The Lord's Day MorningMarch 25, 2007
“The Saving Word”
Mr. Jerry Bridges
Would you open your Bibles with me to John, chapter one. With our Bibles open before us, would you bow with me in prayer.
Our gracious and loving heavenly Father, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the sovereign God of the universe, we come to You this morning. In the words of the psalmist we pray, “Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Your word.” This morning, Father, we're going to be looking at one of those wonderful things — the word become flesh. We pray this morning for the ministry of Your Spirit, that you would enable me to speak the word truthfully and powerfully. We pray that we might have minds to understand and hearts to receive that which You have for us in this portion of Scripture. O God, as we consider the subject — “The Saving Word” — we realize indeed that we can reach no higher in Your divine revelation. And so we come in a spirit of awe and reverence and humility; and ask, as we look into this portion of Your word, that You would be pleased to bless it to our lives, and through it to transform us more and more into the likeness of Your dear Son. And we pray this in His name. Amen.
John 1 — (I'm going to be reading just verse 1, and then immediately to verse 14):
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….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.”
As Dr. Duncan has already observed, this is the culminating session of our weekend conference under the theme of “The Mighty Word.” And we have been looking this weekend at various aspects of the word of God: the truthfulness of the word of God; the revelation of the word of God; the power of the word of God; the accessibility, the sufficiency, of the word of God; and now we come to the culminating thought, “The Saving Word,” which of course is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now I'm a man under authority. I'm a man under orders. I was assigned not only the text but the topic, and I have to say to you, as I began to develop this message a couple of weeks ago and as I began to read these first few verses, I was very tempted to dwell on them because there's so much theology here. But that's not what I was given to do, and so I'm going to restrain myself and look purely at verses 1 and 14 — “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.”
In Hebrews 1:1,2, the writer of that book contrasts the revealed will of God which came to us (or to the people of old) through the prophets of the Old Testament, and he said:
“The God who in various ways and times and manners spoke to us through the prophets has in these last days spoken to us by His Son.”
Now, God spoke to us by His Son through the words of Jesus as they are recorded for us in the Gospels, but more importantly, through the work of Jesus as He came and lived His sinless life on our behalf, and then as He died the death that we should have died.
Now how could this be? How could the Son of God obey and die in our place? This takes us back to this passage before us, and the reason I went from verse 1 immediately to verse 14 is that I want us to catch the impact of what John is saying, and what he is saying should really take our breath away: “The Word was God….and the Word became flesh.” Do you hear what John is saying? God became a human being.
Now the writers of Scripture were masters of understatement, and all through Scripture there are so many places where I want to write in the margin of my Bible, “Wow! Think of that! Think of what God has done!” And this is one of those places. This is one of those places. In fact, this is the epitome of all of them, and I would like to just take in my Bible the words “God became flesh…” and just put an exclamation mark at the end of that, and say, “Wow! God became one of us!” God became flesh. This is the mystery that we don't understand: how that the eternal God, through whom the world was created and who, even as we speak this very moment, sustains all of the universe by His perfect will, this God became one of us. He became a human being. As our Westminster Confession of Faith so beautifully states (and I'm just going to…not read the entire section from that part of The Confession, but just phrases from that):
“The second person of the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon himself man's nature….So that the two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the God-head and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.”
And this is all captured, and I would like to emphasize just this one phrase: “Very God, and very man.”
Now, the writers of The Confession could have said “…which person is both at the same time God and man,” but in order to make their point, in order for us to clearly understand what they’re saying, they add the word very: “Very God, and very man.” Fully God without any compromise. When Jesus became one of us, He did not in the least bit compromise His deity; and yet, at the same time, He became fully a human being. That's what it means when the Word became flesh. The Son of God, the eternal Son of God who created the universe and sustains it by His power at this very moment, became one of us…became a human being who lived in that little town called Nazareth, grew up with brothers and sisters (in fact, the Bible even names His half-brothers: James, Joses, Simon, and Judas, and then it says “and all of His sisters”). So Jesus grew up in a large family, and every member of that family — all of His four brothers and His sisters — were sinners just like you and me. They all had a sinful nature. But Jesus did not.
