Well, Merry Christmas everyone. It’s really good to see all your smiling faces, all dressed up in your Christmas best this morning. It’s such a joy to be together on this day as we anticipate Christmas celebrations tomorrow, enjoying that time with family and friends or neighbors and whoever the Lord brings to your table, and hope that what we talk about today will be filled with depth of meaning and understanding about what Christmas really means. Certainly, that song we just sang together, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” brings us into the soberness, the sober-mindedness we need to have as we anticipate what this season really means, where it all began, how this all started.
So as we come to God’s Word this morning, we have a special privilege, don’t we, to think about the meaning of Christmas here at Christmas time and reflect on the meaning in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, because that’s really what this is all about. So please turn your Bibles to John chapter 1. John chapter 1. We read the Christmas story from Luke’s Gospel, the historical fact of the incarnation. We heard about the Annunciation, the meaning of it, from Gabriel to Mary. We read about the, the actual birth itself, and the aftermath of that, and the shepherds’ visit.
But as with every historical event, history requires interpretation. There are the facts, there’s the history, and then there’s the meaning of it, to discern the meaning. We want to do that with the Christmas story and understand the meaning of the events, the meaning of the facts, and so we turn to John’s Gospel because it has such a focus on the theology, the theology, the meaning of the historical events of Christ, his ministry, his life, his death, his resurrection.
And here we go to the beginning, to think about the theology of the incarnation. John’s Gospel is known as a theological Gospel, and it helps us to see the true meaning of Christmas. And my hope, my prayer for you, has been that God, by his Spirit and by his Word, will open your eyes and your ears and give you a heart to know and to understand the fullness of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
We’re going to focus our exposition on verses 14-18 of John 1, but let’s read the entire opening of John’s Gospel, starting in verse 1. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but he came to bear witness about the light. The true light which enlightens everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and 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. 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.
“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.”’ And from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”
We can organize our thoughts around several questions that I think we need to ask and answer, this text answers, and the first we might ask as we think about the incarnation is just stop and say, “What is the incarnation?” What is the incarnation? What makes it a significant event? We throw the word around, but what makes it significant? What does it mean? And next, another question, another set of questions is how do we know that the incarnation is true? How do we know that it actually happened? That, too, is answered by our text. And then there’s finally the “So what?” question about the implications of the incarnation, the “So what?”, the implications of the incarnation. We’re asking the question of why does the incarnation matter? How does the incarnation benefit us? I mean, think about it. The incarnation happened more than 2,000 years ago. It’s affecting us still today. How is it that it’s affecting us today? Why does it benefit us now?
We’re going to answer the first question about the meaning with the first point. If you’d like to take notes, you can write this down: number one, the fullness of God’s power. The fullness of God’s power. Christmas is the story of an incomprehensibly complex miracle. It’s the miracle of the incarnation of God in a human baby, Jesus: deity joined with humanity. The Son of God became a human being when he was miraculously conceived by the Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary and then born a human baby.
The miracle is in the conception. The birth was normal except for the fact that the birth came through the womb of a virgin, not normal, only one of its kind. But this miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit, we read about that in Luke chapter one. This is what the Scripture teaches: deity joined to humanity. That’s what the Scripture teaches. But to even begin to grapple with what that means, we really have to slow down a bit, do some careful observations, some reflection, some thinking. And I just want to warn you that we’re going to go a little bit deeper than Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer this morning, or Frosty the Snowman. So get prepared to think a bit. And I put all the thinking front-loaded at the beginning, so that way you can wear yourself out now. Don’t save any energy or strength for later; do it now.
The word “incarnation” comes from the Latin for “flesh,” carne and incarnare is the verb that means “to make into flesh.” And that’s what we find in verse 14, that “the Word became flesh.” So the doctrine of the incarnation, simply the Bible’s teaching about this entity called the Word, this entity, the Word, becoming flesh. The Word becoming flesh: That is the first hint we have that the Word prior to taking on flesh did not have flesh, was not in possession of a body. And that means we need to find out what John means when he writes about “the Word.” Because whatever this “Word” is, whatever this entity is, it pre-existed us. It’s not the same as us. There’s something different about this entity called “the Word.”
We heard about it at the start of the prologue, back when John introduced us to “the Word” in verses 1-3. So look back there in your Bibles. The Word pre-existed, as we see there, in a divine relationship. It existed as a divine person. Verses 1-3: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God, and all things were made through him. Without him was not anything made that was made.”
John obviously is taking us down deep, down to the deep end of the pool from the very start. And to help us get our heads around this depth, first let’s talk about who the Word is and then secondly about what the Word does. So if you take notes, mark these down as subpoints: subpoint A, subpoint B. Subpoint A: Who is the Word? The Word is God. Who is the Word? The Word is God. He introduces us, John does, to the Word in verses 1-3. He tells us three things about the Word; it leads to this inescapable conclusion. We cannot get around it. The Word is God, no matter how people try to monkey with the text or do exegetical gymnastics to get around the clear implications of the text. The Word is God.
