Gospel of John 1:14-15
John here bares testimony to the fact that the Word, who was together with the Father and the Holy Spirit before time, the Word Himself became flesh, and not merely became flesh, but walked among us. This is important to notice, because so often when we speak of the “Word of God” as being the ultimate authority, we erroneously attribute that Word to being the Holy Scripture. And yet, the Holy Scripture never became flesh and dwelt amongst us. To the contrary, it is Jesus Himself who declared that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.” (Matthew 28:18), thus to declare that the Scripture itself has this authority is to remove it from God the Word, Jesus, who declared it to be so. It’s important for us to acknowledge this, that the Word that Scripture points to is not Scripture itself, but rather is God the Word, who is Jesus, from everlasting to everlasting and unto the ages of ages.
And that He became flesh and dwelt among us is also vitally important. The Word, while still being fully God, also became fully human. He assumed all characteristics of humanity; body, soul, mind, emotion, even mortality itself. He felt pain, He suffered, He hungered, slept, cried, He was angered, He was tempted, all of this experienced while He was in the flesh. He came down to show us what we should truly look like, what humans were created to be; being created in the image and likeness of God.
John tells us that “He dwelt among us.” In the Old Testament, God’s presence dwelt in the ark of the covenant, and later within the temple. Here, however, we see His presence dwelling amongst all men, in humanity itself. His glory here refers first to the signs and wonders that Jesus performed while He was in the flesh; and secondly to His humble service, His love and compassion towards all men. It’s interesting to notice that throughout all of the Gospels, we never once find Him rejecting any aside from those whose prideful knowledge and love of the world had caused them to become blind. In Scripture, we see a constant warning against this idolatry of “knowledge.” In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul warns that “knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.” (1 Corinthians 8:1). In Romans, we see the warning to “not be wise in your own opinion.” (Romans 12:16). This is not to say that the Scripture encourages ignorance, but rather that it warns not to place it on a pedestal above the need for faith, for love. See, Jesus fully embraced sinners, the lame, the sick, the homeless, the hungry; He was a companion to laymen, a physician to those who were ill. Only those who loved themselves too strongly, or those who “knew better” were unable to see that He was the Messiah. And so often, we also do the same thing. We get so caught up in our learning that we are unable to see. We think ourselves too wise to believe in the foolishness that the Lord has set before us. We seek to “solve” the mysteries of our faith, blinded to the fact that those very mysteries are those things which test our faith. I think of the Eucharist, and our contemporary belief wherein we have distilled it to a symbolic ritual, rather than partaking of the divine nature of our faith itself. I think of the miracles promised of the Lord which we have deigned to assume were ended with the close of Scripture. I think of all of these great mysteries, which to believe in them requires true faith, and our explanations to make them more “logical.” We blind ourselves with our knowledge, seeking to define the things of God following the laws of human logic; thereby removing the very faith that we need most strongly to be exercising in those moments.
“Full of grace and truth,” John continues. This statement hereby qualifies the Word and His glory. It is through this very truth that we are able to be restored to the image whence we were created. To the image and likeness of God. In the garden, we learn that Adam and Eve were created fully in communion with God. God spoke directly to them, no intercessors, no mediators. We see this in the Lord’s warning about the fruit of the one tree that would remove them from this communion (Genesis 2:16-17 LXX), and directly after the transgression, where we read “Then they heard the voice of the Lord walking in the garden that afternoon, and Adam and his wife hid themselves…So the Lord God called Adam and said, ‘Adam, where are you?'” (Genesis 3:8-9 LXX). And because of the fall, that communion was broken. Thus, the glory of the Lord left. Each of us are born similar, each of us is born in the image and likeness of God. The glory of the Lord resides within us, as temples of the Holy Spirit. And, through our sin, we break that communion. Much as we read in the prophet Ezekiel, when we fall through sin, as did Adam in the garden, “the glory of the Lord departed.” (Ezekiel 10:18 LXX). We are left, without the conviction of the Holy Spirit guiding the nous of the soul, we are left at the mercies of our will, of our desires; whereas the nous of the soul (where dwelt the Glory of the Lord through the dwelling of the Holy Spirit) slowly atrophies. Each step we take into sin, we weaken our ability to be receptive to the will of God. And it is through this grace and truth that the apostle mentions that we can be restored to that state, to that full communion with the Lord. Where we can be filled again with the Glory of the Lord and slowly bring into alignment our wills and desires.
