I don’t know if you realized it, but on November 23rd, the day after Thanksgiving, you entered into a battle. And it wasn’t just you folks here in GraceLife, or even just us at Grace Community Church. All Christians, across the world, entered into this battle, and they will continue in it through the next couple of days. Of course, it’s not a physical battle. It is a mental battle, an emotional battle, even a spiritual battle.
And your enemies in this struggle are not so much individual people mounted on horses and chariots or armored with tanks and helicopters. Rather, those enemies which have the potential for the greatest peril are those who look like friends—indeed, have been our friends. Things like tinsel, and ornaments, and Christmas trees; like gingerbread cookies and candy canes; like Christmas gifts and Christmas cards; even wonderful things like singing Christmas carols and enjoying family traditions can be pressed into service by our great enemy, so that their potential for harm is the greatest.
And that enemy that the Christian does battle with during the Christmas season is the enemy of familiarity. In the red and green lights of our holiday plans, familiarity tempts us all to domesticate Christmas. And if we’re not careful, we cease to be blown away by the reality that—while the world lay long in sin and error pining—the God of the universe has become man to save guilty rebels from sin and death. Even as we read the Christmas story as it’s presented for us in the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke, we have to continue to fight against that sense of familiarity that would just leave our hearts unaffected and unimpressed.
As I reflected on these realities and the dangers of becoming familiar with Christmas, I realized that we Christians are used to seeing Christmas and thinking about Christmas from a historical perspective. We all know the story. Even the most committed atheist can recite the story of Mary and Joseph, the angels, the shepherds, there being no room in the inn, and the baby Jesus being born in a manger.
But this morning, I want to give our attention to “Christmas according to John.” In the Apostle John’s account of the Christmas story, what is amazing, what is unique, is that it is the theological perspective of Christmas. Matthew and Luke give us the historical perspective, but John gives us a look into the Christmas story that you wouldn’t know anything about even if you were with Mary and Joseph that night. Considering Christmas from this theological perspective will help us in our battle against familiarity.
We see the heart of Christmas in John 1 verse 14: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” What a wealth of truth packed into that one little sentence! Every single one of those 23 Greek words was carefully chosen and is pregnant with theological significance. The theology in this verse is so rich that we could literally do a sermon series mining out all of its implications for how we understand the Person of Christ, the way we should understand Christmas, and for how we live our lives throughout the rest of the year as well.
James Montgomery Boice, who has been serving us faithfully through his insights on the letter to the Philippians, has also written an excellent commentary on the Gospel of John. And on this verse, he writes: “I wish it were possible to approach John 1:14 as though reading it for the first time. The verse contains something that was new and quite startling when it was first written, and yet for us who read it nearly two thousand years later it has become commonplace. … This was the great sentence for which the Gospel of John was written. It tells us—inexplicable as it may be—that God became man. Nevertheless, because we have heard that verse from childhood, we read it and are often strangely unmoved” (p. 85).
He’s right. We read this and we’re unmoved. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” But this morning, I want this to move you! I want you to perceive the full weight of what John is teaching us about Christmas! I want you to be affected by the declaration and by the reality that this Word that was in the beginning, that existed before the world was, that was with God in the beginning before creation, that actually was God Himself; this Word through whom everything in the universe was created, who had life in Himself, and who was the Light of men, this Word that gives sinful human beings like us the right to become children of God—this Word became flesh, and dwelt among us!
And so as we seek to be properly affected by the truth in John 1:14, I want to look into this treasure chest of a verse and focus on three key words that John uses—words that give us worldview-shifting insight into the significance of Christmas, insight into the significance of the incarnation, insight into what was really happening when God Himself took on human flesh, and became man.
I. Dwelt: The Word Tabernacles among Men
And the first key word is: dwelt. “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…”
Now, there is much more going on in what John is saying here than it sounds like to us English-speakers. We read that Jesus “dwelt” among us. And when we think of the idea of “dwelling” we just think of “hanging out.” It’s almost a bland term in English. But John uses a peculiar Greek word here. There are more common Greek words for “to dwell.” If he was just trying to tell us that Jesus became flesh and just “spent time” among humanity, he had at least two other words at his disposal that would have made more sense to use. But the word he chooses is skenoo. Now, the word skene in Greek means “tent.” We have the verb form of skene here, so skenoo literally means, “to pitch a tent.” John tells us that this Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.
