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Heaven Came Down

Text: John 1:14

 Dr Alex Tang

 

Sermon statement (big picture)

Christmas, by tradition is a celebration of the birth of Jesus. Who is this Jesus? What are our different perceptions of him: “Santa Claus’ Jesus; “Buddy” Jesus; “Judgmental” Jesus; “Idealised” Jesus and “Incarnation” Jesus? Our perceptions of who Jesus is, is often defined by what He did rather than who He is.

 

Text

14 And the Word became 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. (KJV)

14 So the Word became human and lived here on earth among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father. (NLT)

14Kai; oJ lovgo" sa;rx ejgevneto kai; ejskhvnwsen ejn hJmi`n, kai; ejqeasavmeqa th;n dovxan aujtou`, dovxan wJ" monogenou`" para; patrov", plhvrh" cavrito" kai; ajlhqeiva".(NA25)

 14The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. (The Message)

14 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. (NIV)

 

Introduction

It’s the Advent season again. Advent is the time of the year we are reminded of the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Advent ends at Christmas. Christmas Day is the day we traditionally celebrate the birth of Jesus. It does not matter whether He was really born on 25th December or not. What is important that Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph in a manger in Bethlehem.

John the Evangelist describes this event as when the “Word becomes flesh.” What does he mean by that? And why does we Christians, allow Christmas to by hijacked by the world so that

  • Christmas is consumerism at its worst- buy, buy, buy
  • Christmas is Christmas tree and Christmas log cakes
  • Christmas is a holiday. First they remove Christ from Christmas (it is now X-mas) and then they want to remove the Christmas tree from Time Square, New York because they want it to be a secular/non religious holiday.
  • Christmas is Christmas card of a baby in a barn with animals and snow outside with shepherds hanging around.

Does our perception of Christmas affect what we believe about Jesus? Christmas is about Jesus. Who is this Jesus and why should we celebrate his birth? I believe that we have allowed Christmas to be hijacked because of our perceptions of Jesus. Our perceptions lead us to behave differently.

 The move Hoodwinked illustrates wonderfully how our perceptions can deceive us. It is an animated movie about the children tale of little Red Riding Hood, bringing food to her grandmother. She was stalked by a big bad wolf. The wolf went ahead of her to her grandmother’s house and pretended to be her grandmother. She was saved by a woodcutter. Our perceptions of the tale is that Red Riding Hood-innocent, wolf-bad, grandma-victim, and wood cutter-hero. However the movie gave us a different perspective:

  • The wolf is an investigative reporter looking for the Cookie Recipe Bandit
  • Red Riding Hood is Kung Fu expert
  • Grandma is an extreme sports participant
  • The woodcutter is an out of work actor who fell down the slope into grandma’s living room at the right time
  • The innocent bunny is the Cookie Recipe Bandit.

So things are really not all they seem. The Word becoming flesh is when heaven came down to earth.

 

Exposition

(1)   The Word became flesh

The Word (Logos v. 1) became flesh. “Flesh” in this verse means a human nature, not sinfulness or weakness. Christ, the eternal Logos, who is God, came to earth as man. Yet in doing so, he did not merely “appear” like a man. Humanity, in other words, was added to Christ’s deity. And yet Christ, in becoming “flesh,” did not change; so perhaps the word “became” (egeneto) should be understood as “took to himself” or “arrived on the scene as.” I like Eugene Peterson’s translation of the passage in The Message, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”

John1:1-2

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  2 He was with God in the beginning.

As far back as man can think, in the beginning . . . the Word was existing. The term “Word” is the common Greek word logos, which meant “speaking, a message, or words.” “Logos” was widely used in Greek philosophical teaching as well as in Jewish wisdom literature and philosophy. John chose this term because it was familiar to his readers, but he invested it with his own meaning, which becomes evident in the prologue.

The Word was with God in a special relationship of eternal fellowship in the Trinity. The word “with” translates the Greek pros, which here suggests “in company with” (the same use of pros in 1:2; 1 Thes. 3:4; 1 John 1:2). John then added that the Word was God. Jehovah’s Witnesses translate this clause, “The Word was a god.” This is incorrect and logically is polytheism. Others have translated it “the Word was divine,” but this is ambiguous and could lead to a faulty view of Jesus. If this verse is correctly understood, it helps clarify the doctrine of the Trinity. The Word is eternal; the Word is in relationship to God (the Father); and the Word is God.

1:2. The Word has always been in a relationship with God the Father. Christ did not at some point in time come into existence or begins a relationship with the Father. In eternity past the Father (God) and the Son (the Word) have always been in a loving communion with each other.

(2)   made his dwelling among us.

In the Greek the words lived for a while among us recall God’s dwelling with Israel in the Old Testament. The word “lived” is eskeµnoµsen, from skeµneµ (“tabernacle”). Thus, the tabernacle becomes the site of God's localized presence here on earth. Much as God’s presence was in the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34), so Jesus dwelt among people.

