December 19, 2014

Christmas: Something Greater than the Temple is Here

by Mike Riccardi

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
– John 1:14 –

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been considering Christmas according to John, as John gives us a fresh, theological look into the significance of Christmas in the opening of his Gospel. My goal has been to fight against the familiarity of Christmas and cause us to be properly affected by the glory of the incarnation as John presents it, particularly in John 1:14.

Two weeks ago, we looked at how Yahweh dwelt among His people in His tabernacle. Then, last Friday, we considered how the dwelling place of Yahweh is inseparable from His glory. We saw that first in the tabernacle, then in the temple, and finally in Jesus. And so John is proclaiming to his audience that in the same way that the glory which filled the tabernacle and temple were Yahweh’s own self-expression and the manifestation of His presence, so this Jesus is Yahweh’s own self-expression and the manifestation of His presence.

But then John goes beyond even that. “And we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father.” “Only begotten” (Gk. monogenēs) is better translated “unique,” or “One and Only.” And so when John says that this Eternal Word dwelt among us, the glory we saw wasn’t a cloud. It wasn’t a pillar of fire. It was the unique, one-and-only glory of the Father Himself. John presents Jesus, this Word-become-flesh, as the ultimate divine self-expression and the fulfillment of all the tabernacle and temple were. Now, it cannot be mistaken: the glory of the tabernacle and the temple was amazing. But in Jesus, something greater than the temple is here.

John 1:18 says that no one has seen God at any time. Paul tells us He “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Tim 6:16). But Jesus, who is Himself God, has explained the unseen Father (John 1:18). Literally, “He has exegeted” Him. John is announcing that Jesus Christ is the exposition of God the Father. Even Jesus Himself said it to Philip: “If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9). Do you want to know what God is like? Look at Jesus! He is the image—the visible exhibition—of the invisible God (Col 1:15). He is the radiance of the Father’s glory and the exact representation of His nature (Heb 1:3). And in 2 Corinthians 4:6, we are told that the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God shines in the face of Christ!

This, dear friends, is what John wants us to see when we read verse 14.

  • Just as the glory of God appeared in the tabernacle (Ex 40:34–38), so now the fullest expression of God’s glory is in Jesus.
  • Just as everyone who sought God went to the tabernacle (Ex 33:7), so now everyone who seeks God must go to Jesus.
  • Just as the tabernacle was the place of condescension, where God met man (Ex 33:9), so now Jesus is where God condescends and meets man.
  • Just as the tabernacle was the place where God’s people are consecrated for service (Ex 29:43), so now Jesus is where God’s people are consecrated and sanctified.
  • Just as the tabernacle was the place where God spoke to His people (Ex 29:42, 33:9), so now in these last days God has spoken to us in His Son, Jesus.
  • Just as the tabernacle was the place where atonement for sin was made and God’s wrath was propitiated (Ex 29:42, 44), so now Jesus is where atonement is made and is where God’s anger is satisfied.
  • Just as the tabernacle was the place where Israel worshiped God (Ex 33:10), so now the “hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23–24) for they will worship Him in Jesus, and in Jesus alone.

The Gospel of Christmas to the Believer

And so this Christmas, as you meditate on the birth of the baby in the manger, don’t neglect to hear John’s words: that in Jesus, God is tabernacling with men as He did in the wilderness. Grasp the weight of the fact that Christmas is about the God of the universe graciously coming again to dwell in glory among men after He had been absent for 600 years!

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus our Immanuel.

See the Godhead veiled in flesh! See Jesus, our Immanuel, our “God-with-us.” Don’t let these lofty thoughts and considerations of God’s Word be solely an academic exercise that stimulates your intellect. The inseparable connection between God’s dwelling place and His glory is screaming at us that the point of the incarnation—the point of the birth of Jesus—the point of Christmas itself—is that we might behold His glory!

When John says, “We saw His glory,” in verse 14, the word is theáomai in the original. It means “to behold, to contemplate.” One Greek scholar says, “[It is] gazing with a view to satisfy the eye.” We can’t miss this! The reason that the Word has become flesh, the reason that Jesus has tabernacled among us, is so that we might gaze at Him and behold His glory, full of grace and truth. And that by beholding Him in all His glory we might receive from that fullness, grace upon grace (John 1:16).

Christian, receive grace upon grace this Christmas. Look to Jesus and behold His glory, glory as of the One and Only from the Father. Let these truths soak into your soul and satisfy you. Be compelled by these truths to worship Christ by embracing Him, treasuring Him, delighting in Him, following Him, and displaying Him to your family and your friends and your neighbors. Brothers and sisters, receive grace upon grace from your Savior!

The Gospel of Christmas to the Unbeliever

But even as we exult over such glorious things, there is a tragic reality that we’re confronted with. And that is that there are some people reading this who can’t do that. You can’t receive grace upon grace from Jesus Christ, because you haven’t believed in Him. Because when you look at Him you don’t see glory. You don’t see the most beautiful thing that ever was. You look at Him and He seems boring, or mythical and fairy-tale-like, or repulsive, or guilt-inducing, or a killjoy.

You need to be born again.

Because just as we read about the Israelites in 2 Chronicles 36, how God sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on them (2 Chr 36:15)—if you, like Israel, reject the glory of God which has tabernacled among us, and continue to serve your idols of self, money, comfort, and pleasure—then on that last day when Jesus comes to Earth again in glory for judgment, the glory of God will depart from you just as it did from Israel, and you will go into everlasting punishment. Just as sure as Ezekiel’s prophecy of destruction came upon Judah at the hands of Babylon, so will the Word of God come true for destruction upon those who reject His glory, who reject the Savior, Christ the Lord.

You need to be saved.

And the good news is that that is exactly why Jesus came.

Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die!
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth!

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us ultimately so that He might live a perfect life and die on the cross for the sins of His people, that by faith they might behold His glory and receive grace upon grace. And the first grace to receive is the grace of the second birth, the grace of salvation, the grace of forgiveness for your sins.

Just as the Israelites did, you have an opportunity to turn from your sin, to turn from your idolatry, and to worship God alone. And so you, in this day, unbeliever, are bid to come to Christ. This is a day of salvation. Flee to Christ while He may be found. Forsake your sin. Embrace the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6). Receive your Savior.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the One and Only from the Father, full of grace and truth. This is Christmas, dear friends.

This is Christmas.

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • Dan Freeman

    An excellent reminder for us all. Somehow the glorious revelation of God in Jesus can become so familiar to us that we forget its majesty (although I suspect it is the result of perceived familiarity rather than actual familiarity).

    Just a housekeeping note, but I think there is supposed to be a link after “Because just as we read…” rather than bracketed text.

  • I’m not sure why, but comments were closed for a while. Sorry about that!

  • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

    Mike, your love and passion for God is so encouraging to me and is evident in everything you write. It is true, to behold Jesus, to treasure Him and delight in Him is to receive grace upon grace. Reading this was such a blessing to me today. Thank you.

  • Nigel

    Mike – Thank you so much for your posts on this. What a fabulous reminder and a powerful reminder the power of Christ dwelling amoung us. Thanks. Merry Christmas.

  • brad

    Good stuff! Thanks Mike!

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