Sermons, Uncategorized

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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Sermons, Uncategorized

The Mystery of the Will of God

MysteryClick here to listen to this sermon.

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ” (Ephesians 1:7–9).

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

“Listen, I tell you a mystery”—so Paul writes the Corinthians concerning the resurrection of the body. Today, in our text from his letter to the Ephesians, Paul also tells us a mystery, a mystery made known to us by God. This is not a different mystery, but the same one, for it has its substance and its solution in Christ Jesus.

From Sherlock Holmes to Miss Marple, from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Agatha Christie, the characters and authors of mysteries are part of our culture. Even those who usually write in other genres often try their hand at mystery writing, learning the difficulty of keeping the reader interested, but not thoroughly lost, taking them through twists of plot, secret passages, locked rooms, red herrings, mistaken identities, and other tricks of the trade.

The greatest selling book of all times is actually a mystery. Of course, I mean the Bible. The Bible tells the story with all the wicked twists and turns provided by Satan and sinful humanity. Meanwhile, God’s countermoves exceed even those of the evil one. And because of the Holy Spirit, we already know how the mystery of God’s will toward us comes out.

Ordinarily, when we know the solution, we’re done with the “whodunit.” But not this one. Even knowing how it all ends, we marvel at the way in which the love of God is revealed. Because of the Holy Spirit, we see our salvation plainly, and we are astonished at the blindness of those still perishing in their sins. This is the mystery that captivates us even when we know how it comes out.

When Jesus teaches us the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew, He includes a petition asking that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We pray this often. But Luke omits this petition, perhaps because his Gentile readers would not have understood what Matthew’s Jewish readers already knew about God’s will.

Most of the ancient world didn’t know how to make sense out of life’s complexities. God’s will was a mystery to them. Some thought everything that happened in the world was due to luck, purely a matter of random chance. Others believed it was already predetermined and set down by fate. Neither understanding was totally right. Neither chance nor fate accounts for the ebb and flow of events in our lives, much less in the world at large.

The same confusion can happen to us when we read the Bible. On the one hand, it looks like people are saved because they accept Jesus as their Savior or they don’t. On the other hand, it sometimes sounds like salvation is predetermined and nothing we do can change it, like in our text. Phrases like “He chose us…before the foundation of the world,” “He predestined us,” and “according to the purpose of His will,” muddy up the water.

What’s the solution to this mystery of God’s will? The answer—and it should not surprise us—is found at the cross.

You see, it’s a frightening thing to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven if He wants to punish us for our sins. It’s not that we don’t deserve His wrath. We do! But we don’t want to have it actually happen to us. And we wouldn’t dare to pray this petition, “Thy will be done,” if God was capricious, mean, or uncaring. We’d be doomed.

The Good News, is that God’s will is for our salvation from the law’s justice. It is God’s will that people be saved through faith in Jesus. And, in spite of our sin and the world’s evil and Satan’s opposition, God saves sinners! He did this by becoming a human being, living a perfect life, and dying for our sins.

We have faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior because God gave it to us, not because we chose Him (Ephesians 2:8–9). On our own, we could’ve never solved this great mystery. For “[God’s] greatness no one can fathom.” As Jesus, told His disciples, this mystery is kept hidden from unbelievers (Mark 4:11), and we cannot solve it on our own for these reasons:

First, we blew our “in” with the One who knew the solution. Ever since the Fall, we’re all born as sinners divorced from God and in disharmony with our fellow human beings. We all think only of ourselves, our own wants, and own perceived needs. And that makes it a mystery as to how God would ever love us.

Second, by nature, we purposely close our eyes and our minds to God and turn away from godly deeds. As Jesus pointed out to the scribes and Pharisees, we’re all blind men, following blind guides.

Third, we could never buy off the only One who knew the secret. The secret to the mystery is not for sale. As Paul asked the Roman Christians, “Who has given a gift to [God] that He should repay him?” (Romans 11:35).

But Jesus has revealed the mystery to those who believe in Him. As our text says, “making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ” (Ephesians 1:9). Through faith in Jesus, the secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you and me (Mark 4:11).

