JOHN REVEALS THE PURPOSES OF THE INCARNATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-17-67 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled John Reveals the Purposes of the Incarnation. It is a message taken out of the writings of the beloved disciple; from the Gospel of John, from the first letter of John, and from the Revelation, which also came from his inspired pen.
The most stupendous sentence, or certainly one of the most stupendous sentences, in all literature is John 1:14: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” And the Word was made flesh; God became a man.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made.
The Word, the expression of God, the only God we shall ever know, the only God we shall ever feel, the only God we shall ever hear, the only God we shall ever see, “and the Word – the Logos – was God” [John 1:1]. Then this most stupendous of all sentences: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” [John 1:14]. God, deity, became a man with all of its attendant sorrows and sufferings. Why? Why? John answers that question. Why did God assume flesh and body and blood and human life? Why did God sob and cry and weep and suffer? Why was God incarnate, made flesh? Why did God become a man?
The answer of John, first, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is now in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him” [John 1:18]. The purpose of the incarnation, John says, first, is that we might see God and that we might know God. And that God whom we seek to know is in Christ. When the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us [John 1:14], “And of His fullness,” the aboundingness, the infinitude, the infinity of God, “and of His fullness have all we received, and grace for grace”; grace on top of grace, grace added to grace:
of His fullness, of the abounding life of God, have all of us received, and grace for grace.
For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
No man hath seen God at any time – no man could see the face of God, and live [Exodus 33:20] – but the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father now, He hath declared Him.
In the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, the disciple Philip says to the Savior, “Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us,let us see God” [John 14:8]. What is God like? Where could I find Him? Show us deity; let us look upon the face of Almightiness. And that asking, that question, that desire of the apostle Philip is the cry of all mankind through the centuries; and it is our humble request today. We want to see God. What is God like? Now I would think that when Philip asked that question, “Lord, show us the Father; let us see God,” I would think that he had in his mind something like a vision that God gave to Moses, when Moses said to the Lord, “Lord, let me see Thy glory. And the Lord took Moses and hid him in a cleft of the rock, and covered him there with His hand. And all the glory of God passed by” [Exodus 33:18, 22]. Then the Lord took away His hand, and Moses saw the afterglow, the sunset, the Bible calls it “the hinder parts” of God’s glory and majesty and wonder [Exodus 33:23]. For the Lord had said to Moses that no man could see His face, and live [Exodus 33:20]. But Moses saw the afterglow of God the Lord as He passed by.
When Philip asked that question, “Lord, show us God, that we might see God” [John 14:8]. I would think he had in his heart a vision such as Isaiah described when he “saw the Lord high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple [Isaiah 6:1], and His glory covered the earth” [Isaiah 6:3]. Lord, show us God. What is God like? I would suppose that Philip had in his heart a vision such as Ezekiel saw in Tel Abib by the River Chebar, among the waters of Babylon, described in the first chapter of his prophecy [Ezekiel 1:1-27]; and words cannot bear the weight of the vision that Ezekiel seeks to describe as he looked upon the wonder of heaven [Ezekiel 1:1-28].
Lord, show us God. What is He like? Let us see Him. All of these visions in the Old Testament are but partial. Whether it be in a burning bush [Exodus 3:2-8], or whether it be the thunder and fire of Mount Sinai [Exodus 19:16-20], whether it be the shekinah glory, the lambent flame that burned above the mercy seat [Leviticus 16:2]; whether it had been the vision of the Moses [Exodus 33:18-23], or an Isaiah [Isaiah 6:1-3], or an Ezekiel [Ezekiel 1:1-28], they all are but partial; they are figures and types and rituals. If we would see God, the Savior replied to His apostle Philip, “Philip, he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” [John 14:9].
As the unknown author of the Book of Hebrews begins his glorious epistle, “God, who at sundry times and in divers places spake unto our fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us, revealed Himself unto us, by His Son” [Hebrews 1:1-2]. If we would know what God is like, look at Jesus. If you would hear God’s words, listen to Jesus. If you would see how God works, the deeds of His hands, the compassion of His soul, look upon Jesus. The Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Jesus of the New Testament, and the Lamb of God of the Revelation, who exalted shall reign as King and Savior forever and ever [Revelation 11:15], is Jesus our Lord. We would see God; “the only begotten Son, in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him” [John 1:18]. This is a purpose of the incarnation: that we might see God.
A second purpose of the birth in Bethlehem, when God became flesh, is in the same chapter, the first chapter of the Gospel of John: “The next day John the Baptist seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold, behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world” [John 1:29]. A second purpose of the incarnation of the Babe in Bethlehem, of deity assuming form and flesh and life in the body, was that as a sacrifice, as the Lamb of God, a body prepared, He might take away the sin of the world [Hebrews 10:5-14].
