While I was in college I spent two summers working at a camp in Branson, Missouri called Kanakuk. It’s been thirty years, but I still have so many wonderful memories of my time at camp. At K-2, the camp I worked at, we had the same kids for 26 days. During our 26 day terms we spent one week on an excursion called, “Wet and Wild.” It was an amazing five days spent canoeing down the Buffalo River, rappelling, and spelunking in caves. I had never done any of the activities that we did while on the trip. It was challenging and designed to help us build trust in one another, to learn to depend on one another.
When the bus delivered us to the camp site for the “wild” portion of our trip, the first thing we did was to pitch our tent. I was in one tent with five of the boys and my co-counselor was in the other tent with our other five boys. Our tents were pitched alongside of the other guys from camp that were on the trip. Each morning we’d get up and head down to a spring, an incredibly cold spring, where we’d wash our faces and jump in as a morning wake-up call before we’d head out for our activities of the day. We called our morning ritual the “polar bear club” because the water was soooo cold!
After a day full of challenging activities we’d head back to the campsite in the evening where we’d cook meals together over an open fire. At night we’d gather around the campfire to hear a lesson from God’s Word and then we’d go back to our tents and talk about life in relation to the lesson we had just heard. I learned that God can do some amazing things in people’s lives when they pitch their tent together.
In our lesson for today, found in John 1:14-18, we can discover an amazing truth—God has pitched His tent right in the middle of humanity. Let’s read our Scripture for today.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.'”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:14-18 NIV)
The very first sentence of our Scripture for today is startling. The first thing we need to notice is that the “Word” shows up again for the first time since verse 1. Let’s go back, just for a moment, and be reminded of the Word. John writes,
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. (John 1:1-2 NIV)
“The Word” is none other than Jesus. He was in the beginning. He is the Pre-existent second Person of the Trinity. He created everything that has ever been and sustains everything that is to this very moment. John tells us that He was “with God” and “the Word was God.” That is what we learned about the Word, Jesus, several weeks ago.
Now today, John makes one of the most startling of all statements when he writes in verse 14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” The reason this is such a startling statement is because John tells us that the Pre-existent One took on “flesh,” He became one of us. For John to use the Greek word, “????” (sarx), which is translated “flesh” in your Bible, is teetering on the verge of scandalous. Let me explain to you why. Oftentimes in the New Testament this word is used to describe our sin nature. Paul uses the same word when he wrote to the folks in Ephesus. Turn with me to Ephesians 2:3.
3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. (Ephesians 2:3 NIV)
Paul uses the same word again in his letter to the folks in Galatia. In this instance he is giving the brothers and sisters great insight into how to avoid giving in to the desires of the flesh, our sin nature. Paul writes,
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. (Galatians 5:16-17 NIV)
This Greek word was not used exclusively to describe our sin nature. It was also used to describe our physical being. Let me give you an example. In Matthew 16:17, Jesus responded to Peter’s great confession that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Read the Scripture with me.
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. (Matthew 16:17 NIV)
As I said, “flesh,” wasn’t used exclusively as a description for our sin nature, but it was used enough that it sure would have been easier, cleaner, to choose another word to describe the Incarnation, God becoming a human being. And yet, John chose this word intentionally. Jesus really became one of us. This was important for John to make as clear as possible because of the ideas that were circulating in his day. There’s no doubt that the main group John had in mind when he penned these words was a group called, “Docetists.” They believed that spirit was good and the material world, or flesh, was evil. John MacArthur writes,
Accordingly, they argued that Christ could not have had a material (and hence evil) body. They taught instead either that His body was a phantom, or an apparition, or that the divine Christ spirit descended upon the mere man Jesus at His baptism, then left Him before His crucifixion. (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: John. pg. 40.)
God wanted you and me to know that Jesus became one of us, really, truly, just like you and me, except He never sinned. This is why the Spirit of God moved John to write, “The Word became ‘flesh,’ not ‘man,’ not ‘took on a body,’ but ‘flesh.’” The writer of Hebrews makes this so clear when he writes, in Hebrews 2:14-17.
