December 18th, 1977 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-18-77 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and the title of the message he brings today is entitled The Incarnation. In the passage of Scripture that we just read, there is a little phrase that, in the English translation, does not bear—does not carry the weight—of the meaning of the inspired apostle John when he wrote it. And as though he were doubly emphasizing it, he repeats the little phrase:
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—
he repeats that little phrase, translated here “with God”—
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—
he repeats it.
In Dr. Patterson’s Greek New Testament that he always follows—keeps in the pulpit, reads out of all the time—that translated “with God” is pros ton theon; literally, “face to face with God.” And this word logos; when John wrote that about 90 to 100 AD, the word logos in Greek philosophy had come to have a special and an enlarged meaning. All of your “ologies”—geology, zoology, biology—all of those —“ologies” are from this word logos.
In Greek philosophy, it came to have a special and enlarged meaning, and John takes that word and uses it here, applying it to the Lord God Christ. By that word logos he refers to the active God—the God who moves, who creates, who manifests Himself—the Logos. And that active, creating, moving, manifesting God was in the beginning pros ton theon, face to face with God. Then he says in the fourteenth verse, “And that Logos was made flesh . . . (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth” [John 1:14].
“We”—as he describes in the first chapter of his first epistle: God manifest; this Logos, this active, reasoning, creating, guiding, working, manifested God—“we held Him in our hands; we touched Him. We saw Him with our own eyes; we heard Him with our ears” [John 1:14]; God manifest in the flesh” [1 Timothy 3:16]. “Great is the mystery of godliness…God manifest in the flesh” [1 Timothy 3:16], that’s an old hymn that Paul quotes from the first church.
It is a remarkable thing what we find as we read the Bible: there is ever appearing on the pages of the sacred record a gloriously incomparable Somebody, Someone, again and again and again do you see Him; does He appear, this theophanic Angel. He is the Angel of the theophany, the manifestation of God. He is called the Angel of the face of the Lord, “the Angel of the Presence of Jehovah” [Isaiah 63:9], “the Angel of the Lord” [Genesis 16:9]. He appears on the sacred page again and again and again.
For example, in the thirty-first chapter of Genesis, “The Angel of the Lord appeared unto Jacob, saying, I am the God of Bethel” [Genesis 31:11, 13]. What an astonishing thing! Or turn over to the thirty-second chapter of the Book of Genesis, the story of Jacob’s wrestling with the Angel all night long [Genesis 32:24-30], at the end of which the Angel changed his name from Jacob to Israel, the prince of God [Genesis 32:28]. And after the experience of the night, Jacob says, “This is Peniel”—named the place Peniel, “the face of God”—“for,” he says, “I have seen God face to face” [Genesis 32:30]. But it was an Angel with whom he wrestled all night. Take again, in the forty-eighth chapter of the Book of Genesis: the aged Israel is blessing the two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh [Genesis 48:14], and he uses the expression in describing his life, he says, “The God who fed me, the Angel who redeemed me” [Genesis 48:15-16]. That’s an astonishing thing! Pros ton theon, face to face with God in the beginning [John 1:1]. “The God who fed me, the Angel who redeemed me” [Genesis 48:15-16], and in your Kings James Version that Angel is with a capital A.
Or again, in the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus, it is this Angel of the Presence of God in whom is His name [Exodus 23:20-21]. That is His character and all the summation that God is. It is this Angel of the Presence of the Lord who guides Israel [Exodus 14:19-31], delivers Jacob’s seed out of Egypt, and guides them through the Promised Land, and delivers them into the rest of Canaan [Exodus 23:20-23]. That Angel of the Lord, who is He? What is He? And He appears again, and again, and again on this sacred page. In Genesis 14:
And Melchizedek king of Shalom—Salem, peace—brought forth bread and wine:
He was the priest of El Elyon, the Most High God. And he blessed Abraham and said:
Blessed be Abram of the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth:
And blessed be the Most High God, who hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand.
And Abraham gave him tithes of all.
Who is that Man? In the seventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews:
For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham . . . and blessed him . . . without father, without mother, without descent, having neither the beginning of days, nor end of life;
made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest for ever.
[Hebrews 7:1, 3]
Who is He? Has no predecessors, no progenitors, has no descendants [Hebrews 7:3]. Who is this Melchizedek, who appears before Abraham and blesses the father of the faithful, to whom Abraham gave thithes of all that he possessed? [Genesis 14:20]. Who is this Melchizedek?
Again, in the third chapter of Exodus:
And the Angel of the Lord appeared unto Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.
And He said: Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.
And Moses asks this Angel: What is Your name? And when I go down into the land of Egypt, saying that You have sent me to deliver the people,
and they say, What is His name? what shall I say? And the Angel of the Lord replied, “I AM That I AM.
Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me.
[Exodus 3:2, 5, 13, 14]
Who is this Angel of the Lord that calls to Moses, who says His name is “I AM—the great, mighty I AM”? Who is that Angel?
Turn again to the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Exodus: “Then went up Moses, and Aaron, and Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: and they saw the God of Israel” [Exodus 24:9-10]. What? John 1:18 says, “No man hath seen God at any time.” God is spirit and you don’t see spirit! [John 1:18, 4:24]. But Moses, and Aaron, and Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel saw the God of Israel [Exodus 24:9-10]. “There was under His feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, as it were the body of the heaven in its clearness [Exodus 24:10]. And upon the nobles [of] the children of Israel He laid not His hand. They saw God, and did eat and drink” [Exodus 24:11]. Whom did they see? Who is this marvelous incomparable Somebody that Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders saw? [Exodus 24:9-10]. Who is that Somebody? We turn again to Joshua, chapter 5:
And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold,
there stood a Man over against him with His sword drawn in His hand:
and Joshua went unto Him, and said unto Him, Art Thou for us, or for our adversaries?
And He said, Nay; but as Captain of the host of the Lord am I now come.
As the Captain over all of the angelic creation of angels, of seraphim, and cherubim, and archangels in heaven, “As Captain over all of the hosts of the Lord God am I come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and did worship” [Joshua 5:14]. If he worshiped a creature, he’s an idolater:
He fell on his face, and did worship, and said unto Him: What saith my Lord unto His servant?
And the Captain of the Lord’s host—the General of all of the angelic forces of heaven—said unto Joshua:
Loose thy shoe from off thy foot: for the place whereon thou standest is holy.
Who is this Captain? This marvelous, glorious Somebody who appears to Joshua as he begins the conquest of Canaan and describes Himself as the Lord and the Captain of all of the hosts of the angels of glory [Joshua 5:14]; who is that Somebody? In the Psalms, the sweet singer of Israel—David—in the second messianic psalm, says:
Serve the Lord with fear, rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son—Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way, when His anger is kindled but a little.
Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.
Who is that Somebody? “Kiss the Son, trust in Him, lest you perish from the way.” Who is that? [Psalm 2:12]. Or out of a thousand passages, in the one hundred tenth Psalm: “The Lord hath sworn, and will not change: Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek” [Psalm 110:4]. Who is that Priest, forever abiding, faithful in His service, after the order of Melchizedek? Who is that? Once again, in the Book of Isaiah: “In the year that the good King Uzziah died, I saw also the Lord” [Isaiah 6:1]—“No man hath seen God at any time” [John 1:18]:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple.
Above Him the seraphim… crying, Holy, holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts—the Captain of the hosts of glory—the whole earth is full of His glory. . .
And I said, Woe is me! for I am undone; I am a man of unclean lips, I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.
Who is that, this glorious Someone that Isaiah saw? “The Captain of the hosts of heaven” [Joshua 5:14], who is He? I turn to Ezekiel, chapter 1, “And above the firmament there was over their heads,” that is, the four cherubim:
Above the firmament there was over the heads of the cherubim the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone:
and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it—
He looked like a man—
And I saw as the color of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of His loins even upward, and from the appearance of His loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about.
As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about.
This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of God. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard a voice of One that spake.
Who is that? Ezekiel sees Him; glory beyond description—like the burning of amber, and fire, and rainbow—seated upon a throne before whom he falls as before the glory of God [Ezekiel 1:26-28]. Who is that that Ezekiel saw? I turn again, this time in the third chapter of the Book of Daniel:
And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.
Then Nebuchadnezzar the king, astonished, rose up in haste, and spake, and said to his counselors:
Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king: True, O king.
He answered and said: But lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt;
and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God!
Who is that walking with Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego in the midst of the fiery furnace? What is His name? Who is this glorious Somebody walking with those three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace? Who is He? Or again, Daniel writes in chapter 7:
I saw in the night visions, and, behold, One like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven,
and came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him.
And there was given unto Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him:
His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
Who is that? To whom the verdict of history, and the ages of time, and the eternities yet to come accord to Him a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, but that shall last forever and ever? Who is that glorious Somebody? Who is He? And not to weary: just one other, in the last book of the Old Covenant—in Malachi, chapter 3:
Behold, I send My messenger, who shall prepare the way before Me: and the Lord, whom you seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, whom you delight in: behold, He shall come…
But who may abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when He appeareth? for He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap:
He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and He shall purify the sons of Levi—who wait upon the Lord—and purge them as gold and silver,
that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.