So if the Word became flesh, verse 14, that means that God became flesh. If we stop and consider what God is in his essence as a being, this is an incomprehensible miracle. This is beyond our comprehension, beyond our full understanding. This is a mystery that we will never quite solve. First we see here the divine pre-existence. The Word existed prior to creation itself. We can’t miss that in the opening line, this connection to Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word.”
Anyone familiar with Genesis 1:1 can make that connection, but they’ll notice a change, and especially the Jewish readers of John’s Gospel will notice the change, that in instead of Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God,” John writes this: “In the beginning, the Word.” So by replacing God with “the Word,” John is telegraphing his conclusion to his readers. He’s saying way back when all this started, the very beginning, before time began, God already was and the Word already was. That’s going to rankle his Jewish readers a bit.
He goes into the next phrase, the next sentence, there, showing, secondly, a divine relationship, that the Word was “with God”: ho logos eimi pros ton theon. That sentence, “the Word was with God,” it tells us two things: that the Word is a distinct Person, and the Word has an intimate relationship with God. Distinct Person and intimate relationship. So this isn’t about simple coexistence. Pros ton theon, literally, “face to face.” That’s the idiom, there. It’s an idiomatic expression, and it describes an active relationship, a constant, unbroken fellowship, perfect communion, pre-existent second Person, distinct from a first Person, who is the second Person in perfect fellowship, constant communion with God.
For the Jewish mind, as I said, they’re rankled by the first opening line, and then they’re irritated at this. For the Jewish mind, they’re saying, “How can this be? This is heresy because God says in the First Commandment, ‘You shall have no other gods before me.’” The Second Commandment prohibits idolatry: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, an image of anything.” It gives the reason for that command: “For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God”; that is, his love for his own glory burns white hot; he tolerates no rivals.
So is John promoting a new form of idolatry to his fellow Jews? Has he gone off the rails? Is this some kind of a cultish offshoot of Judaism? Well, of course not. In fact, from the beginning, in the very first chapter of the first book of the Bible, in Genesis, we find a hint that there is a plurality of Persons in the Godhead, Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” and then in verse 2, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” There’s a distinction even there between God, who is Spirit by definition, and then the Spirit of God in a place hovering over the surface of the waters.
In Genesis 1:26, on Day 6, when God announced his intent to create mankind, God said, “Let us make man in our image after our likeness.” Again, there’s clearly a reference to a plurality of Persons. But now that Jesus has come, now that the Spirit of God has revealed who Jesus actually is, John gets it. “Oh! Jesus is a second Person in the Trinity.” He gets it, and he’s writing to tell us about him so we can get it, too.
So, so far in the opening verses we’ve seen his pre-existence. The Word is there with God before time began. We’ve seen a divine relationship, that there are two separate Persons, and the Word was pros ton theon. He was in this face-to-face, this idiomatic expression meaning a face to face, perfect fellowship, constant communion with God. And the reason that this is not some new form of idolatry, the reason this is not some crazy offshoot of Judaism to create some aberrant cult, faction, it’s because John is not talking about another God. This is the same God. This is the same singular divine essence, and the third sentence says that very clearly, end of verse 1: “The Word was God.” Same essence, two Persons sharing in the same essence.
Number three, we see the Word shares. John constructs this sentence so the meaning is inescapable, that the Word is a separate Person from the Father, and yet both the Word and the Father: same divine being. They are two distinct persons who both share the same divine essence. That is incomprehensible to us. We are one person, one essence. I don’t know how to understand this, but this is not true of God. He is a distinct being.
What kind of a being is the Word? The “Word was God” means he is, he was, he always will be, divine. He shares all the attributes of deity with the essence of God. So that means the Word is living, immortal. He has life in himself. He has a spiritual essence. The essence of the Word is simple essence. He’s not a compilation of attributes, but he has one singular, simple essence. His existence is of himself. That’s the theological term “aseity.” It is his essence to exist. He is infinite, eternal, unchanging, unaffected. The Word is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent. All that is true of the essence in the being of God is true of the Word. So who is the Word? The Word is God. He’s the second Person of the Trinity. He’s a Person distinct from the first Person of the Trinity. The Word is the Son of God, and he is distinct from the Father who is God.
So we come to, we said subpoint A: Who, what is the Word, or who is the Word? Subpoint B: What does the Word do? If the Word is distinct and separate from the Father, what does he do? The Word reveals God. And here’s where we want to understand why John is using the concept of the Word to begin with. I mean, you’ve got to admit that’s not really a familiar way of talking, is it? We know immediately he’s speaking in metaphor, but why use this metaphor? Why “the Word”? Why is he using this? Why is he using it to introduce this concept?
