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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:The Word became flesh to reveal God to us most fully
Text:John 1:14-18 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son
 
Preached:2016
Added:2016-12-07
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 99:1-3

Hymn 11:9 (after the law)

Psalm 99:4-6

Hymn 84

Psalm 150

Scripture reading:  Exodus 40

Text:  John 1:14-18

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

Ask around and I think you’ll find some degree of confusion about Jesus.  I’ve been looking into what Australians in general think about him.  I found a 2009 survey which determined that about 10% of Australians don’t believe he even existed.  According to this survey, 42% believe that Jesus had divine powers – not that he is God necessarily, but that he had “divine powers.”  What about the resurrection?  Surprisingly (to me at least), 54% believe that Jesus rose from the dead.  Now that was in 2009, and maybe things have changed since then, but probably not by much.  What’s interesting is that the figures are far from anything approaching a consensus.  If 54% believe that he rose on that first Easter Sunday, then that means 46% don’t.  If 42% believe that he had divine powers, then 58% don’t.

Then I came across even more confusion.  Did you know that there are at least two men in Queensland claiming to be reincarnations of Jesus?  Alan John Miller is a cult leader, featured in a documentary for the program Sunday Night.  Miller says, “I’m actually Jesus.  I remember the events of my crucifixion, what was going on, I understood the reason for my death.”  Brian Marshall also believes himself to be Jesus and he thinks that’s it’s his face on the Shroud of Turin.  He claims that Pope Benedict backed up his claim in a letter.  The scary thing is not only that these men say these things about themselves, but that they’ve convinced others of the same.  Talk about confusion about Jesus!

This is nothing new.  There’s always been confusion about him.  Even when he walked on this earth, people were divided and confused about who he was and what he was doing.  Some said that he was just a prophet.  Others maintained that he was demon-possessed, doing his miracles by the power of Satan.  Still others believed that he was the Christ, long-promised to bring redemption for God’s people. 

Through his gospel, John wants you to be very clear on who Jesus is.  He wants you to be absolutely certain not only about his identity, but also about his work.  This is so that you would believe in Jesus, trust in him as your Saviour.  Up this point John’s gospel has already delivered some clarity on the person and work of Christ.  Earlier in chapter 1, John revealed that Jesus is God and that he was involved with creation.  He is the light of men, the one who came to save sinners from darkness.  Through him, we become adopted children of God.  All of that and more is found in the first 13 verses of John. 

But John saves his most shocking statement of all for verse 14.  Here he tells us that the Word, the one whom he said is God in verse 1, the Word became flesh.  God became man.  In Jesus Christ, God took on a human nature.  He became one of us and dwelt among us.  “The Word became flesh” points to the incredible fact of the incarnation.  Incarnation is a word which means “taking on flesh.”  When we speak about the incarnation, we’re talking about God becoming a human being – which is what Jesus did in the womb of the virgin Mary.  John says, “Don’t be confused about who Jesus is.  He is true God and true man.  He is God who has come into our world as one of us.”  And why did he do that?  Yes, for our salvation, but as part of that, he is revealing God to us.  When you look at Jesus and who he is and what he said, and what he did, you’re looking at God.  God is revealing himself to us through him.  In our text, we’ll therefore see how the Word became flesh to reveal God to us most fully.

We’ll consider:

  1. What John and the other disciples saw in him
  2. What the Baptist said in witness to him
  3. How Moses compared with him

In verse 14, John uses that word “Logos” or “Word” to refer to Jesus again.  He says that the “Logos” became “flesh.”  This is actually a very direct, almost blunt, way of saying that the second person of the Trinity took on a human nature.  It’s put this way so as to leave no room for confusion whatsoever.  The Spirit, speaking through John, doesn’t want anyone to get the idea that Jesus just looked like a human being.  No, he became flesh.  That way of saying it leaves zero wiggle room.  If you take the Bible seriously, you can’t get around this.  You have to believe it.  At a certain point in history, the Holy Spirit worked miraculously in the uterus of a Virgin to bring about the conception of the Son of God as a man.  How did it happen?  The mechanics of the virginal conception aren’t described for us in Scripture -- they remain a mystery to us.  What’s important is not the how it happened, but the fact that it happened.

