John 1:14 (2)

Sermon preached on December 26, 2010 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2010. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

In his book, The Gulag Archipelago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn tells a story about the Tsar Alexander II. He was Tsar in the mid 1800’s and survived six assassination attempts. There were revolutionaries all around him and in the last two years of his life they tried to kill him five times. As you can imagine, many people were imprisoned as a result of these attempts. It was said about him that he once visited the House of Preliminary Detention on Shpalernaya- where he ordered them to lock him up in solitary-confinement cell No. 227. He stayed in it for more than an hour, attempting thereby to sense the state of mind of those he had imprisoned there. (Part 1, p. 144-145)

What an incredible thing to do. This was a Czar that was concerned even about those he had imprisoned.

Two hundred years before Alexander II, Peter the Great of Russia wanted to modernize Russia, build a fleet of sea going ships and build an alliance in Europe against the Ottoman Empire. He arranged a Great Embassy to Western Europe. The really interesting thing about it is that he went incognito. He wanted to be able to spend all his time exploring and learning, and didn’t want to be bothered with the endless receptions that would have to attend if he traveled as himself. So he made it out that the Embassy was lead by some other nobles, and he travelled as an ordinary member, dressed in ordinary clothes. He visited shipyards, paper factories, sawmills, spinning mills, workshops, botanical gardens and laboratories. (Peter the Great by Robert Massie, p. 187) Peter would wander around cities on foot, observing everything that was going on, ever eager to learn things so that he could bring back that knowledge to Russia. Robert Massie writes about one of Peter’s outings in Amsterdam,

“In the market, the Tsar witnessed a traveling dentist who pulled aching teeth with unorthodox instruments such as the bowl of a spoon or the tip of a sword. Peter asked for lessons and absorbed enough to experiment on his servants. He learned to mend his own clothes and, from a cobbler, how to make himself a pair of slippers.”

Peter travelled incognito in order to learn so that he could better his country.

But those acts of the Tsars in lowering themselves was nothing compared to what the Second Person of the Trinity did when He took our nature upon Himself. We read,

“The Word became flesh…”

Jesus became man. Notice the way that John puts it. He doesn’t say, “The Word became man’, he says, the Word became flesh. The expression that John uses is, (D. A. Carson, John)

“almost shocking… the ‘in-fleshing’ of the Word, is articulated in the boldest way.”

This is a strong, almost crude way of referring to human nature. (Morris).

Jesus was made flesh.

This is a incredible teaching that has great implications for us—for it shows us something of how much God loves us and how far Christ went to save us.

The word was made flesh. What does that mean?

The first thing we understand from this is that

it shows us how far Jesus stooped to save us.

We Christians sometimes have all the wrong idea about Jesus. We think of Him as something of a superman. We think of Him as being strong and as being perfect. Those ideas are absolutely true.

But we neglect the teachings of the Bible that teach that Jesus was made in weakness. For example, in 2 Corinthians 13:4 we read,

“For to be sure,
he was crucified in weakness,”

And Hebrews 5:2 reads,

“He is able to deal gently
with those who are ignorant
and are going astray,
since he himself is subject to weakness.”

The Hebrew word that the writer uses there, saying that Jesus was subject to weakness, means to be clothed in, or surround by weakness. I like how the English Standard Version renders it. It says,

"He can deal gently
with the ignorant and wayward,
since he himself
is beset with weakness."

We often think of Jesus incorrectly. We think that He was so strong that the temptations that He faced were nothing to Him, that He easily shrugged them off. We think that somehow He was so strong that His physical sufferings were nothing to Him. We think that His faith was so strong that even on the cross, when He was abandoned by the Father—that He was okay.

None of those things are true. They all smack of one of the oldest heresies the church has known—Docetism. It's basic idea was that Jesus didn't have a real body—that He only seemed to have a body. It took its name from the Greek verb, dokeo, which means 'to seem' or 'to appear'. One of its main ideas was that Jesus only appeared to be man. It only seemed like He was a man. The apostle John knew about this heresy and, as we have seen, probably used the term, 'flesh', in part, to emphasize the fact that Jesus had a very real body.

