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Changed By The Word

The Word Of God Has Visited Us

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | February 22, 2015

Selected highlights from this sermon

When we think of the Word of God, we generally think of a book—the Bible. But the Word of God also refers to a Person. The first verses of the Gospel of John tell us that the Word was God. 

When Jesus came to Earth, the glory of God, which had been contained in the Holy of Holies, was now revealed to man. Jesus brought God near to us.

This is the last in a series entitled Changed By the Word. We’re all hoping and praying that the impact of these messages and our emphasis on being changed by the Word will take us all the way to eternity. We’re so glad for the many who have been listening to the New Testament or reading the New Testament. There are hundreds of people here who have taken that on as a challenge, and what a transforming challenge it has been.

In many respects, today is the most important message in this series because we are going to be introduced now to Jesus. We’re going to move now from an emphasis on the written Word to the personal word, Jesus. Jesus is really the hub and everything that we have been doing are the spokes that lead into that hub and that point toward it.

If you ask me what the purpose of this message is, I can tell you very clearly it is to bring you and me into the very presence of God so that we encounter the almighty, unchangeable eternal God. That’s where this message is going. I want you to engage with me as we move through certain texts because I believe that at the end we’ll see the importance of the written Word and the Word of God made flesh.

You know, there are parallels, by the way, between the Bible and Jesus, and we should note those, because it really does help us to understand. It would be wonderful if I had time to preach a whole message just on those parallels. For example, both Jesus and the Word were conceived by the Holy Spirit. When Jesus took upon Himself flesh, He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. The Bible and the holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. Both are conceived by the Holy Spirit. Both are both God and man. This is very helpful. Some people look at the Bible and they see it as a purely human book. It has certain styles. It has certain human characteristics, and they are right. And other people looked at Jesus and said to themselves, “Well, you know Jesus is a mere man.” Unfortunately they used the word mere because he is a man. He’s also God, just like the Bible is also human and divine. It really helps us understand it.

And both, of course, are filled with authority. There’s no division in the Bible between the words of Jesus. You know, sometimes there are Bibles that have red-letter editions as if to say, “These words are really authoritative. Jesus spoke them.” All words in the Bible, whether red letter or not, are authoritative, equally so. And we can’t get to Jesus without going through the written Word. And both are eternal. “Forever, oh Lord, Thy Word is settled in heaven.” “The flower fades but the Word of our God shall stand forever.”

Well, all of that is setting us up for John 1. Please turn to it. Now, “In the beginning was the Word.” And it’s too interesting for me to go into this “In the beginning” phrase because I hope to preach an entire message on the eternality of God in the near future. But this is the beginning before any other beginnings, and what it means is that in order for something to exist, something had to exist for all eternity because out of nothing, nothing comes. And that’s why it is so rational to believe in God – not the eternality of matter, but God. More of that in a future message!

John uses the word “Word” now. “In the beginning was the Word.” He’s thinking of the Old Testament because in the Old Testament the word “Word” – “created by the word of the Lord were the heavens made,” caused revelation. The Word of God came to Isaiah or Jeremiah, and other prophets. You also have the Word bringing deliverance. The Scripture says, “He sent His Word and He healed them.” Paul says, “The preaching of the cross” – the preaching of the Word of the cross. It’s not the cross as a word, but rather the message of the cross.

So John begins here by saying, “In the beginning was the Word,” and now notice how he nuances the Trinity. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” What an amazing text. The more I meditated on it this week, I realized this has to be inspired. I wish we could go through it phrase by phrase, but we must hurry on.

He says, for example, in verse 3, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Dr. Don Carson of Trinity Seminary says that eventually when you are witnessing to people somebody might say, “Well, you know that’s your religion, but I have my own god (Maybe he’s into crystals or something else.) because we all are spiritual.” At some point what you need to do is to say, “You know, I can’t just let this lie because I’m talking about the God who created you, and you owe him.” You owe him! And your whole life is based upon His will and His purpose, and it’s prudent for us to investigate and to find out how we can connect to this God, which is, of course, what John’s prologue is all about, and what my message is about today.

