In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…
He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
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… And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.
We are bringing this Christmas season to a close, and so these verses from John’s gospel are an appropriate way to finish. These first 18 verses of John’s gospel are iconic. They hold forth the deity of Jesus Christ and the humanity of Jesus Christ in majestic language, and they apply both truths to our salvation. We see both God and man in one person. And this is the core of the Christian religion. This is the center of all we believe. The language is sophisticated, the ideas are gigantic, and the images are cosmic. You could study and pray John 1 for weeks at a time and still not plumb its depths. In fact, I think you should.
Having said all of that, though, I’m now going to try to distill John’s prologue down into a very simple proposition. That proposition is this: the incarnation is the only way that sinners can see God. This is the main theme of this passage, and it is the reason that the incarnation was necessary. So my three points will be the explanation of this statement. The incarnation is the only way that sinners can see God. We’ll look at what the incarnation is. We’ll see what John says about sinner’s apprehension of and relationship to God. And then, finally, we will see how the Son of God reveals God to us. And through this we will come to understand what it means to say that the incarnation is the only way that sinners can see God.
To speak of the incarnation of Christ is to claim that the eternal Son of God became a man. This presumes that He was God to begin with, and it then goes on to explain how it was that He came to appear on earth as a 1st century man from Galilee. This is a main point of John 1, and we see the deity and the humanity of Christ both taught clearly.
Jesus’ divine nature is proven by His eternality. “In the beginning was the Word…” This is a direct parallel with Genesis 1:1, which states that only God was in the beginning. So, if the Word was “in the beginning,” then He must have been with God, and since God is One, He must therefore also be God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2).
Jesus deity is also proven by His role in the creation of the heavens and the earth. “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3). Jesus is the creator. This verse is a very helpful verse for speaking with Jehovah’s Witnesses, by the way. If you are not aware, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe that Jesus is God. They believe that He is a very high spiritual being, even the archangel Michael, but they still believe that He is a creature. If He is a creature, then He must have been created. But John 1:3 says that “nothing was made” without being made through Jesus Christ. How can something make itself? Jesus must have preceded this act of creating. And indeed, He did. In fact, not only did Jesus precede all creation. Colossians says that Jesus was the reason for all creation. “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16).
Thirdly, the deity of Christ is proven by His relationship to the Father. He was “in the beginning with” God the Father (John 1:1-2). He is also, we are told, “the only-begotten of the Father” (John 1:14, 18). This means that He was born of God, God’s Son, from all time. There was never a time when He was not. In fact, He is outside of time itself. He is eternally-begotten, and He is eternal. He “is in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18). “In the bosom of” means that Jesus has the closest fellowship with the Father, but it also, I believe, illustrates the eternal generation of a Son from a Father. God is a spirit, present everywhere and without parts, and so our language always fails to explain the full picture. Still, the words of a son being born from a father’s heart do sufficiently explain Christ’s relationship to God. He has always existed with Him in the bond of love.
So John has established that Jesus is divine. He then adds to this the miraculous fact that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The eternal Son of God, who had been with God from “in the beginning,” took on a human body and lived on earth as a man. This is a head-popping, physics-defying concept. The infinite and eternal God became man. As Paul says in Philippians, “He, being in the form of God… made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6-7) and then more succinctly in Colossians, “in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9). This Son of God is Who became a man at Christmas. This is our first main point.
Sinners’ Relationship To God
All of this is pretty amazing, but John then adds another layer to the discussion. Jesus is God become man, but this is not simply a philosophical teaching. Man was separated from God, but it wasn’t because of size or space. It was because of sin. And John tells us that Jesus’ incarnation penetrated that barrier of sin as light shines through darkness. However, just as darkness dislikes the light and seeks to keep away from it, sinners rejected Christ because of their nature.
