The Mystery of the Word Made Flesh

“The Nativity” by John Singleton Copley

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

A great mystery of the ages. The key sentence of John’s Gospel. Everything before it anticipates this verse and everything that follows grows out of this verse: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

The eternal Word who was with God in the beginning and who was very God of very God, “became flesh.” Notice: The Word didn’t stop being who He is, namely, true God. But He also became true man—a real flesh-and-blood human being. Fully God and fully man. The eternal Word by whom all things were created took on flesh and received the name Jesus. He was born in the flesh like every human being, complete with human emotions, human frailties, human needs. In His life, therefore we see Him weep and sleep and eat and hurt and die.

Nevertheless, the Word made flesh was free of one thing every other human being has had—sin. The flesh of all other humans since Adam is inherently corrupted by sin. We are conceived and born in sin. We are, as we just confessed, poor miserable sinners. We sin constantly in thought, word, and deed and cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition. But God had a plan to change  all of that. Through His conception by the Holy Spirit and His miraculous virgin birth, Jesus “became flesh” untainted by sin. He came to live free from sin in our place.

The Word was born in the flesh and “dwelt among us.” He lived on this earth along with other human beings. Significantly, the Greek says that He set up His tabernacle, or tent, among us. This gives even deeper meaning to this passage as we consider the parallel with the tabernacle that God had the people of Israel build in the wilderness. Of that tent the Lord said to Moses, “Let [the Israelites] make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst” (Exodus 25:8).

When the tabernacle was completed, Moses reports, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34-35).

With the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat covering the Law within… with the basin filled with the Word’s cleansing water and the bread of the Presence set at the Lord’s Table… with the promise of God’s Word of Law and Gospel with them, the congregation journeyed and dwelt in the Lord. So the Word remained the Way and tabernacled among them.

Behold, the forgiving Word is the Truth and dwells among His people.

Nearly fourteen hundred years after Israel’s wilderness wandering, the shepherds near Bethlehem received wondrous news from the Christmas angel: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).

So, they went in haste. And what did they find? Dear Christians, they found the Word become flesh dwelling among us! There in the manger, was the Lord Himself, the second person of the Trinity, “veiled in flesh” and swaddled in strips of linen just as the angel had told them.

When Jesus Christ was born, the Lord came to dwell in person among us. He is Immanuel, God with us, and “we have seen His glory.” That doesn’t mean to say that the bright light shone around Jesus and the stable of Bethlehem as it did with God’s presence at the tabernacle. No, the Bible tells us that the glory of God shone from the heavens for the shepherds to see, but at the stable they found a baby whose outward appearance was not different from other babies.

Nevertheless, that baby came to be “the light of men.” That baby came to reveal God’s glory in a way we human beings could look at and not be blinded but believe. He, the incarnate Deity, was “veiled in flesh,” as we just sang. At last God would let us see His glory by giving us His one and only Son Jesus Christ. And Jesus would reveal God’s glory through His work of salvation.

John writes in His Gospel from firsthand experience. “We,” he says, “have seen His glory.” “We” are the apostles and evangelists whom God used to record the New Testament Scriptures. In truth, John with Peter and James saw a unique (for us) manifestation of that glory when Jesus was transfigured (Matthew 17:1-9). But never was that glory seen more than when Jesus submitted to the cross, as John alone out of Twelve witnessed firsthand. Jesus saw His atoning death as the moment of His glory (John 13:31).

Today, we can read John’s testimony and know that we too have seen the glory of the Word made flesh, “glory as of the only Son from the Father.” His coming in the flesh made that possible. All believers in Christ Jesus have seen the glory that came from the Father. We see it in Jesus with the eyes of faith. We see the wondrous and unmatchable love of God in our eternal salvation. We see it in the cross. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

The Gospel identifies Jesus as the “only Son from the Father.” The Greek term used is one employed elsewhere to identify not just an “only son” but someone who is “one of a kind” (Luke 7:12; 8:42; 9:38; Hebrews 11:17). So the Word was uniquely the Father’s from eternity and of the same being as the Father. That becoming, or begetting, of the Son from the Father is a mystery of God shrouded in His eternal preexistence. Here John stresses that the Word made flesh is that only Son.

