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July 3 lesson: The Word Becomes Flesh

June 12, 2022
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The Word Becomes Flesh

Summer Quarter: Partners in a New Creation
Unit 2: The Word: The Agent of Creation


Sunday school lesson for the week of July 3, 2022
By Dr. Jay Harris


Lesson Scripture: John 1:1-14

The Word: The Agent of Creation

The theme for the Summer Quarter is “Partners in a New Creation.” We are exploring our partnership with God in all that God is creating anew in, through, and around us. We began our exploration in the Book of Isaiah where the prophet energized the exiles in Babylon with hopeful visions of their dramatic restoration. In the new unit we are beginning, we spend five weeks in the Gospel of John. The focus of this unit is on the Word as the agent of creation.

Throughout this quarter we have been referring to an affirmation of faith from The United Church of Canada that is included in the United Methodist Hymnal. The beginning of this affirmation goes like this:

We are not alone; we live in God’s world.

We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh…

In our lesson today, we learn about the Word as the agent of creation and the amazing fact that this same Word is the one who was made flesh and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus. We will explore the implications of this truth.

In John’s Gospel, the Christmas Story Begins with a Creation Story

In this lesson there are two men named John that we want to tell apart. Keep in mind that the “John” associated with John’s Gospel is not John the Baptist, but rather the disciple of Jesus named John.

John’s gospel is unique. When the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are viewed together, they appear to share a similar basic point of view, especially when compared to John’s gospel, which has a very different view. For this reason, Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the “synoptic gospels” because they share the same “optic” or same view. John’s view is different.

The differences in the gospels are really telling when you note where each gospel begins. When Mark’s gospel begins, Jesus is already 30 years old, and the opening scene is John the Baptist preaching and baptizing. Luke’s gospel also begins with John the Baptist, but it is with the announcement of John’s conception, quickly followed by the announcement of Jesus’ conception. You could say that Matthew’s gospel begins much earlier, because it begins with a genealogy that starts with Abraham.

The gospel that goes back the earliest, by far, is John’s gospel: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” (John 1:1-2) Compare the beginning of John’s gospel with the beginning of Genesis:

Genesis 1:1     In the beginning God…

John 1:1          In the beginning was the Word…

In John’s gospel, the Christmas story does not take us to Bethlehem, but takes us instead to eternity past. The origins of Jesus go back before the world was created, when there was nothing but the “Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Relationship (with God) and identity (was God) are intertwined. The identity of the Word is expressed in relationship. John’s gospel gives us a glimpse into the mystery and intimacy of the divine life of our Triune God.

All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” (John 1:3) All things came into being through the Word. This is why we speak of the Word being the agent of creation. It is natural to think of the “Word” being the agent of creation because each day in the Genesis account of creation begins with the words “God said...” Psalm 33:6 also echoes this when it says, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made and all their host by the breath of his mouth.” Think of the intimate connection between a word, the one who speaks the word, and the breath it takes to speak the word. God spoke creation into being through the Word, and by God’s breath, or pneuma, which is also translated “Spirit.”

The New Testament Greek word that is translated into “Word” is “Logos.” We get our word “logic” from this word. John is saying that the “Word” is the logic of creation. We find this idea in Proverbs 8:22-31 where it personifies the wisdom involved in creation. Read these words:

“The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth,
when he had not yet made earth and fields
or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there;
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker,
and I was daily his delight,
playing before him always,
playing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.”

This scripture passage from Proverbs resonates with the idea that the Word was with God before creation and that all things came into being through the Word in the act of creation. You get a sense of the joy that surely was involved in creation between God and the master worker, the Word. In this passage from Proverbs, you see how this joy and delight also carried over into the creation of the human race. John’s gospel echoes this: “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” (John 1:3b-4) The Word, the agent of creation, is the giver of life to creation, and the life it gives to the human race is also what gives light to all people. The Word provides life and illumination.

The Light and the Darkness

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5) With the mere mention of darkness, we have all of a sudden jumped to another point in the story that assumes the fall of humankind has taken place. We know that sin was introduced into the human race through humankind’s rebellion and disobedience. Darkness exists in the human race because of sin, but the light of the Word has been shining in this darkness in all the centuries between Adam and the advent of the Christmas story. In this span of time, darkness was never able to overcome the light. The light has held back the darkness until the time was fulfilled that God’s Son should be born.

John’s gospel takes us next to the ministry of John the Baptist. “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:6-9) John the Baptist was sent from God to be the forerunner of the light. He was not the light, but the one sent to bear witness to the light, in preparation for the light that was coming into the world. John understood that someone infinitely greater than he was coming into the world – the true light which enlightens everyone. John’s job was to testify to the light so that all might believe in the light.

Believing is very important in John’s gospel. Believing is mentioned throughout the gospel. All four gospel writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – are referred to in Christian tradition as the four evangelists. John’s gospel, especially, has this relentless evangelistic force throughout. The implications of believing and the obstacles to believing come up throughout John’s gospel. John the Baptist became the first evangelist for Jesus, because he was sent into the world for this very purpose. It was a major part of God’s plan.

When John’s ministry was in full swing, Jesus was already born and was an adult, but Jesus had not begun his public ministry. This is something to ponder. It was God’s plan that the Word not introduce himself. It was God’s plan that John the Baptist introduce the Word and prepare people for the coming of the true light which enlightens everyone. This has always been the nature of believing the gospel. John was not the light; he was just a man. The gospel being shared with us from an ordinary man or woman is what precedes our believing. It becomes a part of the experience. This was intended. A part of the experience of believing involves the witness who willingly and lovingly shares the gospel from his or her first-hand experience of the true light so that we also come to believe in the true light.

