Christmas According to John
December 24, 2014 | Brian Bill
In a world filled with bad news, I’m so glad that the Christmas message is filled with good news. We could say it like this: The good news of the gospel comes right into our bad news. At Christmas, we remember that Christ comes into our chaos, into our conflict, and into our concerns.
Indeed, we rejoice that the Lord has come!
In order to make sense of the news, we must do at least three things.
- Get the content right
- Understand the context correctly
- Reach the proper conclusion
Let’s begin with the content of Christmas.
Getting the Content Right
I thought it would be a good idea for us to take a “Christmas Quiz” to see how well we know the news about the first Christmas.
- When Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem, how did they get there?
- They walked
- Joseph walked; Mary rode a donkey
- They took a chariot
- We don’t really know
The correct answer is “D.” The Bible gives no record of their means of travel.
- What did the innkeeper tell Mary and Joseph?
- “There is no room in the inn”
- “I have a stable you can use”
- None of the above
- Both of the above
Actually there’s no record of the innkeeper saying anything. The correct answer is “C.” In fact, he’s not mentioned at all. Luke 2:7 simply states: “…because there was no place for them in the inn.”
- What song did the angels sing?
- “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
- “The Pack is Back!”
- “Glory to God in the Highest”
- None of the above
This is a trick question. The correct choice is “D.” According to Luke 2:13, the angels were: “…praising God and saying…” There’s no mention of them singing anything.
- What animals were present at Jesus’ birth?
- Cows, sheep and camels
- Horses, sheep and donkeys
- Lions and tigers and bears
- None of the above
There is no mention in the Bible about any animals being present. The answer is “D.”
- In what books of the Bible can you find the Christmas story?
- Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
- Matthew and Luke
- Mark and Matthew
- Matthew, Mark and Luke
The correct choice is “B” — Matthew and Luke. These two gospels give us insight into the birth of Jesus and provide much of what we know about the first Christmas. While the Gospel of Mark focuses on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Gospel of John actually begins much earlier than even the accounts of Matthew and Luke.
John takes us back to the beginning, to show us that Jesus had no beginning. He goes behind creation to show that the baby in the feeding trough was the Creator of the world. John does not use a narrative but instead gives us the theology behind the nativity.
We’re gong to set up camp in one primary verse this Christmas Eve. John 1:14 is startling in its simplicity but also incredibly deep: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Getting the Context Right
First, we must understand the content of Christmas. Second, news about Christmas must always be understood in context. The background and setting to a story is critical if we want to properly understand it. This is going to take some effort so I’d like you to sit forward and focus for a few minutes. You’ll be glad you did.
The first part of verse 14 says that the “Word became flesh…” This makes Christianity different from any other religion: God became flesh. Theologians call this the Incarnation. The infinite second person of the Trinity, who created all things according to John 1:1, became a baby.
Notice next that He “dwelt among us.” I like this paraphrase: “The word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” Or, we could say, He lived in the hood. The word “dwelt” literally means, “to pitch one’s tent.” When our family would camp at campsites when I was young, we couldn’t help but get to know the other campers around us. In fact, it’s difficult to be private when you’re camping because everyone can see what you’re doing. To say that Jesus pitched a tent implies that He wants to be on familiar terms with us.
The word “dwelt” is also the same word used for “Tabernacle” in the Old Testament. The Tabernacle was a portable tent where the glory of God was on display in the days before the Temple was built in Jerusalem.
Instructions were given for the construction of the Tabernacle in Exodus 29. Four things stand out.
- It was God’s dwelling place.
- It was the place where God met with His people.
- It was where God revealed Himself.
- It was the place where sacrifices for sin were made.
In Exodus 40, after the tabernacle was completed, God’s glory filled it to overflowing: “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.” (Exodus 40:34-35)
The word “glory” is a bit difficult to define. It literally means, “Heavy in weight, important, significant.” John Piper describes it this way: “The glory of God is the infinite beauty and greatness of His manifold perfections.”
For over 400 years, people met with God and knew of His glory through the portable Tabernacle until God instructed Solomon to build a permanent worship center called the Temple. We read in 1 Kings 8 that the “GLORY OF YAHWEH filled the house of Yahweh.”
The glory of God fills the Temple for about 350 years. But then, because of their persistent sin and rebellion, God raises up the Babylonians who wipe out Jerusalem and destroy the Temple. God’s glory then departs. We read in Ezekiel 11:22 that “The GLORY OF YAHWEH went up from the midst of the city and stood over the mountain which is east of the city.” As a result, God is no longer dwelling with His people and the display of His glory on earth becomes a distant memory.
Isaiah 64:1 captures the plaintive plea of the people as they lament that the glory of God on earth is gone. This cry lasts for centuries: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!” This gives the context to the Christmas carol sung in the video, “O come, O come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel…”
The heavens are silent for hundreds of years until the herald angel starts harking in Luke 2:9: “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the GLORY OF THE LORD shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’”
And then a whole arsenal of adoring angels break through the heavens and proclaim that God’s glory has now returned in the birth of the baby: “GLORY TO GOD in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.”