It’s lost to the mists of time and certainly not common language among us, this concept of the Word, ho logos in the Greek. So “the Logos” you may have heard in philosophical language, or in your Philosophy 101 class in college maybe you heard of the Logos. But it was an internationally known and widely used philosophical concept. So you could see, from the Greeks, to the Assyrians and Babylonians, to the Syrians, the Egyptians, Jews as well, all of them recognized this concept called “the Word.”
It was trying to capture something, some idea, some meaning that they couldn’t quite grasp, couldn’t quite get their arms around. They called it “the Word.” Among the Greeks, Heraclitus, who lived in the fifth century BC, he saw the Logos as the omnipresent wisdom by which all things are steered. Omnipresent wisdom. The Stoics, third century BC, they said that the Logos is pure reason, common law of nature, maintaining unity of the universe. They said the Logos is the soul of the universe, clearly distinct from the universe and yet not God, but something; they couldn’t figure it out.
Among the Assyrians and the Babylonians, the Word of God was cosmic power. You read the Hallel hymns; the Word was destructive power, that of a raging storm or a bursting dam. But that power could also be a restraining power, acting like a net that stretches over and contains the sea. Among the Syrians, closer to Judea, closer to Palestine, in the Ras Shamra text discovered at Ugarit, the Word is the wisdom of El, or the wisdom of God. Among the Egyptians, the divine Word was the power to create and maintain life, the life that flows from the mouth of Thoth, who is the moon god, which is the god of wisdom. Again, the connection between Word and wisdom is interesting among all those peoples.
Among the Jews, several use this Logos concept, but the writer who stands out the most is Philo of Alexandria. He’s a Jewish philosopher whose 70 years of life spanned the life of Christ. He lived from 20 BC to AD 50. Christ’s life was kind of contained in his life. Philo wrote about the Logos as the agent of creation, distinguished from a thought in God’s mind, eternal wisdom, and its expression in turning formless matter into a universe. The Word was the medium of divine government. According to Philo, the Word was the means by which we can know God. According to Philo, the Word was the high priest and advocate for forgiveness of sins. He’s getting nearer and nearer, isn’t he? And what John wrote is post-Philo, later than Philo. Obviously, though we see the views vary widely, most of these views from around the world arise from belief systems that are not biblical. They’re derived from natural observations or philosophical speculation.
But what does this internationally known, what does this widely recognized and widely used philosophical concept illustrate for us? First, it means that all men everywhere recognize that there is a God above, one to whom they’re all accountable, and one from whom they are all estranged. They realize they don’t really know him. They’re trying to grapple with the truth about him, and yet he IS.
Second, this shows us that all men everywhere recognize the need for a mediator. They need someone to explain God to them, someone to reveal, someone to help them to come near. There is universal acknowledgement, and we can see this. Everywhere I’ve travelled, I’ve seen this in the hearts and the language of people and their cultures. I’m sure you’ve seen that, too.
But this expression of a universal need, that there must be a Logos, there has to be a mediator between God and man, how can man come near to God, that’s the question they’re all asking. Whoever it is or whatever it is that would be a mediator between God and man must have the power of God in order to reveal God, must have the knowledge of God to comprehend God, to be able to explain God. That’s the only one who can reconcile us to God.
Now to be clear, John did not survey all the world and all its philosophies and find the most acceptable way to introduce to us Jesus as the incarnate Son of God by using this concept of the Word. He has his own purposes in mind, and he chooses this conceptual language that conveys this divine self-expression: the Word. The Word is the Son of God who took on flesh. The Word is the one who became Son of Man. The Word is the one who gives this outward external expression to the invisible God to make God’s glory known to us.
That’s what Paul says in Colossians 1:15: “He is the image of the invisible God.” The writer of the Hebrews, same thing, Hebrews 1:3: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” So divine self-expression revealing God’s glory in a way that we could apprehend it, in a way that we could know it without fully comprehending it. I mean, how can the finite, our minds, comprehend the infinite, God’s mind? Can’t.
But can we apprehend truth? Absolutely, we can. Think about the nature of a word, any word, words we speak, words we write. What is a word? A word is a single, distinct element of verbal or written speech. That’s what a word is. What does a word do? A word gives outward expression to an internal thought. You could say it makes audible or, in writing, visible, an invisible thought. A word makes an invisible thought visible. It makes an unspoken thought audible. That’s what a word does. It makes that which is hidden, that which is invisible, that which is unheard, unseen, it makes it available to others.
That is really what the Son of God has done for us. That’s why the Word is the perfect metaphor for describing him. By taking on human flesh, Jesus came to make the invisible God visible to us. He is, as John wants us to understand so clearly, he is in this way like a word. He is the one who makes invisible thoughts of the mind known to us. And specifically we see in John 1 that the Word reveals the power of God and the Word reveals the mind of God.
