Word and Being
Let’s just go over the main points so far again; we talked about
- Christ’s eternal pre-existence,
- His role and relationship to the Father
- The universality of his significance
- He as the unquenchable, undefeatable source of life depicted in the metaphor of light.
- The role of everyday people in proclaiming this amazing event.
- Christ’s coming pierces the human heart to the core and forces a decision
Now, John literally puts flesh on the bones he has constructed. Therefore; as far as ‘great statements’ of the Bible go, this is to Christian theology what the Saturn 5 rocket was to engineering. It essentially undergirds every single thing we do in the Christian life.
John 1:14-16 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,1 full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
1. God in flesh?
Well as we know, familiarity often breeds contempt, and as a result we often fail to appreciate the gravity of what John is saying when he writes “the Word became flesh.”
But again, when we survey the religious and cultural atmospheres of the Gospel writers we find that they are the most controversial authors of human history. You see, if had grown up in the ancient world, whether Jew or Gentile, you knew beyond question or shadow of doubt that humanity and deity would always be as opposed to each other in nature as fire and ice.
Plato, the most prominent western philosopher spent his entire life looking for the ‘perfect forms’ or esoteric realities that lay behind the ticking of the physical world. Many Christians still fall into Plato’s trap even today, separating the Spiritual from the physical.
Whereas in the Old Testament, ‘flesh’ denoted every part of the being in creaturely existence as distinct from God. We see this reflected in Paul, the ex-Pharisee’s writings; Romans 8:7-8 the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law — indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Of course, Paul uses it to talk about our sinful nature, not physical flesh but you can see how easy it was to define a human as opposed from God by this vocabulary and therefore it’s a small jump to assert that whatever is physical is necessarily opposed to the spiritual.
And these ideas of separation had so infested the psyche of society by this point that when John said that God became flesh, it was such a scandal that some had to invent new religions in order to explain the appearance of Christ in ways that would not offend their preconceived ideas. Take the Docetists for instance, who said Christ’s humanity was only apparent not substance. Ie, he just looked and acted like a man, sort of a ‘holy hologram’ if you will.
My question is what’s changed? We meet people every day who have constructed their own Christ who is nowhere near as confronting or powerful as the God of plagues of Egypt, as the God of David, as the God of Jeremiah. “ah Jesus was a great teacher, yeah he was a good bloke.”
John smashes this nonsense, I love it how John leaves the physical bit till verse 14 which denotes that He had already been spiritually active and present in the world, even though he met rejection from men. Now, the unthinkable happens; he becomes flesh.
It is unthinkable because John proclaims that flesh is not the means by which God’s glory is concealed from the eyes of humanity by the means by which it is revealed. It indicates Christ’s humanity and his solidarity with humanity. It is only in his sharing of human flesh that there can be any salvation. Because this flesh is eternal, he does not discard it and now and forevermore the ruler of the universe pushing all buttons and directing history is fully, a human man.
It is because of this that one of my favourite songs can proclaim; “He sees your tears, he fights your fears. He knows you heart, he lifts your head, he’s always close enough to hear every word you said. And when your weak, he is so much stronger, his arm is long enough to reach you where you are.”
Next John says: John 1:14 and he lived among us. In the original Greek, that word ‘lived’ is a very special word. It is precisely the same word used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament that describes Abraham settling in the land of Canaan in Genesis 13. It literally means to pitch one’s tent, but often in the Old Testament ‘tent’ is known by another name; tabernacle.
In Exodus 27, for the first time, we see the tent of meeting mentioned. Also know as the Tabernacle of the Lord. This temporary dwelling would be moved wherever the people of God went in the desert and set up just outside the camp. The pillar of cloud would descend on it, Moses and Exodus 33:11 says; the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.
Clearly then, this John’s statement has a clear salvation-historical connotation, which is reinforced by connection in the following clause with glory. The greatest aspect of God’s glory is his indwelling among his people.
I love this verse, and I love how John echoes the Old Testament to portray such intimacy. He is trying at all costs to make the point that it is precisely because of the enfleshment of the pre-existent Word, that Humanity can not only see God, but is able to live together with him under that same shelter as a husband and wife would.
In other words, the very historic physical existence of Jesus Christ is the primary way in which humanity can be sure that God loves us and his thoughts run towards relationship and renewal. Again, it is flesh which reveals God’s eternal plan, not conceals it.
To ram home this point, John uses another Old Testament concept explained in Exodus 33:19-20 The LORD’;1 and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”
It was understood clearly that no mortal could gaze upon the almighty and hope to live, while the deepest cry of the human heart has always been (whispering) “Lord where are you, show yourself, show me your glory.” John answers the great conundrum of human history John 1:14 and he dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.
John is saying to his audiences hey, you don’t understand, we too were looking for a great epiphany, the cracking of thunder n’ lightning and a great whirlwind but we found that all these things could never reveal the greatest expression of God’s glory like himself coming to be one of us, Because his greatest glory is the glory of his love and we saw this glory, we ate with his glory we talked with his glory and we experienced his glory face to face. Humanity cries out “where are you? show yourself?” and John cried back “where are you willing to look?”
3. Father in the Son
That is the Saturn 5 rocket, it is that which brings to naught every attempt of humanity to get close to God when God takes the initiative and becomes him. All religion and systems of power become simply laughable and only God can reveal this truth to humanity. It is not politically correct, precisely because it is true.
If we return for a moment to the first part of this series and John’s constant use of the term ‘word’, we know that in life words direct deeds and explain them. But we are living in a commercial society where words have become severely deformed; much is said with passion, but not much credibility. Doubt has replaced trust. Jacques Ellul rightly noted that “when the words are not authentic, they mean nothing.” It is in this atmosphere that we proclaim a faith that is premised on the word becoming a deed and the deed becoming flesh, God’s word became a deed of salvation and that deed expressed itself in the body of a human person.
John 1:14-15 we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,1 full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”) (ie; that’s the guy!)
The glory of the Father is in the glory of the one and only Son, not begotten, that is not what the Greek means at all and I don’t know why so many translations say that. John is stressing Christ’s uniqueness, he is the one and only precisely because is the only revealer of God’s very thoughts, which are not passive nor inert, but hugely active. Therefore; faith in Christ links us to such a God and such a plan
4. Grace upon Grace
Finally John 1:16 says; From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
The phrase in verse 16 ‘grace upon grace’ really denotes a perpetual and rapid succession of blessing without interval. And you know what the best thing is? They never run out. I think it is sometimes easy to assume that when things are falling in around us, that we have kind of ‘had our portion,’ and now Christ has moved on.
But the truth is, we will never, ever, ever, ever fully grasp how much we are blessed as a result of his love. It is not our humanity that separates us from him, but his humanity that unites us with him so that Paul can say in Ephesians 3:18-19 that you may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge— that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
This fullness is eternity. If the Word did not become flesh, then what eventually comes to all flesh; death, has not been conquered in the resurrection. However, as it stands, those linked to the Word made flesh by faith stand together.
John Calvin: “It was his task to swallow up death, Who but life himself could do this?”
Till next time:)