Who is this marvelous God Lord, who is coming to the temple and will purge sin and unrighteousness out of Jacob and the seed of Israel that they may offer, in their Levitical priesthood, sacrifices of righteousness? Who is this? Dear people, we don’t belabor the point; I haven’t time to begin to touch the descriptions of that glorious Somebody. They sang about Him just now:
Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given:
and the government—
shall be established by His hands, shall rest upon His shoulder:
and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
[from Isaiah 9:6]
Who is that Somebody so glorious? He appears again, and again, and again, and again—and He is described a thousand times in that Old Covenant, waiting for His coming. Who is He, this Angel of the Presence of the Lord [Isaiah 63:9], this Angel of the theophany, the manifestation of God? [Exodus 3:2, 13-14]. Who is He?
Now look once again: as we have seen Him, this glorious Person, as we have seen Him in the ages past, look at that same glorious Somebody in these ages of the ages that are yet to come. Look at Him. In the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts: “And as Saul journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven” [Acts 9:3]. And he was blinded, as he says, by the glory of that light and fell to the earth blinded [Acts 9:4]. Above the brightness of a noon-day, meridian, Syrian sun so shown the face and the countenance of that glorious Somebody who appeared to this arch persecutor. Falling to the earth, he heard a voice, saying, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” And Saul replied, “Who art Thou, Lord?” This glorious Somebody, above the brightness of the sun, “Who are You Lord? Who are You?” And He replied, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest” [Acts 9:4-5].
Ah, and just once again; in the first chapter of the Revelation, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day,” on this day, Sunday’s day:
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,
Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last…
And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden lampstands;
And in the midst of the seven lampstands One like unto the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the breast with a golden girdle.
His head and His hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and His eyes were as a flame of fire.
His feet liken unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and His voice as the sound of many waters.
He had in His right hand seven stars; and out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword: and His countenance was as the sun shining in his strength.
And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. And He laid His right hand . . .
a gesture that John had known all of his life—they were cousins, they grew up together—and how many times must the Lord have done that, “He put His right hand”?
He laid His right hand upon me, saying unto me, Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last;
I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, and behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen;
And I, I have the keys of Hell and of death—they are in My omnipotent hands.
Who is that glorious Somebody? In the ages past and in the ages that are yet to come; the Angel of the Presence of the Lord [Isaiah 63:9]—the Angel of the theophany [Exodus 3:2, 13-14], the Angel of the covenant [Malachi 3:1]—who is He?
In the little valley, the little vale, the little time in between those ages of the past and those ages that are yet to come—in a little brief time, He came down from His kingly throne, and He descended down, and down, and down [Hebrews 10:5-14], and finally was made in the fashion of a tiny baby born in a mother’s womb [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:26-35]. He became like us [Philippians 2:7], God in the flesh; and we beheld His glory [John 1:14]. Oh! The beauty of His life, the wonder of His words [John 7:46], the power of His resurrection [Philippians 3:10], and the promise of His coming kingdom! [Luke 12:32].
The incarnation: why? Why? God so great and we so small; why? Two reasons; one: He came to offer a sacrifice for our sins, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins” [Hebrews 9:22]. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that maketh atonement for the soul” [Leviticus 17:11]. A spirit does not have blood. A spirit does not have body. A spirit could never be offered a sacrifice for our sins! That glorious Somebody came down in human flesh, that He might make an atoning sacrifice for our sins. He came to die for us! [Hebrews 10:5-14].
Second: why that incarnation? The Word of God, the blessed Lord made flesh; why? In order that He might be “a faithful and sympathizing High Priest, tried in all points such as we are, that He might be touched with the feeling of our infirmities” [Hebrews 4:14-15 ]. He knows all about us. He has lived our life, God has! There is no hurt and He hasn’t been hurt; He understands. There’s no sorrow and He has not sorrowed; He understands. There’s no hunger or frustration but that He has hungered and been disappointed—frustrated—and there is no death and He hasn’t died. He knows all about us, and He came to live our life, to weep our tears, to bear our sorrows, to know about our sicknesses and our illnesses. And He was tried as we are, though He without sin [Hebrews 4:15]. He knows our temptations, and our weaknesses, and our trials, that we might have a faithful, sympathizing, understanding High Priest at the great judgment bar of Almighty God [Hebrews 2:17]. Why, my brother and my sister, it is too marvelous to be placed in song or in sermon—the most incomparable of all the precious truths that mind could imagine; this Somebody so glorious is this Somebody Jesus!
Richard Peacock said, “Pastor, I wish you’d add to that sermon one thing that I’ve heard you say so many times.” He said, “It would help us all.”
