“The Word Became Flesh”
John 1:1-4, 14
December 1, 2019
The incarnate Word broke the silence of our loneliness.
I. A Divine Word (John 1:1-2)
II. A Creative Word (John 1:3, Hebrews 1:1-2)
III. A Living Word (John 1:4, Hebrews 1:3-4)
IV. An Incarnate Word (John 1:14, Hebrews 1:3)
The older I get, the more I realize how many things people are struggling with. Whether it’s due to life circumstances, cultural changes or personal choices, there seems to be more depression, loneliness, sadness, anxiety, pessimism, sin and even despair surrounding us, among us and within us. These epidemics are disheartening and discouraging. Yet I remain convinced that God can do course changes in all these aspects of our life. I’m convinced that at Christmas we get clear pictures of what God has done and is doing, to change these things. So, this Christmas season, we are going to do six word studies, words found in John chapter 1 and Luke chapter 2. These words are good news for all of us in the midst of these epidemics. In Jesus the Word has become flesh to reveal his glory and to be our Savior, to bring us light, joy, and peace. That’s the good news we’re going to be experiencing this Christmas.
We’ve talked about loneliness before, and you’ve seen the headlines: “Surgeon General Says There’s a Loneliness Epidemic” (Washington Post); “Young People Report More Loneliness Than the Elderly” (USA Today); “The Biggest Threat Facing Middle-Aged Men Isn’t Smoking or Obesity. It’s Loneliness” (Boston Globe); “The Surprising Effects of Loneliness on Health” (New York Times); “Loneliness Begets More Loneliness” (The Atlantic); “Loneliness is Deadly” (Slate). The bottom line is that more and more Americans – and Europeans – report higher and higher levels of isolation and loss of connection. More and more of us, it seems are psychologically surrounded by silence even when our world may be filled with noise, emotionally alone even when our world is full of people. We’ve just come through Thanksgiving and we’re headed into Christmas, and these are, according to studies, the loneliest times of the year. But the good news is that the Incarnate Word broke the silence of our loneliness.
We learn this at the start of John’s gospel. John 1:1-4 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. 4In him was life, and the life was the light of men. John 1:14 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. The word we’re studying is the word Word. Should I say that again? The word we’re studying today is the word “Word,” with a capital W. This isn’t just any word, but the title of a person, Jesus, the living Word who became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus is the Word that God spoke into our silence.
The need we’re studying is the one I mentioned already, loneliness. Loneliness and silence go together. Loneliness is a physical or emotional sense of isolation. It’s relationships that don’t exist or that don’t connect. It’s silence. But when the world was caught in an epidemic of silence, God spoke, through his Son.
As soon as I put those two words, loneliness and silence together, I immediately thought of an illustration which, if you’ll excuse the pun, spoke volumes to me, personally. Most of you know that Gail has been out of town a lot the last year or more, taking care of her Dad in his last months, and now taking care of her mom. This has meant that she and I have both been lonely. It’s a lot different sitting at home in a quiet house in the morning or the evening when she is there with me than when she is 1238 miles away. When she’s away I’m lonely. There is this ache in the pit of my stomach just to hear her voice. But by God’s grace people have invented things like the telephone. That relatively old technology allows my wife to break the silence of my loneliness. The phone rings and I answer, and I hear, usually, two simple words. “Hello, there.” And those two words break the silence, relieve the ache and dispel the loneliness. But even better is that moment when the “Hello there” is spoken in person by the one whose hug dispels my loneliness more than cher voice.
So today we’ll look at this Word that dispels silence, dispels loneliness, dispels need. We’ll see that Jesus is just the Word we need, a divine word, a creative word, a life-giving word and an incarnate word. Look at verse 1. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus is a divine word. In other words, Jesus is God. The Greek word for “Word” is logos. It was a common word with a wide range of meaning. For example, Vine’s dictionary says the following translations are all reasonable in some contexts: “account, cause, communicate, communication, intent, matter, matters, question, questioning, reason, report, saying, speech, talk, things, treatise, utterance, word.” The heart of the word is communication, but the elements of causation and reason or thought are definitely there. Both in Greek literature and in some Old Testament parallels, the word logos is sometimes personified, depicted as person, in anticipation of what John does here.
John 1:1 is simply an amazing verse. With the first three words John takes us back to Genesis 1, the creation of the universe. But John’s view goes back even before that, because in the beginning this Word already was. He pre-existed time, space and all of creation. And the Word was with God. In the beginning, before the beginning, God and the Word already existed. The Word is an eternal, uncreated being existing with God. This might lead you to think that there are two gods, or in light of Genesis 1’s testimony to the presence of the Spirit at creation, three.
But John goes on to say “and the Word was God.” He was with God, but he was God. Only a Trinitarian understanding of God can make sense of this apparent paradox. We believe that there is only one true God but that he eternally exists in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That’s what John is saying. The Word was God, but the Word was with God.