Docetism had its origin, not in the Bible, but in the Greek cultural idea that matter was essentially evil. They taught that the spirit world was good, but that anything material was bad. When they applied this to Christianity it meant that Jesus couldn't have a real body. They taught that He only, 'seemed' to have a physical body. It was not a real body. It was a phantasm, an illusion.

But John shows that that isn't true. He emphatically states that the Word became flesh. The fact that John uses the word, 'flesh' is enough to remove all such fantasies.

Indeed, notice how in his first letter he again stressed that Jesus was real flesh and blood. We read, (1 John 1:1)

"That which was from the beginning,
which we have heard,
which we have seen with our eyes,
which we have looked at
and our hands have touched
—this we proclaim
concerning the Word of life."

The disciples not only saw Jesus, the touched Him. He had a real body.

The New Testament makes this clear in many places. Matthew 4:2 tells us that after fasting He was hungry. John 19:28 tells us that He was thirsty. In John 4 we read that Jesus was traveling from Judea to Galilee. He passed through Samaria and came to the town of Sychar. We read, (John 4:6)

"Jacob's well was there, and Jesus,
tired as he was from the journey,
sat down by the well."

Hunger, thirst, weariness from travel—all these things show that He had a body like ours. The idea that He didn't have a real body is nonsense.

The fact that Jesus had a real body is one of the most important doctrines of the Christian faith. If anyone denies it they have the spirit of the antichrist. in 1 John 4:2-3 we read,

"By this you know the Spirit of God:
every spirit that confesses
that Jesus Christ has come
in the flesh is from God,
and every spirit that does not confess
Jesus is not from God.
This is the spirit of the antichrist,
which you heard was coming
and now is in the world already."

Jesus had real flesh and blood. How great Jesus' condescension was. How far He stooped to save us. John Calvin writes,

"The word Flesh expresses the meaning of the Evangelist more forcibly than if he had said that he was made man. He intended to show to what a mean and despicable condition the Son of God, on our account, descended from the height of his heavenly glory. When Scripture speaks of man contemptuously, it calls him flesh. Now, though there be so wide a distance between the spiritual glory of the Speech of God and the abominable filth of our flesh, yet the Son of God stooped so low as to take upon himself that flesh,"

The human nature of Jesus was made in weakness. He came to conditions that were absolutely horrible. He came to a fallen world. But the fact that He was made 'flesh' shows us that He came in weakness. Donald Macleod writes, (A Faith to Live By, p. 134)

"and He became man in the conditions of accursedness and poverty which are the consequences of the Fall."

I've mentioned how Jesus was subject to hunger, thirst, weariness of body. John Calvin writes that Christ was,

"subject to so many miseries. The word flesh is not taken here for corrupt nature… but for mortal man; though it marks disdainfully his frail and perishing nature…"

He came in weakness. Although, as the Son of God He had life in Himself, as He said on John 10:17–18

"I lay down my life—
only to take it up again.
No one takes it from me,
but I lay it down of my own accord.
I have authority to lay it down
and authority to take it up again.
This command I received from my Father."

In order to save us, Jesus took flesh. He was made in weakness.

His human nature, although free from sin, was made in such a way that it could die. It was subject to death. He was also subject to all miseries that lead up to death. Hunger, thirst, loneliness, anguish, pain, fear—Jesus knew them all.

But even more than that—

Jesus felt keenly being placed in a position where He would be subject to the Father's displeasure.

Consider Jesus in Gethsemane. He said that He was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. His sweat became like great drops of blood. He asked the Father that if it were possible for the cup to pass from Him. An angel had to come and minister to Him. (Luke 22:43)

What were those agonies? They were agonies of His soul.

What we must not miss about Jesus being made flesh was that He was a true human being. He had a human body and a human soul.