So think about divine action, what he does, what he accomplishes, or the effect, and then think also about divine thought. Mind. Thoughts. The Word reveals the power of God, first of all showing God taking action in verse 3: “All things were made through him and without him was not anything made that was made.” In other words, if it belongs in the category of the created order, so that’s heaven and earth, space and time, matter and non-matter, by the way. And what is non-matter? Think about metaphysical realities like numbers, like mathematics, like logic, rules of logic, deduction, reason. Think about angels, invisible spirits, non-material. All of the things of the universe, whether material or immaterial: the Word brought it all into being. It shows the power of God in the Word, divine action.
The Word also reveals, though, the mind of God, the will of God, which takes us back to verse 14: “The Word became flesh, dwelt among us. We’ve seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” And then the last verse we read, verse 18: “No one has ever seen God; the only God who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Again, the Word makes the invisible God visible. By him the hidden mind, the hidden will, is revealed. The secret mind, the secret will is made known.
Herein lies the miracle of Christmas, what God is in his essence: spirituality, pure actuality, aseity, eternality, infinity, immutability, impassability, perfect love, perfect holiness, righteousness, justice, mercy. What God is in his essence, by the second Person of the Trinity he’s made that known. He’s revealed his omnipotence, bringing creation into existence. He’s revealed his omniscience, revealing infinite depth and breadth of the divine mind. And God did this by sending the Holy Spirit, as we read, to create in the womb of a young woman named Mary, a virgin, a baby.
The Spirit did this unprecedented thing, a miracle. He caused a holy conception to come forth in her womb. It’s marvelous. It’s staggering. God tucked the infinite into the finite. I can speak that sentence. I have no idea what I’m talking about. God put the infinite into the finite. He put eternal spirituality into temporal humanity. He robed the divine essence with the flesh of a newborn baby boy. That is what is meant by incarnation.
At any time, as we’ve been going through this, if you’ve ever scratched your head and wondered, “How in the world did we come up with a Santa Claus thing to supplant this?” I mean, if you’re wondering that, I say, “Good.” I’m glad you’re finding that bewildering and even a bit troubling because the greatest gift ever given is not that a fat man squeezes through a chimney with a bag of presents and starts doling out toys and eating more calories that’s going to make it harder to go up the chimney again, right, with your cookies and your milk.
That is not the greatest gift. That is not the greatest joy of Christmas. That’s not the greatest wonder of Christmas. The greatest Christmas gift ever given was the first one, an incomprehensible miracle, the revelation of God wrapped in the flesh of a human baby. The greatest Christmas gift ever given was the first one, the one that only God can give because God is all powerful.
And the Father who gave that gift, he keeps on giving. He delights to see us unwrap the greatest of all gifts, generation after generation, for all of our children, for their children after them, and so on and so forth. He delights to see us unwrap the gift, to unveil this mystery, to get into the midst of it and look up in wonder and marvel at the majesty of God, at the majesty of Jesus Christ. That is the purpose of the Word. He is the one who reveals the greatest gift, who is God himself. He came to unwrap God. He came to glorify God, make the invisible visible, and make him known.
Now we come to a second set of questions, asking this: How do we know that all this is really true? How do we know it’s true? How do we know that the incarnation actually happens? So a second point for your notes is number two, the fullness of God’s truth. The fullness of God’s truth.
I realize, and it’s sad to me, but I realize that we live in a world of lies, when trust in public information, trust in the media, trust in news sources is at the lowest ebb that I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. Journalists are hardly journalists anymore. They’re activists, and even other journalists are using artificial intelligence to write their articles. ChatGPT, and many of the articles you read on the Internet are not even written by people anymore.
When presidents of Ivy League academic institutions lie and plagiarize, and let’s be honest, a recent SBC president, Southern Baptist Convention president, has done the same thing, in a cynical world of subjectivism, where truth is relativized, where truth is fractured and devalued by references to “my truth” and “your truth” and “his truth” and “her truth” and “she truth” and whatever the different terms are, you know what’s true even in a deeply cynical age like ours? You know what people still find credible even in our time? We may not trust the news anchor giving the summary. We may not trust the journalist giving the spin. We may not even trust the reporter on the scene, who has chosen certain camera angles and what you’re going to see, framing the event.
But you know what we find still find credible? Eyewitness testimony, even better when we have multiple eyewitness testimonies, all of them telling us in their own words what they actually saw, what they actually heard, what they actually experienced. No edits, no commentary, no spin. Eyewitness testimony still makes or breaks cases in our courts of law that we accept. Eyewitness testimony also frames and shapes the court of public opinion, which is the democratizing power of social media, isn’t it? On-scene footage, on-scene commentary of people right there sending it out, bypassing the spin doctors and getting it directly to the people, right?
How do we know the incarnation happened? First, because of the eyewitnesses who were present, who saw and experienced the incarnation and then testified to the truth, to us.”Travis Allen
Well, that’s what we have in verses 14-16: eyewitness testimony of the incarnation, telling us the truth about Christmas. “We have seen His glory, glory of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” And you know what? “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.”’ For from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.”
So how do we know the story of Christmas is true? How do we know the incarnation happened? First, because of the eyewitnesses who were present, who saw and experienced the incarnation and then testified to the truth, to us. And also, second, because of the universal effect of the story of Christmas on all the witnesses. What’s the effect? It profoundly and forever changed their lives. Total transformation.
Who are the witnesses? The “we” in verse 14, that’s John speaking as an Apostle, speaking of the other Apostles, “we Apostles.” That’s the “we” in verse 16 as well. John expanded this thought in the prologue of his first epistle in 1 John 1:1 and 2, when he wrote about himself and also all the Lord’s Apostles. He said, “That which is from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon,” that is, “we observed. We didn’t just see and it passed on without interpretation. We saw, we observed, and we asked questions. We interacted,” “and we have touched with our hands concerning,” what, “the Word of life. That life was made manifest.” And again he says, “We have seen it, we testified to it, we proclaimed to you that eternal life,” the one which was with the Father pros ton theon, “and was made manifest to us.”
Peter gave his testimony to the same thing in 2 Peter 1:16: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but,” what, “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” “We saw, we were there, we heard, we experienced.” These eyewitness testimonies are recorded on the pages of Scripture, a Scripture that Peter calls “the prophetic word, made more sure,” more certain, driven deeply into the bedrock of reality like an anchor, firm and secure.
John connects his testimony there in the prologue and the testimony of his fellow Apostles. He connects their testimony back to the testimony of John the Baptist, John the Baptist, who also spoke by the Holy Spirit about the pre-existence and the priority of the one who outranks him. John is the final prophet, the greatest prophet of the Old Testament era. The Lord’s Apostles are the first prophets of the New Testament era, and their testimonies line up perfectly. Total continuity between old and new, joined together in John the Baptist and the Apostles.
So what is it that secures their testimony? I mean, couldn’t they have made a mistake? Couldn’t they have collectively just, “Oops, got that one wrong”? What’s the guarantee that their testimony is valid, that it’s true, that it’s certain, that it’s sure, that it’s reliable, that it’s trustworthy, that we can bank on it, that we can build our lives on it, that we can stand on it as a rock and a foundation for everything in life? I mean, do we rest our souls on the honest testimony of just good men?
“No,” says Peter. We rest our souls on the guarantee of God, 2 Peter 1:21: “For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Full stop. God is the seal and the guarantee of men’s testimony written in Scripture. We know the incarnation is true because God’s Word says it’s true. God acted in history and time and space, revealing the incarnation of his Son, and God guaranteed the inspired record of the incarnation. He put the truth in the testimony of eyewitnesses, and then he sealed their testimony with his Spirit.
So it’s not a matter of postmodern subjectivism, this relativistic nonsense of “my truth,” “your truth,” “his truth,” “her truth.” And then just, oh, by the way, there’s God’s truth also merely added on to the subjective noise. “God has a version as well, and so do we.” It’s not the idea here. The veracity of the biblical witness, the reliability of their testimony is not left up to them. It’s a matter of God’s unchanging, eternal, true Spirit.
Notice as well, verse 14, verse 16, and that John makes an additional point about the testimony of witnesses. He says, “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth,” and then this, “from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.” For all who believe in the eyewitness testimony about the incarnation of God’s Son, there is a universal effect upon them. There is a change. The same effect, the same thing happens to all of them, namely, that it transforms their lives.
And it transforms their lives not in a myriad of ways, but in the same way, producing the same results. There’s the same fruit of the Spirit. There’s the same renewed mind. There’s the same belief system. We’re all unified together in believing the same thing and in growing in the same way. John 3:36: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life. Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” So to believe is to obey, and to obey is not only to have life, but it’s to see that life manifested. Our obedience reveals a different mind, a different will, a different nature, and it comes out on the outside in how we live.
And you know what? How I live and how other believers live: It’s the same thing. This is what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well:, “Whoever drinks of the water that I give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” There are not 1,000 different springs with 1,000 different realities and 1,000 different manifestations. It’s one spring, one life produced in every single believer.
So as you open up the family Bible this Christmas, and as you read the Christmas story to your children and to your grandchildren, take a moment to reflect on the treasure that you hold in your hands, this record and the truth that it contains, this ancient wisdom of the revelation of the mind of an eternal God. This is the divinely inspired Word. Bombproof. True. Guaranteed. No spin. Objective reality. Absolute truth in all that it tells us, in all that it teaches, in every proposition, every line, every jot, every tittle, every iota.
So take a moment to give thanks for the truth of Christmas, its eternal truth that has changed you, a truth that has transformed you and your life, given you a new nature, renewed your mind in the way that you can see in other Christians. It’s renewed their minds too, and transformed your life, giving you a walk of obedience that is a totally different direction than the death that you used to live in. Give thanks, give thanks that he has transformed you and joined the testimony of your life to a chorus of voices that all testify to the veracity of the incarnation. Because you’ve been chosen by God, along with John the Baptist, along with the Lord’s Apostles, to join them in testifying to the truth about the greatest gift of the incarnation of God’s Son, which is the fullness of God and his truth in Jesus.
