The Word Was With God and Was God and Became Flesh

Sermon preached on John 1:1-18 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/25/2022 in Petaluma, CA.

Sermon Manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.

Although we are not told in the Bible the date of when Jesus was born, since antiquity, many Christians have been remembering the birth of Jesus on December 25, and it is a joy to do so again today with this passage from John. These verses remind us that the birth of Christ is God coming to man in the person of Jesus. Now, I’ve preached several Christmas sermons from this part of John over the years. But, I wanted to return again to it in light of our current Sunday sermon series through Luke. You see, we’ve been studying in Luke all the trials and tribulations that Jesus had been going through when he was here on earth. Luke has helped us to see how Jesus especially experienced such things in his humanity. From the very start of Luke, we’ve seen Jesus with the humble beginnings of a birth in a manger. In his humanity, he grew up through childhood, even advancing in wisdom along the way. He endured different temptations, faced various adversaries who rejected him, demons who opposed him, and friends who even betrayed or denied him. And he took his ministry to its intended end, when he was revealed as the Messiah, only to be rejected and tortured, and put to death on the cross. While throughout, he was always the God-man, yet he especially suffered these things in his humanity, so he could save us humans. So, while Luke also teaches Jesus’ divinity, there is a lot that has drawn our attention to his humanity. So, I thought these verses from John would be a good complement, for while they also teach us about Jesus’ humanity, they especially draw us to consider his divinity.

As we dig into today’s passage, we remember that John here refers to Jesus before his incarnation as the “Word”. That makes sense because Jesus is given the human name Jesus at his birth. But as we see here, Jesus existed before his human birth. John calls him the Word to refer to him in his divinity as the Son of God. So, we’ll see in our first point that the Word was God. Then in our second point that the Word was with God. Then in our third point that the Word became flesh.

We begin then with seeing that the Word was God. That is one of things asserted about the Word in verse 1. The Word was God. The preincarnate Jesus was God. After the incarnation, he continued to be and always will be God. When you think about God, as in what makes God to be God, we can think of the divine attributes that only God possesses, and the divine work that only God performs. These divine attributes and work we see attributed to the Word here.

Regarding the divine attributes that only God possesses, we classically include that God is eternal, infinite, and unchangeable. These are things we can find here taught about the Word. His eternality is explicitly stated, though his infiniteness and unchangeableness is interestingly inferred here with some rather ironic language that at first glance speaks in opposite terms. Yet, in closer inspection, we see that it teaches that he is indeed these divine attributes.

The Word’s eternality is seen in verse 1 when it says that at the beginning of all creation, he already existed. That’s because he always has existed. That’s what eternal means. To be eternal is to have always existed and to thus have the quality of self-existence, that your existence is not dependent on some being or force outside of yourself. Verse 3 also speaks of this eternal self-existence by distinguishing the Word from all created things. He is not in the same category of created things because he is not created but eternal and self-existent.

His infiniteness can be inferred from here by seeing how the Word is described with this ironic language of fullness. Now, to be infinite is to be without bounds or limits. So then in verse 14, he is described as being full of grace and truth, and then again in verse 16 it speaks of how it is from his fullness that we can receive grace upon grace. The irony of the language here is that to speak of fullness, in human terms, is language that refers to bounds and limits. You fill up a cup, so to speak, because the cup has a finite volume it can take and then it is full. But the sense described here is that there is this unmeasured fullness that comes from the Son of God that becomes for us the ability to receive things like grace upon grace upon grace upon grace as it says in verse 16. He is this unending source of that which we need. While we are like cups that can be filled to the brim, he is like an unmeasurable fount. The Son of God doesn’t have a limited supply of grace and truth that eventually will run less and less as he gives it to us. Rather, his inexhaustible fullness of such good things to give infers his infiniteness.

The Word’s unchangeableness is also seen with some ironic language when it speaks of the Word becoming flesh. Humans can and do undergo changes, but God does not. So, at first glance, it sounds like for the Word to become something, flesh, is to actually describe him changing. Yet the mystery is unfolded when it goes on in verse 14 to say how in so becoming flesh, his glory as the Only Begotten Son from the Father is revealed to us humans. In other words, while he takes on human flesh, his unchangeableness is seen because he does not lose that divine glory in the process. If his divine nature itself had changed into humanity, you would lose that divine glory. But rather, the analogy in the text is that of a pitched tent where the divine glory resides within it akin to the Old Testament tabernacle. Indeed, the Son of God does not change even in the incarnation when his divine person takes also to himself a human nature even while his divine nature remained unchanging. So, we also can infer her that the Word is unchangeable.

