Christ, by highest heaven adored; Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time behold Him come, Offspring of the virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see; Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hail! the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail! the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings, Risen with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth
These familiar words were written by Charles Wesley in 1739, and to me, they encapsulate in a small way some of the glory of the incarnate God-man. It focuses in on the attributes of who Yeshua is, and what he came to do – it takes our vision beyond the birth of a baby.
In his gospel, John introduces Yeshua to us in this way: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth… And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.” There is a transcendence about John’s introduction that immediately draws us into a revelation of Yeshua as the Son of God, his uniqueness, his eternal being and his glory. John saw no need to make any reference to the birth of Yeshua, choosing to introduce us to the God-man from eternity past, the one who left heaven to become a man. The one who left heaven had always been, he had existed from the very beginning, there was never a time when this God-man had not been there with the Father and the Spirit.
When John says that the Word was with God, this refers to more than merely a physical proximity. The phrasing describes a state of equality and intimacy. We could translate it to say: the word was face to face with God. There was relationship before the creation and this relationship was personal and not static. There was no boredom. There was active relationship. The Father was active with the Word and with the Holy Spirit. John here adopted the use of “logos” – the Word – because the Word was not only God, but also the expression of God to humankind, thereby using it as a personification to express Yeshua as the ultimate divine self-revelation. John is making it very clear here that Yeshua is equal with the Father, but He exists as a separate person within the Godhead. When John wrote “…and the Word was God” he used a very unusual Greek grammatical construction: both Word (the subject) and God (the object) are given equal status, indicating that they were one and the same thing. John then goes on to tell us that Yeshua was “in the beginning with God”. This is a further declaration of Yeshua’s divinity; he did not come into existence, he always existed; he did not become deity, he always was deity.
Next John tells us that it was Yeshua who was the Father’s agent in creation. He did not act independently – even then, as he said later in his earthly ministry, “I only do what I see the Father doing”. Thus John presented Yeshua as under God the Father's authority but over every created thing in authority. Yeshua’s work of revealing God began with Creation because all creation reveals God (Romans 1:19-20). Moreover, John says, the revelation of Yeshua teaches us about the relationship between life and light. Yeshua was the source of life, therefore He could impart life to the things He created. Every living thing owes its life to the Creator, Yeshua. Life for humankind constitutes light: one brings forth the other. Where there is life there is light, and where there is no light there is darkness. The light that Yeshua brought was the revelation and salvation of God to humanity in its fallen and lost condition. He did this in the Incarnation. As the Word of God brought light to the chaos before Creation, so Yeshua brought light to fallen humankind when He became a man. Furthermore, the light always overcomes the darkness. If I go into a dark room and turn on the light switch, the darkness is extinguished and the room becomes light. There is no debate as to which state prevails. Darkness is the absence of light and cannot exist in the presence of light. Yeshua is superior to the forces of darkness that sought to overcome Him but could not. This gives humankind hope. The light that Yeshua brings is stronger than the darkness.
Then John moves on from telling us who Yeshua is, to what he became. This is the pivotal point in John’s introduction, where he introduces us to the Word who became flesh. Yeshua did not just appear to be a man – he became one. Yet at the same time, he did not cease to be God, he remained fully God. There is a duality about that statement: it literally means that he took on human flesh, he became a human being; but at the same time it also means that he took on human nature – he was just like us in every way, yet without our sin-nature. And there is something more here that could easily be missed. The tense of the verb that John uses for “became” indicates a completed action – in other words it was a change that would have eternal repercussions: the Word who became flesh stayed that way – he will be a man for all eternity.
In this introduction to Yeshua, John takes us behind the scenes of the Incarnation. Instead of describing what happened, he fills in the background detail and sets the scene for what Yeshua came to earth to do. John does not look at the events, but sets the events in a context so that we are in no doubt as to Yeshua’s divine credentials. He is one of us, he came and dwelt with us – “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” says John in his first letter – he wants us to be fully acquainted with who Yeshua is, the God-man.
The bible’s focus is not on Yeshua as a baby. The account of his birth is a very small proportion of the New Testament. Mark’s gospel doesn’t even mention it. We need to acknowledge the significance of the event, and to understand it properly, but we must not make it something it was never intended to be. The early church did not celebrate Yeshua’s birth. We often say that the world has hijacked Christmas and stripped it of its real meaning. But it was never intended to be a Christian celebration in the first place; if anything, under Augustine, the church hijacked a pagan winter festival! When we think of great people who have lived, we don’t concentrate on their birth, we look at their major achievements. One of the most misquoted verses in scripture is Revelation 1:8. Have a look at it see if you can see what I mean. Did you notice the order? It is “who IS, who was, and who is to come”. So often we worship the Yeshua who was…. instead of worshiping the Yeshua who IS! Who Yeshua is now is so much more important to understand than who he was then. That’s why the writer to the Hebrews says “TODAY if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts…” Yes, the Christmas story reveals the heart of God and fills us with hope for mankind, the Easter story secures our salvation and reconciliation with God – but there is more….
He’s coming back!
Misty Edwards sang this refrain at the Onething Conference a couple of years ago:
He’s not a baby in a manger any more
He’s not a broken man on a cross
He didn’t stay in the grave
And he’s not staying in heaven for ever
What a wonderful encapsulation of our future hope! If he stayed a baby we would not know God. If he stayed on the cross we would not know salvation. If he stayed in the grave we would not know new life. If he stayed in heaven there would be no future for the world.
But the good news is he’s not staying in heaven! This was the blessed hope that the early church looked forward to. He’s coming back to be married to the Bride; he’s coming back to bring in the fullness of the kingdom of God; he’s coming back to destroy Satan and his dominion of darkness; he’s coming back to rule the nations from Jerusalem; he’s coming back to establish justice, righteousness and peace on the earth; he’s coming back so the New Jerusalem can come to the earth; he’s coming back so that God can dwell on earth with his people!
And the Spirit and the Bride say “Come Lord Yeshua”.