Online Text Sermon - The Incarnation, John ch.1 v.14
|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||The Incarnation|
|Text||John ch.1 v.14 |
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I should explain that John 1:1-18 is sometimes referred to as the prologue or preface to this Gospel - a sort of introduction to the whole Gospel. For the present, I will be looking at verse 14: "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth" (John 1, 14).
We become so familiar with the Word of God that we sometimes forget to ask the essential questions with regard to its form and shape. It is one of the remarkable features of the New Testament that we have the Gospel given to us - not once or twice - but four times. These first four books of the New Testament all overlap and any reader of them immediately realises that they are giving us much the same picture, yet with certain significant variations. These variations, of course, are given to us because of the fullness of the life of Christ, because of its profound importance for us all. Therefore, the Holy Spirit deemed it was not sufficient to have one account or even two, but four no less. We see aspects of Christ's ministry, teaching and work from different angles and perspectives, all according to the foreordination of God.
Taking up that thought very briefly, let me expand it sufficiently to say that Mark's Gospel doesn't begin at all with the birth of Christ, as the other three do more or less. Mark begins only at the beginning of Christ's public ministry; he begins with the introduction that John the Baptist gives us to Christ. That is fully consistent with Mark's great intention, which was, among other things, to show us how full was the ministry of Christ. He frequently uses the word 'immediately', showing us that the life of Christ was crammed with fruitfulness. Every moment of our Lord's life and ministry was full of service and obedience to God. You notice how, hardly has Christ finished one aspect of His work, when immediately some other aspect confronts Him. He was going from one duty to another all the time: a most wonderful ministry and uniquely glorious life. That appears to be the emphasis in Mark. It is, of course, to us an inspiration that we should seek so to organise our own lives to be as fruitful as we can. We are not to waste a moment of time if we can avoid it. We are to try to be efficient in the way we serve God here below and to count it our greatest honour to be obedient to His will; walking, in that respect, in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
When we turn from Mark to Matthew, we discover that Matthew begins his Gospel, certainly, with the birth of Christ. He tells us something very remarkable: when the angel had spoken to the virgin Mary and she began to be with child, she was espoused or engaged to be married to Joseph but that marriage had not yet taken place. Joseph, realising the woman to whom he was espoused or engaged was with child, was minded to put her away privately. He was an honourable man - he did not want to make her a public disgrace. His initial thought was that she had committed an indiscretion and had let her honour and reputation down. It required, however, the visit of an angel before he was made clear on the point. God gave him special revelation on that matter, which is in itself amazing. One would have thought that God, Who knows all things beforehand, would have anticipated the problem which would have arisen in the mind of Joseph, and He would have given him this information before any misunderstanding arose. God's ways are not our ways. It was one of those remarkable tests of which the Bible is so full. When Joseph understood that that thing which was conceived in her was of the Holy Ghost, immediately he understood that this was the glorious visitation of the Messiah, long promised to this world and coming now to redeem His people. "God hath visited his people" (Luke 7, 16). It is very strange, very remarkable and very wonderful that God allowed the misunderstanding to occur. It just goes to show - God's ways are a great deep, who can fathom them?
Also, one of the emphases we get in Matthew's Gospel concerning the birth of Christ is the genealogy which we have in the first sixteen verses of the first chapter, in which we are told that the ancestry of Christ went all the way back to Abraham. Of course, it went beyond Abraham but He stopped at Abraham because the purpose of Matthew's Gospel particularly, is to show that Christ is the Jewish Messiah. He came according to the Word of God in fulfilment of the promises made to Abraham and to his seed, that in Abraham's seed the nation and all nations should be blessed. Matthew's great emphasis and concern is to show the fulfilment of the Word of God. You and I are glad to be reminded of that because we live in a day when the Gospel and the Bible are completely disbelieved. People have no confidence any more in the Bible - at least in society at large - and they don't trust the Bible. However, you and I can be fortified in our confidence that the Bible is indeed the Word of God when we remember that Matthew, repeatedly and explicitly, tells us that the words of prophecy were fulfilled again and again and again.
