Read This Page in My Language
Sermon: John 1:14-18
Christmas 2 – January 5, 2020 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
A number of years ago I was teaching a Bible class. I was teaching the concept of Christian faith on the basis of Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” In other words almost everything we believe in as Christians are things we have never seen with our own eyes. And I illustrated that truth to those in the class by asking them, “Have any of you ever seen heaven?” And of course no one said they had ever seen heaven. So I explained to them, “That’s what faith is all about. We believe in the existence of heaven even though we’ve never seen heaven.”
Then I thought I would use one more example. I asked, “Have any of you ever seen God?” I fully expected that they would all shake their heads no indicating that they had never seen God. But one older woman who was taking the class raised her hand and said, “I’ve seen God.” And she went on to explain that she saw God once in some type of vision or dream. She disrupted my illustration of faith, but I didn’t try to question the truthfulness of her claim to have seen God. She was very sincere in what she said, and, who knows, maybe she did see God in a dream or a vision.
In our text today the gospel writer John says, “No one has ever seen God.” So who’s right – the elderly woman in my Bible class who said she saw God or the Apostle John who wrote in the Scriptures, “No one has ever seen God”? The truth is they can both be right. It all depends on what you mean by seeing God.
Today we’re going to ask
HAVE YOU EVER SEEN GOD?
IT ALL DEPENDS ON WHAT YOU MEAN!
John wrote this gospel in order to emphasize the truth that Jesus is God. As a matter of fact, John declares Jesus to be God in the very first verse of this gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
The Word that John is writing about of course is Jesus. But we would not know absolutely for sure that John was writing about Jesus until we get to verse 14, the first verse of our text today: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” That verse is really what Christmas is all about. God the Son took on a human nature. He became one of us.
Jesus is the Word. That’s kind of an odd sounding designation to say that Jesus is the Word. But it makes a lot of sense. Jesus came to this world to preach the word of God. He came to this world to tell us who God is and what he’s like. But Jesus is not just any prophet or apostle or preacher of the word. He is God himself. He speaks the very word of God. He speaks with the ultimate and final authority of God himself. We could say that he is the very physical embodiment of the word of God. So John calls him the Word.
Stop and think for a moment. What do we do when we’re about to read the gospel in each of our services? It’s a wonderful and very meaningful tradition that has come down to us from centuries of Christian worship. We stand up. We stand up for the gospel. In our bulletin we say, “We stand for the gospel in special reverence and respect for the words of our Savior Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” As important as the words of Moses are in the first five books of the Old Testament, we don’t stand up for Moses. We don’t stand up for any of the other prophets either, not even Isaiah. We don’t stand up for the Apostle Paul when we read from one of his letters. But we do stand up for Jesus.
And John says that the Word “made his dwelling among us.” Note carefully what John writes. He didn’t just say that Jesus came to live among us. He says that he made his dwelling among us. John is literally saying that Jesus “tabernacled” among us.
Do you remember the tabernacle from the Old Testament? It was that tent-like worship facility that the LORD commanded Moses and the people of Israel to construct. It was where the people would come to publicly worship. It’s where the people of Israel brought their sacrifices to offer to God. The tabernacle was placed right in the middle of the encampment of thousands of Israelites. The tabernacle represented God’s presence right among his people. Symbolically the LORD was saying to the people of Israel, “I live, I dwell, right among you, right in the middle of you all.” Jesus came to live, to dwell, right among all of us, to be one of us.
And John wrote, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The One and Only is another reference to the truth that Jesus is really God. He’s more than just a prophet or an apostle. There’s no one like him. He is the One and Only Son of God and Savior of the world.
And just imagine the glory of the One and Only that John the disciple saw. He saw all of Jesus’ miracles. He was there in Cana when Jesus turned water into wine. John was stunned along with all the other disciples when Jesus stilled the raging wind and water of the Sea of Galilee. Peter, James, and John saw Jesus shining with the glory of God on the Mount of Transfiguration. They saw the glory of Jesus’ himself risen from the dead. It’s no wonder that John calls him the One and Only.
John calls on the testimony of someone else, another man named John, to emphasize Jesus’ divine nature as God: John the Baptist. John the gospel writer says, “John [the Baptist] testifies concerning him. He cries out saying, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.”’” Jesus was born six months after John the Baptist. Jesus’ ministry came after John the Baptist. John the Baptist was a forerunner of Jesus. And yet John the Baptist testifies that Jesus far surpasses him because Jesus is God himself, the Son of God from all eternity.
And what was Jesus’ message? How would you answer that question? If you had to summarize Jesus’ message in one or two words what would you say? I hope you would say forgiveness or salvation or mercy. Or you might say Jesus’ message was a message of grace. That’s what John the gospel writer does: “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.”
Grace is God’s undeserved love. Jesus came to dwell among us, to be one of us, for the purpose of saving us from our sins. About thirty two or three years after he was born in Bethlehem Jesus died on a cross to atone for our sins and the sins of the whole world. God has forgiven all of our sins. We don’t deserve that forgiveness. We have done nothing to earn that forgiveness. It’s just a gift of God. That’s grace.
And contrast that grace with the Law of Moses. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Moses gave the people of Israel many laws from God, pages and pages of laws. Have you ever read Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy? Then you know that the Law of Moses is almost endless. And in all those pages of laws Moses never promised the forgiveness of sins by God’s grace alone. But Jesus did. Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
So what about seeing God? That was our original question. Have you ever seen God? It depends on what you mean by “seeing God.” John says, “No one has ever seen God, . . .” That seems pretty clear. But didn’t Adam and Eve see God? They did. Didn’t Abraham see God? He did. Didn’t Moses see God? He did. Didn’t John and all the disciples and everyone who saw Jesus see God? After all Jesus is God. They did.
They all saw God but in a human form. When Adam and Eve and Abraham and Moses saw God face to face they saw him in a human form. God hid his glory in human flesh, in a human body. We can say the same thing of all those who saw Jesus face to face. Jesus was indeed God, but the glory of God was hidden in Jesus’ body. On New Year’s Eve we sang these words about Jesus: “He veils in flesh is pow’r divine A servant’s form to take; . .” and “And he conceals for sinners sake His majesty as God, . . .” Or in “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” we sing these words: “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail th’ incarnate Deity.”
But couldn’t you argue that Moses saw God in glory? God revealed a portion of his glory to Moses. Or what about Isaiah? Isaiah saw God glorious and seated on a throne with seraphim, angels, flying around him. Didn’t Peter, James, and John see Jesus in glory on the Mount of Transfiguration? Didn’t John himself see Jesus in his glory at the beginning of his visions in Revelation? They did, but even in these situations they only saw a part of God’s glory.
What John means is that no has ever seen God in all the fullness of his glory. If you or I ever saw God in all the fullness of his bright, burning glory we would die in a split second, burned up before we would even know it. God told Moses, who wanted see the glory of God, “No one may see me and live.”
Have you ever seen God? I guess not. Not in his glory. What about that lady in my Bible class? Did she see God? Maybe, but not in his glory.
We sinners cannot see God is the fullness of his glory and live. But John tells us that God did the next best thing: “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” That’s what Christmas is all about. God the Son took on a human nature and concealed his majesty as God in his human body. He lived and walked right among us and told us about God. He revealed to us in his words and actions exactly who God is and what he is like. On the cross Jesus demonstrated to us how much God loved us and wanted to save us from our sins. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
In Jesus we see God. In Jesus we see who God is. In Jesus we see what God is like. In Jesus we see God and we know him. Amen.