WE BEHOLD HIS GLORY
Reading: John ch. 1
John wrote, and we have read the words this morning; “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” The opening sentences of John’s gospel have no parallel in the other gospel records. His words have a profundity that is all their own. In using the word profound to describe them we are not suggesting that they are difficult, that a superior intellect or a high degree of scholarship is necessary to understand them. Certainly not. Only that his words richly deserve our careful and sustained thought, and it is this that we would like to give to them for a while this morning.
When John writes that “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,” he is simply telling us that the purpose of God took shape. It was now no longer just a word written upon a scroll, a promise, a prophecy, a Messianic Psalm, a type; no longer merely the shadow of good things to come but the good things themselves; for “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last clays spoken unto us by his Son,” and this speaking is on a different plane from all that has gone before. Thai which many prophets and righteous men desired to see, that which Abraham rejoiced to see with the eye of faith, and he saw it and was glad, became flesh “and dwelt among us.” “Dwelt.” The word means tabernacled, with all the splendid overtones that the word Tabernacle has for us. The Word became flesh, and pitched his tent among us, the embodiment of God’s will and purpose, the living expression of the goodness of the Father.
It is in this that we come face to face with what is possibly the most important and all-embracing of all the lessons that we have to learn, and it is this: that the Truth of God is a practical, living thing, so much more than a set of principles to be assented to. One writer has said that truth is not a curiosity for the cabinet but a tool in the hand. So what we see perfectly expressed in Jesus must find a measure of expression in us too.
John wrote: “We beheld his glory,” and he is not here speaking of the dazzling brilliance that he had seen upon the mount of Transfiguration; he is speaking of the grace and truth of which the Son of God was full. The Psalmist had foreshadowed: “Grace is poured into thy lips”; and for those who saw him, walked and talked with him during those all too brief years when he was upon earth,that grace issued forth as a well-spring of life.
John was one of those earliest of the disciples, the first of many, who heard John the Baptist say of Jesus: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world”. “Behold the Lamb of God”; and the disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. John, then, was among those who followed from the very beginning and who continued with him to the end. These heard and saw the grace and truth which filled the life of the Son of God, he who spoke words of comfort to sorrowing parents: “Fear not, only believe”; who rose from his sleep in the hinder part of the ship and with a word calmed both the storm and the trembling heart: “Peace, be still”; who gave hope to the hopeless: “Hath no man condemned thee?” She said, “No man, Lord.” “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”
These things they beheld as they followed, until at last they learnt with aching hearts that it truly was the Lamb that they were following, and as a lamb they beheld him led to slaughter, as a sheep before her shearers is dumb. The tearful faces of the women who stood afar off from the cross, yet still near enough to behold the grace and truth of God’s only begotten Son in the forgiveness and compassion, the tender care which transcended, even in that bleak hour, his own cup of suffering! Amongst them his own mother, her heart pierced through, as with a sword, with grief for her son; and it was to this same beloved disciple John that the Lord committed his mother: “Woman, behold thy son”; “Son, behold thy mother.” And as John gently helped her away from that sad scene, we see him learning as a true disciple from his Master the simple, practical nature of the Word made flesh and dwelling amongst us, for, we repeat, what we see perfectly expressed in Jesus must find expression in us as well.
Did we not read during the week in the letter to the Ephesians of Jesus as “the head overall things to the ecclesia, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” The apostles understood this, John, Peter, Paul. They knew that, as Paul also wrote elsewhere, they were the collective body of Christ and members in particular. They knew that the fulness of grace and truth that they had beheld in him was not to be confined to the head but the body, too, and all its members must be controlled on the self-same principles. They, too, are the sons of God: not the only-begotten Son, but, as John here writes, they are “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” That is to say, we, His children, the brothers and sisters of Christ, must be different and better than what we would have been without the Truth entering into our lives; different not just in the sense of going to meetings and companying with men and women whom we would not otherwise have companied with, but different in the kind of people we are. Our good qualities ought to become even better and our faults be diminished as a result of our having been born the sons and daughters of God. Even when we are not actually preaching the Truth or engaged in its work specifically, this difference should be apparent. When in the company of unbelievers or wherever, it should be noticeable that we fall silent when the conversation descends to vulgarity, or grumbling, or pettiness, or speaking ill of others behind their backs. Sometimes a silent reproof can be the most effective testimony to our thoughts. The same standards apply no less to our behaviour when we are with our brethren and sisters and when we are supporting the lectures or the exhibitions for the proclamation of the Truth. Our general conduct, whether we are young or old, can be a major influence, can do as much if not more than the words which the lecturing brother may be speaking from the platform.