Now, that’s a strange way to talk, isn’t it? Especially since we don’t have any Scripture that tells us that Jesus actually pitched a literal tent during his time on earth. Why say it this way? He’s got at least two other words that he could use to get his point across. Why use this word?
He uses this word because he wants his readers—who would either be Jewish or would be at least somewhat familiar with the history of Israel—to recall the Tabernacle, the tent of meeting where God met with the Israelites in the Old Testament. And that’s exactly what they would think of, because the Greek word skenoo that we have in verse 14 is very similar to the Hebrew word for “to dwell.” In Hebrew the word is shakan. They actually have the same consonants: shakan: s, k, n, and skenoo: s, k, n. And the ‘tabernacle’ in Hebrew is mishkan, which is just the word shakan with an “m” in front of it. Sometimes, when Hebrew wants to denote “place,” it puts an “m” in front of words. So if shakan is “to dwell,” mishkan is “dwelling place.” And that’s the word that gets translated “tabernacle” in the Old Testament.
And so the point of that little Hebrew and Greek lesson is to get you to see the connection between (a) the peculiar word that John uses to describe the incarnation and (b) the concept of God dwelling with His people in the Tabernacle. John is pointing us there. And if he’s pointing us there to help us understand the significance of the incarnation, let’s follow his intent. Turn with me in your Bibles to Exodus chapter 25.
Yahweh first gives the command to build the Tabernacle in Exodus 25, verses 8 and 9: “Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell [shakan] among them. According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle [mishkan] and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.” And so that’s the command to build the Tabernacle.
And in the following chapters, Yahweh gives the directions for the construction of the Tabernacle. Really, interspersed throughout chapters 25 to 40, you have instructions for what the Tabernacle should look like. And I just want to briefly summarize those instructions so that we get a sense of what this Tabernacle was.
The Tabernacle itself actually was covered over by a tent, which is why the early form of it is called the “tent of meeting.” It was 15 feet wide, 15 feet high, and 45 feet long. The entrance was covered by a curtain or a veil made with fine linen and costly dyes. And when a priest first entered the tabernacle, he was first in the holy place. This was a 30 x 15 x 15 foot room that contained the table that held the Bread of the Presence (Ex 25:23–30) which the priests would offer to Yahweh as a memorial offering (Lev 24:27), the lampstand (25:31–40) which gave light to the holy place, and the altar of incense (30:1–5; 37:25–29) which Aaron used for incense offerings to Yahweh. And all of these furnishings were covered in pure gold.
And then beyond the holy place was the holy of holies. It was a 15-foot cube, and there was nothing in it but the Ark of the Covenant, that box which housed the tablets of the Law that God gave to Moses on Sinai. And entrance into this room was absolutely forbidden, except to one person, on one day of the year. Only on the Day of Atonement, could the High Priest enter the holy of holies in order to make propitiation for the sins of God’s people in the presence of Yahweh Himself.
So that’s the physical tabernacle. But in Exodus 29 we learn something of its significance. Turn to Exodus 29, starting in verse 42. This is God speaking about what the tabernacle will be to the sons of Israel: “…at the doorway of the tent of meeting before Yahweh, […] I will meet with you, to speak to you there. I will meet there with the sons of Israel, and it shall be consecrated by My glory. I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar; I will also consecrate Aaron and his sons to minister as priests to Me. I will dwell among the sons of Israel and will be their God. They shall know that I am Yahweh their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I might dwell among them; I am Yahweh their God.”
So from this passage we learn that the tabernacle will be a place of meeting: it is “before Yahweh, where I will meet with you,” God says in verse 42. It will be a place of revelation, for God will speak to them there. It will be a place that is consecrated by His glory, so Yahweh will condescend in His glory and His presence will sanctify Israel. Verse 44 says that it will be the place of priestly ministry, so it is also the place of propitiation, where God’s wrath against Israel’s sin will be temporarily appeased by the sacrifices offered by the priests. And in verses 45 and 46 we see how important it is in God’s own mind for Him to dwell among His people. He says that the reason He brought them out of Egypt—the aim of their redemption from slavery—was so that Yahweh would dwell among His people. And so this idea of dwelling—and this Tabernacle which would be the dwelling place—this is a big deal.
