14 November 2023

The word became flesh.

John 1.14-18.

Historically we Christians have had the darnedest time translating and explaining this passage. While it’s written in really simple Greek, it’s deep. It’s profound. It tells us the word of the LORD, the Son of the Father, God of God, God from the Father’s womb (usually translated “bosom” like the KJV, because human fathers don’t have wombs, and any language which gives God feminine qualities tends to creep out certain preachers), the one-who-comes-after-me who’s really the one-who-came-before-me, grace and truth personified, the visible image of the invisible God Cl 1.15became flesh.

Flesh. Meat. Blood and bone and muscle and tissue and nerves and fluids. An animal. Yet God.

People still find this idea alarming. Even blasphemous. I keep coming across pagans who insist God cannot be mortal. God can’t bleed. God can’t die. God can’t suffer from the same limitations as humans; he’s gotta be mightier, if not almighty, or he’s not really God. Or no longer God; he got banished from heaven like Thor from Asgard in his first movie, and lost his powers till he gets ’em back with good karma. (Wait, didn’t Satan get banished from heaven? Meh; nevermind.)

It’s why heresies keep cropping up to claim Jesus isn’t really flesh. He only appeared to be human, but peel off his human mask (eww) and you’ll find a God under it. He only looked like meat and bone, but he’s really an immortal spirit. He only looked real and physical, but he’s really a mass hallucination which confused the whole world, or at least his parents, siblings, those 12 guys who kept following him around, the Romans who killed him, and the senators who put him in a tomb. He only looked like a man, but was a superman, demigod, alien, hybrid, or new superior species. You know, the usual new-agey bulls--t.

But nope, he’s human. Fully, permanently human. And God.

John 1.14-18 KWL
14 The word becomes flesh and encamps with us,
and we get a good look at his significance—
significance like we’d see in the only begotten son of a father,
full of grace and truth.
15 John witnesses about the word,
and has called out, saying,
“This is the one of whom I say,
The one coming after me has got in front of me,’
because he’s before me.”
16 For all of us receive things out of the word’s fullness.
Grace after grace:
17 The Law, which Moses gave;
grace and truth, which Christ Jesus comes to be.
18 Nobody’s ever seen God.
The only Son, God who’s in the Father’s womb
this one explains God.

Got a really good look at him, too.

Knowing Jesus is the word of the LORD, wasn’t just granted to John the apostle by divine revelation. It was confirmed by John’s personal experience. Dude was Jesus’s first cousin, who knew him all his life, who followed him all over Israel and then some, who saw firsthand what Jesus teaches and did. Physically did.

The fact John’s teachings about Jesus are based on real-world experience, also gives people the heebie-jeebies. Especially those people who think religious ideas don’t belong in the real world. They should stay entirely in the mind, and never come out… and mess with our carefully ordered lives. They should remain personal, and be kept to yourself, and certainly never bother them.

But John’s gospel is a series of testimonies. John points out they saw the word of God in person. Live. “We get a good look at his significance.” When John wrote “encamped with us,” this isn’t just a clever metaphor for the way God dwells among humanity. John bar Zebedee had literally slept in a tent with a man who was the incarnate God. This isn’t ivory-tower speculation from a clever theologian. These are the memoirs of a man who saw this stuff, in person, up close—close enough to smell Jesus’s morning breath. And Jesus ate fish, y’know.

Over and over again, Jesus did things which made his students believe in him, and realize who he really is. The prophet John among them. Jesus was, as John the baptist personally put it, “The one coming after me [who] has got in front of me.” According to Luke, John was older than Jesus by a few months, but age wasn’t the issue; Jesus has always existed. Jn 1.1 God is uncreated… and yet he now has a birthday. And a mom and dad. Again, people still find this idea alarming, and prefer heresy.

Yeah, Jesus is first in priority ’cause he’s Messiah, and John’s his messenger. Jn 1.31 But Jesus is first in order of creation, because Jesus created creation. Jn 1.3 He existed before he was made flesh, while John the baptist was, like every other human, created at the same time his flesh was.

Jesus’s students saw grace and truth come from Jesus. The sort of grace and truth which can only come from God; more grace and truth which could come from any mere prophet. We all know good Christians. Some of us have good Christian parents. Some have got to know church leaders who are really good Christians. Assuming they’re not hypocrites—’cause hypocrites would hide it—we’ve seen these good Christians slip up, make mistakes, sin, be less than loving, gracious, patient, kind, generous, and so forth. In comparison, Jesus’s kids spent a whole lot of time around their rabbi—and never ever EVER saw him slip up.

Think about that. He never did. Never once.

All of them were probably looking for it, too. Some of us wanna see our leaders make mistakes, just so we know they’re “human,” and goof up like every other human. It’s also a useful learning experience to watch ’em be humble about it. Well, Jesus was humble, and probably missed the ball in a soccer game or two—’cause when we say Jesus is perfect, we’re talking about moral perfection. It’d be nuts to imagine Jesus perfect at everything, like hand-eye coordination. As far as we can tell, Jesus isn’t the best at everything he ever tried, although no doubt he tried his hardest. He probably didn’t bake the most delicious brownies in the world. But as far as sinlessness goes, as far as the Spirit’s fruit is concerned: Never ever EVER slipped up. And his students saw this—and correctly deduced from this, Jesus has characteristics only God has. Like Father, like Son.

