The Ministry of John the Baptist and the Incarnation -- Joh_1:6-14
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
We have seen already that Jesus is the Eternal Word, one with the Father from all past ages; that, when everything that ever began to be came into existence, He was already there. He did not begin to be, He was. He was the Word. He was with God. He was God, and He was the Son in the beginning with God. He never underwent any change in His personality. He was the Son from all eternity even as He was the Son before all creation. “All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made” (Joh_1::3). Has that really gripped our hearts? Do we realize that the One who hung on the cross was the Creator of the earth?
I think people often misunderstand the sacrifice He made because they do not apprehend who it was that made it. Dr. W. P. McKay, in his book Grace and Truth, tells how, on one occasion, after preaching the Word and setting forth the truth, a lady came up to him and said, “I can’t accept that.” “You can’t accept what?” asked Dr. McKay. “Well, what you were telling us, that God allowed an innocent man to die for guilty men. That wasn’t right. It wasn’t righteous that guilty men should be saved in that way.” He said, “Madam, you have misunderstood the whole meaning of the gospel. The gospel is not that an innocent Man died for guilty men. The first declaration of the gospel is that God became Man. The One who had been sinned against in divine grace became Man that He might die for His creatures’ sin. On the cross we do not see an innocent Man dying for guilty men; we see the offended God giving Himself, taking our humanity, in order that the guilt of His creatures might be taken away.” “But is that righteous?” “Madam,” he replied, “it is love. It is infinite love that led Him to give Himself for us.” That is the clear teaching of the gospel of John. He who died upon the cross was the Creator of all things. He was the One who had been wronged, sinned against by the creature, and yet when man could find no way to put his record right or to escape judgment, He came in grace to deliver those who put their trust in Him.
Now in Joh_1:6 we enter into the story of the incarnation. First, our attention is directed to His forerunner. “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John” (Joh_1:6). How often that has been true throughout the centuries! When God has called out a man to carry the gospel to a lost people, how frequently He has taken a man named John! In the Bible we have John the Baptist, the apostle John, and John Mark. Since then there have been many Johns whom the Lord called out to proclaim His Word. When we come down to the days of the Reformation we have John Knox and John Calvin, and later on in the great revival of the eighteenth century, we have John Wesley sent from God to preach to those who knew nothing of the assurance of salvation. I think one reason there are so many Johns is because the name appeals to the people of God.
You know what John means. It signifies “the grace of Jehovah,” “the grace of the Lord.” John came to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. He occupied a very unique place in Scripture testimony. We read, “The law and the prophets were until John” (Luk_16:16). From that time the kingdom of God was preached, a kingdom of grace and truth. John was the last of the prophets, and he was the first herald of the new dispensation. The Lord Jesus Christ says that of those born of women there was not anyone greater than John. In what sense was John the greatest born of women? Because it was given to him, not only to prophesy of, but actually to welcome the Christ-to baptize Him in token of His identification with those for whom He came to die. As the baptizer of the Lord Jesus and as the proclaimer of “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (Joh_1:29), John had the highest place among all the prophetic brotherhood. Not one of them had the privilege that was given to him. Notwithstanding, Jesus tells us, “He that is least in the kingdom of [God] is greater than he” (Mat_11:11). What does He mean by that?
Well, it was given to John to call men to repentance in order to set up the kingdom of God here on earth. He opened the door to others, but he was not permitted to enter in himself. Nevertheless, he had a very unique place in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ. “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice” (Joh_3:29). John was the Bridegroom’s friend and rejoiced in the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. He rejoiced in the glorious work that He was to accomplish and the greatness that was to be His. He said, “I am not the Messiah, I am simply the Bridegroom’s friend.” What a wonderful privilege that was! And there was never a humbler, less exalted servant of God than John the Baptist. When they questioned him as to his identity, he never exalted himself. When any demanded his credentials, he said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, [Prepare ye] the way of the Lord” (Joh_1:23).
You cannot see a voice, you can only hear it. John did not want them to become occupied with him. It was his delight simply to exalt the One whose herald he was, and in this John becomes the example for every servant of God. We are all too prone to want people to be occupied with us. We like to be thought well of, and it hurts us a bit if people misunderstand us and speak unkindly. But all that was out of John’s thoughts. He was not concerned about himself if only Christ could be glorified. The apostle Paul was one who entered into that spirit. His only concern was that Christ might be magnified, either by life or by death, and that was the special purpose of John the Baptist-”a man sent from God” (Joh_1:6).
It is a great thing when God lays hold of a man and says, “I want you to go on My errand.” I am quite sure He put His hand upon me when I was fourteen years old. He said, “I have saved your soul. I want you to go forth to preach My gospel.” What a joy it has been for fifty years, through good and evil, to proclaim that glad message! Sometimes a man goes on for a number of years before God puts His hand on him. Saul of Tarsus was a mature man, beyond thirty years of age, when the blessed Lord appeared to him on the Damascus road and said, “I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness… delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom I now send thee” (Act_26:16-17).