So He is the creator. He is also the revealer. “In him was life, and the life is the light of men.” John is speaking about creation, but he’s also speaking about moral light that God reveals. “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.”

Well all this sets us up for the verse I really want to get to, and that is verse 14. I believe that verse 14 is the most explosive verse in the whole Bible. John 3:16 is the best known, but this verse is explosive because of Gnosticism. Gnosticism, you remember, is a synthesis between Greek thought and Christianity. And so Gnosticism, being influenced by Plato, believed that all matter was evil. Plato, you remember, believed that the forms of the mind are eternal and perfect. The best example might be mathematics. Two plus two is equal to four. That’s true even if you have a fever. It’s true even, and grasp this, if the Cubs were to win a World Series. (laughter) What you’d find is two plus two is still equal to four.

But in addition to that, Plato taught that all matter was evil, and therefore, in the Platonic mind, God became evil. “The Word became flesh,” but of course, in the New Testament it’s very clear that not all matter is evil. And the Word, in becoming flesh, became something it wasn’t without in any way diminishing anything that it’s always been. I hope that you are able to grasp that statement because it lies at the heart of the Christian faith.

Now we’re going to continue on though. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” That’s what your translations say. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Everybody stop now! Now it’s time to grasp this. What we have here is actually a word that means it tabernacled among us. And what John is doing here is he’s alluding now to the Old Testament, and it’s the story of Moses that we need to grasp to put all this in context. And then what we’re going to see is how Jesus leads us all the way to the Father.

Remember the story. Moses is up on the mountain. Aaron convinces the people to make a golden calf. It’s a tragic story. And they are willing to do that. Moses comes down from the mountain and he is angry. God is angry. God judges the people. And now it’s time for Moses to leave the people one more time and to continue on to the Promised Land. But Moses is uncertain. The nation has been judged by God. Aaron has been compromised because of his leadership, and Moses says, “I don’t know if I want to go,” and “God, you had better go with us.” God says, “My Shekinah Glory will no longer go with you.” And Moses said, “Look, if your glory isn’t going, I’m not going.”

Moses was saying, “It is better to be in a wasteland with the presence of God than to be marching into a promised land without the presence of God.” And you and I might say, “It is better to be poor and to have God’s blessing, and to be able to say that we have God’s presence. It’s so much better than to be rich without God’s blessing.” Moses says, “Unless you go, I’m not going.” God says, “Okay, I’ll go.”

Moses said, “Show me Your glory.” What Moses evidently was asking for is to see the very essence of God. And God said, “Okay, Moses, you’ve found favor in My sight. I’ll show you My glory but My face you can’t see.” Now this is very important because in the previous chapter it talks about the fact that Moses spoke to God face to face. Clearly what the text means is this – that there’s no contradiction. God is saying, “You cannot see my essence. You cannot see me as God” because it says there in Genesis 33, “No man can see Me and live.” Nobody has ever seen God as God, but plenty of manifestations.

In the Old Testament God has shown up in different ways veiled, and even the light, the Shekinah Glory, was a manifestation of God. But it was not the very essence of God that no man can see. And Moses says, “Okay, I want to see more of You.” And God says, “I’ll hide you in a rock, and then I’ll let My glory pass by and you cannot see Me directly, but you can catch a glimmer.” And Moses was there and he caught that glimmer. And Moses was there in the Tabernacle, administering sacrifices and everything else later on. And that’s the imagery that’s behind here.

Now with that background let’s read this with new eyes. “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us (He becomes the sanctuary.), and we beheld his glory.” What John is doing here is having a replacement motif. What he’s doing is he is showing that Jesus now is going to replace the whole Old Testament system. And that system was set up for this reason. How can men have fellowship with God without God contaminating Himself and compromising His holiness? And now Jesus is going to do it and do it completely. How fortunate we are to live in this era.

