December 23, 2001
Bethlehem Baptist Church
John Piper, Pastor
THE WORD WAS MADE FLESH
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2
He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart
from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the
life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not
comprehend it. 6 There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He
came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. 8
He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. 9 There was the true Light
which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. 10 He was in the world, and the
world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own,
and those who were His own did not receive Him. 12 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, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man,
but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His
glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 John
testified about Him and cried out, saying, "This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes
after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’" 16 For of His fullness we
have all received, and grace upon grace. 17 For the Law was given through Moses;
grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any
time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.
In the spring of 1974 I was completing my studies in Germany. My main professor had
died and to take his place in one of his courses, a great New Testament scholar named
Oscar Cullmann came from Basel to Munich to teach the Gospel of John. In the first 13
weeks of that 18-week term we covered, as I recall, only the first 14 verses of the book of
John. That’s how rich these verses are.
A Christmas Message of Particular Truths about Christ
So I have chosen this text with some fear and trembling that I would do an injustice to it
by treating it with one sermon. But I choose it for two reasons. One is that it is a great
Christmas passage. The key verse that shows this Christmas orientation is verse 14:
"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." This is the meaning of Christmas.
God has come into the world, born of virgin, in the person of Jesus Christ. The second
reason I have chosen this text is because it is so full of particular truths about Jesus
Christ that we desperately need to know and embrace.
This is especially important today he because, as I said last week during my welcome,
even the major non-Christian religions of the world are speaking these days as though
they esteem and honor and, in some sense, believe in Jesus. You hear this especially,
these days, from Muslim leaders who want to draw the fact that they even honor Jesus
more than we do because they do not think God would allow him to suffer the
ignominious death of a criminal on the cross. So it is crucial that Christians know Jesus
Christ very well, and can tell the difference between the Christ of the Bible and the Christ
which other religions claim to honor.
So what I would like to do with this great paragraph about Jesus Christ, written by the
one who knew him on earth more intimately than anyone else, the apostle John, is to
point out and explain and exult over five truths concerning the Word made flesh, and then
contrast two starkly different responses that you might give to him this morning. My aim
is that you might see him for who he is and be moved to receive Him as your Lord and
your God and your all-surpassing Treasure. And if you have already received Him, I pray
that you will embrace him, and treasure him and delight in him and follow him and display
Him more than you ever have.
So let’s begin with five truths about the "Word-Made-Flesh" in this passage.
The Name of the Word-Made-Flesh on Earth Is Jesus Christ
Verse 17: "The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus
"Jesus" was the name Joseph was told to give the child by the angel of the Lord because
it means "savior." "An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son
of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived
in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He
will save His people from their sins.’"
"Christ" was the title that referred to the long-awaited king of the Jews who would give
victory to the people and bear the government of the world on his shoulders. When
Andrew, Peter’s brother, told him that he had met Jesus he said (in John 1:41), "‘We
have found the Messiah’ [and John adds] (which means Christ)."
So the person we are speaking of in these verses is known in the Bible and throughout
the world as "Jesus Christ." And each name carries tremendous meaning: He is Savior
The Word-Made-Flesh Existed as God and with God before He Was Born as a
Man on Earth
Verse 1: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was
They have always been sectarian groups who have resisted the mystery implied in these
two phrases: "the Word was with God," and "the Word was God." They say, in their
bondage to merely human conceptuality, you can’t have it both ways. Either he was God,
or he was with God. If he was with God, he wasn’t God. And if he was God, he wasn’t
with God. So to escape the truth of these two sentences, sometimes they change the
translation (as the Jehovah’s Witnesses do) so that it reads, "The Word was with God,
and the Word was a god." But there are good grammatical reasons as well as contextual
reasons from other parts of the Gospel of John and other books of the Bible for why the
Christian Church has never accepted such teaching as true and orthodox.
What verse one teaches is that the one we know as Jesus Christ, before he was made
flesh, was God, and that the Father was also God. There are two persons and one God.
This is part of the truth which we know as the Trinity. This is why we worship Jesus
Christ and say with Thomas in John 20:28, "My Lord and my God."
Before He Became Flesh, John Called Him "The Word"
John 1:1: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word
Why was he called "the Word"? One way to answer this is to ponder what he might have
been called and why this would have been inadequate in relationship to "the Word." For
example, he might been called "the Deed": "In beginning was the deed and the deed was
with God and the deed was God." One of the differences between a deed and the Word is
that a deed is more ambiguous. If we think our words are sometimes unclear and subject
to various interpretations, our deeds are far more unclear and ambiguous. That’s why we
so often explain ourselves with words. Words capture the meaning of what we do more
clearly than the deeds themselves. God did many mighty deeds in history, but he gave a
certain priority to the Word. One of the reasons, I think, is that he puts a high value on
clarity and communication.