The World that the Word Was Entering

The true light was coming into the world, but what kind of world was the light entering? “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.” (John 1:10) The setting of John’s Christmas story is unique. Bethlehem is never mentioned. Ponder that. The focus is not on Mary or Joseph or the stable. The setting for the Christmas story that we are to picture is the whole world. There is a cosmic dimension to John’s Christmas story. And this is the very ironic part: the Word came into a world that came into being through him, but in many ways did not know him. This should have been a homecoming of sorts, but it wasn’t. The Word was entering the scene of rebellion.

He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” (John 1:11) The Word came to the Jewish people. His mother was a Jewish maiden. He was raised in a Jewish home and a Jewish community. He was born in the land where the story of the covenant people happened. This was foretold in the Jewish prophecies. The 12 disciples were Jews. His audiences were mostly Jewish and his followers were mostly Jewish. The Word had the homefield advantage. But when it came to the trial before the crucifixion, the rejection was the story. His own people did not accept him on that day. This also is ironic. We learn a lot in John’s gospel about believing and obstacles to believing.

The Gospel We Believe

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13) What we learn about the setting of the Christmas story is that there were a lot of forces present that would cause people not to believe as the story unfolded. Although there is a backdrop of rejection present throughout the story, John’s gospel is filled with amazing stories of how people came to believe. They received him. They were receptive to ideas that were outside the box. They could suspend their preconceptions long enough to hear him out. They were not so invested in the old order of things that they refused to listen to a new order God was bringing into human history. Then they believed in him.

Once they believed in him, he gave power to become children of God. Something deeply transformative happens when a person goes from being merely open-minded about God to becoming a child of God. The only way to truly express it is to say that they are re-born. They are born of God. It is different from being born in the human sense where blood, genetics, the will of the flesh, and the will of parents are involved. They are born of the power that is released through the will of God upon believing. A very relational and spiritual transaction takes place that makes a human into a believer, not someone who rejects, rebels, or sits on the fence. It makes the human into a child of God. The power to become children of God continues on in the believer’s life.

The Incarnation

And 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.” (John 1:14) From the first verse of John onward, we knew that the Word was going to become flesh, but it is still amazing to ponder it. The Word who existed in the beginning before the creation of the world was sent into the world as a human being. The Word who was and is the agent of creation came in the flesh. The Word who had a celestial home in eternity past was implanted in the womb of his human mother. The Word came into the world as a baby completely dependent on a young mother and stand-in father.

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippians (2:6-7), says it this way: “though he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, assuming human likeness.”

From this story of the Word becoming flesh comes the doctrine of the Incarnation. “Carne” means “flesh.” The Incarnation is the belief that the Word became flesh. This doctrine is central to our Christian faith. In the Apostles’ Creed, we say that Jesus “was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.” Here are a few implications that we can draw from the Incarnation.
  • We see who God is. Before the word became flesh, no one had ever seen God. When the Word became flesh, however, believers could see God the Father revealed in his Son. They could see God’s divine glory in human form. As the Letter to the Hebrews puts it: “He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” (Hebrews 1:3)
  • We see the divine potential of the human race. Throughout the gospels we see the perfect relationship unfold between a human being and God. We see the Son’s reliance upon his Father. We see his good life. We see his good life coming into conflict with a rebellious world. Throughout we see his incredible faithfulness to his mission. We see a servant. It is not that we see his divinity despite being a servant. We see his divinity come through especially by being a servant. We see his love for humanity and the way he stayed true to God. Jesus, the Word made flesh, was and is full of grace and truth.
  • He came to take our place. Being born a human being, he was able to be one of us. When the time came for him to stand in for us, he would be able and willing to do it. He took our place when he willingly offered himself to be sacrificed on the cross. The sinless one took upon himself the sins of the world. When he died on the cross, he took upon himself the punishment that should have been ours. In this way, he made atonement for our sin. He experienced death so that we could experience eternal life.
  • God drew near us when the Word became flesh. The Word, who was with God and was God, came to live among us. Those who believe this never have to think of God being some remote, detached figure. According to Matthew 1:23, Jesus is our Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” The God of the universe demonstrated the intimate nature of his love for us by sending his Son into the world – a perfect reflection of himself into the world in which we live. We can experience intimacy with God through our relationship with Jesus Christ.
These verses in the first chapter of John’s gospel prepare us for all that follows in this unit. Continue to reflect on the implications of the Incarnation. Remember:

We are not alone; we live in God’s world.

We believe in God:
 who has created and is creating,
 who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh…

Prayer

Lord God | You are the Revealer, and Your Son is the Revelation: You are the Speaker, and Jesus is the Word | Help us to see in Jesus’ life, ministry, and message, the Word and just how the Word is made flesh | That we might see the grace and truth in it, and might take note how we are responding to the Word | Through Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh to dwell among us, Amen.

Dr. Jay Harris serves as the Assistant to the Bishop for Ministerial Services for the South Georgia Conference. Email him at jharris@sgaumc.com. Find his plot-driven guide to reading the Bible, the “Layered Bible Journey,” at www.layeredbiblejourney.com.  

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