John 1:14 The Word became flesh

The core of the Christian faith is that God has revealed himself finally and perfectly in Jesus Christ, who is himself God (John 1:18).  Our faith is based on historical events which are themselves miraculous.  Without the person and work of Christ there is no Christian faith.  The coming of Jesus into the world is often sentimentalised, but it is one of the greatest events in history and full of meaning.  We want to consider John 1:14 The Word became flesh.

1. A new nature

‘The Word became flesh’ is one of the most amazing statements in the Bible, full of wonder and mystery.  Who is ‘the Word’?  We have a magnificent description in v1ff.  He had no starting point – he simply ‘was’.  The doctrine of the Trinity is clearly present here – the Word ‘was with God, and the Word was God’ (v1).  The early church took much debate to establish the language to be used to describe God’s being, but concluded that there is one God in three eternally existing, equal persons.  The Word is the Son, who exists eternally with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  He is also the Creator (v3), involved in all that God has made.  The eternal Son ‘became flesh’ – God shares our nature.  The use of ‘flesh’ indicates human nature in its weakness, such that Jesus became tired and hungry and was subject to death.  He ‘became’ flesh – without ceasing to be God, he took a new nature into union with his divinity and is God and man in one person.  In Jesus we have a Saviour who shares our nature.  In him God has come as close as possible to us, a testimony to his love and compassion.

2. A new dwelling

In Jesus God ‘made his dwelling among us’.  Literally John says that he ‘tabernacled’ among us.  The tabernacle was the place where God in a special sense dwelt among his people.  This echoes the covenant promise of Leviticus 26:11-12 and Jeremiah 31:33.  God had previously visited men in visible form (eg Genesis 18), but the tabernacling of the Incarnation is final and permanent.  In his coming ‘among us’ we see God’s condescension, coming into a world of sinners.  Thus ‘his own did not receive him’ (v11).  He came knowing that the path he was to walk required humiliation, suffering and death (Philippians 2:8).  The tabernacle was the place where offerings were made and Jesus is the perfect offering who brings full salvation – he is ‘the Lamb of God’ (v29).  His dwelling among us opened the way into God’s kingdom and ensures the fulfilment of Revelation 21:3 ‘the tabernacle…is with men’.

3. A new revelation

The tabernacle was associated with God’s glory (Exodus 40:34).  Hence we read in relation to Jesus, ‘we beheld his glory’, a glory he shares with the Father.  It is to the incarnate Son that John refers, the One who suffered and died.  Those with the eyes of faith could see his glory.  His true nature was evident in the miracles (eg at Cana, John 2:11), at the transfiguration (Mark 9), but especially at the cross.  We see ‘grace’ – free favour providing salvation, and ‘truth’ – the final revelation of the trustworthy God.  Note ‘we beheld’ – close scrutiny, either to seek a saviour or to learn more of him and so obey and love him more.

The Bible’s Covenant Story 11. Jeremiah 31:31-34 The New Covenant

Jeremiah is usually thought of as a prophet of doom and sorrow, and he did have a message of judgment to deliver which caused him deep anguish.  He had to tell the people of Judah that the nation would be conquered and the people exiled because of sin.  But the gloom was not unrelieved.  Jeremiah also had a message of restoration and forgiveness that looks forward to Christ.  He brings us the promise of the New Covenant.  In The Bible’s Covenant Story, we consider 11. Jeremiah 31:31-34 The New Covenant.

1. The need for the New Covenant

Much of Jeremiah’s preaching aimed to make the people of Judah conscious of sin.  That sin was the breach of the Sinai covenant – ‘the covenant that I made with their fathers’ (v32) – the ‘old’ covenant to which succeeding generations were bound.  God pledged himself to the nation as a ‘husband’ and gave his law as their guide for life.  Nevertheless, the nation turned away and forsook their covenant obligations, bringing God’s covenant curse upon them (Jeremiah 11:8).  A replacement for the old covenant was needed.  The fault was not in the covenant, but ‘God found fault with the people’ (Hebrews 8:8).  The written law showed the right way to live but could not change the hearts of the people (Jeremiah 13:23).  Our need for the New Covenant is just as great.  In Adam we are covenant breakers and we die ‘in Adam’ (1 Corinthians 15:22).  God’s law simply condemns us: we need a change of heart.

