Tuesday, December 23, 2003

And this one is a Christmas message, from 2002:

John's Picture of Jesus:
The Word Becomes Flesh

When I was a Junior in college, I had the privilege of studying for a term in Europe (based in Salzburg, Austria). We were a group of 33 student from our college; in the group was the future Mrs. Layne. On long weekends (Friday through Sunday) we would travel to places like Vienna, Paris, and Switzerland. The Paris trip was two weeks before Christmas, 1977. The Eiffel Tower was done up in Christmas light, with the words, Joyeux Noel shining vertically down its length.

Of course, a must see location in Paris is the world-famous Louvre art museum. (I never saw so many museums in my life as I did in those three months in Europe.) Every wall and nook holds some world-famous piece of art, the Mona Lisa being the very most famous.

The world over, religious art is the single largest category of art. Go up to the Norton Simon Museum and check it out. The European collection must be 60% religious art. Then go downstairs to the Asia art-which must be 80% religious art.

Over the last four weeks, I've asked you to see the four portraits of Jesus in the four gospels.

Matthew: King. If this were a portrait, He would be seated on a throne.

Mark: Servant. If this were a portrait, He would be bending low to heal a blind man.

Luke: Savior. If this were a portrait, He would be embracing the prodigal son now returned home.

John: the Word made flesh.
Now this is a difficult painting to paint. John's story of Jesus coming into the world is the most philosophical and abstract. When I'm in an art museum, the abstract art can't keep my attention long. Some looks downright silly-like the so-called artist spilled his paint on the canvas.
The Difference in John

With Matthew and Luke, we have very carefully written, very concrete accounts of Jesus' birth. Mark, as we saw two weeks ago, almost entirely skips the manner of Jesus' coming. John doesn't tell the story of His birth. He does something even more ambitious. He tells us of His origin.

John takes on a perspective from eternity. Matthew and Luke look at the coming of Jesus from a human point of view. Matthew tells the story from the point of view of Joseph. Luke from Mary's perspective. But John tells it from God's perspective-a fact that takes your breath away!

John's style is to use little words to say big things. In just six short verses, John 1:1-5 and verse 14, he says some huge things. He answers some big questions about the unseen Jesus, the eternal Jesus, and the true Christmas miracle-God coming into our world.
"How long has Jesus Christ existed?"

With any one else, the answer would be simple: from the time your were conceived. The Bible does not teach, as Mormonism or most eastern religions, that you have an eternal soul. You were created in a moment in time, and before that, you did not exist except as an idea in God's mind. If you plan to build a table, that table does not exist anywhere except in your imagination. So were you 10 months before your were born-in God's mind!

But the origin of Jesus is entirely different.

The answer John give us is that He has existed since before the beginning (1:1, 3; Genesis 1:1).
John 1:1, 3:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

What we're talking about here is the absolute beginning of all things. Clearly, John has Genesis 1:1 in mind: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." But in Genesis 1:1, God created everything "up there" (the heavens) and everything "down here" (the earth). But John says that even at that moment the "Word" (who is identified in 1:14 as Jesus Christ) already "was". He was already there before any creating began. Before there was anything, there was Jesus.

Jews and Muslims find this statement to be nothing less than blasphemous. But this is the non-negotiable essence of our faith. And it begs the question, who is this eternal word?
Who is He?

In John 1:1 and 1:14, John uses an interesting term to describe Him: the Word (the logos). Ha logos, "the word," is a Greek term indicating rational communication. When God reveals Himself, He does not mumble. His "word" is clear and distinct.

The term also has roots in the Old Testament.

For example take Psalm 33:6: "By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth."
In these passages, the word goes forth in power-creative power-to do what God wants done. The word cannot be thwarted or defeated.

But you could easily interpret this just to be the spoken word of God. Both John and the Old Testament take this a step further.

We are told that the Word was "with God." (1:1b)
Proverbs 8:22-23 says,

"22"The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old;
23I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began."

The Proverbs 8 goes on to describe a mysterious partner present with God from all creation, a partner sometimes called Wisdom.

John 1:2 says, "He was with God in the beginning." A great scholar, F.F. Bruce points out that you can accurately translate 1:2 as, "This is the one who was 'with God in the beginning'." In other words, John is explaining the mystery figure of wisdom from Proverbs 8.