So while “nobody’s ever seen God,” fact is we kinda have… once we take a good look at Jesus. When we see him, we see the Father. He explains God like no one or nothing else can.

Grace from Jesus.

Dispensationalists like to bend verse 17 to fit their theology. To them, the Old Testament, the Law of Moses, is all about getting saved by doing good. Follow the commands, go to heaven. Break ’em, go to hell. Which sounds impossible to them—which is understandable; they’re never giving up bacon. Lv 11.7 Not even for Jesus.

In comparison the New Testament, the new-covenant system of salvation which God reveals through Jesus, is grace: We’re not saved by working our way into heaven. We’re saved entirely through God’s good favor, through Jesus’s self-sacrifice. We needn’t do anything to be saved. We trust God; that’s all.

Here’s the problem: Dispensations, the multiple systems of salvation which dispensationalists believe in and teach, aren’t biblical. People only believe in them when they don’t read the bible. (Or they do read the bible—a special study bible with notes some yutz made about dispensations, and they read the notes instead of the scriptures, and think the notes explain all.) There aren’t multiple dispensations. There’s only one: Grace. God’s always saved people by his grace.

Yeah, I’ll prove it; it’s really easy. Why’d God choose Abraham? Because Abraham was good? No; because Abraham trusted God. Says so in both the Old Testament Ge 15.6 and New. Ro 4.3, Ge 3.6

Why’d God free the Hebrews from the Egyptians? Because they were good? Heck no; the entire Old Testament makes it absolutely clear they were awful, awful people. Again, it was grace. God loved ’em and freed ’em Dt 7.8 even before he gave them his commands.

Exodus 20.2 KJV
I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

That’s the LORD’s preface to his 10 Commandments: He’s their God—because he’s gracious to them. And now that they’re a saved, free people, God has some good works for them to do. Same as he has for us Christians. Ep 2.10

God has always saved people by grace. Through Christ too—whether we knew Christ or not, whether we knew how he saved people or not, before Christ was even born, because Jesus’s atonement applies to all of time, not just the Christian Era. And there are no separate dispensations for Jews and gentiles either. Ro 3.21-30 The Law wasn’t given to save! It was granted to a people who was already saved—but now had to live like God wanted, and that’s what it’s for. Not salvation. Just more grace. Grace after grace.

Interpreting the Law as anything but grace, means we’ve fallen into the same error as Pharisees. They presumed they were justified before God because they followed (with tons of loopholes, but yeah, “followed”) the Law. Wrong: They were right with God in the exact same way anyone is right with God—if they trusted him to save ’em. If they didn’t trust him, and thought their good works would achieve it, that’s a sad joke. Turning the Law into orders one must follow before one can be saved, turns God’s generous act of grace to a people who wanted to know how to follow him best… into condemnation, because nobody’s followed that Law perfectly but Jesus. Everybody sins. Duh. Ro 3.20 We need grace.

So in verse 16, John mentions “grace after grace,” and lists two acts of it: The Law, and the Lord incarnate. We’re told how we oughta live, and we’re given the Son of Man. He personally demonstrates how we oughta do it, he explains how the Law works, and he personally fulfills it. Mt 5.17-20 Dispensationalists would overthrow it, and nullify half the bible. Jesus didn’t come for that; he himself said so.

Jesus our lens.

The only way to understand God is through Jesus.

Nobody’s ever seen God, the apostle said. Jn 1.18 Okay, there are a number of God-appearances in the bible, so people sometimes wanna debate whether John meant this literally. I would say the bible’s God-appearances, like when he appeared to 72 Hebrew elders, weren’t revelations of who God is, anywhere close to the level Jesus does it.

Because Jesus is fully God. His students saw him up close. They knew him. In so doing, they got to know God. And we can know him too.

In fact we have to get to know Jesus. We have to look at his character. We have to recognize his motivations are God-like, and not based on the same self-centered, messed-up humanity as the rest of us. We have to recognize God’s motivations and Jesus’s are one and the same. That the only way to ἐξηγήσατο/exigísato/“exegete,” or explain, God: Through Jesus. If we get to know Jesus, we’ll know the Father. Jn 14.9

That’s why I spend so much time, on this blog and elsewhere, emphasizing Jesus. Wanna understand God? Study Jesus. Wanna grow close to God? Grow close to Jesus. Wanna please God? Obey Jesus. It’s all Jesus-centered, Jesus-focused, Jesus-shaped.

Humans have a really bad habit of making idols, of shaping God in our own image. Well, God told us not to do that. Ex 20.4-6 Pounded that fact into ancient Israel, time and again. Because that’s for him to do—and then he created his image for us to look at, Isho bar Maryam ha-Nasrani, whom we call Jesus the Nazarene, Messiah of Israel.

Listen to him. Lk 9.35 Follow him. And in so doing, follow God.