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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC Combined Christmas Service, 2005-12-25

Text: John 1:14

On this morning's Combined Christmas Praise Service we have gathered together to remember the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ which took place some 2,005 years ago. Dear Friends, there has not been any birth in history surrounded with as many fascinating happenings and events as this particular one: For no other birth in the world was already known and predicted by two prophets 700 years before it happened! No other birth in the world was brought about by the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit in the life of a virgin. No other birth was ever heralded by multitudes of angels singing in the night sky. No other birth brought wise men all the way from the east (despite the dangers and difficulties of traveling), to worship the one who was born, with the costliest gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh! 

All these events put together are obviously designed to declare to the world the importance of this birth: That here in the city of Bethlehem, and in a lowly stable, (which is the most unlikely place for it to happen) something entirely new and unprecedented in all recorded history was happening, something that would have the most far-reaching consequences on mankind, and on the whole world for ages to come. Let us find out what it is by reading from our text in John 1:14 'And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.' 

You will notice that the subject of this verse is 'the Word.' To find out who or what the Word mentioned here is, we must read the first 3 verses of the same chapter: 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made.' (John 1:1-3) From this we learn that the Word is actually God Himself, the Creator of all things, who has existed from the beginning, and that really means that He has been there from a timeless eternity. Now, v.1 says that the Word was with God. The Word is God the Son, and is distinguished from God the Father, although they are actually one God, and not two. This truth is utterly incomprehensible to our finite minds, because God Himself is infinite and beyond any man's ability to fully comprehend.

But what we can comprehend and should comprehend is why God the Son is called 'the Word' in this passage. This designation is translated from the Greek word 'logos.' To the Greek mind, this word, logos, expressed the ideas of reason and creative control, the principle which controls the universe and animates the world. When used in the Bible, the keynote idea of the word, logos is divine revelation. And it is used here as a designation for God the Son, to denote that He is the ultimate revelation of God to all mankind. The only way that man can know God is through Him.

Having understood what is meant by 'the Word,' which is the subject of this passage, we are now ready to learn what v.14 teaches us about the Word. There are three significant truths for us here. Firstly, we learn that

I. God Became a Man

This truth is found in the beginning of the verse which says, 'And the Word was made Flesh.' I want you to observe the contrast between this and v.1. Verse 1 states that the Word 'was,' referring to its permanent condition or state, while v. 14 now states that the Word 'was made' flesh, involving a change in state. This is the basic statement of the Incarnation, for God entered into a new dimension of existence through the gateway of human birth. And what makes this so amazing is that 'the flesh' that our Almighty God assumed unto Himself in the incarnation is, of all things, human flesh - Human flesh in all its frailty and mortality! 1 Peter 1:24 tells us: 'For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away.' What an apt illustration grass is, of the frailty of our flesh!

Dearly Beloved, here now is the greatest mystery of all time: How can God who is almighty and all-powerful become a frail and mortal human being? Now, this frailty becomes even more pronounced when we consider that God did not become flesh immediately as a full-grown man, but as a newborn babe. You know, there is no stage of growth where man's frailty can be seen more clearly than at the time when he is born. When a newborn baby has just emerged from its mother's womb, it needs all the tender loving care that it can get in order to survive.

Actually of all God's creatures, newborn humans are the ones who need the most care. A newborn elephant or giraffe is able to stand on its feet within twenty minutes. A newborn monkey is able to cling to its mother while she swings from tree to tree. Newborn kittens are able to smell and feel their way to their mother's belly to begin drinking milk within just a few minutes of birth. How about a newborn human being? The only thing that it can do is to cry loudly for help!

And so the question that we ask is: How can the Almighty God be reduced to being such a vulnerable and helpless form, that has to be carried, fed with milk, bathed, have his diapers changed, and gradually be taught how to talk, how to walk and how to put on His own clothes? Many have tried to explain this mystery, but failed. Even the great scientist Sir Isaac Newton who discovered gravity could never explain this. To him it was impossible for an infinite God to become a finite creature. And because he could not understand this, he rejected it altogether. 

But his rejection does not mean that this great event did not take place. According to 1 Timothy 3:16, 'And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.' Dearly beloved, the way in which God was manifest in the flesh must forever remain a great and glorious mystery to us, because human minds are simply incapable of understanding it. We must simply accept it with child-like faith in God's written Word. And as we do that, we will then be able to understand and appreciate its full significance.

And what is its significance? As John Calvin has put it so well, Christ, the Son of God became the Son of Man so that we the sons of men may become the sons of God. He came down to earth, so that we might go up to heaven. He took our frail human nature on Himself, so that we might put on His divine nature (i.e. restoring the image of God in us)! What a marvelous truth this is!