John the Baptist was a man born and sent to say one sentence, just one. He was the great forerunner, and was born and sent into the world to introduce the Christ of glory. What was that one sentence that John the Baptist cried on the banks of the Jordan River in the midst of the wilderness of Judea? Was it, “Behold; look, a man who can raise the dead!”? Oh, what a stupendous introduction; even that. Was that one sentence he was born to say this: “Behold; a man who can heal the sick!”? And what a stupendous and meaningful sentence would that be. There is so much illness and so many attendant sufferings that follow it. “Here is one who can heal the sick, cleanse the leper, lift up the fallen, give strength to the crippled!” What a great announcement to have made, but he didn’t say it. He could have said, “Behold, a man, look, who can feed the multitudes! Here is an answer for hunger, for famine, for poverty and penury and want; here is a man to feed the multitudes!” He could have introduced Him in that one sentence, “Behold a man who can do miraculous things! He can walk on the water. All things, wind and wave, are subject to Him. Behold, the miracle man, Christ Jesus!” Oh, the things that John the Baptist could have said!
What he did say? The one sentence God placed in his soul, the one sentence he was born to say was this: “Behold the Lamb of God, the sacrifice of heaven, the blood of atonement; behold the offering of glory; behold the Man who is to take away the sin of the world!” [John 1:29]. Imagine it, think of it. Not sins, not the results of sin, but the root, the substance, the evil source and beginning and initiation itself: “to take away the sin of the world.” Take away a gun from a murderer, he’s a murderer still. Take away the bottle from a drunkard; he’s a drunkard still. Take away the needle from a dope addict; he’s a dope addict still. Take away a harlot from her paramours; she’s a harlot still. Somehow, in God’s mercy and grace and wisdom, sin, the root, must be taken away.
Why couldn’t God forgive sins by fiat, just by word? Why should God, into all of this world of tears and suffering – why should God come to die, to pour out His life, to crimson the earth, why? Why couldn’t God forgive sin by His word, by fiat? Speak it. A gesture of His hand, and it is done. For the reason that John expounds and exposes here in divine revelation, the Lord God has not addressed Himself to the results of sin, but to the root and the cause of sin. The Lord hath not addressed Himself to the pimples on the outside, but to the bloodstream on the inside; and God refuses to countenance or to come to terms with iniquity. It is God’s ultimate and final purpose to eradicate and to destroy sin forever and forever. And to do that – and to do that requires suffering, judgment, tears, blood, death. There is something in the character of God that forever welds together sin and suffering, iniquity, unrighteousness, judgment and death. It is God that has welded that link. “The wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23], “and the soul that sins shall die” [Ezekiel 18:20]. There is in God’s character the penalty, the judgment upon sin. And when God dealt with sin you find, in the cross and in the sacrifice, the suffering of the Son of God, but a visible outworking of the purposes of redemption in heaven from the foundation of the earth [1 Peter 1:20].
If it had been possible for God to have forgiven sin by fiat, by word, by gesture, there would never have been an incarnation [Matthew 1:20-23]; there never would have been deity in the flesh [John 1:14]; there never would have been a cross [Matthew 27:32-50]; there never would have been a Bethlehem Babe [Luke 2:11-16]. It was the purpose of God revealed in history that brought to us the story of the Christ-Child, of the Man Christ Jesus, and of His atoning death upon the cross.
Somehow, in some way, the sorrows and the tears and the heartache caused by sin in this earth finds an ultimate repercussion in heaven. Sin brought tears and sorrow and sobs and cries and suffering to God Himself [Genesis 6:6]. And I realize in saying that that every theologian in the world would avow, “That is a monstrous thing to say; and a monstrous idea. For God, being holy and perfect and removed, God could not suffer. God could not weep, God could not cry. God could not feel pain.” But that’s theology. And theology sometimes is not a reflection of what I read in this Book. Sin brings suffering to us, yes; and sin brings suffering and death to us, yes; and sin brings sorrow and tears to us, yes; but sin also brought suffering and sobs and tears and sorrow to God. And when Jesus became flesh and cried [Luke 19:41; John 11:35; Hebrews 5:7-8], He cried God’s tears. And when Jesus, deity incarnate, bowed His head under a load of sin, “He who knew no sin was made sin for us” [2 Corinthians 5:21], God suffered the weight and the burden and the judgment of our iniquity. This was a purpose of the incarnation: that He might come and bear our iniquities, that He might suffer our death, that He might take away the penalty of our wrongdoing. “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world” [John 1:29].
