ¶ Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.

And also already stated, this particular phrase sarx egeneto or “became flesh” of John 1:14 speaks of “the point of transition.” That is to say, the infinite now became finite; the eternity entered time; the Creator entered creation; the transcendent to imminent.

III. And dwelt among us

This verb skenow in Greek means to “camp in a tent,” or as some would say “tabernacled among us.” The tent or the OT allusion of tabernacle both speak of temporal residence, as opposed to permanent residency. Apostle John’s point is that the glorious Second Person of the Trinity, the eternal Word, the infinite and the transcendent Son, has stooped down. And no one wrote a better commentary on this than Apostle Paul (cf. Philippians 2:3-11). With that in mind, would you please turn your Bible with me to Philippians 2?

IV. And we saw His glory

Literally, “we saw the glory of his.” Many have seen Christ, but only a few saw the connection between him and the glory of God. According to John Calvin this was due to the blindness of many people. And the few who saw the glory of Jesus is only because the Holy Spirit opened their eyes to see it.[4] Hence the pronoun “we” is a reference to a few sovereignly selected individuals who had such privilege to see his glory (cf. 1 John 1:1-3).

V. Glory as of the only begotten from the Father

Literally, “glory as/like only (one type) from father.” A few important observations need to be made here. First, one of the key words here is “as,” which is synonymous to “like.” This particular adverb is used to describe a same kind of quality or equality. Apostle John’s point is that the glory of Jesus is of the same quality like that of God the Father (cf. Hebrews 1:1-3).

Another key word is the adjective “the only begotten” or in Greek monogenous, which refers to the uniqueness of Jesus, namely that God the Son took himself a human form. Just as the Greek word suggests, it is the “only gene” or the only kind.

What is amazing to me is that when John said, “We saw the glory, glory like that of the glory of God the Father,” how is it that no one died when they saw the glory like that of Yahweh of the OT? When Isaiah said he saw the Lord, he immediately said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined (meaning, I am dead)!”

Are you ready for John’s answer as to why he and others saw the glory like that of God the Father, yet still lived? You don’t need to look any further than what comes next in the same verse, namely “full of grace.”

VI. Full of grace and truth

This particular phrase “grace and truth” is repeated again in verse 17, which goes to show that these last four verses of the Prologue is the summation of the entire Prologue and the entire John’s Gospel. What is also interesting to observe is the repeated emphasis on grace in this last section (vv. 14, 16-17). One of the key words in verse 14 is also the word “full of,” which serves to accentuate grace and truth. John’s point is not only that Jesus is the source grace and truth, but also that he is the embodiment that is full of grace and truth. He is the personified grace and truth.

Perhaps, I have answered my own question as to why John and others did not die when they saw the glory of God the Father reflected in his Son Jesus. It was so that he and others could live and tell the story.

·NAU 1 John 1:1 ¶ What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life– 2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us– 3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.

·NAU John 20:31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.

CONCLUSION

I hope you enjoyed the six different places we stopped in this exegetical tour of John 1:14. I hope you see the depth and richness of this one particular verse. Now that you have experienced an exegetical tour of John 1:14, let me give you my sermon points. As you have observed John 1:14 up closely, I cannot help but say that this verse is simply packed with three realities of Jesus we must consider: his deity (the Word), his humanity (the Word became flesh), and his humility (and he dwelt among us).


[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 543.

[2] Gerhard Kittel, ed. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 volumes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 4:129.

[3] Grudem, ibid.

[4] John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John, 2 volumes (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 1:47.

A Word on Exegesis and Christmas

I’ve been doing some exegetical work on John 1 for the past few days, and I cannot seem to go pass one particular verse, namely verse 14. I keep coming back to this verse and finding myself so awed by its richness, especially, in this season.

“And the word became flesh and dwelt in us, and we saw the glory of his, glory as/like only from [the] father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, my own translation).

Generally, I find John’s Gospel easy to translate, yet it is pregnant with some serious truths, especially, its theological implications. Here’s a case in point: the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Sometimes going astray from the actual text to theological rabbit trails is unprofitable and even dangerous (as I’ve experienced). I’ve learned (and still learning) that as an exegete I must discipline myself to stay in the text and resist a rabbit trail unless it would enhance the understanding of the text.

This does not mean, however, one needs to be so stuck with a particular tree that he misses the whole forest. I believe every expositor is guilty of this some point in his career. Obviously, one needs to understand the relationship between a particular text in light of its context. At the same time, an exegete must not be afraid to raise some honest questions when faced from the text. For instance, the sarx egeneto (“became flesh”) of John 1:14 speaks of “the point of transition,” which I concur with Kittel’s TDNT. That phrase “became flesh” is the very definition of what incarnation means. It is “the act of God the Son whereby he took to himself a human nature” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 543).

Now, here are some questions:

  • At what point did God the Son took to himself a human nature?
  • What was he like prior to incarnation?

Those are Christological issues that directly relate to his Sonship. As stated, an exegete must not be afraid to raise honest questions when a text naturally imposes them. I will not answer those questions at this time, but they sure help us to think about the real meaning of Christmas.

The Jesus of Christmas

Tonight (12/23) I preached John 1:10-13, a message entitled “The Jesus of Christmas.” I originally planned to impose the following question as my introduction: Who is this Jesus that the whole world is celebrating this season? But then I was quickly reminded by our text that the world does not celebrate the same Jesus that Christians celebrate. This is because in many people’s minds Jesus of Christmas is not the Jesus of Scripture. Thus I had to revise my original question to: Who is the true Jesus of Christmas?

To find that answer we do not take a survey to see what people think about Jesus or vote who he is by a majority vote. No! The only authoritative source we go to find who the true Jesus of Christmas is is none other than the Bible. And according to our text (John 1:10-13) we find four aspects of Jesus that is clearly revealed. They are as follows:

  1. He was already in the world even before he was born (v. 10a)
  2. He is the one who created the world (v. 10b)
  3. He was rejected by those he created (v 11)
  4. He is the Sovereign Savior from the bad news (v. 12)

If want to hear how these points flesh-out you can listen here.