When it happened, we’re told in verse 14 that the Word, the Logos, came to dwell among us.  This is a place where most Bible translations are rather bland.  That includes the ESV.  The word that’s used for “dwell” in the original Greek is a term that was associated with the tabernacle in the Old Testament.  A more lively translation of verse 14 might say that “the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.”  That would capture the flavour of what’s being expressed here.  The incarnation of Jesus, his coming in the flesh, is compared to God dwelling amongst his people in the wilderness.  We read from Exodus 40 about how the tabernacle was constructed, and then God’s glory descended upon it.  In his glory, God dwelt in the midst of his people, in that tent.  The incarnation is like that.  When Christ became a human being, that was God coming to his people to live among them.  Just like the Old Testament tabernacle was a place to see and hear God revealed, so also in his person and work, Jesus reveals God and he does so in the fullest way. 

At this point, I want to skip ahead to verse 18.  Normally we go verse by verse through a text, but this is an instance where it makes sense to jump ahead for a minute.  That’s because verse 14 and verse 18 belong together, they express somewhat the same thing.  Both are saying that Jesus comes into this world to reveal God most fully. 

Now in verse 18, I have to say something briefly about a footnote in our Bibles.  You should have your Bible open here and I’ll show you what I’m talking about.  It says, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”  I want you to notice the footnote with the second mention of God.  If you look at the bottom of the page, it will say, “Or the only One, who is God; some manuscripts the only Son.”  It’s the second part of that footnote that I want to address.  It’s a bit misleading.  It’s not just “some manuscripts” that have “the only Son,” it’s the vast majority of Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.  It should say, “most manuscripts the only Son.”  I don’t want to get all technical with you, but based on the number of manuscripts that have that reading (and a few other factors), I have to conclude that it should read “the only Son.”

What verse 18 is saying then is that the unique Son of God (the natural Son of God), he has done something amazing in his life on earth.  God is invisible – no one can see him in his essence, not even Moses saw God in the fullest possible sense.  But the Son has an intimate relationship with the Father at his side, and he has made him known, revealed him to us most fully.  You look at the Son, you see the Father.  You look at Jesus and you see God.  So if you want to see God more fully, you need to look to Jesus.

And what will you see?  You’ll see what John and the other disciples saw in him.  This is back in verse 14 now.  What did they see?  They saw glory.  Glory is what the Israelites saw as God came to dwell among them at the tabernacle in the wilderness.  Glory is what John and the other disciples saw as God came to dwell among them in the Word become flesh.  What is “glory”?  In Scripture, God’s glory literally refers to his “weightiness,” his significance.  If someone has glory, they are hugely impressive and to be taken seriously.  To be made much of.  The classic passage about God’s glory is Isaiah 6.  The prophet Isaiah was confronted with a rather full-on revelation of God’s glory and it undid him.  That would be a good passage to read at lunch.  Isaiah 6.  God’s glory floors the prophet Isaiah.  Jesus came into the world reflecting that majestic glory of God.  John and the other disciples saw this revelation of God’s glory in him, “glory as of the only (or unique) Son from the Father.” 

The divine glory they saw with him as he carried out his earthly ministry was “full of grace and truth.”  They saw God’s grace fully displayed in him.  God’s grace is sometimes described as unmerited favour.  Sometimes people will define it as God giving you what you don’t deserve.  This is true, but it should go further.  It’s not merely unmerited favour, it’s dismerited favour.  What I mean is that it’s not just God giving you what you don’t deserve, but giving you the opposite of what you deserve.  For example, you deserve eternal punishment.  The wages of sin is death.  Your sin earns death.  That’s what you deserve.  But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.  You get life eternal in Jesus Christ, the opposite of what you deserve.  That’s grace.  That’s what Jesus came to fully reveal about God – his grace.  Look at him.  He healed people who didn’t deserve it.  Jesus forgave people who hadn’t earned it, couldn’t earn it.  Look at the way Christ treated his disciples.  They often stood in his way and obstructed his ministry.  At a certain point, Peter tries to stop Christ from following his path to the cross.  Jesus says to him, “Get behind me, Satan.”  Pretty strong words.  But he doesn’t kick Peter to the curb and get himself some new disciples who are smarter or more faithful.  He doesn’t even do that after Peter denies him three times.  After the resurrection, Christ comes to him with words of restoration.  It’s a beautiful picture of grace – dismerited favour for sinners.  It’s a picture of who God is.  God is merciful and compassionate, long-suffering and full of steadfast love.  Jesus revealed that most fully to his disciples – and to us.

As he carried out his ministry, they also saw his divine glory in that he was full of truth.  They heard his teaching.  They heard his wise words of instruction, his parables, his admonitions, his woes and warnings, his prophecies.  They could hear for themselves how God’s glory was shining forth in Christ and his teaching.  He spoke words of truth, completely consistent with everything that had been previously revealed in the Scriptures.  Jesus was full of truth, and in doing that he revealed the God of truth most fully. 

