The Word Became Flesh
The Gospel of John introduces the Person of Jesus Christ to us. He is the Word. “The word was with God” and “the word was God,” (John 1:1). Jesus Christ, the Word is an Eternal Person, who existed alongside God, before the creation of the world. Our God is not some impersonal force, or the impersonal first cause that set of a whole chain reaction of events. Our God is a Personal Being. He is not only the creator of all things but also the sustainer of His creation.
John announced the coming of the Word, true Light into the World (John 1:9). God is personally coming into His Creation. In most religious pursuits we find the central idea is something like, man’s quest for divinity. This pursuit mirrors the fall of man. It was man’s search for divinity that brought the curse of God on man and the world. In Scripture we find a contrary picture. We learn of God becoming man, of God taking on the likeness of fallen creatures. In verse 14 of Chapter 1 John tells us of the exact nature of the coming of the true Light into the World. “And the Word became flesh…” (John 1:14) (Note: When we speak of the incarnation of the Word, we mean became flesh. The word incarnation is from Latin, meaning become flesh.)
The nature of the true Light coming into the world is not like His previous appearances in the Old Testament. John announces a unique coming of the true Light. There are many instances of the appearance of the Word in the Old Testament where He is most often referred to as the Angel of the Lord. The Angel of the Lord appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to Moses and the Prophets. The Angel of the Lord often speaks as God, and those meeting with the Angel of the Lord conclude that they have seen God. However, the appearance of the Word announced by John is not like all the appearances we have heard of before. The nature of His coming announced by John’s Gospel is that the Eternal Person came in the likeness of sinful flesh. Paul writes, Romans 8:3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.
The glorious Eternal Person came in the flesh as one of us. There was no external reality that set Him apart from the rest of us. Isaiah 53:2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. What is so extraordinary was that God came to man in the most ordinary way. He came in the likeness of sinful flesh.
What does it mean that the Word became flesh? What is meant by flesh? We know from Isaiah that flesh is temporal, as opposed to eternal. Isaiah 40:6-8 A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. It is not only temporal, but also fades and withers. Flesh begins as something, but fades into nothing. It becomes less and less significant. Why would the Eternal God, become fading grass?
We must first consider, Why is flesh like fading grass? Why do we wither and die? The Psalmist expresses the idea that we are fading grass and connects one important thought. Psalm 103:14-16 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. Man withers like the grass, because he is dust. Man was more than dust before the fall, but since the fall man is under God's curse to return to the dust that he was taken out of. Genesis 3:17-19 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
When we revisit Isaiah 40:8 we should not fail to notice the eternal nature of God’s word. Isaiah 40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Also notice that it is because man did not listen to the word of God, that he is cursed to return to dust. Genesis 3:17 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Adam failed to keep God’s commandment and as God promised, Adam surely died. God’s word stands forever and therefore the promise of death stands against Adam. God does not go back on His word in order to accommodate us. God stays true to His Word and Character. When Athanasius wrote, On the Incarnation, he said "it was unthinkable that God, the Father of Truth, should go back upon His word regarding death in order to ensure our continued existence. He could not falsify Himself."
Instead of going back on His word, God sent His Son. The Eternal Word who was God became flesh. The Eternal one, taking on the fading nature of man. As Paul says, Romans 8:3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh. When Paul writes of the incarnation in Romans 8, we are told why the Son of God came in the flesh. The Word became flesh, so that God may condemn sin in the flesh. Man has sinned against God, and man must pay the penalty for sin. God’s justice demands that man pays for his own sin. God will in no way clear the guilty (Exodus 34:7, Numbers 14:18, Isaiah 65:6-7, Jeremiah 32:18-19).
The Word became flesh because of God's love and grace toward fallen humanity. The Son of God will step into man’s place and face the wrath of God. God’s wrath demands satisfaction for sin, and God will provide a sacrifice for that satisfaction in Christ Jesus. Romans 3:23-26 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. God put forward His Son, so that His word may stand. God is just. He will not subvert his justice. The Word became flesh so that no-one can say that God is unjust to forgive sinners.
The Son of God became flesh for our benefit. He came for the benefit of man under the wrath of God. The writer of Hebrews says Hebrews 2:14-18 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. The Son of God became man in order to help man. He is able to help us in our weakness.
Ever since the fall, man has a tendency to desire for a more spiritual existence, to be more like God. So much in our world is geared toward helping and motivating man to transcend his humanness. This is the pursuit of pride. The humility of the Incarnation of Christ teaches us about the dignity of life in the flesh.
Humility does not mean undignified, in fact, our Lord teaches us that humility is true dignity. Philippians 2:5-9 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.
God is not somehow degrading man when He calls them to repent of his sin of pride. Sinners think that it is degrading and undignified to be called out for our sin. What God has done by sending His son is to show us that it is sin that is degrading and undignified. God does not leave us in our sin. We bear his image, and He has come in the flesh to restore us. That is why God calls us to repent and turn. How wonderful that He calls us to Himself. We are called to turn from sin to face God. James 4:8-10 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
*An excerpt from a sermon delivered at Emmaus Baptist Church on 24 September 2023 titled: The Incarnation of the Word