(Manuscript only this week)
Have any of you ever been to Niagara falls? I haven’t gone, I’d love to take our family one day. Most everyone who goes to visit the falls says it’s a scene to behold. The cloud of mist hovering all around, the vast amount of water flowing, and the roar that thunders on and on. The Jews of old called something like this the ‘shekinah’ glory. People who’ve gone say the combination of the beauty and danger of Niagara creates within them something like a dreadful joy. Joy because it truly is something beautiful and glorious to witness…dread because it reminds us of how small we really are in the grand scope of all things.
In our passage today we witness a moment that contains within it a greater awe, a larger, a grander, and a glory bursting with wonder. Today we’ll see the shekinah glory of God revealed in its fullest expression. Follow along with me as I read the whole of John’s prologue, v1-18.
Let’s pray…thank You again Father for bringing us together today and for reminding us of all the blessings You’ve given to us through Christ. Let us see Your glory now as we linger over this text, especially as it brings us face to face with the reality of what happened when Christ came, help us see this and help us savor it. In Jesus name, amen.
v14 marks the culmination and climactic moment of John’s prologue. In other words, this is the event that all of v1-13 was leading up to, and still today it is the most incredible event that has ever taken place in the history of the world.
Up until this point the original readers would’ve been kept in suspense as to the exact nature and personality of the Word. But when v14 comes, there is no longer any question. For the first time in his gospel John speaks of Jesus here. The One who was in the beginning, the One who was God and with God, the One through whom all things were made, the One who has the essence of life in Himself which becomes the light of men, the One who gives light everyone, the One who came to His own, the One who was rejected by most but was received and believed on by some, the One who…in His new creation power…brought a new birth from God, this One, this Word “…became flesh and dwelt among us.” Here before our very eyes is the wonder and mystery of the incarnation (the en-fleshing) of the Son of God. 4 points of glory to behold today…
He Became flesh
There was a popular notion going around in John’s day that the physical realm was opposed to the spiritual realm, that all physical matter was bad and all things spiritual were good. Many first century Greeks believed this to be true. In fact, by the time John wrote his gospel there were certain teachers called the Docetists who said ‘Jesus truly was the Christ of God but could not truly be human because matter is evil, and God wouldn’t corrupt Himself by coming in physical form, no, Jesus just appeared to be human throughout His ministry.’
John most likely knew of these Docetists, knew their false teaching, and took them to task in his prologue. In contrast to this false teaching and the popular Greek notions of the time, John says the Word who was God ‘became flesh.’ We know this word ‘flesh.’ We see it all over the place in the New Testament referring to the vile passions and lusts of our sinful nature. John means no such thing when he uses this word. Rather, John uses it to uphold not only the full blown deity of the Son of God but the full blown humanity of the Son of God as well. Jesus didn’t merely appear as a man, He became Man, He became flesh, He became the stuff of you and me. The notes for v14 in the Reformation Study Bible say it well, “Here a chasm is bridged: the eternal Word…took to Himself a complete and genuine human nature.” John MacArthur also says it well, “Here the infinite became finite; the Eternal was conformed to time; the Invisible became visible; the Supernatural One reduced Himself to the natural.” The wonder of v14, of this incarnation, is that when the eternal Son of God became man He didn’t cease to be God. We’ll soon see a miracle from Jesus where He turns water to fine wine, and at that moment the water is no longer water, it’s new wine. This is not so with the Word becoming flesh, when the Word who was God became flesh the Word remained God. Thus we have undiminished Deity in full humanity.
In our praise today we often think of raising hands or closing eyes as ways for us to express our adoration for Christ, and they are, the Scriptures are full of commands to lift holy hands or bow your heads in meditation as we sing. As men and women gathered together for worship throughout Germany in Luther’s time, it is said that the words “And the Word became flesh…” were put to a slow tune with a special melody and that when they were sung men and women of all ages would kneel to the ground to show their thankfulness to God for condescending to poor sinners like us. Such truth is worthy of such displays of worship.
He Dwelt Among Us
The Word did not only become flesh, it says “He became flesh and dwelt among us…” This phrase doesn’t just mean He resided or settled among us, it means far more. In fact in order to understand it’s meaning we must go all the way back to the end of Exodus. In the closing chapters of Exodus we see God confirm and renew the covenant He made with Abraham to the people of Israel, we see God give Israel detailed instructions for the tabernacle, for all the items that would go inside the tabernacle, and for the priestly garments. God says these things were to be made for beauty and for glory. God commanded all these various things and the tabernacle to be made because He intended to dwell among, or to be present with, His people through the tabernacle in their wilderness wanderings. After Israel obeyed and made these things, God’s glory, the shekinah glory of God, came down and filled the tabernacle, bringing a terrible and awesome joyful fear among the people.
Now go back to v14 of John 1. That phrase ‘dwelt’ is the Greek word ‘eskonosen’ which literally means ‘tabernacled’ or ‘tented’ among us. You see what Jesus is saying? Just as God formerly dwelt and made His presence known among His people in the tabernacle, now God dwells and makes His presence known in the Person of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. And more so, just as the result of God dwelling among His people in the tabernacle was a display of God’s glory, did you notice what the rest of v14 says? There is another and greater display of glory in our current wilderness of this fallen world. “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John is making clear that because God has tabernacled among us in Jesus, God’s glory is now revealed to us and has truly taken up residence among us in the Person of Jesus. Which means, Jesus is the true shekinah glory of God. Or we could say it all another way: God used to come, filling the tabernacle with His glory, to speak with Moses face to face. Now God has come to speak with His people and reveal His glory in a vastly more intimate way, as Paul says in 2 Cor. 4:6, in the face of Jesus Christ. Therefore, all the Old Testament symbolism of God dwelling with man in the tabernacle and the temple, all that God hinted at in a dim and imperfect fashion is now fulfilled in the coming of Christ.
