John 1:14, “The Word Became Flesh”
One of the issues that most concerns philosophers from the beginning of recorded history until now is what it means to be human. Scientists study the human anatomy, especially the brain to determine what distinguishes us from the rest of known life. We have memory, we record information, transmit information, and communicate through language. We develop culture and religion. We alone reason with each other. We have ambitions, and a desire for pleasure far beyond any other species. Scientists believe the main difference between humans and other mammals is the human brain. Our brain has between 80 and 120 billion nerve cells with a much bigger cerebral cortex than other animals. The frontal lobes of our cerebral cortex are associated with the executive functions of planning, reasoning, and abstract thought. One of the goals of studying human nature is to probe the limits of human potential. As the commercial says, “Be all that you can be” is an important desire for all of us. It is also very important that we as Christians ask ourselves, “What does it mean to be human?” from a biblical perspective. In the creation account in Genesis 1:26, we are told that God made man in His own image. We are not told exactly what that means, but we are given many clues. Man has a special relationship with God in which there is communication between God and man, and there is a stewardship given to mankind that is special. God blessed mankind in a special way, and gave us orders to subdue God’s creation and rule over it in His place. The Bible says that God “formed man from the dirt from the ground and breathed life into him”. I googled the composition of a human being and it said that 99% of our mass was oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and calcium—just what moist dirt is made of. It appears to me from the Bible’s creation account and all the passages about our relationship with God, that God created us in His image to have a loving intimate relationship with Him in which we would serve Him and glorify Him. Therefore from a biblical perspective, “to be all that you can be” means to live up to that purpose of loving God, serving Him and glorifying Him. Anything other than that or less than that could cause us to be frustrated, anxious, sad, and to feel a tension that something is lacking or just not right.
The Prototype-the Model
God created us to communicate with each other and with Him, but since the original sin and fall of the human race there has been a necessary distance between us as flawed human beings, and the holy righteous God. In the Old Testament, God used mediators to speak to us, but in the New Testament God spoke through His Son. The author of Hebrews said it well in Hebrews 1:1-3, “God, after He spoke long ago to the patriarchs in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days (the church age), has spoken to us in His Son”. The Ten Commandments story of Exodus 20 gave an excellent explanation of this after God spoke directly to the people in giving the Ten Commandments. The people were so blown away by the glory of God and the voice that sounded like thunder, and the holiness of God, that they begged God to never speak directly to them again, but to speak through Moses. God continued to speak through Moses and prophets that came after Moses, but God’s ultimate and greatest communication was when He became one of us in the person of Jesus Christ. The incarnation in which God took on the flesh is the revelation of God to mankind. In fact, Jesus is the only man who perfectly explains and represents what God created man to be. Jesus is the perfect example of what mankind should be. He is the prototype or model human being. The closer we get to that prototype, the more human we will be.
God went to great lengths to insure that we know that Jesus was completely human. He was born a baby, and lived a complete life, developing and growing in every way. He experienced every part of humanity as he got hungry, thirsty, showed emotions, and underwent and felt temptations but without falling into sin, and then bled and died.
The Logos of John 1:1-14
The Gospel of John begins with a unique description of Christ as “the Word”. The “Word” is the English translation of the Greek word “logos”. It presents interesting questions. Does he mean spoken word, written word, Christ’s nickname, or some type of unique communication? First, let’s consider the audience that John was writing to in first century Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). John was writing to both Greeks and Jews who were all influenced by the Greco/Roman culture and philosophy, but also religiously by Judaism. As the Greek philosophers looked at the universe, they saw order and reason. The sun rose predictably, the stars moved with regularity, seasons came and went in an orderly manner, and they called that order and reason “the logos”. The logos was a rational orderly principle in the universe. The Stoic philosophers did not think of the logos as a person, but as a force that originated everything and directs all things.
Naturally, the Jews preconception of the word logos came from the Old Testament. In Genesis, God is presented as speaking the creation into existence. Everything is called into being by God’s spoken word. Psalm 33:6 says, “By the word (logos) of the Lord were the heavens made.” The prophet Isaiah spoke interchangeably of the Law of God and the Word of God, and the Law was the Word (logos) of God. Therefore, anyone in John’s audience, whether Jew or Gentile, would recognize that this Logos is the starting point of all things.
In John 1:1-5, the author leads the reader progressively through a description of what the Logos did, where the Logos was in eternity past, and the characteristics of the Logos. The author, John, links the Logos to deity by telling us He was the active force in creating all things. In giving us a sort of parallel account of the opening words of the book of Genesis, John presents God as speaking salvation into existence, but God’s Word took on human form and entered history as the person of Jesus Christ. In verse 3, all that has been made came into being through the Logos, and in verse 4 all life was in the Logos and He was the “Light” of mankind. This life and light is the illumination of God, His truth, and His redemptive program for mankind. In verse 5, the world is seen as a dark, sinful place that God’s light illuminated, but people in general still did not comprehend God’s truth. John the Baptist preceded the Logos to testify about this Light (v.6-8), but still “the world did not know Him”. In verse 11, John who was Jewish, stated a well known tragedy of the history of Israel of rejecting their own Messiah. Nevertheless, individuals did receive the Logos, and all who believed in Him became “children of God”, and reborn spiritually of God (John 1:12-13).
