The Word Became Flesh

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. … For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:14, 16-17 ESV)

While our most familiar Christmas accounts are found in the pages of Matthew and Luke, in recent years I have been drawn more to John’s account. As I mentioned in my last post, my annual Bible reading plan brings me to John’s Gospel each December. John’s presentation of the Christmas story is very unique from the other synoptic gospels because John’s purpose was uniquely different. Those other gospels focused heavily on presenting the detailed events of Jesus’ life. John’s purpose was to capture the person of Jesus Christ.

imageJohn’s account of Jesus’ birth was very plainly spoken. Only nine words in length, it can be easily memorized. But while short on words, it speaks volumes theologically. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14 ESV)  We sometimes miss the awesome impact of that simple truth in our own Christmas traditions. We are thrilled each year by the thought of the spectacle of that night. We imagine the majesty of the angel and the heavenly host that appeared to the shepherds; the simple, yet touching manger scene with the precious little baby wrapped in swaddling clothes.

I love what Luke says concerning Mary’s reaction to all the events of that night. While the shepherds gazed in awe and wonder at the spectacle and all who heard their story “were amazed at what the shepherds said to them”, Luke says Mary “treasured” them up and “pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19 NIV) At Christmas, we could all use a little less hustling and bustling and a lot more treasuring and pondering … treasuring and pondering the person of Jesus Christ – who He is and why He came. And nobody answers those questions better than John in the pages of his gospel.

My wife and I have a grandson who has Asperger’s Syndrome. After his initial diagnosis, I sought to learn more about his particular form of autism spectrum disorder which, while often highly functioning, is still characterized by difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication. One of the more interesting books I read was The Journal Of Best Practices by David Finch. What made that book unique is that Finch actually has Asperger’s. He recorded this journal to help him remember basic rules for social interactions that most of us learned early in life through everyday experiences.

As I read his account, I was struck by how well the author describes his thought processes as he deals with situations most of us never even think about. Prior to being diagnosed, Finch and his wife suffered more than the usual marital conflicts. After his diagnosis, many of those conflicts began to resolve themselves as his wife learned more about Asperger’s. She began to understand why he responds differently to things than she does and he began to understand why the things that seemed perfectly normal to him were so upsetting to her. He started keeping the journal to train himself to act more in line with her expectations.

Finch was able to articulate his thought processes in a way my grandson cannot. When I read books about autism and Asperger’s, I know more about my grandson. But there’s a big difference between knowing about someone and truly knowing someone. After reading this very personal account from someone who actually has Asperger’s, I feel as though I truly know my grandson more intimately and personally.

From his unique perspective as the self-described “disciple whom Jesus loved“, (John 13:23) John offers us the most comprehensive and insightful look into the heart of God found in all of Scripture. He understood better than anyone that Jesus came to show us the Father; that he spoke to us the very words of God so that we can better know the Father more intimately and personally ourselves. 

Only through John do we hear Jesus tell Phillip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. … The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”  (John 14:10-11 NIV)

That is the unparalleled message of Christmas – that Jesus came to show us our Heavenly Father – a message so uniquely  and profoundly articulated by John with those memorable words, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” 

I pray that this Christmas you will ponder those words, treasure them in your heart, and reflect upon their implication for your life. El Shaddai, The Almighty God, is also Immanuel, God with us. May you experience the reality and the power of His presence this Christmas as never before. And the Gospel of John would be an excellent place to start!

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Hebrews 1:3 ESV)

(Note: First published Dec. 17, 2015; edited and redistributed 12/23/2016)

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Dispensing Truth With Grace

Series: Reflections From John

“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. … From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:14, 16-17)

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C. S. Lewis once walked into a conference of religious leaders who were debating what unique aspect of Christianity sets it apart from all other religions. After asking what all the noisy discussion was about, Lewis brought the conversation to a quick close when he replied, “That’s easy. It’s grace.”

Grace has been defined as the unmerited, unearned, undeserved, favor of God. While it is indeed unique to Christianity among all the major religions, surveys consistently reveal that grace is not the first thing that comes to mind when those outside the faith think of Christians. That should be very convicting to those of us who consider ourselves followers of the One John describes as “full of grace and truth”.

Addressing this passage which concludes John’s prologue in his book, Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened To The Good News?, Philip Yancey writes:

“The church has worked tirelessly on the truth part of that formula: witness the church councils, creeds, volumes of theology, and denominational splits over minor points of doctrine. I yearn for the church to compete just as hard in conveying what Paul calls the “incomparable riches” of God’s grace. Often, it seems, we’re perceived more as guilt dispensers than as grace dispensers.”

After leading Bible studies for almost twenty years, observing the actions of Christians for much longer than that, and honestly assessing my own tendency to stress truth over grace, I must concur with Yancey’s convicting words. The fact that those outside the faith don’t see us as grace dispensers likely explains why our personal evangelism efforts so often fall short.

Colossians 4:5 says “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” The world is hungry for the truth of God’s Word, but if the truth we proclaim is not dispensed with grace and modeled in our lives, none of our words will matter.

Grace opens the door to allow truth to enter the hardest heart. As I examine my own faith journey, it is those individuals who dispensed truth with a healthy dose of grace who have had the greatest impact on me. As in all things, Christ provides us the perfect example. In his book, The Grace And Truth Paradox, Randy Alcorn writes,

“Grace and truth found their perfect union in Christ, but the rest of us tend to gravitate toward one or the other. Truth without grace breeds self-righteousness and legalism. Grace without truth breeds deception and moral compromise. The key to true Christian spirituality is to integrate these two qualities into life, imitating the character of Christ.”

John reminds us that “from the fullness of God’s grace, we have all received one blessing after another.” Having experienced the amazing and matchless grace of God, why would we ever withhold grace from others, no matter our differences? While we will often disagree with those outside the faith and sometimes even among ourselves within the faith on certain issues, we must be mindful that words of grace will always be more persuasive than insults.

