Now turn with me, if you would, to the Gospel of John and the very first chapter. And as you’re doing that, let me wish you a Merry Christmas — what's left of it. I trust that you’re not too full of what my son calls tryptophan, which is the chemical in turkey which makes you sleepy. I want us now to take up this evening briefly the last of the nine texts, or lessons, in the service of Nine Lessons and Carols.
As I was driving here this morning it was actually being relayed on Public Radio Mississippi - or at least an announcement that it was about to be relayed. I didn't actually hear it, but it was broadcast yesterday on XM radio (if you have XM radio); and some of you may even have seen it on television, though I am not sure if it was broadcast on television this year. But that's been our theme for the last four, three and a half weeks or so, leading up to today: these wonderful texts beginning in Genesis 3:15 and progressively working through the Old Testament and into these glorious stories in Luke and Matthew, and now this evening as we shall see in a moment, something startlingly different. But before we read the passage together, let's come before God in prayer. Let's pray.
Our Father in heaven, we bow once again in Your presence. We dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus' name. And we thank You this evening as we come to the evening of Christmas Day, when we think especially of the birth, of the incarnation, of the coming into this world, the enfleshment, the fulfillment of a promise made long, long ago: that You would be just and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus. Now draw near we pray, as we give our hearts and minds to meditate on Your written word. Come, Holy Spirit, and grant us illumination and insight, that that which we read we might also mark and learn and inwardly digest for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Now let's give our attention to John's Gospel, chapter one, and we’ll be reading through to the end of verse 14.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him; and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness did not comprehend it.
“There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. He came for a witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came that he might bear witness of the light.
“That was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Amen, and may God add His blessing to the reading of His holy and inerrant word.
Who is Jesus Christ? That's been our theme ever since the beginning of December when we began in Genesis 3:15, and we've worked our way through many passages of the Old Testament —in Genesis, and in the prophet Isaiah in particular–and we've come in recent days to the story of Bethlehem and the shepherds and the angels, and the birth of Jesus to Mary and Joseph in a stable in Bethlehem, in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.
Something different occurs here now in John's Gospel; whereas Luke and Matthew tell the story, as it were, from “below,” John seems to want to take us to another realm. Not Bethlehem, not the stable, not the shepherds, not the wise men, not the star, but back before any of these; and back even before Genesis 3:15, back before the creation of the world, into the very beginning. He wants to tell the story not, as it were, from below, but from above. Three big ideas for Christmas Day: Big Idea No. 1, Pre-existence.
The pre-existence of Jesus Christ. “In the beginning was the Word....” You get the impression immediately that John had been reading Genesis for his devotional that morning. That's how the Book of Genesis begins...that's how the Bible begins: “In the beginning, God....” “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and John seems to be mimicking, replicating how the Bible begins and he's telling the story now all over again.
In the beginning, the Word...Jesus...this Baby, this Infant. This One lying in a manger in Bethlehem. This One has actually been in existence from the very beginning. Not His flesh, not His human form, not the tiny Infant born in the arms of Mary, but the divine Lord has been from the very beginning.
God is outside of time and space.
“Who is He in yonder stall,
At whose feet the shepherds fall?
‘Tis the Lord, the Lord of glory...”
That's what we sing.
And then there's a contrast between what he says in verse 1 and what he says in verse 14. It's a contrast of verbs. Now I know you've eaten a lot, and it's not the time of day to do grammar lessons, but there's something remarkably important here about the grammar that John is using. In verse 1, “In the beginning was....” It's the imperfect tense. It's the tense of indetermination. In verse 14, “And the Word became flesh....” It's another tense altogether. It's actually called an aorist.1 It's far too late in the day to explain what that means! But it's an entirely different sense. He has always been the Word, and the Word has always been God; but this flesh, it's something that has only lately come into being, and John is drawing a contrast here. Yes, the human flesh of Jesus came into being at a certain time and place in the womb of the virgin Mary, but behind that there lies that enormous idea too big for us even to fathom, and that is that Jesus, the Word, the eternal Son of God, has been in existence forever. Forever...so that here's the Big Idea: It's the idea of...there's something about this Baby, there's something about this Infant, there's something about Jesus that has always been in existence.
Boys and girls, sometimes you ask your parents really, really difficult questions. You ask the question, “Who made my dog?” And your parents will say, “God made your dog.” And you say, “And who made that tree?” And your parents will say, “God made that tree.” And then you ask the question, “And who made God?” And that's a no-no question! Because it's not a question we can ask, because the answer to that question is “Nobody made God.” Nobody made God, because God has always been in existence. And that's the truth that John is alluding to here. Who made God? Nobody made God, because He has always been. Well, that's Big Idea No. 1.
II. Big Idea No. 2 is not Pre-existence, but Divine Existence. Divine existence...”the Word was God.”
You know, John does something truly remarkable by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He uses small, tiny little words, everyday words, common old garden words; and yet, behind them lie some of the most profound truths imaginable. Here's one: “The Word was God.” Jesus Christ - this little baby, this little infant nursed in Mary's arms - this little boy who went to Egypt at the age of probably 7, came back and grew up in Nazareth. This adolescent teenager going through all of the stages of puberty in Nazareth; this adult who, at the age of 29 or 30, emerges on the stage of history as One with a profound mission given to Him by His Father in heaven; this One who is taken by wicked men in Jerusalem and slain; this One, John says, is God. He is everything that God is. However you define God, whatever attributes, whatever qualities, whatever distinctions you ascribe to God, they belong to Jesus Christ.
