Have you ever considered how powerful a promise is? In my opinion, a promise is the single greatest test of a person’s character. Children know this instinctively! All you have to say to a child is “maybe” or “we’ll see” and what do you get if you fail to follow through with what they want? “But you promised!” Because they know that’s the best challenge to a person’s integrity. One further thing a promise reveals is what you’re willing to sacrifice to keep your word to those you love. For example, let’s say you promise to take your wife out to dinner on her birthday only to remember that’s the same night as your office Christmas party. So now what do you do? Keep your promise and risk the wrath of your boss or break yet another promise to your wife? That’s why I say, “The greatest test of our character is what we promise and whether or not we keep our promises.”
Now for the greatest promise God ever made His children. Revelation 21:3 guarantees: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’” Why is this the Bible’s greatest promise? Because it reverses everything we lost because of sin! In the beginning, the Bible says, man and woman walked with God is a garden paradise called Eden. But then they doubted His goodness, rejected His authority, broke His commandment, and if you have read the following chapters of Genesis or seen much of life at all, you know the results—marital strife, sibling rivalry, envy, hatred, murder, death and most serious of all, the loss of God’s companionship and blessing.
And yet, God did not abandon us. He promised that one day He Himself would come and restore everything we’d lost because of sin, most important of which is His presence in our lives. That’s what we find fulfilled in the passage before us this Christmas. John 1:14 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” In this study, I want to help us understand three aspects of the phrase, “made his dwelling among us.” I will do that by explaining the meaning, the challenge, and the promise contained in this verse.
The meaning of this phrase is wrapped up in the word “dwelling.” Some of you may see an alternate translation of this word in the margin of your Bible. It could read, “and made His tabernacle among us.” The word is skeine meaning a tent or tabernacle. It’s the same word we read in Revelation 21:3—“Now the tabernacle (skeine) of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.” John uses this word intentionally taking us back to that miraculous time in Israel’s history when God saved His people out of Egypt and then led them through the wilderness in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Then, having gathered them together as His own special people, what did He do next? Build a tabernacle making His presence among them visible! Because as Moses said to Him, “Lord, if your presence does not go with us, we don’t want to go anywhere!” Isn’t that how you feel about it as well? If I don’t have the assurance of God’s presence, I don’t have the courage to go anywhere!
But then the Tabernacle wasn’t an end in itself. Both it and later the Temple were the more glorious places on earth! But they were meant to be more than that. They were signposts pointing to something greater to come, and that’s the presence of God in Jesus His Son. As the angel said to Joseph when announcing Mary’s pregnancy, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin shall be with child and give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.’” Mark Lowry sums it up beautifully in his Christmas song, “Mary, Did You Know?” (Click the box below to see the words and hear the song sung by Cee Lo Green.)
Mary was the first to recognize who her baby was, and remembering the Scriptures, the words of the angel, and seeing how perfect He was in every way, how could she not know who He was? But then others began to see it also, slowly at first—the religious teachers when He visited the temple at age 12, John the Baptist when he saw the Spirit descend on Him like a dove, and His disciples, who wondered at first, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” but after listening to His words, seeing the miracles He performed, feeling His mercy and grace, they too began to realize, “When I’m with Jesus, I’m with God!”
The Apostle John, who also wrote 1 John, added this about Him there, “The One who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen with our eyes and touched with our hands, He is the Word of Life. This One who is Life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen Him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that He is eternal life. He was with the Father and was then revealed to us. We proclaim to you what we have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.” Jesus Christ the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us so that we could experience the eternal life and joy that come from His presence. But of course not everyone has that reaction to him. The presence of Christ has always presented both a challenge and a choice to those who encountered Him—
Listen to how John puts it just a few verses earlier in John 1:10. Referring to Jesus, he says, “He was in the world, and though the world was made by him, the world did not recognize him.” For if they had, Paul says in 1 Corinthians chapter 2, “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” Furthermore, John 1:11 says, “He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.” Who does that refer to? Israel! For even though a small minority received Him as Messiah, the majority rejected Him shouting to Pilate, “Crucify Him! We have no king but Caesar!” The final conflict came when He visited Jerusalem and found money changers defiling the Temple. So He drove them out saying, “My house shall be house of prayer but you have made it a den of thieves.” And it says, “When the chief priests and scribes heard this, they began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.”
I read that and I say to myself: What if Jesus came to our temple today? Would He commend or correct us? You see, what Jesus always presents us with is a choice of two kingdoms—the kingdom of self built on ambition, pride, covetousness, competition, backbiting, and bitterness or the kingdom of Christ which calls us to righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit. It’s imperative to contrast the two because the truth is: There’s a lot of easy-believism going around these days where we’re told that all we have to do is bow our heads, say a quick prayer, and we get an eternal life insurance policy that protects us from hell and gets us into heaven regardless of how we live, and the Bible doesn’t says that. The Bible says there are two things we need to get into heaven—not only faith in Jesus, but also repentance toward God. Mark 1:14 says, “After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
What does it mean to repent? Let me illustrate it from the life of Lord Nelson, the British admiral, who soundly defeated the French navy and had the enemy commander brought before him. Knowing of Nelson’s graciousness, the man walked right up to him and stuck out his hand, expecting to be treated like a fellow officer. Nelson looked at his hand and then he looked at the man and firmly ordered, “Sir, first your sword, then your hand.”
That’s what it means to repent and believe in Jesus. It not only means trusting His grace to forgive you; it also means laying down your arms and surrendering your life to His authority, which isn’t to say you have to clean up your life before you come to Him, because what Jesus cares about is what’s hidden in our hearts, and only He can do anything to change that, and the way He does it is through repentance and faith. So ask yourself: Is that how I came to Jesus? Did I lay down my arms and surrender my life to Him? And if you aren’t sure your repentance was real, the way to make sure is by surrendering to Him today, for while salvation lasts forever, if it’s real, the way to prove it’s real is by repenting again today. That’s the meaning and challenge of God’s presence. Finally, listen to the promise of His presence in John 14:23 because what was true of Israel in the wilderness and even more so of the disciples in the days of His ministry on earth, is now available to us in a measure never before imagined.
John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us,” but listen to what he adds in John 14:21. Jesus says, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father and I too will love him and show myself to him.’ Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, ‘But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?’ Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.’” The promise is if we’ll repent and continue to submit to His Kingship in our lives, then Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will come and make our hearts their home, and then it’ll literally be Christmas—Christ born in us every day.
That’s my invitation as I close this study. Open your heart to Jesus this morning even if you’ve done so many times before. Do it again today. Every day presents a new need and reason to give your life to Him. Say or sing the following prayer with me to make this your merriest Christmas and happiest New Year yet! (Click the box to hear the prayer and song.)