Theme: A Startling Idea
From this week’s Christmas study, we look carefully at the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ, and how it fulfills the Old Testament tabernacle.
Scripture: John 1:14
This week we are looking at verse fourteen of John 1, which speaks of this powerful idea of the Word becoming flesh. There are a lot of places in the New Testament that talk about the incarnation indirectly. Any passage that talks about who Jesus Christ actually is, identifying the divine Son of God with Jesus of Nazareth, is about the incarnation. But of all those texts, there is none in all the Bible that states the literal meaning of the incarnation more clearly than in our text.
The word “incarnation” means “coming in the flesh.” It is a Latin derivative based on the Latin noun carne, which means “flesh.” We have it in a couple different ways in English. We speak of flesh-eating animals as carnivores. Or we see it when we speak of chili con carne, which is chili with meat.
John says that the Word, that is, the second person of the Trinity, took on human flesh and lived for a while among us. Now we who have been Christians for a long time can view that as somewhat commonplace. It is such a familiar idea to us (especially around Christmas) that it just doesn’t startle us. And yet it should, because it is a very startling idea. Who would ever think that God would do that?
Who would even think that it was possible for God to do that? When we are talking about God, one thing we say is that he is incorporeal, that is, he does not have a body. God is a spirit, which Jesus himself said. How can a being who is spirit take upon himself a body? How can a being who is infinite take upon himself a body that is finite? And from the point of view of our experience, how can God, who is sinless, by the incarnation enter into a very sinful world? How could that happen? Yet it did happen, and that is what John talks about here.
In the very early centuries after the apostles, those who came to Christianity out of paganism really were startled by it. You may know that Saint Augustine, one of the greatest minds of the early church, wrote about this in his Confessions. Because he had studied Greek philosophy, he wrote that this idea of the word (which in Greek is logos) being the creator of the world was not new to him at all. But he said that the idea that the logos became flesh was not found in what he had read in his studies.
Let me share another testimony with you from one of the church fathers whose name is Junius the Younger. He tells us how his father helped him to his conversion to Christianity. Junius frequently read the New Testament and he wasn’t interested. He commented, “My father noted with grief the progress that I had made at infidelity.” Junius’s father had taken his New Testament and stuck it in the library, in a place where he thought his son would stumble upon it.
Now, you have to read between the lines and suppose that the father was praying that his son would actually come upon the New Testament and read it, and that’s what he did. Junius remarks, “I unwittingly opened the New Testament that was thus providentially laid before me and at the very first view, although I was engaged in other thoughts, I came upon that grand chapter of the Evangelist which begins, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ I read part of the chapter and I was so affected that I instantly became struck with the divinity of the argument, and the majesty and authority of the composition as infinitely surpassing the highest flights of human eloquence. My body shuddered. My mind was in amazement and I was so agitated the whole day that I scarcely knew who I was. Nor did the agitation cease, but it continued until it was at last soothed by a humble faith in him who was made flesh and dwelled among us.”
That’s the way it seemed to these early converts out of paganism. It is an amazing thing, that the great God of the universe, the Creator of everything good, would take upon himself a human body and live here on earth for a time.
What does the word “incarnation” mean? How does it apply to Jesus as found in John 1?
Why should the incarnation startle us?
Where else in the New Testament do you find references to Jesus’ incarnation?
Application: As you go through this week’s study, pray that the Lord would impress upon your mind the wonder that the divine Son of God would take on human flesh to redeem you from your sins.
For Further Study: To learn more about the incarnation of Christ, download for free and listen to Joel Beeke’s message, “The Incarnate Word.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)