Now, first of all then, Jesus reveals the presence of God. By the way, Moses said to God, “God, how else will we be distinguished among all the other people of the earth if you don’t go with us, if it’s not your presence?” And this is confirmed in the New Testament. How can we as The Moody Church exist without the presence of God? We can’t. Without the presence of God we might as well become a social club. Without the presence of God we might as well become the arm of a political movement. Without the presence of God we can expect nothing eternal to happen here. If God is not with us we’re not distinguished from all the other people of the earth. It is God’s presence.

And now notice what the text says: “We beheld His glory.” The glory came to us in Jesus. Oh, it was veiled. That’s why we sing at Christmas, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see.” And Jesus performed a miracle in John 2, and it says that the people saw the miracle, but the disciples saw the glory. They said Jesus manifested His glory to them. At the resurrection of Lazarus, Jesus Christ’s glory is seen. At the cross, Jesus Christ’s glory is seen. In John 12 He says, “When I be lifted up, this is the hour in which I am glorified.”

David Bryant, who is going to be with us on Saturday, speaks about the cross in this way. “The cross was the definitive display of God’s sovereignty, and, we might add, His glory. Because of it, slaves of the Fall are liberated. Because of it, Satan’s minions are bound. Because of it, death is destroyed. Sin is demolished. Judgment is absorbed and fear is banished. Because of it, all who believe are conquered by grace and transferred into the empire of His Son.”

That’s what happened on the cross. And Jesus was thereby glorified. And do you know what it says in John 17? I’m not making this up. You should always make sure that whoever preaches here is not making stuff up. Now if he is, he ought to tell you that he is. The Bible says this in John 17. Jesus is praying to the Father and He says, “The glory which Thou gave Me, I have given to them.” And He’s talking about the disciples, and He’s talking about us. Jesus replaces the glory of the Old Testament, which was localized – that Shekinah Glory. And now because He’s in heaven as our high priest, He is giving that glory and sharing that glory, as we shall ultimately understand it, in His blessed presence. There we shall see the glory of God to the extent that human beings can.

So Jesus, you’ll notice in the text, replaces the glory of God. We saw His glory. He also replaces the sacrifices, doesn’t he? In the Old Testament there was no end to these sacrifices. The priests had to stand in shifts – eight hours a day with three shifts – and continually. Why? It’s because there was no permanent sacrifice for sin, and God wanted to illustrate that. The Bible says in the book of Hebrews, “Jesus, having offered one sacrifice for all time sat down on the right hand of God.” Why could He sit? It’s because it was all finished. It was all completed, thanks to His perfect work. And that’s why we don’t offer sacrifices anymore. We don’t come, you know, with our animals to be sacrificed because Jesus is our sacrifice.

Later on, in John 2, He is going to say, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I’ll raise it up.” And the Jews are saying, “Hey, look at this big temple that Herod built us. You’re going to destroy it and raise it up in three days?” But then John adds, “But He was talking about the temple of His body.” He is now the Temple. He is the sacrifice.

He also is the place of worship. We now come to Him, and we worship in spirit and in truth, no longer having to go to Jerusalem in the Temple, no longer having to go to a place of worship, though we thank God for those places of worship. And many of you are in one right now. We thank God for that, but we don’t have to go there, so to speak. Why? Jesus said, “From now on, you can worship in spirit and in truth anywhere,” as He was speaking to the woman at the well who thought that the Samaritans had to worship in Mount Gerizim. But Jesus said anywhere because Jesus Christ has come.

So He reveals the presence of God. He also reveals the person of God. You’ll notice it says in verse 16: “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Oh, how tempted I am to camp there for a while to discuss grace and truth. But the beautiful blend of both! Today in some churches there is so much grace you’d get the impression that God was never mad at anything, and that everything was okay with Him. The balance between grace and truth comes to us in Jesus.