Some people have imagined that when Jesus came to earth He took a human body but that He lacked a human soul. Appollinaris, who was born about 310 A.D., was so concerned to safeguard Jesus' divinity that he distorted Jesus' humanness. He held that in place of a human soul there was God, the Logos, the Eternal Word. (Macleod, A Faith to Live By, p. 135)

But this cannot be. The Eternal Logos could not be separated from the Father. He, as the Second Person of the Trinity, could not be forsaken by the Father. In the Garden, on the cross, so many of His sufferings were of a spiritual nature. In Matthew 27:46 we read,

"About the ninth hour
Jesus cried out in a loud voice,
Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?
—which means,
'My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me?"

They were not just physical sufferings. He was so troubled by having our sin imputed to Him. Even before His arrest, Jesus was troubled by the cup before Him. In John 12:27 Jesus said, (ESV)

"Now is my soul troubled.
And what shall I say?
'Father, save me from this hour'?"

We see the same thing in Matthew 26:38, where Jesus said in the Garden of Gethsemane,

"My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow
to the point of death."

He suffering in His soul. Jesus was a true human being. The Word become 'flesh'.

Can you imagine how our sin was an affront to Him? Can you imagine how temptation was so disgusting to Him— yet because He was made in weakness, it was very real to Him.

The temptations that Jesus faced were so hard on Him. In one very real sense they were much harder on Him, because He was holy. To have evil that close to Him was very disturbing. Yet to have the cross before Him was also so disturbing. To face abandonment by the Father was so disturbing.

Remember His response to Peter when Peter became Satan's mouthpiece saying that He would never go to Jerusalem, be handed over and put to death. He said, (Matthew 16:23)

"Get behind me, Satan!
You are a stumbling block to me;
you do not have in mind the things of God,
but the things of men."

Donald Macleod writes, (From Glory to Golgotha, p. 42)

"The Lord's rebuke… is so sharp as to suggest that the temptation has struck a raw nerve."

Donald Macleod writes, (Glory to Golgotha, p. 46-47)

"it is completely misguided to imagine that the agony of temptation overcome is less than the agony of temptation yielded to. On the contrary, to yield to temptation is to escape its full ferocity. The devil never has to do his utmost to secure our fall. A little of his power and cunning will suffice. But Christ did not yield and this made it necessary for the Tempter to increase the pressure. Here, for the one and only time, he had to try everything he knew, using every means, every agent and every occasion. He stepped up the intensity to an appalling pitch: but still Christ did not yield."

Macleod goes one to talk about the agony in Gethsemane. He writes, (Glory to Golgotha, p. 47)

"Ultimately there is victory. He is almost overwhelmed, almost broken, so that he had to cry with strong crying and tears. Far from being the One who escapes temptation because he is sinless, he is the one who precisely because he is sinless alone experiences temptation in its full intensity."

How horrible our sin must have been to Jesus. How horrible it must have been for Him to take it! He was made flesh, in this horrible fallen world.

Christians, appreciate what Jesus went through. He was made in weakness. We see this as well in Hebrews 4:15 which reads,

"For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize
with our weaknesses,
but we have one who has been
tempted in every way,
just as we are—
yet was without sin."

We also have the thought in Hebrews 5:2 that says of Jesus,

"He is able to deal gently
with those who are ignorant
and are going astray,
since he himself is subject to weakness."

Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses, because He became flesh. He knows much of our experience. Indeed, if we are to say anything, it would be that we can hardly appreciate how hard it must have been for Him.

Often we Christians look on Jesus as some sort of superman. We imagine that the temptations that He faced were easily overcome, that they barely bothered Him, that He easily brushed them aside. We perhaps minimize His sufferings thinking that He was so strong that He hardly felt them.

But that is all wrong. Jesus was made flesh. He suffered so! The cross was so abhorrent to Him, the thought of being abandoned by His Father—that it caused Him anguish that we can only imagine.