Dearly beloved, this morning we are celebrating the awesome event when our Lord Jesus Christ, the only Living and True God became as one of us. While retaining in full His own divine nature, He willingly took on our human nature, thus lowering Himself all the way down to the level of puny man, lower even than the angels. And then He lived here on Earth with man for 33 years. This brings us to the next significant truth we can learn from our sermon text:

II. God Lived with Man

This comes from the second part of the verse which tells us that the Word 'dwelt among us.' The verb translated 'dwelt' literally means 'to pitch a tent.' And this may be an allusion to the Tabernacle, the large tent that was pitched right at the centre of the Israelite camp where God dwelled with His people during their journey to the Promised Land. To the people of Israel, there was no blessing that is greater than to have God dwelling among them. 

They could see Him visibly leading them as the Pillar of Cloud by Day and the Pillar of Fire by night, and whenever they set up camp to rest in their journey, that same pillar would rest on the Tabernacle.

Now, when Christ was born, God dwelt with His people once again, but this time, the tent that He used was not one that is made of cloth and animal skins like the Tabernacle wa made of. This time, the tent was frail human flesh and blood, in which He dwelled or 'tabernacled' among men for 33 years. Now if you have spent most of your life living in the comforts of a large condominium or palatial home, and then you left that all behind to live for a few months in a small tent in the middle of a dense jungle, then you may be able to understand quite well, what it was like for God the Son to 'tabernacle' with men on Earth.

The Lord of glory left His usual place in Heaven above, and accepted the austere conditions of human life and environment, with all the attendant temporal limitations that all humans experience. He had to submit Himself to being limited by time and space. He had to experience hunger, thirst, tiredness, pain and suffering. The birth by which he began his human existence took place in the most unsterile delivery room - in a stable where cows and asses gave birth (It was not at all like a delivery ward in our Kandang Kerbau Hospital, for it was a real kandang kerbau, which means 'a place where cows are kept' in Malay). His baby cot was a manger, which was actually a feeding trough for the animals, probably stained with the saliva that drools from their mouths as they eat from it! We can only imagine how dirty, smelly and unhygienic it must have been. Why did our God endure such indignities as these? He did it in order to be our Emmanuel 'God with us.'

The best rulers in history have always been those who were very close to their people, who came down from their ivory towers to the level of their subjects. One example was a king of Russia by the name of Peter (1672-1725). As a young man he joined the Russian army. Instead of immediately accepting a commander's post (which he could easily have accepted), he chose to start right at the bottom and enlist as a private. Although he was king, he had to do all the unpleasant menial work like cleaning the army barracks. But he worked his way up the ranks until he became the commander-in-chief of his own army. He also built up his navy to become a formidable force. Today he is remembered as 'Tsar Peter the Great.'

The same thing is even more true of Christ - he too had to experience the suffering and deprivation of those who are down at the grassroots level, in order to be perfectly identifed with us. It is no wonder that the prophet Isaiah called Him, 'a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.' (Isaiah 53:3). Hebrews 2:11 speaks of how complete His identification with us became as a result of this 'For both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren.'

Dearly beloved, you must never not cease to be amazed at this wonderful truth: that Christ your God should call you His brother or His sister. It should mean a whole lot to us, because it speaks of His closeness to us, to identify with us. When Christ calls you His 'brother' he is saying that He is just like your own sibling. He can fully identify with you in all your griefs, sorrows, fears, disappointments and frustrations. Is there any feeling you have that Jesus cannot understand? No. Is there any difficulty or fear you have that He cannot fully appreciate? Not at all. Why? It is because Jesus became like us and has dwelt here with us.

In his full humanity Christ was hungry, tired and thirsty. He lived without the comfort and luxury that the rich enjoyed. He was born in a lowly stable and raised in a carpenter's house. When He began His ministry at the age of 30 He traveled all over Israel on foot. In Matthew 8:20 Jesus Himself said, 'The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head.' 

In John 4, Jesus was so tired after two days of traveling on foot, that He sat down at a well and had to ask a woman who came to the well to draw out some water from the well for Him to drink.

In John 11, when his good friend Lazarus died, we see our Lord in His full humanity weeping with the two bereaved sisters. In fact the shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35 'Jesus wept.' Though this verse only has two words it speaks volumes! It speaks of the fact that in the fullness of time, the Lord our God came Himself down from His highest ranking majesty, and glory to dwell among us, to 'tabernacle' and rub shoulders with the common ranks of humanity by putting on our own frail nature of flesh and blood, and He wept with us! What a great condescension this is!