And then notice also the very person of God is revealed. No one has ever seen God. As I explained, no one has ever seen the essence of God as God. But the only begotten God, or the only begotten Son, who is at the Father’s side, has explained Him. Jesus explained God. The words of Jesus are the words of God. The acts of Jesus are the acts of God.

Finally, the invisible God! The mysterious, invisible God comes to us visibly in Jesus so that Jesus can say, “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father.” Wow! It takes your breath away. Whoever has seen Him has seen the Father, and Jesus takes us into God’s presence.

Now I promised you that this sermon could be transforming. I hope it is. It is to me, and I hope it is also to you as a reminder of what we have in Christ. But what I’d like to do is to nail this down for us so that we understand its implications. And I nail it down first of all by saying that our greatest need is always a fresh vision of God. Maybe you came here and you thought something else was your greatest need. You thought your greatest need was your crumbling marriage, or it was all kinds of other things that may have happened, and those may be needs. But your greatest need is always a fresh vision of God, a fresh vision of Jesus.

I marvel at Moses. You know, in Exodus 33 when he said, “Show me Thy glory,” I read the text and I say, “Moses, come on. You’ve been up in the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights with God, and you still don’t have enough? I mean there are people who think they have enough if they go to church once a week, and you’ve been up there for 40 days and 40 nights?” And Moses said, “I still don’t have enough. Before I move I need another revelation of God.” That’s always our greatest need.

And then the interesting thing is you know that Moses can’t go into the land. You know that story because of his disobedience, but he shows up in the land on the Mount of Transfiguration, and what in the world is he doing? (And it is in the world. Some of us are going to be at the Mount of Transfiguration in a couple of weeks.) He’s getting more of the glory of God. He just can’t get enough.

Do you think that heaven is going to be boring, that we are going to begin at the first song in the hymnal and sing our way through, and then when we are done we sing it again? Is that your view of heaven? Some of you are being too quiet here today. Are you listening? Are you with me? I’ll tell you heaven is going to be getting more of God throughout all eternity. That’s what it’s going to be. And our biggest need always is to see God in a new way. Why would we ask you and urge you to take out a day to come to the seminar that we are having this Saturday to help us get a better vision of Christ and His implications? Why would we ask you to do that if we didn’t know (and certainly I know) that our greatest need is always to see Jesus?

Look at the text here. Now I’m in verse 16. “For from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.” Inexhaustible supply of grace for inexhaustible problems, for inexhaustible doubts, for inexhaustible situations there is Jesus supplying us grace upon grace. And it’s all in Him because in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and we are complete in Him. If only we understood that better we’d find that there is grace for every need. There is corresponding grace. Our greatest need always is a fresh revelation of God, and a fresh revelation of Jesus Christ who reveals the Father to us and explains Him to us.

Second, it’s very important to realize that our need for Christ has to be shown to us by God. Let’s take this slowly. Christianity here is the only religion like this. In order for us to understand the statement I just made, let’s back up a little bit. It says in verse 10: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” By and large the world rejected Him. This is the big world and: “He came to his own (verse 11), the Jews, and they didn’t receive Him.” Verse 12: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Let’s take that a little bit more slowly. What the text is saying is that though Jesus was rejected, for those who did receive Him, He gave them the right to be called the children of God. First of all, why is it that more didn’t receive Him? It was because they were walking in darkness and got used to the darkness and didn’t recognize the light. There are tons of people like that today. They are walking in darkness but they don’t recognize the fact that they are in darkness. They wonder why they are constantly stumbling, and why life is empty, but they don’t recognize that there is light in Jesus.

But now, here’s the point. For those who did receive Him, these people were born (Let’s take this slowly.) not of blood. You are not a Christian because your parents were. You’re not a Christian because you have a Christian genealogy. You’re not a Christian because you somehow are in a church. You know, Billy Sunday was an evangelist who used to preach here. And somebody who was still alive when I became pastor said that he used to jump from that platform to this platform without using the stairs, because you know Billy Sunday was into baseball and he carried over some of his abilities to the pulpit.