About three weeks ago a brother and sister received a letter from a lady whom they had been helping to attend the lectures, and this is what she wrote to them: “I am writing to thank you for your help. The more I think about it all, the more convinced I am that this really is the Truth. Jam touched by the humbleness of Christ a deiphians, and by the kindness and gentleness. Gone is the fear and dread of a superhuman monster called the Devil; gone is the idea of Jesus as an angel, but as a man. I hope to be baptized later this year. My life now is becoming a finer feeling. Thank you.”
We see in those lines two strands of thought. There is the beginning of an understanding of those vital doctrines of the Truth, and coupled with that understanding, an appreciation of the kind of people who hold this precious pearl. Whether we as a community are deserving of those kind words of appreciation it is not my purpose to discuss this morning, only to point out that this is how it ought to be. Unbelievers in contact with brethren and sisters will apply and are entitled to apply the criterion which Jesus himself has given: “By their fruits ye shall know them.” One trembles at the thought that we, as the body of Christ, have this standard to live up to, that we are to our generation as it were “the Word made flesh” and it is our task, our responsibility, to reflect what we can of that grace and truth which we have beheld in Jesus. However imperfectly this may be realised in our lives—and no reasonable person will demand or expect from us the perfection that belongs to Jesus alone—yet this has to be our aim.
Again harking back to our readings during the week, this time to Philippians: “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world.” In this fervent endeavour those first disciples are our examples—Simon Peter, Andrew, Philip, Nathaniel and John, those two who heard the words of John the Baptist and followed Jesus. He turned and caught them unawares with a question: “Whom seek ye?” When people are caught off guard they reveal their true selves. They answered him: “Where dwellest thou?” He said, “Come and see.” Those whose involuntary response when they are caught off guard is “Master, where dwellest thou?” have little to fear.
One of them, Andrew, seeks out his brother Simon and tells him the exciting news, “We have found Messiah” and he brings him to Jesus. “Jesus” we read “beheld him.” The word signifies that he looked at him carefully, and Jesus loved what he saw. “I shall call you Cephas.” Not Petra, the great rock on which the ecelesia itself was to be built, but Petros, a small rock. Then there was guileless Nathaniel, an Israelite indeed, called from under the fig tree. These all became followers of the Lamb, disciples of the Lord.
They were not without fault, they sometimes stumbled, but their love, their trust, theirdesire never wavered. They were as it were the firstfruits, the beginnings of a mighty harvest of disciples, amongst whom, in process of time,we each have been privileged to become. We are subject to the same care and love of the Master that they were. Jesus, as a Shepherd, knows us each one by name. He sees us from afar, under the fig tree as it were—the resort of all true Israelites. He knows our involuntary words, whether our faith has in it anything of the quality of the rock, whether our words and our characters are without guile, and if our inmost questing thought is “Master, where dwellest thou?”
In the last of his inspired writings the apostle John draws together the strands which he has presented to us in this 1st chapter of his gospel. He foresees the end of that discipleship which began in so quiet a way on the banks of the Jordan; and so at the end he sees this vision of the redeemed and he describes them: “These are they which follow the Lamb with rsoever he goeth,” who followed him in tribulation, who stood at the foot of the cross, who have met weekly around his Table. They have followed the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. “These are.. . the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth (Nathaniel-like) is found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.”
In this splendid vision of the future the Word of God which was from the beginning has fulfilled its course. It has not returned unto Him void but has accomplished that whereunto He has sent it, and the Word in that day is proclaimed: “It is done.” “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will pitch his tent with them, and they shall be his people, and he shall be, God with them.” “And the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”:—J. M. Evans