“How can this be?” you might ask. “How can Jesus reveal the mystery of God’s will when we could not find the answer ourselves?” The answer—like the solutions to many mysteries—is quite simple once it has been revealed. Jesus is the One we were created to be!

Jesus was and is in perfect harmony with God. Jesus told His opponents, “I do nothing on My own authority, but speak just as the Father taught Me. And He who sent Me is with Me. He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing Him” (John 8:28-29).

Throughout His entire life, Jesus kept His eyes on His Father and did only His will—even when that meant sacrificing Himself for those who deserved only punishment. Jesus knew perfectly His Father’s mind, for He and the Father are one, and what He did revealed the mystery of the Father’s will toward us.

On the cross, Jesus purchased salvation, “not with gold or silver,” but with a price much higher, “with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent sufferings and death.” That’s how this mystery came out, and it’s a happy ending for us!

Now, even knowing the solution, we want to revisit this mystery over and over again. As we ponder the wonderful gift of the Gospel in our hearts, we remember Christ’s work of salvation and what that means for our lives.

We remember that Christ restores the harmony of creation that was lost in the fall. He makes everything new (2 Corinthians 5:17).

We remember that Christ restores spiritual sight to understand that God’s will toward us is love and forgiveness (John 9). He opens our eyes to recognize our sin and need for a Savior. He opens our eyes to see that He is that Savior.

We remember that Christ bends our will to His Father’s will. By the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament, Jesus reveals His Father’s will and continues to bind us together in love and unity (John 17:20-26).

And we remember that Christ gave us salvation and this knowledge of the mind of God as a free gift. We have been saved, not by our own works, but by His grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9)

This is the one mystery we can tell others without having to first issue a spoiler alert.

Now understanding the incomprehensible, the mystery that God’s will is our salvation, we Christians will seek to participate in and spread our newfound harmony with God. We are enabled to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind. We can love our neighbor as ourselves and build him up for good.

Now understanding the incomprehensible, the mystery that God’s will is our salvation, we Christians wish to focus on the source of our salvation. As the writer of Hebrews urges, we are able to look “to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (12:2) as we run the race of faith that has been set before us.

Now understanding the incomprehensible, the mystery that God’s will is our salvation, we Christians desire to receive Christ’s blessings of Word and Sacrament. We thankfully remember our baptism. We hunger and thirst for His true body and blood. We long to be filled with the Holy Spirit. We want to be about the works of God, demonstrating His work in us (Ephesians 2:10).

Now understanding the incomprehensible, the mystery that God’s will is our salvation, we Christians participate in the gift, even as God continually blesses us with it (Philippians 2:12-13). We freely and fully share this gift with others as we tell them the Good News of Jesus Christ.

“Aha!” exclaims the mystery reader. “Now I see!” when the solution is revealed. And so do we! Not perfectly, for we still view God “through a glass darkly.” But we can follow the plot of our salvation from eternity’s forever back into Eden, where God cursed the serpent and promised the Savior. We can follow the golden thread throughout the Old Testament, where God’s desire to save His people—even when rebellious and unworthy—pushes the narrative forward. Foreshadowing freedom from sin, death, and the devil, the Lord rescues His people from bondage in Egypt, brings them through the waters of the Red Sea, and takes them to the Promised Land. Preparing us for the keeping of the promised Savior, God continually keeps His other promises in the time and manner He desires.

Now we’ve gone through it again. Still a great story! Especially as we see ourselves in it! This mystery isn’t about someone else; this is our story. Christ dies for you and me that we might live. Christ lives for you and me that we might die to sin. Christ takes away our sin and gives us His perfect righteousness and obedience. Christ removes our worries and gives us peace. Christ becomes a lowly human being that the lowliest of us might receive the inheritance given only to the firstborn Son. Christ’s Father abandons Him so we will never be forsaken. “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ” (Ephesians 1:7–9).

The mystery is solved! In Christ, you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, in Him—for the sake of His person and work—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.