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The Word made flesh

‘And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the father full of grace and truth.’

John Chapter 1 Verse 14

From the beginning to the end of this chapter the apostle is stressing and giving proof of the divinity of Christ. He commences with the emphatic statement that ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ He also declares that He is the Creator of all things. ‘All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made.’ He like wise asserts that He is the fountain of life.

‘In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.’ In the text he shows that Christ assumed our nature. ‘The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth.’ And this declaration gives rise to two important questions. First, why Christ is called the Word. Secondly, why He assumed humanity.

Let us consider:

1.      Why Christ is called the Word

Here we have an account of the fundamental mystery of our religion – ‘The Word was made flesh.’ This refers to what is termed His eternal generation. The term is an unfathomable mystery. Pondering over such mysteries, it becomes us to stand in awe and say with the apostle: ‘O, the depth both of the wisdom and knowledge of God: how unsearchable are his judgements, and his ways past finding out.’

Christ is called ‘the only begotten of the father.’ As thoughts are begotten in our mind, clothing themselves with words by which we make known our minds one to another, so Christ reveals the mind of God to men: ‘No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the father, he hath declared him.’

As men by their words convey what is in their minds, Christ is called the Word because He reveals the secret things of God. He is God’s revelation of Himself to men, ‘the brightness of his glory and the express image of his Person.’ Christ, about to leave His disciples, says to Thomas, ‘If ye had known me, you should have known my Father also, and from henceforth ye know him and have seen him…He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.’ ‘Great’, says the apostle, ‘is the mystery of godliness. God was manifest in the flesh.’ (1 Timothy 3:16). Christ expressed the mind of God: ‘God who at sundry times and in divers manners, spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son’ (Hebrews 1:12).

Notice that we are told here that ‘the Word was made flesh.’ It is not said that He was made man, but ‘flesh’. One reason was to show that, although He assumed human nature, he did not assume a human person. And, although he took our nature into union with His divine Person, thereby exalting our nature, there was no change in His Person. Had He a human person he would have been mere man.

His blood would have no efficacy to atone for sin. It would have no greater efficacy than other human blood; neither could He impart to us His Spirit. But being the second Person in the Godhead, the glory of His Person puts infinite worth into all that He did and suffered.

By being ‘made flesh’ is meant being in the form of a man, having ‘a true body and a reasonable soul.’ Hence Paul calls it, not only His flesh, but ‘the body of his flesh.’ Although He was the Lord of Glory, all this took place on earth, being a fulfilment of the words of the prophet, ‘For the Lord hath created a new thing in the earth, a woman shall compass a man,’ which refer to the incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of the virgin. As Dugald Buchanan puts it:

He took on corporeity

And flesh the word was made.

The mystery of Diety

In Jesus was displayed.

‘The Word made flesh’ was the Creator in the form of the creature. The time prophesied from all eternity concerning Him had come. That day which the Church under the Levitical dispensation had anticipated with such longing had arrived. The promise which had sustained her for four thousand years, ‘It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel’ was now fulfilled.

She called it ‘the day’ – ‘until the day break and the shadows flee away.’ As the shadows disappear when the sun rises, the coming of  Christ ended the Levitical dispensation, and this is what the apostle means when he says: ‘He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second (Hebrews 10:9).

By ‘the first’ is meant the sacrifices of the old dispensation; ‘That he may establish the second’ means His fulfilling of the law. ‘By the which will we are sanctified’, says the apostle (Hebrews 10:10), meaning the doing and the dying of the Lord Jesus Christ in our room and stead.

The sacrifices under ‘the law’ were not meant to remove sin but to remind men of sin, just as an account is sent us as a reminder of an outstanding debt. Those sacrifices were God’s reminders to men of the debt they owed to God. And they continued till the debt was paid in the ‘red coin of the Saviour’s blood.’

Christ is what He was from all eternity – God. Yet, He was not always what He now is. Although the time since ‘the Word became flesh’ is counted as nineteen hundred plus years, from of old ‘His delights were with the sons of men.’ As another puts it, ‘so great was the love of Christ to His people, and so much did he long to assume their nature, that He is represented in the Old Testament as often trying it on before He actually assumed it.’ He sometimes appeared in human form to saints under the old dispensation.

To Joshua at Jericho He announced, ‘As Captain of the host of the Lord am I now come.’ Many godly men believed that ‘the burning bush’ was typical of the saviour: the ‘bush’ representing His humanity, the ‘fire’ His divinity. As the bush, although surrounded by the fire was not consumed, His humanity united to His Godhead remains distinct, though inseparably untied to His divinity.

In consequence of the union between His humanity and His divinity the properties of each of His two natures are communicated to the whole Person, so that, according to the scripture, all that Christ does, both by His divine and human natures, are personal acts.

The Scriptures always ascribe to Christ’s Person that which properly belongs to one of His natures. Thus, although it was His nature that suffered, it was the glory of His person that put infinite worth on all He did and suffered. Without the shedding of blood there could be no remission of sin, so without taking to Himself our nature there could be no efficacy in His blood. But being God and man, His blood has eternal efficacy.

This is the only sure foundation of a sinner’s hope. ‘The only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continueth to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person forever.’ And this union between the divine and human natures in the Person of Christ is the basis of the mystical union between Christ and the members of His mystical body, the Church.