Ok, with all that as contextual background, let’s read John 1:14 again: “The word became flesh and dwelt among us…[listen to this next part]…and we beheld His GLORY, the GLORY as of the only begotten of the Father…”
God’s good news comes into our bad news.
Are you ready for this? In a similar way that Yahweh dwelt with His people in the Tabernacle and in the Temple He now dwells with people through His Son Jesus Christ! Jesus is now the place where God meets with people, where God reveals Himself and where He forgives sin! In Him, the glory of God has descended and He has pitched His tent to dwell with us. God’s good news comes into our bad news. Centuries of waiting are now over. That helps us understand the rest of the lyrics to “Come, O Come Immanuel.”
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
God’s glory was previously tied to a place but now it’s wrapped up in a person. And, when we put our faith in Him, His glory comes and resides within us. Now that’s a great news story!
Let’s get the content right. Let’s understand the context. Only then can we draw the right conclusion.
Getting the Conclusion Right
Let’s look now at the last part of John 1:14: “…full of grace and truth.”
Grace and truth are two concepts that don’t often appear together. As humans we tend to err on one side or the other. If we stress grace, we can be too quick to cut someone slack. If we pull the truth trigger too quickly we can wipe someone out.
With Jesus you can always count on both truth and grace. He tells the truth about your situation and your sins, and then His grace causes Him to stick with you all the way. I love what Max Lucado says: “God loves me just they way I am [that’s grace], but He loves me too much to let me stay the way I am [that’s truth].”
At Christmas we’re reminded that the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. The manger is filled with the awesomeness of God’s glory and grace but we’re also faced with a terrible truth: because of our sin, Jesus Christ came to die for us as our substitute.
Because He is full of grace, you can come to Him just as you are, without having to clean up your act first. And because He is full of truth, you can come in complete confidence knowing that He will keep His promise to forgive you and grant you eternal life.
That’s grace and that’s truth. Without both working together, we would have neither.
Let’s briefly look at a few verses that come before John 1:14 to see three different reactions to Jesus that are still very common today.
1. You may not recognize Him.
Unfortunately, verse 10 reveals that Immanuel is often ignored: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.” There has always been a great divide in the human race. The majority never recognized Jesus for who He really is.
2. You might reject Him.
While some are apathetic and ignore the Christ of Christmas, others reject Him outright. Look at verse 11: “He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.” Jesus came to the people who should have known Him best, but they wanted nothing to do with Him. I experienced this last night when I was buying gas and tried to invite the worker to our Christmas Eve services. She looked at me and said firmly, “The religion I practice doesn’t include Him!” I wished her Merry Christmas and she returned the greeting, even though she rejects the Christ of Christmas.
3. You must receive Him.
While it is true that the world did not recognize Him and His own people rejected Him, there have always been some who receive Him. John 1:12 is one of the most profound verses in the Bible because it explains clearly how someone can personally become a Christian: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Notice the three key words.
- Receive. It literally means, “To take, or to seize.” Have you taken hold of Him? Have you seized the Savior?
- Believe. To believe means to engage our total being so that we put our trust completely in Christ as an act of the will.
- Right. This word means “honor” or “privilege.” The moment you receive Christ into your life, God gives you the honor of becoming a member of His family. Christianity is more than a religion – it involves a relationship.
Believe, Receive, and Become. We must first believe that Jesus is the only way to a relationship with God the Father. Then we must personally receive what He has done on the cross by appropriating the gift of salvation. Then, we become children of God.
The good news of the gospel comes right into our bad news. I can’t think of anything better than to become a Christian at Christmas!
Don’t miss the majesty, mystery and message of Christmas! Don’t turn your back on the glory of the story! What will you do with what you now know?
- Will you act like you don’t recognize Him?
- Will you reject Him outright?
- Or, will you receive Him?
The key is not information but life transformation.
The real Christmas quiz is not what you know but whom you know. The key is not information but life transformation. Most of us have enough data; we just need to make a decision.
In order to fully comprehend the news, we must get the content right, understand the context correctly and reach the proper conclusion.
I found some good news in the paper today. It’s on the back page of the front section of the Dispatch/Argus. Paid for by Hobby Lobby, this full-page ad depicts Joseph working in his carpenter shop with young Jesus on the floor holding one of three long spikes. The shadow behind Jesus forms a cross. The caption captures the glory of the story of Christmas from John 1:29: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
Friends, don’t miss the good news that the Savior has come to save us from our sins. The bad news is that we are sin-soaked sinners…but that’s why the Word became flesh and dwelt among us! Jesus was born to die so that we can live…The Savior died as our substitute so our sins could be taken away…that’s the good news of Christmas!
When we believe we behold His glory and the glory of God will then come and reside within us. Will you receive the gift of Christmas right now? You can do so by praying this prayer with me
Lord Jesus, for too long I’ve kept you out of my life. I’ve not recognized you and other times I have rejected you. I confess that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself. That’s the bad news. But the good news is that you love me and that you were born to die for me. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth. With all my heart I believe you are the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead on the third day. Thank you for bearing my sins and giving me the gift of eternal life. I believe and now I receive so that I can become your child. Come into my life, Lord Jesus, and be my Savior. Amen.