Through verse 13, John’s audience was probably following his argument with interest, but in verse 14 there is a pivot that definitely presented a problem for both Jews and Greeks with the statement, “And the Word (Logos) became flesh”. How could the mighty principle of order and reason become human? How could the all-powerful God of Abraham ever become flesh? The answer from most everybody would be that it is impossible, unthinkable to human logic, and in a sense they would be right. Only through a sheer miracle, and the absolute intervention of God in the incarnation could it happen. This could have been the reason John wrote his gospel because of the heresies of the Docetists, the Gnostics, and the Ebionites. The Docetists taught that Jesus only seemed to be a man, but He was not. The Gnostics believed Jesus was either a phantom or a man God entered at the baptism and left at the crucifixion. Therefore John wrote to prove that Jesus was 100% God and 100% man, and through Him God took action to bring salvation to sinners. What man could not do, God did. Membership in the eternal heavenly family comes about because of the action of God taking on the flesh. John ends 1:14 with the statement that “we saw His glory”. What did they see in Christ’s birth and death? They saw His humility, His unconditional love, His servanthood, His sacrifice, and God’s truth. John affirmed this by recording the Baptist’s words in John 1:29, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
Jesus Reveals what being Human Means
Jesus is actually our best source of what being human means. Anyone who has known or studied Jesus has seen the true human being. If you want to know the nature of man that God originally created us to be, God has given us the answer with the coming of Jesus Christ. In Philippians 2, Paul explained what was involved in the incarnation. If we are to be like Christ, Paul says we are to “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves”. Paul goes on to explain how Jesus existed eternally in heaven as God with all the prerogatives of God, but He did not hold onto that but instead took on the flesh of mankind and He sacrificed the glory and perfect bliss of heaven to come down and live in this cesspool where He would be humiliated, rejected, suffer, and die the worst kind of death. In 2 Cor. 8:9, Paul said Jesus “was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”
Consider Jesus’ true greatness in that He was born in a small obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He worked at hard labor until He was 30, and then He became an itinerant preacher. He never went to college, never held an office, never owned anything or accumulated any wealth. He never led an army, or conquered any nations. He never travelled more than 200 miles away from home. His best friends ran away when He was arrested, and He was crucified between two thieves. Nevertheless, Jesus is the central figure of human history. More books have been written about Him than any other man, and more people follow Him than any other. All of the other supposedly great men that have ever lived put together have not affected mankind as that one man Jesus Christ. He is the essence of what it means to be human. Jesus gave His purpose statement in Mark 10:45, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life a ransom for many.” What did Jesus teach His followers to do to be truly human like Him?
Jesus consistently told His disciples to “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me”. People all have their own agenda, their own ambitions, desires, and pursuit of pleasure, but Jesus was saying we should turn from our selfish agenda and ambitions to the path that Jesus was leading us on. Jesus perfectly spoke God’s Word, did God’s will, sacrificed Himself for others, and lived the life of loving and serving God that we were all created to live.
Our Actions Betray What We Really Believe
What do we really believe being human means? What do we really think we were created to be and do? The effective advertising that successfully sells products reveals that we really believe it is all about me. It is all about my ambitions, my desires, my significance, my possessions, my family, my pleasures, and my entertainment. It is not just us now today, but the audience that actually witnessed Jesus had exactly the same selfishness. His closest disciples constantly had the same argument between them about who was the greatest, and who would have the highest positions in the kingdom. The chief priests witnessed the awesome miracle of the raising of Lazarus, yet their response was, “If we let Him go on like this…we will lose our place and position…so from that day on they planned together to kill Him.” The rich young ruler walked away from Jesus sadly because He wasn’t willing to give up his idols (his stuff). When Jesus called one guy to follow Him, the guy said He would come later after His father died and he settled his estate (Matt.8:21). I love Jesus’ response, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.” Peter even asked Jesus what they were going to get out of all this since they had given up so much to follow Jesus. Nothing has changed, so our actions and attitudes still betray us. What we really think being human means seems to be our relentless pursuit of selfish gain, personal pleasure, and our own vain-glorious significance. I don’t mean this to be a downer, but I just want to emphasize how much we all need to pursue Jesus with all our being. If we really do “want to be all that we can be” we need Jesus in our lives.
If we consult the Word of God, then we may see that only by looking at Jesus who is the Word (Logos) of God, will we see what being human truly is. One theologian said, “All study and knowledge of human beings is grounded in the fact that one man among all others is the man Jesus. Anyone who has seen Jesus has seen the true human being.” Jesus is the one man who faithfully and perfectly represents what God intended when He created us in His image. As we run the race of life, we press on toward the goal with a view toward the resurrection in which we will again fully realize what it means to be human, knowing that now “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God”, and God’s “good” plan for us is that we be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29).