God Himself
And so He is the Word, the Wisdom of God, with God from the beginning. But even more: He is God!
John 1:1: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

This is the stunner: Jesus, the Word, is present from the beginning, He is the wisdom at God's side at the creation-and at the same time, mysteriously, "the Word was God."

All the fullness of eternal, Almighty God, living in a Galilean carpenter? Yes, that's right.

Jesus Himself tells us that there is a third partner in the eternal God-the Holy Spirit. In John 14:15-17, He speaks of "another Counselor" who will take His place when He returns to the side of the Father. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 13:14 also makes reference to this mysterious Triune nature of God:
"May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all."

While the Bible does not use the term, we have come to call this reality about God the Trinity: One God who eternally exists as three distinct persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

What is He?

Now we can see more clearly who and what Jesus is…

He is God in the flesh
Put John 1:1 and 1:14 together:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

What we have here is the literal-very literal-fulfillment of the promise of Isaiah 7:14, that the Messiah would be Immanuel-God with us. The eternal Word, God the Son, becomes flesh-a real human being, and lives among us and reveals His glory among us.

Flesh! Jesus did not float six inches off the ground and have a halo around His head. He was a real human being, a real man who ate and slept and got sweaty. And who bled when His hands and feet were pierced. He is God, but He really is God in the flesh.

He is also the Creator
John 1:3 says, "Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made." We're told that Jesus was involved in the creation. Remember how Genesis puts it? God spoke a word, and it was so. And Jesus is that "Word"!

It's mind-boggling, but true: Jesus, the Creator, jumped into His creation. It's as if Michelangelo were able to become part of the painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Where was He before He came to this world?

And before then, what? Unlike all of us, He existed before conception and birth.

He was "with God" we're told (1:1)

Think of the implications of that: Forever and ever, He had love and union and glory with the Father and the Spirit. Then, from creation, when the angels came into being, He lived in the midst of heavenly worship, of the kind described in Isaiah 6:3, with endless worship and the adoration of the angels crying out, "Holy, Holy, Holy!"

There is no way we can adequately wrap our minds around this reality. But imagine it this way: For endless years, you have been the favored Son of the Mightiest and most just King of all. You have lived in a palace and commanded millions of faithful attendants, who live to carry our your command. You have always obeyed your Father the king. Then one day, He says to you, "I have a special assignment for you. I'm going to send to live in a phone booth in the middle of the smelliest landfill I can find. Maybe in New Jersey. Or Pacoima. I know you're use to unlimited power and spotless purity, but you can forget that. You'll live in that phone booth for over thirty years and then be brutally murdered by people who hate me. What do you say?"

Amazing love; He said yes! If that's what's needed to redeem lost men and women and boys and girls, bring it on.
Why did He come?

Which leads right to something else these words answer: why did He come?

To bring life
John 1:4a says, "In Him was life." This is not just biological life as the Creator, but real life, a real reason for living.

In John 5:21, Jesus says, "For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it." When Jesus comes into a person, He comes with the gift of real life.

In John 14:3, Jesus is so bold as to say, "I am the way and the truth and the life." He takes people who are dead on the inside and makes them alive. He takes people who are just waiting for their heart to stop beating and He gives them a reason to live and to run with joy. We weren't designed to shuffle around on this planet like so many roaches; we were designed to know God and enjoy Him forever!

And he also brings light:

To bring light (1:4b, 8:12)
John 1:4 says, "In him was life, and that life was the light of men."

John 8:12 says, "When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'"

The essential nature of light is this: with light, you can see. And with Jesus, you see-and understand. You understand the nature of God: looking at Him, we see love and grace and patience and understanding. You can see what life is about: knowing Him. You understand both the big problem and the big solution for the human race: separation from God by not knowing Him and the result-sin-and the solution is again Jesus Himself, who on the cross bears that sin and bridges that separation.

No wonder we celebrate Christmas with lights. Every bulb, every candle, is a tiny little reflection of the Great Light, Jesus Himself. Every bough we bring into our homes-a living thing brought into our midst-is a small reminder of the One who brings real life into a person's being, His heart and mind.

