Christmas Prequel

By Peter Amsterdam

December 13, 2016

In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, we read the story surrounding the birth of Jesus. We’re told of the angel visiting Mary; of her miraculous pregnancy; of the difficulty that Joseph, her betrothed, had when he found out she was pregnant; and of the dream he had, telling him that the pregnancy was from the Holy Spirit. We read of Mary’s visit with her cousin Elizabeth, of Caesar Augustus’ decree, of Mary and Joseph needing to travel from Galilee to Bethlehem, of Jesus’ birth, of the angels appearing to the shepherds, and of the visit of the Magi. Each year we celebrate these events and what they mean to us—that God sent His Son into our world to live and die, and that as a result, we have been able to receive salvation and forgiveness of sins and enter into a personal relationship with God, as members of His family.

The Gospel of John doesn’t tell the story of Jesus’ birth, but it tells us the prequel—the story that precedes what we are told in the birth narratives. This Gospel takes us back to the beginning, before our world existed, and tells us something about our Savior that was true well in advance of His earthly birth in Bethlehem two millennia ago. Understanding this part of the story is what brings clarity to who Jesus was, why He came, and what He accomplished.

The story begins like this:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.1

This Gospel begins by telling us that before anything was created, the Word existed, was with God, and was God. John looks back beyond the beginning of the creation of the universe, before time existed, and tells us that the Word was preexistent. The opening line of this Gospel repeats the first words of the Bible in Genesis: In the beginning…2 This expresses that the Word existed before creation and is eternal, that there was never a time when the Word was not. The Word was not part of what was created, meaning that the Word is greater than all things that were created.

We’re told that the Word was with God, and then it’s repeated a second time, He was in the beginning with God. The emphasis here is that the Word exists in intimate relationship with God. Commentators express that relationship as having the closest possible connection with the Father; that the Word and God aren’t identical, but they are one.3 That oneness between God and the Word is expressed in the phrase and the Word was God. Everything that can be said about God can also be said about the Word. There is no distinction, in essence, between God and the Word; they are both equal and equally to be honored, adored, and worshipped.

John tells us:

All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

In Genesis we read that the Word of God was the means through which God accomplished His acts of creation as He spoke creation into being:

God said, “Let there be light … Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters … Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together … Let the dry land appear … Let the earth sprout vegetation … Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens ... Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures … Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds … Let us make man in our image…”4

The Word of God is God Himself in His creative action.5 All of creation exists because of God Himself acting through His Word.

By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.6

Besides being the agent of creation, the Word is also the source of true life.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men.7

The Gospel of John then tells us the most amazing thing:

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.8

This is what we celebrate at Christmas—that the Word, who existed with God before creation, who lived in face-to-face fellowship with His Father, who participated in the creation of all things, who is self-existent, and who is God the Son, was born as a human being and lived among humanity.

God’s Word, who through creation revealed the magnificence of God, was born into our world to reveal God’s image in our world.

He is the image of the invisible God.9

Because of His relationship and identity with God, there could be no better revealer of the Father than God the Son, as expressed in this Gospel:

No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.10

This point is also made in the book of Hebrews:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.11

When the Gospel of John speaks of the Word dwelling with us, it reflects back on the time in the ancient history of Israel when Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the LORD would speak with Moses. And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.12

The Greek word skenoo, rendered as dwelt in the phrase “dwelt among us,” means “to live in a tabernacle or tent.” As God was present and communed with Moses face to face in the tent of meeting, so was the Word made flesh in Jesus, who came and dwelt among us. Jesus is the Incarnate Son of God sent to uniquely reveal God to humanity.

Jesus said that no one can know the essence of God, but that He came to reveal it, and He could do this because He was at His Father’s side:

No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son—the One who is at the Father’s side—He has revealed Him.13

He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard.14

I speak of what I have seen with my Father…15

Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.16

I and the Father are one.17 

What Jesus saw in the presence of the Father, He communicated to the world. Jesus’ dwelling in our world revealed His Father to humanity in a unique way. What the Father does, Jesus did here on earth.

