The Word Became Flesh

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

Conventional wisdom declares that only two of the Gospel accounts–Matthew and Luke–tell the story of Jesus’ birth. That the situation surrounding Jesus’ birth and the specific event of Jesus’ birth are more fully narrated in Matthew and Luke and nowhere is is beyond doubt. Yet John has captured, in one verse, what is implied in the birth accounts found in Matthew and Luke, speaking of the power of the Incarnation. He does so simply and elegantly: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).

It is so quickly addressed that one might pass over it without notice if reading somewhat carelessly. Yet these seven words (in Greek; eight in English) are in many ways the pinnacle of the chapter and the driving force behind the rest of John’s Gospel.

It is one thing to speak of the Word, His divinity, His relationship with the Father, His role in creation, and His righteousness, as John does in John 1:1-10. Moses perceived how Israel subsisted on God’s word (Deuteronomy 8:3); the Psalmist understood how the creation came to be through the agency of God’s Word (Psalm 33:6); Solomon personified Wisdom in Proverbs 8:1-36 and spoke of it as present during the creation. All of these, among others, were glimpses of the divine reality about to be fully revealed to mankind, and a lot of people, both among the Jews and the Greeks, would easily accept what John said about the Word in John 1:1-4, 9.

And then John provides the bombshell. This Word, the Agent of Creation, Light of the World, Provider of Life and Sustainer of Creation, God and with God, “became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Yes, Isaiah spoke of the Immanuel child in Isaiah 7:14, “God with us,” but very few understood it that concretely. The idea boggled the mind of the Jews and the Greeks then and plenty of others ever since: how could God become flesh? For that matter, why would God humiliate Himself and decide to become flesh? How could the Creator take on the form of the creation? What is going on here?

It was a challenging statement then, and it remains a challenging statement to this day; many find the concept foolish (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:20-25). Whenever Jesus would speak of His divinity, the Jews would be flabbergasted and sought to kill Him for blasphemy (cf. John 5:18, 8:57-58, 10:30-33). Some of the Greeks who saw value in Jesus’ teachings nevertheless could not tolerate the idea that He actually became flesh; such led to the “docetic” heresy, the suggestion that Jesus was not really flesh and blood, but only seemed like flesh and blood; John roundly denounced this view (2 John 1:7-9). Ever since there have been many who have found it easier to reject or downplay what John is saying about the Word becoming flesh since the idea is so strange and offensive to “realistic” sensibilities.

Yet the questions remain. The “how” questions are completely beyond us; we could dwell upon them to our hurt or be willing to recognize that we do not have all of the answers and that the Creator evidently so created the universe so as to allow the Word to become flesh. As to the “why” questions, we may intellectually understand that the Word was willing to humble Himself to the point of becoming flesh because of His love for mankind (Romans 5:6-11, 1 John 4:7-21), but it still remains an astounding, almost unbelievable idea: God became flesh to save flesh. The Creator took on the form of the creation to redeem the creation. We cannot imagine the depth of the humility this demanded; therefore, we cannot imagine the depth of the love God has toward us which motivated this humility. God became flesh!

The implications and consequences are many. The Incarnation is a powerful antidote to the concept of total depravity: yes, human beings are deeply sinful, but there must be some dignity and integrity left in flesh for God to have become it and dwell among us. To try to carve out an exception for Jesus on the basis of the “Immaculate Conception” is almost insulting to the Incarnation, as if Jesus’ flesh had to be somehow different from all other flesh in order to be God in the flesh. And, beyond all of this, God did not just become flesh, stay aloof, look down on people, enslave others, act arrogantly around them, or any such thing. God became flesh and then dwelt among us. He lived simply and humbly and went about doing good for people, even though He often received evil in return (cf. Acts 10:38-39). God became flesh not because it was some kind of accident, or as if an alien had taken over a human. When God became flesh, He showed mankind all the essential characteristics and attributes of God, so that it could be said that if you saw Jesus, you saw God the Father (John 1:18, 14:6-11); nevertheless, He also lived the perfect life and through His teachings and deeds exemplified true humanity (Hebrews 4:15, 5:7-8). God in the flesh did not just show us who God is; He also shows us what man can and should be. He is not just the perfect God; He is also the perfect Man!

