The Critical Chapter
We are in the season of Advent, and we are going to spend our time considering the profound reality of the Incarnation. We have added a bunch of cultural additions to the celebration of the Christmas season, which is absolutely fine, but at the same time we want to take care not to obscure anything central. So, enjoy the fudge, and the sleigh bells jingling, and bringing the woods into your living room . . . but enjoy it all for the right reason.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . And the Word was made 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” (John 1:1,14).
John’s gospel begins with the words in the beginning, deliberately, echoing the first words of Genesis (Gen. 1:1). Just as God had created the heavens and the earth, so in the arrival of Jesus, He was recreating the new heavens and the new earth (v. 1). In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. What does this mean? The withness is defined by the word Word. The Word was with God the Father in the way our words are with us. They are not the same. And yet, at the same time, our words reveal us and are to be identified with us. We are what we speak. Out of the abundance of the heart, a man speaks, and we are this way because God is the same way. Out of the abundance of His heart, He speaks. Now, this perfect Word, this Word that came from the Father without any degradation of meaning, this Word which was also to be identified with the Father, what did He do? He became flesh, John says, and dwelt among us (v. 14). Did this bring about degradation of meaning? No, John says—we beheld his glory (v. 14). What glory? The glory of the only begotten of the Father. What glory? A glory that was full of grace and truth.
If You Have Seen Me . . .
In one sense, Jesus said that He was the only one who had seen the Father (Jn. 6:46). But in His famous encounter with Phillip later in this gospel, Jesus also said, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father” (Jn. 14:8-9).
Now what this means is that the Word of God is not perfectly spoken within the triune life of God only. God has spoken Himself into a very imperfect and broken world, and He has done so perfectly. What does this mean?
Savior of the World:
Man in his sinful condition does not want to be saved. That is part of what it means to be a sinner. This means that man wants, by various strategies, to put himself out of God’s reach. Some want to do it arrogantly, like the modern atheist, who says there is no God. Communication is not possible, and the problem or fault is on God’s end. He is to blame for not existing. But others want to pretend to a kind of humility, and so they act as though the problem is with our hearing, and not with God’s speaking. “Yes,” they say, “God speaks perfectly, but we are finite, limited, and selfish. We cannot pretend to know what He has said to us because we can only hear imperfectly. Anyone who claims to have understood what He has said must be really arrogant.” This postmodern foolishness makes a great show of adjusting to limits, and refuses to consider the implications of the Incarnation. As Francis Schaeffer put it in the great title of his book: He is There and He is Not Silent. Modernists and postmodernists both believe that anything that proceeds “downstream” from a source is necessarily a degradation. Only the source can be pure. But their problem is that they have forgotten that God is triune, and that His Word is the express image of His person (Heb. 1:3). This is not like a series of gnostic emanations, or a line of xerox copies, with each one getting progressively blurrier, or some version of the telephone game, where the message gets increasingly garbled. Away with all that! We are Christians.
What Does the Word Say?
The Word is the Logos, and He is not the om of Eastern mysticism. He does not smudge everything. He articulates it; He speaks it. Our Lord encompasses, and embodies, and exhibits everything that words do—exclamations, sentences, poems, stories, parables, sermons, lectures, novels, whispered conversations, propositions, questions, and more poetry. God speaks, and we are called to listen.
Speaker, Spoken, Understanding:
Our triune God is not one frozen word, eternally stuck. The conversation is everlasting, glorious, swift, and beyond all reckoning. If this conversation were water, do not think of an infinite static ocean, but rather of an infinite cascading waterfall. No top, no bottom, no sides, no back, no front—and falling with infinite swiftness. God the Father speaks all of it, and the Word is all that is spoken. But who could possibly understand any of this? The Holy Spirit is the Wisdom that understands the conversation, all of it. “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit; for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:10). Now, consider the nature of the miracle we celebrate at Christmas. Without losing anything “in the translation,” God brought this conversation into this world, starting in the womb of a young Jewish woman. The Word (the Word we have been speaking of) became flesh, and all carnal philosophy and wisdom fall backwards, like the men who came to arrest the Lord.