And The Word Became Flesh - Part 1

Tom Pennington • John 1:14-18

  • 2017-12-10 AM
  • Sermons

PDF

It was back in the year 1995 that a singer by the name of Joan Osborne released a song that the music industry usually refers to a one-hit wonder. She's known really for nothing else. It was a song that made the Top 40 and even beyond. It was a song entitled "What If God Was One Of Us?" Now there're several problems with that song. The first and most—well maybe not most serious—but the first and most troublesome on first glance is just the bad grammar. It's not if God was one of us. It's if God were one of us. What if God were one of us? But another problem is that, honestly, it lacks sufficient respect for God. If you read the lyrics, it just lacks respect for who God is. It was also used as the sound track of a blasphemous film back in the early 2000s. So it's not a song that I recommend, but I bring it up because I remember the first time I heard it. I was walking through, I think, a department store at the time, and it was Christmastime. And as usual they were playing a string of Christmas related songs over the sound system, and I heard "What If God Was One Of Us?" And it struck me the irony of that reality. The irony of the fact that what seems impossible is in very fact what actually happened. God was and is one of us. That's what we celebrate at Christmastime. Whether the singer of that song understood the profundity of what she sung, whether she believed it or not, whether the song writer got it, I don't know all of that, but I do know this: that is exactly what happened. It's the human birth of the eternal God that we celebrate at Christmastime.

Three of the gospel records address the issue of the birth of Christ. Both Matthew and Luke address His birth and describe it from a human vantage point: the views of Mary and Joseph, of Herod, of the shepherds. John also addresses here the birth of Christ, but not from the vantage point of humanity; instead, he gives us the divine perspective. He describes the birth of Jesus

Christ from God's viewpoint, and he does so throughout the first 18 verses of his gospel, which are called the prologue of the Gospel of John. Here's how D. A. Carson describes it. He says,

Supremely, the prologue summarizes how the Word which was with God in the very beginning came into the sphere of time and history. In other words, how the Son of God was sent into the world to become the Jesus of history, so that the glory and grace of God might be uniquely and perfectly disclosed. [He says] The rest of the book of John is nothing other than an expansion of this theme.

In other words, you have here in the first 18 verses of John's gospel, the gospel in summary. John compresses his description of the birth of Jesus Christ into just a few powerful verses. It's richly poetic and yet at the same time profoundly theological. John provides us, in fact, with the most concise New Testament statement of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ within these verses. More than any other passage in the New Testament, it was the prologue of John's gospel (the first 18 verses of chapter 1) that served as the foundation for the famous statement of the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451 about the person of Jesus Christ. The eternal Son of God took upon Himself full and complete humanity. The Almighty Creator of the universe became one of us.

Over the next three weeks, Lord willing, leading up to Christmas, we will interact with several parts of this prologue, of this passage, these 18 verses. But I want to concentrate our study on the final paragraph in this prologue to John's gospel, verses 14 to 18, and that's because the focus of those 5 verses is on what theologians call the Incarnation. If you're not familiar with that word, it simply means to become flesh. By Incarnation, we mean the biblical doctrine that the second person of the Trinity assumed humanity in the person of Jesus Christ, and He became from that time forward both fully God and fully man. He already was fully God, and He became from then and forever fully man as well. The Incarnation is the amazing, really shocking—if you'd never heard this before, this is shocking news: the reality that the eternal Son of God became man and lived among us. It was accomplished, as you know, through the virgin conception and the virgin birth, both the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit.

I think you understand that this is one of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. In 1 Timothy 3:16, Paul writes this to his young son in the faith, summarizing what, I think, was an early credal statement among the church. "By common confession, [he writes] great is the mystery of godliness: [here it is] [God] was revealed in the flesh, was vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, [and] taken up [into] glory."

