The Word became flesh in order to save us from our sins. This sermon explores why our sins are our main problem and how God solves the problem. Along the way, it demonstrates the height, width, and breadth of God’s love for us.
Sermon Text: John 1:1-18
How many of you decorate the outside of your house or yard with Christmas lights?
My family has never been big on decorating outside for Christmas. This year the extent of our decorations consisted of plugging inflatable Mickey and Minnie Mouses on our front porch. Mickey and Minnie are dressed up in matching Santa Claus outfits. They light up at night. Even doing that much was nearly too much trouble for me, because—I don’t know if it was the rain or the wind, but Mickey and Minnie kept falling on their faces. So I frequently had to go out and stand them back up. Too much trouble!
On the other end of the spectrum from me and my family is the family of Tim and Grace Gay, and their children, in LaGrangeville, New York. Last year, the family spent two months building a Christmas lights display at their house that involves—get this—601,736 lights. That’s something like 25 miles of lights. The display spans two acres. The light display is choreographed to 200 holiday songs, and you can tune into an FM frequency on your radio dial to hear it as you drive by. Choreographed lights set to one Coldplay song took 35 hours to program.
Their display last year set the Guinness Record for Most Lights on a Residential Property. But they shouldn’t get too comfortable with their success. They’ve been trading the record back and forth with a family in Australia for the past 15 years. But right now I’m proud to say the record belongs to the USA.
Even more good news, they use their light display to raise money for charity.
The unusual Christmas story in John’s gospel has a lot to do with light. And it tells us that the true-light-who-is-Jesus-Christ reveals to us who God truly is. It’s not that we don’t have a clue about who God is apart from Christ. In Romans chapter 1, for instance, the apostle Paul talks about how God reveals himself plainly to all humanity through Creation itself. He writes:
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
And this is clearly true. Even the billions of people in the world who aren’t Christians know enough about God to at least have a sense of what they ought to do—of right and wrong—and how they ought to live; and they have a sense that they are failing to live up to this standard. And for that, Paul says, they will be held accountable by God. “They are without excuse.” And belief in God is so widespread, you would have to say human beings are practically born believing in God. People have to practically be taught not to believe in God.
And today’s scripture, in verses 16 and 17, makes reference to God calling a covenant people, Israel, and revealing himself in a special way to them. Time and again, God showed them through his Word that he was “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” And he proved it through his actions, time and again, remaining faithful to his promises, refusing to abandon theme his people even when his people frequently abandoned him.
There was grace there, as John recognizes in verse 16. The New International Version translates it well when it says that since Christ came into the world, “we have all received grace in place of grace already given.” God already revealed himself to be gracious in the Old Testament. And I’ve told some of you before that the biggest change that’s happened in my own Bible reading over the past four or five years is that I’ve learned to see Jesus everywhere in the Bible—on nearly every page of the Old Testament. Because you see God and God’s people acting in ways that foreshadow Christ and his sacrificial love. And of course, the sacrificial system in the Old Testament foreshadows the sacrifice that Christ himself would offer for our sins.
But if that’s true, you might wonder: Why did Jesus have to come into the world to forgive sins—if this sacrificial system was already in place. I mean, according to God’s law, when you sinned, couldn’t you go to the Temple and sacrifice an animal and your sins would be forgiven? If God’s people already had forgiveness, what did Jesus need to add to that?
Well, there was a sacrificial system in the Old Testament. But here’s the thing: there was no sacrifice available for serious and deliberate sins. None! You could only offer a sacrifice to atone for unintentional sins and breaking ceremonial laws—laws related to purity violations, for example. There was no sacrifice available for deliberate sins. There was nothing anyone could do to atone for these sins. All they could do for these serious sins was throw themselves at the mercy of God and hope for the best. But God’s law told Israel, over and over again, that these kinds of sin deserve death. And if this was the message that God had revealed to his own people, Israel, what hope would the rest of the world, Gentiles, non-Jews, possibly have?
No… It’s clear that our main problem is sin, and our only hope is for a Savior who can save us from our sins!
So it was good news when the angel told Joseph in his first dream that Mary “will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The name Jesus means “the Lord saves.”
The word became flesh, first of all, in order to forgive us of our sins. Which means that the Word became flesh in order to die on the cross. Which means the meaning of Christmas is Easter.
And maybe some of you are thinking: “You preachers talk a lot about how Jesus died on the cross in order for God to forgive us of our sins—to pay the penalty for our sins. But why is that necessary? Why can’t God just forgive someone… for free? Why is there all this talk of payment or punishment or penalty?
And the reason is: true forgiveness is never free. Forgiveness always costs somebody something.
You don’t believe me? Consider this thought experiment: Suppose somebody steals your car. It’s missing for several days. Then one day the police call: the man who stole your car crashed it. But the good news is that the police arrived on the scene and arrested the man. But instead of taking the man to jail right away, they say to you, the owner of the car: “you get to choose. This man can either go to jail and face punishment… Or… you can just forgive him, and he can get off scot-free. What’s it going to be?” Now I know that’s not going to happen in real life, but just work with me…
Suppose you chose to forgive the man. He doesn’t have to serve jail time. He doesn’t have a black mark on his record. He’ll walk away from the crime and never see you again. Because you forgave him.
