Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

"Seeing God" Sermon: John 1:14-18

“Seeing God”

[John 1:14-18]

January 11, 2015 Second Reformed Church

            Have you seen God?

Our One God is a Trinity; He exists in Three Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

The Son of God is the Word, the Life, and the Light.

We are born in sin, and we can only be made right with God by God adopting us as His sons and daughters – by being born by the Light – by God, through the Son, by the Power of the Holy Spirit.  Because we have sinned against the Holy God, God is angry with us for our sin and will punish us according to His Justice, unless God makes us righteous and holy, through His Son, by the Power of the Holy Spirit.

In this morning’s text, we see how this happens, and we see that the sons and daughters of God have seen God and will see God.

First, the Word – God the Son – became flesh.

            “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,”

            God the Son – God the Word – God the Light – God the Life – the Second Person of the Trinity became flesh. 

            God did not take on the shell of a human being and live His life before us and then cast away the shell after the Ascension.

            God did not make a human divine and live His life before us and then ascend Jesus back to the Father – perhaps adding a fourth member to the Trinity.

            No, what God did was send the Son to earth – God the Son and Jesus of Nazareth were united in One Person in the womb of Mary, while remaining the One God Almighty and the real human, Jesus of Nazareth – with a human nature and the divine nature, and a human will and the divine will – distinct and unmixed.

            It means that God the Son united with Jesus of Nazareth in one person and, in so doing, God condescended to take on the weakness and the frailty and the responsibility of real human beings.  While the Incarnate Son was on earth, He grew as human beings grow, He got sick, He may have whacked His thumb with a hammer in Joseph’s shop – and felt that pain, He may have had acne, He submitted to His parents and to the Law of God.

            And there’s the point – that’s why God came to earth in the person of Jesus – that’s why Jesus had to really be God and really be a human – in every way, except for sin – in one person.  The author of Hebrews wrote:  “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14, ESV).

            The only people who will ever see the Lord God are those people who are holy – those people who have never sinned and have kept the Law of God perfectly.  Jeremiah describes us as naturally being thus:  “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV).  And that’s a problem, right?  Because you and I sin and you and I have not kept God’s Law perfectly.  And the same is true of every mere human being.  We are born with a deceitful and desperately sick heart.

            The only way to get around this bad news is for Someone Who never sinned and kept the Law perfectly to volunteer to be our Substitute – so we would get the credit for His sinless and holy life, and He would get the credit of our sinful and not holy life.  And the only way a person could do that was if He was – at the same time – in one person – the One True God and a real human being.

            You see – salvation is by works – by the works of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God Incarnate:

            Paul wrote:  “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:6-11, ESV).

            We are saved through Christ’s work because He is at the same time in one person, the One Almighty God and the man, Jesus of Nazareth, Who lived a perfect and holy life and credited it to our accounts while taken our sin and the punishment due us on Himself.

            Second, those who knew Jesus on earth witnessed the Glory of God.

“and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father,”

John and the others that knew Jesus saw His Glory – the heaviness – the weightiness – of His praise and honor and worthiness and wonderfulness.  Even though His Glory was veiled by His humanity, those who believed in Him could see His Glory.

And notice that John does not say that they merely saw His Glory, but that His Glory was that “of the only Son from the Father.”  It was the Glory of God the Son Who came from God the Father.  Again, John makes it clear that they understood that Jesus is God Himself.

That’s why, when Jesus asked the disciples who they believed Him to be, “Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’” (Matthew 16:16, ESV).

As God the Father was willing, He lifted the veil to show the disciples the Glory of Jesus – God the Son, so the only proper response was to see that Glory and recognize Him for Who He is:  Jesus is the Savior, the Only Son of God

There are many places where we can look with twenty-twenty hindsight and shake our heads and say, “Those stupid disciples, why don’t they get it?”  But they didn’t have the whole Word of God that we can read and look through and say, “There is no other conclusion, as we read God’s Word, but to proclaim Jesus as God the Only Savior!”