Loved ones, do you see these glorious things in Jesus?  When you read about him in Scripture, are you awe-struck with his grace and compassion?  That grace is not only for those who lived during his time on earth, that grace is for you too!  Look to him in faith, trust him -- he’s full of grace towards you too.  That’s part of his divine glory.  And he also continues to be full of truth for you.  The Scriptures show us Jesus and everything he said and did, so that we would know God in truth.  Being from God, being God in the flesh, Jesus is the way that we can know God most fully.  That’s also part of his divine glory – something for which we adore him and praise him.  Remember:  the disciples could see these things with their eyes and hear them with their ears.  But for us today, we need the Scriptures.  We need to give careful attention to what the Bible says so that we, like them, can continue to see his glory and worship him for it.  Worship him, not only with our words, but also our lives.

Verse 15 brings us back to John the Baptist.  John was mentioned a few verses earlier and he’s going to be mentioned in the following verses too.  The Spirit is saying that when you think about Christ coming into the world to reveal God most fully, you also need to remember what John cried out concerning him in witness.  It says that he “cried out,” and that draws our attention to the fact that John wanted to make this amply clear.  The Baptist didn’t want there to be any confusion whatsoever about who Christ is.  He was acting as a faithful prophet of Christ.

What did he cry out?  Verse 15 focusses on this part of his witness, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.”  Let’s take this one bit at a time.  “He who comes after me ranks before me” – that refers to the fact not so much that John was older than Jesus, but the fact that his ministry came first.  Even though Jesus’ ministry comes later, Jesus has a higher ranking than John the Baptist.  People esteemed John the Baptist, but they should esteem Jesus far more.  Why?  Because before John even existed, the Son of God was.  What the Baptist was saying is that the Son of God did not come into existence when he became flesh.  No, he was in existence long before that.  The Baptist doesn’t say it, but we know from earlier in this chapter that the Son “was in the beginning with God.”  Because he is God, he has always existed, from eternity.  Later in the Gospel of John, Jesus himself will say the same thing.  He tells the Jewish religious leaders in John 8:58, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”  They knew right away what he was saying because they picked up stones to stone him.  That’s what Jews did with people who claimed to be God.  They stoned them.  Jesus was claiming to be God.  John the Baptist was saying the same thing about him.  This is God come in the flesh

Christ could reveal God as fully as he did because of that.  Because he is divine, he could show God’s character and attributes to those around him.  About this, we need to be clear.  Again we can think back to those statistics from the beginning.  42% of Australians believe that Jesus had divine powers.  Yes, he did, absolutely.  But there’s far more to him than that!  He had divine powers precisely because he was divine.  He was and is God.  Fully 100% man and fully 100% God.  That’s an important part of what makes Jesus Christ different from every other religious leader who has ever appeared on earth.  Moses was not true man and true God.  Muhammad was not true man and true God.  Neither was Buddha or the Dalai Lama or anyone else.  Only Jesus!

Another way in which the Word reveals to us God most fully is in his demonstrations of grace.   Here we’re at verses 16 and 17.  Verse 16 says that we have all received from his fullness, grace upon grace.  Because he is God and reveals God, he is full of grace towards sinners.  What we have received is “grace upon grace.”  What does “grace upon grace” mean?  Literally, it says “grace instead of grace,” or “grace in the place of grace.”  What it means is that after one demonstration of God’s grace, there’s always more ahead.  God is a fountain of grace for us all and our Saviour Jesus reflects that.  I appreciate what Martin Luther said along these lines, “This fountain is inexhaustible; it is full of grace and truth before God; it never fails no matter how much we draw from it…It remains a perennial fount of all grace and truth, an unfathomable well, an eternal fountain.  The more we draw from it, the more it gives.”  That’s exactly right.

You can see it throughout the life of a Christian.  A Christian first experiences the demonstration of God’s grace in Jesus’ saving work.  You don’t deserve a Saviour to live a perfect life for you and then to go so far as to die for you.  You don’t deserve his victory at the empty tomb.  But it goes further, grace upon grace.  You don’t deserve to have him in heaven at God’s right hand as your advocate.  But there he is!  You don’t deserve to have his Holy Spirit living and active in your life.  Grace upon grace.  You don’t deserve to have his Word shaping and guiding you in the ways of holiness.  You don’t deserve to have the promise of life forever in the presence of God in the new creation.  You don’t deserve future glory.  You’ve got it all in the fullness of Jesus Christ, grace upon grace.  Loved ones, look to him in faith, rest and trust only in this Saviour.                 