Another example is that John might have called him "the Thought." "In the beginning was
the Thought, and the Thought was with God and the Thought was God." But one of the
differences between a thought and a word is that a word is generally pictured as moving
outward from the thinker for the sake of establishing communication. I think John wanted
us to conceive of the Son of God as existing both for the sake of communication between
him and the Father, and for the sake of appearing in history as God’s communication to
A third example is that John might have called him "the Feeling." "In the beginning was
the Feeling, and the Feeling was with God and the Feeling was God." But again, I would
say, feelings do not carry any clear conception or intention or meaning. Feelings, like
deeds, our ambiguous and need to be explained - with words. So it seems to me that
calling Jesus "the Word" is John’s way of emphasizing that the very existence of the Son
of God is for the sake of communication. First, and foremost, he exists, and has always
existed, from all eternity for the sake of communication with the Father. Secondarily, but
infinitely important for us, the Son of God became divine communication to us. One might
say, in summary, calling Jesus "the Word" implies that he is "God-Expressing-Himself."
All That Is not God Was Created through the Word
John 1:3: "All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made
that was made."
There are at least two reasons John says this about the Word here. One is that it
underscores that he is God. When we think of God, we think immediately of Creator. God
is the origin and explanation of all that is except God. So when John says, "All things
were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made," means
he is God and he is not created.
The other reason comes out in verse 10: "He was in the world, and the world was made
through him, yet the world did not know him." The point here seems to underline the
seriousness of the world’s guilty blindness, and the greatness of the world’s evil in
rejecting Jesus. He comes to us as our Maker, and still the world will not receive him.
So far then what have we seen about the Word-Made-Flesh? 1) He is Jesus Christ, Savior
and anointed King. 2) He is God, the second person of the Trinity. 3) He is the Word -
God-in-Communication, God-Expressing-Himself. 4) He is the Creator of all things.
The Word-Made-Flesh Has Life in Himself, and That Life Becomes the Light of
John 1:4: "In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men."
All life originates in the Word. That is obvious because, as we have seen already, he is
the Creator of all things. But here the focus is probably on spiritual life. In other words,
there are two overwhelming problems we humans face: we are spiritually dead and
therefore spiritually blind. John is saying here: Jesus is the remedy to both of these
problems: He has the life we need, and this life becomes the Light we need.
John 5:21 says, "The Son gives life to whom he will." In other words, he does for us
spiritually what he did for Lazarus when he stood before Lazarus’ tomb and said to the
dead man, "Lazarus, come forth" (John 11:43).
And how does that life, given by Jesus, relate to light? In two ways. One is that it enables
us to see. When dead people are given life, they see. Or, to change the image, when you
are born, you see. So it is spiritually. Jesus said to Nicodemus, "Truly, truly, I say to
you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). So first
Jesus gives life and then that life becomes light - the ability to see spiritual reality.
The other way that the life Jesus gives relates to the light is not that it enables you to
see, but that Jesus himself is the Light that is seen. What, after all, are we blind to, when
we are unbelievers? We are blind to the truth and beauty and worth - the glory - of Jesus.
So when John says, "In him was life and that life was the Light of men," he probably
means that Jesus Christ, the Word-Made-Flesh, is both the power to see spiritual
splendor and the splendor seen.
That’s what verse 14 says, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have
seen his glory." And that is what Jesus prayed for in John 17:24, "Father, I desire that
they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory." And
that’s what he claimed when he said twice, "I am the Light of the world" (John 8:12; 9:5).
So the Word-Made-Flesh has life in himself, and that life becomes the Light of men. He is
the power to see and the splendor seen.
Summing up, what five truths about the Word-Made-Flesh have we seen?
He is Jesus Christ after he is made flesh: Savior and God-anointed King of all.
He is God: He was with God and was God.
He was called the Word: God-in-communication, God-Expressing-Himself.
He is the Creator: all things were made through him, but he himself was not made.
He is life and Light: the living power to see and the all-satisfying splendor to be seen.
Finally, then what are the responses you might give to all this revelation about Jesus
Christ, the Word-Made-Flesh?
One Response: I Do not Know Him and I Do not Receive Him
One is described in verses 10-11, "He was in the world, and the world was made through
Him, and the world did not know Him. (11) He came to His own, and those who were His
own did not receive Him." You might here this and say, "I do not know him and I do not
receive him." That is a very frightening things so say about your Maker and your Life and
your Light. At the very least I plead with you, Don’t do say that lightly this Christmas.
Another Response: I Know Him and I Receive Him
The other response is found in verses 12-13, "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, (13)
who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."
This is the response I pray for this morning. Receive this great Word-Made-Flesh.
Receive him as Savior and King and God and Word and Creator and Life and Light. And
all that God is for you in him!
Christmas is like God sending his Son into the world to find all the Bin Ladens of the
world, hiding in the caves of darkness and death. Instead of throwing flames into the
caves, he first stands at the mouth of the caves and says, "Come out into the light for I
have died on the cross for sinners; if you will receive me as your God and your Substitute
and your Treasure, my death counts for your death and my righteousness counts as your
righteousness, and you will have eternal life."
Copyright John Piper