God Became Weak (John's Christmas Message) (John 1:14)


"The Word became flesh" (John 1:14).
John 1:1-18, the introduction/prologue of John's gospel, may not be thought of as a Christmas message, unlike Matthew and Luke chapters 1 and 2. We think of Christmas as a baby in a manger (Lk 2:1-7), a baby visited by Magi (Mt 2:1-12). But there is no baby Jesus in John 1. So, is there a Christmas message in John 1?

Matthew and Luke report the facts of Christmas, about what happened: Mary's visit by the angel Gabriel, the angel of the Lord appearing to Joseph in a dream, Mary's conception by the Holy Spirit, Caesar's decree, Joseph and Mary's journey to Bethlehem, no room in the inn, born in a manger, the shepherds in the field, the angel's chorus, the star of Bethlehem. But John does not mention any of this. However, John tells us not the facts of Christmas, but the meaning of Christmas. John doesn't tell us about how the baby Jesus came to be, but who the baby Jesus is.

What is the meaning of Christmas? To many, it is family gatherings, gifts, Christmas services and messages, singing carols, feeling dreamy and sentimental. This is all good. However, the meaning of Christmas is inexhaustible, theologically profound and powerful with life changing truth. John Piper calls Christmas the end of history, for it is the ultimate fulfillment of God's salvation purpose in redemptive history. In John's Christmas message we think about the meaning of Christmas by considering who Jesus is from John 1:14. It breaks up into 3 aspects of the most pregnant parts:

  1. Jesus is the Word of God.
  2. Jesus is the Word made flesh.
  3. Jesus is the glory of God revealed.
I. Jesus is the Word of God (Jn 1:1-3, 14)

John 1:1-3 tells us that the Word is God. John 1:14 tells us that the Word/God became a man. Why does God chose to reveal Himself as the Word? The Greek word Logos can mean word, thought or speech. What is a word? A word is an audible or a visual expression of a thought. Thoughts are incommunicable until they are put into words or expressed by an action. We make inferences about people we observe: He's cool. She's pretty. He's a jerk. She's a snob. But we will know them best if we talk to them, and they speak to us. Unless I talk about cats with joy, you may not know that I'm crazy about cats. Likewise, God reveals himself most precisely through the Word, who is Christ. Apart from Jesus we may know a lot of things about God. We can even believe in God and know what God wants us to do. But we can't truly know God apart from Christ. Knowing God requires knowing Jesus personally and intimately, because Jesus is the supreme and ultimate revelation of who God is (Col 1:15; Heb 1:3).

Hitch (2005) is a romantic comedy where Will Smith plays a date doctor. In advising a young man to win the girl of his dreams he says, "60% of all human communication is nonverbal body language. 30% is your tone. So that means 90% of what you're saying ain't coming out of your mouth." Jesus revealed God through his words, his Spirit, and his person by his meekness, gentleness, compassion and humility. Jesus is "full of grace and truth" (Jn 1:14). Likewise, we communicate Jesus not just through our preaching and Bible teaching, but also especially through the Spirit enabling us to communicate the spirit of Christ. Even when we teach the Bible correctly, we may fail if we communicate a spirit of self-righteousness, Pharisaism, superiority, bias and prejudice.
People generally think that we come to know God either through rationalism or mysticism. But to know God, neither rationalism nor mysticism will suffice. Many say, "Give me proof that God exists and that the Bible is true, and I will believe in God. What I want is a slam dunk water tight argument that proves that Christianity is true." But God has not given a water tight argument (which is an abstraction) that Christianity and the God of the Bible is true, but a water tight person (as the compelling proof), in whom there can be no argument because Jesus is perfect. Jesus' life towers above all other lives. Look at the life of Jesus, the data of his teachings, the accounts of his life, death, resurrection. Process it by using your mind. Think about it. Have you done this? Have you taken Jesus seriously? Do you take your life, actions, choices, and behavior seriously?

II. Jesus is the Word Made Flesh

John 1:14 says, "The Word became flesh." What does this mean? "Flesh" (sarx [Greek]) means that God was made soft, the Almighty was made weak, the divine was made human, made vulnerable, made killable. Only Christianity among the world religions is where God is made human, vulnerable, killable. When God heard our cries he left his ivory palaces and came down; he made himself vulnerable. When a woman was attacked on the street at night, she screamed for help. All the lights in the high rise turned on. The mugger ran away. But no one came down. When he saw that no one came down he returned and killed her. No one came down because it would be taking a risk. But God did not come down at the risk of his life, but knowing that it would cost him his life. God came down knowing that he would be killed.