So then, we see Jesus as the Word here possesses these three divine attributes of eternality, infiniteness, and unchangeableness. And we also see here Jesus accredited with divine work. The work which God uniquely does can be summarized as creation and providence. Creation is explicitly taught in verse 3. There, we are taught that every single created thing was created through the agency of the Word. Verse 10 again repeats that the Word made the world. And so, the Word is the creator, thus the Word is God. As for the divine work of providence, that is not explicitly discussed here, but arguably might be inferred from verses 4 and 9. The work of providence includes how God not only created everything, but its continued existence is also God’s unique work to sustain it. Verse 4 says of the Word, that “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Then verse 9 says how that light continues to shine and is something that gives light to everyone. And so, the Word is the source of all life and that is something that has continued to come to his creation from him. There is surely much more here about Jesus being the light of life, but I can’t help but infer at least some idea of providence here too. The Word surely sustains our lives every moment.

So then, we’ve seen today that the Word was God, as John stated and described. Let us now turn in our second point to consider that the Word was also with God. Verse 1 says both of these things, that the Word was God and the Word was with God. This is part of a larger mystery taught in Scripture that the church has described as the Trinity. The Trinity is that there is one God that has eternally existed in three persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. So then, when it says that the Word is both is God and with God, we have some expression in part of the mystery of the Trinity.

Part of how the church has thought about this is to distinguish between being and person. For us humans, our being, or our essence and nature, is expressed in a single person. I am a human being, and my essence is expressed in my person, Reid Hankins. But God, is one divine being, one essence, yet is expressed in three persons. This results not in three Gods but one God. Each person is indeed fully and truly God. Each person shares in that one divine substance, so they are equal in power and glory and possess all the divine attributes. So, when it speaks of the Word being God, that refers to the substance of the being, that the Word is of the same one being of God, and thus is God. But when it says that the Word is with God, that speaks to the distinction of persons, that the Word is one of the persons of the one God. Yes, there is mystery, but this is one the passages of Scripture that contributes to what we do know of this beautiful mystery.

We also see more here about how the Word was with God after verse 1. As we keep reading, we see that the Word is also described as the only begotten Son of God, from the Father. We see this Father and Son language in verses 14 and 18. Let me say a couple things about this. First off, the language in our pew Bible translates the Son as the “only Son”, but you might remember that other translations have not just “only” Son but “only begotten” Son. Some translations have tried to focus their translation of the Greek word on emphasizing uniqueness, but I think for various reasons retaining the translation of “only begotten” is much to be preferred (you can ask me afterwards for more). Second, I want us to understand here is that we learn more about this idea of the Trinity by seeing the relationships of the persons. When the early church discussed the Trinity, they affirmed that the Father and Son relationship between the persons was something eternal. The Word didn’t become the Son at the incarnation. He was always the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, and the Father has always been God the Father, the first person of the Trinity. So then, we believe the Bible teaches that the Son is eternally begotten of the Father as formulated and confessed in the Nicene Creed. Sometimes referred to as eternal generation, the creed describes the Son being eternally begotten of the Father as being God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father. While not described here in John’s prologue, we also speak of something similar with God the Holy Spirit. That God the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. So this eternal procession would be that the Spirit, as the third person of the Trinity, is eternally of the Father and of the Son.

So then, there is unity in the Trinity and the Trinity in the unity. Each of the three persons are in their entirety coeternal and coequal with each other, none is before or after, none is greater or smaller. Yet, there is only one Father, only one Son, and only on Spirit, even as each are God but there is only one God. If you’d like some additional reflection on these truths, you can find the historic Athanasian Creed on page 853 of the hymnals to more fully expound on these nuances.

So this is to peer into some of the mystery of the Trinity and to affirm it as we see the Bible teach it. On this Christmas day, we remember how the Word was God and the Word was with God. But we also remember how the Word become flesh. Let us then turn now to our third and final point to consider this glorious truth, that the Word became flesh. This is where we get the theological word of “incarnation.” Incarnation means literally to become flesh. That is said of the Word in verse 14.