Now I want you to think about that for a moment. Here is the sinless Son of God, who never once committed even a sinful thought, who never even had a sinful motive (let alone sinful words and deeds), growing up in the midst of a big family. But yet the Scripture says as adults His brothers did not believe on Him, so it isn't as if they grew up standing in awe at the sinless One. What I want you to see this morning is Jesus really became one of us…and yet, at the same time, fully God. And so, the Son of God came. He became one of us.
And, frequently throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to Himself as having been sent by the Father. For example, in chapter 4, verse 34, He says, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me.” In John 5, He said, “I seek not My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” And continually throughout the Gospel of John, you hear Him saying these words: “I've been sent by the Father…the Father has sent Me.” And so the eternal Word, the Son of God (being Himself very God), became one of us, having been sent by the Father.
But the burning question is this: Why? Why did He come? Why did He become one of us? And there are some really crazy answers to this question that are abroad in our land today, even amongst people who claim to know better, who claim to be evangelicals. Some say He came to provide an example as how we should live. (He was an example.) Others say He came to show people how to be “truly human.” (That's pop psychology, is it not?) One writer says, “He came to absorb all the forces of hate and pain and rejection, and not strike back; that is, He came to show us what it means to turn the other cheek.” Now there's a little bit of truth in some of these statements, but they miss the point.
What does the Bible say? Well, in Matthew 1, where
Joseph was about to divorce Mary when he learned that she was with child, and
the angel of the Lord came to him and said, “Joseph, don't be afraid to take
Mary to be your wife, for this child is of the Holy Spirit.” And then the angel
said to Joseph, “And you shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people
from their sin.” Why did Jesus come? Why did the Word become flesh?
In order to save His people–to save us–from our sin.
That's why the title of the message this morning is “The Saving Word.” The Word of God became flesh. He came to save us from our sins.
But what does it mean to be
saved from sin?
Well, first of all it means to be saved from the wrath of God.
In Romans 1:16, Paul says,
“I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe.”
Now, the words salvation and saved have the same idea, do they not? And what does it mean to be saved? Well, we might say that somebody was saved from a burning building, meaning that firemen rescued her. Or, we might say that this man was saved from bankruptcy by some fortuitous event. It means to be rescued from difficulty, from dire straits. And when Paul says He came for the salvation of those who believe, it means first of all He came to save us from the wrath of God. That's Romans 1:16. Verse 18 says
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.”
The very first thing, when we talk about what does it mean to be saved, to be saved from our sins, it means first of all to be saved from the just and holy wrath of God: the wrath of God that each of us deserve because of our rebellion against Him. Sin is not just peccadilloes. Sin is rebellion against God. Sin is defiance of God. Sin is a despising of God's Law. And that rebellion and defiance and despising results in the wrath of God, just and holy wrath, being poured out.
But there's good news. In Romans 3, Paul speaks about that “we are justified freely by His grace through the propitiation of the Lord Jesus Christ”, or “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God sent forth to be a propitiation for our sins.”
Now that word propitiation is a word I love. It's a word that most people don't understand anymore (and that's to our detriment), but it means to be saved from the wrath of God. It means that Jesus took the wrath of God that you and I deserve. You remember that in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before the crucifixion, Jesus prayed,
“O My Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from Me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
And just a little while later, He said to Peter,
“Shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given Me to drink?”
What was in the cup? From the Old Testament, the cup is a metaphor for the wrath of God. On a number of occasions, God speaks about pouring out the cup of His wrath on disobedient nations, and things like that. And so when Jesus said, “Shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given Me to drink?” He was speaking of the wrath of God. And you might say that at that time Jesus was staring full bore into the cup of God's wrath, and that's why He prayed, “O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me.” Jesus did not absorb all the rejection and hate of humanity: He absorbed the wrath of God. Jesus, you might say, turned that cup of the wrath upside down, and He drank it to the last bitter drop. And He did this for you and for me. He drank the cup of the wrath of God which you and I deserve. And so, to be saved first of all means to be saved from the wrath of God.
