Summary: 1st in a seven part series on the incarnation from John 1.
Let’s face it. There is a good deal about the gospel of Jesus that much of the world finds hard to believe. For instance, some legitimately ask how it is that the death on one Jewish man on a Roman cross can pay the penalty for all the sins of mankind. And then there is the stumbling block of the resurrection. Sure, the tomb was empty, many agree, but it seems it’s often easier to believe the theories that Jesus was resuscitated after He had only fainted or that someone stole the body than to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. What about the virgin birth or the incredible miracles that Jesus performed? Certainly none of us have seen anything like that in our lifetimes.
In his book, Knowing God, J.I. Packer makes a compelling argument that ultimately all these doubts can somehow be traced back to our views on the incarnation. He writes:
It is from disbelief, or at least inadequate belief, about the Incarnation that difficulties at other points in the gospel story usually spring. But once the Incarnation is grasped as a reality, these other difficulties dissolve.
I’m grateful to Packer’s insight, because I’m convinced that not only is what he writes very true, but that he has helped me to understand my own personal apprehensions about Christmas. As followers of Jesus, we often complain about the commercialization of Christmas and how the world misses the meaning of Christmas. But I’m not sure we’ve done a whole lot better in the church. Even in the church, Christmas becomes this sanitized tale of Mary and Joseph riding into Bethlehem on a donkey, and the birth of a cute little baby in a manger, complete with singing angels, shepherds and three wise men riding their camels into Bethlehem to worship that baby.
The first danger is that so many elements in that story come from legends and tradition and not from the Bible. And we’ve sanitized our version of the accounts so that we don’t have to deal with the rigors of the 60 mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem or the stench of the animals that Mary and Joseph would have had to deal with as Jesus was born. But the even greater danger is that we’ve lost sight of the wonder and the significance of the incarnation.
So for the next seven weeks leading up to Christmas, we’re going to take an in-depth look at the incarnation through the eyes of John. John’s account of the birth of Jesus is totally unlike those we find in Matthew and Luke, because John chooses to focus not just on the events themselves, but on the meaning behind the events.
Before looking at each element of the incarnation, we’ll begin this morning by reading the entire passage that we’ll be using for these seven weeks.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:1-5, 14 (NIV)
The first thing that we immediately notice about this passage is that John never refers to “Jesus” or to the “Christ”. In fact, John doesn’t refer to Jesus by his name until verse 17 in Chapter 1 of his gospel. Instead, he calls Jesus the “logos”, or as it is translated in most English Bibles, the “Word”. Why would he do that? There are two major reasons that John used the term “logos” here:
1. It is the incarnation that results in the “logos” becoming Jesus
Prior to the birth of Jesus an angel appeared before Joseph and instructed him that the child that was about to be born to Mary be given the name Jesus:
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
Matthew 1:21 (NIV)
From our English translations we often get the idea that the name “Jesus” is unique. However in Hebrew, his given name of Yeshua, which means “God saves”, was actually quite common. In Hebrew, it is exactly the same as the name Joshua, which is common both in our Old Testament and in extra-Biblical literature.
But until that very moment that the Son of God was born and became flesh, he didn’t have a human name because he didn’t need one. So John uses the term “logos” to describe Jesus, the second part of the triune God, as He existed eternally in heaven prior to the incarnation.