Hebrews 2:14 says, "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity..." Jesus was made like us, his brothers, in every way. The best counselors are always those who have gone through hell. An X-ray technician, while positioning his patients on the X-ray table, would not care that he was hurting them when they groaned or winced in pain. But this technician had a kidney stone and he had to be placed on the X-ray table. He felt how painful it was when the X-ray technician put him on the table. Since then, he treated his patients very gently. Christmas says what no other religion says: The God of the universe has been on the table. The God of the universe faced hunger, loneliness, homelessness, grief, rejection, betrayal, torture, injustice, death. Jesus has experienced it all. Have you been betrayed? Are you broke? Have you been abandoned? Have you been hurt and wounded? We can go to Jesus. He’s been through it before. Jesus had a big prayer turned down in Gethsemane. Jesus has been abandoned by God.

III. Jesus is the Glory of God Revealed

John 1:14 is translated: "So the Word became human and made his home among us" (NLT). "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood" (Message). "The Word became flesh and took up residence among us" (Hollman). They translate the Greek word "tabernacled," which means "To build a booth, tent, or temporary hut, which fitly applies to the human nature of Christ as a temporary residence for the eternal Divinity." This incarnation is where God takes the form of a man. Because Jesus tabernacled or "tented" (lived in a tent) among us, the author John said, "We have seen his glory."

What OT event is John trying to remind his audience of? In Ex 33:18, Moses prayed to the Lord, "Now show me your glory." God answered him, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Ex 33:20). Then God instructed Moses to build a tabernacle (Ex 35:4ff, 36:8ff), also called the tent of meeting. When the tabernacle was completed (Ex 39:32), Ex 40:34 says, "Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle." God would be with his people, but his glory was concealed in the tabernacle. But through Jesus' incarnation, John said, "We have seen his glory." John and us today may behold God's glory in Jesus, which Moses could not without being killed. What does this mean?

  1. Christianity and Christmas signifies the end of religion. Dick Lucas, the renowned minister of St. Helen's church in London, once preached a sermon where he recounted an imaginary conversation between an early Christian and her neighbor in Rome. The neighbor says, "I hear you are religious. Religion is good. Where is your temple? Where do your priests work and do their rituals? Where do you offer sacrifices to acquire the favor of your God?" To each question, the Christian replied, "Jesus is our temple. Jesus is our priest. Jesus is our sacrifice." The pagan neighbor sputters, "No temple. No priest. No sacrifice. What kind of religion is this?" It’s no kind of religion at all. The Christian faith is so utterly different than how every other religion works that it doesn't really deserve to be called 'religion'. All religions, including Christianity wrongly understood, insists on doing things to be right with God. But Christianity says the reverse: because we’re accepted in Christ, we then do things. Religion says, “Live this way, then you’ll be accepted.” Christianity says, “You’re accepted. Therefore, you live this way.” It’s exactly the opposite of religion. All the requirements of religion is gone, because Jesus himself is the tabernacle: he is the temple, the priest, and the sacrifice. There is nothing for the Christian to do to get right with God. Because of Jesus there is no more need for temples, priests and sacrifices, for Jesus is all of that. We don’t get a religion; we get a person: the Word. In religion you need to prove yourself to be good before you can see God's glory. But in Christianity, we are shown God's glory freely through Jesus Christ.
  2. Christianity and Christmas enables us to see (feel, touch) God's glory, which Moses could not. Why? Anyone who has been wronged, anyone who has experienced injustice and evil, a gap opens between the victim and the perpetrator. Even if the perpetrator says, “I’m sorry,” the gap remains. Some action has to happen to close that gap. We feel that gap because we are made in the image of God. Injustice is such a serious thing. No one can just shrug off injustice. Something has to happen. The gap we experience between man through our injustices to each other is nothing compared to the infinite gap between the human race and God. Because of what we’re done, what we’re done to creation, what we’re done to each other, there’s a gap. Something has to close that gap. There has to be atonement. The tabernacle was pointing to it. There were priests and there were sacrifices. Jn 1:14 says Jesus tabernacled among us. What does this mean? Jesus came to this world to become vulnerable. Why? So that he can become killable. Why? So that he can pay the price. By paying the price, Jesus closed the gap. At Christmas the glory of God became a baby we can behold.

    In the OT, the glory of God is smoking mountains, pillars of fire, a consuming fire. In NT, the transcendent holiness of God, the unscalable holiness of God become a baby. What does this mean? The glory of God is a baby. God is now accessible, safe, embraceable, huggable. Because Jesus has paid the price and closed the gap.

    Just as God has come into history, now the glory of God can come into each man’s life. The life transforming glory of God can come to you and I.

    That is what Christmas means: The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us. Now we can behold the glory of God that Moses was not permitted to see. If not for Christmas, we would never be able to see the glory of God without being killed and destroyed.
  • The Word Made Flesh (Sermon by Tim Keller, 12/13/09): John’s Gospel begins by teaching that Jesus Christ is the Word of God. Just as we come to know a person through speaking to them and listening to their words, we come to know God by listening to Jesus speak to us. Yet, Jesus did not come solely to speak. He came to live among us so that there is nothing we will suffer that He has not also suffered. But most of all, He came to die for us. In the incarnation, God became vulnerable to us—even to death—and yet He loved us so much that He was glad to so.

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