Turn now to chapter 33. We learn a bit more about the significance of Yahweh meeting with His people. Starting in verse 7: “Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, a good distance from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. He met with God here while the tabernacle was being built. And everyone who sought Yahweh would go out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp. And it came about, whenever Moses went out to the tent, that all the people would arise and stand, each at the entrance of his tent, and gaze after Moses until he entered the tent. Whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and Yahweh would speak with Moses. When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would arise and worship, each at the entrance of his tent. Thus Yahweh used to speak with Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.”
Verse 7 says, “…everyone who sought Yahweh” came here. This was the place where Israel could have fellowship and communion with their God. And verse 8 says that when Moses would go into the tent, everyone would gaze after him. They would drop everything! They would say, “Hey! Moses is getting ready to go into the tent of meeting,” and they’d watch him go in. They were in awe! And rightfully so! Because verse 9 says that whenever he went in, a pillar of cloud would descend. What a sight this had to be! The presence of the God of the universe descending visibly right in front of your eyes! So again we see that this was a place of condescension. The text tells us Yahweh would speak with Moses. That’s revelation again, God speaking to His people. Verse 10 tells us that all the people would worship when they saw the glory of Yahweh revealed in the cloud, so again we see that this was a place of worship. And finally, —such a beautiful sentence, in verse 11—we’re told that Yahweh would speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. And so this is a place of intimate fellowship.
And I want to look at just one more passage in Exodus before we move on. It’s at the end of chapter 40. This is the climax of the story. Everything that Israel has heard up until now has been what would be when the tabernacle was finished. But in chapter 40, construction is completed, and with all Israel watching, God’s glory fills the tabernacle. Look at verse 34: “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of Yahweh filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of Yahweh filled the tabernacle.”
Now Yahweh descends upon His dwelling place, upon His tabernacle. The glory descends in such a way that not even Moses, who had gone into the cloud before at Sinai, who had seen Yahweh’s glory—not even he could enter into the tent. What an amazing scene! This is God declaring: “I am with My people. I now dwell among them.”
And, verse 36, “Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of Yahweh was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.”
And so when the Apostle John uses that peculiar word—when he tells his readers the incarnate Word dwelt among them, he is calling our attention here. John is telling us that the way Yahweh descended and dwelt among His people in the Tabernacle, —and spoke with them and revealed Himself and took away their sin—that very same thing is happening in Jesus Christ! In the birth of Jesus—because of the story of Christmas—the glory of Yahweh Himself is descending and is pitching His tent to dwell among His people!
“Behold our God!” “O come, let us adore Him!” Oh I pray that this causes you to worship God for His infinite wisdom! I pray that you are moved to awe and adoration at the thought that the Word—the Eternal One, with God, God Himself, the agent of the creation of all things, the life and the Light of the world—became flesh and tabernacled among sinners!
What a mountain of significance is packed into that first key word, dwelt!
II. Glory: God’s Glory Dwells with His People
The second key word that gives us worship-inspiring insight into the significance of the incarnation is glory. After John writes that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, he says, “And we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
And so having seen how the glory of God was such a big part of His dwelling with His people in the Tabernacle, you now see how this fits together— how “and [He] dwelt among us,” fits with “and we saw His glory.” There is an inseparable connection between the (a) dwelling place of God, and (b) His glory that fills that place. In fact, you remember that I mentioned earlier the Hebrew word for ‘to dwell’ is shakan? Well does that sound like any other popular Hebrew word you might know? Shekinah? Which was a word for the glory of God. Shakan and shekinah also have those same consonants. They all come from the same root, because they’re all pointing us to the same idea. John is teaching us that the dwelling of God is absolutely inseparable from the glory of God.
In Exodus 40 when the tabernacle is completed, Yahweh’s glory descends and fills the tabernacle to signify that He will dwell there.
A. The Journey of the Glory of Yahweh in the Tabernacle
And so the glory of Yahweh was with Israel in the Tabernacle—a cloud by day and a fire by night. And it led them in all their journeys through the wilderness and into the land of Canaan, the Promised Land which He swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that He would give to their descendants. And whenever they would move, they would pack up the Tabernacle. And then when they would settle in another place they would set up the Tabernacle.
And that’s the way it went for over 450 years, even after they entered the land of Canaan. And so if we fast-forward about 450 years from Exodus 40 and the journey of the glory of God with Israel in the wilderness, we arrive at 1 Kings 8. Turn there with me.