Then John looks back to Moses in verse 17.  Moses brought the law of God to his people.  On the other hand, there’s Jesus Christ with grace and truth.  The Holy Spirit is making a contrast here, a comparison between Moses and Christ and especially between what characterized each of their ministries.

What characterized Moses’ ministry was the law of God.  Here the Holy Spirit wants you to think of the law in terms of its main message:  do this or don’t do that.  If you obey what God says, God’s blessings follow in response.  If you fail to obey what God says, you will experience the curses of God.   Don’t get this wrong.  The Holy Spirit through John is not saying that the law was a bad thing.  He doesn’t want us to have a bad attitude towards the law.  But he does want us to realize that the law was inadequate to save us.  Because we are such thorough-going sinners, the law can never be a way of salvation for us.  Our law-keeping can never be the pathway to eternal life.  The law will always be a dead-end.  You simply won’t get to heaven by doing more, being nicer, trying harder.  Contrary to what all the other religions of the world teach, biblical Christianity says you can’t do it.  The law and your law-keeping will never save you.    

What the law given through Moses couldn’t do, the grace and truth that have come in Christ has done.  Through grace shown in the Son of God, proclaimed in the truth of the gospel, we have a way secured to a right standing with God.  Through grace shown in the Son of God, announced in the truth of the Word, we have a way promised to adoption as his children.  Through grace shown in Christ, displayed for us in the written truth of God, we have the guarantee of life forever in the presence of God.  The law could do nothing of that.  The law couldn’t secure justification, adoption, glorification, or any other spiritual benefit.  Only grace shown in Jesus Christ could open for us all those gospel treasures.  What the law demanded of sinners, grace and truth in Jesus Christ has provided.  The law demanded obedience – grace and truth in Christ has supplied it.  The law demanded payment for sins – grace and truth in Christ has delivered it.  We have everything we need in him!  Why would you ever look anywhere else?  Most of all, why would you ever look to yourself and your own feeble efforts?

“Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” – when the Word became flesh, he revealed God in his grace and truth as the God of salvation.  Did you notice in verse 17 that the name Jesus Christ appears here for the first time in John’s gospel?   John has been writing about him all along, but here’s the first time that we see the name Jesus and the title Christ.  Why here?  I would say that this is significant because of the meaning of this name and the meaning of this title.  The name Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua.  It means, “Yahweh saves.”  God is salvation – and that’s most fully revealed in Jesus Christ and his appearance in this world as the Saviour of sinners.  And what about Christ?  It’s the Greek form of the Hebrew title Messiah.  It means, “the anointed of Yahweh.”  God has anointed this individual to be the prophet, priest and king par excellence.  In each aspect of that three-fold office, he’s revealing God.  As prophet, he reveals God’s will.  As priest, he reveals God’s mercy and compassion.  As king, he reveals God’s rule over all things.  So saying that the Word is Jesus Christ, through whom comes grace and truth, that’s full of meaning here too.

You can’t walk away from this text with muddled thinking about Jesus.  It’s laid out clearly.  He is God incarnate, God in the flesh.  He comes full of grace and truth, an overflowing fountain of grace towards us.  Through him, we have the most full revelation of who God is and what he’s like, especially in his grace and mercy.  Do you see him clearly?  And do you believe in him?  Remember that’s where the Holy Spirit wants to bring readers of this gospel.  Not only to clearly seeing Jesus and understanding some things about him in an intellectual way, but believing in him from the heart for eternal life.

Then there’s still this world around us where there’s so many different ideas about who Jesus is.  What’s our calling in this world so messed up when it comes to him?  Since he came to bring grace and truth, and since we’re united to him, we ought to do likewise.  Bring the message of God’s grace in Jesus Christ – tell of his grace and mercy to you and others!  Loved ones, help this confused world get more clarity on the only one who can save, the only one who can bring people to a relationship of fellowship with God.  AMEN.

Prayer:

Our LORD God and heavenly Father,

We thank you for the Word become flesh.  Thank you that your Son came into this world to show us your glory, your grace, and your truth.  We’re grateful that through him, we may know you and your salvation.  We can be in a relationship of fellowship with you because of the grace upon grace that is ours in Jesus Christ.  Father, we praise you for your Word which helps us to be clear on who our Saviour is and how he reflects you to us.  We pray for the people we know who are confused or mistaken about Jesus.  Help us to help them have a better understanding of him.  Work in their hearts with your Spirit so that they accept the truth of your Word about our Saviour and believe in him.  Please do that with all of us too.  Help us with your Spirit to better understand your Word, so that our faith in Christ would only grow stronger and we would know you better, love you more, praise you more.

                                           




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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