John 1:1-3, 14 - Who Is Jesus Christ? - June 24, 2018

When we started this sermon series on the Apostles’ Creed, our stated goals were that we better know and believe the truth, that we might be emboldened to confess the truth to the unbelieving world around us, and that we would be better equipped to discern truth from falsehood. In regard to that last point, one of the most basic questions one can ask when listening to a preacher, reading a book, or attending a church is: which article of the Creed is being stressed? The first, second, or third? (Unfortunately, these days, many add a 4th article: I believe in me…) But throwing out article four as obviously false, is the focus on the person and work of the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit? Which article do we stress? We are, unashamedly, a second article church. We talk about Jesus more than we talk about anything else. Why? Two reasons: 1) when Jesus was transfigured, God himself said this is my Son, whom I love…listen to him! (Matthew 17:5); and 2) in his great Pentecost sermon, Peter proclaimed: salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men, by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12) We are a second article church because God himself tells us to look to him for salvation. If we are going to tie our lives and our eternities to one person, we better know who he is. Today, John reveals to us that Jesus Christ is true God who became true man; and we will see why these truths matter.


If you are a student of the Bible, you may recall that Matthew and Luke begin their gospels with a record of Jesus’ genealogy and the account of his birth. They begin with Christmas. Not John. John takes us back before Jesus’ birth, before any of his ancestors were born, before anything existed, before time itself. In clear, unambiguous terms, John takes us back to Genesis and states: in the beginning was the Word. In the beginning, even before God began his creating activity, Jesus Christ, the Word, simply was. Before God spoke the all-powerful, creative words which brought about light, time, planets, oceans, and us – the eternal, uncreated, begotten Son of God, the Word, existed. As the only apostle to live long enough to die a natural death, John saw and heard that some were already beginning to doubt the deity of Jesus, and so he goes even further: The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. The Greek here (πρὸς) pictures the Word as standing face to face with God – on a separate but equal footing with him. And, not only that, but through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In three simple but profound sentences, John declares that Jesus Christ is, in fact, true God. He is without beginning, existing from eternity; he is of the same essence as God the Father; and with the Father he was the Creator of all things: time and space, planets and oceans, you and me. Things that can only be said about the one, true God, John here applies to the Word, to Jesus Christ.


But that leaves us begging the question “why does John call Jesus the Word?” Being a Jew, John frequently quoted the OT and weaved OT themes and terminology into his writing. That’s what he does here. From Genesis to Malachi, the Word is the means or instrument by which God interacts with creation: by the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth (Psalm 33:6); as the rain and snow come down from heaven…so is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11) The Word is God’s chosen means of to creating, relating to, and working in the world. Luther suggested that John used the term Word to make the relationship between Father and Son more understandable to us. (LW 22:6) Our words reveal our thoughts, our opinions, our hidden inner self. No one can know what is in our minds unless we make it known using words. In many ways, we are defined by our words. In the same way, the Word is the revelation of God’s inner self, his will, desire, and essence. As the Word of God, the Bible reveals God to us. But in an even fuller, more personal way, Jesus is God’s Word: he not only revealed the Father’s heart and desires, but carried out the Father’s eternal plan of salvation. The Bible teaches and we believe that Jesus is true God, distinct from and equal to God the Father and the Holy Spirit.  


But just because John doesn’t begin with the Christmas story doesn’t mean that he ignores it altogether. In verse 14, John distills the entire Christmas story to its single most important element: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. Here we must bring up a big theological word that might make our eyes glaze over: incarnation. Carnal means relating to the flesh. To incarnate means to clothe in flesh. (Kind of like I was wearing a white shirt before church this morning, but put on a black robe over it – Jesus put on human flesh, without giving up his deity.) At Christmas, the eternal Word, the Son of God came down from heaven, was clothed in flesh and blood, and yet – being conceived by the Holy Spirit, did not inherit a sinful nature. And John testifies that he was an eyewitness to this mystery of the incarnation: we have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only. The incarnation is more than a cold theological theory; it is historical fact. John and the other apostles saw, talked with and touched the one, true Son of God in human flesh, they witnessed his miracles, his power, and his resurrection.


The incarnation is a mystery far beyond anything we can grasp. Paul writes: beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: he appeared in a body. (1 Timothy 3:16) But it’s a mystery that is very good news for us. From cradle to grave, the Son of God experienced everything that you and I ever will. Hunger and thirst, weakness and strength, friendship and hatred, joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure and death itself – he experienced them all, and because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:18) Before time began, before the beginning the Word simply was. He was God and was with God. But in time, the timeless Word took on human flesh, became one of us. Jesus’ person simply defies words. It is not something we can understand or comprehend, but by God’s grace – we confess and believe it because it is the holy, inerrant, unchanging truth of Scripture.