B. The Glory Fills the Temple
By this time the construction of Solomon’s temple has been completed. And the temple is just magnificent. It was twice the size of the Tabernacle, and actually three times as high. And on the inside, everything in it was overlaid with gold. And so as construction is finished, the priests and the Levites bring the Ark of the Covenant into the holy of holies, verses 4 through 6, and station the ark under the wings of two massive 15-foot golden cherubim.
Then, verse 9 says, “There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone which Moses put there at Horeb [almost 500 years earlier], where Yahweh made a covenant with the sons of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt. It happened that when the priests came from the holy place, the cloud filled the house of Yahweh, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of Yahweh filled the house of Yahweh.”
Sound familiar? This is exactly what happened in Exodus 40 at the completion of the Tabernacle. Yahweh is now declaring, in 1 Kings 8, that He will no longer dwell in the transitory Tabernacle—which could be taken down, moved, and set up as the Israelites moved from place to place. But now that Yahweh has brought His people into their promised land and has given them rest, He will now dwell with His people in this Temple. And His glory descends and takes up residence. The parallel account in 2 Chronicles adds, “All the sons of Israel, seeing the fire come down and the glory of Yahweh upon the house, bowed down on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave praise to Yahweh, saying, ‘Truly He is good, truly His lovingkindess is everlasting’” (7:3).
Yahweh’s glory establishes residence in His temple! He dwells there in the midst of His people!
C. The Glory Departs from the Temple
Until the tragedy of the Babylonian exile. Turn this time to 2 Chronicles 36. Between the time of the completion of Solomon’s temple (about 960 BC) and the final king of Judah (about 597), over 350 years had passed. The glorious united monarchy of Israel had been divided into two kingdoms: Israel in the north; and Judah in the south. And because of the idolatry and apostasy of the northern kingdom Yahweh had given them into the hands of the Assyrians in 721 BC. And in 592 Judah was facing the same fate at the hands of the Babylonians, because of their great wickedness.
And 2 Chronicles 36 sets the context. Judah is under their final king, Zedekiah. They are only six years away from the final deportation of the Babylonian captivity. Look with me in 2 Chronicles 36, starting in verse 11: “Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. He did evil in the sight of Yahweh his God [—which, by then, was very common]; he did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet who spoke for Yahweh. He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar who had made him swear allegiance by God. But he stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to Yahweh God of Israel. Furthermore, all the officials of the priests and the people were very unfaithful following all the abominations of the nations; and they defiled the house of Yahweh which He had sanctified in Jerusalem.”
Take notice of that. They defiled the temple of Yahweh. They caused to become unclean that holy sanctuary where God’s name dwelt, where His glory dwelt. And then, listen to the sadness in the next two verses: “Yahweh, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of Yahweh arose against His people, until there was no remedy.” Listen to the way he puts that! “Until there was no remedy.” Until nothing else could be done! God is giving them every opportunity to repent, and to return to Him in faithfulness. But the people just preferred their idols.
The prophet Ezekiel prophesies during this time. And it is his vision that gives most interesting insight into what’s happening at the time of the exile. Turn to Ezekiel chapter 8.
