Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ January 22, 2012 ~ Faith Presbyterian Church
14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15(John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. (John 1:14-18, NRSV)
I love being out in wilderness. As some of you know, one of my favorite places in this world is sitting on a slab of granite next to some alpine lake miles from civilization. The challenge, of course, is getting to these sorts of places I love best. Because to get there, you usually have to backpack in quite a ways. And when you get there, you’re usually going to have to pitch a tent.
Now, there are, I know, lots of ways to see the wilderness.
You can fly over the wilderness in a plane. When I was younger our family chartered a float plane inAlaskato fly us over a span of enormous glaciers. It was an unforgettable experience.
You can take a tour bus and ride by the wilderness. Millions of people have driven through Yellowstone orYosemiteon tour buses to take in the stunning scenery through tinted glass.
RV’s are a popular way to see the wilderness. Every summer my children beg me to rent an RV so we can pull our own little house on wheels through the mountains. We’d have a fantastic time, I’m sure of it.
All these are wonderful ways to see the wilderness. Still, I’m convinced that if you really want to connect with a place, to not just see it but experience it, if you really want to get out where it’s truly wild, in the end you’re going to have to pitch a tent.
And, by the way, I’m not talking about driving up to a campsite and pitching your tent right beside your car, and next to 100 other people pitching their tents beside their cars. Nothing wrong with car camping, but if you really want to see the wild, you’re going to have to strap your tent to you back and walk all day to get to a place where RV’s and tour buses can never take you, to a place where even airplanes can only show you from above.
That’s the sort of place you need to pitch your tent. Miles from civilization. In a place where you lay down to sleep at night only inches from the dirt. In a place where the only shower you have is an ice-cold mountain lake. In a place where the only heater you have is a campfire and a down sleeping bag. In a place where the only food and supplies you have are the ones that you carried in on your back. In a place where the only drinking fountain you have is a bubbling stream that flows straight down from the snow-capped peaks above. In a place where the only toilet you have is a hole you dig in the middle of grove of cedars.
For some of you right about now, that tour bus is sounding better and better all the time. Again, nothing wrong with driving by the wilderness on a tour bus. I’ve done it myself. Still, if you really want to experience the wilderness, you’re going to have to hike in, all the way in, and you’re going to have to pitch a tent.
The following are some of the most remarkable words you will ever read in scripture. “The Word became flesh and lived among us.” Translated literally, this verse reads, “The Word, God, became flesh and tabernacled among us.” Or more literally, “The Word became flesh and pitched a tent in our midst.”
I’ll say more about this in a minute, but let me remind you at this point that in the Old Testament, when God’s people were out wandering in the wilderness, God, at one point, instructed them to build a tabernacle, a portable tent of meeting, as a place where God could come and dwell with his people. So when John talks here about the Word becoming flesh and coming to “tabernacle” among us, the image that would have come to mind for his original audience was that of God moving into the neighborhood and pitching a tent.
Now remember, John has just spent the preceding 13 verses making certain we understand that the Word, who is Jesus, is the eternal Son of God who was not only with God at the beginning but was God from the beginning. All things that have been created have been created through Jesus. Jesus is life. Jesus is light in the darkness. Jesus was born of God, in the same nature as God. Jesus has the power to make people children of God.
It is this eternal Word, John now proclaims, this one who is the very author of creation, who entered into creation. And he didn’t just fly overhead to get a bird’s eye view of the place. He didn’t drive through on an air conditioned tour bus. He didn’t roll up in an RV loaded with all the comforts of heaven. He pitched a tent in the mud. He journeyed all the way into the heart of the wilderness and set up camp. He took on flesh and bone, blood and breath. He became one of us. In every aspect expect for sin, the Son of God became human. God did not become one like us, God became one of us.
I love the way writer Max Lucado describes the tent God set up on earth in Jesus.
