As John brings the prologue to his gospel to a close, the last five verses - verses 14 through 18 - are like the mighty finale of a musical composition played by some great symphony orchestra. We hear the rolling of drums, the crashing of cymbals - the entire percussion section of the orchestra comes alive. The fingers of the harpist fly across the strings and the trumpets blast.
In these five verses three arresting facts surface regarding the incarnation of our Lord - the mystery by which God became man. First of all, let's note:
I. The great condescension (v. 14a)
The Word became flesh and took up residence among us.
To condescend means to lower oneself to a level not normally occupied - physically, mentally, or socially. It means to descend voluntarily to the level of another person. And with human beings, this is not always done with kindness. Sometimes there is an air of contempt, snobbery, and haughtiness in human condescension. But there is another side to the use of this word. It also means to be graciously willing to do something regarded as beneath one's dignity. This is what God did when He became flesh. With a mysterious mixture of Divine grace and love, He performed the greatest act of condescension of all time and eternity.
The Word that John personified is the very expression and manifestation of God. The creative power of God was in the Word (1:3). With such limitless power, the Word of God condescended to be compressed into human flesh.
John purposely used the crude, blunt word, "flesh." The sophisticated Greeks recoiled from the word flesh in regard to Deity. Flesh, to them, was corruptible, temporary, and doomed to be destroyed and cast aside. No God would deal with anything as degrading as human flesh. Yet that is exactly what God did. He entered human flesh, which stands for the whole person.
In becoming flesh, God accepted the limitations of humanity. He became vulnerable to those natural human weaknesses that accompany our flesh - hunger, thirst, physical weariness, and pain. He experienced the emotional traumas we experience - disappointment, sorrow, hurt, loneliness, and rejection. Because Jesus had no sin nature, He did this without the taint of sin.
While Jesus committed no sin while He was on earth, He experienced sin in a way that was far more overwhelming than committing sin. Why did He cry out in Gethsemane in horror? What caused Him to sweat "great drops of blood," and to plead with His Heavenly Father, "Abba, Father! All things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me" (Mark 14:36)?
Jesus was not about to succumb to some temptation to sin. It was worse than that. He was about to "drink the cup" containing all the sordid sins of mankind compressed together. He became sin for us. John said that Jesus "lived for a while among us." Literally, that means He "pitched His tent" or "cast His lot" with us. He moved in with us.
II. The amazing discovery (v. 14b)
We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Another word of deep significance in this description of our Lord's incarnation is glory. Human beings can achieve a degree of earthly glory. A person performs some outstanding deed, some benevolent act, or makes a great monetary contribution to some worthy cause. Often this person receives honor in a blaze of glory, admiration, and appreciation. Or, a person makes some astounding discovery that makes life easier or more pleasant or safer for us - like Jonas Salk who perfected the polio vaccine, or Louis Pasteur, whose process made milk and milk products safer for human consumption. A degree of human glory is attached to these people.
The first time we see the glory of God is when He declares, "Let there be light" (Genesis 1:3). What light was that? It was not the physical light of the sun, for the sun and stars had not yet been created. It was the glory of God in all of His heavenly brightness. God's glory filled the earth with indescribable beauty. The glory of God appeared next in the mysterious cloud that hovered over the Israelites from the crossing of the Red Sea until they entered the Promised Land 40 years later.
But John wrote, "We have seen his glory." He wrote of the glory of God in Jesus Christ. It was manifested every time He performed a miracle and in His life-changing teachings that arrested the people, convicted them of their sins, and showed them God's desire to forgive them and make them His children. Jesus' glory was revealed when He was transfigured with Moses and Elijah before Peter, James, and John.
What about now? Is it possible for us to observe His glory today? God's glory does not abide in one body now, as it did in the body of Jesus. In the Person of the Holy Spirit, this glory dwells within every believer. It is present not just in the stained-glass experiences we have in our corporate worship assemblies, but in the marketplace on Monday, in the school room, on the athletic field, and in everyday tasks in the home.
Evangelicals are sometimes so afraid of a social gospel that we skirt the edges of desperate human suffering. We can express the glory of God with supernatural effectiveness in such situations. Jesus reacted to human suffering when He healed sick and crippled bodies, and to human hunger when He fed the multitudes, and to human sorrow when He raised Lazarus and the widow of Nain's son from the dead.
The crowning statement John made provided:
III. The startling revelation (v. 18)
No one has ever seen God. The only Son - the One who is at the Father's side - He has revealed Him.
Moses had an overwhelming desire to "see God" (Exodus 33:18-20). It was not mere human curiosity, but the compulsion of a man who bore the awesome responsibility of leading Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. Often Moses reached the point of exasperation because of the people's rebellion against his leadership. Feeling the extreme loneliness and sense of failure every leader feels, Moses believed that if he could only see God's glory, he could press on.
John declared that, in Jesus, we have the full revelation of God. No longer is He a faraway, mysterious Being, awesome and unapproachable in His glory and majesty. Rather Jesus communicated the love and tenderness of our God through His teachings and His compassion toward sinful, hurting, desperate people. "No man ever spoke like this!" (John 7:46), His enemies said of Him. "This man really was God's Son!" (Mark 15:39), the Roman centurion who led the crucifiers said of Him.
Indeed, Jesus gave to the world the eternal revelation of who God is and what He longs to become to those who will place their trust in Him.
What can you say about Him today? You can observe His glory, not with the natural eye, but with the eyes of your soul. You can know what God is like through a personal encounter with His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. You can experience the wonder that Joseph experienced when the angel revealed to him that his beloved Mary would give birth to the Son of God, who would be the Word made flesh.