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God on the Ground

The glory of God is a God who has come near to show us what he's like.

From the editor

In this sermon, Knute Larson examines the Incarnation through an Old Testament lens. Learn ways to help your audience make connections between the tabernacle and Christ, and how Christ reflects another layer to God's glory.


It seems safe to say that John was the best friend of Jesus—at least while Jesus walked the earth as a human being. So, when John wrote about Jesus in his gospel, he wrote about a friend that he loves. But he also wrote profound theology. Here is how John opens his gospel: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

The Word is the logos—the explanation or communication of a holy God. The logos is the agent of reason by whom God the Father communicates with the world. When John wrote about the "beginning," he was certainly thinking of Genesis 1:1. "In the beginning was the Word," and God spoke the word. The word is the agent. But in John 1:14, John offers an amazing truth: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us [or tabernacled among us]. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." The phrase "One and Only" means there's no one like the Word. He's the one and only Son, begotten—not created—and eternally one with the Father.

The Word became flesh.

When John uses the word "flesh," he is speaking about a human body. He selected his words specifically to hit the Docetists. The Docetists said God would never become a human being, because human beings are sinful. They argued that the Incarnation was imagined—that Jesus walking around in a body was too surprising to be anything other than a magic trick. John combats that thinking when he writes that the Word—the eternal God—took on human flesh.

We are not sinful in our bodies; we are sinful in our minds and how we use our bodies. As Philippians 2 points out, this is the great God-becomes-a-human-being moment. God became flesh, and he tabernacled—pitched his tent—among us.

The Incarnation happened all at once. The one who always was God became a human being as well. The one who had already existed forever now existed for the rest of forever as both human being and God. The Nicene Creed says this of Christ: "who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man." 

Someone once shared with me how a friend of theirs had told them that God and Mary had some sort of physical relationship. Nonsense! By the power of the Holy Spirit, God simply pronounced Mary pregnant. Just as God said, "Let there be light," so he said: Let Mary be pregnant with the God-child.

When interviewing believers, CNN's Larry King likes to lean into his desk and ask, "Do you mean to say that you believe Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father?" He tries to put people on the spot. But he's also said this a number of times on his program: "If I could ask one question of any person in history, I would ask it of Mary: 'Was it really a virgin birth, without the help of a man?'" It's interesting that King is that perceptive about the importance of the Virgin Birth. If it was a miraculous birth—and it was—then the Word becoming flesh reveals to us the doctrine of God. The Incarnation elevates the doctrine of human beings, because God honors human beings as the only spiritual beings. God could not have become a dog. Dogs are not spiritual beings that live forever. Neither are cats—especially cats. God becomes a human being and honors human flesh, because we are spiritual beings. Everyone in this room will live forever.

The Holy Spirit helped Isaiah choose his words carefully when he wrote: "A child is born … a son is given." The Son had always lived. The Holy Spirit also helped John choose his words carefully. John knew what he was saying in his gospel. He knew his Old Testament and had it in mind when he said, "In the beginning was the Word." With those few words, John revisits Genesis. When he said, "And the Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us," John revisits Exodus. He knew every Jewish reader needed to hear about the tabernacle. 

The Word tabernacled among us.

The tabernacle was a huge tent, filled with symbols. It served as a picture of the presence of God. When Israel marched around in the desert, they always had the tabernacle with them. They had to pack it up, tear it down, and rebuild this huge tent. When someone walked into the tabernacle, the first thing they encountered was a special place to offer up a sacrifice, a lamb. Without the shedding of blood, there was no sacrifice for their sins.

The tabernacle also had within it a laver or a washbowl. Whoever entered it was supposed to wash their hands. Even the priest had to wash himself, in order to be clean enough to enter. Next to the laver was a table that held the Bread of the Presence. Next to the table was a huge, golden lamp stand that had to be in the right position all the time. A table of incense was prominent, too, to convey prayers that were going up to God. Next was a place called the Inner Court, and then a person entered the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies was home to the mercy seat, a wooden cabinet that held the Ten Commandments.

"Stay away from that tabernacle," people would say. After all, it was a holy place. Have you heard the story about Nadab and Abihu? Both men fell over dead, because they ran into the tabernacle while they were drunk. People were never allowed to just saunter into the tabernacle. It was a holy place. 

When Jesus came into our world, he said a number of potent things: I am the Lamb; I am the Bread of Life; I am the Water of Life—drink from me and be washed by me; I am the Light of the World. Jesus also prayed for us, interceding before the Father. He was the sacrificial Lamb who covered the mercy seat with his blood. It isn't long before you realize that the tabernacle stood for Jesus. But all the rigmarole of the tabernacle got old, and Israel dropped it. How could they keep all these rules? How could they keep the shining law of God? Seventy-eight percent of Americans say they will go to heaven by keeping the Ten Commandments—yet no one has ever kept the Ten Commandments. When Israel tried to keep the commandments, she got tired. For 400 years nobody even offered sacrifices. Because of those four hundred years from the end of the Old Testament to the New Testament, God was silent. There were no prophets. God seemingly gave up on the people. There was no tabernacle. The temple was there, but they didn't even use it anymore.