2 Why Christ assumed our nature

‘The Word was made flesh,’ for the reason that all mankind in covenant with Adam owed complete obedience to the law as a covenant, and this obedience they were totally unable to give. Christ, as the Surety of His people, assumed humanity that He might meet and satisfy all the demands of God’s law and justice on their behalf. He was made flesh that He might take their place under the law as a covenant, ‘In the fullness of time, God sent His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, that He might redeem them that were under the law’ (Galatians 4:4-5).

This was God’s purpose in the incarnation. Christ’s heart and life were perfectly conformed to God’s law. Justice required that in the nature that sinned suffering for sin must be endured, the law be fulfilled and justice fully satisfied. Christ therefore could not save us without assuming our nature, nor assume our nature without partaking of our misery.

We owed God complete obedience, but our inability to render it exposed us to and bound us over to God’s wrath and curse. The law’s curse fell upon Him. It fell on His Body, when He was nailed to the Cross, and on His soul when ‘He was made sin for us.’ Thus He made full satisfaction to justice. In the words of the ‘Apostle of the North’:

All the claims of justice he hath

Satisfied and paid the debt.

That the holy law was pressing

Me to pay, ‘tis fully met.

Salvation by Christ is not a lowering of the law’s demands, as if God were powerless to keep down misrule and so allow the law to sleep. That is the common view, and that is exactly what obtains in regard to misrule in our day.

To keep down what has become open revolt and rebellion against it, the law of the land, instead of being enforced, is everywhere being relaxed more and more. Not so with the Giver of the law. In pardoning a sinner, the condemnation of sin is made manifest in the pardon.

In the act of pardon, mercy without bounds, and unbending justice are made manifest. ‘Mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace kissed each other.’ ‘The grace of God that bringeth salvation’ is the greatest honour the law can receive. Search all the creeds of the world and in none will you find what meets all the demands of God’s law and justice but in the Gospel.

‘The Word was made flesh’ that the evil of sin might be seen, and God’s glory magnified in the sight of men, that the holy law which says, ‘In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die’, might be exalted and made honourable by His obedience and death, and that justice which says, ‘the soul that sinneth it shall die,’ might be satisfied by an infinite ransom. ‘When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

There are times when even the Christian, looking only to the havoc wrought by the perpetual war Satan wages against the Church of God speaks as if Christ’s cause in the world is doomed. Such a gloomy view is altogether wrong. It might be justifiable if it depended on men, even on good men.

But it is in the hand of God. And because of that it is as safe today as it was or will be at any stage of world history. There is none that can thwart His designs and counsel. His purposes are being daily fulfilled as if there were no opposition to them (Psalm 2:4).

‘The Word was made flesh’ that ‘He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil.’ Not in his person but in his authority in and over death, which flows from sin and is the penalty of it. ‘The sting of death is sin.’ By taking the place of the guilty and bearing the penalty due to sin, so satisfying law and justice, ‘He condemned sin in the flesh.’ Thus, He deprived the law as a covenant of its power to condemn and Satan of his power to destroy.

‘He spoiled principalities and powers, making a show of them openly, triumphing over them in His cross.’ By being ‘made flesh’ He exalted our nature. Man, in his creation in God’s image, was glorious, ‘righteous and perfect.’ How much more glorious is man in a state of grace!

‘For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth.’ He stands before God in the Person of Christ where angels never stood. He is nearer to Him on earth than angels in Heaven are. He is near in nature to Him who is ‘bone of our bone’; near to His Person – ‘upon thy right hand in the gold of Ophir.’

Because of this how glorious is the righteousness of Christ! Adam’s righteousness was that of a creature. The righteousness which Christ imparts is the righteousness of God, that righteousness required by God, and wrought by God in our nature. This is what Dr Cunningham define as ‘the righteousness which God’s righteousness requires Him to require.’

Christ’s two natures harmonised in the work of redemption. The human nature suffered and died, the divine nature put infinite worth on all that Christ did and suffered as man’s substitute.

Careless sinners and strangers to grace are sometimes hopeful of doing one day what the law requires of man. If you be one such, remember that is what ‘God’s righteousness requires Him to require.’ You do not like the idea of bounds being set to your obedience. But when do you think you will have done enough to satisfy God’s law?

‘Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them.’ Consider your attitude towards God’s law. Remember that God’s revelation of it in His Word is far removed from the concept worldly men have of it.

It only needs a look at the state of the world at this moment to see how worldly men regard it. Think of the ghastly sins of murder, armed robbery, adultery, swearing, blasphemy, Sabbath desecration and every form of violence streaming over the world like a flood, threatening, as it were, to obliterate the law of God.

All these are the fruit of man’s rejection of it. A feeling of terror that is almost overpowering strikes at the heart of any rational person who considers the fearful way in which it is trampled under foot throughout the world today.

But consider the law, as it is in itself, shedding light over every nation. It is holy. It requires perfect obedience. It will not and cannot accept what is not perfect and without sin. The law required of Christ all that He did as Substitute of His people. To believe that is to see that there can be no hope for you apart from Christ. To believe this is to believe that ‘Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.’

This necessitates believing in Him, as He is freely offered in the Gospel, who in His life rendered complete obedience to all the law’s demands on behalf of His people by His love to it, and in His death fully satisfied all the claims of justice against them. Salvation cannot be had on any other terms.