God came in the flesh, presenting the glory of the only begotten from the Father, and He came full of grace and truth. From a human standpoint it is unbelievable; from a godly standpoint, it was inevitable. God loved His creation; God saved His creation by entering it, suffering for it, and overcoming its worst plagues. We may not be able to fully make sense of it; we will never deserve it; yet we can constantly praise God for it. God became flesh; God can understand our difficulties because He experienced them. He overcame them. In Jesus we understand who God is and who we are supposed to be. Let us follow after the God who became flesh and dwelt among us and obtain victory through Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Remembering our Creator

Remember also thy Creator in the days of thy youth, before the evil days come, and the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, “I have no pleasure in them” (Ecclesiastes 12:1).

Many people tend to associate spirituality with mortality– belief about God must have something to do with the afterlife, and therefore, concern about doing what God says is motivated by a desire for a more enjoyable afterlife. If spirituality can be sequestered with dying, then, some would say, it should not be a concern for those who are in their youth, in their prime of life.

This is how not a few people live their lives. They figure that they will not be dying anytime soon. Attitudes in our society reinforce this– as a whole, society does not like talking about death and attempts to ignore that unpleasant reality at all costs. Thanks to medical and technological advancements death is not as pervasive in life as it was just generations before, and this facilitates, especially among the young, an almost complete lack of consciousness of their impending demise– and that it might be sooner than expected.

In reality, as the Preacher indicates, spirituality is more than just about the fact that we will all die. In Ecclesiastes 12:1 he does not emphasize for people to remember their Ultimate Judge in the days of their youth (although that would not be a bad idea, Ecclesiastes 12:14); he says to remember your Creator. To remember the Creator is to remember that you are the creation, that there is a Power out there stronger than you are. To remember our Creator is to remember our creation from the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7), and to remember that we are dust is to recognize that our pretensions of greatness are hollow and that the day is coming when we will be but dust again (Ecclesiastes 12:7). While remembering our Creator does remind us of our own mortality, it also compels us to remember that despite our desires we are not the ones really calling the shots. We are a part of God’s great and glorious creation; an important part, yes, but a part, and we would do well to remember our role in praising and glorifying the God who created us (Psalm 148:1-14).

Nevertheless, the Preacher’s words are motivated by his understanding of the imminent demise of us all. Ecclesiastes 12:2-7, often understood as referring to physical decay, probably has the day of death and lamentation as the true referent. In the passage the Preacher invites the reader to consider the day of his or her own death and the results it will bring. Death brings down the strong and mighty; it ends the daily rituals of life; all the pleasures and labor and desires are gone. In the end, it’s all over, and it is all absurd (Ecclesiastes 12:8). Things may continue as before (Ecclesiastes 1:4-8), but not for you.

Many times we hear the advice to “live each day as if it were your last,” and such advice, if directed in ways of righteousness, is certainly sound. But the Preacher wants us to go deeper than that. What will happen on the inevitable day of your death?

Family members will mourn and lament. You would hope that people who know you or know of you would be saddened a bit. There will be plenty of people making money– funeral arrangements, the handling of the estate, and so on and so forth.

Yet, odds are, the sun will go down and then rise on the next day, and everything moves on…without you. All that you are and hope and feel and wish– gone.

This is not meant to depress, although that might be the result. It is designed to be a wake up call. None of us are as important as we tend to make ourselves out to be. We are caught up in this absurd thing called “life under the sun,” and the best time we have is now. We are to remember our Creator in the days of our youth because for so many reasons those are the good days– the days of joy and promise (Ecclesiastes 11:9-10). They are not to be squandered in riotous living. Those who are wise will understand that it does not get any better– days of infirmity, on various levels, are coming, and then ultimately the end, if the end is not untimely, and there is never any guarantee (James 4:14).

Therefore, let us praise God that this is the day of His creation, and we should rejoice in it and in Him (Psalm 118:24). We do not know what will happen tomorrow, but we can remember our Creator today and to seek His will. The day of death and the end of our absurd lives will hasten soon enough. Let us seek God before it is too late!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Is it Vain to Serve God?