But in that moment when He was living in Israel, God did not allow all to see His Glory, as we read, “And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?’ And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household’” (Matthew 13:53-57, ESV).

We would be just as dumbfounded if God had not opened our eyes to see His Glory.  Even today – I asked a non-believing friend to read the Bible – and he actually read through the entire Bible – and he raised questions to me – but at the end, he said he didn’t believe it.

So, we ought not be discouraged in our evangelism – in our proclaiming the Gospel to others – but we ought to be continually in prayer for those we have told and are telling the Gospel – because we are all born in “cosmic rebellion” against God, and until God opens our eyes and changed our hearts, we will not and cannot see His Glory and believe in Jesus savingly.

“full of grace and truth.”

What does this mean?  His Glory was full of “grace and truth”?

It means that since Jesus is God and a real human, He was able to keep and fulfill all of the Law.  As Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17, ESV).

The Law and the Prophets – all that God has commanded us in the Moral Law and promised in His Word – remain.  Yet, Jesus has kept every point of the Law and the Prophets perfectly – never sinning and fulfilling the prophecies about Him.

Third, Jesus is before John the Baptist.

“(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.’)”

Jesus called John the Baptist the greatest of all mere men – the greatest prophet of the Old Testament – because John the Baptist announced the fulfillment of the prophecies about the Savior in Jesus.  Yet Jesus is greater than John the Baptist, because Jesus is not merely a human, but the Incarnate Son of God – He is God in the human person of Jesus.  Jesus is the Savior that all the prophets pointed to.

John said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, ESV).

But how are we to understand John the Baptist saying that Jesus “was before him”?  It is quite clear in the Scripture that John the Baptist was six months older than Jesus.

This is a confession that Jesus is the Eternal God – Who existed before John the Baptist – even before space and time and all of Creation.

John the Baptist was proclaiming that Jesus is greater than him, because Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecies about the Savior and that Jesus is even greater than that, because He is God Himself in the flesh.

Fourth, Jesus gives grace upon grace.

  “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.”

What does it mean that we who believe have received “grace upon grace”?

Surely, it means that we have received the divine blessing of salvation through Jesus Christ.  That is the greatest grace we have received – that God chose to send His Son to save all we who would believe.  Yet, there is more to it than that – and that is not to say that the gift of Jesus is not enough – He is – but the greatness of the blessings that we have received continue to pile up along with that supreme blessing, if we but think for a moment.

Are you breathing?  Most of you seem to be…

Do you have clothes to wear?

Do you have food to eat?

Do you have a place to live – some sort of shelter?

Can you see, and smell, and touch, and taste, and hear?

Are you living on a habitable planet?

Is your body processing your food well?

One of my doctors is an Orthodox Jew, and he has told me that there is a prayer he recites after every time he relieves himself, giving thanks to God to the ability to relieve himself.  And we might smile at that, but isn’t it true?  If you have ever had a kidney stone or a UTI or any type of blockage in your body, didn’t you give thanks for the grace to relieve yourself normally once you were well?

We are a very ungrateful people in the Unites States – we are even more ungrateful in the Church – because we know everything we have, every ability we have, everything – comes from the Hand of our Loving Father.

Our Lord, Jesus Christ, gives us grace upon grace.  Why aren’t we thankful?

The person with the most wretched, pain-filled life has reason to thank God, because it could be worse.  Job had lost all of his money, all of his possessions, all of his children, and he had lost his health, “then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.’ But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:9-10, ESV).

If he still wasn’t receiving grace upon grace – even in the midst of all that disaster – life would be meaningless – it would be vanity – it would be empty.  But he understood that – even in tragedy – we have reason to be thankful.

We have to move on:

John tells us the Law came through Moses.  Moses was held in very high esteem as the chief lawgiver of God.  But, as we have said before, the Law was never intended to be a way to salvation.  Paul explains the purpose of the Law:  “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Romans 7:7, ESV).

