Jesus : God on Earth
Knowing Jesus and making Jesus known
Gwang Hyuk Rhee is a Korean artist with an
amazing gift of patience. It took him two years of painstaking work to produce
a life size picture of Jesus six feet long by four feet wide. It is not actually
a painting though, but a scroll created by writing thousands of words with
shaded letters using a very finely tipped pen. If you look closely you discover
Gwang Rhee has actually written the entire New Testament written out by hand.
There are about 185,000 words on the scroll. There is an average of a thousand
words per line. The words are simply written, line by line, some thick and
some thin so that they reveal a picture of Jesus Christ. The figure of Jesus is
not imposed onto the words. The words reveal a picture of Christ as they are
written, some light and some dark to bring out a portrait of Christ. The words
have literally become flesh, a person. There are twenty-seven angels
surrounding Jesus, each looking to him. These represent the twenty-seven books
of the New Testament.
(You can see examples of his work at http://wordpicture.org/rheehistory.htm )
If you magnify a part of the picture, such as the hands, you can actually read the words. Gwang Rhee intends us to discover that the New Testament reveals one thing — the person of Jesus Christ. Out of the Word arises The Word — Jesus Christ — the Word which became flesh.
E. Stanley Jones writes: “Out of the Gospels arises the Gospel. Jesus is the Gospel — the Gospel lies in His Person. He did not come to bring the Good News — He is the Good News.” The most important words in the entire Bible are found in our gospel reading this evening. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).
This is the great truth that sets Christianity apart from all of the other world religions. Our God has not remained distant and unapproachable. He has become a human being. He did not just write us a letter. He did not just send us a representative. He did not just speak his word from a mountain top. He came Himself. The Infinite became an infant. The Eternal One became a child. The Bible describes the miracle in this way:
“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8).
Eugene Peterson’s translation The Message puts it this way:
“He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion.” (Philippians 2:6-8).
However jaded you may feel just one week since Christmas, it is impossible to overemphasize how important God’s arrival on earth was. The world, and life itself, is forever different because of Christmas. These Sunday evenings down to Easter we are going to examine the picture of Jesus found in the Gospel of John. I invite you to read it in one sitting. I invite you to make it a priority this Spring to study with us John’s gospel so that together we can fulfill our mission as a Church - to know Jesus and make Jesus known. That was John’s intention. He tells us in the closing verses of John 20.
“Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)
It cannot be overstated
that it is the only through Jesus Christ that we can ever know God, can ever
experience his love and forgiveness, and have assurance that we will live for
ever. Lets begin at the beginning and look at John 1:1-18.
1. The Word Revealed: The object of belief expounded (1:1-4)
2. The Word Rejected: The blindness of unbelief encountered (1:5-11)
3. The Word Received: The joys of true belief experienced (1:12-18)
1. The Word Revealed : John 1:1-4
The object of belief
expounded. Jesus is born divine. No
where in the NT is the nature and meaning of Jesus' divine sonship so clearly
explained as here. Notice how carefully John expounds this theme. He does not
bring the term "Son" into his opening sentences at all. The phrase
"Son of God" was tainted with misleading connotations in the minds of
his first Century readers. Jewish theology used it as a title for the expected
human Messiah. Greek mythology told of many "sons of gods" supermen
born of a union between a god and a human mother. In neither of these cultures
did the phrase convey the thought of a personal deity; indeed both excluded
it. John wanted to make sure that when he wrote of Jesus as the Son of God he
would not be misunderstood. Instead John describes the Lord Jesus Christ as the
Word or "logos".
Old Testament readers would pick up the reference at once. God's Word in the OT is His creative utterance, His power in action fulfilling His purpose. Genesis 1 tells us, for example, how at creation "God said, let there be... and there was..." (Gen 1:3). Again in Psalm 33:6, 9, it says "By the word of the Lord the heavens were made... He spoke and it came to be." The Word of God is thus no less than God at work.
In these first four verses, John takes up this figure and proceeds to tell us seven things about the divine Word. Slowly, systematically, John builds up his image of the Lord Jesus.
1. His Eternity
"In the beginning was the Word". That is not a very accurate translation. In the original Greek, John says "in beginning", not "in the beginning." There is no article. John is therefore saying that before space-time-history began Jesus has always existed. He had no beginning of His own. His eternity.