He was touchable, approachable, reachable. And what’s more, he was ordinary. If he were here today you probably wouldn’t notice him as he walked thorough a shopping mall. He wouldn’t turn heads by the clothes he wore or the jewelry he flashed.
“Just call me Jesus,” you can almost hear him say.
He was the kind of man you’d invite to watch the Rams-Giants game at your house [well, maybe not Rams-Giants – maybe the 49ers-Giants game]. He’d wrestle on the floor with your kids, doze on your couch, and cook steaks on your grill. He’d laugh at your jokes and tell a few of his own. And when you spoke, he’d listen to you as if he had all the time in eternity.
The eternal Word became a man. And he became the sort of man who drops from exhaustion after a long day, a man who weeps with a friend at a funeral, a man who attends banquets with the sorts of people who could ruin a reputation, a man who becomes frustrated with friends when they do not listen, a man who suffers under the weight of evil, a man who pleads with heaven over the direction of his life. When God, in Christ, came from heaven to earth, he came all the way down to earth.
Now, if this truth, this news, does not rattle your bones then I’m afraid that something of great worth has been lost. The stunning miracle of the incarnation, of the divine becoming human, of God taking on flesh, is the very heart of the Christian faith. As one writer put it, “The Christian faith does not gather around this miracle. The Christian faith is this miracle.” In fact, the whole thing falls apart if the incarnation, God taking on human flesh, is not historically true.
Let me assure you that when the people of John’s day heard this news, it rattled their bones. Nobody at that time read John’s declaration here and received it with anything close to casual indifference.
Instead, the Jews of that time remembered. They remembered back to the days of the Exodus and how God had delivered them from slavery inEgyptand took them to the doorstep of the Promised Land. They also remembered, however, how their ancestors, in spite of all the ways they had seen God work, failed to trust God and follow him into the land he had prepared for them. As a result, they were sent by God to wander for 40 years in the wilderness, deep in the wilderness, in a place where there was danger all around, and no food to be found, and no place to build homes, and no roadmap to find their way out. Because they would not trust God they were lost. They could not find their way home.
They also remembered, however, that God did not abandon them in the wilderness of their sin. God disciplined them, yes, but God did not abandon them. Instead, God, through his servant Moses, came and met his people in the wilderness. He gave them the law to guide their lives. He gave them manna from heaven to satisfy their hunger. He gave them water from the rock to quench their thirst. And best of all, he gave them his very presence.
In chapter 40 of Exodus we read how God instructed his lost people to build a tabernacle, a tent of meeting, there in the wilderness. And when it was completed, God came and met his people in that place. In verse 34 of that chapter we read:
Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
God’s people were lost out in the wilderness, searching for the Promised Land, when God, in his grace, came and pitched a tent in their very midst to reveal his glory to them and assure them that he was still their God.
Do you understand that the story of ancientIsraelis our story? We are also lost in the wilderness of our sin. We live in a world that, in so many ways, is not like the world we know God intended it to be. We have become people who, in so many ways, are not like the people we know God created us to be. In our sinful rebellion, we have wandered far from God’s will, far from God’s ways, far from God’s home in heaven.
Nevertheless, the message John proclaims is that instead of abandoning us in the wilderness, God has come out to meet us in the wilderness. And God has not just driven by in a tour bus, or showed up in his RV and parked it out on the pavement where there is electricity and running water. No, God trudged all the way to the backcountry of our world, deep into the wilderness, and there he pitched a tent.
In the dirty manger inBethlehem, he pitched his tent. In the company of ordinary fisherman on the shores ofGalilee, he pitched his tent. Around the dinner tables of prostitutes and tax collectors, he pitched his tent. Within dangerous arms-length of untouchable lepers, he pitched his tent. On the bloody and shameful cross atCalvary, he pitched his tent. In a cold, dark and lifeless tomb, he pitched his tent.
God, in Christ, did the unthinkable, the unimaginable, the inconceivable. Our holy and righteous and highly exalted God came and pitched a tent in the darkest and dirtiest corners of our world. I struggle in vain, really, to even begin to capture this truth in human language.