“It came about in the sixth year, on the fifth day of the sixth month, as I was sitting in my house with the elders of Judah sitting before me, that the hand of the Lord Yahweh fell on me there. 2Then I looked, and behold, a likeness as the appearance of a man; from His loins and downward there was the appearance of fire, and from His loins and upward the appearance of brightness, like the appearance of glowing metal. 3He stretched out the form of a hand and caught me by a lock of my head; and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the north gate of the inner court, where the seat of the idol of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy, was located. 4And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the appearance which I saw in the plain. 5Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, raise your eyes now toward the north.’ So I raised my eyes toward the north, and behold, to the north of the altar gate was this idol of jealousy at the entrance. 6And He said to me, ‘Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations which the house of Israel are committing here, so that I would be far from My sanctuary? But yet you will see still greater abominations.’ 7Then He brought me to the entrance of the court, and when I looked, behold, a hole in the wall. 8He said to me, ‘Son of man, now dig through the wall.’ So I dug through the wall, and behold, an entrance. 9And He said to me, ‘Go in and see the wicked abominations that they are committing here.’ 10So I entered and looked, and behold, every form of creeping things and beasts and detestable things, with all the idols of the house of Israel, were carved on the wall all around. 11Standing in front of them were seventy elders of the house of Israel, with Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan standing among them, each man with his censer in his hand and the fragrance of the cloud of incense rising. 12Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, do you see what the elders of the house of Israel are committing in the dark, each man in the room of his carved images? For they say, “Yahweh does not see us; Yahweh has forsaken the land.”’ 13And He said to me, ‘Yet you will see still greater abominations which they are committing.’ 14Then He brought me to the entrance of the gate of Yahweh’s house which was toward the north; and behold, women were sitting there weeping for Tammuz. 15He said to me, ‘Do you see this, son of man? Yet you will see still greater abominations than these.’ 16Then He brought me into the inner court of Yahweh’s house. And behold, at the entrance to the temple of Yahweh, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men with their backs to the temple of Yahweh and their faces toward the east; and they were prostrating themselves eastward toward the sun. 17He said to me, ‘Do you see this, son of man? Is it too light a thing for the house of Judah to commit the abominations which they have committed here, that they have filled the land with violence and provoked Me repeatedly? For behold, they are putting the twig to their nose. 18Therefore, I indeed will deal in wrath. My eye will have no pity nor will I spare; and though they cry in My ears with a loud voice, yet I will not listen to them.’”
These abominations, this mass idolatry, is happening in the dwelling place of Yahweh! In the place where His glory dwells! In the place where He condescends and meets Israel and provides atonement for their sin! And so Yahweh visits them in His wrath and destroys so many Israelites that Ezekiel thinks He’s going to wipe out the whole nation: chapter 9 verse 8, Ezekiel says, “Alas, Lord GOD! Are You destroying the whole remnant of Israel by pouring out Your wrath on Jerusalem? What about your covenant?!” Ezekiel’s terrified!
And as that’s happening, look what he sees at the beginning of chapter 10. “Then I looked, and behold, in the expanse that was over the heads of the cherubim [now, these were the golden cherubim in the temple, in the holy of holies] I saw something like a sapphire stone, in appearance resembling a throne, appeared above them.” He sees heaven opened over the cherubim that protect the Ark of the Covenant! And He sees the throne of God Himself breaking into His earthly dwelling!
“Now,” verse 3, “the cherubim were standing on the right side of the temple when the man entered, and the cloud filled the inner court.” This is His glory now. This is the cloud of glory that had been with them since Exodus 13. “Then the glory of Yahweh went up from the cherub to the threshold of the temple, and the temple was filled with the cloud and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of Yahweh.” And so the glory of Yahweh has gone from the Ark, it moved to hovering over the cherub, and now it goes to the threshold of the temple, to the exit, and it stays there.
Skip down to verse 18: “Then the glory of Yahweh departed from the threshold of the temple and stood over the cherubim.” Now, these are different cherubim. I know it gets hard to follow, but these are actual angels in Ezekiel’s vision; they’re not the golden ones. Verse 19: “When the cherubim departed, they lifted their wings and rose up from the earth in my sight with the wheels beside them; and they stood still at the entrance of the east gate of Yahweh’s house, and the glory of the God of Israel hovered over them.” So now the glory is with His angels, at the very last exit of the temple.
Skip to chapter 11 verse 22: “Then the cherubim lifted up their wings with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel hovered over them. The glory of Yahweh went up from the midst of the city and stood over the mountain which is east of the city.” The glory of Yahweh departs from the temple, it hovers over the Mount of Olives, and then ascends with the cherubim back into heaven.
And what is amazing, and also heartbreaking, is that the glory seems to be departing reluctantly. It goes from the ark to the cherub wings (10:3–4), and it hovers in one place. Then it goes from the cherub wings to the threshold with the real cherubim (10:18–19), and it hovers there. And finally it leaves the Temple and goes east over the Mount of Olives (11:22–23).
It’s as if Yahweh is saying, “Won’t any of My people worship Me? Won’t any of My children listen to My Word? Won’t any of you turn from your idols? From your Baals and your Asherim and your golden calves, and from your television, and computer, and endless distractions under the guise of entertainment; from your pornography and your fornication; from your love of money and your preoccupations with your Christmas presents and your possessions and having more stuff? Won’t any of you turn from your impatience, your anger, your bitterness, and your prideful desire to be proven right in every situation? Won’t any of you lay down the broken cisterns of your fear, your anxiety, and your complaining? Oh My dear people, won’t you put away all your idols that you have erected before Me, and open your eyes to see My glory which has been with you always, and has satisfied you, and now love Me with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength?! Am I not worthy of that?”
