The Word Became Flesh
Let us remember tonight that this story did not begin with that sacred meal, it did not begin with that towel and foot-washing basin, it did not begin with those prayers on the mountain, it did not even begin in that stable back in Bethlehem.
You see, God had this plan in mind for longer than you or I could ever imagine. From that garden on Gethsemane we could even trace this night all the way back to another garden long ago—a garden where God confronted a serpent and foretold the event when the serpent would strike his heel, but he would crush the serpent’s head. From as far back as Genesis 3 we can see God’s redemptive plan leading up this night.
So what can we say about a savior like that? How shall we characterize a God who set events into motion thousands of years before he would step into that garden on Gethsemane and wait for his betrayer and arrest? What title shall we give to a God who holds that kind of command over the events of human history? It was his plan all along to bring about these events that we remember on this night. It was his plan the whole time to orchestrate everything that had happened in Israel to get here—from the calling of Abraham, to the freedom from Egyptian slavery, to the kingship of David and Solomon, to the exile in Babylon. Everything was carefully placed in order so that God could arrive at this moment…on this night…for this event.
Scripture points to this. All the words of all the prophets bring us here. All the words of scripture move us here. But these are more than words about Jesus. These words are Jesus. This is who Jesus is. We have been tracing the miracles of Jesus from the gospel of John through this season of Lent. Tonight, before I invite us to stay in the gospel of John. Before we spend some time hearing John tell us the story of this night, let’s go back to the start and remember how it is that John introduces us to Jesus in the first place.
1 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. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
But even though God had planned our salvation from the very dawn of time, there is much we can say by considering the life Jesus lived on this earth. You see, Jesus was a lot of things to a lot of people—and he still is today as well.
Some looked at Jesus and saw a leader for political opposition—they thought Jesus would lead an uprising to free Israel from the grip of the Roman Empire. To them, Jesus was a hero…or so they hoped he would be. And sure enough there are people yet today who look to Jesus as a justification for uprising and rebellion against authority.
Some people looked at Jesus and saw a magician—a healer. They thought Jesus came to grant them a better, easier life. And while there were in fact many people that Jesus helped by healing sickness, while there were many whom Jesus touched and gave back a sense of hope, it was not his purpose to grant wishes. When those in the crowds asked him for a sign just because they wanted to see him do miracles, Jesus refused. Yet sure enough there are people yet today who look to Jesus as a source of wish fulfillment. There are people today who want Jesus to grant them their desires and look to Jesus for miraculous signs to satisfy their curiosities. There are people for whom Jesus is little more than a ticket to prosperity and wealth.
Still other people saw Jesus as a wise teacher—they called him rabbi. Others saw him as a prophet who proclaimed the will of God. The Pharisees and religious leaders saw Jesus as a troublemaker who threatened the social power structure, which they controlled. Yes, Jesus was many things to many people.
But what can we say for certain about Jesus? John gives us a place to begin through the opening lines of his gospel. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. Jesus made it so that he could directly identify with us. Jesus made it so that his sacrifice would be a sacrifice that would count for us—a sacrifice that would be given on our behalf. This is something special. If we were to look at all the other religions of the world we would see that the path to God is always a path that we must travel. It is you and I that must somehow find our way to get to God. But in Christ something completely different has happened. Now we do not have to find our way to God because God has found his way to us—Jesus, the Word become flesh.
Jesus came and identified with us so that we could in turn be able to identify with him. He called himself one of us so that we would be able to call ourselves one with him. Our identity became his so that his identity could become ours.
12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John gives us a title for Jesus that captures his full divinity and his full humanity at the same time—that he is the Word become flesh. But we would fall short of the power and meaning that this night holds if we did not consider also what John says this title means for us; that we are now called children of God.
We do not gather here tonight simply to remember these as events that happened long ago. No, we gather here tonight to rehearse again a familiar story of which you and I are a part. We are here tonight because we belong in this story too.