We enter that season again where we celebrate the birth of Someone who has no beginning
Lets go back in time to 325 AD. We’re in the town of Nicea (which is in modern day Turkey). The situation there is unprecedented in Christian history at that time. Christianity is legal, and has only been for about 12 years. The Edict of Milan, aka, the Edict of Tolerance, in 313 put an end to the most vicious persecution of Christianity ever seen in the Roman Empire. Now Christians were not only free to worship, but, the Emperor himself professed to be a Christian.
And that Emperor, Constantine, was in Nicea. He was there with all the known church leaders from around the world, about 300 bishops and elders, with all their secretaries and factotums. The reason? Politically, Constantine wanted a united Empire, and, that meant unity in religion. He didn’t want doctrinal spats to splinter his empire. There was one such doctrinal issue that needed to be clarified: the divine nature of Jesus Christ.
While we say doctrinal dispute, it does not mean that there was widespread confusion over the issue. There was one man, named “Arius”, who taught that Jesus was not God, but, that he was the first creation of God, the highest creation of God, and that through Jesus God created everything else. But Jesus, Arius taught, did not share in the divine nature. Arius is actually the theological father of the Jehovah’s Witnesses on your doorstep.
To give you an idea of how isolated Arius was, in the midst of the council, once it became clear what he was advocating, the whole assembly turned against him, one of the elders actually ripping Arius’ notes right out of his hands and tearing them up. Of the more than 300 overseers and several thousand elders only 2 sided with Arius. The rest understood what had been understood since the Apostles – that Jesus was God in the flesh.
(Christian History Made Easy, 38-40)
The result of that council is the famous church history creed, “The Nicene Creed”, which declared, “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Why does this piece of church history matter this morning? Because: We enter that season again where we celebrate the birth of Someone who has no beginning. And that council firmly grounded the beliefs of the Church in Apostolic teaching: that Jesus Christ is God and as such He pre-existed all things created. The One whom Mary delivered did not begin with Mary. He had no beginning.
I want to begin a 3-part series today.
- Part 1 helps us see this Christmas that the One who came in a manger actually came from eternity. He may have started His human life 2000 years ago, but, before that He is the God who always was.
- Part 2 will help us to see the anticipation of Jesus’ coming as we explore the OT prophecies predicting His entrance into this world as a human. The uniqueness of the Bible is clearly seen in its prophetic portions. You can’t dismiss this book carelessly when history has proven its prophecies true over and over again.
- Finally, in Part 3 we will look again at that miraculous morning when the virgin gave birth to a son – the Son of God.
John’s Gospel is summed up in one point, which is expressed in chapter 20:31, “But these are written that you may believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
Preaching verses like this are like trying to play Handel’s “Messiah” with a kazoo. Well here I am, your kazoo, and I am going to try to convey what is in this one verse and I pray that God’s Spirit would press the weight of it on your heart.
John begins in verse 1 by identifying Jesus Christ as the Word. Now we need to get an understanding of this word, “the Word.” It is the Greek word, “logos,” and John is the only writer to refer to Jesus as the Word.
John calls Jesus “the Word” in verse 1 and in verse 14. But he doesn’t only use it here. In his first epistle, in the very first verse, he refers to Jesus again as the Word, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands of touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”
And John, also being the author of the book of Revelation, he calls Jesus Christ the Word of God as he describes an awesome vision of Christ’s return. He says in chapter 19 verses 11-13, “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.”
But, here in verse 1 of his Gospel, John uses the term, “The Word” knowing that his readers, both Jews and Greeks, would have some grasp of its meaning.
- To the Greeks, the Logos was the impersonal and unknowable cause of all things; the power and reason behind all that is seen and known. It was the force that gave everything its motion, its sense, its purpose.
- To the Jews, the Word would immediately remind them of the OT Scriptures and “the word of the Lord”. They would understand that according to Psalm 33:6, it was “By the word of the Lord [that] the heavens made…”. And it was when God spoke in Genesis 1:3 that creation came into existence. And if you were a Jew reading verse 1 of John’s gospel you may even think remember that it was by the word of the Lord that He gave the 10 commandments in Exodus 20; the prophets of Israel were given revelation by the word of the Lord. And if you were really studying your OT Bible as a Jew, you may remember what the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah, “so is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11).