In fact, the Incarnation, the understanding that the eternal Son of God has taken on Him flesh, is one of the watersheds between true Christianity and false Christianity. The Apostle John, in his first letter, 1 John 4:2-3, says this:

By this you know the Spirit of God: [In other words, you know the person, the teacher in whom is the Spirit of God. And those who have believed, who are indwelt by the Spirit of God,] every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.

True Christians affirm the full and complete humanity of Jesus Christ. At the same time, as you know, they confess His full and complete deity. Later on in that same fourth chapter of 1 John, in verses 14-15, John writes this:

We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.

Both of those realities, the deity of Jesus Christ and the humanity of Jesus Christ, married together in one person.

Now in the passage that we're going to study over the next couple of weeks, John defends both of those cardinal doctrines, and he explains how both of them can be true at the same time. The theme of the paragraph that begins in verse 14 and runs down through verse 18 is the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. It describes when God became man. Let's read it together. And let me encourage you, even as we read it, read it as though you'd never seen it before. Read it with a sort of first-time approach and allow the profundity of what's said here to grip your soul.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified about Him and cried out, saying, "This was He of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.'" For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the Father, He has explained Him.

It's an amazing passage, and it has much to teach us about this Christmas season that we celebrate and what happened that first Christmas. In fact, as this this paragraph unfolds, it's going to point us to several foundational truths about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ and bring home to us the reality that we celebrate at Christmas. So let's look at these truths together.

The first truth that John reveals about the Incarnation is the nature of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. The nature of the Incarnation, really encapsulated in the first line of verse 14. "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us." That is a shocking sentence. In fact, Leon Morris writes, "In one short, shattering expression, John unveils the great idea at the heart of Christianity, that the very Word of God took flesh for our salvation." Now as we consider these words and the nature of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, we have to begin where John begins, and that is with what He was before. Verse 14 says, "And the Word became flesh." That statement immediately invites the question, who and what was He before? Before He became flesh, what was He?

Well, there are only three other places in the New Testament when this title "the Word" is used of a person. One of them is in 1 John 1:1, where Jesus is called "the Word of Life." A second one is in the Book of Revelation (another of John's writings), Revelation 19:13, where in the Second Coming the One who is called the King of Kings and Lord of Lords is also called "The Word of God." The only other place in the New Testament where this expression "the Word" is used of a person is in the very first verse of John's gospel. So to understand who and what the Word was before He became flesh, we have to go back to the early verses of the prologue and allow John to inform us.

In fact, in John 1:1-4, John gradually reveals this mysterious person called the Word and exactly who He was before He became flesh. That's where I want us to concentrate our time this morning, on the first 4 verses of John's gospel. Because to really appreciate—I want you to listen to this—to really appreciate the incredible truth of the Incarnation, to understand and to value the birth of Jesus Christ to a poor, young couple in a stable in the village of Bethlehem in the year 5 or 6 BC, you first have to fully comprehend who and what He was before. And in verses 1 to 4 of his gospel, John tells us who He was. In fact, in these verses we will discover eight unique characteristics of this person he calls the Word who became flesh. Let's look at these characteristics together. This is who He was before He became flesh.

First of all, He was the ultimate self-expression of God. Verse 1 says, "In the beginning was the Word." The Word. Why would John say that? The Word. The Greek word translated "Word" here is logos. The Logos. Now that is a concept that Greek readers would've recognized. It's a concept that actually appeared in Greek philosophy where it, primarily—the logos in Greek thinking represented reason and rationality, the rational principle by which everything exists. But undoubtedly, that's not what John had in mind. John is drawing his use of this word logos not from Greek philosophy but from the Hebrew Scripture, because in the Old Testament the word, the word of God, factors prominently in its pages.

In fact, in the Old Testament the word or the word of God speaks primarily of two things. First of all, God's self-expression in creation. Again and again in Genesis 1 you read, and God said, and God said, and God said. And out of the word of God came everything that is. The power of God in creation, that's His word. In fact, Psalm 33:6 puts it this way: "By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host." The word of God created everything that is.