One way that we behold the glory of the Word in the flesh is by seeing that He is “full of grace and truth.” The Lord Jesus is full of, indeed, is the very embodiment of grace and truth. When you think about grace, ask yourself some questions:

  • What business did the Word have in becoming flesh?
  • Why should the eternal Son of God care about human beings since He knew they would be hostile to Him?
  • What has any human being done to warrant such attention?
  • Why does God care about me when I can’t get through a day without somehow sinning against Him?

Do you begin to get the picture? Love is at work here, love so big it works among those who have no basis to claim any love, yes, those who are loveless and unlovable. That undeserved love is grace. Jesus is full of grace for us.

Jesus also embodies truth. People everywhere think about and search for truth. Philosophers try to get a grasp of reality. Great thinkers try to explain the truth of God. They keep on trying but need search no further. We do not have think deeply and stretch the limits of our intelligence to have truth and know God. We need only believe in Jesus the Word made flesh. He reveals all we need to know about God and His saving truth. Jesus came to show us the truth.

If the creation were to be redeemed, saved, rescued from this darkness of sin and death, then God would have to make Himself known, point Himself out, reveal Himself to us. But how would He do this? God would come to the place where we  are, descend to earth, enter His creation, so that we lost and condemned creatures might know Him and have communion with Him.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

In a world of hurt the Word became flesh in order to suffer the agony and divine wrath for all the sins of the world… thought, word, and deed… past, present, and future… He came to take upon Himself the penalty due to the original sin of the old Adam and his heirs. The incarnate Son of God atoned for the sins of Cain and Abel… Saul and David… Jezebel and Mary… Judas and Peter… and you. In a land of death, the Word became flesh in order to die the death deserved by the world. In doing so, Jesus gave Himself for the life of the world.

But that was not the end. On the third day, the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us rose from the dead. For forty days, Jesus tabernacled with His disciples and “spoke about the Kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). Then He ascended into heaven and is at the right hand of the Father, where He intercedes for us Christians and reigns over heaven and earth for the good of His Church. Even as He has promised, “I am with you always, to the end of the age”(Matthew 28:20).  

This is the great surprise and wondrous mystery of Christmas. God shows up in a place where we certainly don’t expect to find Him: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). God the Word, who was there in the beginning and participated in the creation of all things, took on a human nature like yours. The Uncreated became a creature, the Infinite became limited and bound, the Eternal became subject to time. The Word became flesh, Jesus Christ, true God and true man in one person. What a surprise! Because man can no longer find the Creator, the Creator became man!

The glory of God is seen in Jesus Christ. The one who in the beginning created light with His Word, “Let there be light!” is the light of the world, the light that shines in our darkness, the light no darkness can overcome.

The one who formed man from the dust has come with fingernails and eyebrows and kneecaps to reclaim His creation. He was born of a woman, Mary His mother, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger for a bed. He was before Abraham, even before Adam, and yet He can be found in Bethlehem as a little baby, amazing the teachers in the temple in Jerusalem at age twelve, beginning His ministry in Galilee at about the age of thirty.

The one who made the forests and the mountains has come also with arms outstretched on a wooden cross raised up on Mt. Calvary. There the Creator of heaven and earth suffered and bled and died for His creation. The one in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) was wrapped in linen and spices and rested in a tomb, bursting forth on the third day as the first bloom of a new creation.

The one who separated the waters in the heavens from the waters under the heavens on the second day, who gathered the waters into seas on the third day, who saved Noah and his family through the flood, and who delivered His people Israel through the parting of the Red Sea comes to you at the font with forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life in the water and Word.

The one who made the wheat and the vine comes now in bread and wine to you. His true body and true blood are present on this altar. Eternal life, the light of the world—it’s so near to you that you can touch it and taste it. God is given into your mouth, taken into your body. He makes Himself known to you with forgiveness, life, and salvation.

The mystery is revealed. God the Word who was in the beginning is now and forever incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ. That makes Christmas a blessed surprise: the uncreated, eternal, and infinite God comes right here among us as our light and our life.

Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy! You are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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