John reveals a third purpose of the incarnation; why deity became man, why God became flesh and blood with all of its addenda, tears, suffering, and death. In the First Epistle, chapter 3, verse 8: “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil” [1 John 3:8]. That is one of the most incisive of all the sentences John ever wrote. “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” Every word in that sentence is fraught with everlasting significance. “To destroy the works of the devil”; the Bible says, and the Scriptures present Satan as having in his hands the whole power and destiny of the nations of the earth. We are tragically in his grasp; we live in a world presided over by the prince of darkness.
There are some things that our Lord says about him. One, the Lord says “He is a murderer from the beginning” [John 8:44]. Destruction of life, spiritual life, is the work of his evil hands. When he blots out and alienates God from us, this is a work of Satan; he murders our spiritual lives. The destruction of life, mental; he obscures the vision beatific, the glory of God, and he fills our minds with a thousand earthly visions and shuts out the vision of God. So much so that men of scientific training, of academic achievement, will seriously and earnestly write letters, and publish books, and say words, and lecture in classes that there is no God. How Satan blinds the eyes and destroys the minds of men! He blots out the very vision of the Almighty. And as a murderer, our lives are destined, this breath, this body is destined for corruption, and the grave, and the night. The works of Satan, a murderer from the beginning.
The Lord said something else about him: the Lord said, “He is a liar, and the father of it” [John 8:44]. It is Satan who deceived our first parents; and what an unusual way did he do it. He planted in the heart of Eve, and through Eve her husband, he planted in the hearts of our first parents the first doubt of the word of God. “Yea,” said Satan – and I can hear the inflection of his voice as he spoke – “Yea,” said Satan, “did God say, Thou shalt surely die? [Genesis 3:1]. Yea, yea, did God say that?” Then the first lie: “Thou shalt not surely die” [Genesis 3:4]. He is a liar, and the father of it [John 8:44]. And he beclouds our reasoning, and he makes impossible our right decisions. He deceives us. He changes the signposts that point to the cities of refuge; a liar and the father of it.
He is the world’s supreme sinner. Sin did not begin in you. Sin did not begin in your parents. Sin did not begin in our forefathers, nor did sin even begin in the garden of Eden, in the transgressions of Adam and Eve [Genesis 3:1-6]. Sin began somewhere, somewhere in the eons and the ages before the world was made. Sin began in the heart of Lucifer, the archangel, the cherub that walked in the stones of fire; sin began in his heart [Ezekiel 28:15-17]. And when the story of Eden begins, outside the gate of Paradise is that sinister and loathsome and unholy creature [Genesis 3:1]. And the world with its tears and its bloodshed and its darkness has been the story of his insinuating, through the centuries all to this present day and until an ultimate judgment, the works of the devil.
And the purpose of the incarnation: “For this purpose the Son of God was phaneroō,” a magnificent message in that one verb that John uses. “For this purpose the Son of God was phaneroō” – manifested, unveiled, revealed – “that we might see Him” – that the devil might see Him, that the whole host of angels, that the whole creation might see Him – “for this purpose was the Son of Man phaneroō” [1 John 3:8].
That word means He did not begin in Bethlehem; His life did not begin in the days of his flesh. That word, that verb means that before the creation and before the world of worlds and from the eternity to the eternities, always and forever, God was. And God was manifest in the flesh when Jesus the Savior was born in Bethlehem. “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested” [1 John 3:8], He took form and flesh and body, “that he might luō.” There’s not a boy that goes to school who studies Greek, not a seminary student, but immediately will recognize that paradigmatic verb. This is the verb that you conjugate; it’s the paradigm. This is the way we learn the Greek language, luō. “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, unveiled, that He might luō,” translated here “destroy” [1 John 3:8], a good translation. What the word actually means is “unloose, dissolve, break up”; it’s a common word in the Bible. You’ll find it when John the Baptist, introducing Jesus, said, “He that cometh after me is mightier than I, the laces of His shoes I am not worthy to luō, to unloose” [Luke 3:16]. The common word in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, Dr. Luke says, “the congregation luō, broke up” [Acts 13:43]; as you’ll see this congregation scattered when the benediction is said. In the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Acts, Dr. Luke use the word again, as it so often times used, in that terrible storm at the sea, in the Mediterranean Sea. Luke says that they took the ship and they drove it aground, they drove it into a sandbank on the isle of Malta. And there, Luke says, “the ship held fast, and the hinder part was luō by the fury of the wind and the waves” [Acts 27:41]; it was broken up, it was loosed, it was destroyed.