Now, I’ve already shown us that for the Word to become flesh did not mean that the divine nature changed into a human nature. The right way to understand this is that the divine person assumed to himself a human nature in addition to his eternally existing divine nature. The result is another mystery that Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit is the one person with two natures wonderfully united together. The eternal Son of God, added to himself a human nature, complete with a human body and a human soul, so that he not only remained truly God but now also truly and fully man. So, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we are celebrating not just that a savior has come to save us, but that God himself has come in human flesh to save us.

While I could say a lot of things about the incarnation today, what I particularly wanted to draw our attention to today is how that in the incarnation Jesus reveals God to us. This is based on the first two points for today, how the Word was with God and was God. I’m relying heavily here now on verses 14 and 18. We already said that verse 14 spoke of how God’s glory is revealed in Jesus with the analogy of how the glory of God was revealed in the Old Testament tabernacle. Jesus was a living tabernacle on earth for the glory of God and as such was a revelation of God to humanity even in the flesh of humanity!

So then verse 18 further states this. It says, “No have has ever seen God; the only begotten God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” So, here, with some of that Trinitarian language, we find that the Son of God, who took on human flesh to be born into this world as Jesus, reveals God to us. As God of God, the eternal Son from the eternal Father, makes known to us the eternal God.

Realize the there is some more interesting language here in verse 18. It says that no one has seen God. In fact, Scripture elsewhere tells us that it is not even possible to see God. That’s true in a sense of holiness like how God told Moses no one could see him and live. But it’s also true in a corporeal sense, in that God does not have a body like men. God is a spirit and as we think of things to see, a spirit is invisible. And yet, verse 18 tells us that Jesus shows us the God that we can’t see. To look upon Jesus on the flesh is to see the unseeable God. To clarify, that is a statement that is far beyond a physical reference. His divine nature remains a spirit and thus unseeable. His body and physical appearance remains a part of his human nature. Yet, as the united God-man, two natures in one person, to look upon Jesus is to truly look upon God.

Indeed, what is said of Jesus here is what he himself would later teach. For example, in John 6:46, Jesus said, “Not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.” Jesus there spoke of himself, that that he and he alone has done what is otherwise impossible, to see the invisible God. Likewise, in John 7:29, Jesus said of God the Father, “I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.” Or in John 14, Jesus’ disciple Philip made this request, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus’ reply was, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” These teachings of Jesus all stem back to what we read today in verse 18. Jesus as the Son eternally begotten of the Father, is God of God come to us in the flesh. He is the revelation of God in the person of Jesus. He is in fact ultimately how it is we can know God personally.

Trinity Presbyterian Church, a primary application from today’s passage is Jesus is to be worshiped. There’s a good reason why Christians have through the centuries been so excited to remember his birth with such joy and praise. God has come to man in Jesus. And that is why it is proper and fitting and even our obligation to worship Jesus. Jesus is God, let us worship him and adore him as our God.

Related to this, let me give a gentle admonition of an often-overlooked concern during the Christmas season regarding images, statues, or other representations of Jesus. In the second commandment, it tells us to not make images of God, let alone to worship God through them. In the joy of this time of year, too many well-meaning Christians unwittingly get pulled into this practice which is really rooted historically in things like the religious icon making of the Dark Ages. But Jesus is God and even how we can see God. It is so common this time of year to see so many so-called pictures of Jesus with Mary, or nativity scenes, or the like. And yet, have you noticed that it is so often the Roman Catholics in our community who have the most of these, and the most overt versions of these, and I tell you, humbly, it is not because they are more biblical. Rather, the Bible repeatedly speaks against making visible representations of God, let alone to worship them (e.g. Deuteronomy 4:15-18). Let us not dishonor God’s glory and distort his true image by fabricating false ways to see him and worship him.

Instead, God has given us the true image of himself in Jesus. As we remember again his birth, we remember again that Jesus is God. And therefore, we remember again that he is to be worshipped. Let us look to worship him as he told us to worship, in Spirit and in truth. And he who is the eternal Word has given us, in the Word, the truth of who he is. This truth is given so that even now, while he is not here physical on earth for us to see, we can yet see him in faith. So that we can indeed worship him in Spirit and in truth.

So then, we join with the saints down through the ages to say again today, “Glory to God in the highest,” and “Jesus Christ is Lord.”


Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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