Sam Storms, in his book Kingdom Come, states “The glory which once shined in the tent/tabernacle/temple of old, veiled in mysterious cloud, was simply a fore-glow, a mere anticipatory flicker, of that exceedingly excelling glory now embodied in the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ.” You know what this means? We’re not looking for a physical temple to be rebuilt in national Israel today that marks the beginning of the end times. God no longer lives in a temple or tent or tabernacle, and He won’t ever return to one! Divine space is no longer confined or located or seen in a place, but a Person! Now, it is entirely possible that modern day Israelites may build a new temple and take up the Old Testament sacrificial system again within it. If that happens, though it may cause all sorts of political and religious turmoil, it will have zero theological significance. To think God would do that to mark the beginning of the end of all things is to make a backward move in redemptive history! The only temple God now dwells in and will dwell in forevermore is His Son. And adding glory to glory, Jesus is now by the Holy Spirit making His Church into a new spiritual temple as we embrace the gospel, treasure it above all things, and spread it to all peoples.
He Has Unique Glory
As John continues he defines the glory of Jesus for us further. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father…” Jesus is the only Son from the Father in the sense that He alone enjoys an eternal and utterly unique relationship with the Father. He is a Son beloved like no other. Yes, as believers we are children of God or sons and daughters of God, but only Jesus is the Son of God par-excellence. Hebrews 11:17 uses this same word when the author mentions Abraham and his sons. Abraham had Ishmael and Isaac, two sons, yet Hebrews 11:17 refers to Isaac as Abraham’s ‘only son.’ This isn’t to ignore Ishmael but to make much of the fact that it was Isaac who enjoyed the privilege of being the son of promise. So too, the glory of Jesus is the glory of the only Son through whom we sons and daughters come into the covenantal promises of God. Jesus’ glory is a unique glory, a matchless glory, and John would have known this because of all the miracles he personally saw Jesus do there are three events John witnessed that revealed this unique glory to him. The transfiguration, the crucifixion, and the resurrection. John knew that no one is like Jesus, do you? Niagara falls surely has a kind of glory to it, and an overwhelming one at that. But in comparison with Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, Niagara is barely a drop of water.
He is Full of Grace and Truth
He also says this glory of the unique and only Son of God is a glory full of something. What is His glory full of? “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.” It’s hard to tell from the verse whether John intends to communicate that the glory of Christ is full of grace and truth, or that Christ Himself is full of grace and truth. Commentators go back and forth here because in the Greek construction it is difficult to discern what John was intending to attribute grace and truth to. While I don’t think we can separate the glory of Christ from Christ Himself, I do think it’s the glory of Christ in specific view here when John says ‘full of grace and truth.’ I think this because of that same section in Exodus we spoke of earlier. In the later chapters of Exodus Moses goes up on the mountain for the second time and in 34:5-6 we read this, “The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…’”
When God proclaimed His own glories of ‘steadfast love and faithfulness’ to Moses we should think of John 1:14, it carries the same tune to it. Just as Moses saw the glory of God and learned of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, so too John says when we see the glory of the Word made flesh who tabernacled among us we learn of His grace and truth. And we should expect this to be the case because the God who revealed His glory to Moses said His name was “I Am.” And it just so happens that Jesus, later in John, will make many “I am” statements to reveal that He is Yahweh Himself, He is the “I Am” who revealed His glory to Moses. He became flesh, He tabernacles among us, we see His glory, and then witness what His glory is full of: grace and truth. We see more here. When He revealed Himself to Moses He was reaffirming and ratifying His covenant with Israel. Since that is the case, and since we see the same glory attributes repeated in John 1:14 as the Word becomes flesh, do you see that the meaning being shown to us here in v14? Just as God covenantally dealt with His people then, so too, Jesus came to make a New Covenant with us.
What’s the glory of the New Covenant? Grace and truth. Not just grace, or not just truth, but grace and truth. Aren’t you glad to hear grace and truth here? I am. Why am I glad to hear it? Because I know who I am. I deserve to have God come down and reveal a glory full of wrath and justice. But joy of all joy, He came and we see grace and truth. Of course we see the trajectory of this throughout the earthly ministry of Jesus as He slowly but surely gets closer and closer to the place where we’d see His grace and truth on their most maximal display – the cross. The truth of the cross is that sin demands punishment and payment and we deserve to bear it. The grace of the cross is that this very Word became like us so that we could become like Him. Guilty, vile, and helpless we – spotless Lamb of God was He. The truth of the cross is dreadful. The grace of the cross is delightful.
Grace and truth, this is what John the Baptist bore witness of in v15, and this is why John the Apostle says in v16 that from His fullness (which means the fullness of His glory) we have received grace upon grace. Grace and truth, bringing salvation to all who believe, bringing sinners all good things in life and death, and bringing you and I a template of how we’re to do life with one another…which means, the same grace and truth we received in Christ we now give to our spouse, our kids, our family, our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers, and on, and on, and on.
So to apply this specifically to us at SonRise, our vision is that the Glory of God would be the glory of this city. This Glory, the Glory of the Word become flesh, the Glory of the Word tabernacling among us, the Glory as of the only Son from Father, the Glory full of grace and truth – this is the Glory we want to glory in, and this is the Glory we want our city to glory in.
May God do such things in us and through us.