The third thing we should note about John's use of the word 'flesh' is that

this does not mean that Jesus took a fallen human nature.

The apostle Paul often used the word, 'flesh' in a very negative way. Sometimes he used the word 'flesh' to refer to 'sinful nature'. Indeed, the NIV often translates the Greek word, 'flesh' by 'sinful nature'. I'll give two examples. First, in Romans 7:5 we read,

"For when we were controlled
by the sinful nature,
the sinful passions aroused by the law
were at work in our bodies,
so that we bore fruit for death."

And in Romans 7:18 we read,

"I know that nothing good lives in me,
that is, in my sinful nature.
For I have the desire to do what is good,
but I cannot carry it out."

One of the Greek lexicons says, (BDAG, on sarx, 915)

"In Paul's thought esp., all parts of the body constitute a totality known as s. or flesh, which is dominated by sin to such a degree that wherever flesh is, all forms of sin are likew. present, and no good thing can live in the sarx…"

As a result of Paul's usage, some Christians have concluded that Jesus took a fallen human nature. They still maintain that Jesus was sinless, but they would have you believe that the nature that Jesus assumed was fallen.

But this cannot be.
Fallen, by definition, means sinful. It refers to a corrupt nature. Donald Macleod writes, (From Glory to Golgotha, p. 30)

"There is no practicable distinction between fallen and sinful."

A. B. Bruce writes that the idea that Christ took a fallen human nature, (The Humiliation of Christ, p. 276)

"means if it means anything, that it was tainted with original sin."

Fallen means having a corrupt nature. Jesus did not have a corrupt nature.

God did not send His sin in sinful flesh, but as we read in Romans 8:3,

"By sending his own Son
in the likeness of sinful flesh
and for sin,
he condemned sin in the flesh,"

We can also say with Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21,

"God made him who had no sin
to be sin for us,
so that in him we might become
the righteousness of God."

We can say that He was made sin for us. But we cannot say that He was made sinful for us. Our sins were imputed to Him. Our sins were laid on His account, but He was not made sinful.

Indeed, the New Testament writers were careful to maintain His complete lack of corruption. Hebrews 7:26–27 is a good example. We read,

"Such a high priest meets our need
—one who is holy,
blameless, pure,
set apart from sinners,
exalted above the heavens.
Unlike the other high priests,
he does not need to offer
sacrifices day after day,
first for his own sins,
and then for the sins of the people.
He sacrificed for
their sins
once for all when he offered himself."

Indeed, you'll remember that twice, first at His baptism and then on the Mount of Transfiguration, God from heaven declared, (Matthew 3:17, Matthew 17:5)

"This is my Son, whom I love;
with him I am well pleased."

What then are we to understand from the fact that John tells us that the Word was made 'flesh'? We've already seen that one of the things that it means is that Jesus had a real human nature. But it shows us three other things.

What does this mean?

First of all, it means that

Jesus was able to take our place. He was able to take our punishment.

He was a true man who was subject to suffering, to pain, to horror. He was able to save us.

Secondly, we should realize how close Jesus is to us.

Usually Christian theology says that Christ 'took' or 'assumed' human nature. That is a legitimate way of expressing it. But what we have here in John is bolder. Donald Macleod writes, (From Glory to Golgotha, p. 15)

"To have become flesh is to be flesh – a salutary reminder that humanness is not simply attached to Christ like a mask or a garment or an artificial limb. It is something which he is and through which he effectively expresses himself."

Jesus took a true human body. It was the same as ours in all essential ways. He was different in that He had no sin.

Thirdly, how much we should love Jesus, how much we should thank God for Him.

What a Savior. He became flesh. He knew weakness.

Lastly, for those who are not Christians,

this means that you need to give your life to Jesus.

Without Jesus you're lost. He was made flesh in order to suffer and die for sinners. If you don't believe in Him you will suffer and die, die eternally. Don't let that happen to you. Go to Jesus. Find life in Him.