Tag Archives: theology

The incarnation of Jesus and the thoughts of St. John

The apostle John was fixated on the physical reality of Jesus–on the fact that in Jesus, God became a man. In becoming a man, He loved John and became John’s closest friend, and John never forgot the friendship.

In 1 John 1:1-4, the apostle is giddy to be remembering Jesus. He repeatedly emphasizes the sight, sound, and feel of being with the Messiah (“heard… seen… looked upon… touched”), and how the physical reality of Jesus is related to John’s fellowship with God and with the people reading the letter (which includes you and me):

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched…the life was made manifest, and we… proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father… so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son… And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” -1 John 1:1-4 (ESV)

The reality of God in a physical body fascinated John for his entire life. In the verses above there are echos of the opening words of John’s gospel–Jesus was with God in the beginning; Jesus is life; and Jesus is the manifestation of God’s Word in physical form. 

When Peter and John were defending themselves in the temple in Jerusalem, the reason they gave for talking about Jesus was, “for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20). Having seen Jesus was irrefutable evidence of Jesus’ reality as God, and John implies this in the verses above and in John 19:35. Referring to himself, John says, “He who saw it has born witness–his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth, that you also may believe.” Peter was also captivated by his physical experience of Jesus, as he mentions in 2 Peter 1:16 (“but we were eyewitnesses.”)

Perhaps Peter and John learned their fascination with Jesus’ physicality from Jesus Himself, who emphasized this to the disciples in the upper room in Luke 24:39-43 (“see my hands and my feet”) and famously to doubting Thomas in John 20:27 (“put out your hand, and place it in my side”).

But in 1 John 1:1-4, the apostle also refers to Jesus briefly as “the word of life–the life was made manifest.” Jesus himself also said that He was “the life,” and the reality of Jesus’ physical existence makes His life exuberant and powerful, powerful enough to light a fire under John, and powerful enough to unite distant Christians in fellowship with each other and with the Father.

And the power of Jesus to catalyze fellowship is why John is writing. As he says in verse 3, “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son.” In the friendship of Jesus and His disciples, the love of God began to spill over into humans, so that if we come to know Jesus, we also can have fellowship with the Father. And through fellowship with the Father, we have better fellowship with other believers.

This is why John was “writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” John already had fellowship with Jesus–it had changed and motivated the entire course of his existence. But his joy was completed when he shared this fellowship with other people, when he could participate in the work of Christ on this earth.

Jesus had spent time with John, and John shared these experiences with other people. These people told other people, who told other people. The cycle continued over millennia, while the Spirit worked in the lives and minds of generation after generation of believers, until eventually somebody told me, and now I am telling you.

I’m writing this post for the same reason John wrote His letter. Jesus is real, and He has lit my life on fire. When I meet other believers, or when I pray, or when I read Scripture, the energy is electric. The Spirit is at work in me, and He is at work in all believers.

“That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son.”

Obedience is a sign that you love someone

God wanted a relationship with ancient Israel. In fact, God wants a relationship with each of us today. Because of this, He gave Israel–and us–His Law. But people have trouble understanding why we have the Law. They think of these rules as burdensome, unnecessary, and archaic. Why should what happens to us when we die depend on whether we’ve obeyed the minutiae of an ancient moral code? The fact is, obedience to the Law doesn’t save us today, and it didn’t save anyone in ancient Israel either.

The Law God gave Israel through Moses didn’t sanctify them. To sanctify means “to set apart for a sacred purpose” and “to free from sin” (from Merriam-Webster’s). The Law didn’t free the people of Israel from sin. God freed the people of Israel from sin:

“I gave them my statutes and made known to them my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live. Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them.”

-Ezekiel 20:11-12 (ESV)

The people would “live” if they obeyed the Law, but it was God who sanctified them. This is exactly what we’re told as Christians today–Jesus saves us from our sin (sanctifies us) and then we obey His commands because we love Him, but not because obedience saves us.

Read Ezekiel 18. The same idea occurs there.We’re told that if a person who’s done evil stops doing evil and obeys God, that person will live. If an Israelite person had sinned, that person could still have been sanctified if they stopped sinning and obeyed God–their previous sins didn’t condemn them to hell. But also, their current obedience didn’t get them into heaven. God sanctified them; they didn’t sanctify themselves.

Obedience was merely a symbol that a person was accepting God, rather than rebelling against Him. You see, the entire Old Testament is a history of Israel’s relationship with God. Obedience is an important part of healthy, loving relationships. We often think of obedience in relation to authority: children obey their teachers, people obey traffic laws, employees obey their supervisors. There is, obviously, an element of authority in God’s relationship to us, but I think it’s often more valuable to think of God as a friend or a spouse. The entire book of Hosea depicts God as a faithful husband and Judah as an cheating wife. In Ephesians Paul uses Jesus and the church as an example of the relationship between a husband and wife.

If my wife asks me to clean the kitchen, and I don’t do it, I have wronged her. She’ll be disappointed. She may wonder if I’m upset with her. It’s not a matter of whether I’ve obeyed or disobeyed some insignificant rule (e.g. “Thou shalt keep thy kitchen clean”), it’s a matter of whether I love my wife enough to do something she would appreciate. Do we love God? If so, we’ll do the things He tells us to do in Scripture. We’ll undoubtedly fail, but that’s okay as long as we try, because God sanctifies us, and our sanctification isn’t dependent on our obedience, but rather on our willingness to accept God’s invitation to be in a relationship with Him.

The same thing was true in ancient Israel. God had spoken to Abraham, Moses, and other Israelites. Would Israel obey the Law given to Moses and thereby show God  they were accepting His offer of a relationship? Or would Israel dismiss the Law as full of insignificant, unnecessarily-burdensome rules?

The Law was merciful. The Law was God’s plea with Israel to be His people, to be His bride on this earth, to be protected and loved by Him. There were provisions in the Law for failure. The sacrifices and Sabbaths were there to remind Israel that God saved them even though they didn’t always obey. Obedience to the Law was a symbol of love, not a mechanism of salvation. Just as I demonstrate my love to my wife by doing things she appreciates, Israel demonstrated their love to God by obedience.

Today, things are no different. Jesus has come to earth to plead with you, to ask you to follow Him, to ask you to be His disciple. You only need to pray and accept His offer. If you love Him, you’ll begin to obey Him, and it won’t be burdensome. When I do things for my wife, she gets excited. Her eyes sparkle, she gives me a big hug, and I feel loved. But God loves me so much more than she–or anyone else–ever can.