I said, “Why, Richard, I’d be happy to.” The only God you’ll ever see is blessed Lord Jesus. You’ll not see three Gods, ever; there are not three Gods. There is one God, just one. The only God we’ll ever see has nail prints in His hands; He has a great scar in His side; He has a body! The only God you’ll ever worship, the only God you’ll ever bow down before, the only God you’ll ever look upon is Jesus, our elder Brother, our Savior and Lord. The only God you’ll ever see is Jesus. The only God you’ll ever feel is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, in our hearts. When we have that tug at our souls, the wooing of the Spirit in our hearts, that is the Holy Spirit of Jesus. The only God you’ll ever feel is the Holy Spirit of Jesus. And the only God there is is God! One God; and we know Him as the invisible Father [John 1:18]; we know Him as the visible Son [Philippians 2:7-8], and we know Him as the invisible Spirit who dwells in our hearts [1 Corinthians 6:19-20].
There is a mystery in the manifestation of God as Father, and Son, and Spirit into which our circumscribed, limited, finite minds cannot enter. But the truth is no less noble, and enthralling, and exalting, and glorious. When I bow down before Jesus, I bow down before God. When I pray in the name of the Lord Jesus, I am praying in the name of God. When I love the Lord Jesus, I love God. When I am serving the Lord Jesus, I am serving God. When I worship in His name, and praise Him, and sing to Him, and preach about Him, I’m singing, and praising, and preaching about God. He is God manifest in the flesh [1 Timothy 3:16].
In the beginning was the Logos—the manifest, creating, working, saving, loving, reaching-out God—
In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God—pros ton theon—and the Logos was God. And the Logos was made flesh,
and we beheld His glory . . . the glory of the only begotten of the Father.
[John 1:1, 14]
Oh, the depths of the glory, and the wisdom, and the manifestation, and the revelation of the Lord God who loved us, and gave Himself for us! [Galatians 2:20]. That is Christmas: that is the miracle of Bethlehem that I’ll be preaching about next Sunday. And that’s why it is so appropriate—I don’t care what anybody says—that’s why it is so appropriate that the whole world be bedecked as pretty as we can make it. Thank God for His unspeakable gift in Christ Jesus! [2 Corinthians 9:15]. That’s why the beautiful lights that we string over the house and down the city streets; that’s why the special programs at Christmastime—just trying in our feeble and human ways to express to God the unspeakable gratitude of our souls for the gift of His love—when He came down to be with man.
There’s a song in the air!
There’s a star in the sky!
There’s a mother’s deep prayer
And a Baby’s low cry!
And the star rains its fire
While the beautiful sing
For the manger of Bethlehem
Cradles a King!
There’s a tumult of joy
At the wonderful birth,
For the Virgin’s sweet Boy
Is the Lord of the earth.
While the star rains its fire
As the beautiful sing
For the manger of Bethlehem
Cradles a King!
[from “There’s a Star in the Sky,” J.G. Holland]
God be praised at Easter. God be praised at New Years. God be praised in the fall time; but especially may God be praised at Christmastime, when God became man and gave Himself for us [John 3:16].
Now we stand and sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you; out of this balcony round, down one of these stairways, there is one there and another one there. There is one there and another one there, front and back and on either side. And if you are in the last seat of that top-most balcony, there is time and to spare, come. Come. In the press of people on this lower floor, into one of these aisles and down to the front, “Pastor, I have decided for God [Romans 10:9-10]; the Lord who loved me, and gave Himself for me [Galatians 2:20], and I am coming.” “I want the Lord to come into my heart. I am on the way.” “I want to be baptized just as God said in His Book [Matthew 28:19]. I want to be numbered with the redeemed of God’s saints and I am coming.” Do it. On the first note of the first stanza, when you stand up in a moment, stand up walking down that isle, coming down that stairway. May the angels attend you in the way as you come, as you answer with your life. Do it today, now, while we stand and while we sing.
I. Old Testament appearances
A. Theophanic angelic
presence appears again and again
1. The God of
Bethel (Genesis 31:11, 13)
2. Jacob sees God
face to face (Genesis 32:30)
3. Melchizedek (Genesis
14:18-20, Hebrews 7:1-3)
Angel of the Lord unto Hagar and Abraham (Genesis 16:7, 9-11, 13, 22:11, 15-16)
of the Lord unto Moses (Exodus 3:2)
a. I am the God of thy
fathers (Exodus 3:5-6)
b. I am that I am
6. God of Israel
7. Captain of the host
to Joshua (Joshua 5:13-15)
8. In the calling of
Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-5)
preexistent Word of God (John 12:41)
10. Glorified on the
throne (Ezekiel 1:26-28, Daniel 3:24-25)
11. In the fiery furnace
II. In the new dispensation and age
A. Saul on the road to
Damascus (Acts 9:5)
B. John on the isle of
Patmos (Revelation 1:9-18)
III. The purpose of the Incarnation
A. That we might be