Not that this understanding hasn’t been disputed. Religions such as Islam and even Judaism flatly deny that God can exist as more than one person, or as they would inaccurately word it, that there can be more than one God. Some cults within Christianity do the same. This leads them to look for alternate ways to translate the verse. The New World translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses says “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was a God.” They contend that the indefinite article, a or an, present in the Greek, must mean that Jesus was some kind of secondary or other god.
It’s hard to reconcile this with the Bible’s insistence that there is only one true God. Moreover, a hundred years before the New World translation was made a scholar named Granville Sharp noticed that in every case of the specific grammatical construction in John 1:1, the two nouns have and must have one referent. In simple terms that means that there is an equal sign between God and Word in this Greek phrase. The Word was God. Though this rule has often been disputed or neglected, it has never been refuted, and a recent thirty-page paper by Daniel Wallace of Dallas Seminary finds even more examples and more reasons to have confidence in the traditional translation of this key verse.
So the first thing we learn about the Word is that he is God. He is divine. When God chose to break into the silence and loneliness of a fallen world at Christmas, he was no longer content to do so by messengers or miracles. He came himself, a messenger and miracle far greater than all that came before. As our supporting passage this morning, Hebrews 1:1, says Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. God’s Word is God breaking into the silence around us and the loneliness within us. In these days he has spoken.
Second, the Word is a creative word. Notice John 1:3 “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Genesis 1 tells us that in the beginning God made the heavens and the earth. But since the Word is God, and was with God in the beginning, it shouldn’t surprise us that he was instrumental in creation. Don Carson says “Just as in Genesis, where everything that came into being did so because of God's spoken word, and just as in Proverbs, where Wisdom is the (personified) means by which all exists, so here: God's Word, understood to be a personal agent, created everything.”
The New Testament affirms this. Colossians 1 says “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. 17And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” All things. The beauty the wonder, the depth the detail the complexity, the simplicity, the awe of creation are credited to Jesus, the Word.
Our supporting text, Hebrews 1:1-3 also affirms this. Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. Notice that the author of Hebrews, in his own words, supports both the first and second characteristics of the Word, whom he calls the Son. God has spoken to us through this Word, and yet the Word is God, the radiance of his glory and the exact imprint of his nature. When you see the Son you see God. As Jesus said “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
It is this Son, who “upholds the universe” not just by his power but by “the word of his power.” Both the Colossians text and this tell us not only that Jesus made everything, but he holds it all together. I’ve long been suspicious that beneath the seeming randomness of quantum physics is a realm where God himself, God the Son, decides the fate of each subatomic particle, controls the generation and operation of all the forces of nature, the strong force, and magnetic, electric and gravitational forces that hold the universe together. The Word is not only creator but creating, making the world and making it work.
Implied in all this is that we ourselves were created by the Word. We were created by God. The Word, God the Son was his instrument. So we can rightly say that Jesus is our creator. But I’d like you to notice something really important to this issue of loneliness and silence. The God who created us never existed in loneliness and silence. The Word was with God from the beginning. God who exists in three persons always existed in communicating community. And he made us in his image. We were never designed for silence and loneliness. We were designed for community and communication, for relationship both with one another and with God. It is only the fall of humankind into sin that has created this silence between and our separation from God. God’s big idea since the fall, since before the fall, has been “You will be my people and I will be your God and I will dwell among you.” We were created for community.
The third thing we notice about the Word is that “in him was life, and that life was the light of men.” He himself is the living Word. He is the one who gives life.
Jesus expands on this in John 5:26 “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” Don Carson points out that “the relationship between God and the Word in John 1 is identical with the relationship between the Father and the Son in John 5.” Furthermore, both chapters insist that the Word, the Son shares in the self-existing life of God.
But the Word is also the source of our lives. In John 1 he is our creator, “in him was life.” Elsewhere in John Jesus claims that he is “the way, the truth and the life,” as well as “the resurrection and the life.” He’s also “the light of the world” and “the light of life.” Carson says “the light is revelation which people may receive in active faith and be saved, the life is either resurrection life or the spiritual life that is its foretaste.” We’ll look at the “light for our darkness” promises of Christmas next week. But for now, we rejoice that He is our life.
This life, in relationship, is the key to breaking the silence, breaking the loneliness. Because we were created to be relational creatures, silence and loneliness are life-draining. A few years ago Gail and I listened to a book, “A Man Called Ove.” I’ve mentioned it before. It starts after Ove’s wife has died. He’s desperately lonely without her, and lives in a house filled with silence. He tries to commit suicide, but every time he does, the doorbell rings. It’s his new neighbors. Or there’s a commotion in the street. Someone not competent to drive their car. Or the people they knew in the neighborhood association are in need. By the end of the book he’s wrapped in a network of community that gives him new life. The Word, Jesus, does that. He wraps us in life.
The Word is God, he is creator, and he is life. But best of all, the Word is incarnate. John 1:14 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.
