Tuesday, December 31, 2013
"Faith in the Incarnate God" Sermon: John 1:1-18
“Faith in the Incarnate God”
December 29, 2013 Second Reformed Church
This past week, Christians celebrated the birth of a baby boy, Yeshua ben Yoseph, better known to us as Jesus, Who was born to a virgin, named Mary, and the man she was engaged to, named Joseph. We understand that He was a real human baby, born as human babies are born. Yet, if that is all there is to the Person of Jesus – a real human being – even if He was born without Original Sin, even if He lived a holy life, He might be the top of the list of the heroes of the faith, but He would not be worthy of worship – for only God is worthy of worship.
In fact, if Jesus was just a human – even a holy and perfect human – He would not be able to be the Savior, because the Savior not only have to merit a holy life, but He has to pay the debt for the sin of His people for us to benefit from it. In other words, humans have two problems: we have sin for which we must pay a debt to God and we have to live a holy life – a perfect life under God’s Law – if we are to be right with God. It is not enough for us to be forgiven; we have to also be holy. And it is not enough for us to be holy – going forward, we must also be forgiven.
The only possible way for us to be right with God is if our Savior – Jesus – is both a real human being, so He could live under God’s Law and suffer the penalty for human sin, and the One True God, so He could live a holy and sinless life and survive the penalty for human sin – in One Person. Jesus has to be both completely human and completely Divine – God – in the same One Person to be our Savior and for us to benefit from His salvation.
That is why John is at pains in his Gospel to begin with a defense of Jesus’ Enteral Divinity – that He is God. Matthew and Luke wrote their Gospels and included genealogies which showed that Jesus is a human – among other things. John took up his pen to argue that Jesus is – at the same time – God.
In these opening verses, we see:
First, Jesus is called “the Word” by John, to argue that He is God’s full self-revelation.
Second, John the Baptist, in the power and the authority of the prophetic office, declared – testified – that Jesus is God.
And third, since Jesus is God, all those who come to Him by faith, are adopted as sons and daughters of God.
“In the beginning was the Word,”
The first readers of his Gospel would have immediately thought, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1, ESV). The opening of his Gospel is written to very purposefully connect the Word with God in its opening phrase, and the first readers would have gotten the parallel immediately. And so, Jesus is called “the Word” by John, to argue that He is God’s full self-revelation.
“and the Word was with God,”
With this image of God, the Creator, in mind, John explains that the Word was with God. And the “with” that they would naturally assume in this context is that the Word was with God at the Creation. The Word pre-existed the Creation. Before time and space and all the created stuff that exists was made, God is and the Word is. And, if there was any question as to what John was driving at, John wrote:
“and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”
Not only did the Word exists before all things were created, not only was the Word with God, but the Word is God, Himself. The Word is God. The Word is divine. The Word is the One God, the Creator of everything that is.
Paul tells us the same thing, “[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:15-16, ESV).
And some will argue that Paul does not say the same thing, although he says that Jesus, the Son of God, created all things, he also says that He is the “firstborn” of all creation. Doesn’t that make the Son of God less than God, a creation? The answer is “no.” In the context, the word that Paul uses means that the Son of God is God, yet, as a unique pre-existing Son, distinct.
How can the Son of God be the same One God and yet distinct from God? How can God, if He is One, be with the Word? This is part of the mystery of the Trinity. The Nicene Creed states this: “And in one LORD JESUS CHRIST, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God; Light of Light, true God of true God; begotten, not made, being of one essence with the Father;….” How this is possible is a mystery; the fact that the Scripture teaches that the Father and the Son are the same One God, yet distinct Persons, is a truth that we marvel at and understand in some ways – such as the need for the Savior to be both wholly human and wholly God, but we will not indulge in speculating.
The Son is the Creator:
“All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
The Son is the Giver and Sustainer of Life:
“In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”
Paul quotes the poets of his day as he explains Who Jesus is with this reference: “In him we live and move and have our being;” (Acts 17:28a, ESV).
Life comes from the Son – both the initial created life, and also the spiritual life that God gives us to be His people. There used to be a theory called “spontaneous generation,” which stated that living things can just appear out of dead things – inert matter – but science has proven that false – life cannot just come into being out of nothing. Life brings life into existence. If God had not chosen to bring life into the Creation when He created, there would be no life in Creation. And if God did not choose to raise dead sinners from the dead, they would remain dead.
The life that the Son gives is the light. Light is necessary for life, both physical and spiritual. Light causes growth and restoration. Without light, life would wither and die.
John wrote in his first letter: “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (I John 1:5, ESV).
Light also exposes the Truth. John uses the images of light and darkness through his Gospel and letters to make the distinction between Truth – that which is of God – and darkness – that which is of sin and the devil. God is Wholly, Holy Truth – in Him there is no lie or sin.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Here John is telling us that it is impossible for evil to overcome Truth. God’s Word is shining in a world that prefers darkness – lies – evil, but the world and all its sin cannot obliterate or hide the Truth. Everyone knows in their heart that something is wrong – humans are not naturally right with God – but our natural preference is to turn away from God and not seek to be made right. As Paul quotes from the Psalmists, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:10-18, ESV).
Due to the sin of our first parents, all mere human beings since have been born with Original Sin – an inclination towards evil – the inability to please God morally. That is not how we were created, and God remains – the Word remains – the Light Who cannot be overcome by our sin and Who, Alone, can remove the darkness from us and make us spiritually alive.
And so John begins to show that Jesus – the Son of God – the Word – is God, Himself – having been with God in the beginning, not a created being, but the same Being as God, yet distinct in Person (somehow). He is the Giver and Sustainer of Life, the One Who gives first and resurrected life, the Light Who illuminates reality – the Light, Himself, not One Who borrows Light from another, Who cannot be overcome by the darkness.