We read that as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.18 Over and over we read that Jesus gives life, He is life, we have life in His name, and because of this, we will live forever:

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.19

For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. ... I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.20

I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.21

I am the way, and the truth, and the life.22

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.23

As evidence of Jesus having life in Himself, we see Him raise the dead three times: The widow’s son in the village of Nain,24 Jairus’ daughter,25 and Lazarus;26 and then there is His own rising from the dead after three days in the tomb.27

Scripture also makes reference to light in connection with God.

O Lord my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment.28

His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from his hand; and there he veiled his power.29

The Lord will be your everlasting light.30

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.31

Come, let us walk in the light of the LORD.32

As the Incarnate Son, Jesus was also the light.

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.33

I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.34

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.35

Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.36

Within the Old Testament, we read of God showing His love and compassion through healing.

Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, and also healed his wife and female slaves so that they bore children.37

O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.38

I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, declares the Lord.39

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.40

For you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.41

As the Father healed, so did Jesus:

He went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.42

Great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel.43

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.44

Jesus showed compassion, as does His Father:

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.45

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted.46

When he saw the crowds, [Jesus] had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.47

When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.48

As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow … when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her … he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.49

As God miraculously fed the Hebrews with manna in the wilderness, so Jesus multiplied the bread and fish for the 5,000 and the 4,000. As the Father has power over all creation, so Jesus turned water into wine;50 twice caused His disciples to catch enormous amounts of fish;51 rebuked the wind and waters during a storm when He was in a boat with His disciples, and immediately brought about calm;52 and walked on water and invited the apostle Peter to do the same.53

All that Jesus did during His time on earth—the words He spoke, the parables He told, His interaction with people, His confrontations with the religious leaders of the day, the miracles He performed—all of it revealed His Father’s love, care, and concern for humanity. It is through the Incarnate Word, Jesus, that we gain a deeper understanding of God, as well as of His desire to reconcile humanity to Himself. At Christmas, we celebrate that God entered our world for the purpose of making it possible for us to live with Him eternally.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you! ... For you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High … and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”54

The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us! What a wonderful thing to celebrate. May you have a wonderful and joy-filled Christmas.


Note

Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


1 John 1:1–3.

2 Genesis 1:1.

3 R. T. France, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), 68.

4 Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26.

5 Bruce Milne, The Message of John (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 31.

6 Psalm 33:6.

7 John 1:4.

8 John 1:14.

9 Colossians 1:15.

10 John 1:18.

11 Hebrews 1:1–3.

12 Exodus 33:7, 9–11.

13 John 1:18 CSB.

14 John 3:31–32.

15 John 8:38.

16 John 5:19.

17 John 10:30.

18 John 5:26.

19 John 10:10.

20 John 6:33, 35.

21 John 11:25.

22 John 14:6.

23 John 5:21.

24 Luke 7:13–16.

25 Matthew 9:23–25.

26 John 11:41–45.

27 Mark 16:1–15; Matthew 28:1–10, 16–20; Luke 24:1–34; John 20:31, 21:1–25.

28 Psalm 104:1–2.

29 Habakkuk 3:4.

30 Isaiah 60:20.

31 1 John 1:5–7.

32 Isaiah 2:5.

33 John 8:12.

34 John 12:46.

35 John 1:9.

36 Matthew 17:1–2.

37 Genesis 20:17.

38 Psalm 30:2.

39 Jeremiah 30:17.

40 Psalm 107:19–20.

41 Malachi 4:2.

42 Matthew 4:23.

43 Matthew 15:30–31.

44 Acts 10:38.

45 Psalm 103:13.

46 Isaiah 49:13.

47 Matthew 9:36.

48 Matthew 14:14.

49 Luke 7:12–15.

50 John 2:7–11.

51 Luke 5:4–10; John 21:1–11.

52 Matthew 8:23–27; Mark 4:35–41; Luke 8:22–25.

53 Matthew 14:22–33; Mark 6:45–52; John 6:16–22.

54 Luke 1:26–28, 30–35.

 

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