Jesus: God Incarnate

john

The Gospel of John, Part One

 The “Incarnation” is a powerful Christian doctrine.  The doctrine teaches that God enfleshed Himself in Jesus Christ  and is the doctrine behind Christmas.  “Incarnation” comes from the Latin “in-carnis,” meaning “in flesh.”

The Gospel of John emphasizes the Incarnation unlike the other three.  The Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – are histories of the life and times of Jesus Christ.  John’s Gospel is different in content and emphasis.  John’s Gospel isn’t so much a history of Jesus as it is a study of Jesus as both the Son of Man and the Son of God.  The Incarnation is the central theme of this great Gospel.

1.  The Word comes to us in the flesh, John 1:1-5; 10-14

 (a)  Glimpses of Genesis, 1:1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of men.  (John 1:1-4 NIV84)

This Gospel has been called “the paragon among the Gospels, the one, tender, real crown-Gospel of them all,” so said Martin Luther.  The introductory paragraph might well be the most overtly theological paragraph in all the Bible.  It’s a magnificent beginning because it portrays the life of Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, in eternity, long before the creation of the material universe.  With echoes of the book of Genesis, John’s readers would have been reminded of the Creative work of God.  When God did His work of creation, Christ was there with Him.  That would have been a powerful thought for the readers of this Gospel.

The opening paragraph not only reveals the eternity of Christ, it reveals something about its author, John.  The writing style is so lyrical it shows a depth skill and ability not usually equated with fishermen.  When the heavens were created, “the Word” was there.  What did John mean by referring to Jesus as “the Word?”  A lot of discussion has taken place around this question.  Was Christ “an expression” from the mind of God?  That’s what Greek philosophers might say.  But Christ as “the Word” means a lot more than that.   The Second Person of the Trinity is a Person, not merely an “idea” or “expression” proceeding from the mind of God.  Consider these verses:

And God said, Let there be light, and there was light.  (Genesis 1:3 NIV84)

Then God said, Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…”  (Genesis 1:26 NIV84)

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God…  (Hebrews 11:3 KJV)

 For the word of the LORD is right; and all his works are done in truth.  (Psalms 33:4 KJV)

 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.  (Psalms 33:6 KJV)

 For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.  (Psalms 33:9 KJV)

 He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.  (Psalms 107:20 KJV)

 These were not mere words or sounds that God made, like we make when we speak.  In these words and commands, we see the Son of God at the Father’s side, revealed in omnipotence and creative power, active since eternity past.

The Word “was with God” in the past.  Verse two describes the closest possible relationship that existed between the Word and God:  the Word was “face to face with God.”  Finally John makes the statement that settles any argument about just who Jesus is:  He not only was with God, but is  God.

(b)  Jesus versus the world, 1:10-14

In this group of verses, John, using a simple yet majestic writing style, tells his readers the fact, the purpose, and the result of the Incarnation.

The Fact:  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.   (John 1:10 NIV84)

The Purpose:  He came to that which was his own…  (John 1:11a NIV84)

The Result(s):  ...his own did not receive him.  (John 1:11b NIV84); Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…  (John 1:12  NIV84)

Verse 14 could be the most profound statement in all human history:

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.  (John 1:14 NIV84)

The Word, who has existed from all eternity at God’s side; the Creator of all there is, became a human being.  He left eternity and inserted Himself into our time and history.  The phrase “made his dwelling among us” means “to pitch one’s tent” where man pitches his.  What a descriptive phrase!

Though many rejected Him, many did not.  The tragedy of verse 11 should be highlighted.

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.   (John 1:11 NIV84)

It was not the “natural world” that rejected Jesus.  At worst, the world simply did not recognize Him.  Tragically, Jesus was rejected – willfully rejected –  by His very own people.

2.  God the Father Revealed, John 1:18; 12:44, 45; 14:5-11

 (a)  Jesus:  God visible, 1:18

No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Fathers side, has made him known.  (John 1:18 NIV84)

It was a firm, Jewish conviction that no one had ever seen God, which is why John wrote what he did.  Moses “saw” God, but never really got to know God personally.  Job hit on something profound when he observed:

Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know?  (Job 11:7, 8 KJV)

God is a spirit, and spirits cannot be seen.  God may have “appeared” so some fortunate souls in the Old Testament, but whatever it was they saw with their eyes, it could not have been God’s literal form.  That’s what makes the Incarnation such a rich and powerful doctrine.  For the first time ever in human history, man could “see” God “face to face.”  In other words, only through the Incarnation and subsequent faith in Jesus Christ is it possible for a human being to fellowship with the Almighty.