Secondly, it means to be saved from the penalty of our sins; or, to put it another way, it means to be forgiven of our sins.
For example, the Apostle Paul in Colossians 2:13 says He forgave us all our trespasses. He forgave us all our sins.
Now here again there is some misunderstanding abroad, even within the evangelical community. For example, one writer, one very prestigious person within the evangelical community, has written these words:
“One concept that has done inestimable harm is the concept that the Christian idea of salvation is mere forgiveness of sins.”
Now we're going to see that salvation is more than only the forgiveness of our sin, but I cannot imagine the Apostle Paul using the expression “mere forgiveness.” If we're under the wrath of God, if we deserve the wrath of God and we are forgiven of our sin which elicits that wrath, how can be possibly speak of “mere forgiveness”?
What did Peter say in the very first sermon on the Day of Pentecost? “Repent and be baptized.” For what? “For the forgiveness of your sin.” And if you would go through the book of Acts and look at the various sermons–which obviously are just abstracts…just, you might say, condensations, key thoughts from the sermons that the various apostles delivered as recorded in The Book of Acts–and you’ll find it over and over again. They referred to the forgiveness of our sins. And so to be saved means to experience the forgiveness of our sins.
Now, what does it mean to be forgiven of our sins? Well, a couple of things. It would help us to realize this: Paul says in Romans 4:8, “Blessed is the man [and you ladies can insert the word woman there]…Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord no longer counts against him.”
It doesn't mean that God ignores our sin. God doesn't say ‘Well, that's just the way people are.’ God is very much aware of our sin, but God no longer counts our sin against us. Why? Because He's already counted it against Christ:
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way, but the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
All of our sin is laid on Him. As Peter put it, “He Himself bore our sin in His own body on the tree.” That's why Paul could say blessed is the man (or the woman) whose sin the Lord no longer counts against him.
Another expression that is used for the forgiveness of our sin is, in God's words, “I will remember their trespasses no more.” Now, to not remember them doesn't mean that God has forgotten them, but He says ‘I will not remember them.’ Someone has very helpfully pointed out that there's a distinction between forgetting and not remembering. You might think that's just semantics, but let me illustrate. You know, my wife might ask me to do something when I'm out and about in town…to stop at the store and bring something home. And so I come home, and she says, “Well, did you get it?” And I say, “What? I forgot!” We do that all the time, don't we?
But to not remember is a deliberate act, where we choose not to keep bringing it up. (And by the way, when you and I say we forgive one another, that should be the same way in which we would think of forgiveness: to cease bringing it up.) But God is our pattern here. God no longer brings our sin up against us. In fact, the Scripture says He has blotted it out. As someone has so well said, He not only wiped the slate clean, He threw away the slate. Why? Because Jesus bore our sin in His own body. And so to be saved from sin means to be saved first of all from the wrath of God; to be saved from the penalty of our sin, or to be forgiven of our sin.
Thirdly, it means to be
saved from the dominion, or the absolute reign, of sin.
In Romans 6, the Apostle Paul anticipates an objection to salvation by grace alone, and he has this rhetorical question: “Shall we continue to sin, so that grace may abound?” And then he says, “God forbid! How shall we who died to sin continue to live in it?”
Now what does it mean “to die to sin”? It does not mean to die to the sinful nature. It does not mean to die to the presence and the activity of sin in our lives. All of us experience the struggle between the flesh and the spirit that Paul describes in Galatians 5. What it means is that we died to the reign of sin. We have been taken out of this realm of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God's son. We’re no longer under the domain of Satan. We've been delivered from him. We have died to that reign, and we have been brought into the kingdom of God's dear Son.