But the primary way that this expression the word is used in the Old Testament has to do with God's self-expression in revelation. You see, it's the nature of God to reveal Himself. It's the nature of God to share who He is, to express Himself to those about whom He cares. So again and again the prophets say this: "The word of the Lord came to..." For example, in Isaiah 38:4, "The word of the Lord came to Isaiah." And God expresses Himself to Isaiah and through Isaiah to His people. This is John's primary emphasis here in chapter 1 when he says the Word. He's talking about the self-expression of God in revealing Himself. How do we know that? Well, verse 1 begins with the Word; the end of the prologue, the last verse of the prologue, verse 18, comes back to this idea. "No one has seen God at any time; [but] the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has [what?] explained Him." He has exegeted Him. He has revealed Him through the Word. The invisible God is made known. Do you understand that the Word was the ultimate self-expression of God?

In fact, He was God's final word. Turn over to Hebrews 1:1. "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways." He's saying listen, God expressed Himself, God revealed Himself in Old Testament times in many different ways to many different people. Verse 2: "In these last days [He] has spoken to us in His Son." You see, Jesus is God's last word. He is God's final word. He is the ultimate self-expression of God. He exegetes God. He explains God. He simply is the Word of God. This person is called the Word, because He was the self-expression, the self-revelation of God. He was God's ultimate word.

Back in John 1 there's a second characteristic of the Word: He was eternal. Verse 1 says, "In the beginning was the Word." Now obviously, if you're familiar with the Scripture at all, you know that that expression, "in the beginning," echos back to the very first words of the Hebrew Scriptures. Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Do you see what John is saying? He's saying, in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth was the Word. Now that word "was" is a crucial word to understand.

In fact, let me back up from that particular word and say this. There are two Greek words throughout this passage that are absolutely crucial to understand John's meaning. The first word is the Greek word ginomai. It's translated or it means to come into being, to come into existence. It's usually translated became or it was made. Let me show you the use of this word. In verse 3, "All things came into being [came into existence] through Him." So all things came into existence or being—it's this word. In verse 6, "There came [literally, there came into being] a man sent from God," talking about John the Baptist. Verse 10: "The world was made." The world came into being (same word) through the Word. In verse 12, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God," to be made children of God, to come into existence as children of God. We already existed as people, but we were spiritually dead. We certainly weren't God's children. We became children of God. We came into existence as children of God. Verse 14: "And the Word [here it is again] became flesh." The Word existed, but He became flesh. He came into existence as flesh, although He already existed.

That's not the word that's used in verse 1. The Greek word that he uses in verse 1 is the Greek word eimi. It's a form of the verb to be. It means, simply, to be or to exist. And in the original language of verse 1, this verb is in an interesting tense. It's in what's called the imperfect tense, which in Greek implies a continuous state of being. So we could translate verse 1 this way: in the beginning the Word was already in existence, the Word was already in a continual state of being, He was already there, He continually was; in fact, there was never a time when the Word was not.

This is the universal testimony of the Scripture about the One who became flesh, that He existed before creation as the eternal Son of God. In Isaiah 9:6, that famous prophecy about the child that would be born, the Son that would be given, it says He's going to be a king. "The government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor." By the way, these titles have to do with His role as king. He will be a wonder of a counselor. He will be "Mighty God." And then it says, "Eternal Father." That doesn't mean that Jesus the Son becomes the Father in the sense of the first person of the Trinity. It's again referencing His role as king. He will be the protector of His people. He will be the One who cares and provides for them like a father. But He does that eternally. He is the Eternal Father. In Micah 5:2 (the famous prophecy of where Jesus would be born, in Bethlehem) it says this of the One who would be born, of the Messiah: "His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity."

Jesus Himself claimed to have preceded creation. In the High Priestly Prayer that He prays in John 17:5, He says, "Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was," before anything else existed. Later in that same chapter, verse 24, He says, "You loved Me before the foundation of the world." I had glory with You before the world existed; You loved Me before the world existed. So the Word, then, was not only the self-expression of God, He is His eternal self-expression. He existed eternally when there was nothing but God. He was eternal.