We beheld his glory.

Look again at what verse 14 says: "The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." Because John was very close to Jesus, he saw his glory. Because John lived with Jesus, walking with him for three-and-a-half years, he saw his glory. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, John carefully selected the word for glory—doxa. The same word was used to speak of the glory of God—doxa in Greek, shekinah in Hebrew—that would shine over the tabernacle.

I once watched a Barbara Walters television special about heaven. As most journalistic shows would do, they shared three or four views of heaven from mainline religions. The show ended with this basic conclusion: "We don't know if heaven is real, but it's a nice idea." When John looked at Jesus, he said, "I know it's true." He had seen the glory of Jesus Christ.

God helped John think of the tabernacle and the glory that rested over it. Exodus 40 says, "The glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle." When that happened, everybody backed up. Even Moses wasn't allowed to go into the tabernacle. The brightness was so great, it would have been like getting too close to the sun. When the people of Israel were going to kill Caleb and Joshua, because they had contested the faithless report of the other spies concerning the Promised Land, the glory of God appeared at the tabernacle, and everybody backed off. When Israel built the temple of Solomon, God brought his glory—his brightness—and everyone backed away. This is the kind of glory that John is writing about in his gospel.

No one has ever seen God. When Moses wanted to see the glory of God, God said, "No." When Moses begged to do so, God hid him in a corner of a rock. As Moses looked out, he only saw the aftermath of God's passing by. He could only handle a portion of the glory of God.

When John says, "And we beheld his glory," what is he talking about? Is he really talking about Jesus' "shining greatness?" Remember: Israel had always been told to stay away from the glory.

John sees a different side of this glory. It is glorious when Jesus walks over to the woman at the well and forgives her, changing her heart. It is glorious when Jesus Christ looks at Nicodemus, a lonely religious man who has the Old Testament memorized, and says: You must be born from above, born of God. It is glorious when Jesus weeps with Mary and Martha over the death of their brother. It is even more glorious when he stands and says, "I am the resurrection and the life … Lazarus, come out." It is glorious when Jesus puts his arm around a leper, both healing and loving him. It is glorious when Jesus goes to the house of Zaccheus.

All of these examples show the glory that John saw when he looked at Jesus. Jesus' glory was that of someone who would stand before the world and say, "Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

This is the type of glory we need from God—his tender, servant love of others, including the poor and the needy. This is the glory of God. This is the kind of God who has come near to show us what he's like.

After Jesus had gone to the cross, John could express the glory of Jesus in a special way. He had watched Jesus die—the Son of God. As Jesus died, in a moment that was profoundly glorious, he cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" As John wrote his gospel, he knew that all of our sins were on Jesus at that moment. When Jesus cried out, "It is finished!" our sin was paid for.

The whole world can shout out the glory of Christ when they receive him as Savior. Jesus had also said these words from the cross: "Father, forgive them." That forgiveness is for all of us—even the soldiers and those who killed him.

As predicted in the Psalms, mercy and truth kissed each other in Christ. Grace and truth met in Jesus Christ on the cross. Someone had to die for your sins. That's the law of nature; it's the law of super-nature, the law of God. Jesus died for your sins and for mine, showing us that grace and truth were on the cross at once in the eternal, glorious Jesus Christ. John says: Yes, I saw his glory. You should see how he loves people. You should see how he changed my life and my heart. You should feel the forgiveness and eternity in your heart.

John spent the rest of his days thinking back on the glory of God. He later wrote the Book of Revelation, describing what it's going to be like in the future when all of the world will stand before Christ and shout, "King of Kings and Lord of Lords!" He knew that all of glory of the future is related to the glory of the Son, Jesus Christ, who went to the cross for us.


But keep in mind that the glory stays distant until you say, "Come into my heart, Lord Jesus." As John said, "As many as received him"—in his glory, in his humility, in his saving power, in his grace and truth—"to them he gave the right to become the children of God, to those that believe on his name."

For your reflection:

Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul?

Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach?

Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers?

Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?

Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points?

Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers?

Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers?

Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it? (For help on what may require credit, see "Plagiarism, Schmagiarism")

Knute Larson is an author and speaker. He served as pastor of The Chapel in Akron, Ohio, and he is author of The Great Human Race (Chapel Press).

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Sermon Outline:


I. The Word became flesh.

II. The Word tabernacled among us.

III. We beheld his glory.