Word Made Flesh
- Main Text: John 1:1-18
- Accompanying text: Psalm 130:5-8
Context and the Doctrine of the Incarnation
“The first sentence of John’s Gospel is very deliberately built on the first sentence of the Hebrew Bible…‘In the beginning God’ (Gen.1:1)…John has taken this phrase and edited it. It is a very bold, confident move. John is not just skilled in biblical studies. He also feels completely able to make such a change. Editing Scripture in this way is not for the faint-hearted or the unqualified. What he does is write into the Scripture a short explanation of what it means. He does not take anything away from the original meaning. Neither does he distort the text into a different meaning. He deepens and extends what is already there…The Word is a person, the very person of God, with God in the beginning” (1).
John does not provide much context for his Gospel. He makes his purpose for writing clear: “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31 ESV). Scholars debate the date of its composition, with some placing it in the latter half of the first century AD when it’s likely that John’s epistles were also written. His epistles might suggest a background against which John wrote his Gospel: “By this you know 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” (1 John 4:2-3). Were some people questioning the divinity of Christ? Did they reject the idea that the pre-incarnate Word had become flesh? “The Gospel of John provides the most explicit case for Jesus’ divinity…Jesus of Nazareth is a man who eats and sleeps, yet He also claims to be God. Affirming these two ideas together is the doctrine of the incarnation: the Word becoming flesh. Some early teachers tried to resolve this paradox by saying Christ was fundamentally human but had been ‘adopted’ as God’s Son. Others, affirming the genuine deity of Jesus, taught that He only ‘seemed’ to be human. Yet others insisted that Jesus could really be God because he was the Father in disguise…Others taught that the human and the divine had merged in Jesus, and that He was neither purely divine nor human…The doctrine of the incarnation arose as a recognition of Jesus’ claim to be God, an assertion vindicated by His resurrection” (2)
Thoughts re application today
Can it be true? That “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”, and “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:1,14 (ESVUK)? “If the incarnation is true — God with us in Jesus of Nazareth — what else could we say? If this core mystery of the Christian faith (which I believe can never be truly articulated) is true, and that the Creator not only took part in the human drama, but suffered in that drama, perhaps we have an understanding and compassionate God, not one out to get us?” (3)
The act of the Incarnation provides a perfect model for our Christian walk and for ministry. Consider these points:
- We are sent just as Jesus was sent into the world (John 17:18).
- We dwell among others, not in some superior way but, in putting aside all notions of positional power, we follow the example of Jesus, who, through his becoming flesh and dwelling “among us” (John 1:14 ESV), “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7).
- We humble ourselves in sacrificial service to others, taking the lead from Jesus, the Incarnate Word, who “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).
- As we walk and dwell among others, we are to give “grace upon grace” (John 1:16) to everyone we meet no matter where or when, just as Jesus did in his earthly ministry.
John 1:12-13 fills us with the re-assurance that we belong to God — “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God”. It is because we accept the Incarnate Word that we receive the God’s gift of Adoption and that we are thus born again from above. God “predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:5). John also refers to our becoming the children of God in 1 John 3:1-3: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears[a] we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is”.
- Hebrews 1:5-13
- Philippians 2:6-11
- Matthew 1:18-24
Footnotes and references
- Ian Galloway, Called to be Friends: Unlocking the heart of John’s Gospel, published by Hodder & Stoughton, UK, 2021:11-12.
- The Bible Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained by various contributors, published by DK:Random House Publishers, UK, 2018:192-193.
- Peter Enns, How the Bible Actually Works, Hodder & Stoughton, UK, 2019:273.