And Billy Sunday used to say, “Putting a car into a garage doesn’t make it….” Excuse me! I got it wrong. Can we just back up and redo it? Alright? Like the man who likes to watch his wedding videos backwards! He loves to see himself back out of the church, a free man. (laughter) I’m sorry. That just happened to come to mind (laughter) to get me out of my dilemma.

Billy Sunday said that to put a wheelbarrow into a garage does not make it a car. I finally said it correctly. Attending church does not make you a Christian. It is not of blood. It’s not by the will of man. It’s not saying, “Well, I’m going to become a Christian by living the Christian life.” Uh-uh! That won’t do it. It says, “You are born not of blood, nor of the will of man.” You don’t have enough will power to become a Christian. You don’t have enough righteousness to be a Christian. But it says, “Those who are born of God.” And that’s the uniqueness of the Christian faith – the fact that God works in our hearts in such a way that we are born of God as explained later in John chapter 3 in the story of Nicodemus.

I’m asking you today as you are listening to this, by whatever means you are listening to it, have you been born of God? And if you aren’t sure, you probably aren’t. Those who are born of God have the deep settled assurance that they personally belong to God, and they belong to Him forever. And so it is that Jesus Christ brings us to the Father.

And finally, only in Christ can we recover all the hope we are meant to have. In Christ alone do we uncover or recover all the hope we were meant to have. We were meant by God to live this life in hope, in hope of eternity, in hope of God’s glory, in hope of the fact that the God whom we have come to know is the God with whom we shall forever be.

You know, Augustine, that great theologian, apparently said, “Oh, God, Your Word says no man can see Thee and live. Lord, help me to die that I might behold Thy glory.” Wow! The desire of a soul for God eternally!

Recently in another place I preached a message which I’m not sure I ever preached here. It was on the stoning of Stephen. And you remember that as the stones were flying, Stephen looked into heaven, and the first thing the Bible says he saw is the glory of God and Jesus standing in the midst. Listen, if Stephen saw that while he was still alive, while he was feeling the pressure of the stones, and the pain (and being stoned must not be a very comfortable way to die), but he saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing there, and if that was already true before his soul left his body, imagine what he saw after he died. It is unimaginable in its beauty, in its holiness, and in its fulfillment and satisfaction.

I’ve quoted before the words of Joni Eareckson Tada, who has lived about 45 years in a wheelchair. I don’t know of anyone whose testimony has so inspired me, so humbled me and so convicted me as hers. The joy that she has in the midst of constant pain! But she said this. She said the reason she looks forward is not just because she can put her wheelchair somewhere else – park it at the door – or as she humorously says, put it somewhere else really low beneath heaven. But she says, “It is at that moment that I’ll finally be able to behold God to the extent that we as humans can without any sin ever coming in between.” Only Jesus can do that. And I bring you to Him today.

Wherever you are, no matter where you are on your spiritual journey, you come to Christ who replaces the Old Testament, the glory of God, the sacrifices, the worship of God. The closer we get to Him the more we please the Father. And then we discover the words of Scripture, “Christ in you the hope of glory.” It can’t get any better than that, can it? (applause)

Father, today we say in sincerity, “May we be led to Christ! May we be led to the One who reveals the Father full of grace and truth! No man has seen God at any time, but the only begotten Son, in the bosom of the Father, has explained Him. Help us to rush to Him for forgiveness, for fellowship, for our own joy that He promised us, and find in Him everything we need in this life, and it will take us to the next, we pray.

Before I close this prayer, if you need to talk to God right now, and I would think that many of you do, just talk to Him. For some of you, receive the forgiveness that Jesus offers. For some of you, make it a moment of thanksgiving and worship. For some of you may it be a sense of commitment – a new commitment beyond your present relationship.

Do in our hearts, Father, whatever You desire, we ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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