Lesson 3: Jesus is the Word Made Flesh (John 1)

Word Made FleshWhat does John mean when he writes, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth…From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”

In his first letter he says it means we can hear and see and even touch with our hands the Word of Life “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (I John 1: 1-4)

As you read his Gospel, it becomes clear John does not mean Jesus is like the Greek and Roman gods, a supernatural person who has more power than ordinary people and intervenes in human affairs when provoked or summoned in prayer. And he is not a guy who lives in heaven walking around in the disguise of a human body.

He clearly seems to mean Jesus is a human being who fully shares God’s Spirit. Jesus is a manifestation of the Spirit that is God permeating all life and all things from the very beginning. It not so clear, at least to me, whether John thinks Jesus is the only or just the fullest manifestation. He certainly claims by sharing that Spirit with us, Jesus enables us to share the eternal life he enjoys with the Father.

The Eastern Orthodox Churches use this incarnational theology to proclaim “The divine became human, so the human could become divine”. We in Western Christianity have lost that perspective when all those churches, who pretty much controlled early Christianity, were either destroyed by Islam, separated from us by geography, or isolated by doctrinal differences since 1054.

That branch of Christianity was influenced by the Greek philosophy and culture in which it found itself. We have been affected much more by Roman culture and law.
I think we do well in the materialistic world in which we now find ourselves to recover the appreciation for the Spirit of Life this theology has preserved.

Bob asked if this does not claim for Jesus much more than the other three gospels. The answer is “yes”, for sure. Although this simplifies too much, the first three can be read as claiming Jesus is the Jewish Messiah redefined in light of the crucifixion. Writing later, John sees the Church must go beyond that, showing how Jesus offers salvation to all nations.

Admittedly, he does it in a way that is awkward for us Westerners. We hear the “I am” sayings as if Jesus is making egotistical statements about himself, claiming in order to be saved, we must believe intellectually that he is God. When we listen with the ears of the East, we hear Jesus proclaiming the gift God and he offer us- the chance to share their Spirit, so that we can be all we could be. Remember in the end he claims this Spirit is love.

If this seems farfetched, reread the first two paragraphs and pay attention as John revisits these themes throughout his gospel. A week ago a Greek Orthodox scholar and priest told me he thought it would take two or three generations before we Westerns got “what we are trying to say”. I think we are faster learners than that. Let me know what you think.

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