14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil– 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:14-17 NIV)
What does it mean to be human? To be human is to love and to be loved, to gain and to lose, to smile with the graces that invade our hearts and lives, to be moved with compassion with the trials and heartaches of others, and to feel the tears of brokenness seep through the cracks and trace a line down our cheeks. To be human is to feel the warm embrace of loved ones and to experience the loneliness of isolation. To be human is to possess a sense of justice, to long for something more than what we’re experiencing in this life, and to recognize that there’s something unmistakably, undeniably gone wrong in the world, our community, and even within me. There’s no person who has ever lived, who more fully lived, than Jesus. There’s nobody that has ever lived who has experienced the heights of what it means to be human, as well as the depths of what it means to be human, like Jesus. The writer of Hebrews tells us,
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15 NIV)
We are prone to accent and emphasize the divinity of Jesus, but we do ourselves no favor by denying the humanity of Jesus. He was not only with us, but He was really, truly one of us. John tells us that He was not only one of us, but He pitched His tent with us. Take a look at the first sentence of John 1:14 once again. John writes, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
I love studying the original languages of God’s Word. I love it because, in being able to study the Bible in its original languages, a world of insight is opened up to us. There can’t be any better example of this than the Greek word for, “dwelling.” The Greek word for “dwelling” is “??????” (skenoo), a verb which literally means, “to live in a tent.” Eugene Peterson, in The Message, his translation of the New Testament, translates the first sentence of John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” (John 1:14a The Message) That’s a pretty profound thought isn’t it?
There are neighborhoods in Oklahoma City where, because of high crime rates, drugs, poorly performing schools, slum lords, and various other factors, folks just don’t want to live. If we heard a rumor that Kevin Durant or Toby Keith or some other high profile person had decided to move into one of these neighborhoods we wouldn’t believe it. There’s just no way! I can tell you something even more unbelievable and yet God’s Word tells us it actually took place. Jesus moved into our neighborhood. He chose to leave the glorious surroundings of Heaven and He pitched His tent right smack dab in the middle of the brokenness and the messiness of humanity. That is mind boggling!
Let me share something equally mind boggling with you. This Greek word that we are taking a look at is used in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. When God led the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt, He guided them in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. (Exodus 13:21-22) The Lord led His people and then, in Exodus 25:8-9, God told Moses to have the people make a “sanctuary” or “tabernacle” or “tent” for His presence. The word used for “tabernacle” in verse 9 is the noun form of the Greek verb we’ve been taking a look at where we learned that Jesus pitched His tent among us. Read it with me.
8 “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. 9 Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you. (Exodus 25:8-9 NIV)
God dwelled with His people for those forty years that they wandered through the wilderness. God pitched His tent among His people and, if you’ve read the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy then you know that it wasn’t the best neighborhood. It was messy, full of sin and rebellion, and yet God chose to dwell in the midst of His people. God told Moses, “Make Me a place so that I might dwell among you.” Sometimes in the Hebrew Bible the tabernacle is called, “The tent of meeting,” a place where God met with His people.
When the children of Israel made their way into the Promised Land, the dwelling place of God, the tabernacle, was placed at Shiloh, in Samaria. The priests and Levites continued to work at the tabernacle and make their sacrifices day in and day out for about 400 years. God dwelled in the midst of His people.
The tabernacle, or the dwelling place of God, was stolen by the Philistines in battle, then returned by the Philistines to Kiriath Jearim, just 8 miles outside of Jerusalem, where it stayed for 70 years. Then it was taken to Nob for a while and then later to Gibeon, about 10 miles northwest of Jerusalem, where it stayed until Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem.
When Solomon finished building the temple, they moved the Ark into the Holy of Holies, the musicians and the singers were praising God, and we are told that “the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud,” and then we read,
14 and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple of God. (2 Chronicles 5:14 NIV)
“The glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.” The glory of the Lord, the Lord’s presence, filled the temple, and then we read that Solomon spoke.