Now you might think, “Well, so what?” It means that there's a possibility that you can grow and become more and more like the Lord Jesus Christ. Without that, without having died to the dominion of sin, you do not have that option. But having died to the dominion of sin, having been brought into the kingdom of God's dear Son, having the Spirit of God come to dwell within you, to empower you and enable you, now you can grow. Now you can put to death sin that's in your life — the activity of sin. But you could not have done that before. You were helpless. You were in bondage. But when the Lord Jesus Christ gave Himself for us, and as we receive Him, we have died to that reign and dominion of sin.
IV. Fourthly, to be saved from
our sin means that He has saved us from our old futile way of life.
The Apostle Peter, in I Peter 1:18, says that “He has redeemed us from the futile ways of our forefathers.” Life is futile. Life is without any meaning, without any eternal meaning, apart from Jesus Christ. If we live in this life and we die, and that's all it is, that is a futile life. But Jesus has saved us from death
Now how can the eternal Word that became flesh, how can He become the saving Word for us?
First of all, He must be sent by God.
“And we have testified that the Father has sent the
Son to be the Savior of the world.” Jesus had to be appointed by the Father and
sent by the Father, just as the high priest was appointed by God in the Old
Testament, and Jesus Himself was appointed High Priest after the order of
Melchizedek by God. The Father appointed Jesus to be our Savior. He did not
appoint Himself, so to speak. He was appointed by the Father.
Secondly, He must be of infinite value, because the value of His death must exceed all of the sinful liability of those for whom He died.
The value of His death must exceed the sinful liability of all of those for whom He died, and so He had to be “very God.”
But also, He must be a man, because it is human beings that have sinned against God, and consequently it is a human being that must bear the penalty of that sin. And with this wonderful combination of “very God and very man” Jesus met the conditions that were necessary for our salvation. He was one of us, and so He could bear our penalty as our substitute and as our representative. And because He was God, He was of such infinite value that He could encompass all of us in His death; not one man dying for another, but one Man dying for all of us, because He was very God. All of these conditions are met in the Word that became flesh.
But in order for you and I to
benefit from that, we must receive Him.
Back in John 1:12, John says:
“But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”
Now there are two truths when we talk about salvation that we need to keep in mind. One is the eternal election of God. Paul puts it very clearly in Galatians 1, when he says that we were “chosen from before the foundation of the world.” Not just before you were born, but before the foundation of the world. Before God ever said, “Let there be light,” God, who lives in eternity, in an eternal “now”, God saw you and He chose you to be saved. Now that's a very comforting thought, and it's a very sobering thought because it causes us to realize that we, at the very core of the question, had absolutely nothing to do with our salvation. God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. But in the course of our individual histories, God activates that choice by sending His Holy Spirit to give us life, and the first evidence of that life is faith whereby we receive the Lord Jesus Christ. And so this brings us to our responsibility.
From our perspective, we must receive Him. We must trust Him, we must rely upon Him as the One who died in our place for our sin.
“As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God.”
And so to those of you in the audience this morning who have never trusted in Jesus Christ, I would say that all that I have said this morning about Jesus saving us from our sin, saving us from the wrath of God, saving us from the penalty of sin, saving us from the dominion of sin, saving us from the futility of a sinful life, is availed to you only if you receive Him. To those of us who have received Him, may we rejoice. May we never get beyond the point where we realize that we chose Him because He first chose us…chosen from before the foundation of the world.
But again I would say to those of you who have never received Christ Jesus, the wrath of God still hangs over your head. But the invitation is, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved from the wrath of God; whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall experience the forgiveness of your sin. Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall experience deliverance from the dominion of sin in your life. I urge you, I appeal to you, seriously consider that question.
May we pray.
Oh, our Father, if we were to spend the rest of our lives doing nothing but thanking You for Your eternal choice when we were dead in trespasses and sins…before we were ever born, before You created the world, you chose us to be saved…if we were to spend the rest of our lives thanking You for that, we would still be indebted to You. But, Father, there is no possible way that we can adequately express our thanksgiving for what You have done for us in Christ. But we pray that You would receive our feeble words this morning: Thank You for Jesus. And, Father, for those who cannot say that, we pray that You would come into their lives. May the gospel come to life in them through Your Spirit. And we pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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