But as amazing as the deity and humanity of Jesus are, it’s the why of it all that makes us fall down on our knees and worship him as Lord. Why did the Word go to the effort of creating us, knowing full well that we would ruin his perfect creation? Why did the Word step down from his throne in heaven to take up human flesh and take up residence in this broken world? John says that he came from the Father, full of grace and truth. He came as living, breathing, speaking proof that God is not what we would never imagine him to be. He came to reveal and persuade and demonstrate that God the Creator, our righteous Judge who has every right to hate us with every ounce of his being for rebelling against his love and destroying his perfect creation, is not angry at us. The appearance of the Word on earth, in human flesh is the fullest, most comprehensive evidence of God’s grace: that he loves us even though we are completely unlovable. Remember this, whenever you doubt God’s grace, whenever you think you have been too wicked, committed too dark of a sin, when you think God has abandoned you: instead of destroying us, he became one of us. Instead of demanding that we obey his commands perfectly or be destroyed, he came to earth to do it for us and credits his perfection to our account. Instead of justly condemning us to an eternity of punishment, he suffered hell itself for us. And he did it all so that instead of being afraid, angry, and defiant toward a God we could not see or imagine – we would know and believe the truth about God: that he is our gracious Father who wants nothing more than for us to repent of our sins, look to Jesus in faith, and be saved. As the writer to the Hebrews put it: Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15)


So, back to our question, who is Jesus Christ? Jesus Christ is true God, he existed from eternity as the Creator of all things and in time was conceived by the Holy Spirit; and Jesus Christ is true man, born of the virgin Mary, who lived for 33 years on this earth proving through word and action that he was indisputably true God and true man in one person. This is the inerrant testimony of Scripture and the timeless confession of the Christian Church in the Apostles’ Creed.


The problem with a sermon like this, on a basic tenet of Christian faith like the person and nature of Christ is that we might be tempted to take it for granted, we might be tempted to think: so what? I’ve known and confessed this week after week for years, what difference does it make? Why does it matter that we confess and believe that Jesus is true God and true Man? This matters – more than anything else in the world – for three reasons.


First, how we react to this doctrine reveals how we react to Scripture as a whole. In other words, this doctrine – taught not only by John but by the entire New Testament – forces us to ask ourselves: will we believe what the Bible plainly teaches – even if it’s impossible to fully understand and comprehend, or not? In a postmodern culture like ours, many people approach the Bible like they would a buffet: they pick and choose what they want and reject the parts they don’t like or understand. The problem is, the Bible itself doesn’t allow for this approach; the Bible presents itself as a seamless, unified whole. (2 Timothy 3:15-16; John 5:39-40) When it comes to the Bible, it’s all or nothing. If Jesus is not true God and true man, then there’s no reason to believe that God created the universe, that the Flood really happened, or that there is life after death. This doctrine forces each of us to ask and answer the question: do we believe the Bible or not?


Second, this doctrine forces us to honestly assess what we believe about Jesus. Who is he? Where did he come from? What meaning and place does he have in my life? Is he simply a great teacher, a social reformer, a fine example of how to live a tolerant and loving life, a teddy bear to hold on to when I feel sad or distressed – or is he God in human flesh? When it comes to who Jesus is, there is no sitting on the fence, there is no neutral ground, you either believe what Scripture (and he) claim about him, or you don’t. C.S. Lewis put it well in response to those who would accept Jesus as a fine moral teacher but reject his claim to be God: “You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up as a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.” [1] In other words, if Jesus is not God, he is not a good teacher, he’s a liar; he’s not a good example, he’s a hypocrite; he’s not a social reformer who suffered and died for a cause he believed in, he’s a lunatic and a fool. But, if he is who the Bible says he is, then he is no less than our Lord and Savior.


Finally, our eternal salvation hangs on the question of who Jesus is. Jesus had to be both true God and true man in order to be our Savior. He had to be true man in order to take our place under God’s law, in order to be tempted, in order to suffer and die. He had to be true God so that he could live a perfect life in our place and with his death pay the price to redeem us from sin once and for all. If Jesus is not both true man and true God, then your faith is futile, you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:17) So yes, it does matter if Jesus is who he claims to be and whether we take him at his word.


But it’s still a question we must each answer for ourselves: who is Jesus Christ? The Apostle John calls him the true, eternal Son of God who took on human flesh in order to live for us, die for us, and rise for us. He’s the Savior God sent. He’s the Savior we all need. God grant us an ever firmer faith and bolder conviction to confess and believe that Jesus Christ is true God and true man, our Lord and Savior. Amen.  





[1] Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity Book II, Chapter 3