Make the Journey With John
The other Gospels begin gently leading us to Jesus the Man, then to Him as Lord over all creation, and after that to Him as God. Not John. He begins with God the Word, goes to God in the flesh of Jesus, and ends with Jesus being my God. Make this journey with John for 2 reasons. Salvation is found in not only what Jesus does but in who Jesus is. You can't know what Jesus does for you if you don't know who Jesus is. Second, make the journey with John to avoid the world's error that belief in God is good enough. See, nobody doubts that God is to be believed and honored, but who this God is, is left for everyone to make up. Since God is unknowable and incomprehensible to the world, so it doesn't really matter how you view God. John denies this. John says that there is no salvation in an incomprehensible, unknowable God. John's goal is to take you to the true God. Make the journey with John.
Where does John begin? "In the beginning," this is the same beginning spoken of in Genesis 1. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." In this beginning before there was people, planet, time, space or universe God was and the Word not only was with God but was God. The only way I can make myself known to you completely is by my words. You can easily misunderstand my actions, but my words, especially the ones I write down are knowable and understandable. You've heard of these people who are "locked" in their own bodies by stroke or accident. They are all there. They can hear, see and understand, but they can't make themselves known.
The true God is not like this. The Word was always with Him. He created all things by means of this Word. Without the Word who was God, not one single thing was created. So in created things God speaks, but He does so in a general way. And He speaks not only beauty but ugliness, not only blessing but horrible tragedy, not only peace but terror. There are mixed messages in God's speaking in creation, so "the world knew Him not." The best of the world Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Homer, Virgil, Ovid and others knew something of God the Word from all that He made, but they were not able to know Him completely. The rest of the world didn't even know this much. Rather than think of God according to how He revealed Himself in creation, they made God into a creature.
But the Word was in the world more than just by the fact "the world was made by Him"; God the Word "came unto His own." The Word of the Lord came to Moses and the prophets, but He was not listened to. The Word of the Lord came to the people whom He had chosen for His own, "and His own received Him not." Surely you are struck by this when you read your Old Testament. Don't you see how little they paid attention to the Word? Though commanded by God's Word, Passover is hardly ever celebrated. God's Word's gave instructions against something so wrong as male cult prostitutes. But right after the time of Solomon we find them in the land. Then some good kings tried to expel them, but hundreds of years later we find them in the temple itself.
The Word was with God from all eternity. God did make Himself known, but He wasn't listened to. So what did God do, stop talking, like we do when we get fed up? No, He kept speaking through the prophets right up till around 400 BC, and He went on speaking after that through the ministry of the Word. But then the Word that was God took on flesh and dwelled among us. Jesus, says John, is "the only begotten God." That's what John wrote in verse 18, but it was such a powerful, amazing statement that latter manuscripts changed it to "the only begotten Son." That makes sense. That's were many Christians end up. "O, Jesus is God's son," with the emphasis on the word son making Jesus in some way less than true God. And no matter how little you make Jesus less then God, you've denied the Christian faith.
What John clearly says is that the Word who was with God in the very beginning and was Himself God, was made flesh. The God who created all things, walked with Adam in Eden, met with Moses on Mount Sinai, took on flesh and blood. In the womb of the Virgin Mary the infinite God clothes Himself, wraps Himself, hides Himself in a finite Man. This means that all the qualities that up to now had belonged only to divinity can be found in the Man, Jesus. He is all powerful, all knowing, present everywhere. The Reformed faith specifically deny this happened. Jesus is all that God is but only according to His divine nature, not according to His human nature.
Why does it matter? If the flesh of Jesus is not that of God, then what does is matter if it suffers, sighs, bleeds and dies for you? What would His suffering mean that yours does not? But if in Jesus God suffers for sins and sinners, if the weight of God is in the flesh of Christ hanging on the cross, if the thickness and richness of God is in the blood of Christ dripping from the cross, well then what more suffering, sighing, bleeding or dying would ever be needed to pay for sins? If God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, then anyone in all the world could count God a friend for Jesus' sake. If all of God was in Christ atoning for the world's sins, then nothing more needs to come from me in order to believe God is at peace with me.
