John 1:14, 16
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.
The Story: The Word who, John wrote, was in the beginning, was with God, and, in fact, was God took human flesh and lived among human people in a dusty corner of the Roman Empire. Seeing him, wrote John, we saw God’s glory. “Dwelt among us” can be translated more literally, “tabernacled among us,” and for John’s Jewish readers, the connection between the Tabernacle and glory would have stood out. When the Tabernacle was complete, God’s glory filled it (Exodus 4:34-35). Jesus’ tabernacle, His flesh was similarly filled with God’s glory. He showed that glory to His followers through the miracles He performed (John 2:11) and preeminently through His death and resurrection (John 17:1). In all He did, He demonstrated grace and truth. Grace without truth is gooey sentiment; truth without grace is rigid and frozen. Jesus embodied grace and truth together, bringing into the world and to His people “grace upon grace.” Venite adoramus. Come, let us adore Him.
The Structure: The Gnostic tendency is ever with us. We so easily separate flesh from spirit in order to be more spiritual—or to justify our bodily sins. When we look to Jesus, however, we realize it cannot be done. The incarnation, God made man, is central to our faith and our salvation. God become man, taking a human body from His mother and living like one of us. When He exercised, He sweated and it stank. Fasting made Him hungry. If He stayed up late, He was tired the next day. When they beat Him, He bruised and bled. When they crucified Him, He died. In His gritty, this-worldly material life, He revealed His eternal glory to those who could, by grace, see it. When we ignore or denigrate the material and bodily, we denigrate His glory and trivialize our salvation. Making the incarnation central yields the only worldview that ties our faith to the stuff of this world where into which we have been placed with Jesus so that many might know Him and share His life.
How do you think about the Jesus’ bodily life—a life that was just like yours? How does the incarnation inform your Christian worldview?
This is the last Worldview Bible for the foreseeable future, and there is no better place to end the feature than here: In the Beginning. Dr. Tonkowich, former managing editor of BreakPoint, is special advisor to the president and director of distance learning at Wyoming Catholic College and a regular columnist at The Stream. He is available to speak on topics related to the Scriptures, worldview, and religious liberty. You can contact him at www.jimtonkowich.com.
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.
The Story: By grace, the words of verses 9-11 are not the last word. Some, said John, did receive Him and believe in Him. To those, He gave the greatest imaginable privilege, the right to become children of God. Most of us have heard that phrase so often that its outrageous claim gets lost. In Genesis 6:4, we read how “the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them.” These “sons of God” were warriors and self-proclaimed deities who collected harems. Their story is part of the wickedness and evil that resulted in the Flood. “Children of God” in John is different. Rather than being a self-bestowed honorific title, it is a reality that involves new birth given by God into His eternal life. Only God can make that happen. Those who are born anew as children of God are thus born by the will of God. They become the Father’s sons and daughters and the incarnate Son’s brothers and sisters. Venite adoramus. Come, let us adore Him.
The Structure: St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians (3:26-4:7) enumerates the privileges that go with this new birth into life as a child of God. First we have the Spirit of Christ (the Holy Spirit) living in our hearts. The life of God—by nature eternal life—is already inside us. Second, by the Spirit in us we cry “Abba, Father.” This is a cry of dependence, trust, and shocking intimacy. It’s the cry of a child for “Daddy” who will make whatever it is all better. Third, we are heirs—“heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ,” Paul specified in Romans 8:17. And Christ is “the heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:2). This gives full meaning to the words “all things are yours” (1 Corinthians 3:21-22). Since everything belongs to Christ, the children of God who are His fellow heirs are heirs to all things. We could all spend 2017 working out the worldview implications of that and still not finish.
What does it mean to you that you are a child of God by receiving and believing in Jesus? What difference does it make in your daily life?
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.
The Story: John announced Jesus as the universal source of all light. Our understanding, our wisdom, our discoveries all find their source in Him. The good things people enjoy every day are His gifts. He made everything and thus provides everything, but He arrived in His creation with no welcome. The universal source of light was almost universally unrecognized. Even worse, those who knew about God and His ways through the special revelation of the Scriptures, the people of Israel who were already God’s own, likewise gave Him no welcome. Instead they rejected Him and plotted His crucifixion at the hands of the Romans. As Isaiah sang (53:3), “He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” He came to give Himself for the life of the world anyway. Venite adormaus. Come, let us adore Him.
The Structure: In the movie “A Few Good Men,” Jack Nicholson’s character, when asked for the truth, famously shouted in response, “You can’t handle the truth.” Sin has made that statement universally true. We can’t handle the truth, and, if we’re honest, we don’t want the truth. We are, by nature, among those “who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” The truth about God and life is clear, but we can’t handle the truth and would rather suppress it (Romans 1:18-19). We find half-truths or outright lies far more comforting and comfortable. And so we sit under judgment: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). We only come to love light and welcome the True Light by God’s grace and by the work of the Holy Spirit. He breaks into our worlds even as Jesus broke into our world: unsought, unexpected, and so often unwelcomed.
What truths would you rather not know? How do you suppress them? How can you return to the light?
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
The Story: In Genesis, when God speaks creation into existence, He begins saying, “Let there be light,” and, we read, “there was light.” God then separated light from darkness (Genesis 1:3-4). God the Light Maker entered His creation, a creation darkened by sin and, with sin, the primordial chaos. Creation needed to be remade beginning with light and throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus identifies Himself as light. “I am the light of the world,” He proclaimed, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). “I have come into the world as light,” He said later, “so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness” (John 12:46). Darkness is the normal state for people in this world, who “loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). For those who can see it, the light still shines brightly in the darkness as it did in the stable long ago. Venite adoramus. Come, let us adore Him.