The light was a matter of ethics. Jesus Christ was purely righteous, and so sinners feared being exposed by Him. As John says later in chapter 3, “Men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). Darkness does not like light because light must necessarily cast out darkness. The two cannot fellowship together. As John explains in his first epistle:
God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)
The light was also eternal life. This is what the light would give to the darkness if the darkness would allow itself to be overcome by the light (John 1:4; 3:16). The light would shine into the darkness and illuminate the darkness, transforming it into light and thus giving it new life.
But the darkness naturally rejects light and life because it experiences them as law, as criticism, as condemnation. The darkness is the carnal mind, and as such it is “enmity against God” (Romans 8:7). Indeed, as Romans teaches, “The carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Romans 8:7). The darkness cannot receive the light. Its deeds are evil and it does not like to hear of good.
Miraculously, though, some of the people living in darkness do see the light! Some do receive Christ, and “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). How did they receive the light? It was by “believing in His name” (John 1:12). But how were they able to believe, since we just said that they could not receive the light because of their dark nature? They were able to receive Christ because they were changed from darkness to light. God “has delivered us from the power of darkness” (Col. 1:13), and He has done this by causing us to be born again. “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him” (1 John 5:1).
God must do this work in us to make us born again. We cannot do it for ourselves. That makes sense, if you think about it. How can a man crawl into his mother’s womb and be born again? (John 3:4) Someone must act upon us, from outside of ourselves, in order for us to be born again. We must be born, as John says, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). And God does this through the working of His Spirit as we behold His Son Jesus Christ. We receive grace that answers the law, and we are changed. “And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:16-17).
We must see the light if we are to have grace and truth. But we cannot see the light because we are dark, and so God must change us. He does so through the sending of His Son and the work that Jesus does for us by paying for our sins and killing our fleshly nature on the cross. After that, we are reborn as children of light.
And then, thirdly, we can now see God. In seeing Christ, our darkness is turned to light, and we see grace and truth. This is an effect of the incarnation: “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” (John 1:14). In this salvation we behold God’s glory, something we could not otherwise see without being consumed. This whole vision is a simultaneous experience. The light shines into the darkness, we see the grace and truth of Christ. We are transformed into light. We then receive the light. And in that we see God.
This whole process is only possible because of the incarnation. Jesus has to be God in order to be able to reveal God to us, but He also has to be man so that we can bear to receive the revelation. And so John concludes this section by saying, “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (John 1:18).
That verse is loaded. “The only begotten Son,” is the subject. Jesus is, as we have said, divine. “Who is in the bosom of the Father” explains how He can do the action. He has the closest of all relationships with the Father. He knows God as He knows Himself because He is united with Him in eternity. And so, with all of that being understood, John says, “He has declared Him.” The verb translated as “declared” is literally “exegeted.” We use it today to explain how a Biblical text is explained and unpacked. It only shows up a few times in the New Testament, and it is usually translated as something like “telling the full story” (see Luke 24:35; Acts 10:8; 15:12, 14; 21:19). So John is telling us that Jesus Christ is fully explaining God to us. He’s giving us the inside perspective, as He sees it from within the Father’s bosom, from eternity.
And it’s important to note that John says that this is the only way we see God. “No one has seen God at any time.” The only way we have seen God is through the exegesis of Him by Jesus. We can only see the Father by looking at the Son, and that means that we can only come to God by way of Jesus Christ. We must receive Him as He is sent by God in order to have saving fellowship with God.
This is what Christianity is all about. Men are separated from God because of their evil deeds, and so God takes the initiative to come to them and change them. He does so through sending His Son, Jesus, into the world in order to reveal Himself. And this is the only way.
This is how Jesus is. He is the eternal God Who made us all. He came to reveal God to us. And as we behold God in and through Him, we receive eternal life. This is why we worship Jesus. This is why Jesus is the only way to the Father.
And if this is what Christianity is all about, then this is what Christmas is all about. We celebrate the birth of God in human form, and we do so because it was the beginning of our salvation. As we behold the babe in the manger, we behold God Himself, and in this vision is our salvation. We know God by seeing Him, and we only see God in the light of Christ.
Let us pray.