And what makes His condescension even greater is the fact that the world that He dwelled in for those 33 years is soaked and saturated with sin, all kinds of wrongdoing, evil schemes of wicked men and crimes - the very things that He utterly hates? We can never fully fathom How Jesus was able to put up with all these things, because we are all sinners and we feel very much at home in such a sinful environment - it is our element! But to Jesus Christ, every moment of dwelling in this world of sin, was only possible through His endurance! And at the end of His earthly existence, Jesus even endured the great agony of dying a most painful death on the cross of Calvary.

Dear friends, no one has ever condescended to do as much as the Lord Jesus did when He was born into this world. No one ever gone through such a great degree of discomfort and endurance. What was it then that made the all-mighty, all-powerful God dwell among us? 

III. God Came to Save Man

The answer can be found in the third part of our sermon text: 'and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.' This glory that John the Gospel writer speaks of here, is none other than the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God who is given to save the world from sin. John was an eyewitness to the last 3 years of Christ's life. During those 3 eventful years, John became part of the inner circle of Christ's disciples. He was thus privileged to behold glorious things about Jesus that no one else were able to behold.

He saw how Jesus turned water into wine. He saw how Jesus healed a paralysed man, and a man who was born blind, how He fed 5,000 with 5 loaves and two fishes, and how He raised Lazarus back to life after beind dead for 4 days. He had even seen Jesus transfigured on a mount and speaking with Moses and Elijah in His heavenly glory. But of all these things that John had witnessed, none can compare with the glory of Christ which was displayed at His death and resurrection. It is because these two events reveal a divine glory that is unique only to the only begotten Son of God, John devotes 9 out of the 21 chapters of His book (43 %) to describe the death and resurrection of Christ in full detail.

No one, not even the God the Father and God the Holy Spirit possesses this glory that is unique only to God the Son. It was His glory alone to die on the cross for our sins and to bring life and immortality to light by His resurrection from the dead!

Dear friends, it was only at the cross of Calvary and at the empty tomb that the glory of the only-begotten Son was fully revealed. The cross of Christ is the supreme demonstration of God's wonderful grace to sinners. The resurrection of Christ is the supreme demonstration that God remains true to all His covenant promises - especially His promise to conquer death and hell. And both of these were possible only because 'the Word was made flesh and dwelled among us.'

If Jesus had not been born in human flesh, He would never have been able to die on the cross for us, in our place, because none but human flesh can ever bear God's punishment for human sins. And if Jesus had not been born in human flesh, He would never have been able to resurrect from the grave, because He needs to have a body of flesh to be risen from the dead. Hence, we proclaim to all today that Jesus was born in order to die, and to be resurrected from death.

What all this means is that the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which 'the Word was made flesh,' and in which God the Son took on our human nature, was absolutely essential and necessary for Him to accomplish His glorious work of saving us from sin. Whenever we celebrate Christmas let this thought be foremost in our minds: We are celebrating God's entrance into this world to save sinners! 

And whenever we celebrate Christmas we must praise the Lord Jesus for His tremendous love for us that made Him willing to be born into this sinful world to save us. Now, dear friends, please think about this carefully: Has there ever been any love that is as great as this love? Has anyone ever loved us so selflessly, so wonderfully and so completely that way that God loved us in Christ?

As we meditate on all these things, let us realise just how greatly Jesus loves us to have done all these things for us. Can you see now what a great Saviour and Friend you have in Him? What will you do now in response to this? If you haven't turned to Jesus yet, please do so right now. Why do you delay so long to make such a wonderful Lord your Saviour? Don't you realize that there is no one else who can save you? Don't you know that He loves you and cares for you?

It would be a most tragic thing indeed for anyone of us here to continue to refuse to turn Jesus after hearing this message, because it would mean turning away from One who has condescended to become a man like you, to identify Himself completely with you, in order to save you. Won't you stop resisting His outward calls to you to be saved? Jesus says, 'Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.' (Matthew 11:28-30) Won't you open your heart right now in obedience to God's command, and ask Him to take away all your sins and to be your Saviour forever? My prayer for anyone here who is still unsaved is that you will come to Jesus right now.

And for those of us who have already turned to Christ and have been saved, my prayer for you is that you will respond to what you have heard today with much greater love and appreciation for your Lord Jesus Christ. Such a Saviour as our Lord Jesus surely deserves our heart's deepest praises. Rededicate yourself now to know Him and to serve Him well. 

Please go and tell your loved ones and friends all about Him, so that they may turn to Him and make Him their Lord and Saviour. May this knowledge of Jesus Christ as the Word who was made Flesh stir up our hearts now to greater heights of devotion to Him, so that we may make Him supreme in our life.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25