2. His Personality
"And the Word was with God". Here is the Word's personality. The power that fulfils God's purpose is not an impersonal “may the force be with you” as in Star Wars. It is the power of a distinct personal being, who stands in an eternal relationship to God, in eternal communion with the Father. The Word’s eternity, personality,
3. His Deity
"And the Word was
God". Here is the Word's deity. Though personally distinct from the
Father, he is not a creature; He is divine in Himself, as is the Father. There
was no loss of divinity in the Word becoming humanity. As the second Article of
the Church of England puts it, "Two whole and perfect natures... Godhead
and Manhood", were at the incarnation, "joined together in one
person, never to be divided... very God and very man." JW's desecrate
this verse by adding one single vowel ‘a’. Their corrupted New World
Translation reads "The word was a god". As I have already said,
there are no definite articles here. There is neither an ‘a’ nor ‘the’ in the
The word order in the Greek is so clear "And God was Word" (John 1:1) Not only was the Word with God, he was and is God. In eternity past the Father and Son dwelt in perfect communion. Many people down the centuries have choked on this truth, and have been unable, or rather unwilling to accept it. JWs are a good example. Listen to how Calvin demolished the critics of his own day.
"Servetus, that most arrogant Spaniard imagines that the eternal word came into being only when he was exercised in the creation of the world. As if he was not, before his power was made known by his outward operation! The evangelist teaches quite differently, and destroys every loophole for such drivelling nonsense when he affirms unconditionally that the word was with God, and was God." Fully God, equal with the Father, His eternity, His personality, His divinity.
4. His Creativity
"Through Him all
things were made." Here is the eternal Word creating. He was the Father's
agent in every act of creating that the Father has ever performed. It is no
accident that there is such a remarkable parallel here between John 1:1 and
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Jesus was not created, He is the uncreated creator.
5. His Vitality
"In Him was life". Here is the Word animating, breathing life into creation. Here is the Bible's answer to the problem of the origin and continuance of life in all its forms. Life is given and sustained by Jesus Christ. Created things do not have life in themselves, independent from their creator.
6. His Luminosity
"And that life was
the light of men." (John 1:4). Here is the Word revealing. In giving life,
the Word gives light too. That is to say, all people receive intimations of God
from the very fact of being alive in God's world. We are created in His image.
There is an awareness of God the creator all around us in the complexity, the
beauty, the wonder of creation. There is a sense of God in our intellect that
seeks after Him, in our conscience that so often runs away from Him. Two people
wrote to me this week questioning the existence of God because of the awful
tragedy in the Indian Ocean last week. This is how I replied:
“Now is not the time for answers but, without a God of order, meaning and purpose we would have no reason to think such tragedies evil. Our world is not as it should be. There are natural scientific explanations but they do not take away the feeling that death and suffering are wrong, nor the desire to help the bereaved and injured. These are not intrinsic to evolution which is concerned only with the survival of the fittest, not the care of the weakest. That is what makes us human created in the image of the divine. That we feel such pain and anger is evidence of God's presence motivating us to do something about our world.”
This illumination, however marred by depravity, blinded by self-centredness, hardened by sin, still shines through the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out. That is why people are without excuse when they deny God and fail to recognize his work in them.
7. His Humanity
"The Word became
flesh" (John 1:14). The word became flesh. The sentence literally means
this took place at a point in space time. As the eternal Word He therefore
existed before he became man. The word for "lived" means
tabernacled" or "camped". In modern English we would say he
"council housed", or he "bungalowed" among us. 1:18 (read)
The mystery of the incarnation is unfathomable. We cannot explain it, we can only formulate it. The Athanasian Creed probably expresses the truth John speaks of here, better than any other.
"Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man.... perfect God, and perfect man:... who although He be God and man; yet is He not two, but one Christ; one, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh; but by taking of the manhood into God."
Our minds cannot go beyond this. What we see in the manger is, in Charles Wesley's words, "Our God contracted to a span, Incomprehensibly made man." Jim Packer adds, "Incomprehensibly.... we shall be wise to remember this, to shun speculation, and contentedly to adore."
The Word Revealed. Seven truths about the Lord Jesus Christ. John has established the point at which he has been aiming throughout. He has made it very clear what it means to call Jesus the Son of God. But the Word revealed also became,
2. The Word Rejected: John 1:5-11
The blindness of unbelief
encountered: Jesus born to die. Christmas
is all about family gatherings. We usually spend Christmas visiting our
relatives in East Anglia. Imagine travelling half way across the country, on
foot, to spend Christmas with your family, only to be disowned on the doorstep
on Christmas Eve. Being homeless at Christmas is no joke. Becoming a refugee
fleeing persecution from your own people is unthinkable. But that's what
happened to Jesus. The Son of God came to God’s chosen people, the Jews.