How did we respond to His coming?

But how did we respond to His coming? The Bible depicts His coming as an invasion of light into the darkness of this world.

1:5: "The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it."

John says that Jesus, the Light,shines {continuously} in the darkness but the darkness has not understood it. The Greek word there is katalambano, which means to seize, grasp, or overcome. In John 3:19, we're told that, "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil." Jesus, God's light, comes into a hostile environment. The concept is that God's light, the Word, Jesus Christ, is in non-negotiable conflict with sinful darkness, and even as darkness must yield to light in the physical world, so also it must yield in the realm of the spiritual.

Colossians 1:13 says "For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves…"

In other words, the darkness puts up a stiff resistance. It was the darkness that crucified Christ. It is the darkness that enslaves Christian children in Sudan and hooks teens on drugs and breaks up marriages. The darkness will not go easily.
The Word: Human and Triumphant

But He will not be defeated.

He becomes flesh and pitches His tent among us-that's the literally meaning, in vs. 14, of "He made His dwelling among us." The first temple was a "tabernacle", a portable temple made of tent material. Jesus also pitches the tent-a temporary dwelling of God on earth.

And He reveals His glory (1:14b): "We have seen {as in a theater} his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John uses a special word for seen: the same word used to describe seeing a play. We went and saw the show: in Jesus, God's glory was on stage for all to see.

And He is the One and Only (14:c). Again a special word: monogenes, "the only one thus existing", the same word used in John 3:16-"the only begotten."
A Story of Glory

All in all, John's portrait is breath taking. He uses simple words, but communicates mysteries that are on the very far edge of human understanding.

Is there any way to do justice to the mystery of God in the flesh? Maybe a story will help.

Larry and Jennifer lived in the countryside in the mountains of Colorado. After forty years together, Jenny began attending a Bible study at the little church just over the hill and soon joined the church-something Larry, a hardheaded skeptic could not comprehend.

It was Christmas Eve, and Jenny asked Larry to go with her to the Christmas Eve service. "Now, we've been over this a hundred times," said Larry. "It's alright with me that you got religion-just don't expect me to get it too!" Jenny went on into the cold night to the service.

Larry sat by the fire. A large Christmas tree filled their front room, decorated with lights and ornaments. He had always enjoyed the view out the large picture window. The night was dark and clear but bitterly cold. He took a sip from his coffee when he heard a loud noise: clunk!

He turned just in time to see that a bird, seeing the lights on the tree, had crashed into the window, thinking it was a place of warmth on this cold Colorado night. The bird-in the darkness, he couldn't make out what kind of bird it was-was on the ground, a bit stunned but alive and well. He was relieved to see it fly away.

Then, a moment later, clunk!

He'd tried again. The bird just didn't understand the concept of plate glass windows.

Larry put on his coat and went outside. There was the bird-a duck it appeared-stunned and wobbly on the ground. Again he shook himself off and flew away.

But before Larry could get back into the house-you know it: clunk!

"Stupid duck!" said Larry out loud. "Keep this up, and you'll get killed!"

He went back inside and shut off all the lights, including the Christmas tree lights. But by this time the duck knew exactly where he wanted to be, and you guessed it: clunk!
Larry thought up a plan. He put he coat back on and went outside with some birdseed. He scattered some away from the window. Maybe this will…


Daffy Duck-that's what Larry was calling this persistent fowl-had done it again. This time the duck looked bad. He barely stirred as Larry bent over his cold quivering body.

If there was only some way, thought Larry to warn this dumb duck. Then Daffy stirred and squawked away, afraid of the man. If there was only a way to communicate to him! Silly as it sounded, Larry thought, the ideal way would be to become a duck himself and speak to Daffy in his own language.

That's when he heard the bells.

Over the hill, the Christmas Eve service was getting out, and the country church always rang its bell on Christmas Eve.

And that's when it hit Larry. The whole idea of Jesus-the whole idea of Christmas-made sense. Here I am in life battering my brains in, thought Larry, and He became one of us to show us the way.

And so He did.

And that's what Christmas is all about.

© Copyright 2002, Pastor Glenn Layne, www.templecitybaptist.org

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