Now's there's a third characteristic of the Word back in chapter 1, and that is He was eternally with God. Again, verse 1 continues, "In the beginning was the Word [He existed in the beginning, He already existed, He was], and the Word was with God." Now, that short expression is making two separate points. First of all, it's making the point that the Word was a person distinct from God. In other words, He was with God in the sense that He accompanied Him. The second point it's making is that He enjoyed an eternal relationship with God. He was with God in that sense. In fact, the Greek preposition that's translated "with" here in verse 1 is not the normal preposition for "with." In fact, it literally means to or toward. So what it literally says in verse 1 is the Word was toward God. It pictures the idea of being face to face. In the New Testament this word that's translated "with" here almost always occurs in context where "with" means a personal, intimate relationship. That's the idea. John is saying that the Word existed before creation, but not off in some corner somewhere; instead, He was with God, He enjoyed an intimate relationship with God. So the Word, then, was a person distinguishable from God, but who is with God in a personal relationship.

How does that happen? The fourth characteristic explains: He was God. Again, verse 1 continues, "In the beginning... the Word [existed, He already existed], and the Word was with God [He was a person separate from God and yet in a personal relationship with God], and the Word was God." Now as you know, heretics and cults love to translate this verse, this expression, in two very wrong ways. Some of them will say, well, what John meant was the Word was divine. And by that not meaning He was God, but that He shared some characteristics of the divine. There's a big problem with that view. And that is, Greek has a word for divine, and it's not the word he uses here. The word he uses here is the word for God, Theos. The Word was Theos, God. The other way that the heretics and the cults love to mistranslate this expression is they like to say, well, what he really says is the Word was a god. This is what the Jehovah's Witnesses will tell you. They love to point out that the word "God" in this expression has no definite article. And that's true. There is no definite article in the Greek. They will then try to convince you that that means it should be translated not as God, capital G, but as a god, which is absolutely not true.

Let me give you a couple of arguments—there're others—let me give you a couple of strong arguments as to why that is not true, this is not saying the Word was a god. First of all, there's a linguistic reason. You see, their explanation is both bad Greek and just bad linguistic understanding. There are many times in the New Testament and in English when the predicate nominative has no article but is still definite. Now, those of you who don't remember your English classes, let me just remind you that in a simple sentence where there is the verb to be (is), the noun that follows is is called the predicate nominative: subject, verb to be, predicate nominative. In that construction it's not uncommon for the predicate nominative to be definite but not to have a definite article. Let me give you an example in English. For example, if I say Donald Trump is president. The predicate nominative is "president." There's no definite article I put there. I didn't say the president. But although the predicate nominative "president" has no definite article, I'm not saying that he is a president among many presidents. In fact, in English to say Donald Trump is president is exactly the same thing as saying Donald Trump is the president.

The same thing is true in Greek. In fact, let me give you an example. Go down to 1:49. "Nathaniel answered [Jesus, and said], 'Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are [watch this] the King of Israel.'" Now, that is a simple sentence with the subject "You," the being verb "are," and then a predicate nominative "King." You are the King. Well, guess what? In Greek the word "King" has no article. And yet it's understood that he's not saying you are a king among many kings of Israel. In fact, it's even translated as "the King." This is how language works. In fact, the word God appears other times in chapter 1 without the article and is still definite.

And even the Jehovah's Witnesses would agree that it's speaking about the one true and living God. For example, you go back to 1:6, "There came a man sent from [here's our word, Theos] sent from God." Guess what? In Greek, no definite article. But the Jehovah's Witnesses don't believe that's talking about a god. They think that's talking about the one true and living God. Go down to verse 12. "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of"—again, if you take their rule of interpretation—children of a god. They don't believe that. But it doesn't have a definite article either. This is how language works. And so understand that their whole approach is bad Greek. When they come to your door and tell you that's what the Greek says, they don't know Greek—most of them. There're a few that do, but very few. It's bad Greek, and it's bad linguistics.