And no one did.
So God’s glory left the Temple. For the first time in Israel’s history—for the first time in 850 years—Israel was without the presence of their God. Yahweh is no longer dwelling with His people. This is the last time the glory of Yahweh is seen on the earth.
D. The Glory Returns with the True Temple (cf. John 2:19–21)
“Until,” says the Apostle John, “Until now! Until the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory!”
Turn with me in your Bibles to Luke 2—to the familiar story that, I hope, by now, doesn’t seem so familiar. Joseph and his pregnant wife are going up from Galilee to Judea to register for the census. And while they were there, Mary gives birth to Jesus, wraps Him in cloths and lays Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And in verse 8, Luke says, “In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. … And suddenly,” verse 13, “there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.’”
The next time the glory of Yahweh is seen—600 years later!—it comes to the shepherds to proclaim the birth of Jesus! The angels’ message is that, “The glory of the Lord has returned to Israel in the city of David; it is the Savior! It is Christ the Lord.” And these words… these are the two most significant, potent, pregnant words that the Holy Spirit could have chosen to describe this baby in the manger. “Christ,” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew term, “Messiah.” And think about all the depth and richness that Pastor John has been teaching us about this concept of Messiah: This infant is the Anointed One of Yahweh! He is the long-expected Coming One! The One who would deliver Israel! The Great High Priest to make atonement for their sins before Yahweh! The long-awaited Prophet who would declare the Word of Yahweh to them! Yahweh’s righteous King, finally, to rule over His people in righteousness in a way that Josiah, Hezekiah, Solomon, and even David never could have!
And “the Lord,” there, isn’t functioning simply as a title. This is the Greek translation of the Divine Name, Yahweh—similar to the way you see the word “LORD” in the Old Testament, used with all capitals. The angel is saying, with the glory of Yahweh that no one has seen for 600 years shining around him, he’s announcing: “Yahweh is here!” In the birth of Jesus, God is declaring the fulfillment of that great New Covenant promise that so many hoped in for thousands of years: “My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people” (Ezek 37:27)!
This is the baby Jesus! This is the Word become flesh! This is your Savior, GraceLife! “O come, let us adore Him: Christ, the Lord!”
III. Only: Glory as of the only Begotten from the father
And so John tells us that the Eternal Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us, and we beheld His glory. And by using this language in John 1:14, the Apostle is proclaiming to his audience that this Jesus is Yahweh’s divine self-expression in the same way that the glory of the Tabernacle and Temple were.
But then he goes even beyond that. He goes beyond that when he mentions our third key word: “…and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father.” “Only begotten” there, is better translated “unique,” or “One and Only.” And so when John says that this Eternal Word dwelt among us, the glory we saw wasn’t a cloud. It wasn’t a pillar of fire. It was the unique, one-and-only glory of Yahweh Himself! John presents Jesus—this Word-become-flesh—as the ultimate divine self-expression and the fulfillment of all the Tabernacle and Temple were! The glory that mediated Yahweh’s presence in the Tabernacle and in the Temple was amazing! But in Jesus, something greater than the temple is here (Matt 12:6)!
“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb 1:1)!
John 1:18 says, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” No one has seen God at any time! Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 6:16 that God “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see.” But Jesus, who is Himself God, has explained the unseen Father. Literally, “He has exegeted” Him. John is announcing that Jesus Christ is the exposition of God the Father. As glorious as the Temple and Tabernacle were, you couldn’t see the fullness of God’s character by a pillar of cloud. But as Jesus Himself said, “If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9). You want to know what God is like? Look at Jesus. That is what John wants you to see when you read verse 14.
- Just as the glory of God appeared in the Tabernacle, so now the fullest expression of God’s glory is in Jesus!
- Just as everyone who sought God went to the Tabernacle, so now everyone who seeks God must go to Jesus!
- Just as the Tabernacle was the place of condescension, where God met man, so now Jesus is where God condescends and meets man!
- Just as the Tabernacle was the place where God’s people are consecrated for service, so now Jesus is where God’s people are consecrated and sanctified!
- Just as the Tabernacle was the place where God spoke to His people, so now in these last days God has spoken to us in His Son Jesus!