“Your words have been stout against me,” saith the LORD.
Yet ye say, “What have we spoken against thee?”
Ye have said, “It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept his charge, and that we have walked mournfully before the LORD of hosts?” (Malachi 3:13-14).

People tend to prefer and value instant gratification. Sure, there are some things for which people are willing to wait for a little time, but on the whole, we want results, and we want them now. We do not want to wait in line, we do not want to wait to buy things later, and we certainly do not like being held in suspension.

If humans cannot stand waiting, then it stands to reason that humans have an even harder time tolerating seemingly constant failure. In the minds of many, insanity is defined as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” In many facets of life, that statement is reasonable and accurate.

But what happens when it comes to waiting on God?

Human beings want things right now. They want change to have happened already. Yet God operates in His good time, for He is not bound to time like we are (cf. 2 Peter 3:8). We want everything right now, but God is patiently transforming those who seek to be His obedient servants (cf. Romans 8:29, 12:1-2). It does not happen overnight– but it does happen!

But how do we feel when we look out in the world and think that nothing is going right? What happens when it seems like things are worse for us because we try to serve God? How should we then respond?

We can see how the post-exilic Jews responded to this situation. By all accounts they were less sinful than their fathers, and yet while their fathers lived in a free and independent Judah, they remained under the hand of the Persians. It seemed to them that the wicked and arrogant prospered while the righteous were distressed and humbled (cf. Malachi 2:17, 3:15). Their response was natural: why bother serving God? In their eyes, it was vanity to serve God– they were no better off for it!

This response is as entirely understandable as it is misguided. It is the result of the myopic tunnel vision that we humans often experience– we focus on all of our challenges and difficulties and the oppression and the injustice in the world and declare God unjust, or believe that since we prayed fervently for some noble cause and yet still have failed that God has abandoned us, while all around us the blessings of God in life, both physical and spiritual, abounds (cf. Genesis 1:1-2:4, John 3:16, Ephesians 1:3). If we understand that God is the Author and Sustainer of Life, how could we even begin to think that it is vain to serve Him?

It is important for us to remember that our work in the Lord is never in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). It may not lead to the immediate results we desire, either in terms of our own growth and development or the encouragement of other souls, but its long-term impact may be vast indeed. Even if it has little impact on ourselves or others, it works within God’s greater plan and His great will (Ephesians 1:3-11), and that is glorious. As Jesus indicates in Luke 18:1-8, there is great value in persistence in prayer, and we should not assume that our prayers fail because we do not immediately see changes.

We may find that things seem to go worse for us once we have turned to righteousness and seek the will of God. But we must remember in such circumstances that it is only a reversal on the surface. Consider the image we see in Revelation– if you just read Revelation 13, for instance, you would have good reason to despair if you were one of the members of the seven churches of Asia. The world of Revelation 13 was the “real world” in which you would have inhabited. Nevertheless, the picture is given in Revelation 12, 14-19, of what else is going on, and that perspective changes everything: Satan’s hold on the powers of earth is his desperate last stand, and it too will fail in the end. No matter how bleak it might have seemed on the earth, God was still ruling in heaven.

And so it is with us today. It is easy to get lost in the surface matters and the temporary setbacks, get frustrated and discouraged, and wonder if there is any value in serving God. Yet let us remember that God is still ruler in heaven, that He is accomplishing many great things, and that our work in the Lord is never in vain. Let us be patient and faithful servants of God, knowing that He does all things well (cf. Mark 7:37)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

What is Man?

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, The moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him but little lower than God, And crownest him with glory and honor (Psalm 8:3-5).

For generations man has looked upward toward the heavens and have marveled. The stars seem to go on forever! Not a few ancient cultures considered the moon to be divine. Many believed that the stars represented divinized ancestors. The night sky has always been a source of myths and wonder.

David also looked up into that night sky and marveled at the mighty hand of the One True God. That night sky caused him to reflect on his own existence and he is struck by his relative insignificance. He marvels that God would even give pause to consider such a little creature as man since He created such massive and distant objects.