Well, now that we know what the incarnation is, what it means, it’s an incomprehensible miracle. Now that we know that the incarnation is true, it’s testified to by eyewitnesses, and their truthfulness is guaranteed by God’s Spirit, we need to pose the final question, the “So what?” question. What are the implications of the incarnation? Why does the incarnation matter? I mean, what am I supposed to do with this? What is the incarnation? How does it benefit us? We might ask it this way: How does the Christmas story of a virgin with child by miraculous conception, and this birth of this Jesus as a baby born 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem, what relevance does this Christmas story have on us today? How does it impact my life right now, you and I walking around the city of Greeley?
Well, final point, number three. This is where it all comes together for us. This is the message that you can rejoice in and give thanks for and convey to other people who need to hear this. Number three: the fullness of God’s hope. The fullness of God’s hope. I don’t know about you, but I look around and I see a pretty hopeless world. Suicides are on the rise. People who still continue to live and don’t choose to end their lives, they live in kind of a narcotic-infused or drug-infused life. They just want to dull the pain, whether it’s through drink or through drugs, whether legal or illegal. They just want to numb themselves with mindless entertainment, binging on show after show and series after series.
Or they find they could turn off all the noise, get rid of all the guilt feelings by just keeping themselves busy chasing ambition after ambition, and accomplishment after accomplishment, experience after experience. Sometimes they give themselves full-on into immorality and sexual things, and they find themselves, at the end of the day, disgusted with themselves because they’re enslaved, they’re trapped. They jump off of this only to find themselves falling down a cliff into further destruction, despair.
There is no hope in this world, and I don’t rejoice in the culture being so bad at all. But I do see in the badness of our time an opportunity to proclaim the hope, the fullness of God’s hope in Christ. The most profound of problems in this world, all of them are answered in the hope that God offers at the incarnation.
Three reasons we find in this text for hope this Christmas because of the incarnation. First we have the hope that God dwells with us, God dwells with us. He draws near to us in Christ in his first advent, in his Gospel message. He draws near to us for our good, not our harm. Verse 14: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Here at this point, as John is speaking of Christ’s first advent, he’s not talking about the second coming, when Christ does draw near for judgment. Here, he’s talking about his first advent. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” And oh, by the way, that is good news.
The Greek word for “dwelt” is skenoo. Literally, it’s “to spread a tent” or “to tabernacle.” So we could say, “The Word tabernacled among us.” Now you may hear that word as the Jews heard that word “tabernacle,” hearing it loud and clear, reminding you of like, “Huh, Bible story, Old Testament. I remember seeing a tabernacle, a tent.” You’re right. In the Septuagint, the word skenoo, it translated the word in Hebrew for “tabernacle,” which is miskan, and miskan is where God met with Moses.
When Moses, Exodus 33:9, when Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. Verse 11: “Thus the Lord used to speak with Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” Intimacy of communication: no harm to Moses, but good, but grace, but kindness, but revelation, mercy, teaching, instruction, all happening at the miskan, the tabernacle. This is what came to be known as God’s shekinah or “shekinah,” we say, the visible presence of the glory of God in the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night, but coming down to the tabernacle.
Now we need to understand that in God’s holy perfection, apart from God’s protecting grace, Moses, as a sinner, would have been absolutely and immediately destroyed, consumed by the glory of God. What prevented that? Why didn’t Moses, who is a sinner, why didn’t he get consumed and burned to a crisp by the glory of God? As John says, the fullness of God’s grace in Jesus has the power to bring sinners to God without any fear of destruction. There is a grace of God as well, and the grace of God is fully manifest, fully revealed, giving us hope that we can draw near to God for salvation, for reconciliation.
And so secondly, we said that first of all, there’s a hope that God dwells with us, and he dwells with us for our good. And then, secondly, we have the hope that God’s grace will save us. God’s grace saves us. By his grace, he draws near to us, not for our destruction, but for our salvation. He reconciles us to himself. John says in verse 14, “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” It’s apart from the grace of God that the truth of God would slice us like a sword, cut into us like a scalpel.
The truth of God is unrelenting, but joined to the grace of God, the grace and truth of God come to us for our good, for our salvation. Apart from the grace of God, the abiding presence of God would be the end of us. And so John expands on the grace of God in the incarnation in verses 16-17. He says, “From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace,” and then this, “for the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” When Moses, in Exodus 33:18, when he pleaded with God, saying, “Show me your glory, show me your glory,” you remember God granted that request, right? And you remember that God tucked Moses into a safe place, and he provided a covering for him, his hand. He says, “While my glory passes by, I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.”
