Glory and Grace in the Flesh

Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
6 March 2016
Lent

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Our sermon text is John 1:1-18. If you are able, please stand and listen to God’s Holy Word.

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 were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 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. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 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. 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. 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.

The word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God!) May God add his blessings to the reading, preaching, and hearing of his word. All the church says: Amen! You may be seated.

In the late 1990’s a series of unique billboard ads began to appear along highways all over the nation. The New York Times even ran a piece about the advertising phenomenon. Undoubtedly, all of you have seen the ads: a short one-line statement written in white letters across a solid black background signed, “God.” Some of them read:

What part of ”Thou Shalt Not . . .” didn’t you understand? — God

That ”Love Thy Neighbor” thing — I meant it. — God

Big Bang Theory — You’ve got to be kidding. — God

My way is the highway. — God

You think it’s hot here? — God

Have you read my No. 1 best-seller? (There will be a test.) — God

I don’t question your existence. — God

And my personal favorite,

Don’t make me come down there. — God

That leads us to one of the main points of our sermon.

God has already come down here. He has come down here at many times and in many ways, but he came down here once and for all in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

SHADOWS

The story of the Bible tells us that God often came down here to see what his people we were doing, and how they were.

As a result people who know some of the old stories get nervous when they imagine what might happen if we make God come down here.

Again, God has already come down here. He has come down here at many times and in many ways.

In the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, God came down to see Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening, and he found them naked and ashamed because of their sin. (Genesis 3) Later on, God came down to see how things were going on earth, and he was grieved over the total corruption of man, that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6) Later on, God came down to see came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built to make a name for themselves. (Genesis 11) Later on, God came down to see if the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah was as bad as he had heard. (Genesis 18-19) In those days, it seemed that every time he came down here, he unleashed his wrath. But there were times when God came down to reveal his grace and mercifully walked through blood in order to cut covenant with his people. (Genesis 15)

In the time of the Exodus, God heard the cries of his people and saw their need and he loved them. (Exodus 2) So he came down in a burning bush and sent Moses to deliver his people. (Exodus 3) Later on, God came down on the mountain and revealed his glory, spoke to his people and gave them his law. (Exodus 19) Once, Moses asked God to show him his glory. God answered by saying, “No one can me and live.” Then he came down on a mountain, covered Moses’ eyes and revealed his glory by proclaiming his covenant Name. (Exodus 34) Later on, when God’s people built a tabernacle, God came down and filled the tabernacle with the fiery cloud of his glorious presence and he dwelled with his people. (Exodus 40) In those days, it seemed that almost every time God came down here, he unveiled his glory.

In the time of the kings, the tabernacle was replaced a temple of stone and cedar. When it was dedicated a cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD came down and filled the house of the LORD. And so it was for many, many years. The glory of the Lord dwelled with his people. (1 Kings 8; 2 Chronicles 5)

But little by little the glory faded in the hearts and minds of the people. They drifted away from the Lord. They doubted his presence, denied his power, disregarded his word. So, time and again, God came down and spoke to his people by his Spirit through his servants the prophets. Sometimes he shouted; sometimes he whispered. (1 Kings 19) But the people resisted the Spirit and refused to heed his word.

They sinned and fell short of the glory of God. So, after many years of patience and long-suffering, God gave the people what they asked for. He gave them what they wanted.

He left them alone.

The prophets tell us that one day “the glory of the LORD went up from the mercy-seat to the threshold of the house, and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the LORD. And then the glory of the LORD went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain that is on the east side of the city.” (Ezekiel 10:4; 11:23)

The glory that once came down to dwell with the people now went up, out, and away from them. Not away back into heaven, but away into exile. God went ahead of his people into exile, East of Eden. There he waited for them.

Not long after the glory departed, the capitol city Jerusalem was invaded and the temple was burned up and torn down.

But the prophets foretold that, later on, after the people suffered punishment for their rebellion, God would go ahead of them into the West, and lead them out of exile all the way home, into a new temple — a cosmic, dynamic, and majestic temple. (Ezekiel 43-44)

In the years following the exile, the people built a small temple. But it was not the glorious temple that God had promised. Why? Although the people had returned from exile physically, in many ways they were still in exile spiritually. They were still dead in their sins and still dwelling in darkness. They still needed a Savior.

The point is that the glory of God had come down to dwell with his people, and it came down to stay.

What does all that have to do with John 1:1-18?

REALITIES

We have seen that God came down here at many times and in many ways, but the Gospel of John shows us that God came down here once and for all in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the eternal Word of God. He is the radiance of God’s glory and grace. He is the Divine Reason for everything in nature and in scripture. 

Jesus is the prophetic Word who came to all the prophets. He is the Wisdom by whom they spoke; he is the Matter about which they spoke; he is the Reason for which they spoke.

Jesus is the creative Word by whom all things were made, and without whom not one thing was made. 

Jesus is the redemptive Word who came into the world to bring dead things to life, and call dark things into the light.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus is depicted as the eternal Word — and he is depicted as the eternal Word made flesh.

Sadly, we have been influenced by Greek philosophy enough to have developed a low view of the flesh. We tend to think of the flesh as something that is somewhere between totally sinful and less than good.

So, when we hear that Word became flesh, some of us probably think that means the Word became less; that somehow the flesh has the power to weaken or diminish the glory of God, or that somehow the flesh has the power to cover and hide the glory of God.

But John tells us that God revealed his glory and grace to us by becoming flesh. The flesh actually maximizes and strengthens the glory of God for us. The flesh actually makes God seem more real to us, not less real. More powerful, not less powerful.

The Word became flesh to make more of God, not less.

The Word became flesh to get closer to us and to show us that God cares about us personally and holistically — body and soul, flesh and spirit.