Make the journey with John. He starts you out in eternity telling you the Word was God. The Word that created and came through the mouths of men in the Old Testament was God. This Word became flesh in the Person of Jesus to dwell in our flesh keeping all the commandments, all the rules, all the dos and don'ts God requires of our flesh. Moreover this Word became flesh in the person of Jesus to make a sacrifice with our flesh and blood to appease the wrath of God from here to eternity. But John's journey doesn't end here. It ends with Doubting Thomas falling down before the Man Jesus and confessing, "My Lord and My God."
Unless this confession comes from your lips, you are lost. You will not be saved. You can speak of God, pray to God, think of God, believe in God all you want, and you and your god will go to hell. The goal of John's Gospel and this sermon is to lead you to make the leap from God to Jesus. As Jesus says in John 14:1, "You believe in God; believe also in Me." You people have got to stop thinking, speaking, and believing in "God" in some generic way that is acceptable to all America.
Compare your usual ways of thought, speech, and faith to how Luther expressed himself: "We Christians know of no other God, whether in heaven or on earth, outside of the one in the flesh, who lies in the lap of the Virgin Mary." "Apart from Christ there is no God." "Apart from Christ there is simply no God or Godhead at all." "Apart from this Man, there is no God." "I have no God, whether in heaven or earth, and I know of none, outside the flesh that lies in the bosom of the Virgin Mary. For elsewhere God is utterly incomprehensible, but comprehensible in the flesh of Christ alone."
Repent of continually going outside of the flesh and blood of Christ. Only here, only in Jesus, is God with you, for you, approachable, knowable, understandable, and bearable. Only by the Word can God be really and accurately known. "No man has seen God at anytime; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him."
You try to behold the glory of God apart from Jesus and you will burn your spiritual eyes out as sure as looking at the Sun will burn out your physical ones. The secrets of God's majesty have not been revealed. We must be content to occupy ourselves with God in the flesh. You can see the glory of God in disaster, tragedy, and even disease, but you can't bear His glory there. You are to look in the manger, on Mary's lap, in Gethsemane, and on the cross. There you see the glory of God as He wants to be known by sinners. Redeeming them, humbling Himself for them, suffering for them, and dying for them. Imprint this image of God in Christ forever on your heart.
But images aren't enough, are they? You people are flesh and blood. You hurt in your bodies. You feel your worries, your guilts and your fears in your bodies. You need a flesh and blood Savior not only in 1st century Palestine but in 21st century America. In France, they have a tradition that emphasizes Christmas is about God coming in our flesh and blood. Rather than put up a Christmas tree in their home they put up a manger.
Think of it; a tree nowadays tells people we're celebrating the same holiday they are. But if we had a manger where our tree is, it would testify of something else: God in man made manifest. Originally, however, trees did point to the incarnate God. Trees were first bought into homes and decorated with apples to remind people of the Fall. Over time, the apples were replaced with small, white wafers to remind people of Communion. These wafers gave way to small pieces of pastry in the shape of angels, hearts, flowers and bells. So the first ornaments on a Christmas tree were really to remind people of Communion where Jesus, God in the flesh, comes once more in His Flesh and Blood to earth.
This leap that I've made from manger, to tree, to the Lord's Table isn't as great as it seems. Chrysostom, in the 4th century said, "The Table of the Lord takes the place of the manger, for on it lies the body of the Lord, not indeed wrapped in swaddling clothes, but clothed with the Holy Spirit." As a modern poem has it, "God was Man in Palestine/ And lives today in Bread and Wine." In this Sacrament, Jesus is your Lord and God today. He is here as He was in Palestine to give forgiveness, life and salvation. He is here in His flesh and blood to wash away the sins we cannot forgive ourselves for, to prepare our bodies in this life for the next life, and to give us the food today that we need for eternity.
Come let us adore Him; Christ the Lord; Jesus our God. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Feast of the Nativity; John 1: 1-18