December 24, 1989
Bethlehem Baptist Church
John Piper, Pastor
THE WORD BECAME FLESH
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John bore witness to him, and cried, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.'") And from his fulness have we 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 Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.
Let me ascend a flight of five stairs with you this morning from the invisibility of God to the great Christmas truth that we may receive (even this morning) grace upon grace from Jesus Christ. The five steps are here in this text. And we will take them one at a time.
1. The first and lowest step in the flight of five stairs is that God is invisible. Verse 18: "No one has ever seen God." What fools we can make of ourselves by denying what we cannot see.
I received a video recently, put out by the Fund for the Feminist Majority, called "Abortion for Survival." We watched it as a staff a few weeks ago. It is a powerful visual statement of why pro-abortionists think abortion is utterly necessary as a means of birth control especially in poor countries. The miseries caused by unwanted pregnancies among the poor are all graphically portrayed.
I wondered if the reality of the unborn child would ever be referred to in the video. It wasn't .The tacit assumption was that it didn't exist. Why? Because you can't see it. Just like God. At two points in the film they took a large syringe and squirted a bloody mass into a dish and said something like, "This is the result of an eight week abortion; hardly a child." Which is like getting your finger caught in a meat grinder and looking at the remains and saying, "O I guess it wasn't a finger after all. So I really won't miss it. No harm done."
At no point in the video was a picture of that baby shown before it was ground up by abortion. Why? Because the invisibility of the unborn child is a great help in building up faith in the child's non-existence or insignificance.
It's the same approach that Yuri Gagarin the first Soviet cosmonaut used in 1961 when he said in space, "I don't see any God out here."
So when John says in verse 18: "No one has ever seen God," he poses a problem. If you can't see him, how can you know him? That's step number one in the flight of five stairs in this text: God is invisible.
2. The second step is this: God revealed himself in the law of Moses before he revealed himself in the Lord Jesus. This is found in verse 17. Let's read verses 16 and 17, "And from his fulness have we all received grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." Does that mean that the law of Moses is contrary to grace and truth that the law is not gracious and not truthful? I don't think so. What verse 17 says is that before the REALITY the embodiment of grace and truth came through Jesus, a WITNESS to that reality came through the law of Moses.
The reason I don't think verse 17 intends to make a sharp contrast between the law of Moses and Jesus is what John says about Moses and the law in other places. For example, in John 3:14 he says, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." Here Moses does something gracious and truthful that points to the grace and truth of Jesus.
Another example is John 5:46 where Jesus says, "If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?" Here Moses is in harmony with Jesus and writing truth about Jesus and his grace. Finally in John 6:32 Jesus says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven." This means that the manna in the wilderness was a gracious gift of God, but it was not the true bread. It was not the reality of grace itself. It was a witness to the grace to come, a foretaste of Christ.
So John's point in verse 17 ("The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ") is that the law was not the reality the embodiment of grace and truth themselves, Jesus was. The law was a witness to grace and truth. Jesus was the fulfilment not the contradiction of the law of Moses.
That's step number two in our flight of five stairs. First, God is invisible. Second, God revealed himself in the law of Moses before he revealed himself in the Lord Jesus.
3. The third step in the flight of stairs is this: God became human. The text begins with this statement. Verse 14 says, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Now to hear the full force of that verse you have to go back up to verse 1: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." The Word was God and the Word became flesh. If the Word was God and the Word became flesh, then God became flesh. God became human. Jesus Christ was human and Jesus Christ was God.
"The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." The word for "dwelt" is the word for "set up a tent" in Greek. I used to think that implied mainly that he was here only temporarily. But when I looked up all the places this word occurs in the New Testament, I found that it doesn't imply temporary status. For example, in Revelation 21:3 where the eternal new heavens and new earth are described it says, "Behold the dwelling (tent!) of God is with men. He will dwell (pitch his tent!) with them, and they shall be his people."
