Who Is The Baby In The Manger?
The story of Christmas is one of the richest stories in the world. It has drama (a pregnant woman with no place to stay, strange travelers from the East, a wild King who seeks to kill babies through a desperate act of infanticide.), intrigue (why did God choose Mary and Joseph? Why a stable rather than a palace?) and a cast of characters that is richly diverse.
It’s a great story but it is all too easy to miss the true message of Christmas because of the Lights, Gifts, and commercialism of our day. However, it is also possible to miss the real message of Christmas because we are so distracted by the story itself that we miss the main character: Jesus.
During the weeks of Advent this year we are going to keep our focus on Jesus. We will look at just a few verses John chapter 1. Our goal will be to understand who Jesus really is and what His true identity means to the way we live our lives.
This morning we want to focus on the first two verses of this text,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. [John 1:1-2]
WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES
The first thing we want to ask about this text is: what does it mean? Who is this “Word”? The answer to that question is found in verse 14: “The Word became flesh and lived among us.” The Word is Jesus.
John used the term “logos” or “Word” because it was a familiar term to his readers. Logos was understood to represent the word that created the universe in the Old Testament and to the organizing principle of the universe, the thing that held it together and allowed it to make sense. [Grudem, Systematic Theology p. 546]. You can see how this is significant when applied to Jesus.
There are some significant facts in these two short verses. First, we are told that the Word was “in the beginning”. John declared that Jesus was eternal. When the beginning began, Jesus was already there. Jesus (the Son of God) was not created like some of the early heretics (and many contemporary heretics) contend. He has always been co-existent with God. This attribute of eternality is a trait that is uniquely God’s.
Second, John tells us in straightforward fashion that Jesus was God. He was with God and He is God. In the Greek, the predicate actually precedes the subject in order to emphasize the point. In English it would read “and God was the Word”.
This claim to Jesus’ “god-ness” would be easy to dismiss if the evidence wasn’t so overwhelming. This isn’t the only place where such a statement is made. Matthew quotes Isaiah’s prediction about the coming of the Messiah,
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). (Mt. 1:23) [ESV]
The apostle Paul wrote,
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2:5-8) [ESV]
John records the words of Jesus and the way they provoked the religious leaders.
I and the Father are one.” 31The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” (John 10:30-33) [ESV]
There are many other references to the deity (or God-ness) of Jesus. Jesus claimed to be God and others understood that He was claiming to be God. The question we have to ask is: Is there any evidence that what He claimed was true?
Lee Strobel in his helpful book, “The Case for Christ” discusses some of the evidence that Jesus really was God. Let me use Strobel’s list combined with my own to give you a quick list of some of the evidence (there are many other references).
Jesus claimed to be able to forgive sin. The only one who can extend forgiveness for an offense is the one offended. When Jesus claims to extend forgiveness for sins against God . . .He is claiming to be God. If someone offended you, I would have no right to go up to them and tell them that they were forgiven. Only you can do that.
Jesus possessed omniscience. He knew what was in the heart of men. He knew what people were thinking and He had an acute sense of God’s timing. In John 16:30 the disciples say, “Now we can see that you know all things.”
Jesus claimed omnipresence (to be present everywhere). He promised that He would never leave us or forsake us (Mt. 28:20)
Jesus claimed omnipotence (He had all power), “all authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Mt. 28:18)
Jesus claimed divine authority when he said, “you have heard that it was said”….but “I say to you” (Matthew 5)
Jesus claimed to be sinless, ““I always do what is pleasing to him” (John 8:29); and “I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:10)and even when Pilate examined Jesus he said, “I find no crime in him” (John. 18:38)
Jesus accepted worship from Thomas after his resurrection (Jn. 20:28)
Jesus was credited with immutability (that he never changed). Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
Also, the Old Testament paints a portrait of God by using such titles and descriptions as Alpha and Omega, Lord, Savior, King, Judge, Light, Rock, Redeemer, Shepherd, Creator, giver of life, forgiver of sin, and speaker with divine authority. It’s fascinating to note that in the New Testament each and every one is applied to Jesus. [The Case for Christmas p. 65]
I don’t think there is any question that the Bible claims that Jesus is uniquely fully God and fully man. He experienced life fully as a man but was still God! For most of us that overloads some mental circuits in our brain. It is a concept that we can’t get our mind around. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. There are lots of things in life I can’t understand because it is outside my experience or frame of reference. Let me give you some examples,
I can’t imagine having enough money to not have to worry about money.
I can’t grasp how a person can have peace as they are dying.
I don’t understand how an artist can “see the finished product ” in their head before they even start drawing.
I don’t see how a string of binary numbers could possibly cause my computer programs to function.
I look at people doing advanced math and don’t know how those squiggly lines and numbers can lead to a solution to any problem.
I read the accounts of Heaven but I can’t imagine “life beyond the grave”.
I can’t comprehend all the differences between men and women.
The fact that I don’t understand these things does not mean that they aren’t real or true. I accept the fact that there are true things that I don’t understand. Consequently, the idea of someone being fully God and fully man is something I can accept based on the evidence even if I don’t understand how it works.
The ultimate question for every person is this: Will you believe the evidence and the testimony of Scripture? Jesus was either God in human form, or He was a crazy man who believed He was God (and happened also to rise from the dead). Those are the only real options. The testimony of the Bible is Jesus was God. You need to decide which Jesus you believe in.