That feeling is entirely understandable, and for many people, extremely uncomfortable. We do not like being reminded that we are insignificant and small– we like to think of ourselves as something significant, important, and meaningful, and have done so since the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:4). But all it takes is one look back up into the heavens to bring us back down to earth. We are small. We are insignificant. We do not deserve the time or the attention of the most holy Creator of the universe.

And yet, as David understands, God has considered our estate. He has granted us glory and honor even though we do not deserve it. We have been given the opportunity to rule over the earth and all that lives in it (cf. Psalm 8:6-8). We have been made a little lower than God, having the ability to think and reason and create (cf. Genesis 1:27-28).

Unfortunately, sin has devastated that relationship and has marred our ways of thinking (Isaiah 59:1-2, Romans 5:12-18). Too many are willing to arrogate for themselves the position of the “greatest in all the universe” after attempting to remove God from the equation. As opposed to realizing how small and insignificant we are, and therefore to give thanks for the opportunity to even be recognized by God, too many are willing to stand and believe that they are the masters of the present universe and refuse to humble themselves.

The creation around us, however, manifests the power of its Creator, as David confesses here and Paul in Romans 1:19-20. We have not deserved any of the blessings God has given us– life, stature, salvation, and even association with Him (cf. Romans 5:1-11, Ephesians 1:3). God has done all these things for His glory and His praise, and it is right to honor and glorify Him for His wonderful work. Let us remember who we are and praise the God who gave us life and stature!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Seeking God

“And he made of one every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek God, if haply they might feel after him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us: for,
‘in him we live, and move, and have our being;’
as certain even of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also his offspring'” (Acts 17:26-28).

Satisfaction does not come automatically to many people.

Sure, life might have been great when we were small children and all our needs were met. But as we grew and gained a bit of a better understanding of our environment, we all sensed that something was not quite right.

We suffered– and continue to suffer– from “dis-ease.” Not illness, per se, but discontent. We are dissatisfied with ourselves. Something is not quite right.

We agonize and search and try to find what is missing so that we may feel whole. We may think the deficiency is within ourselves, and so we seek out self-help materials to better ourselves. Even if we succeed, we still do not find contentment.

Perhaps we need other people, so we go out and develop intimate friendships and relationships. While such make us feel good and loved, we are still lacking something.

We may then turn to money, stuff, entertainment, recreation, or a thousand other pursuits in some attempt to “find ourselves” or “discover inner peace.” Whatever we discover is fleeting. That fundamental discontent remains.

Yet, in the midst of all of this searching, have we ever considered that our discontent is there for a reason?

That, in reality, something is very wrong?

As Paul of Tarsus, the Jew turned Christian, speaks to the Athenians, he does not begin by berating them for their idolatry, despite having the right to do so. Instead, he seeks to find points of commonality, and he finds it in their constant searching. All their “gods” are evidence that they are searching for something and they haven’t quite found it yet. Paul came to tell them that they were right for searching– and yet the object of their search was never far from them.

In fact, it was all around them. They existed within it. Within it they could move and exist. Indeed, Aratus was right– we are all His offspring. Who is He?

He is the One True God, our Creator and Sustainer. He created all men through one man and put it within them to seek after Him. That discontent we experience is the result of our sin having separated us from God, the Author of Life (Isaiah 59:1-2). That discontent can only be satisfied when we turn and are restored in association with God through the blood of Jesus the Christ (1 John 1).

We may not have statues of “gods” lying around, but, on a fundamental level, our challenge is the same. God set it within every soul to seek after Him. Instead of finding Him, however, too many find what God created, and serve the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:19-23). The Romans may have done so quite literally, but we today do so through our worship of money, sex, fame, and a host of other “gods” that advertise some kind of “satisfaction.”

We must turn from all of those “gods” and direct our “spirituality” toward its Source, God the Creator. When we do that, we will not have to go very far. The evidence of God and His blessings are everywhere: the gift of the creation, the gift of physical life, the gift of the enjoyments of life, the gift of fellow believers, and, above all, the gift of association with God and immediate access to Him at all times through Jesus (cf. Genesis 1, 1 John 1, Hebrews 4:16).

We are God’s offspring. In God we live and move and have our being. He is not far. Come home!

Ethan R. Longhenry