“And the Word became Flesh,” says John. He didn’t say the Word liked flesh or that the Word looked like flesh or that the Word visited flesh or even (in this text) that the Word made flesh—he said the Word became flesh!
In his poem The House of Christmas GK Chesterton adds homey warmth to John’s astonishing truth of God’s incarnation and the imagery he uses brings down to earth what could become a mere doctrinal statement. His poem allows us to imagine ourselves—all of us—all living in the same town and house where God lives—an “open” house where everyone is welcome; a house we go “home” to.
To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.
In stressing the glory of Jesus, the writer of Hebrews pays special attention to his humanity; to the incarnation. It was God’s purpose to bring humans to glory and because that was so the Savior didn’t come as an angel (2:16). The writer tells us this:
“In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers…Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (2:10-15)
To be faithful to the gospel we must make the cross of Jesus central and crucial but not even the cross is to be isolated as though it is the entirety of the gospel. The resurrection and the glorification of Jesus are indispensable parts of the gospel Story. But none of these are possible without the truth of the Incarnation; it was God incarnate who lived among us, who was crucified, who rose again from the dead and who ascended to glory and who came in and as the Spirit to indwell a chosen nation of gospelers.
It is the Word incarnate that tells the complete Story; it is in and as the man Jesus that God finally and fully says to the human family, “This is what I have purposed for you humans; life in and with me, life lived gloriously, evil known and recognized for what it is (see Isaiah 32:3-8), righteousness embraced as a joy, freedom from sin and fear, peace and adventure without end! All this I show you in and as the man Jesus Christ whose life is your model, whose death exposes and condemns visible evil and the invisible satanic forces that show themselves in the corruption and brutality and oppression of humanity by humanity and whose resurrection and exaltation says that all wrongs will be righted!”
Quoting Martin Luther King as he raged against satanic blindness and brutality, Charles Campbell has this: “Let them get their dogs and let them get the hose, and we will leave them standing before their God and the world spattered with the blood and reeking with the stench of their Negro brothers… (it is necessary) to bring these issues to the surface, to bring them out into the open where everybody can see them.” (1)
As the Body of Christ, as the extension of the Incarnation of God Christians suffer along with non-Christians to demonstrate that God is not indifferent to the world’s awful pain. “Look at us,” they say! “We seek no exemption and we seek no exemption because God himself sought no exemption and because God even now seeks no exemption as He suffers in his covenant People. We weep with others and we are ‘weeping witnesses’ that what is happening to you will NEVER go unnoticed. All wrongs will be righted! See us and if you can, believe that God is saying, ‘See them sharing the pain you experience and know that they are my witnesses via suffering that I have been where you are in and as Jesus Christ and that I am even now where you are in and as the corporate Suffering Servant. Whoever you are, think noble thoughts of me—believe and vibrantly hope one day you will see and experience the ecstasy of fulfillment! ‘ “
King and all who endured the humiliation and brutality of this era not only exposed the slavery of African-Americans, they also exposed the slavery in any corner of the world, and exposed the evil of all and any who approved, silently or overtly this blatant and cruel injustice. African-Americans in America rightfully raged against a visible and felt enslavement while the powerful White culture worked as slaves to invisible and malevolent forces and justified their slavery. (2)
It’s at this point that the message of the incarnate Word speaks with such clarity. God, as the man Jesus Christ identified himself with all the victims of brutal injustice before and since his own crucifixion. He exposes “the world” for what it is and brands as satanic and demonic the spirit that leads to all that is unlike the Holy Father. (3)
The brutal killing of Jesus was not as painful or as horrible as the deaths of multiplied millions! That’s never the point of the Gospels witness! You only have to read the NT to see that Jesus’ mistreatment, at the physical/social level, was little indeed when compared with the countless sufferers down the ages. Preaching and teaching that makes more of the physical pain of Jesus than the NT does is not helpful. Now and then we hear the gory details dwelt on in a way no one in the NT does though it can make some of us squirm because we have been blessed to escape prolonged humiliation and cruel physical mistreatment. But there have been multiplied millions who would gladly have swapped Jesus’ passion experience for what they went through. Simply Google the history of punishment and think of Auschwitz, the Gulag, the Death Marches, ancient and modern. Think of those who are even now enduring torment that defies description.
No! The central truth in the suffering and death of Jesus has its power in who it is that suffered and why he chose it.
The Christian will tell you that Jesus Christ is God being a man and that one of the things he does is to hang in solidarity with every man, woman, girl or boy in any age, in any part of the world who is being tormented, humiliated, imprisoned and used. In him, God as a man not only condemns the evil and exposes it for what it is—he does that by sharing it.
It’s wrong for preachers to say he suffered more than others—to say he did is not only nonsense; it’s needlessly offensive to those who know it is false. But it is profoundly and vitally important for teachers to make it clear that in coming into our world and choosing to share our pain (daily in anguished love at the sight of world agony and finally in death—see Matthew 8:16-17—God walked from Selma, he lay on operating tables in the Nazi camps, he sat for years in freezing cold and stink in cells in the Gulag and now huddles with women, little girls and boys in filthy cellars and cattle-cars—terrified by heartless and willing slaves of the satanic and demonic. And He’s doing it again in the People who constitute the corporate Body of Christ. In that People He isn’t saying that Christian suffering is worse than what the world endures—He didn’t even say that when He suffered in and as Jesus Christ. Let me say it again, what He is saying is this: “I see and know what is happening and trust me, I WILL make it all right! I am with and for a world in pain and this truth I tell you as you my covenant People suffer with you. These are my witnesses.”
Whatever else the incarnation and the cross mean—they mean that much. And in exposing “the world” for what it is God meant not only to generate rage and outrage against injustice and cruelty he threw his weight into the struggle to open the eyes of the drones of malevolence and bring them into the light also. The way Selma did! The way the holocaust did! These events that to some degree opened some eyes that will not close again are shadows of what the resurrection of Christ says will be finally and fully accomplished in a day yet to come.
- Charles L. Campbell, The Word Before the Powers, WKJ, 2002, page 63
- This evil was/is practiced by Africans against Africans in Africa to this very day; it was practiced by Jews against Jews—OT record—Chinese practiced it against Chinese, Irish against Irish, English against English, Muslims against Muslims, Russians against Russians and on and on. This demonic behavior is as old as Cain and Abel and at our worst we need no excuse in particular. Gang warfare and Drug Cartels where family-members torture and butcher family members illustrate the point that needs no “So why was he/she killed?” gang members have often been asked and one of the frequent answers is: “Maybe it’s because it’s Tuesday!”
- John 12:31, where Jesus is speaking of his death. “The world” is used often in the NT as evil in its organized wholeness. 1 John 2:15-17 and James 4:4. That’s how I mean it here.