For example: not matter how dark a room you put a lamp in, the light still shines from the lamp. Similarly, no matter how dark with sin and evil the world is, the Light of God is not overcome – He shines.
Jesus is the Word of God – God’s full self-revelation to humanity.
John then turns to a second argument for Jesus being God: John the Baptist, in the power and the authority of the prophetic office, declared – testified – that Jesus is God.
A true prophet was one who declared the Word of God to God’s people. John the Baptist was a true prophet and only spoke the True Word of God. He was recognized by the people – and the religious leaders – to be a true prophet of God.
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.”
In John the Baptist's role as prophet, he was given the honor of declaring and announcing that the Savior had come: the Word of God had become a human being for the salvation of God’s people. As John recorded, “The next day [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.” I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God’” (John 1:29-34, ESV).
John explains that John the Baptist’s role was to be that of the prophet who announced the coming of the Son of God:
“He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”
John the Baptist witnessed – or testified – in his prophetic office to the Truth of Jesus being the Son of God Incarnate – God come in the flesh.
However, just because the darkness cannot overcome the Light, those who are in darkness – who are spiritually blind – can deny the Light shines. Those who are physically blind can deny there is light in a room, even when there is, so those who are spiritually blind can deny that the Son of God has incarnate – they can deny that the Light has incarnate – they can deny that Jesus is the Son of God Incarnate – the Only Savior, the God-Man.
“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”
This is one of the saddest statements in Scripture: God had chosen Israel to be His people, yet they turned from God and chose to remain in spiritual darkness and fight against God and against the Light. They tried to extinguish the Light as though He was a created thing and not God Himself.
Paul anguishes over this as he writes: “I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
“But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring” (Romans 9:1-8, ESV).
Paul loved his biological brothers and sisters in Israel – all those biologically descended from Abraham – and he groaned that – if it were possible for him to save the biological children of Abraham, he would give up his salvation for their sake. But he knew that wouldn’t work – it was never God’s plan to save all of biological Israel, but to save all those who believed in the Savior God would send – Who has now come into the world – the Child Whose birth we just celebrated – the Son of God Who came to earth in the Person of Jesus for all those who would believe, whether they were biological descendants of Abraham or not.
Paul explains this by pointing out that Ishmael was rejected, but Isaac was saved, even though they were both biological children of Abraham, and he goes on later to explain that – similarly – Esau was rejected and Jacob was saved, even though they were both children of Isaac. Salvation is not by biological birth, but by spiritual adoption – by believing that God did come to earth in the Person of Jesus to save His people.
John explains this, thirdly, as we see that since Jesus is God, all those who come to Him by faith, are adopted as sons and daughters of God:
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
John explains that all those who receive Jesus by faith as Savior – all those who receive the Word, the Life, the Light, the Son of God come in the flesh in the Person of Jesus – all these – not matter what biological line they come from – “for by faith you have been saved” – these God gave the right to become the children of God. What does that mean?
It means that they were not born the children of God, but they – we – were adopted as sons and daughters of God – we were legally made sons and daughters of God through our receiving Jesus by faith as our Savior.
Paul writes: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15, ESV). And, “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Galatians 3:26, ESV).
And James writes: “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:18, ESV).
God the Father only has One Begotten Son, the Son of God, Who incarnate in the Person of Jesus, but through Jesus’ Incarnation, Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension, all who believe in Him by faith for salvation are legally adopted as sons and daughters. We are brothers and sisters of Jesus, children of God, though only Jesus is God Himself. If Jesus were not God, He could not make us sons and daughters of God – we would not be the adopted of the Father.
And our reception of Jesus can only be through faith, which is the gift of God by which we receive God’s Word and believe it as wholly true, looking forward to the fulfillment of all that God has said with confidence and assurance. As John explained, “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” – we are not saved by being biological descendants of Abraham, we are not saved by willing or choosing Jesus – because, as we saw Paul explain, “no one seeks for God” – but God chose us out of all of humanity and sent His Son – God in the flesh – to do all the work to make us right with God. So our adoption is all of God and all of grace. A most fabulous, incomprehensible gift of God.
As John concludes this section:
“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 bore witness about him, and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.”’) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.”
Jesus is a real human being – just like all of us – and He had to be to take our place under the Law of God and then under the Wrath of God. But, in order for Him to merit righteousness and to survive the Wrath of God, He has to be God as well. Jesus, the Incarnate Word, is One Person, a real human being and God at the same time. It was necessary that He be so to save us, and He is the wondrous gift of God to us on Christmas and Easter and every day of our lives.
Jesus was born a real human being that first Christmas – and most people in the world of every religion will agree that there was a real human being named Jesus, Who was a teacher and preacher in first century Israel. Yet, John shows us that if that’s all Jesus is, it is not enough for us to be right with God.
Jesus is called “the Word” by John, to argue that He is God’s full self-revelation.
John the Baptist, in the power and the authority of the prophetic office, declared – testified – that Jesus is God.
Since Jesus is God, all those who come to Him by faith, are adopted as sons and daughters of God.
And those are reasons we know that Jesus is both fully God and Man, the Only Savior. And by God’s Grace, we have faith in the Incarnate God and receive His salvation.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, You are Wisdom, and our minds are too small to understand the depths and the riches of Your Mind. Yet, You have indwelt us in the Person of the Holy Spirit, having raised us to spiritual life with Jesus, so now we have the Light and we know the Truth that is You. Continue to help us to receive all that You have said by faith. And help us to believe and tell that Jesus, our Savior, is a real human being and the Incarnate God. For in Him Alone is salvation. To Him be the praise and the honor and the glory for ever and ever. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.