I struggle also with a question. Why in the world would a holy God do such a thing?
Writer J.B. Phillips attempts to get at the startling nature of this news in a parable he wrote about a senior angel showing a very young angel around the splendors of the universe. They view whirling galaxies and blazing suns, and then flit across the infinite distances of space until at last they enter one particular galaxy of 500 billion stars.
Phillips writes, As the two of them drew near to the star which we call our sun and to its circling planets, the senior angel pointed to a small and rather insignificant sphere turning very slowly on its axis. It looked dull as a dirty tennis-ball to the little angel, whose mind was filled with the size and glory of what he had seen.
“I want you to watch that one particularly,” said the senior angel, pointing with his finger.
“Well, it looks very small and rather dirty to me,” said the little angel. “What’s so special about that one?”
He then listened in stunned disbelief as the senior angel told him that this planet, small and insignificant and not overly clean, was the renowned Visited Planet.
He could not believe what he was hearing. “Do you mean that our great and glorious Prince…went down in Person to this fifth-rate little ball? Why should He do a thing like that?…
The little angel’s face wrinkled in disgust. “Do you mean to tell me,” he said, “that He stooped so low as to become one of those creeping, crawling creatures of that floating ball?”
“I do,” replied the senior angel. “And I don’t think He would like you to call them ‘creeping, crawling creatures’ in that tone of voice. For, strange as it may seem to us, He loves them. He went down to visit them to lift them up to become like Him.”
The little angel looked blank. Such a thought was almost beyond his comprehension.
Some of us here have been around churches our whole lives. Having heard this message of the incarnation, many of us countless times, we run the risk of losing the incredible wonder of it all. “Yes, I know, Jesus came to earth,” we say, as if we’re describing a good friend stopping over for dinner.
I pray we will never become calloused to this most astounding of all messages. Motivated by love, the eternal Word of God became flesh and pitched his tent in the midst of people who wanted nothing to do with Him. In Christ, the world got to see, face to face, the glory of God, the glory as of a father’s only son, the glory of the one through whom everything that has been made was made, the glory of the life of all humanity and the light shining in the darkness.
The news becomes even more remarkable when we hear that this glory, as John tells us, comes to us overflowing with grace and with truth. It’s stunning enough that God would come into our world in the first place. But depending on who God is, and depending on God’s mood when he shows up, his coming could be a good thing but it also, on the other hand, could be the last thing we ever want to see happen. Right? If God has had it up to hear with us, maybe we’d prefer it if he kept his tent pitched up in heaven.
This is why the news of God’s coming to earth just gets so much better when he comes in Christ and we discover that he is not a God full of anger and condemnation, but a God full of grace and truth. And best of all, that grace is meant for us, for all of us. And it’s not just a little grace but, but, as John writes here, Christ overflows with grace upon grace. Abundant grace. Generous bounty. Gift after gift after gift.
The senior angel told his junior counterpart, “Strange as it may seem to us, the glorious Prince loves them. And he went down to visit them to lift them up to become like him.” This, really, is the heart of it all. It’s what Jesus meant when he said once, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
This is, really, the greatest miracle of the incarnation. That God did not come to earth simply so that we could be with him. He did, but he also came to earth so that we could also become just like him. God, in Christ, came to set us free. To forgive our sins. To cancel our debt. To bring his life to our deadness, his light to our darkness. To fill us with himself. To transform us with his love. To teach us how to live. To empower us to do his work.
You see, the incarnation is not simply a 1st century event. It’s not as if Jesus came and pitched his tent 2000 years ago, hung around 30 years or so, and then pulled up stakes and went back home. Christ, through the Holy Spirit, is still present with us today, is just as present with us today, as he ever has been. The only thing that has changed, is the tent.
Now, instead of dwelling in the flesh of one man born of a virgin, the very presence of God dwells in the hearts of thousands upon thousands of men and women and children who have been, by the grace of God in Christ, born again by the Holy Spirit.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul writes to the church, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?”