Someone with a mathematical ability has calculated the likelihood of all the Old Testament prophesies of Scripture being fulfilled in any one human being, as indeed they are in the Person and work of Christ. The ratio is something like 1 to 1 million, million, million, million, million, million, million. That is not exact but I can give you the exact figure if you want it. That gives you some idea of the mathematical likelihood of all the prophesies of Scripture being fulfilled, literally, in one person's life. It leaves the Jewish people without the slightest excuse when they rejected Him and do reject Him still, alas, as being their Messiah. They ought to go back to their Scriptures and compare the Scriptures with the Word of God in the New Testament to see how everything fits together with perfect accuracy in the life of Christ. He is the Jewish Messiah. One day, as we have often said before, He will bring them (the Jews) in again; they are not shut out for ever. They have been shut out for two thousand years but they will come in again. There is good reason to hope that in the circumstances of our present world, the darkness among the Gentiles and the events of the Middle East have indeed indicated that day of blessing for them is drawing near. We cry with all our hearts, "Amen! Lord hasten the day."
When you turn from Matthew to Luke's Gospel and think again of the early chapters and the birth of our Saviour, what we are told about there is somewhat different. Luke's concern is to give us the genealogy or family tree that goes all the way back, not just to Abraham but to Adam. In chapter three we have a very long list of names in which we are told the ancestors and the forebears of the Lord Jesus Christ all the way back to Adam. The purpose, therefore, in Luke's Gospel is to show that, whilst it is perfectly true that Christ is the Messiah of the Jews, He is also the Saviour of the whole world. There is what you might call 'universality' in Luke's emphasis. He is telling us that what Jesus came to do, He came to do not just for one nation but for all nations. He came to gather out His people from north, south, east and west. He came to save the souls of an innumerable multitude from out of mankind - not just the Jewish nation but all the nations of the world. In Luke's Gospel, we have that worldwide and universal aspect.
It is rather interesting to compare the beginnings of the Gospels: Mark goes back to John the Baptist and no further; Matthew goes further back - all the way to Abraham; Luke goes all the way back to Adam. When we come to John, we go back farther still - "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1, 1). Those words are so simple. Every word in that sentence is so elementary that a primary school child could explain the meaning of it. But the meaning and the sense of those words in John's Gospel, is so profound that the deepest and greatest minds of all history - and there have been many - have failed to exhaust all the richness of the meaning. Augustine, Luther, Calvin and such men, have found all their marvellous geniuses inadequate to bring out all the meaning resident in those simple words: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1, 1).
"In the beginning" clearly harks back all the way to Genesis 1, 1. You couldn't read John 1, 1 without reminding yourself of Genesis 1, 1 because they are so similar. What John gives here is a conscious imitation. However, it is important to notice the difference. "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" (Genesis 1, 1). The whole of creation as we know it, began with Genesis 1, 1. Before that, there was nothing, apart from God Himself. What we are told here in John's Gospel is that when the creation began six thousand years ago, Christ already existed - "In the beginning was the Word" (John 1, 1). Christ, therefore, is older than the universe and He is the Author of the universe - "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God" (John 1, 1-2). All things were made by Him.
Why should John refer to Christ as the 'Word'? This expression occurs only in the writings of John. You will find it here in our text; you will find it in John's first epistle; you will find it in the book of revelation. All these writings are writings of John. What is a 'word'? It is, of course, a vehicle of expression. It is a unit of language and language is used to convey thoughts and ideas. Everybody on earth knows that if I stand here as a speaker and keep my mouth shut, I might have the most wonderfully edifying thoughts passing through my mind but nobody is benefited until I open my mouth and actually use words. The words then become the means of conveying to my audience such thoughts as I may have.
In what sense then is Christ said to be the 'word'? In this sense, of course, that He reveals to us God. He brings to us knowledge of God of a dimension that no other person has ever brought to our world. This is again emphasised in the last verse of the prologue - "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him" (John 1, 18). We needn't be embarrassed in any sense in our age of doubt and multi-faith religion. We need not be apologetic in any sense for saying that if anyone wants to know God, he had better kneel down before Jesus Christ. If any one wants to know what God is like, he had better open his ears, listen to the teaching of Jesus Christ and study His life. Without the knowledge of what Christ is and has said, there is no 'word' which can be relied upon. It is true that something of the glory of God is seen in the creation - there is no denying it and the Psalms tell us that. When we lift up our eyes to the heavens we cannot but believe that there is a great Maker of heaven and earth. However, we would have no enjoyment of God until we pay attention to the words of Scripture and Jesus Christ Who is above all, supremely, the Word Who reveals God to us.
It is said about Christ in this verse: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was (both) with God, and the Word was God" (verse 1). He was with God. That is an interesting word in the original language, implying intimacy and nearness; the Word was 'face-to-face' with God. It is the same thought we have here: "The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father" (verse 18); that is to say in the position of intense, eternal, intimacy. Here we have an intimation of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity - one God but more than one Person within God.