2. The basis of the New Covenant

Note that this is still the same Covenant of Grace, made, for example with Abraham.  Its basis is stated in v34 ‘I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more’.  It is the forgiving grace of God to undeserving sinners who could not merit such kindness.  It is a promise of grace that includes us.  God is sovereign in salvation – ‘I will make a new covenant’.  He decrees the terms and even our response is the fruit of regenerating grace.  Our sin is dealt with by Christ paying the penalty at the cross (1 Peter 2:24).  The death of Christ establishes the New Covenant: ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood’ (Luke 22:20).  Thus ‘Christ is the Mediator of a new covenant’ (Hebrews 9:15).  Forgiveness was mediated in the old Covenant through sacrifices which pointed to the future Saviour.  Entrance to the New Covenant is by the grace of God changing the heart.

3. The content of the New Covenant

In v33-34 we have a summary of covenant blessings.  The promise is of a deep personal relationship between God and forgiven sinners (v34).  Knowing the Triune God is the essence of covenant life (John 17:3).  Members of the New Covenant are adopted into the family of God.  He is a Father, loving, caring for, protecting, and disciplining.  Note the place of God’s law – I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts’.  The law is an internal principle, with the Lord giving the desire and power to obey.  This is the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Philippians 2:13).  Past guilt is dealt with and we are given a new orientation towards obedience (1 John 5:3).  All in the New Covenant will exercise saving faith and have the Lord’s promise of ongoing cleansing.

The Bible’s Covenant Story 10. Nehemiah 9-10 Adoration and confession

The exile in Babylon was a traumatic experience for the people of Judah, brought about by their own sin.  It was, however, temporary, as the Lord in grace restored many of the people to their homeland.  They returned to a devastated city.  Under Ezra the temple was rebuilt and under Nehemiah the walls were rebuilt.  The people had their identity once again and it was a time of spiritual renewal.  In Nehemiah 8 the nation gathers to hear Ezra read the law of God.  For seven days a feast is celebrated, then the people renew their covenant with the Lord.  In The Bible’s Covenant Story, we consider 10. Nehemiah 9-10 Adoration and confession.

1. Adoration of God

The prayer of 9:5-38 is offered on behalf of all the people of God.  At its centre is the Lord, the God of Israel.  The people bow in adoration of such a glorious God.  We will never be concerned about our covenant commitment unless we have a high – biblical – view of our God.  He is worthy of our wholehearted dedication.  Note:

            (i).  ‘You alone are God’ (v6).  This is the core of true faith: one true God.  Such a confession implies that this God is to be the centre of life, directing all we do.  Our lives are to be shaped by the fact that ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ (Philippians 2:11).

            (ii).  You made the heavens…you give life to everything’ (v6).  The universe is God’s handiwork, showing his power and glory.  Our every breath is by his permission.

            (iii).  He is a God of grace.  That is a constant theme of the covenant, e.g. with Abraham (v7-8).  Saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9), we live by grace (1 Corinthians 15:10).

            (iv).  He is a forgiving God – ‘a God of pardons, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love’ (v17).  He is able to forgive because of the sacrifice of his Son (1 Peter 2:24).  We are cleansed by the blood of Christ, many times (1 John 1:9).

            (v).  He is a God who ‘keeps his covenant love’ (v32).   Though he could cast us off, for our sins, his grace keeps us in the covenant.  It is an awesome truth.

2. Confession of sin

If we have a biblical view of God, we will also have a profound sense of our sin.  We have here a frank exposure of the sins of the people (e.g. v16).  There is also a willingness to accept that their sins contribute to the sin of the nation.  We need to come often to the point of confessing our sins to the Lord – ‘you have been just, you have acted faithfully, while we did wrong’ (v33).  Measuring ourselves against the perfection of God, we see how far short we fall, and we cannot hide our sin from him (1 John 1:8).  We need his gracious forgiveness.

3. Promise of obedience

The covenant is made (9:38), and a promise of obedience is given – ‘to obey carefully’ (10:29).  The principles still apply to us as we show love by obeying the Lord (John 14:15):

            (i).  10:30 – no marriage with unbelievers (see 2 Corinthians 6:14).

            (ii).  10:31 – honouring the Sabbath, a good indicator of spiritual health.

            (iii).  110:32-39 – supporting the worship of God.  To avoid the fellowship of the Lord and his people inevitably leads to spiritual weakness and decline.