“And the Word Became Flesh” (John 1:1-18)
“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.”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Christmas marks a dividing line between truth and error. The reality of what happened at Christmas–namely, that the Word became flesh–that reality is so shocking, so utterly unreasonable and offensive, that it drives people crazy. It causes them to deny the truth and to promote error in its place. Most all the classic heresies that have been around for 2,000 years now, in various forms, have this in common: They cannot handle the truth of Christmas. They cannot stand the idea that the Word, the eternal Son of God, had to become flesh, with all the implications that flow out of that.
Now we like to think of Christmas as kinda soft and fluffy and inoffensive. Cute and cuddly. But to reduce Christmas to that–well, nothing could be further from the truth. Christmas is not “cute.” Rather, it is raw reality that deals with the root problem of humanity. It is earthy, not fluffy. It is flesh-and-blood stuff that brings God to us up-close and personal. And that is why ultimately it is so shocking and controversial. But to us who know the truth of Christmas, its “fleshiness” is absolutely crucial. Your very salvation depends on it! And so the church must always be vigilant about confessing this truth: “And the Word Became Flesh.”
No more profound truth was ever written in so few words. No more unfathomable mystery was ever captured in such a simple statement. “And the Word became flesh.” The apostle John penned these words for the prologue to his gospel. What all was he saying with this? Let’s back up a bit. We first need to identify what he means by “the Word.” And for that we go back to the opening verses of that prologue.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” John here is recalling the Creation account from the opening of Genesis: “In the beginning. . . .” He’s saying that there is one called “the Word,” the Logos, who was in a face-to-face relationship with God and yet who was also God in his substance, in his essence. This one called the Word was there “in the beginning,” that is, at Creation, which means he himself was not created. He is God eternal in his being, without beginning or end. And this Word who was with God in the beginning likewise was active in the act of Creation. So John says of him: “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” This one called the Word is true God, from eternity, above all created things.
But then comes the shocker: “And the Word became flesh.” The one who was true God, from eternity, at a certain point in human history became also true man. The Word became flesh, became one of us, a flesh-and-blood human being, became our brother. How can this be? It is. Our mind, our reason, cannot comprehend just how this is possible. But God declares that it is, and it is so. Faith receives this truth in quiet humility.
“And the Word became flesh.” This truth is absolutely crucial to our salvation. Here’s why. John goes on to finish the sentence: “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.” Now we will see why this truth is so saving–and so controversial.
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” You could also translate it, “He tabernacled among us.” In the Old Testament, the Lord God made his dwelling in the midst of his people at the tabernacle, “the tent of meeting.” The Lord made his presence known among the people, in order to meet with them and interact with them. The Lord tabernacled among them, to guard and guide them, to give them his word, to forgive their sins through his appointed sacrifices, to lead them into the Promised Land–in short, to save them. That was how the Lord dealt with Israel by tabernacling among them.
Now in our text John is saying that this is what happened on an even greater scale when the Word became flesh and “tabernacled” among us. God was present in the midst of fallen humanity in order to save us. The only Son of the Father, the glorious Son of God from eternity, pitched his tent in our midst when he became flesh, and he did so “full of grace and truth.” God’s Son was on a saving mission to redeem mankind, and he did it by himself becoming man. That’s what the little baby in the manger is all about. That’s what Christmas is all about: The Word becoming flesh in order to save us.
But why did God have to become man in order to save us? Because the situation called for it. This was God’s plan, and it’s the only one that works. All of humanity, every one of us, had fallen into the death-trap of sin, ever since our first parents. We have fallen, and we can’t get up. We cannot save ourselves. Only God can do that. But at the same time, God’s justice demands that those who sin must die. Man had sinned, and man must die. Sins can’t just be swept under the rug. They must be dealt with.
And so the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Christ Jesus came, as a man, to do the job and fulfill the demands of God’s law. Jesus, as a man, kept the commandments to love God and to love one’s neighbor, and he kept them perfectly. He’s the only one who ever has. Jesus is the one righteous man, totally innocent. Even so, he suffered and died, as a man–as though he were the sinner–in our place. He’s the only one who could do the job. Being true God, his suffering and death have infinite worth, sufficient to cover the sins of all humanity. Jesus died as our substitute, to pay the price our sins deserve. And in exchange, his perfect righteousness is credited to our account. When Jesus rose from the dead, he showed that he has indeed done the job and conquered sin and death. And so we are acquitted, declared not guilty, in God’s court of justice. A righteous man has been found to keep the law. A righteous man has stepped forward to bear the penalty of the law against sinners. But none of this would have happened, had not the Word become flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.
But that is also why Christmas is so hated. The real Christmas, I mean, not the pop-culture Christmas. The real Christmas, which is about the Son of God coming in the flesh to suffer and die to save us from our sins–the real Christmas is not nearly as popular as the world’s artificial Christmas. Many people cannot accept the fact that God became man, that the Word became flesh, in order to suffer and die to save us. Why? Because if that’s the case, then it says several things about me. It says that I need saving, that I am a lost sinner, unable to save myself, and I don’t like to hear that. My natural man, the old Adam, hates that and hides from it, hides from God. “To say that it takes the death of God’s own Son to pay for my sins–am I really that bad? You mean, I’m not good enough on my own? You mean there’s nothing I can do to merit my own salvation? No, I don’t want to hear that! I can’t accept it.” You see, these are the implications that flow out of the Word becoming flesh.
And so, over the years, people have changed the message to suit their desires–their desire to be their own god, to be their own savior. They don’t want or think they need God’s Son dying for them as the only solution to their problem. They prefer some other plan, whereby they are good enough, or can make themselves good enough, to gain God’s favor, whether by attaining to some secret “knowledge” or by a life of good works or by self-improvement or whatever. Anything but the Word becoming flesh to save them. Anything but Christmas.
Even in the early church, errors concerning the person of Christ crept in. In the fourth century, there was a man named Arius, who couldn’t accept the idea of God and man together in the one man Jesus Christ. And so the church had to come up with a way to both affirm the truth and reject that error. It’s called the Nicene Creed. Those words concerning Christ as “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.” These lines were written to combat the error of Arianism and to affirm the true doctrine of the person of Christ. You see, the person of Christ, who Jesus is, goes hand in hand with his saving work: “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man.”
Still in our day the church needs to be vigilant to guard this precious truth of Christmas. The Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses change the person of Christ to fit their own made-up religions. Then there is the more subtle error of the megachurch preachers who leave out the real Jesus, the crucified Christ, almost entirely, or at most, turn him into some sort of a “life coach.” They preach a different gospel, which is no gospel at all.
Can you see why Christmas is so controversial? People don’t want a flesh-and-blood Savior who has to die for them in order to make them acceptable before God. They’d rather do it themselves, or imagine themselves good enough on their own. So then they’ll change Christmas into some innocuous feel-good sentimental thing about Santa and reindeer and hot cocoa and warm family memories. Oh, not that there’s anything wrong with cocoa or family. It’s just that they can’t do what your flesh-and-blood Savior can do.
What can he do? This Jesus, God in the flesh, can save you! He does save you! He came in the flesh and died on the cross to do the job. Now you are forgiven, now you are God’s child. Celebrate this truth! Celebrate this Christmas! Rejoice in it! God is with us, to save us, in the person of Christ.
Dear friends, here is the real Christmas: “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.”