That is the picture that John gives us in this Greek verb; what Jesus has come to do with the works of the devil; He has come to break them up, to destroy them [1 John 3:8]. Wherever you see Satan king, someday he shall be dethroned. Wherever you see Satan reign, someday he shall be crushed. Wherever you see Satan sow seeds of tears and despair, someday he shall be cast out. The prison of despair, the program of damnation, the dominion of death, the darkness, the defeat we know in this life, He has come to break up. We shall have a new day, and a new King, and a new life, and a new hope, and a new vision, and a new world wherein dwelleth righteousness [2 Peter 3:13], when He takes away sin out of the earth.
And that leads to John’s last delineation of the purpose of the incarnation. Why did deity become human, flesh? Why did God become man? That we might see the Father, and when we see Jesus, we see God [John 14:8-9]; that He might take away sin out of the earth [John 1:29], that we might live in righteousness; that He might destroy the works of the devil [1 John 3:8], no more night, no more death, no more the grave and the sorrows and the tears to which all flesh is heir to.
And that leads to the fourth: why did God become a man? That we might with Him reign in triumph, in victory, in exaltation, in glory forever and ever and ever [Ephesians 3:4-21, Revelation 20:4-6]. Sometimes the presentation of the message in the Bible is so overwhelming that I think, “O God, could such a thing be?” And this is why that the God of the universe now has a body and is a man. Can you think of that? No wonder so many scoff at such a conception as is found in the New Testament revelation. God, a man? And He who sits on the throne of the universe is a man? [Acts 2:33]. God’s Book says so. Haven’t you heard me say, with all the emphasis that I could avow it: the only God you will ever feel is the Holy Spirit, God within us; the only God you’ll ever see is Jesus Christ, born of a woman, the eternal God man. The only God there is is Jehovah, the Father in heaven. And to think that God, God has a body, scars in it, though glorified, resurrected, immortalized, still the same man, the man Christ Jesus, with His idiosyncrasies, with His personality traits, with the scars in His hands, His feet, and His side [Luke 24:39-40; John 20:27]; the same blessed Jesus. Think of it, think of it. And He became a man that we might share with Him the glory and the wonder and the awe and the exaltation of what God hath prepared, which is beyond what I could imagine, or what the tongue could ever say, or what the ear hath ever heard [1 Corinthians 2:9].
And that word of our final triumph is in the Revelation 12:11: “And they overcame him, Satan, by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony,” by their commitment unto Jesus. “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb.” Why did God become a man? Why did God come into this world? That He might lay the foundation for our ultimate and final triumph. “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb”; in the cross of Christ we have every promise of ultimate and final victory: the forgiveness of sins, the washing of the stain out of our souls, the writing of our names in the Lamb’s Book of Life, in the blood of the Lamb all of the preciousness of the fullness and grace of God, and grace on top of grace, mercy on top of mercy, forgiveness added to forgiveness, love abounding, overflowing, all in the cross of Jesus. Every adequacy for all that I shall ever need, all provided, all sufficient grace, in the abounding mercies of the Son of God as He died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3]. And when the war is depicted in the twelfth chapter of the Revelation, and Satan is cast out, and he comes down into the earth [Revelation 12:7-9], then that triumphant sentence: “And they overcame him,” we who are mortal men, flesh and blood, “and they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb,” by the power of the cross, “and by the word of their testimony” [Revelation 12:11], by the commitment of their lives to Jesus.
Oh, I know. And being pastor of this church, sometimes I think, “O God, how could any man bear up under so many tears, and so many sorrows, so many frustrations and disappointments? Oh, for Satan has come down having great wrath [Revelation 12:12], and he’s sows, over sows, plows and destroys, and we are so helpless!” But: “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb,” by the power of the cross, and by the commitment of their lives to Jesus [Revelation 12:11].
This is our victory now. This is our victory in the hour of our death. And this is our triumph in the world that is to come. For that purpose did God become a man, that He might give to us that ultimate and final kingdom; if He reigns, we shall reign; if He is King, we shall be king; if He has risen victorious, we shall also rise victorious; for He is identified with His people. He became one of us that we might become like Him.
Oh, how would you say it? How would you sing it? The notes can’t frame the melody, and the poet can’t put the syllable and the sentence together, the glory and the wonder and the blessing of the fullness of the grace and love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
While we sing our hymn this morning, a family you, to come; a couple you, to come; one somebody you, to come; while we sing and while we make appeal, would you come now? In the balcony round, down the stairway on either side, front and back, make it this morning. Somebody you, into that aisle and down to the front, “Here I come, preacher, I decide now.” And in a moment when we stand to sing, stand up coming: “Pastor, this is my wife, these are our children, all of us are coming today.” Or just one of you, or two of you; as the Spirit of Jesus shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now, come now, do it now, while we stand and while we sing.