1 Then Solomon said, “The LORD has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud; 2 I have built a magnificent temple for you, a place for you to dwell forever.” (2 Chronicles 6:1-2 NIV)
After almost 400 years of seeing the temple of God in the midst of the people, Solomon’s temple, the dwelling place of God, was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. The dwelling of God was destroyed. Work on the Second Temple began and was completed about 516 B.C., but in 70 A.D. the Romans destroyed it and to this day there has been no temple of God in Jerusalem. You’ve probably seen pictures of Jews praying at a huge wall in Jerusalem. That wall, the Western Wall, is the only thing remaining of the temple destroyed in 70 A.D.
Now, some of you are wondering, “Why is Mike giving us this history lesson? I came to worship, not get a history lesson.” If you’ve been paying attention then you are prepared for possibly one of the greatest moments of worship you’ve ever experienced in your life. Remember, from the time the Hebrews slaves left Egypt until they moved into the Promised Land, God’s presence was with them, God dwelled with His people. If the Jews ever questioned God’s presence with them all they had to do was point to the tabernacle or temple, the visible dwelling place of God. If the tabernacle has been destroyed then what has come of the presence of God? John tells us in John 1:14 that God doesn’t reside in buildings, but He has come to dwell among us in His Son Jesus. That’s not all John is trying to teach us. Read John 1:14 with me one more time.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NIV)
Jesus became one of us, truly one of us. He pitched His tent among us. John says we’ve “seen his glory…” The “glory” that John is describing is the Greek word, “????” (doxa), the splendor, brilliance, excellence, magnificence of God. Once again, in the Septuagint, we read that Moses couldn’t enter into the “tent of meeting” because the glory of the Lord flooded the place. Look at Exodus 40:35-36 with me.
35 Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 36 In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; (Exodus 40:35-36 NIV)
When Solomon finished building the glorious temple of God, we read that the priests couldn’t perform their duties “because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.” (2 Chronicles 5:14) In both of these Scriptures the same Greek word is used to describe Jesus—“We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son…”
Long before the temple was destroyed for the final time in 70 A.D. the glory of the Lord was present on the planet, not in a building made by hands, but in a person and His name is Jesus. Can I show you just one more thing about this glory we’re speaking about this morning?
God had instructed Moses to build the tabernacle as well as all of the things that were to go in the tabernacle, all of the items used for worship. Within the Holy of Holies was the Ark which held the two tablets containing the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s staff that budded, and a jar of manna. The lid of the Ark, which was called the Mercy Seat, was made of pure gold. On each end of the Mercy Seat was a golden Cherubim and their faces constantly looked down upon the Mercy Seat. They were symbols of the presence and holiness of God. Each year, on the Day of Atonement, Aaron would enter into the Holy of Holies and sprinkle the blood of a spotless lamb on the Mercy Seat, the place where God dealt with the sins of His people. Can you imagine what that day was like for the people of God? They were people just like us. They were people who were mired in their sins, weighed down by the things they had done and the things they had failed to do that they knew they should, and people who did everything imaginable to try to alleviate their guilt. It had to have been a powerful experience to watch Aaron, or later High Priests, enter into the Holy of Holies to make atonement for their sin, my sin and your sin. The only problem was that the High Priest had to keep doing it over and over, each and every year he had to go to the Mercy Seat on the behalf of God’s people. But wait a minute. What about the destruction of the temple? The Holy of Holies was destroyed, the Mercy Seat was no more after 70 A.D., so what were the people to do?
Long before the Romans destroyed the temple, the spotless Lamb of God appeared to take away the sins of the world—your sins and my sins. He is the Mercy Seat of God, the One who at Calvary’s Cross brought together the sins of humanity and the grace of God once and for all time. The writer of Hebrews tells us,
11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:11-14 NAS)
Jesus is the Presence of Almighty God who has pitched His tent among us, offered His life for us, and now, through the Holy Spirit, resides within each and every person who knows Him as Lord and Savior. Won’t you invite Him this very morning to pitch His tent in your heart? Won’t you come to the Mercy Seat of God? Many believe that the Mercy Seat has been lost. Though people have searched for it for years and years they still haven’t found it. Let me assure you that the Mercy Seat isn’t lost–He is here this very morning and He is waiting for you to come. Won’t you come?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
June 9, 2013