Ezekiel has a vision recorded in chapters 43 and 44. This time Ezekiel sees that the temple is going to be restored. At that time, the glory of the Lord will fill the temple; the Lord will dwell with his people; and his people will come and worship him. At this time in the future, the Lord will live among his people forever. I believe that the temple that Ezekiel 44:4 is speaking about is none other than the person and work of our Lord, Jesus Christ! John 1:14 speaks of the fulfillment of Ezekiel's vision of the future temple.

The Lord himself now comes to dwell (to tabernacle) among his people. But he does not come in tabernacles or temples constructed with human hands; rather he comes with our flesh, so that in his work we can behold his glory–the glory of the signs and wonders that he does for the salvation of man.

(3)   We have seen his glory,

We have seen most naturally implies that the author was an eyewitness. The greatest testimony is a reliable eyewitness. John was among some of his disciples who beheld the revelation of his glory in a very realistic way when Jesus was transfigured before them. Christ appeared before them with "divine honor, divine splendor, divine power, and as the divine radiance of God himself." Indeed, the glory of God is fully revealed in his Son.

(4)   the glory of the One and Only,

His glory refers to the unique splendor and honor seen in Jesus’ life, miracles, death, and resurrection. The one and only Son (monogenous; John 1:18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9) means that Jesus is the Son of God in a sense totally different from a human who believes and becomes a child of God.

(5)   who came from the Father,

Jesus’ sonship is unique for He is eternal and is of the same essence as the Father.

(6)  full of grace and truth.

The glorious revelation of God which the Logos displayed was full of grace and truth, that is, it was a gracious and truthful revelation (cf. John 1:17).

Lessons for Us

How do we see Jesus Christ? How do we regard Jesus Christ? Especially in this Christmas season when we remember baby Jesus.

1.      The “Santa Claus” Jesus

Many of us see God as the giver and Jesus the gift. There is nothing wrong with this. The problem arises when we see ourselves as only the receivers. In seeing ourselves as the receivers of God’s grace only, we fall into the trap of become self centered and demanding. “Give me, give me, give me” becomes our motto. We see God as a giant credit card with no spending limit and no need for repayment. We define Jesus for what he does rather than who he is. Jesus is a giver like Santa Claus. A person bearing presents or gifts free of charge with not strings attached. This leads to a Christmas in which the highpoint is PRESENTS. It’s the gifts. “Gimme, gimme, gimme” is what Christmas has became nowadays.

2.      The “Buddy” Jesus

Another perception of Jesus is that he is our buddy. After all we are all children of God and co-heirs of the Kingdom. This means Jesus is our big brother. And a kindly big brother at that, like Santa Claus. Who is afraid of the jolly fat man in red? So we sit on his lap and tell him what we want for Christmas. What’s wrong with this picture?

It bothers me with the “Buddy” Jesus is that he is more than our brother. Yes, he is human. He is also God. And God is not our brother. He is our God. James, half brother of Jesus began his Epistle as “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1).[1] He did not say, “This is my older brother, Jesus, with whom we wrestle and play in the mud together when we were young.”  James recognizes Jesus is also God.

The problem with the “Buddy” Christ is that we lost our reverence and awe of God. The Bible teaches about the ‘fear of the Lord’. It also documents that whenever anyone meets an angel of God, they fall on their faces and prostrate themselves. Do we recognize Jesus’ awesomeness? Or do we say, “Hey big brother. What’s happening? Can you get me a new computer, a PDA phone, a PS3 and while you are at it, fix my relationship with my boss so I will get my promotion?”

3.      The “Judgmental” Jesus

Some of us make decisions following the formula, What Will Jesus Do (WWJD)? What we do not realize is that this also implies What Will Jesus Not Do (WWJND). Most of us think of Jesus and associate him with grace and forgiveness. Some of us associate Jesus as a judge watching us and waiting for us to make a mistake so that he can pounce on us and condemns us. This Jesus makes us feel guilty. He is like a strict disciplinarian father, demanding strict obedience from us. This is the opposite of the “Buddy” Jesus.

4.      The  “Idealised” Jesus

The “idealized” Jesus is the most dangerous wrong perception of Jesus. We have always seen pictures of Jesus- a handsome bearded white man with clean cut features, calm, serene and wearing a white robe. Isaiah tells us that the Messiah will be a man of sorrows and ugly to look at. I guess it will not do to have an ugly looking saviour. So we have a beautiful picture. The danger of this idealized Jesus is a form of idolatry. We are creating a Jesus in our own image. Instead of looking for the historical Jesus in the Gospels- a carpenter’s son, a peasant from the rural areas, itinerant preachers, strong enough to drive out the money changers from the Temple outer courtyards, we have an effeminate portrait to which some of us pray to!