When John began his gospel and wrote of “the Word”, he was doing it deliberately. He was using this common subject of “the Word” to sieze the attention of both the Greek reader and the Jewish. Both had some concept of what the phrase “the Word” was – one particular to Jews and one particular to Greeks. Once having their attention in verse 1, he would then begin to explain to both of them WHO this Word was. It made an excellent starting point to gather their attention and turn it towards the direction he was going to take them to teach them the identity of this Word.
Before the Beginning
The first thing we see about Jesus Christ the Word, is that He is eternal. Notice verse 1 and 2, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.”
The Greek word for “in the beginning” is the word “arche”, and it means in the beginning of all beginnings. As far back as you can possibly imagine, the very beginning of all things, time, space, etc, John says that at the point the Word was already in existence. He was before all things created – and the only way someone can exist before all things is if that someone is eternal. Jesus Christ, the Word, is eternal and was already in existence at the point when the heavens and the earth were made. (MacArthur, 16-18)
Now, why do we celebrate Christmas then? Why do we celebrate Jesus birth? Because of verse 14, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us…” This is the point John is making, that the eternal Word who was with God and is God has come to man by becoming a man. He took on flesh. He is Immanuel, which means God with us. He has existed always before as the Word of God, fully and equally as much God as God the Father, but, he became a man, he participated in humanity, when he was born of a virgin.
IMPORTANT: Understand this though, Jesus Christ, the Word, did not give up His deity to do this. He always has been God and has never at any point stopped being God. Hebrews 13:8 says that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. But what He did was add to His divine nature the human nature. Philippians 2:6-9 says Jesus Christ was in very nature, God, but that he was made in human likeness and appeared as a man.
APPLICATION: God became a man for the world. God became a man for you. Let me put it another way, God has come to you as a man, the man Jesus Christ. So many people are trying so desperately to make a way to God and get to God by their good works, their charity, and their spirituality. They hinge their hope of eternity or the afterlife on their own efforts.
I have asked people why would God let you into heaven, and people have said things like “I’m a good person.” Or, “I’ve tried really hard to make a difference.” Or, “I’ve gone to church” Or, “I’m not as bad as some people”. If a person is trying to make it to God on their own efforts they will never have any assurance they will get there. The Bible teaches that nobody can go to God. The sins of man have separated man from God and man can do nothing about his sin. He is utterly lost and without hope.
But, John is saying that God came to man. He has made the way. In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one goes to the Father except through me.” That’s why the incarnation is so important. God refuses anyone who will try to come to Him any other way than through His Son, Jesus Christ. Someone has said that religion is man’s efforts to reach God but Christianity is God reaching down to man. God has come to man by taking on human nature, and he did this so that he could die for our sins and give us eternal life if we turn to Christ and believe in Him.
The point is that John was saying Jesus Christ is the Word and before He existed in the flesh as a man He existed as the eternal Word of God – before all things existed. Only God is eternal – He has no beginning and no end; time cannot touch Him; He exists outside of time. Nobody caused God; nobody caused the Word. The Word of God is self-sufficient, or, self-existent, which is to say that He needs nothing and no one in order to exist. Instead, all of creation, everything else that is not God, needed the Word of God in order to come into existence, and to continue to exist (Col 1:17). Jesus Christ already existed at the beginning of all beginnings, and John is saying here that Jesus Christ the Word is the eternal God.
Jesus Equal with God
So we see that Christ, as the Word, is eternal. We also see that He is Equal with God. The Word is equal with God in essence and nature and being. Notice verse 1 again, “And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The phrase “was with God” indicates face to face intimate communion. The Word was existing face to face, or, eye-to-eye with God in eternity. And then, John leaves no confusion regarding what He is saying about this Word, “the Word was God”.
- God did not begin in Mary’s womb. Not at all. God is beginningless. His participation in humanity began in Mary’s womb.