The Structure: In the pitch dark, we can see nothing, stumbling blindly and precariously along the way. In the twilight, we see outlines and shapes, picking our way slowly and painfully lest we be surprised. Only in full light can we walk with confidence. In the same way, only in the light of Christ can we make sense of this world and our lives in it. Without Him we can only stagger—or swagger—along, hoping for the best and keeping our minds off the worst. Once Jesus enters our lives as He entered the world, we begin to see. We see ourselves as we are and repent. We see others as they are and honor them as the images of God. We see sin as the agent of the darkness and holiness as the path to more light. And we understand truth and develop a Christian worldview. “For at one time you were darkness,” Paul reminded the Ephesian Christians, “but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).
What does it mean to walk in the light throughout your day? What new things are you seeing in the light of Christian truth?
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
The Story: John began his gospel with the first words of Genesis: En archē, “In the beginning.” In doing this, John points out that the coming of Christ into the world is a recreation of all things. In the incarnation, the world created by Him was recreated by Him. For John, the incarnation is that radical. Note that “in the beginning” does not mean “at the start of the universe,” but beyond that to what we can call “eternity past” (even though in eternity there is no past or future, but only present). Jesus, the Word who gives order and direction to all things, is, in the words of the Nicene Creed, “the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father.” He is the Creator God who gives life and light to all things. And He is the baby in the manger: Venite adoramus. Come, let us adore Him.
The Structure: “Jesus is Lord” is the most basic Christian confession of faith. In saying this, we confess that He is God the almighty, not some super angel or other created being. He is God. Get this wrong and you get everything else wrong. And far too many Christians are getting it wrong. As Eric Metaxas commented in a recent BreakPoint, “Sixty-one percent [of American Christians] correctly say Jesus is both human and divine, but half think that He’s also ‘the first and greatest being created by God,’ rather than existing eternally, as Scripture and the ancient creeds of the faith teach.” Christmas reminds us that Jesus is Immanuel, “God-with-us” not “God’s-special-helper-with-us.” John, in this prologue to his gospel, purposely identifies Jesus, the Word, as the God of creation in Genesis 1. The miracle of God’s love and grace is thus all the greater.
How does the incarnation of the eternal God make His love and grace all the greater?
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
The Story: God promised David, “Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16), yet Isaiah foresaw the end of the kings of Judah. Was God’s promise null and void? Had He rejected David’s line as He rejected Saul’s? No, He had something far greater in mind. There would be a child born whose name, that is, whose greatness would far exceed David’s. He will be Wonderful Counselor, whose reign and wisdom will cause the world to stand in awe. Mighty God designated this king as a warrior who defends His people and leads them to victory. A good father cares for, protects, and provides for his children, and this King will be Everlasting Father whose care, protection, and provision can be relied on eternally. Finally, as Prince of Peace, He will extend His own inner peace to each individual and to the whole world through His rule, His justice, and His righteousness. God, who is zealous for the good of those He loves, will do it.
The Structure: One Christmas morning during the sermon, the pastor left the pulpit, walked over to the crèche, and addressed the baby Jesus. “Jesus,” he said, “you don’t look like a king to me.” And, let’s be honest, the child in the manger doesn’t and never did look like a king. He looks too weak, too constricted, too earthly to be the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace, whose reign would grow without end as promised in this text. Yet the eyes of faith see through His poverty, His weakness, and His apparently low birth to His divine life and eternal glory. And it is precisely this glorious contradiction we celebrate Sunday as we recall the incarnation of the almighty God in the helpless baby resting in the arms of Mary. Venit adoramus, Christians have sung for millennia. “Come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.” Wishing you a merry and blessed Christmas from all of us at the Colson Center.
How can you prepare for adoring the newborn King in worship this weekend?
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.
The Story: The first verse of Micah 5 predicts the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army and the defeat of Zedekiah, last king of Judah (2 Kings 25:1-7). This verse, in marked contrast, looks down the road to Bethlehem, King David’s hometown (1 Samuel 16:1). Bethlehem, about five-and-a-half miles from the capital, made no geopolitical difference during Micah’s day or at the time of Jesus’ birth. Important people typically forget their ancestors’ humble, rural roots. Yet, prophesied Micah, Bethlehem would once again be the birthplace of a king. This king would come directly from God and, like God, His beginnings are “from of old, from ancient days,” that is, from eternity. When Jesus made the unlikely claim that He had seen Abraham, His hearers reacted in shock. When He clarified Himself, saying “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am,” they picked up stone to hurl at Him (John 8:56-59). Yet He, the One born in little Bethlehem, fulfilled this promise fully and finally.
The Structure: God has a long history of choosing the “wrong people.” Moses told the people of Israel that the Lord chose them “for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples” (Deuteronomy 7:6-7). They were, in fact, “a stiff-necked people” (Exodus 32:9), whom God nonetheless loved. King David’s father needed prompting even to remember his seventh son (1 Samuel 16:11). Then there were Jesus’ apostles. What a motley collection of men from in and around the nowhere known as Nazareth. It’s God’s pattern to choose the foolish to shame the wise, the weak to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27). He chose Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and too little, too insignificant Bethlehem to begin His greatest work. And He chooses you.
How do God’s surprising choices give you hope for your life and for our troubled world?