You know the theological word for “covering”? Atonement. Atonement is “covering.” By the atonement that God provided, he allowed himself to be known by Moses. While that shekinah glory, that blazing glory passed by, he proclaimed his name and his character to Moses, and Moses was not destroyed because there was a covering, there, that God provided. And because of that covering, because of that atonement, Moses could hear the proclamation of God’s name and his character. “Yahweh, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
That last line, “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,” that is an expression of hope, that God is abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. The Hebrew words are hesed and emet. You know how they’re translated for us? “Grace and truth.” That’s what John and his fellow Apostles saw and heard and experienced in the presence of Jesus, the incarnate Son of God. He is in himself the fullness of God’s grace and the fullness of God’s truth.
The Law killed us. God’s perfect Law revealed a perfect standard of righteousness, written in commandments, ordinances, statutes, all of which we’ve violated in some way, whether thought or word or deed. The perfect law of God, given through Moses, not only told us about this righteous standard that we’ve violated, but it also tells us what happens when we violate it. It reveals to us what transgression earns us. The penalty due to us for our transgression is death. The Law was very clear about that.
But the “grace and truth,” that which delivered us from the wrath of God, which is the due penalty for our sins, that grace and truth is revealed in him whose name is Emmanuel, “God with us,” the Word who became flesh, the Word who dwelt among us, the glory of the only Son from the Father, “full of,” or better, “the fullness of grace and truth.” The incarnation means the Son of God became flesh, took on humanity, by that act becoming the Son of Man. And he is utterly unique in this way, because he is the only person who is at the same time Son of God and Son of Man.
Jesus Christ faithfully represents God to us sinners, reveals to us God in all of his righteous perfection, in all of his holy glory, in all of his purity. And as a human, as a human being, Jesus Christ can offer himself up for us, to become our substitute, to take our sins in his body on the cross. Jesus Christ offered up himself as a sinless, spotless sacrifice for our sins to satisfy the righteous demands of God’s justice because we’ve sinned against him, and there’s a penalty for sin, which is death. And so Christ came to pay the penalty that we deserved in order that God’s justice would be fully satisfied, not one penalty left unpunished.
Christmas is the story of an incomprehensibly complex miracle. It’s the miracle of the incarnation of God in a human baby, Jesus: deity joined with humanity.”Travis Allen
And then God can replace the curse that we deserved with the blessing that Christ deserved. He punishes him instead of us in order that he can give us what Christ merited on our behalf. Therefore, Hebrews 2:17 says, “Jesus had to be made like his brothers in every respect.” Why? “So that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God to make a propitiation for the sins of his people.” Jesus redeemed us by satisfying God’s wrath against his people. That’s what “propitiation” means, a big word that means just simply to satisfy the wrath of an angry deity.
That’s what Jesus did. He did that by giving his life in exchange for ours, and he was incarnated for that. He took on flesh for that. He accepted mortality for that, to die the death that he didn’t deserve in order to give us the life that we don’t deserve. John writes, “For from his fullness we’ve all received.” From the fullness of his death, we have received grace upon grace, and from the fullness of his life, a resurrected life, we’ve received grace upon grace. “The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” And that grace, that truth which came through Jesus Christ, it continues with us to this day. It remains with us every time we tell the story again, every time we share the Gospel again, every time we read it for ourselves, every time we worship God Most High in the name of Jesus Christ. His truth remains with us to this day.
And so third, we have a continuing hope in God’s wisdom and the truth that Jesus teaches to us. Verse 18 says, “No one has ever seen God.” No one’s ever seen him. “The only God, though, who is at the Father’s side, he,” “that one,” “has made him known.” Christ came to reveal God, unpack His mind, lead us through the infinite wisdom of the one who called the universe into being by his almighty Word. I mean, that is wisdom on display in all that we see, in all that we walk around on, in the air that we breathe, in the mountains that we see and rejoice in.
This God, who sent His Son to save us, to reconcile us to himself through the death and life of his Son, he came to dwell with us forever in a relationship of continuing grace, to show infinite kindness, patience, mercy. His power is made available to us in Christ by the Holy Spirit, who pours out on us infinite goodness and infinite wisdom to teach us, to lead us, to instruct us, to help us.
Listen, do you ever feel afraid? You ever feel apprehensive about the future? Worried? Anxious about the unknown? If God is your Father, because Christ is your Savior, then in Christ you have already overcome the very worst of all threats. You understand that? You’ve overcome death and the grave because he conquered death at the cross. He conquered the grave in the resurrection. The good God is the Ancient of Days. He’s also the Alpha and the Omega. He is the beginning and the end. He’s come in Jesus Christ to save you and to keep you. Do not worry. Don’t be anxious or afraid, because the future is known. God holds you, and he will never let you go.
Do you ever feel alone? I mean, even in the midst of company, do you ever feel alone? If God is your Father because Christ is your Savior, you are never alone. Don’t trust your feelings on this point. Trust the truth. You’re never alone because he said, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” because he’s omnipresent. He’s always near, never far. Read Psalm 139 and trust what David reveals there. There is nowhere you can go to escape God’s Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwells you, and so God could not be any closer than being within you. You’re not alone, and you never will be alone again.