For two thousand years God had been calling to himself a people, descendants of Abraham. Time after time he spoke to them. He spoke directly to Abraham, to Isaac and Jacob, to Moses in the burning bush. He revealed himself in a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night. He sent his glory on the Tabernacle, the tent of meeting in the wilderness. Then he began to speak to the prophets, who said “Hear the word of the Lord.” But the people, and their kings and leaders refused to obey his voice. Eventually they went into exile in Babylon. There he continued to speak, and, as he had promised, he brought them back from the exile. He spoke a while longer, but then, as they continued to find ways to disobey his voice and visit injustice on his people, he stopped. For four hundred years, almost a fifth of the nation’s history, there was silence. No prophets. No word from the Lord. No guidance. No rebuke. No restoration. No voice. As Amos had said, “a famine for hearing the Word of the Lord.
Some of the people and leaders were probably relieved, but many, like Simeon and Anna in Luke’s gospel longed for that voice to be restored. The silence was too much for them. Finally, as Paul says in Galatians, “when the time had fully come God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
This is the wonder of Christmas. God did not send another prophet, another miracle, he sent his Son. The Word became flesh. The fancy word is incarnation. You know the word “carnivore.” Incarnation means being made meat. He took on meat and dwelt among us. John literally says he pitched his tent, his tabernacle among us. Just as, during the Exodus, the tabernacle was the tent where God’s presence was revealed, so at Christmas, the flesh of the baby Jesus was the place God the Son was revealed to us. As Carson says “This is the supreme revelation. The Word, God's very Self-expression, who was both with God and who was God, became flesh: he donned our humanity, save only our sin. God chose to make himself known, finally and ultimately, in a real, historical man. “When ‘the Word became flesh,” F. F. Bruce says, “God became man.”
The other huge Christmas word in play here, though not used in our passages, is “Immanuel.” God incarnate is Immanuel, God with us. Isaiah 7: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” When the angel spoke to Joseph in a dream, he said “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).”
So the ultimate expression of the Word is not just words that break our silence but a person who breaks our loneliness. He is with us. Just as Gail could break both my silence and my loneliness when her “Hello there” was said face to face, hug to hug, heart to heart at Hobby airport, so too God did not merely break the silence with a voice from heaven or with a prophet, or even with a miracle, but with a Word who was a person, who became flesh and dwelt with us. He broke the silence of centuries and the loneliness of the ages by his presence. At the highest level this means salvation. Jesus did not come just to speak to us, or even to be with us, but he came to sacrifice himself so we might be restored to full relationship and intimacy with God. It was sin that separated us, so it was our sin that he bore. Being sinless himself, he sacrificed himself in our place so that we might receive the forgiveness and life he promised. He breaks the silence that our sin creates, speaks to our lost and lonely souls and invites us into a restored and brand-new and eternal relationship.
On the most personal level, this means that the loneliness that wells up in all of our souls at times, and can be disabling to many even in this room today can be broken. We now know that he is really with us. He will never leave or forsake us. He invites us to come to him when we are weary and heavy laden, to find rest. If we will seek him, we have the awesome privilege of hearing him speak, especially by his written word. Not as mere words, rather as truths spoken into our hearts. We have the comfort and presence of the Holy Spirit, who not only speaks but guides through circumstances and godly inclinations. Furthermore, we now have fellowship with one another. God did not save us to be alone again with our fears, but to be in community, to have brothers and sister and family that we can hear and speak to, and who are Jesus with flesh and bones now, his hands, his feet, his heart, his voice to us. I encourage you, as I encourage myself to not give up on godly relationships. They will never be perfect, I promise, but if you persevere in seeking them, in deepening them, in depending on them, a few committed relationships will speak the words and give the wordless presence that pierces your lonely silence.
So God has spoken. Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. The incarnate Word broke the silence of our loneliness.
As I was preparing this week one image kept coming to me. It was something Lee Norbraten alluded to last year in his Apollo 8 posts. When Apollo 8 went behind the moon on that Christmas lunar orbit mission, the astronauts, Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders, were as cut off from humanity as anyone in history. Even their radios, their link to planet Earth were useless. As Charles Fishman explains in One Giant Leap, “NASA and MIT had done precise calculations of when the deep space telecommunications network would lose contact with Apollo 8 and when the network would pick their radio signals back up—to the second.” In the room they had set up to monitor missions in their old underwear warehouse, dozens of MIT staffers waited to hear the voices of the Apollo 8 astronauts as the command module emerged from behind the Moon. CapCom Jerry Carr started hailing Apollo 8 by radio 47 seconds before the spacecraft was expected to be back in contact.
From CapCom: “Apollo 8, Houston. Over.” Four times, Carr radioed Apollo 8, and by the fourth call, Apollo 8 was 19 seconds overdue for the calculated moment of radio contact being restored. “Apollo 8, Houston. Over.” “Go ahead, Houston. Apollo 8. Burn complete. Our orbit is 169.1 by 60.5. 169.1 by 60.5.” “Apollo 8, this is Houston. Roger, 169.1 by 60.5. . . . Good to hear your voice.”
In the same way, at Christmas, we await the arrival of Jesus, the Word made flesh, the breaking of the silence. Like the Apollo acquisition of signal, it was perfectly timed, but only God knew the timing. But in the fullness of time God spoke through his Son, and it was good to hear his voice. And it is good to hear his voice today, and to see our loneliness shatter in the sound of his love.