If you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, you now are the tent in whom Christ makes his dwelling place on this earth. We, the church, are the tent in which the world meets Christ. We are the body of Christ. By his power, by his grace, we are his hands reaching out to heal a broken world. We are his feet going to places where help is needed. We are his ears listening to people in a way that honors their God-given worth. We are his voice sharing the satisfying good news of God’s grace and love to a desperately thirsty world.
Amazingly, we are the tent in which God dwells in the wilderness of this world.
Who can even begin to conceive of this? This ordinary body of mine which stands before you today has become a tent, a dwelling place, of the Spirit of the eternal God of the universe. This sin-filled life of mine is, day by day and by the grace of God, becoming more and more like Jesus because the Spirit of Jesus lives within me. This commonplace group of people known as Faith Presbyterian Church is continuously being transformed to be Christ’s body in this world by the Spirit that makes us all one.
I’ll say it again, who can even begin to conceive of this?
One of the most striking names scripture gives Jesus is Immanuel. It’s a Hebrew word which means, literally, “God with us.” The implications of this name are, as somebody once put it, both comforting and unsettling.
Comforting, because He has come to share the danger as well as the drudgery of our everyday lives. He desires to weep with us and to wipe away our tears. And what seems most bizarre, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, longs to share in and to be the source of the laughter and the joy we all too rarely know.
The implications, however, are also unsettling. It is one thing to claim that God looks down on us, from a safe distance, and speaks to us (via long distance, we hope). But to say that He is right here, [even within!], is to put ourselves and Him in a totally new situation. He is no longer the calm and benevolent observer in the sky, the kindly old caricature with the beard. His image becomes that of Jesus, who wept and laughed, who fasted and feasted, and who, above all, was fully present to those He loves.
He was there with them. He is here with us.
The Word became flesh and pitched a tent among us. He still does.
The Next Step
A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
~ Where is the best place you have ever pitched a tent?
~ Read John 1:1-18 again, focusing particularly on verses 14-18. What do you notice in these verses?
~ Renowned biblical scholar William Barclay suggested that John 1:14 might just be the greatest single verse in the entire New Testament. Why would he say such a thing? Do you agree?
~ John’s claim here, plain and simple, is that God became human, that divinity put on human flesh, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Do you believe his claim? If so, how can you be sure? If not, why not?
~ When John writes, “We have seen his glory,” what do you think he means? What is the glory of God?
~ John tells us that when Christ came he came full of “grace and truth.” What would be different if Jesus was full of one and not the other? For instance, can you imagine Jesus full of grace but empty of truth? Or the other way around? What would that be like?
~ Scripture testifies (e.g. I Corinthians 3:16, II Corinthians 6:19) that those who place their faith in Christ become the living temple/tent of God on this earth. Do you believe that the presence of God literally dwells within you?
~ How has the living Jesus met you in this world recently?
Further Scripture Readings for the Week:
Monday: Exodus 33:7-23 – Moses and God’s glory
Tuesday Philippians 2:1-11 – Made himself nothing
Wednesday: Philippians 2:12-18 – Shine like stars!
Thursday: Hebrews 4:14-16 – Like us, except for sin
Friday: Ephesians 2:11-22 – We are God’s temple
Saturday : In preparation for worship on Sunday, read and reflect on John 1:29-34
 See Hebrews 4:15.
 Max Lucado, as quoted in The Book of Jesus, edited by Calvin Miller, (New York: Simon & Schuster, c. 1996), p. 212.
 Calvin Miller, The Book of Jesus, p. 203.
 Exodus 40:34-45 (NIV).
 J.B. Phillips, as cited by Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, (Minneapolis: Grason, 1995), p. 43-44.
 John 3:17 (NIV).
 I Corinthians 3:16 (NIV). Italics mine.
 Michael Card, cited by Calvin Miller in The Book of Jesus, p. 211-212.