(b)  Jesus is the “sent one,” 12:44, 45

Then Jesus cried out, When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me.  When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me.”   (John 12:44, 45 NIV84)

When John wrote that “Jesus cried out,” he was making it clear that what Jesus said was meant to be heard by the crowd, not just His disciples.  This was like a summary statement; Jesus made it clear as He could to His own who He was and what He wanted from them.  Knowing Christ means knowing the Father.  To look constantly and intently at Jesus – to observe how He lived and to listen to what He said –  is to literally know God the Father.

Knowing Jesus is knowing God, the One who sent Him.  The Jews claimed to know God, but the very fact that they rejected Jesus, the One He sent, proved that they really did not know God at all.  Had they known God as well as they claimed, they would have easily recognized Jesus for who and for what He was.

(c)  Jesus is the way to God the Father, 14:5-11

After three long years of working together, Jesus told His disciples that He would be leaving soon.  This prompted Thomas to ask a question.

Thomas said to him, Lord, we dont know where you are going, so how can we know the way?  (John 14:5 NIV84)

Thomas spoke for all the disciples, but it was a question born of discouragement; he was not trying to be argumentative.  He was being pessimistic.  Thomas had some faith, but not quite enough to see what Jesus was saying.

Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6 NIV84)

This is one of the seven great “I am’s” of his Gospel.  Jesus doesn’t say He is just “one way” among others.  He doesn’t say that He is “a way.”  Jesus makes it crystal clear that He is the ONLY way to God the Father.  There is NO OTHER way to get to God except through Jesus Christ. He was sent by, came from, and will return to, the Father.

3.  Unity of the Father and the Son, John 17:1-26

Understanding the Trinity has always been a challenge, and it was a real challenge for the early church.  Judaism routinely affirmed that God is one.  Christianity, with its first Jewish members, had to broach the idea of “the three-in-one” carefully and deftly.  Gentile Christians in the early church came from religions with many Gods, so teaching about the Trinity had to be very clear so as not to confuse them!  At the Council of Nicea in 325, the doctrine of the Trinity was ratified, upholding what the Bible taught:  there is a relationship between the Father and the Son within the Trinity; they are “of the same substance” yet different.

(a)  Jesus prays for His disciples, 17:1-19

 Chapter 17 contains the “real Lord’s Prayer.”  In His high priestly prayer, Jesus prays for Himself (verses 1-5); for His disciples  (verses 6-19); and other believers (the church, verses 20-26).

As Jesus prays specifically for His disciples, He is their only advocate.  But when He prays for them, it becomes clear that two great forces come together  on their behalf:  “I,” the One praying, and the “Father,” the One to whom Jesus is praying.  With that kind of support, no disciple should ever fear failure!  Jesus prays for their protection, but the main thrust of the request is verse 17-

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.  (John 17:17  NIV84)

In His prayer, Jesus told the Father that He wasn’t praying for His disciples to be taken out of the world, but that they would be protected while living in the world.  But in verse 17, He prays for their sanctification.  That word simply means “so be separated” from.  So while the disciples were to remain in the world, they were to be separate from the world.  This separation would be accomplished through the power of the Word.  No man can sanctify himself.  It can only be accomplished through the power of God in the truth of the Word.

(b)  Jesus prays for the church, 17:20-26

 Closing out His lengthy prayer, Jesus prays for unity among all believers.

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,  that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”  (John 17:20-21 NIV84)

The unity Jesus is praying for is not some kind Ecumenicism; it is not just an outward unity.  The unity that should exist among believers must be like the unity of the Trinity.  Unity must be of a spiritual nature.  Of course, the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are of the same essence, but believers need to be of one mind, effort and purpose when it comes to things concerning the Church and the work of the Kingdom.

But the Trinity is not just model of the kind of unity Jesus wants, it is the foundation of that unity.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit make the impossible possible:  unity among believers.

This unity is vitally important because as the world sees Christians living in unity, they would be pointed to Heavenward, to the Messiah.  When Christians are united in faith and when they put forth that unity of faith to the world, they will be a powerful force for God.  But the opposite is also true.  When the Church of Jesus Christ is torn apart by dissension and controversy, the lost will simply shake their heads in disbelief, not knowing what to  make of them.

So, of all the worthy things a church may be involved in, the most important may be to foster a sense of unity around the Word, which will result in a church at peace.  But note, unity must be around the truth of the Word, not around any doctrine or practice of man.

 

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