A second argument that I would use against this being translated the Word is a god is a theological argument. Think about this. There is a theological reason John had to say it this way. Because if he had said the Word is the God, what would he have been saying? He would have been saying that the Word is all that God is. Is that true? No, it's not true. You have the Father; you have the Spirit. But if he had said the Word is the God, that's what he would've been saying. He would have implied that there is only one God in one person. This was the only way he could say it theologically, accurately. And the sad thing about this to me is, in Greek, John put it a way as to emphasize that the Word was in fact God. In fact, if I read it the way that the Greek emphasizes it, I would say this: the Word was God! That's the way it's put together in the Greek language. It's to emphasize His very deity. And in fact, in verse 18 this is reaffirmed. "No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God [speaking of the Word] who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him." He's called God again in verse 18.

Now when you combine John's previous point that "the Word was with God" with this one, that "the Word was God," you arrive at the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. There is one God eternally existing in distinct persons.

Now notice verse 2 adds, "He was in the beginning with God." William Hendriksen writes, "This fully divine Word, existing from all eternity as a distinct person, was enjoying loving fellowship with the Father." In other words, there is one sense in which verse 2 is just sort of a summary of verse 1. All of the same elements are there. Maybe you've seen verse 2 as just sort of a repeat of everything that's in verse 1. Well, that's partly true. But in fact, verse 2 is saying something different—slightly different, but importantly different. In verse 1, John is highlighting the eternal existence of the Word: in the beginning He already existed. But in verse 2 he is saying that at the creation itself He was there. Notice, "He was [there] in the beginning [at the creation] with God."

Now, that leads naturally to a fifth characteristic of the Word. Number five. He was the exclusive agent of creation. Notice verse 3. "All things came into being through Him." Now I want you to notice that John intentionally does not say that the Word created the universe or the earth or even everything in the world, although those things are all true. Instead, he expresses it in the most comprehensive way possible: all things, without any exceptions, came into being or came into existence through Him. There is no more absolute way to say that the Word is the only creator than this. All things came into being through Him, through His agency. By the way, this statement underscores by itself the deity of Jesus Christ.

This is something that I love to do when Jehovah's Witnesses come to my door, although for reasons I'm not sure I don't get many [any]more. But when they do, I love to do two things. First thing I love to do is (when they start talking about, you know, what the Greek of John 1 says) is to go get my Greek Testament and say, "Could you read this to me and explain it to me?" Of course, almost none of them know Greek, and so they're just spouting something they've been told. The second favorite thing I have—I don't do this just to have fun. I do this to try to shake their confidence in the false doctrine they've come to embrace. The second thing I love to do is to give them my Bible after they explain what they say John 1 means (that Jesus was a created being and that God used Him to create all things); I say, "Well, you know, that's interesting. Let me show you a verse. And explain to me how it connects to that, how it relates to that." And I open my Bible to Isaiah 44:24. And I hand it to them, and I say, "Tell me how those two work together." Because here's what Isaiah 44:24 says: "Thus says [Yahweh], your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, [listen to this] 'I, [Yahweh], am the maker of all things, stretching out the heavens by Myself, and spreading out the earth all alone.'" By Myself, all alone. "So tell me how that connects to John 1." The Jehovah's Witnesses can't explain it, because it makes no sense in their system.

But it makes perfect sense when you understand that Jesus is God, Yahweh created all things, and He did so by Himself through His Son. Colossians 1:16 says this, speaking of Jesus, "By Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him." Hebrews 1:2 says, speaking of the Son, "Through [the Son]... He made the world." God made the world through the agency of the Son.