It is to this very fact that John the Baptist speaks when he states that “He who comes after me is preferred before me.” See, the Baptist’s teaching was of the One who was to come after him. He recognized that his role was merely that of the Forerunner; his purpose was not to be the Messiah that would save many, but rather to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah. He baptized, but his baptism was external. He convinced many to turn from their ways, but he was unable to restore that communion that could change someone internally. He could teach the commandments, but the people could only keep them as faithfully as their will and desire would allow; without the restored communion with the Lord, their hearts themselves were unable to change, thus his baptism could never produce true repentance. We see in the Book of Acts, “when the apostles heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John who…prayed that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For…they had only been baptized in the name of Jesus. Then, they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17), and again, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying that the people should believe on Him who would come after him…when they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and when Paul had laid hands on them, they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 19:4-6). John’s baptism, while it was of God, was not of the Holy Spirit, and thus it could never effect change in any beyond their own capacity to change in their own power.
See, my fear is that many, particularly in Protestant Denominations, are never taught any of this. When this sacrament of baptism, held to be a supernatural act since the time of the apostles, has become nothing more than a symbolic representation at best and optional at worst, I fear that many respond in truth the same as Apollos does here, “we have not even so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” (Acts 19:2). We might intellectually affirm that He is real, because we’ve been taught as such, but never having actually known or experienced His presence in our life, because we were taught that His supernatural happenings were things of the past. And, when people consider baptism itself as nothing more than symbolic, then the inevitable next thought becomes, what do we do next? We start looking to our life and trying to figure out what we feel as though we need to cut out, instead of being led by the Spirit how to live, and those things that we deign to remove, wee attempt to do so in our own will and desire, never actually restoring the communion that would make it possible. On the other hand, when we recognize the sacrament of Baptism for what it truly is, a literal death and resurrection into the Body of Christ, the literal indwelling of the Holy Spirit, then that change becomes internal. We no longer fight against the urges of sin, because our will and desire begin to align more with the Lord’s will for our lives. Our lives become governed by God the Word, looking to the words of God as guidelines, and this not only leaves us with no room for these “loopholes,” but it leaves little to no desire to seek them. Once we recognize that we have died with Christ and that it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us, our desires are no longer rooted in fleshly lusts and passions, but rather in the desire to walk with God in all holiness. And this is only possible through the truth of God, revealed by the grace of God, given to us by the Word of God, Jesus Christ Himself.
We must be careful of the trappings of this external baptism, this baptism of John. So many, I fear, have accepted this baptism and grown coomplacent with it. So many have adopted this “I’m not perfect, just forgiven” cliche in our culture, ignoring the teaching of Jesus that “you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48). Does this mean that you shall never sin? To the contrary, the more you are being perfected, the more aware of your sinfulness you will become. However, it is because your life is being led by the indwelling Holy Spirit that you even recognize these things as sin. In your own power, you can perhaps create a PG-13 version of yourself, but with the indwelling of the Spirit, you literally die to yourself and are born anew, with a new will, with new desires; and those remnants of your previous life will be like so much dust, occasionally fluttering down but instantly recognizable and able to be repented of. So, we must evaluate ourselves and question, is baptism to us merely a symbolic changing of baseball jerseys, going from “Team World” to “Team Jesus,” or is it a Sacrament, a mystery, whereby we literally die to ourselves that we can be resurrected daily with the risen Christ? Are we content with a one-time proclamation of our faith, “once saved always saved,” or do we renew our baptism daily with tears of repentance?
May the peace of the Lord be with you all, my beloved family in Christ.