He came to Peter when he was a man in the fishing business. He said, “Peter, leave your fish behind, and I will make you a fisher of men.” He came to Matthew when he sat at the publican’s desk. Someone has said that Matthew was probably the man who taught Peter to swear. Matthew was a Roman tax collector and he was a Jew, putting heavy taxes upon his own people. Every time Peter brought in a boat-load of fish it was Matthew’s business to go down and say, “Give me twenty percent of those fish.” I can imagine Peter and Matthew wrangling over the selection the government was to have, and Peter cursing and swearing because of the tax collector’s exactions! But the Lord came to Matthew the publican, and said, “Follow Me.” Matthew left the tax collector’s desk for good, and was chosen to write the first gospel.
I wonder if there is anyone reading these lines to whom God is speaking? Often in the still hours of the night you may have heard a voice saying, “I want you as My servant, as My missionary. I want you to work for Me in some special way.” Are you saying, “Here am I, [Lord]; send me” (Isa_6:8)? Do not be afraid to yield to Him. Some day people will say of you, “There was a man, or a woman, sent from God.” It was true of John, and he is going to get his reward for heeding the call when he stands at the judgment seat of Christ.
Now John came as a witness. That is what every minister should be-a witness. A witness does not tell the things he thinks, but the things he knows. He came as a witness-to bear witness of the Light. Does light need a witness? Yes, in a dark world like this, where men are blind. They cannot see, and they need a witness to the fact that light has come. John knew that the world was blind and he came to tell men of the Light. The wonderful thing was this: when men received and believed the message, they lost their blindness and were able to see. They beheld Christ, the Light, “that all men through him might believe” (Joh_1:7).
Who was the Light? Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. “That was the true Light.” And while we are at this point, let me draw your attention to a slightly different rendering of this verse. Here we read, “That was the true Light.” Oh, there are so many false lights. There are so many false, flickering lights that men follow to their ruin. “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (Joh_1:9). What does that mean? Does Christ give spiritual light to every man that comes into the world? Well, partly. He does give light through our consciences, and yet, I think there is more than that involved in this text. I believe it is really this: “That was the true Light, which, coming into the world, casts light on every man.” That is, it is not light in man, but light shining on man. I mean this, the Lord Jesus Christ came into a world made up of wickedness-made up of sinful men who rolled sin as a sweet morsel under their tongues. He came as the only holy Man that ever walked this earth, and as He walked in and out among men all other men were shown up in contrast. He cast light on every man.
I wonder if among my readers there is someone who has been saying to himself, “I don’t need this gospel. I am not a great sinner. I haven’t killed anybody. I haven’t robbed. I don’t curse and swear. I am not a sinner.” Wait a minute, my friend! Will you come and stand alongside of the Lord Jesus Christ? There you have Man in perfection. How does your life compare with His? How does your spirit, your words, and your way of looking at things compare with His? Oh, when we stand alongside of Him, He casts light on us, and that light shows up all our spiritual and moral deficiencies. “That was the Light which, coming into the world, casts light on every man.”
The law was given to one nation and one people. Amos calls it a plumb line, by which all crookedness could be detected. He has in mind the building of a wall. One looks at it and says, “That wall is not straight.” The builder resents this, but when he takes a plumb line and drops it down by the wall, it manifests its imperfection.
Here is a man who claims to be perfect and God says, “Test him by My law and you will find that he is crooked.” Scripture says that if a man will “keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (Jam_2:1). But Jesus answered its every claim; He met its every demand. “In him is no sin” (1Jn_3:5). “He… knew no sin” (2Co_5:21). “[He] did no sin” (1Pe_2:22). That is what man should be for God. When you take your place beside Him, at once all your imperfection is shown up. He casts light upon you.
“That is the true Light which, coming into the world, casts light on every man.” Well, has He only come to show up my sin? Has He only come to make manifest my imperfection? No, indeed. He must make me first see my need, but it is only that He may reveal Himself as my Savior!
“He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not” (Joh_1:10). Not one of His fellow townsmen dreamed that God Himself had come down to dwell among them.
I remember as my wife and I were walking down the streets of Nazareth we were appalled by the dirt and filth-the unclean children playing about the open sewers running down both sides of the street. As we were walking along, my wife began to weep. The tears were running down her cheeks. I said, “Why, my dear, what is the matter? Are you ill?” “Oh, no,” she said. “But I was thinking of Mary and Jesus-Mary bringing up her holy Child in a place like this, for it must have been even worse then than it is now.” You know how many Oriental cities are, vile and terrible. Some of you think you have smelled terrible things in America, but unless you have visited certain places in the Orient, you haven’t smelled anything yet! But Jesus grew up amidst all the filth and vileness like a pure white lily coming up from the muddy contaminated water at the bottom of the lake. Jesus, the pure; Jesus, the holy One. He was in the world and the Creator of all things, and they “knew him not” (Joh_1:10). He made their tables and chairs and fitted in the doors and windows into their houses, and nobody realized that it was God Himself walking among them until by-and-by He went to the cross and died for our sins. They laid him away in the tomb, and on the third morning He burst the bands of death and arose in triumph. He is never to be humiliated again. He is the Head of the new creation-of those who have trusted Him and are one with Him in resurrection life.