Now at the same time, notice that John says this in verse 3 in such a way that it allows for the fact that other members of the Trinity were in fact involved in creation. He was the exclusive agent, but the Father and the Spirit were involved. The Spirit, you remember, hovered over the waters, we're told in Genesis 1. In addition, the Father was the source of creation. Turn to 1 Corinthians 8. As Paul deals with the issue of Christian liberty, he specifically addresses that there's no such thing as an idol. Verse 4: "There is no God but one." The others that are called gods, they're not really God. First Corinthians 8:6: "[We understand] for us." He's doesn't mean—he's not being a relativist. He's saying we have come to the understanding, rightly, that "there is but one God, the Father, [now notice how he puts this] from whom are all things and we exist for Him." The Father is the source of creation. All things come from Him. And then he says, "And one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him." He is the sole, exclusive agent in creation. The Father, the source; the Spirit's involved; but it is the Word, the eternal Son, who is the exclusive agent in creation. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the One by whom and through whom and for whom everything was created.

Now, I suspect that almost everyone in this room believes that. And yet I think we often lose, practically, sight of that. So let me give you a little assignment. Today as you leave this service, and as you're on your way home, and this week throughout the week as you see the world as it has been created, as you rejoice in the little things (from how your body's put together, how your thumb works, to seeing the heavens and the stars), remind yourself that all of those things, without a single exception, came into being through the work of Jesus Christ your Lord. He made them all. That's the point. The exclusive agent of creation.

Number 6. And yet He Himself is uncreated. He Himself is uncreated. Go back to John 1:3. "All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being." Notice the second half of verse 3. Some see that as simply restating the first half. And in one sense, of course, it is. It's clearly underscoring the fact that the Word is the exclusive agent of creation, but John is also saying more. Specifically, he is saying something here about the very essence of the Word. "[For] apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being." You see what he's saying? If absolutely nothing that is created was created apart from Him, then that must mean what? That He Himself is uncreated. If absolutely nothing created came into being apart from Him, then He Himself must be uncreated. He cannot be a created being.

Go to Colossians 1. I quoted this verse a moment ago, but I want you to see it again. Colossians 1:13: "[God] rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son." That's what leads off what follows. We're talking about the Son God loves. "In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." That same Son, verse 15, "is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation." What do you mean, Paul? Are you saying that Jesus is created? No. Paul says I'm saying He is preeminent (which is a way this is often used) over all of creation. How do I know that? Look at the next verse. "For," because, here's what I mean by He is the firstborn of creation: "For [because] by Him all things were created, [now watch what he says] both in the heavens and on earth." Anything excluded from that? No. And he goes on to say—just in case we're tempted to be mislead—he says I'm even talking about other intelligent beings that exist. "Whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him." He says ransack the universe, find anything that's created, including powerful spiritual beings that are not human, and He created them all. Nothing's excluded. You see, He is uncreated.

But that raises a question. If the Word was not created, where does His life come from? Well, John explains that in the seventh characteristic of the Word: He was self-existent. Look at verse 4. "In Him was life." What does that mean? Well, John explains. Go over to chapter 5. He explains exactly what he means in John 5:25-26. Notice what he says. This is Jesus speaking. "Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live." Here He's not talking about a future resurrection. He's talking about spiritual life. He's going to talk about the resurrection in just a few verses from this, but He's talking about spiritual life. And then He makes this statement in verse 26: "For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself." You see what Jesus is saying? He shares equally in the self-existing life of God. Jesus' own life is eternally self-existent. He describes Himself this way on a number of occasions. For example, in 11:25, at the death of Lazarus, what does He say? "I am the resurrection and [what?] the life." I am the life. In 14:6, Jesus says, "I am the way, [I am] the truth, and [what? I am] the life."

