John 1:14 is an absolutely staggering verse. William Barclay calls it “the greatest single verse in the New Testament.” It says that “the word of God became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
I once heard someone say that Christianity isn’t about man going up (to heaven), its about God coming down. The glory of the Christian message isn’t that people can go to heaven if they walk enough old ladies across the street and wear enough social cause t-shirts and tithe enough money to the church. Its that God has come down to live among us.
Theologians call this the doctrine of the incarnation … literally meaning to “take on flesh.” It means that God became a person. It means that God, infinite, immortal, invisible, all-powerful, astrologically big, decided to subject himself to the frailty of human existence, and placed himself into the womb of a teenage girl, to be born under precarious circumstances, so that he could rescue his people from the true ’emperor of all maladies,’ sin.
It says that he “made his dwelling among us.” The Greek word is one that catches the attention of New Testament scholars because it comes from another word that means “tentmaker,” or “one who makes temperary dwellings.” The careful reader of the Scriptures will immediately think back to the Old Testament, and Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness when God commanded Moses to make a tabernacle, or a tent, in which His presence would dwell. Another way of reading this is to say that “God tabernacled among us.” God pitched his tent. John is masterfully and carefully choosing his words here. John’s Jesus was some sort of new tabernacle … a new temple, a place where God’s presence and glory would dwell; the Shekinah glory that the Israelites were afraid to approach … the incomprehensible, impending, overwhelming presence of God amongst His people…now rested within the person of Jesus. John is painting Jesus using the colors of God himself.
And then lastly John says that “we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came to us from the father.” Glory is a word that means gravity or weightiness. Heaviness. Importance. For John, a disciple of Jesus that had walked with him for so many years, he had seen miraculous things happen, he had seen healings, people speaking in languages they didn’t know. He was there for the vast expansion of the Church throughout the Roman empire. He witnessed the change in Saul, the persecutor from Damascus. But none of these miraculous things were what gave Jesus glory.
For John, the glory of Jesus could be illustrated with two words: “he came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Grace. Truth. The two things that the soul of humanity is hungry for more than anything else. Jesus came full of grace. He forgave people. He hung out with sinners. He reached out to people no one else would. He set people free from spiritual and physical sickness. He spent himself. He came to serve, not to be served. He gave his life as a ransom for mankind. Grace spends itself extravagantly, expecting nothing in return, overlooking offenses seventy times seven times, making the world a more beautiful place everywhere it goes. Jesus came full of truth. Grace without truth is superficial and cruel. Truth without grace is self-righteous and judgmental. In the person of Jesus, truth and grace became dance partners. Here was a man who had the courage to speak the truth and uncompromisingly stand on it, but who also had the grace to lead men and women towards lives that embodied the truth.
The glory of God found in the person of Jesus displayed itself not primarily in miracles, wonders, or spectacular demonstrations, but in grace and truth. Some churches are too obsessed with truth that they forget about the grace of God which was meant to be the container for truth. Some are too obsessed with grace, and never share the light of truth that examines, exposes, illuminates, because they’re afraid of hurting people’s feelings.
The pattern of God’s coming down into the world was full of grace and truth.
The pattern of Christians going into the world should be full of grace and truth.
May we be a people full of grace … loving, forgiving, having mercy and compassion, giving, serving, making the world more beautiful. But may we also be a people of truth … unafraid to stand upon what is true, right, and pure, and unafraid to shine that light into dark places.