The following is a manuscript of the Christmas Eve message I gave tonight.
After my junior year in college I got a job working in a hardware store and lumberyard. While “fix-it” projects had always intrigued me, I really knew nothing about what I was selling. And our store had one particular customer who seemed to have one primary function in my life — to demonstrate and remind me on a weekly basis how little I knew. He and I didn’t get off to a good start and it didn’t seem to improve much over the time I was there.
But slowly — ever-so-slowly — I seemed to pick up bits and pieces of information. Of particular benefit to me were two co-workers who patiently schooled me in plumbing, electrical, paint, cabinets, and tools. A little over a year later I resigned from that job to go to seminary, and when I saw my “nemesis” customer the last time, I told him I was preparing to leave, and he said something like, “When you came here you knew nothing; but you’ve come along ok…”
The reason that I was able to survive that job was the influence of those co-workers who cared enough to explain everything I didn’t know. We need people to explain what we don’t know (and often to tell us that we don’t know what we think we know). That is also true spiritually. We don’t know what we think we know and we need someone to explain and reveal the truth of God to us.
And God has a number of ways of communicating His truth to us. In the Old Testament He used scribes and rabbis and even Pharisees to explain the Scriptures. Today He uses pastors and elders and teachers to explain the Word of God to us. And of course He has given us the Scriptures to guide us to the truth. But there was and is one supreme mechanism by which God teaches us about Himself — He used a baby, the baby Jesus.
As the apostle John began his gospel, he affirmed the position and greatness of Christ — “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (1:1). And having affirmed Christ’s deity in the very first verse, He then expounds on both Christ’s heavenly position (“He was in the beginning with God” and “All things came into being through Him…,” vv. 2-3), and also on Christ’s earthly purpose and position (“the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” v. 14a).
Now one question is why Christ took on flesh — why condescend to come to earth and lay aside all the rights and privileges of His heavenly position? Verse 18 tells us one reason.
No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him (v. 18).
John reminds his readers that no one could see God. In fact he emphatically says, “God, no one can see anytime.” Now there are many things that we don’t know — but the one great thing that we cannot in our human state ever comprehend is the person of God. John would affirm that four more times, including:
- “And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form.” (5:37)
- “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father.” (6:46)
- “No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.” (1 Jn. 4:12; cf. also 1 Tim. 6:16)
But perhaps the most striking statement in Scripture about this impossibility is given in the account of Moses’s life; after the Lord had revealed His commands and Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai (Ex. 19-31), Moses came down from the mountain to find the nation worshipping a golden calf of their own creation. And in righteous anger, Moses destroyed both the calf and the tablets on which God had inscribed the Law. And then went back up the mountain to intercede for the people. And in Moses’ interaction with the Lord there are two remarkable statements: “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex. 33:11). Moses had a singularly unique relationship with the Lord. And in the context of that fellowship, Moses appealed to God’s grace and God promised that He would be gracious to the people of Israel. So Moses then asked God, “I pray you, show me your glory” (33:18). In other words, since you have made this promise, let me experience further grace by seeing your glory; and the Lord responded, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.…[But] you cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” (33:20). Even God’s beloved friend Moses could not endure the full force of seeing the totality of God’s majesty for even one moment.
We were created for fellowship with God (Adam and Eve experienced that fellowship with God), but because of sin, no man anywhere at any time can ever see the fullness of God that he was created to enjoy. There is a sense of despair in those statements. God made us for this fellowship and it is impossible for us to have it. Is there any hope?
There is. God sent Jesus to explain Him. Jesus provides the “narrative” about God that leads us to see God. Jesus provided and continues to provide the ongoing revelation of the Father. Jesus has expounded the nature and character of God in ways that no one else could. In fact, this purpose was so central to His coming that it was one of His names — “Immanuel” — “God with us.” We who could not see God now have God dwelling in our very midst.
Puritan writer Thomas Watson explains an implication of this explanation: “Were it not for Christ’s manhood, the sight of the Godhead would be formidable to us; but through Christ’s flesh we may look upon God without terror.” [A Body of Divinity, 162.]
So for the next few minutes, I’d like to think with you about that revelation of God through Christ.
- Why Jesus Can Explain God
- What Jesus Explains About God
First, let’s consider Why Jesus can explain God.
John gives two primary reasons. First, Jesus can explain God because He is God. John says that Jesus is the only begotten. The term doesn’t refer to the birth of Jesus, but it refers to the uniqueness of His position. There is no one else like Him. He is supreme over all other men. Others are called “sons of God” (including men and angels), but Jesus is superior to them all. He is “one of a kind” in His position. So Romans says, “He [is] the firstborn among many brethren” (8:29) and 1 Corinthians says, “by [Jesus Christ] are all things, and we exist through Him” (8:6). And Colossians says, “all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things and in Him all things hold together…[and] He Himself will come to have first place in everything” (1:16-18). Why can Jesus explain God the Father (and notice that John says “Father”)? Because of all the sons of God, Jesus is singular. There is none like Him and none compares to Him.