Turn over with me to 1 John 1. John says this in a remarkable way. First John 1:1: "What was from the beginning." And here he's probably not talking back to the beginning of creation, although he might be. I think more likely he's talking about the beginning of when Jesus came, because that's what he's about to talk about. "What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands." He's talking about Jesus. The One we witnessed, he says, and He is—notice how he describes Him—"the Word of Life." Verse 2: "And the life was manifested." Who's the life? It's Jesus. Do you see? He uses "the life" as a synonym for the name Jesus. "The life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life." Again, that's a synonym for Jesus. He's using that like a name for Jesus. He is "the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us." Jesus has life in Himself.

By the way, to be self-existent is to be God, because He is the only one who is self-existent, the only one whose life is not given to Him by someone else. It simply exists in Him. You see this in a famous interchange between Jesus and His enemies. Turn to John 8:51. Jesus says,

"Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word He will never see death." The Jews said to Him, "Now we know that You have a demon. Abraham died… the prophets also; and You say, 'If anyone keeps My word, he will never taste of death.' Surely You are not greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets died too; [now watch this question] whom do You make Yourself out to be?" [Well, Jesus is about to tell them.] Jesus answered, "If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, 'He is our God'; and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him."

Obviously, as God He was with God in eternity past, face to face with God, and as man He has communed with God throughout His earthly existence. He says,

"I know Him; and if I say... I do not know Him, I will be a liar like you, but I do know Him and keep His word. [verse 56] Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day… he saw it and was glad." So the Jews said to Him, "[You're] not yet fifty years old, [What are you talking about?]… have You seen Abraham?" [Abraham lived 2,100 years earlier.] Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am."

What was Jesus saying? He was saying two things. He was claiming the name of God that was communicated back in Exodus 3 when Moses said, whom do I say sent me?, and He said, "say… I AM." What was God saying about Himself? God was saying, I simply am, I exist. In other words, I am self-existent, I depend on nothing and nobody. And Jesus says, "I am." I depend on nothing and no one. My life is self-existent. "In Him was life."

By the way, the Jews got it. Verse 59: "They picked up stones to throw at Him." They knew He was claiming to be God by claiming the name of God and claiming to be, therefore, self-existent. No one gave the Word life. "In Him was life."

Number eight. On the basis of His having life in Himself, He gave life to everything and everyone. Verse 4 says, "In Him was life [there's that self-existent life], and [His self-existent]… life [became] the Light of men." You see, although He was self-existent, He was the One who gave life to everything and everyone else, in creation and continuing to sustain that life in providence. Do you understand that as you sit here this morning, the reason you have life is because of Jesus Christ (physical life, I mean), and the reason your heart keeps beating moment by moment, the reason a clot doesn't sling forth from some part of your body and hit your heart and your life end this moment is because Jesus Christ is sustaining that life? This is what the Scriptures teach. Acts 17:27-28, Paul, in his sermon on Mars Hill, says, "[God] is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist." God is the one who sustains our very existence.

But who, specifically, does that? It's the second member of the Trinity. Colossians 1:17 says of Christ, "He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." He's the one who holds it all together. He's the one who holds you all together. Hebrews 1:3: "He [speaking of Jesus]… upholds all things by the word of His power." The reason this world will last until He decides it ends is because He upholds it by His power. Jesus Christ is the one who gave you physical life, and He is the one who sustains your physical life moment by moment. If you doubt that, read Revelation 1:18, where Jesus, the resurrected Christ, says, I have the keys (meaning I have have the authority) over death and the grave. You will continue to live until Jesus Christ decides you die, and when He decides you die, you die.

But that's not John's primary emphasis here in verse 4. He's not primarily talking about physical life. When John uses this Greek word for life, the word zoe, its stress is always on spiritual life. Do you see what the second half of verse 4 is saying? If you are here this morning and you are in Christ, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, if you're a Christian, if you have repented of your sins and believed in Him, He is the one who gave you that life and who sustains that life. Listen to Jesus. John 10:28: "I give eternal life to them." Listen, if you have life, it's because He decided you would have life, and He's the one who sustains that life. John 10:28 goes on to say, "I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; [why? because] no one will snatch them out of My hand." Jesus Christ is the one who sustains your spiritual life. You know, I find great encouragement in that. I'm not the one who keeps me saved. The Word, the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord is the one who guards my soul. I love that song we sing, "He Will Hold Me Fast." And He will. The Eternal Word gives physical life to everything and to everyone, and He gives spiritual life to those whom He has chosen, to those who believe in Him.