Jesus did not become less by taking on flesh. Nor did he become more. The flesh did not hinder, rather it helped us.

[ Note: “For however much the incarnation of the Word in the man of Jesus of Nazareth is also the occasion for human unbelief (cf. 1:45; 6:42; 7:27; etc.), this does not alter the fact that in 1:14a, as in 1:14b, “flesh” is clearly not the means by which the glory of God is concealed in the man Jesus but the means by which it is revealed before the eyes of all. The flesh is the medium of the glory and makes it visible to all people. By means of the incarnation God has visibly appeared among humankind. And — we may immediately add — the entire Gospel of John is proof of it: proof that abundant glory, a glory manifested before the eyes of all.” (Ridderbos, p. 49) Italics mine ]

Now, from the beginning on, the people had heard that God was coming down here into the world which he had made, that he was writing himself into his own Story.

But when he came down into the story of the world, the world did not recognize him. When the Word became flesh and came to his own, his own people did not receive him.

So even though they knew that God was coming, when he showed up in the flesh they were so confused.

Why?

Perhaps it was just a case of cosmic misunderstanding — a case of mistaken identity. God in the flesh was not what they expected. Glory and grace incarnate was not on their radar. It did not fit the grid or match the profile.

In a way, it makes sense. In their past, God always revealed himself in elemental ways, with strange displays of fire, wind, or cloud. The people saw no form or image of God, but only heard a voice from him.

But now, the Word became flesh. The Voice took on a body. God became man. That was the last thing anyone ever expected.

So, they did not recognize or receive Jesus as God in the flesh because he looked so much like them that they looked right past him. After all, there was nothing special about his appearance. Nothing that would draw attention to him or make anyone think he was divine.

Jesus was the ultimate missionary embedded in a community; and outsider who made himself an insider.

That’s good as far as it goes, but it is more likely that they did not recognize him or receive him because they were blind and deaf to the things of God.

Although the people had returned from exile physically, in many ways they were still in exile spiritually. They were still dead in their sins and still dwelling in darkness.

They were still a deeply religious people, and attending their little temple, but they were dead and blind to word of God in scripture and the Word of God in the flesh.

Until the Word became flesh and dwelt among them, they were without light and without life in the world.

Now, all the stories leading up to this one show how God’s glory was revealed in ethereal, abstract, and intangible ways. The glory of God was often heard or seen from a distance, but rarely (if ever) up close.

And it was never ever touched by human hands.

But in this story, the Word became flesh — and dwelt among us. The Greek word for dwelt is a verbal form of the word for tent or tabernacle. So the Word made flesh tented and tabernacled among us. That means God became a tent-dweller just like us.

Jesus is the God-man who dwelt among us, in a tent-body just like ours.

What does it mean that the Word became flesh?

It means that God heard our cries and came down to see us. Not to unleash his wrath, but to unveil his grace.

The Word became flesh means:

Jesus is the true and better Adam who was crowned with glory and came to reveal the image and likeness of God to us. He shows us who God is and who we should be.

Jesus is the true and better fire-pot who came down to pass through blood and fire to save his people and to keep his covenant promises.

Jesus is the true and better fiery cloud who leads us out of death into life, out of slavery into freedom.

Jesus is the true and better Divine Presence who came down to draw the whole world to worship God in spirit and in truth.

Jesus is the true and better Prophet who came full of grace and truth to show us who God really is and what he is really like.

Jesus is the true and better temple who is filled with the glory of God and he embodies the cosmic, dynamic and majestic temple that the prophets told the exiles about.

Jesus is the true and better light who gives light to everyone and came into the world to rescue his people from darkness.

Jesus is the true and better life who came into the world to raise his people from the dead.

GLORY AND GRACE IN THE FLESH

Again, the Word became flesh to get close to you and to get you close to God. So you don’t have to worry about doing something to make God come down here — God came down here because he wanted to, because he cares for you. This is good news!

Among all the reasons this is good news, let me point out one that is relevant for our message today.

Every religion in the world teaches what you must do to go up to god, what you must do to get eternal life, what you must do to gain ultimate blessings and rewards. And every religion in the world insists that if you work hard enough you can reach your destination.

Every religion except one. The Christian religion does not teach what you must do to get up to god, it proclaims what God did to get to you. God came down to get you and to give you the free gift of eternal life. Not on the basis of your works, but on the basis of his grace.

The Word became flesh, God became man, in order to dwell with us permanently and eternally.

Now, even if you do not (yet) recognize Jesus, know this: He recognizes you. He hears your cries. He sees your pain. He knows your struggles. He loves you. Not from a distance, but up close and personal. He draws near to help you.

Even if you do not (yet) receive him as Lord and Savior, know this: He is willing to receive you — to welcome you into his temple, into his presence, into the fulness of his glory and grace, into his family.

So, if and when you do receive him (whether sooner or later) — when you believe in his Name, on that day you will realize that He is the one who gave you the right to become children of God.

Not children born of bloods, not children born of carnal desires, not children born of man’s desire or effort, but true an better children born of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the wisdom of the gospel.

The Word became flesh so that all God’s people might be born again — that is, raised to life from the dead, and rescued from darkness by the light.

All of us who have been born again have seen to glory of the one of a kind Son of God. Now that God has come down here, we receive exactly what he promised to give us — glory and grace in the flesh.

We confess openly that from the fulness of his glory we have all received grace upon grace upon grace. It’s not what we deserve, but what Jesus deserves and delights to give us who put our trust in him.

So, when God came down here in the person and work of Jesus — when the Word became flesh — he did not come down to unleash God’s wrath, but to unveil God’s grace and truth.

[ Update: A helpful article on the Word became flesh https://theopolisinstitute.com/and-the-holy-of-holies-became-flesh/?fb_ref=Default ]

gospel of john-3

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