The Game Changer of Flesh–John 1:14

John gospel iconThe 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
Recently, I went to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art with my 1st-grade grandson Uri’s class field trip. Although I really didn’t see that experience coming, you have not lived until you’ve tried to shepherd a bunch of 1st-grade boys through a museum. Early in our visit, we found ourselves in a room full of Baroque paintings, many of them portraying Biblical subject matter. I tried and failed to get the boys interested in a rather lurid image of the beheading of John the Baptist.
Then I heard a voice ring out at a level decidedly above that appropriate for an art museum. “Hey, that’s God!”
I looked to my left and saw a painting that portrayed a group of soldiers and henchmen crowning Jesus with thorns. “That’s Jesus,” I pointed out, not exactly correcting the boy.
“Yes, that’s God. Jesus is God.”
This boy’s mother happened to be the other adult in our group of six energetic boys. She found herself caught in the same slightly awkward spot as I did. Apparently she agreed with her son’s identification, but the matter was slightly more complex than he was making it. On the other hand, she recognized that this room at the art museum was not the place for an in-depth exploration of the theology of incarnation.
The idea of a deity taking on human flesh is not completely unique to Christianity. In Greek myth, gods and goddesses were constantly popping up in human form attempting to seduce a genuine human or to impart some bit of knowledge. The distance between Greek god and man, however, was not all that immense. Zeus, after all, was not the creator of the universe. He didn’t even create the world.
When the Word takes on flesh, things are different. Jesus suffered through 33 years of human life, 33 years of smelly, petty, stupid, selfish people. Long before a few hours of arrest and trial, beating and crucifixion, Jesus suffered in the flesh in ways that make my field trip with Uri seem trivial.
I have written elsewhere that Easter and the resurrection of Jesus changed everything. That’s true, but in reality, the first game changer came when the Word became flesh, when God wrote Himself into the drama of human existence

Talking to Ourselves–Mark 1:35

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

 In the various movies of recent decades in which God has made an on-screen appearance–I’m thinking here of George Burns in Oh God and Morgan Freeman in Bruce Almighty–we discover among the rather commonplace morality that Hollywood can espouse the inevitable oddities of language that would naturally follow when God himself speaks. When George Burns is sworn in to court, he finishes the oath by saying, “So help me me.” You have to wonder if God, in their mind, would text “OMM.” But then how can an omniscient God be sufficiently surprised to want to text such a thing?

Obviously, those who write such scripts either never read or didn’t pay close attention to Job. Somehow the smug Morgan-Freeman God doesn’t quite seem like the one who asked, “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” If those writers were creating a scene surrounding Jesus in today’s verse, they’d have something like this:

Peter: Hey Jesus, what are you doing out here?

Jesus: Just talking to myself.

Peter: Whoa! That sounds crazy. Next thing you know you’ll claim to be God!

Happily, they haven’t written that script, but the question does arise: If Jesus is, as we claim, God Incarnate, then why does he need to go out and pray to himself? Like the trivial oddities of language that the oh-so-clever Hollywood writers deploy in their comedies, the oddities that come when you suggest a character as fully man and fully God simply demand attention.

In reality, I can’t understand the behavior or plumb the thoughts of my own wife after 30 years of marriage. How could I ever hope to understand the God-Man in all his complexity. Answer? I can’t. But I do observe that Jesus, “being in very nature God,” did roll out of bed early in the morning and head out to pray. Perhaps he need the prayer time to keep him from simply obliterating the petty and self-serving people who claimed to be his biggest fans!

This morning, I rolled out of bed with the alarm, went immediately to the bathroom and performed my morning routine. What I did not do was brave the chill to spend a few minutes in prayer. You’d think, needing it so much more than Jesus did, I would follow his lead more carefully, but I didn’t. How about you?

Split Identity (Hebrews 1:6-8)

And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.” But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.” (Hebrews 1:6-8)

There’s an entire genre of movies and TV shows involving people traveling back in time or being magically transmogrified into a younger or different version of themselves or somesuch. One well known example of this is the Back to the Future films, but dozens of others exist. One feature that is virtually required in such a film is a moment where the changed character nearly blows his or her cover by referring to somebody by the wrong term. For example, in the first Back to the Future, Marty nearly blows it by referring to George McFly as “Dad.”

In real life, where time travel and body-jumping don’t exist, we don’t often make these sorts of mistakes. For example, in twenty-nine years of marriage, I don’t believe I’ve ever called my wife “Mom.” Why then, does God seem to forget not only who he’s addressing but who he himself is in these verses. Look carefully.

In verse six, God is the proud father, commanding the angels to worship his firstborn, the incarnate Jesus. Several times in the gospels, we see God commending Jesus as his Son and commanding people to hear him or otherwise respect him. So far so clear.

But in verse eight, God the father seems to forget himself. He refers specifically to the Son and says, “Your throne, O Son…” But that’s not what the Father says. He says, “Your throne, O God…” The Father speaks to the Son and refers to the latter as “God.” Does God the Father forget that it is he himself who is God? Is God the Father confused? Of course not.

This passage holds one of the great mysteries and marvels of Biblical theology. Not only is Jesus God, existing from (and actuating) the creation of everything, but Jesus is Man, God’s firstborn. By that birth, God enters creation to set right what Man has broken. If that’s not action worthy of worship, I don’t know what is.