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.
Do you like camping? I have had a lifelong love affair with the outdoors and a camping trip is a highlight of every year. There is something absolutely exciting about waking to the sound of birds dueling musically in the trees in the woods around you. There is joy in the simplicity of setting up and enjoying a campsite. The crackle of a campfire beneath the stars while the glow of flames lights the embracing arms of the trees is a source of bliss. The taste of coffee brewed on an open fire, the smell of wood smoke and scent of bug repellant make up the sweet perfume of the outdoors.
That’s right. There are bugs in the outdoors. Lots of them. And they are hungry and they want to eat you. Plus dirt. The dirt gets into EVERYTHING. And that dome of stars above you? It is covered in a gray blanket of clouds as the breeze picks up and…was that thunder?
The beauty of camping may truly be in the eye of the beholder but one thing is certain a good camping trip will both be an unforgettable experience and will make you thankful for your soft bed and warm shower back home.
Here in the prologue of the gospel, the Apostle John is revealing to you the story of the Greatest Camping Trip Ever: the arrival of Jesus, the eternal son of the Most High God to camp among us here on earth.
Of course it is not as simple or flippant as that. It is clear from John’s account that something incredible and eternally significant is going on. The events of verse 14 far exceed your own desire to take a break from modern life to cook food in the woods and try to post photos to social media with minimal cell phone coverage.
The Word became flesh…
The Word, the Logos, the agent of creation–God himself–is here in the flesh. The Greek here is specific: the word used for “flesh” is sarx, a descriptive term most used to refer to the body in the crudest, most common form. D. A. Carson in his commentary understands one reason why John would do this:
If the Evangelist had said only that the eternal Word assumed manhood or adopted the form of a body, the reader steeped in the popular dualism of the Hellenistic world might have missed the point. But John is unambiguous, almost shocking in the expression he uses…” –D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John
In other words, John is taking great pains to illustrate that the Prince of Peace has come from the alabaster halls of heaven, not to go “glamping” in a luxury RV but to camp in a Coleman tent from Wal-Mart with a leaky rain flap.
…and dwelt among us,
The tent image here is what John uses for “dwelt” is a play on words that invokes the ancient Jewish Tabernacle tent where God first dwelt with His people in the desert.
…and we beheld His glory…
John concludes his image by alluding to the “hiddenness” of Jesus in his human form. Calvin explains:
For though all men might have beheld the glory of Christ, yet it was unknown to the greater part on account of their blindness. It was only a few, whose eyes the Holy Spirit opened, that saw this manifestation of glory. –John Calvin, Commentaries
Not only was Jesus in human form simply a man, he was a man unremarkable in appearance (Isaiah 53:1-2) and so often misunderstood by those closest to him (Matthew 13:57). Jesus was not a bulked-up bodybuilder Zeus but a humble carpenter who, despite countless miracles, sermons and extraordinary acts still confused even his disciples. John here may even be hinting at his own shock and awe through the unforgettable experience of witnessing the Transfiguration all those long years ago. Ronald S. Wallace recalls the hymn of Charles Wesley:
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see;
Hail, the incarnate diety
Pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus our Immanuel.
(And no, I do not believe Wesley is secreting Gnosticism here in this classic old hymn we enjoy at Christmastime.)
You tend to want to avoid the messes of this world, the uncomfortable situations of each others lives and sins. You want to sanitize things for the savior and pretend that he would want no part of the mess that is your life. Jesus was in the mess. He came to earth, camped in the dirt with you and picked off the crawling ticks that infest your life.
This prologue of John’s Gospel echoes (possibly intentionally) the “Christ Hymn of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi:
5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 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. –Philippians 2:5-7
Jesus truly empties himself out from his glorious place in heaven and takes on the form of those whom he has come to save—indeed in the only way he can save them: to inhabit the body of flesh and then use it to pay the ultimate price.
In his emptiness, Jesus is also exposing “The Old Lie.” What do I mean by this? No, this is not a reference to the tragic WWI poetry of Wilfred Owen but close to it. Jesus, by becoming man came as one under authority. The one whom all authority in heaven and on earth had been given (Matthew 28:18-20) was yet here on a mission of obedience and in that critical moment, despite anguished prayer in the garden to have this cup taken from him (Luke 22:42) nevertheless obeyed the Father.
The Old Lie is thus the original lie told in another garden long ago:
4 Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. –Genesis 3:4-7
The devil here is promising radical power to our first parents. For you will be like God is a seductive promise that they, the creations, will have the power of the One who created them: the power to know and to determine their own fate.
This drive to be the captain of our own fate has potential for good. In some ways it has resulted in the freedom that we enjoy in the western world. Concepts of democracy and self-determination have helped foster nations where individual freedom is cherished. But the sweetness of liberty brought about by freedom in Christ must not be confused with the careening drive for the supremacy of self that is fast becoming the new Spirit of the Age in our modern world.
Author Carl Trueman captures the Old Lie all too well:
A second useful element in (Philosopher Charles) Taylor’s work that connects to the social imaginary and to which we will have recourse is the relationship between mimesis and poiesis. Put simply, these terms refer to two different ways of thinking about the world. A mimetic view regards the world as having a given order and a given meaning and thus sees human beings as required to discover that meaning and conform themselves to it. Poiesis, by way of contrast, sees the world as so much raw material out of which meaning and purpose can be created by the individual. –Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self
The Old Lie that stokes our desire not to conform to God’s will or even seek to rise to the expectations of a noble society instead promises eternal slavery to internal whims and a culture of victimhood.
Our modern western age cannot tolerate the concept of obedience or yielding to external expectations such as Christ did and calls you to do if you are to follow him on your own via dolorosa.
This is illustrated in the starkest terms where human sexuality is concerned—especially for our young people. Where western individualism was once recognized to allow you (through hard work, education or just good fortune) to grow up to be a farmer or a physicist, now it allows you to grow up to become a man or a woman. It is one thing if you seek to make this choice as an adult, but children are now faced with the question of making early gender or sexual orientation choices—and their developing minds simply cannot handle it.
Of course, when their young minds struggle there are always adults who know better to affirm them and encourage their choice. By the time pain or regret for a life irreparably changed or damaged sets in, those well-meaning people are nowhere to be found.
As Christians seek to reconcile these influences and combat the drive of self-satisfaction that our culture is now teaching, it becomes too easy to compromise or water down the absolutes taught in scripture. This is truly the new challenge of the 21st century: living like Jesus as one under authority of the heavenly Father in an age when love of self is on the throne.
But even this is nothing new to Jesus. He dwelt among us in the flesh and camped in the mess that is our lives. Jesus’ response to those who suffered with the pain of self-devotion was to love them and show them his own scars to prove it. This can be the only response of the church to the pain around it.
…full of grace and truth.
How do you love those who have listened to The Old Lie and now find themselves broken in its wake? The same way Jesus loves you. The Word made Flesh can heal the teen struggling with gender dysphoria the same as he can heal the dad who is addicted to heterosexual pornography or the mom who pursues a fantasy husband in place of her own who does not satisfy her longings. The Word made Flesh can heal the scars of abortion the same as he can heal the young man who has only lived for the next sexual conquest. The church must seek now, more than ever, to be involved in the lives of the hurting—who have bought the Old Lie and need the Truth of the One who dwelled among us to free them from the tyranny of self.
The Word made Flesh camps among us—come and sit by his fire and share your story. His story is as old as creation and if you are a believer, you have your own chapter in it.
The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.