This is especially true in the use of social media, where our written words often come across as more harsh than we realize or intend. As a follower of Christ, I’m often embarrassed and even angered by some of the comments I see posted by Christians and must confess to my own failings in that regard. I shudder when I consider the Biblical truth that I will one day give an account for every idle word I have spoken. (Matt. 12:36)  And that accounting will surely include those words I have posted on Facebook and Twitter as well.

The last Sunday School class I taught was called the “Truth Seekers”. And I will always strive to be a seeker and dispenser of truth. But in my Christian walk, I am increasingly mindful that I must also be a “Grace Dispenser”, speaking the truth in love, if the truth I’m attempting to convey is to draw others to the Christ I proclaim.

“If we minimize grace, the world sees no hope for salvation. If we minimize truth, the world sees no need for salvation. To show the world Jesus, we must offer full-orbed, unabridged truth and grace, magnifying both, never downsizing or apologizing for either.” – Randy Alcorn, “The Grace And Truth Paradox”

Note: All Scripture references from the New International Version. (NIV)

 

The Word Became Flesh

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14)

It is always challenging as a teacher, preacher, or a blogger this time of year to approach the account of our Savior’s birth from a fresh perspective. The story from Luke’s gospel is so familiar to us all. One of the ways that I did that as a teacher was to explore some unique perspective of the Christmas story through whatever book of the Bible we were studying at the time. That was especially challenging the year we were studying Ezekiel. But even in Ezekiel, I found it not nearly as difficult as I had anticipated. Because the Christmas story- God’s plan for mankind’s redemption- is woven throughout Scripture.

Of course, the most familiar Christmas accounts are found in the pages of Matthew and imageLuke. But in recent years I have been drawn more to John’s account. You might argue that John did not write of the birth of Christ in his gospel, but you would be mistaken. As was his style, John just presented it in a different way because John had a different agenda or purpose for his gospel than the synoptic gospel writers. Those other gospels focused heavily on presenting the detailed events of Jesus’ life- John focused on capturing the person of Jesus Christ.

John’s account of Jesus’ birth was very plainly spoken- it can be easily memorized- but it speaks volumes theologically. It is found in John 1:14 which says “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” We sometimes miss the awesome impact of that simple truth in our own Christmas traditions. We are thrilled each year by the thought of the spectacle of that night. We imagine the majesty of the angel and the heavenly host that appeared to the shepherds; the simple, yet touching manger scene with the precious little baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. We gaze in awe and wonder as skilled actors, musicians, and singers attempt to recreate the majesty of that night in drama and song.

All of that is part of the Christmas experience as we celebrate it each year – the Christmas traditions that connect us with other Christmases going all the way back to our childhood. It is all part of our effort to keep Christ in Christmas. And it is all good and pleasing and very much needed in this increasingly secular world we live in. But sometimes we let even that focus on keeping Christ in Christmas cause us to miss the most important truth about Christmas – that when Christ was born in that manger in Bethlehem that night, God himself left the splendor of heaven, humbled himself by taking on flesh, and made his dwelling among us.

I love what Luke says concerning Mary’s reaction to all the events of that night. While the shepherds gazed in awe and wonder at the spectacle and all who heard their story “were amazed at what the shepherds said to them”, Luke says Mary “treasured” them up and “pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) At Christmas, we need to spend less time hustling and bustling and more time just treasuring and pondering … treasuring and pondering the person of Jesus Christ – who He is and why He came. And nobody answers those questions better than John in the pages of his gospel. Nobody makes a stronger case for the deity of Christ than John. Nobody knew Christ more intimately than John. And nobody moves us to know Christ more intimately ourselves than John.

My wife and I have a grandson who has Asperger’s Syndrome. After his initial diagnosis, I sought out much information about this particular form of autism spectrum disorder which can be highly functioning but characterized by difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication. One of the most interesting books I read was “The Journal Of Best Practices” by David Finch. This book was unique because it was actually written by someone with Asperger’s. Prior to his diagnosis after his marriage, Finch’s condition caused tremendous conflict in his relationship with his wife. He recorded this journal to help him remember basic rules for social interactions and problem solving that most of us learned from an early age through everyday life experiences, but which never registered with him because his brain processes information so differently.

As I read his account, I was struck by how well the author describes his thought processes as he deals with situations most of us never even think about. After his diagnosis, many of the conflicts with his wife began to resolve themselves as she learned more about Asperger’s and began to understand why he responds differently to things than she does and as he began to understand why the things that seemed perfectly normal to him were so upsetting to her. He began the journal to train himself to act more in line with her expectations.

Finch was able to articulate his thought processes in a way my grandson cannot. When I read books about autism and Asperger’s, I know more about my grandson. But there’s a big difference between knowing about someone and truly knowing someone. After reading this very personal account from someone who actually has Asperger’s, I felt as though I truly knew my grandson more intimately and personally.

I thought of that as I reflected on this simple passage from John. “God became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Jesus came to show us the Father; To speak to us the very words of God so that we can better know the Father more intimately and personally. He told Phillip, “The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” (John 14:10) Jesus walked in our shoes; He faced the same temptations that we face; and yet was without sin- thus qualifying Himself to make atonement for ours.

That is the unparalleled message of Christmas- a message so well articulated by John with those memorable words, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” I pray that this Christmas you will ponder those words, treasure them in your heart, and reflect upon their implication for your life. El Shaddai, The Almighty God, is also Immanuel, God with us. God Most High is also God Most Nigh. May you experience the reality and the power of His presence this Christmas as never before. And the Gospel of John would be an excellent place to start!

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)

Note: All Scripture references from the New International Version (NIV)