JESUS CHRIST HAS COME IN THE FLESH
December 19, 2004
The scriptures have nothing to say of exactly when it was that Jesus was born. There is no record of the particular day when that great event occurred. There, of course, is nothing said in scripture of any celebration in a religious occurrence of that day. We believe that we can enjoy the customs of the holiday and our families can be encouraged and drawn closer together by having an opportunity to observe some family traditions. We believe that the story of the Lord’s birth and the singing of “Joy to the World” is appropriate now or any other time during the year, but if we were to insist that some sort of a religious observance of the Lord’s birth must occur, we would be treading on ground where we don’t have scriptural teaching.
The scriptures do, though, emphasize that Jesus came in the flesh. The scriptures emphasize that it has profound meaning for each one of us, and that something should be happening in our lives all the time because of it. This morning I want to call your attention to what the New Testament says about the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh.
The Reality Of It
Let’s start with the reality of it. John, in his writings, is particularly concerned with the fact that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. In his gospel record in John 1:14 he says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” And then in his second letter, II John 7 says, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh.” But his greatest emphasis on this point is in his first letter. In I John 4:2, for example, he says, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” In reading this little letter, I noticed that John ten times in these five chapters stresses the fact that Jesus has been sent, that he has appeared, that he has come in the flesh, and that this means something to each one of us.
John is writing as sort of an antidote to some deceivers who have gone into the world. These deceivers are people who have tried to combine Eastern mysticism with the reason and logic of the Greeks. They have come up with the idea that it would not be possible for God and man to be united in the flesh. They are close kin to those now who believe that scientifically it would not be possible for one to have been born without an earthly father. It would not be something that reason could accept that Deity and humanity could come together in such a life as we read about in the New Testament. John writes so that his readers may have the joy of knowing that they have eternal life, and the reasoning that he gives for this is that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. The key to the certainty and the joy that all of us long for, then, in John’s inspired writing, is that the Son of God, who had already existed from eternity and was already the one who had life in himself, put on flesh and then lived as a man among all of us facing what we have to face.
In support of this great truth, John introduces some powerful lines of evidence. The first line of evidence that he gives is his own experience. You will remember from the gospel records that John had an especially close relationship with Jesus. He often refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” He is someone who was privileged with the opportunity to be with Jesus in sort of a small inner circle of three who got to see some very important events in the Lord’s life. At the transfiguration, for example, John was there. In the garden, John was there. And at the cross, it was John who was entrusted with the Lord’s mother. She was placed in his care. So when he begins as he does in I John 1:1-3, his testimony can be taken seriously. He was in a position to know. Consider what he says “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
Notice how he emphasizes and repeats these ideas - “we have seen,” “we have heard,” “we have touched.” John is saying that he is certain because of his own personal experience in life. He has seen and heard and touched Jesus in the flesh.
And then John reasons that these truths are in agreement with what the other apostles had to say. He is not merely a lone witness to these realities, but he is one of many. In chapter 4, verses 5-6 he says, “They (these deceivers) are from the world; therefore they speak from the world and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us. Whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” What is it then that John is saying “we” know? Listen to Paul. I Timothy 3:16 says “he was made manifest in the flesh.” In Philippians 2:7-8 Paul wrote, “Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men and being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.” Notice that Paul said he came in the flesh in human form. What about Peter? Peter said in I Peter 1:20, “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but was made manifest in the last times for your sake.” Peter says in 3:18 that he was put to death in the flesh. The Hebrew writer said in Hebrews 2:14, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself partook of the same things.” And so the consistent witness of the apostles is again that Jesus came in the flesh.
John’s third line of reasoning is that the testimony of history emphasizes this truth. It is interesting the way he makes this point in I John 5:6-7. He says, “This is he who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood.” I might mention to you that in the background seems to be the Old Testament insistence that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every truth should be established. And so John says, “And the Spirit is the one who testifies because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.” What is he talking about? He seems to be saying here that at the Lord’s baptism, there was the voice that said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased;” that at the Lord’s cross when he shed his blood, the Father bore witnesses from heaven with all kinds of signs that this was his Son; and then the consistent testimony of the Holy Spirit through the words of the apostles was that this was God’s Son in the flesh. And so the Bible insists that the real truth is that the Son of God became flesh and dwelt among us.
The Reason For It
We can go a step farther. There is a reason for all of this. John is not only stressing that Jesus came in the flesh, but that he had to do so. It was absolutely necessary for our sake. There was no other way for God to do what he wanted to do for us and what we had to have someone do for us. There are some things that happened when Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us that couldn’t have happened in any other way.
First, Jesus came in the flesh so he could reveal God to us. It is interesting that John says in his letter in 4:12 that no one has ever seen God. Since God is spirit and since God is so much greater than we are, none of us have ever seen God face-to-face. But, John says, “that which was from the beginning which was with the Father was made manifest to us” (1:1-2), that is, was made clear. We can know God and have fellowship with him even though we cannot see him because the Son of God came in the flesh and lived among us. In chapter 5, verse 20, John said, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” Jesus came to demonstrate or to reveal God to us.