The Jews ought not to stumble at the doctrine of the Trinity. Even the Old Testament makes it clear that God is not a monolith but that there are Persons within His Being. You get that, for instance, in Genesis 1: "The Spirit of God moved upon the waters" (Genesis 1, 2). You get it in Psalm 2: "Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion" (verse 6); "Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee" (Psalm 2, 7); "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little" (verse 12). So in Scripture, in these and similar verses of the Old Testament even, there is intimation of a Trinity, much more clearly so in the New Testament. Jesus Christ is said to have eternally been in a condition of the utmost intimacy with the Father - "And the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (verse 1).
Jehovah's Witnesses are wise in their own conceit; they have a mistranslation at this point. Their bible is called the New World Translation. What they read in their bible is this: "In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and a god was the word" - a god! They don't accept the divinity of Christ: they don't accept that He is One with the Father. How then are we to explain the fact that there is no definite article here? Why does John not say: "The Word was with God and the Word was the God" (verse 1)? Two things have to be said there, that is why all students for the ministry have to study Greek. A man must know at least some of the languages of the original Scriptures before he is competent to preach the Word of God.
Firstly, the subject of a noun in Greek requires the definite article but the complement does not. If you do not understand all that is meant there, don't let that worry you. However, it does mean that there is no need to put the word 'the' in front of 'God' at the end of verse one. There is no need to because in Greek it is not required. You understand it so when it is the complement agreeing with the subject using the verb 'to be' - "the Word was God".
There is also another reason. This to me shows the exquisite accuracy of the inspired Scriptures. If you were to put the word 'the' in the end of the first verse - "and the Word was the God" - you would not have correct doctrine. What you would be saying is that the 'Word' - Jesus Christ - is the whole Trinity. If you put the definite article there, then you are saying 'the Word was the Trinity' and that is not true. The Bible does not teach that Jesus Christ is the whole Trinity. What it does teach is that He is one Person within the Holy Trinity, within which there are two other Persons - the Father and the Spirit. In that way we can explain to ourselves why it is that there is no definite article and we can explain to the Jehovah's Witnesses that their translation is extremely misleading and that it does great dishonour to the Lord Jesus Christ, of Whom it is said: "The Word was with God, and the Word was God" (verse 1).
Our text (verse 14), I believe, gives the most startlingly amazing statement in all the literature of the world. There is no statement anywhere in any book in the world - either the Bible or any other place - which is so astonishing as verse 14: "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us" (text). I state the matter as strongly as that because, my friends, there could not possibly be anything so sublime as this thought: God has taken human nature to Himself! No thought is possible which is greater in intensity and immensity, than the single thought that God should become man and that is what is stated. I want to give you very briefly two or three observations concerning this astonishing fact - that the Son of God, being God, became man.
The first thing we must always remember, my dear friends, is this: He became man because God the Father loved the world. We must never tone down the love of God. We certainly live today in a very wicked world. We live today in a lawless and godless world - all of that is true. You and I both believe it is so and we weep over the fact. Let us remember, however, that this is the world that 'God so loved' and to which 'He gave His Son' (John 3, 16). O, what a strange and wonderful miracle! No other miracle faintly resembles this miracle: that the Son of God, being eternally divine, should take to Himself our nature - and it was done in love. We owe it to sinners round about us to love them though they stone us to death for telling them the truth. We owe it to sinners to witness to them and to tell them of the love of God. The elect will hear it even though the rest will be hardened.
Secondly, my friends, this was the only way whereby sin could be removed: by a Person dying in our nature who was of such value that He could fully satisfy the claims of divine justice. No angel was of sufficient value, no archangel was of sufficient value - but He was of sufficient value. How much we owe to this blessed Jesus Who strode like a Colossus amongst men - sinless and sin-bearing - and is now resplendent in glory upon His throne.
The third thing I have to say, my friends, is that your duty and mine is to be the sworn obedient servants of this great Master. No matter whether men praise us or blame us, love us or hate us, speak well of us or speak ill of us, our duty is to do the will of Christ. He will be on the throne. You will meet Him when you come to the Judgement Day. You will not meet kings, princes, politicians or magistrates - you will meet Christ. What will be required of you will be what you did for Him and how you treated Him of Whom it is said "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God" (John 1, 1).
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