And why is Jesus unique (only begotten)? Because, John says, He is God. He is deity. This was John’s primary concern as he began this gospel — to affirm the deity of Christ. So we see Jesus’ deity explicitly affirmed in vv. 1, 2, 4 and hinted at throughout the first 18 verses. And the deity of Jesus will be revealed throughout the book. Jesus is no mere man; He is one who sees the hearts of men and is authoritative over all men (cf. 1:29-30; 1:48-50; 2:24-25…). Because Jesus is God, He can explain God.
And secondly, Jesus can explain God the Father because He is in the bosom of the Father. To be in one’s bosom could refer to physical position (as when John was leaning against Jesus at the Last Supper), or it can be figurative to mean an intimate relationship and fellowship. And that’s what John means here: Jesus can explain God because of the intimacy of relationship that He, the Son, has with the Father in the unity of the Triune God.
Now notice what John has affirmed here: no man can even see God, but the baby Jesus Christ has not only seen God, but He has the closest kind of sweet communion with the Father. As one commentator says, “God Only-begotten and the Father could not be in closer union. They do not only ‘see’ each other, ‘know’ or ‘speak with each other;’ they are in each other’s embrace. This is only one step removed from the word of Jesus himself when he says that he and the Father are one.” [Lenski, 100.]
Jesus can explain the Father because like the Father, He is God and because He has a unique and singular fellowship with the Father.
As you look to the advent of Christ tonight and tomorrow, look to that baby and understand that the God-Man was sent to tell you about the Father that you could not otherwise know. You are created for fellowship with the Father and because of sin are incapable of seeing or knowing the Father. But “God with us” came and told us about Him (and made a pathway to be with Him as well).
And now secondly, let’s also consider What Jesus explains about God. What is it that Jesus reveals about God? Since John says that the earth itself is not large enough to contain everything that would explain what Jesus did while He was on earth, then certainly we don’t have time to reveal everything that is inferred from this verse, but let me consider a few things that Jesus reveals about the Father.
Jesus Christ has revealed the Father’s mercy. While the word “mercy” does not occur in John, we see the mercy of God the Father (His compassion and pity for needy people) manifested in multiple ways. Numerous times Jesus refers to the love of the Father for His people:
- “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” (14:21)
- “Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.” (14:23)
- “…the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father.” (16:27)
We who hated God are the recipients of His infinite, unchanging love. We who were the enemies of God have been befriended and adopted by the Father and Son. And we who were empty and destitute spiritually have been filled with the Father’s Spirit (which is another manifestation of His mercy, 14:26; 15:26).
Jesus Christ has revealed the Father’s glory. When Isaiah saw the vision of the exalted God in heaven (Is. 6:1-9), he pulled back in terror and dismay, fearful of his death. Yet Christ enables us to see some of the glory — the exalted position, power, authority, and beauty of God. So John says, “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). Because Christ came, we see something of His inherent greatness. Consider what Jesus says in 8:19 — “if you knew Me, you would know My Father also” and 10:30ff — “I and the Father are one.…If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father” (John 10:30, 37–38). In other words, to see Christ is to see the glory of God. When you have seen Christ, you have seen something of the Father, as Jesus affirms in 14:9 to Philip — “He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, Show us the Father’?”
Jesus Christ has revealed the Father’s salvation. Consider 5:19-26. Here Jesus affirms that the Father’s work was to provide eternal life (and take away eternal death) for His people; and that work of salvation was accomplished through Christ. There is no salvation in Christ apart from the plan of the Father, and there is no salvation from the Father apart from the obedient work of the Son. And as Jesus affirms in 6:35-40, 44, if anyone comes to salvation, it is only because the Father draws and compels them to come to salvation. The Father calls and compels salvation, and everyone who is called by God to salvation will come to salvation. The Father’s saving work fully accomplishes every aspect of His intended purpose. Those who believe in Christ will be raised up to eternal life — the frailties and failures of this wicked and depraved flesh will be fully and finally removed. We will be changed.
And the great hope that comes from the revelation of the Father’s salvation is stated by Christ to Mary Magdalene after His resurrection when she sees Him in the garden and falls at His feet: Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’” (20:17)
Because Jesus Christ came we have seen glimpses of that which is otherwise unseeable to us.
And because Jesus Christ came we will see God in all His greatness and glory for all of eternity; and we will see Him not only as the great and authoritative God of the Heavens, but we will see Him as our tender and approachable Father. All that is possible because Christ came and explained Him.