Secondly, Jesus came in the flesh so he could deliver us from sin and destroy the works of the evil one – to reveal God but then to redeem us. Remember that it is in the flesh that the guilt of sin is incurred and that the consequences of sin are felt. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” Paul says. “The wages of sin is death,” he says in Romans 6:23. And so John says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil (3:8). “He became flesh that through death he might destroy the one who had the power of death,” according to Hebrews 2:14. John says in 3:5, “You know that he appeared to take away sins and in Him there is no sin.” Because he came in the flesh and could endure death, and because he came in the flesh without any sin, he could remove sin by facing death for us and bearing the penalty of sin for us. That is the gospel. That is what the New Testament teaches.
In I John 4:9, 10, 14 here is what we read: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins… And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.” The idea of propitiation means that Jesus turns away the judgment of God from us by covering our sins, and that he did so because God loved us first and did what we needed to have done for us.
He came to reveal God, to redeem us, and then third, Jesus came in the flesh so that he would be able to represent us in heaven. When you have someone representing you in any kind of a circumstance, you like to know that that person understands where you are coming from and identifies with you. When I was a kid, we would often want to visit a friend or stay the night at a friend’s house. We learned early on that if we could get that friend – or better yet, that friend’s parents – to go to Mom and ask her, then we had a chance of having that request answered. Think of John says in I John 2:1: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” Now the reason we have an advocate is that Jesus has been here in the flesh and dwelt among us. The Hebrew writer said in Hebrews 2:17, “Therefore, he had to be made like his brothers in every respect so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God.” He can be our advocate because he understands us so well. He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities because he has borne the temptations we face, according to Hebrews 4:15.
The Response To It
The reality is that Jesus the Son of God became flesh and dwelt among us. The reason is that he sought to make God known to us and to deliver us from our sins, and to represent us in heaven. Now what should our response be? What are we expected to do about what the Lord has done for us? A truth so profound as this calls forth, of course, a fitting response. It may not be merely recognized by a cultural celebration and then passed over. It must be confessed in the life of a person. You and I respond to what Jesus did when he became flesh and dwelt among us by becoming like him. I John 4:17 has this wonderful phrase: “As he is so also are we in this world.” Then John brings up over and over again three illustrations of that principle “as he is so are we in this world.”
In the first place, John says that because Jesus came in the flesh, we must be individuals who desire to keep the Lord’s commandments. None of us are going to measure up in every way, but our aim, our intention, is to respect the Lord’s will and to let his will be done in our lives because we look at Jesus and see him saying, “My food is to do the will of him that sent me.” If we believe that Jesus is the Christ, as 5:1 says, and if we confess that Jesus is the Son of God, as 4:15 says, then we will want to do what pleases him.
Listen to I John 2:3-5: “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says I know him but does not keep his commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.” Notice the parallels between “his words” and “his commandments.” And notice here that these statements are made by the apostle of love. These are not legalistic requirements, and anyone who suggests that wanting to obey God is practicing legalism is overlooking what John is saying. How can I follow a Jesus who would obey his Father’s will even to the cross while claiming for myself the right to ignore the Father’s will? In I John 5:2-3, we read, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome.” John is saying there is a doctrinal test to our response to the Lord: it is our intention to be governed by his Word and to be respectful of his will.
Secondly, we are to respond to Jesus being flesh by practicing righteousness in our own personal lives. He is “Jesus Christ the righteous,” 2:1 says. If we have fellowship with him, as 1:3 says, then our way of life is to have something in common with him. If he is righteous, we will seek to be righteous. Here is the ethical test of our response to Jesus. In chapter 2 again, in the last part of verse 5-6 it said, “By this we may be sure that we are in him; whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” In chapter 3, verses 5, 6, and 10, it says, “You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. …By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil; whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” And then in 5:18 I read, “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.” I appreciate the fact that this is translated “does not keep on sinning.” The point John is making is not that we become perfect and sinless. He argues against that thought himself in chapter 1. But what he is saying is that our practice, our way of life is to be righteous as Jesus has been righteous.
And then there is also what we might call a social part of our response to Jesus. It is that since Jesus has been in the flesh because of the love of God, then we ought to love one another. In chapter 2, verses 9-10 there is this great statement of this point: “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.” Then skipping over to 3:14-15 we read, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” The state of perpetual anger toward others, hateful words, or ill will has no part in following the one who became flesh and dwelt among us. John goes ahead to explain, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” And then in I John 4:19-21 we read, “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
Here, then, we go from where something is theory to where it is life. To talk about Jesus having come in the flesh is a nice discussion. The challenge is for us to have hearts that want to obey it, for us to have lives that are characterized by righteousness, and for us to have relationships that reflect self-giving and active love. I take it that these three qualities are what John has reference to when he talks about true faith. He says in 5:4-5, “For everyone who has been born overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” That statement is a call for us to obey his will, live right, and love one another.
Maybe you are here this morning and you want to confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. Maybe you will want to be baptized into him for the forgiveness of your sins. Maybe you are a brother or sister in Christ and you haven’t been keeping his word and doing right, loving your brothers. Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us. Let us become what he wants us to be.