It took the church about 400 years to sort that out. We’re going to do it in five minutes! Four hundred years the church debated back and fore what some of the implications of these statements that Jesus Christ is obviously a human being, that He has a head, that He has arms and legs and organs, and a mind and a will and affections; He's not a ghost, He's not an apparition; He doesn't just look human, He is human. And yet, at the same time...at the very same time, He is God. Not that He was God and then became something else, but that He is God.
At a famous Council in Nicea in 325 A.D., the Council pronounced that Christ as the Son of God was of the same — well, it used the word substance. Now, God doesn't have substance. It had to use some kind of word, but whatever stuff...and there you use the word you cannot use...but however you define the essence of God, then Jesus has that essence. Not something like it, but the very essence itself.
You've heard the expression “not an iota of a difference,” and there was a grand debate between Arians on the one hand and the Orthodox on the other. Some wanted to say that Jesus was homousia, which means He was like God, and others saying that He was homousian, meaning that He was of the same essence as God - and the only difference was the letter iota in Greek - and all the difference in the world, because if Christ isn't God, then He cannot reveal God to us. He cannot. As verse 18 tells us,
“No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”
He has, literally, exegeted Him. He has revealed Him to us. Now, if He isn't God He cannot reveal God to us. If He isn't God, we cannot be redeemed by God. And if Christ isn't God, He had no right to be worshiped; and isn't that the most astonishing thing? That they came and worshiped this little Infant, as Ligon was explaining this morning about the shepherds? In three places in that text this morning, one place in a facetious way to be sure, but they worshiped Him, they bowed down and offered Him worship because they saw in Him the true God.
And yet, He's also true man. He's true God, but He's also true man; and in Chalcedon in 451 A.D., the Council declared that Jesus is one divine human Person in two natures; not two split personalities under one skin, or not one who is more divine than human or more human than divine; but two natures in one Person without mixture and without confusion, and without separation and without division...and your head is hurting! And mine is hurting! Because it's hard to hold these things together! Because He is both God and man equally in the one Person of the Son of God.
Who is Jesus? That's the Big Idea. And He is God and He is man. “The Word was God...and the Word was made flesh.” He continued to be God while He was made flesh. He tabernacled, He tented; He made the presence of God felt and known among us.
III. Big Idea No. 3: Not Pre-existence; not Divine Existence; but Co-existence.
Hey, this is Christmas Day! You get big words on Christmas Day! Big Idea No. 3 is the Word (Jesus) coexists with another.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
The Word was with God. The Word was side by side with God, and yet the Word was God. He is God, and yet there is more than one who is this one God. The word doesn't exhaust all that there is to God. There is within God an existence of one with another without implying two Gods. God exists in fellowship, each person always in love with the other. And your head is hurting now. Your head is beginning to spin, because we affirm that there is only one God, and yet the Word is side by side with God, so that within the being of this one God there is this inter-trinitarian communion and fellowship and rapport and love. Is there more to God than Jesus? Yes. The Father is God; the Spirit is God; and Jesus is God. But there aren't three Gods, but there's still only one God. Three Big Ideas: Pre-existence; Divine Existence; Co-existence.
One more thing: “The Word” is what John calls Him. Isn't that an interesting expression? “Meet the Word.” “What's your name?” “My name is the Word.” It's a curious expression. What is John trying to say to us?
John is saying to us that this one God communicates to us, and He communicates to us in a way that is real, in a way that actually gets through. We haven't time tonight, or this would really give us a headache! But for the last 60 or 70 years, in the area of philosophy especially, there's been a denial that if there is a God that God can actually communicate with us. You’d be surprised how men who should know better spend their time thinking about things like that. And here is John cutting through all of that nonsense and saying God speaks, and He speaks in a way that gets through to us, in a way that is meaningful, in a way that makes sense; so that if you ask the question...boys and girls, if you ask the question tonight ‘What is God like?’, do you know the best answer to that question? God is like Jesus. He's like Jesus, because there is nothing of Jesus that isn't in God. If you want to know what God is like, then look at the character of Jesus Christ.
Did you sympathize with Tertullian, and Augustine echoed it to some extent, that all we were trying to do tonight was trying to say something in order that we don't say nothing at all. This is the only God there is, and He exists as Father and Son and Holy Spirit, and we worship Him, and we give thanks to Him. And on this Christmas Day evening we rejoice that the Lord of glory manifested Himself and tabernacled among us in human flesh, in order that one day He would die in our room and stead, and rise again for our justification.
Let's pray together.
Our Father in heaven, we thank You from the very depths of our hearts for the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God; the Word made flesh and dwelling amongst us. Help us this very evening, this Christmas Day, to give to Him — to give to You, our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — all the praise that You deserve. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
1. aorist. Greek verb tenses.
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