And most rejected Him. Why? Against the good purposes of God a contrary principle emerged on earth. A darkness, an arrogance, a defiant independence, a rebellion which opposes Gods rule, and has infected our world. We find it in the playground, we experience it on the motorways, we observe it on the floor of the House of Commons, we see it at the United Nations. It is manifest in things like selfishness, greed, evil and death. It is personified and intensified in men like Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussain, Ivan Karagich. But before we point the finger, we realise that this infection is present in us all too. This is the reason the Word born divine was the Word born to die.
Jesus came to die, to give His life a ransom for many. To break through the wall of separation between a Holy God and sinful world. To satisfy God's righteous wrath and take away our sin. A question I often ask people is, "If you could know God personally would you be interested? According to surveys, between 70-80% of people in Britain would say yes. But will they RSVP? For some it depends on whether we deliver the invitation personally. For most it will depend on whether they accept God's diagnosis of their condition, whether they accept his remedy. For our rescue must be on God's terms.
Bertrum Russell once said, "Most people would rather die than think.... and most people do." Many reject their Creator, preferring to remain in darkness. But the power of the Word could not and cannot be understood by that darkness, it cannot be swamped, overwhelmed or eclipsed by it.
The word revealed - Jesus born divine, The word rejected - Jesus born to die,
3. The Word Received: John 1:12-18
The joys of true belief
experienced - Jesus born to save. The
Berlin Wall may be down for good. The new elections in the Ukraine appear to have been freer and fairer than the previous ones. The will of the people
appears to have triumphed. But the way the Russian economy is going at the
moment I would not be surprised if another wall is erected nearer to Moscow. There are many others in our world if you look hard enough. The Great Wall of
China, the bamboo curtain has lasted much longer and now uneasily embraces Hong Kong. There is another through the middle of Korea, several criss-crossing what was
once Yugoslavia, still another in the Sudan, there's one in Sri Lanka, another in Cyprus. But the greatest barrier is an invisible one.
As Alexander Solzenitsyn once said, "the dividing line between good and evil...." Isaiah describes this work of God as nothing less than a heart transplant, the replacing of a heart of stone with a living heart. Jesus has done what no one else could do, he has revealed what God is like. Jesus born divine. Jesus born to die. Jesus born to save.
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
How is the glory of God seen today? I believe the Word is made flesh today through the Church - the Body of Christ - as we share the Word of God verbally and as we demonstrate His transforming work in our lives visibly.
That is why once a year in January we take a step back and give thanks to God for what he has done in and through us in the previous year. To see how he has been using us as a Church to reveal his glory in our community.
That is why we have provided you with a snap shot of 2004 - to fuel your praise and prayer, and motivate you to love and service in the coming year. We may not be as artistic or gifted as Gwang Hyuk Rhee in portraying our Lord Jesus but by God’s grace we can be his hands and feet.
Is there something God may be calling you to do to serve him in 2005? (Sri Lanka Appeal - money for homes, clothes, shoes, food, medicines) Have you made any New Year Resolutions? Here are some of mine!
EAT Seek to make Jesus most talked about person in VW. Christianity Explored course. Continue to ensure every home hears the good news every month through Connection (add Testimony monthly). Help DAT double # serving on Servant Teams (volunteer revolution) Initiate Buddy System for new members. Help YAT increase # young people participating. Help SAT increase tithing 10% and meet budget. Jesus is calling us to an exciting adventure in the coming year.
This Christmas was the 50th time Her Majesty the Queen has delivered a Message on Christmas Day. Now 70 years old, this year in her message, she made it crystal clear that she is a Christian, that the Lord Jesus is her Sovereign and that her faith shapes her values and decisions. I wonder whether we will be as bold to let others know we are Christ-followers in 2005.
The tragedy in the Indian Ocean this week and the continual threats of terror in the past year have left many people nervous about what will unfold in 2005.
In 1939, with the outbreak of the Second World War three months earlier, the Queen’s father, King George VI delivered his Christmas Day speech. He dressed in the uniform of the Admiral of the Fleet, sitting in front of two microphones on a table at Sandringham. It was to be a landmark speech and was to have an important effect on the listening public as they were plunged into the uncertainty of war: I think his message is timely and helpful to us.
"A new year is at hand. We cannot tell what it will bring. If it brings peace, how thankful we shall be. If it brings continued struggle we shall remain undaunted. In the meantime I feel that we may all find a message of encouragement in the lines which, in my closing words, I should like to say to you:
'I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year, "Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown." And he replied, "Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.' "
Lets put our hands into the hands of our Saviour, our Sovereign and our Shepherd this coming year. That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way. Lets pray.