O.K., let me ask you: Is your forgiveness of this man free? Does your forgiveness cost nothing? Of course not! First of all, the car has to be repaired—which could be very expensive. And even if your insurance covers part of it, you still pay the deductible, not to mention you’re the one who’s been paying the premiums every month. Also, you’ve been without your car for a few days already, and it will be several more days before your car is back from the shop. So maybe you’ve had to pay for a rental car to get you back and forth from work or other places. Not to mention the emotional turmoil or the time away from work or whatever else it’s cost you just to deal with the hassle of having your car stolen.
Who’s going to pay that if you forgive the perpetrator and he goes free? You are. And I’m not necessarily saying that you shouldn’t forgive him; I only want you to see that forgiveness even in this trivial case isn’t free. It’s costly. Somebody must pay for the damaged car… Either the person who committed the crime. Or his family. Or the insurance. Or you. Regardless, the price must be paid.
And so it is with our sins! God’s law says that if we’ve broken his law, through sin, we deserve death and hell. Even if God forgives our sins, someone’s got to pay for that forgiveness. And the only one who can pay for it is God. And that’s why the Word became flesh. To pay for your sins on your behalf. To save you from death and hell.
My family and I watch the show Survivor. And like many reality shows, one of the recurring tensions concerns the value of a person’s word. During the course of the season, everyone lies at some point. It’s part of the game. So contestants have to discern whether or not they can trust the word of other people. Then, if they make it to the end, they have to convince the jury of their peers that, although of course they lied, they didn’t lie any more they had to; that they didn’t like lying, but it was a necessary part of the game. And they do this because they know as well as we do that a person’s word is supposed to be sacred. Our word is supposed to represent who we are—perfectly. We say, “A person is only as good as his word,” because if their word isn’t good, then they’re not good. There should be no difference whatsoever between what a person says and who they are. A person’s word is inseparable from the person himself.
With that in mind, when John calls Jesus Christ God’s Word, he means to say that Christ perfectly represents God to us. So what Jesus says, God says; what Jesus does, God does; who Jesus is, God is. In fact, so inseparable is God’s Word from God himself that John rightly says that the Word is God. And this has been true for all eternity. And John chapter 1 is just one of many scriptures that inspired the early church to formulate the doctrine of the Trinity. God is a community of three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who share the same essence. This truth is spelled out in scripture—the Bible implies it—even though the word Trinity isn’t found there.
So Jesus—God from God, light from light, true God from true God—is also called God’s Word because, through Christ, he speaks the most important word from God that the world needs to hear: God loves you. And God proved true to this Word because he suffered and died on the cross—he paid the penalty for our sins on the cross—all for the sake of that love!
Finally, this passage also speaks of the Word-made-flesh giving us the “right to become children of God”; we are adopted into God’s family as his children.
This really speaks to me because I was adopted. This created some turmoil in my life when I was young. So to make me feel better about the fact that I was different from most of my friends and classmates, my parents used to tell me that, unlike so many other babies, who are simply born into a family—whose parents don’t have a choice and are just sort of stuck with them—I was extra special… Because my parents chose me. They weren’t just stuck with whoever they got; they chose me.
And that sounds great and all, but even as eight- or nine-year-old kid, I didn’t quite believe that, you know—my parents showed up one day at Grady Hospital and the nurses in the maternity ward wheeled out a bunch of babies in bassinets, and my parents said, “We’ll take that one.” Even as a child, I didn’t figure they had much choice in the matter. They would take whoever the adoption agency gave them.
But now that I’ve been a parent for a while, I see the deeper truth in their words: they did choose me. They already had two kids, after all. They were going into this with eyes wide open. They already knew how risky, and difficult, and costly, and worrisome that I or any other child could possibly be; they knew that they would have to sacrifice themselves again and again for the sake of their adopted child; they knew they would have to suffer for this child—for years. So when they adopted me, they willingly chose all of that—whether they chose me personally or not.
Now I know I’m making parenting seem like a terrible ordeal, but not so fast: You see, if you had asked either of my parents before they died, “Was it worth it? Was it worth all the trouble, all the pain, all the worry, all the sacrifice, all the humiliation, all the heartbreak, all the disappointment, all the expense, all the time, all the suffering that Brent caused you in order for your to rescue him and give him a home and give him a family and give him unconditional love? If you asked them that, what would my parents say? They would have been indignant at the question! “Was it worth all the suffering… to adopt Brent, to make him part of our family? Absolutely it was! And we’d suffer it over and over and over again if we had to—for the sake of our love for our son!”
And this is what God’s Word, the Word-become-flesh, is saying to us, his adopted sons and daughters, this morning and for all eternity: Let me prove how much I love you. Let me show you.
Pastor Tim Keller said one time that we shouldn’t put too much stock in the praise that other people give us. Compliments. Flattery. Why? Because other people—even close friends and family—don’t know us very well. What we should care about is the praise that our spouses give us. Because think about it: of all the people on earth, they know us better than anyone. They really know us! They’ve seen us at our worst, repeatedly. Yet somehow, we hope, they continue to love us. Honestly, my wife, Lisa, must genuinely love me—not simply to tolerate being married to me, to endure it—but to kind of think I’m awesome. Which, unless I’m badly mistaken, she sort of does! I mean, that’s love! Isn’t it?
And it’s that way with Jesus! Except he knows us better than anyone. He literally made us! And look what he was willing to suffer for us? That’s love!
Let this prayer from the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer be our prayer this morning: “Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.”
 Romans 1:20
 Exodus 34:6 ESV
 John 1:16 NIV