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

Christ, All in All

Where there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman; but Christ is all, and in all (Colossians 3:11).

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” This is the one of the ideals enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, but the idea did not originate there. The idea that all men (and women) stand as equals before their Creator comes from Paul and the New Testament.

Paul emphasizes to the Colossians (and to the Galatians in Galatians 3:28) all divisions that keep people apart in the world have no place in the Kingdom of Christ. Rich or poor, slave or free, Greek, Jew, or barbarian, man or woman: all can be in Jesus Christ, and all are one in Christ.

This message was radical in the first century and it remains radical in the twenty-first. Even though it has been the ideal to believe that all men are created equal, there still remains plenty of prejudice in society. Racial disharmony still exists, even though few speak about it openly and plainly. There remains plenty of judgmentalism against those in different economic classes, regions of the country, cultures, and so on and so forth. We can always find plenty of reasons to consider people of other classes, cultures, races, languages, etc., as inferior or worth less than ourselves.

Yet none of this is true in reality. The truth, uncomfortable for many, is that we are all sinners, we are all guilty, and there is no reason for any of us to feel morally superior or inferior to anyone else (Romans 3:23, Philippians 2:1-4). Believers in Christ should actually be thankful for this: after all, if God were going to be prejudicial, He would have favored Israel according to the flesh, and we who are Gentiles would remain excluded from the covenant and condemned (cf. Ephesians 2:1-18)! Jesus of Nazareth was a first-century Palestinian Jew, not a white Anglo-Saxon American, or African-American, or Hispanic, or anything else. Through His death He reconciled us all to Him so that we would not be hindered by these divisions any longer (cf. Ephesians 2:11-18)!

Let us not imagine that it was “different” or “easier” then than it is now. For generations Jews were raised to feel morally superior to Gentiles (cf. Galatians 2:15); in Christ, they were now one. Greeks were bred to feel superior to all the heathen barbarians and their barbarian tongues (the word “barbarian” comes from the “bar,” “bar” sounds that Greeks heard as the language of foreigners); now, in Christ, they were one with those barbarians. In fact, even the Scythians, who defined barbarianism and were the ultimate in unsophisticated, could be one in Christ with Greeks and Romans and Jews!

The situation was similar for masters and slaves and men and women. After all, according to the society of the day, there was a reason that masters were masters and slaves were slaves. Yet now master and slave were both slaves of Christ (cf. Romans 6:18-23), and were now one in Christ. Ancient societies, in general, believed women to be morally and intellectually inferior to men. Yet, in Christ, both have equal standing. Notice that this equality does not change the fact that men and women and masters and slaves have different roles in which they function, and those roles are maintained (cf. Ephesians 5:23-6:9). Yet they all remain equally valuable before God.

Until the Lord returns, people will continue to use the differences that exist among themselves to judge one another, condemn one another, exclude one another, and to dislike one another. After all, it is more comfortable to believe that one is better because of one’s race, nationality, ethnicity, cultural heritage, class, and the like. Nevertheless, Jesus broke down all such barriers when He suffered and died on the cross. The hostility has been killed. God’s manifold wisdom can now shine forth in the church: the assembly of the saints, Jew and Gentile, white, black, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, and east or south Asian, rich and poor, male and female, employer and employee. A group of people who believe that whom you serve is far more important than what you look like or who your ancestors are or how much money you have in the bank. A place where different people with different abilities and perspectives come together to make up for the deficiencies of each other to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

That is a beautiful vision, and if we believe in Christ, we must work to put that vision into place. We can only do that by killing our own hostility toward other people through reflecting Christ: self-sacrifice, humility, and love (cf. Romans 8:29, 12:1). The barriers we may be tempted to build up against other people based on race, class, or culture must be torn down if we are going to show the love of Christ to all men and women (cf. 1 John 4:7-21)! Our faith and confidence rests on the fact that God no longer shows partiality (Romans 2:11); if we continue to show partiality and prejudice, how can we live godly lives? Let us put to death any hostility and prejudice that may remain in our hearts toward our fellow man, just as we put the man of sin to death (cf. Romans 6:6, 1 Peter 2:24), and glorify God that we can all be one in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry