Sunday, December 22, 2013

John's Christmas Story (John 1:1 and 1:14)

In this article, we are taking a break from our study of Philippians to post a manuscript of pastor's Christmas sermon from this Sunday.


As people read through the Gospels, one thing about John’s that they notice, is that John doesn’t start in Bethlehem. He doesn’t seem to make any mention of the Christmas story. Perhaps he didn’t think we’d grow spiritually by singing, “O, Little Town of Bethlehem” umpteen times. Besides, Matthew and Luke cover the manger scenes quite well. They tell the action surrounding the birth of Christ. And maybe John, not writing till much later, thought the story was told well enough.

So, if you want to read about angels, shepherds, and wise men, go to those books. But if you want to know the significance of those events, you can go to John’s Gospel. So instead of starting in Bethlehem, John takes us back through the silent corridors of eternity - Back to a time before time in eternity past. And John presents really interesting information: John travels back through the vast emptiness of space to a beginning that’s not a beginning at all and tells us about a person who is like no other person - A person we learn who is separate from God the Father, yet with God the Father - Yet totally God

Let’s look at it: It says, "In the beginning was the Word."
The Holy Spirit moved John to begin telling us about the Word who existed in the beginning, but is it a word put together of letters, and that you use to form a sentence? No, from the way John expresses it, It is obvious that the Word is a person. And if a person, the Word must have a name. But John seems incredibly reluctant to put a name on this person who is the Word. If you have never read this book of the Bible before, you would probably be asking, “Who is this? He must have a name?” But you have to wait, verse after verse you wait, as John describes the Word in detail. But He never tells us the name of the Word - Not until all the way down in verse 17.

Quoting Daniel Partner:
“As you read John’s Gospel, the apostle leads you from the beginning before all beginnings, tracking the Word – through whom all things were made, who is the life and the light of men – all the way through His rejection and acceptance. Yet, he gives the Word no other name. You read on and see that the Word became flesh with the glory of the only begotten of the Father. Ah, He is now flesh. You’re getting close! Without doubt He was given a name. ‘Who is this who is full of grace and truth?’ you ask, ‘whose fullness we have all received, even grace upon grace.’”

Amazing! John makes us wait all the way until verse 17: Then, he finally tells us, "For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."

The "Word" is Jesus Christ – that is significant. Jesus means Savior, and Christ is the anointed one, Therefore, we now know the Word is that one baby born to young virgin named Mary 2,000 years ago. He was born in a remote village in Israel called Bethlehem, born a descendent of that great King David.

The "Word" is that baby whose birth we celebrate on Christmas Day. The Word is Jesus, the one the Bible tells us so much about. But, John wants to make sure we understand. This was no mere baby like the billions of others that have been born on planet earth. This one was the Word who was "with God" and who "was God." He was "in the beginning."

What beginning? It doesn’t matter. Go back as far as your mind can go into eternity past and the Word was there. The Word was always there. Go back to Creation? That’s not far enough back, because Jesus was the one Who created everything.

John 1:3 says: "All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made."

Colossians 1:16-17 concurs:
16 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.
If you want to go back to Genesis, Jesus was already there as Creator. Everything in the physical universe owes its existence to Jesus. So Genesis isn’t back far enough into time. So go back further - back, back into eternity. Go back billions and trillions of years, sixteen quadrazillion, squillion years. Go back as far as your mind can comprehend, and put down your peg, and Jesus will be there to meet you. Jesus is eternal, with no beginning and no end.

He is the one who claims in Revelation 1:8: - “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Jesus is God who has always existed and always will exist. He lives forever as the Second Person of the Trinity – fully God and coequal with the Father. This is the one who gave up heaven to come and be born a baby in a manger. John doesn’t want you to miss that fact.

As verse 1 says: "And the Word was with God" - literally, face to face with God - a separate person, yet still God. "And the Word was God" – How profound! This is the concept of the Trinity. John is explaining truths so deep our minds can’t take them in. And we can only stand in awe and worship this baby who was God.

Now let’s think about this: What does it mean that Jesus was the "Word?" We could spend months talking about that, exploring all the theological nuances, and never get reach the depths of the meaning, never getting to the bottom of it. We could point out that in Greek this "word" is logos, from which we get logic in English. But for our purpose with our limited time, let’s just look at the purpose of the "Word." Why would John call Jesus the "Word?" We use words to express ideas, and to share concepts. We communicate using words. Our lives revolve around the use of words. God’s purpose was that the "Word" was to reveal the one who sent it – God.

Plato, the Great Philosopher during the Greek Golden Age, said:
“It may be that some day there will come forth from God a Word, a Logos, who will reveal all mysteries and make everything plain.”

To that John would respond, “Yes! The Word has come. Now God is revealed to us perfectly.!” It would be through Jesus, who is fully God, yet now became fully man. Through Him would all mysteries be revealed especially the mysteries surrounding God. John writes: John 1:18 - "No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him."

Jesus Himself declared: John 14:9 – "He who has seen me has seen the Father." This is the simplest definition of the "Word." Jesus is the one who reveals God to us. So, to that end, we find John writing verse 14: John 1:14 -
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.
The Greek language actually is better translated more specifically, "The Word was born flesh." Ah, so we are back to Bethlehem. There is the traditional Christmas story. This one verse wraps up the essence of the manger, the swaddling clothes, the shepherds and livestock, the wise men. It contains all of the Christmas story in this one verse because it crystalizes the incarnation. The eternal "Word," God from eternity past, became the baby who was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in the manger. God became a man – deity wrapped up in humanity. The one who was 100% God became 100% man without ever losing any of His Godhead.

The angels announced the birth crying: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men," and the shepherds came to worship the baby, and then went out to spread the word, and the wise men traveled all the way from the East to bring their gifts. Yes, it was to God they came to worship, but God now wrapped in the flesh of a baby and wrapped in strips of cloths as a diaper.

Yes, Jesus became a real human - that is the message of Christmas. God came to live among us in human flesh to reveal to us His heart - To live and walk among us so we could know God. And in the end, to die for us, in our place, on the Cross of Calvary all in His human body. Yes, He had a real human body, one just like ours.

It was one the Apostles handled: 1st John 1:1-2
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—
Jesus grew weary, thirsty, hungry. He wept, he felt emotions, His tears fell like great drops of blood. He was totally, completely human, without ever ceasing to be God all because He was born flesh.

The Bible tells us a lot about flesh - Most of it isn’t good. Daniel Partner writes this about flesh:
“Flesh is humanity at its weakest, so Christ was crucified through weakness. Flesh is mortal and dying humanity, ‘a wind that passeth away and cometh not again.’ Thus Christ was put to death in the flesh. Flesh is humanity tainted with sin, so the perfectly holy Jesus Christ appeared in the likeness of sinful flesh, and was made sin for us. The man we celebrate this Christmas season was, by His birth, perfectly enabled to condemn sin in the flesh, and the wonder of Christmas is that He chose to become flesh in order to submit to death and save us from our sin.”
Yes, Jesus became a man, just like us, with all the frailties and mortality we all possess. He lived and walked on this earth just like us facing the same challenges and temptations, emotions and trials we all do, but without ever yielding to the temptations.
As Hebrews 4:15 tells us that’s why He makes such a great High Priest for us: It says,
“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
But, that brings us again back to the revelation of the Word by John:
John 1:14 -
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.
The Word that was with God, and that was God has now taken on flesh, as unexplainable as that may be. God became a man. God wrapped Himself in human flesh and became one of us. He came to live among us, and ultimately to die for us. This is the glorious truth of the incarnation. This is the miracle of Christmas. This is why we stand in awe of a baby born in a remote village of Israel to an unmarried girl living in poverty. "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."

The words, "dwelt among us," literally mean that Jesus tabernacled with us. A tabernacle is a tent, a moveable shelter usually made of fabric and it provided shelter from the elements, It wasn’t meant to be a permanent dwelling. But then, Jesus was on a temporary mission. He had come to seek and to save the lost, Then, following His death, burial, and resurrection, He would return to heaven to be given again His rightful and well earned place at the right hand of God.

Interestingly, shepherds dwelt in tents as they watched over their sheep out in the fields. And of course, Jesus is our “Good Shepherd.” He is the “Great Shepherd.” And soldiers lived in tents on the battlefields. Of course, when Jesus came to earth, it was to take on the forces of evil. And it was in the tent of his human flesh that He vanquished death and Satan.

But of even greater significance, the Tabernacle was the moveable tent the Israelites carried around the desert. And it was in this tent that God met with man. It was at this place the cloud of God’s Shikinah glory dwelt on earth. Jesus functions as that Tabernacle - The place where we meet God. As He said in John 14:6 - “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Only through Jesus can we have a relationship with God.

So now, in our time, it is through Christ that we encounter God. As Hebrews 1:1-2 says:
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds.

This is all the meaning of Christmas. God became flesh and dwelt among us. Now we can add in all the traditional images of Christmas – the stable and the manger, the shepherds, the angel chorus, the wise men - but it is all because of the incarnation – "the Word was born flesh."

This is what Christmas is all about Arthur Pink wrote:
“In this book, we are shown that the one who was heralded by the angels to the Bethlehem shepherds, who walked this earth for thirty-three years, who was crucified at Calvary, who rose from the grave, and who forty days later departed from these scenes, was none other than the Lord of Glory. The evidence for this was overwhelming. The proofs almost without number, and the effect of contemplating them must be to bow our hearts in worship before ‘the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).’”
Yes, our response must be to worship - To worship the babe who was, “the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” That is the meaning of Christmas. God came to live among us so He could die for us. When the angel came to Joseph to convince him to continue with his wedding to Mary. He told him this:
Matthew 1:22-23 –
22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”
What is the significance of this name, Immanuel? It tells us that, although He was God, Jesus did not cling to the rights of God but humbled Himself to be born a man. But it was all with a purpose.
Jesus came to die for our sins. God couldn’t die, so Jesus became a man. He had to take upon Himself a mortal human body.

Philippians 2:6-8 describe this phenomena:
6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
But because Jesus humbled Himself, even to the point of death, the Father raised Him and exalted Him to sit at the right hand of the Father in heaven. Philippians 2:9-11 explains His exaltation:
9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Christmas has to be linked with Calvary. The Christ who came as a baby to be born in Bethlehem was the same Christ who carried a cross up Mount Calvary. This we know: God came to earth to die and in dying, to provide a way of salvation for men. Jesus, the babe in the manger, would grow up to become the Savior of all who believe.

William Young Fullerton wrote a hymn that shows the wonder of Christ becoming a man to save us. It is sung to the melody of Danny Boy:

“I cannot tell why He whom angels worship,
Should set His love upon the sons of men,
Or, why, as Shepherd, He should seek the wanderers,
To bring them back, they know not how or when,
But this I know, that He was born of Mary,
When Bethlehem manger was His only home,
And that He lived at Nazareth and labored,
and as the Savior, Savior of the World is come.

I cannot tell how silently He suffered,
As with His peace He graced this place of tears,
Or how His heart upon the cross was broken,
The crown of pain to three and thirty years,
But this I know, He heals the broken hearted,
And stays our sin, and calms our lurking fear,
And lifts the burden from the heavy laden,
For yet, the Savior, Savior of the world is here.”
That is the meaning of Christmas: Why did Jesus give up heaven where He was God in all His glory to be born in a manger in a stable? Jesus came to be the Savior of the World. He came that all who believe should be saved. He purchased us with His own life blood on the cross of Calvary. Christmas inevitably leads to Calvary as we should all be led, to the foot of the cross.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Gospel Cannot Be Bound

If there is one thing Paul had, it was his share of troubles. But he doesn’t want you to get the wrong idea. They did not hinder the spread of the Gospel. In Philippians 1:12 he writes, “But I want you to know.” Know what? That his troubles have “actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.”

Do you see this? It’s not just that his troubles haven’t hurt all that much, actually they did. But they actually helped his ministry. Wow! What an attitude. “You don’t need to feel sorry for me,” he says. “Things may look bad, but the result isn’t bad. I may be in jail, but the Gospel isn’t in jail. So don’t feel sorry for me.”

The Gospel is still getting out. Things are still going as planned. Not Paul’s plan, mind you, but according to God’s plan. His imprisonment is a “furtherance” to the Gospel. The word he used in the Greek language, the word for “furtherance,” is really colorful. It describes a group of combat engineers going out in front of an army to prepare the way. The woodcutters clear a road through an impenetrable forest or thicket so the army could march through unimpeded.

Do you get the flavor of this? Here’s this group of people moving out ahead of the army clearing obstacles - an advance troop, machetes in hand, hacking their way through the jungle, sweating and panting, but making the way easier for the army that follows. That’s what Paul was – the advance party.

And sure, they’ll meet resistance. Resistance is inherent in progress. Resistance is a given in God’s work. Of course, Satan will resist us. But it is a small cost compared to the ultimate goal, the ultimate victory.

And that’s how Paul felt about his imprisonment. This is what he had done. He had gone ahead to pave the way for other evangelists to follow so that they could have greater success because of his efforts. Therefore, his efforts are certainly not wasted. He doesn’t need to feel like he has failed. His troubles weren’t in vain.

Even his own ministry is advancing still because of his troubles. He has been given a whole new group of people to witness to. He has a whole new bunch of people he could never have reached otherwise.

Paul can now preach to his guards. Philippians 1:13 says, “So that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ.” That soldier chained to him became a captive audience. What an opportunity to witness to someone who normally wouldn’t have given Paul the time of day. And when one of them got saved, they would take the Gospel back to their families and to their fellow soldiers in the barracks so the gospel would be spreading out like a spider web to all kinds of new people.

Tertullian wrote that the Roman government was upset that Christians were holding positions of high power. The reason they were Christians was because of Paul’s witness. The palace guard, really the Praetorian Guard, was composed of some ten thousand hand-picked guards. They were all highly compensated commanders who served twelve years then were given early retirement. They were so powerful that they not only protected the emperor, but often chose the emperor. And Paul was chained round the clock to one of these powerful men,

So rather than being a disaster, his imprisonment was an opportunity. The shifts changed every six hours so there were four different ones chained to him each day giving him opportunities to witness. These guards came to know Paul intimately, and they all could see his stellar character and Christ-like conduct. They knew he wasn’t a criminal. They knew his chains were the result of his preaching Christ, not because of any evil crime.

Paul is an illustration of 1st Peter 4:12-16, which says:
12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.
15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.

What happened to Paul wasn’t unexpected. It was part of God’s plan. Therefore, Paul could rejoice. That needs to be our attitude. Paul tells us, everyone knew he was suffering for Christ so he was greatly blessed because of it. That had an impact on the guards who watched him day and night.

Listen to how F.B. Meyer describes the scene:
“At times the hired room would be thronged with people, to whom the Apostle spoke words of life; and after they withdrew, the sentry would sit beside him, filled with many questionings as to the meaning of the words which this strange prisoner spoke. At other times, when all had gone, and especially at night, when the moonlight shone on the distant slopes of Soracte, soldier and apostle would be left to talk, and in those dark and lonely hours the apostle would tell soldier after soldier the story of his own proud career in early life of his opposition to Christ, and his ultimate conversion, and would make it clear that he was there as a prisoner, not for any crime, not because he had raised rebellion or revolt, but because he believed that Him whom the Roman soldiers had crucified, under Pilate, was the son of God and the Savior of men. As these tiding spread, and the soldiers talked them over with one another, the whole guard would be influenced in sympathy with the meek and gentle Apostle, who always showed himself so kindly to the men as they shared, however involuntarily, his imprisonment.
How absolutely consistent the Apostle must have been! If there had been the least divergence, day or night, from the high standard which he upheld, his soldier-companion would have caught it, and passed it on to others. The fact that so many became earnest Christians , and that the Word of Jesus was known far and wide throughout the Praetorian Guard, indicates how absolutely consistent was the Apostles life.”
Truly, our lives must back up our message. When the world sees our stellar character, they will believe our message. So no matter what you are going through, rejoice. God is at work. The Gospel is not bound.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

God Can Use Any Situation To Further the Gospel

We can learn it from Paul’s example. Paul demonstrates the right attitude in spite of his troubles - troubles that would make most of ours look pale by comparison. Here’s what Paul says. Philippians 1:12, “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.” Wow! The troubles have actually helped, Paul says.

His troubles – his chains and imprisonment – they haven’t stopped the spread of the Gospel. On the contrary, they have “actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.” Mission Accomplished! Because wasn’t that Paul’s burning passion? Didn’t he say in 1st Corinthians 9:16, “Woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel?” So, if the Gospel is furthered by his troubles, he ought to be overjoyed – AMEN? That was what he lived for. So if his imprisonment helped that – Praise God! He could have joy.

Obviously, Paul was not deterred by his troubles. He wasn’t discouraged. His joy wasn’t being robbed from him. Nor do troubles ever need to deter or discourage you. They should never rob you of your joy. You should never let trouble rob you of that most precious possession.

James 1:2-4 is a familiar passage, but it is so appropriate here:
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing."

How can we count our trials as joy? How can we do such a difficult and unnatural thing? We know something. There’s a purpose in our troubles – God has a plan. God’s plan is for us to become spiritually mature. He is always at work on that, using trials and troubles to accomplish it. So, mission accomplished through our own troubles too. We ought to also keep our joy when they overtake us.

What things happened to Paul? The most obvious would be his arrest and imprisonment. He’d been trying to preach the Gospel, and he’d been traveling around founding churches. But, that has now come to a screeching halt. You don’t hold many revival meetings from a jail cell, or get to talk with many people. So it sounds like a real discouraging turn of events.

But it didn’t happen that way with Paul. He was under house arrest, yes. He was chained around the clock by an 18” piece of chain to a Roman Centurion. There’s not much privacy that way - not even when you have to use the potty. Yet, it gave him a captive audience to witness to.

In Acts 28:16 and 30, you can see this:
16 Now when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with the soldier who guarded him.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
30 Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, 31 preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.
His arrest and imprisonment would naturally be considered a major setback by most people. But not to Paul. To him, it actually seems to have been a help. It gave him an audience he never could have had otherwise in the rotating palace guards. Plus, he had an open door to visitors.

We too must use our situation, whether bad or good, to further the Gospel knowing that God can use either situation. We aren’t stymied by our situation, but only by our attitude in that situation.