The Word became flesh: what it means when the creator enters creation

In one of his stand-up specials, the comedian Jim Gaffigan talks about camping. In the monologue, Gaffigan mentions that his wife enjoys camping and says that it’s a tradition in her family. 

During the bit, Gaffigan describes himself as being “indoorsie.” 

But he points out that it used to be a tradition in everyone’s family before we invented the house. 

He asks “If it’s so great outside, then why are all the bugs trying to get in my house?”

Full disclosure. 

I don’t enjoy camping. 

I don’t understanding leaving the comfort of home, of a bed, of air conditioning, of indoor plumbing, of restful sleep. But it’s interesting to consider leaving my house to go into the woods. And I think about that and I think of what Jesus left to come into the world. Jesus left heaven to come into the world. 

I like my home. 

But that’s not heaven. 

He left the most perfect and spectacular place in creation to come into our world. 

He left a sinless place to come into a fallen world. He left a place of perfect beauty for a world that has gray skies and thunderstorms. He left a place of adoration for a world where he faced condemnation. 

John 1:14 says: 
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 

Old Testament background

In the Old Testament, people originally exist in perfect fellowship with God. Because of sin, fellowship with God was tarnished. The unencumbered closeness to God was lost due to sin. 

We were no longer holy. But the story doesn’t end there. Throughout the Old Testament, we see God bringing redemption to his people. God makes a covenant with Abraham. We see God’s continued faithfulness to his covenant. 

Fast forward. 

The Israelites were held in captivity in Egypt. After God had miraculously freed them, and while the Israelites were wandering in the desert, God gave them instructions for a structure called the tabernacle. The tabernacle was a tent that the Israelites were to travel with and it was a symbol for God’s presence with his people. 

It was a piece of what they had lost.

Sometimes it’s called the tabernacle. Sometimes it’s called the tent of meeting. 

Exodus 40:34-35: Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

Exodus spells out very specific instructions on how the tabernacle was to be built, what types of items would be placed inside the tabernacle, etc. The instructions are so specific because it is a sacred and holy place. 

Again, it represented the very presence of God in the world.  But this was pointing forward to something greater. 

The temple. 

When the Israelites entered the land, part of their purpose was in constructing the temple. As the tabernacle had been portable, the temple was meant to be permanent. The overarching purposes were still the same. Most notably, it was where God met his people in the word. It was his presence in the world.  The temple was the place where sacrifices were made. 

For the priests, there were specific instructions on what they had to do to prepare to enter into the Temple It was a sacred place. As with the tabernacle, not just anyone could go into the temple. The priest couldn’t just go into the temple any arbitrary way they wanted. 

It was a holy place. The temple was completed during the reign of Solomon 

1 Kings 8:10-11: And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.

In both places, when the presence of the Lord comes into the temple, people can’t even stand in it because the presence is so glorious. The temple is hugely important in the Old Testament. Building the temple is important. The specific instructions for the temple are important. 

But this points forward to an even greater temple. To an even greater example of God’s presence with his people. 

Meaning of John 1:14

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.”

The word translated as “dwelt” more literally means that Jesus tabernacled among us, that Jesus pitched a tent among us. It’s the same word for tabernacle that was used centuries before Christ when the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew to Greek. 

Jesus is the tabernacle. He is the greater temple. He is the presence of God with his people because Jesus IS God with his people. So it’s not simply saying that Jesus dwelt among us. But rather: in Jesus, we see God became flesh and tabernacled with his people.  

Instead of a tent or a building, we have a person, we have God himself. 

The greater tabernacle, the greater temple. And he’s greater because he’s everything these places were meant to represent. It was only the priests who could go into the tabernacle and the temple. A priest serves as a mediator between man and God. 

Jesus is the greater priest. It is he who restores our relationship with God. These man made structures were where sacrifices were offered. Jesus himself is the sacrifice. And as I’ve said, the tabernacle and the temple represent the presence of God with his people. 

In Jesus, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The word became flesh and dwelt among us. 

The Word made his dwelling among us. He pitched a tent among us. He tabernacled among us. The God who created the world came into the world to save the world. 

There was no other way for a sinful people to be reconciled to the Lord than through God himself coming into the world. But because of his love for us. Because of his goodness. Because of his grace.

The creator entered creation. In his commentary on John, the late New Testament Grant Osborne says of this verse “In my opinion, this is the single greatest sentence ever written in the history of human language, the deepest theological statement ever written. No finite human being could ever enter the realm of God and join his family. It could only come to pass if God himself were to enter the realm of humanity.”

How do you make yourself right before a Holy God? How do you earn standing before a perfect God? How do you deserve blessings before an all powerful God? You don’t and you can’t. 

Our world likes to have a very casual and cavalier attitude that we can just walk into the throne room of heaven, that we can just walk into the presence of God on our own terms, just because we feel like it. We like to believe that we’re special, we’re good, we’re worthy on our own. 

Jesus has shown us that he is the way but we want to go our own way. Imperfect people are not worthy of a perfect and holy God. But the word became flesh and dwelt among us. That’s not our goodness. 

It’s his goodness. 

He made a way for us to be with him, even though we do not deserve it. The Word became flesh. God became one of us so we could be with him. He is a personal God. It doesn’t get more personal than Jesus entering his creation. 

Sometimes it can be tempting to doubt if God really knows what we’re going through when we’re struggling. It can be tempting to wonder if God really cares.  

He knows. 

He knows what it’s like to live in a sinful world. He knows what it’s like to have people oppose him and not like him. He knows what it’s like to be hated for no reason. He knows what it’s like to be slandered. He knows what it’s like to cry. He knows what it’s like to be let down. He knows what it’s like to be betrayed. He knows what it’s like to suffer and feel pain. He knows what it’s like to face injustice. 

It can be easy to focus on Christ’s glory and divinity to the point where we forget his humanity. But we see his humanity in this passage. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. It’s often said of people in politics who have opinions on public policies. We feel like they can’t relate to the average person. 

There’s the old saying not to judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Jesus lived a lifetime in our shoes. Sometimes God can seem distant. He’s a personal God who invites us to know him. He joined us in our humanity. He came to earth so that we could have heaven. He died so that we could have life. He was forsaken so we could be children of God. 

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