5.      The “Incarnation” Jesus

In the exegesis of John 1:14, we seen the real “incarnation” Jesus. He is the Logos, the word made flesh. He is fully human, yet fully God. He is God, of the Trinity and became human. Conceived in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit, he grew as we did and was delivered into the world, the normal way- natural childbirth. John wrote that he was full of grace and truth.

The Magi knew who Jesus is. They traveled a long way from Persia to pay their respects.

Gifts by the three Magi

                                                 i.      Gold (for the King)

                                              ii.      Incense (for the God)

                                           iii.      Myrrh (for his death on the Cross)

They knew what his coming is all about. It is to fulfil God’s mission of redemption. It is also to show us who God is in a way we can understand.

Philip Yancey in his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, gives an illustration in his taking care of his aquarium. Even though he feeds and takes care of his fishes, they are afraid of him. The only way, he concludes, to make his fishes trust him and assure them of his good intention is that he himself becomes one of them. Jesus is God incarnate. We cannot see God who is spirit. We only see his handiwork. God loves us so much that he literally gave up all to become one of us. The most powerful Being in existence, because of love, became the most powerless being on earth - a human baby.

 

Eugene Peterson in translating John 1:14 wrote,

The Word became flesh and blood,
       and moved into the neighborhood.
   We saw the glory with our own eyes,
      the one-of-a-kind glory,
      like Father, like Son,
   Generous inside and out,
      true from start to finish. (The Message)

 

Conclusion

Our perceptions of who Jesus is, is very important. Perceptions can change us and dictate our actions.

The leadership guru, Stephen Covey, illustrates how acquaintance with people’s pain, often provides the catalyst for service. He was travelling on a train one Sunday morning in New York. People were sitting quietly and it was calm when suddenly a man and his children got on board. The children were loud and they instantly shattered the peace. The man sat down next to Covey and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. Covey could not believe the man could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild so finally he lent across and said: “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn't control them a little more?” The man lifted his gaze and said: “Oh you are right. I guess I should do something about it. We have just come from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don't know what to think and I guess they don't know how to handle it either.” Covey suddenly saw things differently, he thought differently, he felt differently and he behaved differently. His irritation vanished and his heart was filled with the man's pain. “Your wife's just died?” he said, “Oh I'm sorry. Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?” Understanding the man’s pain resulted in a desire to come to his aid.[2]

Christmas, by tradition is a celebration of the birth of Jesus. Who is this Jesus? What are our different perceptions of him: “Santa Claus’ Jesus; “Buddy” Jesus; “Judgmental” Jesus; “Idealised” Jesus and “Incarnation” Jesus? Often our perceptions of who Jesus is, is defined by what He did rather than who He is.

 

What actually happened during Christmas day, 2000 years ago was Heaven came down.

 Soli deo gloria

Heaven came down[3]

 

O what a wonderful, wonderful day, day I will never forget;

After I'd wandered in darkness away, Jesus my Savior I met.

O what a tender, compassionate friend, He met the need of my heart;

Shadows dispelling, with joy I am telling, He made all the darkness depart.

 

Chorus

Heaven came down and glory filled my soul,  (filled my soul)

When at the cross the Savior made me whole;  (made me whole)

My sins were washed away and my night was turned to day,

Heaven came down and glory filled my soul!  (filled my soul)

 

Born of the Spirit with life from above into God's family divine,

Justified fully thru Calvary's love, O what a standing is mine!

And the transaction so quickly was made, when as a sinner I came,

Took of the offer, of grace He did proffer, He saved me, O praise His dear name!

 

Chorus

Heaven came down and glory filled my soul,  (filled my soul)

When at the cross the Savior made me whole;  (made me whole)

My sins were washed away and my night was turned to day,

Heaven came down and glory filled my soul!  (filled my soul)

 

Now I've a hope that will surely endure after the passing of time;

I have a future in heaven for sure there in those mansions sublime.

And it's because of that wonderful day, when at the cross I believed;

Riches eternal and blessings supernal, from His precious hand I received.

 

Chorus

Heaven came down and glory filled my soul,  (filled my soul)

When at the cross the Savior made me whole;  (made me whole)

My sins were washed away and my night was turned to day,

Heaven came down and glory filled my soul!  (filled my soul)

 

 

|posted15 December 2007|


 

[1] There is still some dispute on who is this James. It may be (1) James, son of Zebedee (Mk.1:19), (2) James, son of Alphaeus or James the younger (Mk 15:40; Mt. 27:56), (3) James the father of Judas, not Judas Iscariot (Lk.6;16) and (4) James, “the Lord’s brother” (Gal.1:19). Douglas Moo believed that it is James, the Lord’s brother who wrote the epistle. Moo, Douglas (1985), James, Grand rapids. MI: Eerdmans. p.19

[2] Stephen R Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, London: Simon & Schuster, 1989; this edition Pocket Books 2004, an imprint of Simon and Schuster UK Ltd; London, 30-31.

[3] Heaven Came Down, Words and music by John W. Peterson © 1961

 

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