I think what pitching a tent with us implies is that God wants to be on familiar terms with us. He wants to be close. He wants a lot of interaction. If you come into a community and build a huge palace with a wall around it says one thing about your desires to be with the people. But if you pitch a tent in my back yard you will probably use my bathroom and eat often at my table. This is why God became human. He came to pitch a tent in our human back yard so that we would have a lot of dealings with him.
That's the third step in our flight of stairs. First, God is invisible. Second, God revealed himself in the law of Moses before he revealed himself in the Lord Jesus. Third, God became human and set up his tent among us.
4. The fourth step is that in Jesus we see God. Verse 14 says, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father." Notice: "we have beheld seen his glory. Who does "his" refer to? It refers to the Word. "The Word became flesh, and we beheld HIS glory." "And the Word was with God and the Word was God." So in Jesus we behold God the glory of God.
God came to live in a tent so we can watch him more closely. God wants to be seen and known in his Son.
The same point is made in verse 18. "No one has ever seen God; the only Son (other older manuscripts say "the only God"), who is in the bosom (in the lap or the embrace) of the Father, he has made him known." Here the point is that even though God is a Spirit and is therefore invisible (John 4:24) He has now revealed himself in an utterly unique way by the incarnation of himself in his Son Jesus. In Jesus we see God.
You don't have to wonder today if there is a baby in the womb of a woman eight weeks pregnant. And you don't have to wonder what it's like. We have pictures and videos and models and detailed physiological descriptions.
And so it is with God. You don't need to be in the dark about God. He has gone beyond parchment and paper. He has gone beyond tapes and cassettes. He has gone beyond videos and even beyond live drama. He has actually come and pitched his tent in our back yard and beckoned us to watch him and get to know him in the person of his Son Jesus. When you watch Jesus in action, you watch God in action. When you hear Jesus teach, you hear God teach. When you come to know what Jesus is like, you know what God is like.
So what is God like? What do we see when we see Jesus? John is very clear in what he wants to stress. We see the glory of God's grace and truth. Verse 14: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." Then John repeats this in verse 17, "The law was through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."
The point is this: the essence of what God reveals about himself in Jesus is, first, that he is true that is, he is real, more real than all that you can see. In a sense everthing that looks so real to us is like a short dream. (2 Cor. 4:18 "We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.") God is truth. God is reality. And that is what we see in Jesus. He is the way, the truth, and the life.
And secondly God is grace. Or as John says in his first letter: "God is love" (1 John 4:8). God is free and overflowing and lavish in his goodness to sinful creatures. This is grace. This is the essence of God's reality because nothing reveals the fullness of his deity more than the freedom of his grace. He is full, happy, and sufficient in himself so that he does not need us to meet his need but is surging with infinite energy and fulness to meet ours. That's his grace. And that's the capstone of his glory. "We saw his glory . . . full of grace and truth."
That's step four. First, God is invisible. Second, God revealed himself in the law of Moses before he revealed himself in the Lord Jesus. Third, God became human and set up his tent among us. Fourth, in Jesus we see God and know what he is like: true reality and fulness of grace.
5. Which brings now to the top of our flight of stairs to the practical Christmas truth. What is the connection between all this revelation and you? Verse 16 gives the answer: "And from his fulness have we all received grace upon grace." So step five is this: God came not just to show us grace but to give us grace; and we mus receive it.
God doesn't just want to stock your head with knowledge about his truth and grace, he wants you to receive it and experience it. This Christmas he wants to give you personally a foundation of truth and reality to stand on so you won't cave in under stress. This Christmas he wants to treat you with grace to forgive all your sins all of them! to take away all your guilt, to make your conscience clean, to help you with your problems, to give you strength for each day and to fill you with hope and joy and peace. Isn't that the meaning of grace? And isn't that why he pitched his tent among us?
But note well the word: "From his fulness we have received grace upon grace." Don't spurn it this morning. Receive it. Welcome it for what it really is. And let it fill your heart with everlasting joy joy to the world!
Copyright 1989, 1998 John Piper