Paul tells us that the purpose of the Law is to show us what is approved by God and what sin is.  The Law was given to set up boundaries and to convict us of sin when we break them.  The Law tells us that we have broken the Law and are at enmity with God – we are sinners against God!

But “grace and truth” came through Jesus Christ.  What is he saying?

He is saying that Jesus kept the Law because He is Grace and Truth.  Jesus is the Only One Who could keep the Law – and that is why He is the Savior.

Jesus does love the Lord His God with all His heart and all His soul and all His mind and all His strength, and His neighbor as Himself.  Jesus does worship the One God Almighty.  Jesus does not commit idolatry.  Jesus does not take the Name of the Lord in vain.  Jesus does keep the Sabbath perfectly.  Jesus did honor His earthly father and mother.  Jesus does not murder.  Jesus does not commit adultery.  Jesus does not steal.  Jesus does not commit false witness.  Jesus does not covet.

Jesus kept all of the Law perfectly, so He was able to be our Substitute, crediting us with His Righteousness and taking the penalty for all of our sin upon Himself, so we are now seen as righteous and holy and sinless, in the eyes of our Father.

That’s why Jesus is superior to Moses.

Fifth, no one has ever seen God.

“No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.”

            “No one has ever seen God” – why not?

            When Moses was on Mount Sinai, Moses asked to see God’s face, and we read, “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.’ Moses said, ‘Please show me your glory.’ And he said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name “The LORD.” And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.’ And the LORD said, ‘Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen’” (Exodus 33:17-23, ESV).

            So, we can’t see God, because to look upon His Face would kill us.  Why?  Because we are sinners, and to view His Pure Glory would kill us.

            Paul wrote to Timothy, “I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen” (1 Timothy 6:13-16, ESV).

            So, we can’t see God, because He lives in “unapproachable light.”

            Paul spoke of Christ, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation”
(Colossians 1:15, ESV).

            So, we can’t see God, because He is invisible.

            But, John writes, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side,”

            John tells us that no one has ever seen God.  Then he tells us that God sits at the side of God the Father.  Who is he talking about?

            In this context, it can only be God the Son.  What has God the Son done – God Who is at the Father’s side”?   “he has made him known.”

            The word that we translate “known” means that God the Son revealed the Father – so He could be seen.  How?  By becoming incarnate in the person of Jesus.

            Jesus said, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27, ESV).

            And again Jesus said, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9b, ESV).

            The Son made God visible through the Incarnation.

            The people Who knew Jesus on earth all those years ago saw God in the flesh.

            And you know what, we are going to see God.

            We’re not going to see the Father or the Spirit – they are invisible, but the Son remains in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth.  And we will be resurrected in our flesh – with our human eyes.  Job said, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.  My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27, ESV).

            Job looked forward to the day when – in his resurrected – yet human body – he would see the Lord Jesus – God in the flesh – His Redeemer.

            Do you?

            Do you long for the day when all we who believe will be with Jesus, and we will see Him and hear Him for ourselves – and worship Him in His Presence?

            We wouldn’t be twenty-first century Americans if we didn’t ask, “But what are You doing for me now?  I can’t see You now?  You’re at the Right Hand of the Father, waiting to return in glory – but I can’t see You there!”
            Or, can we?

            Paul writes, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12, ESV).

            Part of what Paul is saying here is that we can see God now – not as fully as He sees us and knows us – in holy perfection.  Not face to face yet – but we can see Him now.

            How?  What is the mirror Paul is talking about?

            It is the Word of God read and preached, and the Sacraments.

We see God dimly – not face to face yet – but we can see enough to know that Jesus is God the Incarnate Son – the One Who is the Only Savior of all we who believe.

Have you seen Him?

Let us pray:

Almighty and Gracious God, we rejoice that You chose to save us for Yourself and that You sent Your Son to become a real human being so He could take our place and save us from the wrath due for our sin.  We rejoice that we can see You – through the Son – even now – through the Word and the Sacraments, and we ask that as we see You more clearly, we would long all the more for the day when we will see Jesus face to face.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

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