Do you ever feel confused, at a loss at what to do, what decision’s right, how to speak, how to act? Do you dread the New Year and New Year’s resolutions, knowing you’re going to break them all, but really seeing that foreboding coming in the future, that, “Ah, there’s just another thing I’ve got to fix”? If God is your Father, because Christ is your Lord, he gives you his Spirit and his Word to teach you, to give you knowledge and wisdom, to guide you, lead you in the way you should go. Because “if anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach.” And God loves to give. He’s the giver of all good things.
Listen, that’s the hope of Christmas. All the fear, all the anxiety, all the loneliness, all the estrangement, all the confusion and perplexity, ultimately, most profoundly, these are symptoms of a deeper spiritual problem. And the problem is sin in the heart, a curse upon the world, the sin that has afflicted and infected every single one of us. I mean, if truth be told, if Santa only gives presents to the children who are nice and gives colds to all the naughty on the naughty list, then we’re sunk. Let’s invest in coal, right? We have got a deep problem of sin in the heart.
So let me ask you this most important question: Do you ever feel guilty? I mean really guilty, looking in the mirror and just ashamed of the person you see staring back at you. Do you feel stricken in your conscience, exposed before a holy all-seeing, all-knowing God? Do you recognize your own guilt? I mean, enough of the blaming, enough of pointing fingers, enough of comparing: “I’m not as bad as so-and-so.” Do you recognize your guilt and know your own wickedness? Do you sense the displeasure of God for your sins? The esteemed David once said this, “There’s no strength in my bones because of my sin, for my sins have flooded over my head. They’re a burden too heavy for me to bear.” You ever felt that way?
Look to the fullness of God in Jesus because God has come to us in Christ Jesus to dwell with us in his grace, to cover us with his atonement, to give us new life in Christ by his Spirit. He comes to give us the blessing, the benefit of his power and his truth and his wisdom. His power is on display in the miracle of the incarnation. His truth is on display in the indomitable and irrefutable witnesses of the testimonies of the incarnation, testimonies that are perpetual and eternal because the Spirit of God is the guarantee of all divine inspiration.
The written Word is the absolute truth, and you can know and learn his wisdom, all of which is on display in the abiding presence of Jesus Christ, by his Spirit, by his Word, because even though no one has ever seen God, there is one and only one. It’s “the only God who exists at the Father’s side.” That’s “the one who’s made him known.” Draw near to him. Come to him because he comes to you, offering you grace and truth.
Friend, if you don’t know the benefits of incarnation for yourself, if you don’t know what it’s like to have your sins forgiven, your conscience cleansed from dead works, your shame taken away, eclipsed by the grace and the power of God so that you can be reconciled to God and walk in new newness of life; then friend, may this Christmas be a Christmas to remember. Don’t let another day pass by. If you’ll repent of your sins and put your faith in Jesus Christ, who is the Word, God will forgive your sins. He’ll give you the gift of perfect righteousness. He’ll unite you to Christ. He’ll declare you righteous and give you eternal life. That’s what happened to so many of us, and we join the chorus of testimonies here in the pages of Scripture to say, “It’s true. He really does change your life. He can do it to you, too.” Fullness of God’s grace: that is the true meaning of Christmas.
So our hope and our prayer for you, my friend, this Christmas is that God is going to grant you eyes to see, ears to hear, a heart to believe, so that you, too, may receive Christ’s fullness. Receive this gift, unwrap it, see what’s inside. Discover for yourself grace upon grace upon grace flowing from God through his Son, Jesus Christ, because that’s the true meaning of Christmas. Let’s pray.
Our Father, we thank you for the gift of Christ, the gift of the incarnation, and we realize that we are speaking about things that we cannot fully comprehend. We’re just seeing the outskirts of your glory. We want to draw nearer and nearer, and, and the more we do, we find ourselves encompassed about with your glory, with your infinity. We feel lost in the eternal mind and revelation of your Spirit through your Word. And we thank you because being lost in you, we realize that we are being joined to God by union and communion, by the Spirit. We realize that we are receiving and enjoying our eternal reward, which is you, our God. We realize that the reason for all of this is because of what happened 2,000 years ago when God became flesh.
We thank you for sending us the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ. We thank you for all that that means. We pray that you would help us this Christmas season, not only to reflect on this, but let it drive us to worship, to a renewed commitment to obedience and following Christ as our Lord; and then out of that fullness of gratitude and joy, that we would share what we’ve come to understand and experience for ourselves, that we’d preach the Gospel to others, too, so that they may be saved, so that your glory may be manifest to more people, so that your renown will spread farther and wider throughout this earth, and that gratitude from your people will redound to your glory. It’s in Jesus name we pray. Amen.