“He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (Joh_1:11). The first “His own” is in the neuter; the second is personal. We might read, “He came unto His own things, and His own people did not receive Him.” Yes, He came into His own world. He created this world. He came into the world His hands had made. He came to His own country, His own city, the city of Jerusalem. He came to His own temple-”In thy sanctuary, every whit of it uttereth his glory,” said David. He came unto His own things, but His own people, the Jews, the people who had been waiting for Him presumably for all those hundreds of years, did not recognize Him and they “received him not.”
Have you received Him? There were those who heard Him speaking and they opened their hearts to Him. “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (Joh_1:12). We have the whole truth of the way of salvation right here, so far as our part is concerned. God has set Him forth a Prince and a Savior, and when we receive Him we become His. Do you say, “How may I avail myself of His saving grace?” Here you have it. “As many as received him.” To receive Him is to trust Him, to open your heart to Him. Have you received Him? “As many as received him.” Do not make a difficulty out of that which is so simple. God has used the plainest possible terms. Jesus says, “Come unto me,… and I will give you rest” (Mat_11:28). Believe on Me, and you will have eternal life. Look to Me, and you will be saved. Receive Me, and I will make you My own. To receive Him, throw the heart’s door wide and He will come in. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Rev_3:20).
There is a beautiful gospel song that says, “You must open the door.” You must open the door. Jesus will not force His way in. Will you open the door? Will you let Him in? At this very moment you can bow your head, open your heart, and say, “I want You to come in and be Lord of my life.” Won’t you receive Him? “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God.” You see, men are not God’s children by natural birth. Jesus said to a certain group of His day, “Ye are of your father the devil” (Joh_8:44), and of all who are saved the apostle says, “[Who were at one time] children of wrath” (Eph_2:3). We are born of sinful flesh. In order to become children of God we need to be regenerated. “As many as received Him.” To receive Him is to believe in His name, to take Him at His word. It is to trust Him. Do not try to make a great mystery of faith. Faith is simply putting your “Amen” to what God says. We receive the witness of men. Some man comes to us in whom we have confidence. We believe what he tells us. We receive the witness of men. Very well, God has given us His witness concerning His Son. Do you receive His testimony into your heart? Would you dare make God a liar by refusing to believe the testimony He has given concerning His Son?
Notice what is said of those who believe in His name: “[To] as many as received him, to them gave he [the] power [“or authority”] to become the [children] of God.” There are three ways by which you cannot become a child of God.
First, “which were born, not of blood” (Joh_1:13 a). That means that even if your parents were two of the best Christians that ever lived, they cannot give you divine life. They cannot communicate their new nature to you. It is only God who can do that. You are not a child of God by blood.
Second, “nor of the will of the flesh” (Joh_1:13 b). You cannot simply make yourself a Christian by your own will: “It is not of him that willeth, or of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy” (Rom_9:16). Here is a man who says, “Well, I haven’t any employment, so I will become a soldier.” He finds that he must have a uniform, so he goes to an outfitting shop and buys the uniform. He comes down the street wearing it and imagines he is a soldier. We may inquire, “How did you become a soldier?” “Well, I put on a uniform, and I am a soldier.” Does that make him a soldier? Certainly not. He must be enlisted. No man can become a Christian by simply saying, “From now on, I am a Christian.” That does not make you a Christian. You must come to God as a sinner and receive Christ. He will make you a Christian. He will give you new life. It is not just by trying to be better but by letting God make of you a new creature.
Third, “nor of the will of man” (Joh_1:13 c). No one on earth can make you a Christian. People imagine some minister or priest can make Christians of them by baptism or sacraments. But these cannot save you. “Ye must be born again” (Joh_3:7). “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” God alone produces that new life in the soul of every believer in His blessed Son.
Now the last verse in this section: “And the Word was made flesh” (Joh_1:14). That is not the best translation. Actually, as we have remarked already, the Word was never made anything. The Word became flesh. Link that up with the first verse, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” “And the Word became flesh.” He who was one with the Father from all eternity became Man. It means He took upon Him our humanity, body and soul and spirit. He became a Man, and yet He was God, “and dwelt among us.” The word dwelt might be rendered “tabernacled” among us. Of old God dwelt in the tabernacle in the wilderness. Now He has been manifested in His Son. “The Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us, and we beheld his glory,” the divine glory shining out. John lived with Him, walked with Him, prayed with Him. He saw in His holy life “the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
These words were written by one who knew Jesus practically all His life. He was related to Him by natural ties, and he must have known Him when He was growing up there in Nazareth. One of the earliest church historians tells us that John was an adolescent when Christ called him to be a fisher of men. He spent three-and-a-half years of most intimate fellowship with Jesus, and he was the one who leaned on Jesus’ breast at the last supper. He was probably about ninety years of age when he wrote this book, and as he looked back over the years he says, “We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” That revelation he shares with us as he pens these wonderful chapters.