WHAT THIS MEANS TO US
To this point I know it feels like a theology lecture and perhaps has left many of you feeling somewhat cold and disengaged. However, there are some practical and very important implications from this doctrine.
He Deserves Our Honor, Worship, and Trust– Since Jesus was God become man to dwell among us, we should pay attention to Him.
Let’s suppose you were working at a new job. As you worked, you worked next to this person who was always making suggestions on how to do the job better. At first, you enjoyed the suggestions. After a while, you felt you understood what needed to be done. The suggestions from your co-worker are beginning to get on your nerves and you want to shout, “leave me alone”.
Now, let’s suppose that you discover that this co-worker is not merely a co-worker, he or she is the owner of the company, the person who signs your checks, the person who is ultimately responsible. Would this change how you responded to that person? Of course it would. As the owner of the company this person has a right to do things the way they want to do them. Besides, you want to keep your job.
If we understand who Jesus really is, if we “get” the fact that He is God Incarnate (God become man) it should change how we respond to Him. His teachings are no longer polite suggestions from someone who has a different idea: they are the Word of God! His promises are not like the sentimental words of a greeting card, they are words backed by the authority of the Creator of the Universe.
If we truly recognize Christ for who He is, then we would honor Him with our lives. We would give him the place of authority in our lives that He rightfully deserves. If we understand who Jesus really is, we should be led to honor and worship Him. If we “get it” then we should cling to Him for salvation. We should recognize that only the God-man is sufficient to save.
It’s not enough to know these truths . . . we must deal with the implications of the truth. We will not be given a theological exam when we die. We will be judged not on the information we know, but on whether or not we trusted God when He came to rescue us. The most significant thing you can do this Christmas is truly put your trust and confidence in the Christ who came at Christmas. If you understand who He is, you should run to Him for forgiveness and new life.
God Loves Us– It sounds like a trite phrase doesn’t it? But think about this! God, the creator of the universe (and perhaps universes beyond our own) cared enough about the people living on one small planet called earth, that He became one of us for a period of time. Do you see the implication: He has not forgotten us. He loves us! The Son of God gave up the privileges of Heaven and became a servant in order to reach out to us.
The world wants to silence the message of the Incarnation when it is the very message that the world desperately needs to hear. All around us this Christmas season there are people who feel that they don’t measure up. They feel discarded, ignored, unloved, and forgotten. It is essential that people understand that the message of Christmas is that God sees us, knows us, and loves us.
Christmas, rightly viewed, should make us more humble. It should help us see things more clearly. It should stimulate us to reach out, not for gifts, but to share Christ. It is not a time for frantic running, it should be a time of joyful reflecting on the privilege we have to know God and to enjoy His forgiving grace.
We Should Be Willing to Serve Each Other – The third implication is very practical. If Jesus was willing to come to earth and make Himself a servant, then we should be willing to serve others also.
The Bible tells us the story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. He followed that vivid example of servanthood by saying, “If I, your master, washed your feet, you should wash one another’s feet.” His point was that Christianity is about expressing love. We do this best by our service to others. The true follower loves other people like Jesus did.
Someone suggested in a recent book I read (and I can’t remember which one) that we should approach every encounter by asking, “How can I help you?” We don’t actually ask that question. Instead, we are to adopt a posture and attitude of one who is looking for a way to help another.
We seem to have missed this part of the Christian message. Today’s evangelical church is too often identified with arguing, fighting, and politics. We debate doctrine, point out error, and stand against the world’s agenda. We need to do all of these things. However we seem to be identified more with what we are against instead rather than by the love of God that flows through us.
Our challenge is to show people Jesus . . . not as much by our arguments as by our actions. As people see love in action, they will want to know where such love comes from. I challenge you, even as I challenge myself, to allow the love of Christ flow through us into practical acts of servanthood.
Before we end Let’s try to make this even more practical this Christmas Season. Let me give you some suggestions for how you can allow this text to make a difference in your life.
- During the Advent season read through the Gospel of John. Observe the way Jesus relates to people. Look at the way He talks about His relationship with God. Listen carefully to the instructions He gives to His disciples (which would also be us).
- Make it a point to do something loving for someone who doesn’t expect it. Bake some cookies for a neighbor; Invite someone to dinner; take an afternoon and sit and talk with someone who is alone; Drive someone to church. Do something special with a person who has recently lost someone to death. Make time for the person who is recently divorced.
- Give someone an unexpected hug and tell them that God loves them and so do you.
- Look for ways to include Christ in your Christmas gifts. Give books, CD’s, and gift certificates to Christian bookstores. Find ways to give of yourself: offer coupons for rides to church; promise to visit someone a certain number of times during the next year; be creative! Use your gift giving to point to Jesus.
- As a Christmas gift to the Lord, volunteer to help with a ministry or start a ministry or small group. Give a family gift to a ministry. Work to focus on others.
- Play Christ-centered music in your car, in your office (when appropriate) and sing real Christmas carols (as opposed to “Grandma got run over by a reindeer”) as you are going about your Christmas tasks (you never know who might be listening).
I hope you get the idea. A true celebration of Christmas is an act of worship. It is an attempt to honor God and to express joy and thanksgiving that God came to earth to reach out to us. I encourage you to be creative in finding ways to remind the world that God came to earth to invite us to become a part of His family and to give us some much needed guidance on how to live life in the here and now. Let me warn you, you’ll have to speak loud and you’ll need to be persistent, because even though many people are excited about Christmas, most have missed the point entirely.