So those are the eight unique characteristics of the Word. But did you notice, John still hasn't told us who this is? And he doesn't until verse 17. Notice in verse 17 this mysterious, divine person who eternally existed with God as God, the One who created everything that exists, who has life in Himself, is finally given a name. Jesus Christ. That's who it is. The Word is Jesus Christ. The Word became flesh, and He was known as Jesus Christ. You see, the name Jesus distinguishes Him as the historical person that we know as Jesus of Nazareth, the One who lived 2,000 years ago in a real place at a real time. You can still go and visit the places that He walked. You can be there and experience the very things that He experienced. He lived. He really lived on this planet, the historical Jesus. The Word became flesh, and He was Jesus of Nazareth.

Notice John also calls Him Christ. Jesus Christ. The Greek word is Christos. It's the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Hamashiach, the Messiah. So when you see the word Christ in the New Testament—listen carefully—always read it as a title, not as Jesus' last name. In other words, it's not Jesus Christ, like Tom Pennington. No, Jesus is His name; Christ is His title. Jesus Hamashiach, the Messiah, the One that was promised in the Old Testament, the One God said would come and deal with man's sin, the One chosen by God. That's what both in Hebrew and Greek this word Christ or Christos or Hamashiach means: the Messiah. It means the Anointed One, the One chosen by God, the One God promised in the Old Testament would come, God's specially chosen servant sent to bring us back into right relationship with Him. The Eternal Word became flesh. Who was He? Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah.

But what was His eternal identity? What was His eternal nature, this Word who became flesh? He was the ultimate self-expression of God. He was eternal. He was eternally with God; that is, in a relationship with God and a distinct person from God, and yet He was God. He was the exclusive agent of creation, even though He Himself was uncreated. He was self-existent. In Him was life, and He gave life to everything and everyone. That is the Word who became flesh. Do you see how shocking it is that the Word became flesh? That's what John wants us to see. That's what he wants us to get. This is the One who became just like you except for sin.

Let me ask you, is this truly the Jesus in whom you believe? Because if it isn't this Jesus, it's not the true Jesus. It's not the biblical Jesus. And you have embraced a false Christianity. And you are not a Christian. But even if you believe those things to be true, let me ask you a more probing question. Are you truly a follower of that Word, the Word who became flesh, of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Eternal Word who is God Himself? Is your hope truly and completely and solely in Him? It better be, because Peter said in Acts 4:12, this is the only One. "There is salvation in no one else; [he goes on to say] for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." Listen, your only hope is to bow your knee to the Eternal Word who became flesh, Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah. This is the One we worship and celebrate in this Christmas season. Let's pray together.

Our Father, we are humbled by what we have read. We're overwhelmed by Your grace. Lord, as we reflect on who and what Your Son was, the Word was, we are, frankly, shocked that He would become flesh, that He would become one of us. Father, I pray that You would help us to meditate on these things. We believe these things, all of us who are in Christ, Lord, we believe these things, and yet I'm afraid that I and all of us don't really understand them and grasp them at the level that we should. Father, grant us illumination. Help us to think on these things, to meditate on them. Help the truth to grip our souls. May we so understand these truths that we're never the same again. Father, don't let this be just another Christmas celebration, but change us. Turn on the light. Help us to get it and understand it in such a powerful life-transforming way that we spend our days adoring Him, Christ the Lord. Father, I pray as well for the person here this morning who is not a Christian. May this be the day when they come to acknowledge their sin before such a holy, eternal being, and to see Christ as their only hope. May this be the day when they come to know the Word, Jesus Christ our Lord. We pray in Jesus' name, amen.