- Just as the Tabernacle was the place where atonement for sin was made and God’s wrath was propitiated, so now Jesus is where atonement is made and is where God’s anger is satisfied!
- Just as the Tabernacle was the place where Israel worshiped God, so now the “hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth,” for they will worship Him in Jesus, and in Jesus alone!
And so this Christmas, as you meditate on the birth of the baby in the manger, and as you battle against the familiarity that can dull and dampen our love for our Savior, let John’s words be one weapon that you take up to fight with: that in Jesus, God is tabernacling with men as He did in the wilderness. Grasp the weight of the fact that Christmas is about the God of the universe graciously coming again to dwell in glory among men after He had been absent for 600 years!
That great hymn calls us to see this glory:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus our Immanuel.
See the Godhead veiled in flesh! See Jesus, our Immanuel, our “God-with-us!” Don’t let this sermon be just an academic exercise that stimulates your intellect! The inseparable connection between God’s dwelling place and His glory is screaming at us that the point of the incarnation—the point of the birth of Jesus—the point of Christmas—is that we might behold the glory of God in the face of Christ!
We didn’t talk about it much but when John says, “We saw His glory,” in verse 14, that word “saw” is theáomai in the Greek. It means “to behold, to contemplate.” One Greek scholar says, “[It is] gazing with a view to satisfy the eye.”
We can’t miss this! The reason that the Word has become flesh, the reason that Jesus has tabernacled among us, is so that we might gaze at Him, with a view to satisfy our eyes—to behold His glory, full of grace and truth. And that by beholding Him in all His glory, we might receive from that fullness, verse 16, grace upon grace.
Oh, Christian, would you receive grace upon grace this morning? Would you look to Jesus and see His glory, glory as of the One and Only from the Father? Would you let these truths soak into you that they might satisfy your soul? Would you let them compel your heart to worship Him by embracing Him, and treasuring Him, and delighting in Him, and following Him, and displaying Him to your family and your friends and your neighbors, perhaps even more than you ever have? Dear brothers and sisters, receive grace upon grace from your Savior this morning.
But even as we exult over such glorious things, there is a tragic reality that we’re confronted with. And that is that there are some people sitting here this morning—and billions outside these walls—that can’t do that. You can’t do what I just described. You can’t receive grace upon grace from Jesus Christ, because you haven’t believed in Him. You might think you have. But when you look at Him you don’t see glory. You don’t see the most beautiful, compelling, delightful Person that ever was. You look at Him and He seems boring, or mythical and fairy-tale-like. You look at Jesus and you say, “Ugh! Get Him away! He’s the guy who spoils all my fun and tells me what to do and makes me feel guilty all the time!” Or maybe worse: You look at Him and you say, “Oh, yeah. Jesus. Yeah, He’s a nice guy. Good teacher. Nice to think about around this time of the year. But, you know, I’m doing OK on my own. I like my life right now. And I like Jesus too. He’s there. I mean, I pray to Him when I need stuff. But, I’ll get more serious a little later on.” And reality is: You need to be born again.
Because if you have beheld His glory—glory as of the One and Only from the Father, full of grace and truth—and you are not thrilled, and you are not delightfully compelled to worship, then you need new eyes and a new heart. Those who behold the glory of the incarnate Son of God with eyes to see, are free to evaluate sin as it is and Jesus as He is. And when your eyes have been opened to see properly, you recognize that all this time you have been loving and pursuing the rotting garbage of sin, and you forsake the things you’ve been worshiping in Jesus’ place in order to pursue true beauty in Him. That is the repentance and faith that the Gospel message calls you to. It is the forsaking of your sin and your idols that could never satisfy the desires of your heart, and preferring and embracing the glory of Christ as more desirable than anything. And it is a relying upon what He has done—trusting the righteousness He provides—for your acceptance with God.
And the good news is that that is exactly why Jesus came! The great hymn continues:
Mild, He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth!
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us ultimately that He might live a perfect life and die on the cross for the sins of His people, and rise again on the third day, so that by faith we might behold His glory and receive grace upon grace! The first grace to receive is the grace of the second birth, the grace of salvation, the grace of forgiveness for your sins. My unconverted friend, come to Christ! This Christmas season is a day of salvation. Run to Christ while He may be found.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the One and Only from the Father, full of grace and truth. This is Christmas, dear friends. This is Christmas.