The Word of God: Written, Eternal, and Incarnate

Three times in the first verse of John’s gospel, the beloved disciple speaks of the Word, “the Logos.”  It is quickly seen that this name or title describes Jesus.  John 1:14 unmistakably unites the eternal Word with the babe born in the manger.  But why does John use this term?  What does Logos or the “Word” mean?  Today, we will examine this term in brief to help us better understand the son born of Mary, who was eternally the Son of God.

The Word (Logos)

John uses a word that would have been familiar to his hearers.  Interpreters of John have pointed to all kinds of influences: Greek philosophy (Stoicism), Jewish theology (Philo), or mystery religions (Gnosticism).  However, it is speculative that he depended upon any of these other views.  While the idea of the Logos was “trending” in John’s day, it is unlikely that the apostles derived such terms from extra-biblical sources.

Jesus followers were men of the Hebrew Scriptures, who were taught by Jesus how to read the Old Testament (Luke 24), and who were moved by the Spirit (John 14:26).  They were not students of culture, they were not writing for peer-reviewed journals, nor were they attempting anything novel.  They were simply writing for the edification of the saints and proclamation of the gospel.  Thus, the content of their words was the person and work of Christ and its earlier explanation in what we call he Old Testament.  So we should ask, what does the Old Testament say about “the Logos”?

Old Testament

In the Old Testament, the word is a central feature because God does everything by his word.  John Frame, says: “God’s word . . . is involved in everything he does—in his decrees, creation, providence, redemption, and judgment, not only in revelation narrowly defined.  He performs all his acts by his speech” (The Doctrine of God, 472-74).

The quickest glance at just a few verses show this is true.  Some of things that the Word does include the following:

God spoke the world into existenceBy the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host (Ps 33:6)

God’s word effected salvation.  He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction (Ps 107:20)

God’s word governs and energizes all of creation.  He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow and the waters flow.  He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and rules to Israel (Ps 147:18-20).

All together, “the word of God enlivens and kills; it sustains the world humans live in; it never fails in its purpose” (Thomas Schreiner, New Testament Theology, 256).  Thus, two things emerge in Old Testament that inform John’s theology. 

First, the Word is presented as divine. In the Old Testament, we that the word does a number of divine things—it creates, it kills, and it saves.  More than that, it is given divine attributes: eternal (Ps 119:89, 160), perfect (Ps 19:7-11), omnipotent (Gen 18:14; Isa 55:11), life-giving.  Nearly 300 times it is called God’s word. In many ways it is one with God.

Second, the Word is distinct from God.  In the Old Testament, the Word does not fully describe all that God is.  Rather, it is an instrument by which God works (cf. Prov 8:22ff). It is used by God, and sent out by God, and thus is not one and the same with God.  Even as there is unity between God and his word, there is difference.

But this should not come as a surprise.  God’s inscripturated Word is unified.  The Old anticipates the New, and the New depends (i.e. quotes, alludes, echoes, and builds) upon the Old.  Thus, John’s trinitarian theology of the Word in John 1:1 is not a new invention that comes from outside the Scriptures, but comes from the very Scriptures that the eternal Word inspired as he sent the Spirit to the prophets who wrote of his coming.

In the end, John 1:1 is one more evidence of how God’s progressive revelation prepares the way for Jesus Christ.  And how the eternal Word is the incarnate Word is the written Word.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Beware of False Worship (Sermon Notes)

Exodus 32 is a tremendous vision of all that God hates about false worship.  If we pay careful attention, the problem is not absence of worship, but absence of divine sanction. In other words, the problem is not rejection of religion or indifference to worship. The problem is that worship derives its origin from some place other than God himself. This is not too different from the church today.

In an age of creative ventures in worship, the Golden Calf incident is worth our attention, because it provides a powerful counter-example to false forms of Christian worship. And what is most shocking and indicting is the fact that in Exodus 32 we find that false worship looks a lot like true worship, and that only in the light of divine revelation, can we tell the difference.

False Worship Looks A Lot Like True Worship

False religion is so dangerous because of how closely it apes true religion.  It doesn’t come with a surgeon generals warning on it.  In fact, if you use as a resource for getting “good, Christian resources,” beware.  There is no warning for the likes of Osteen, Boyd, Eldredge, Meyer, or Jakes.  Today, too many Christian booksellers make a killing selling false doctrine.

In Exodus 32, we see a number of ways that ancient Israel apes true religion, and how Satan deceives God’s son.

First, while the need for leadership is real, the request is wrong.  Moses has been gone for weeks, and Israel feels its need. So they come to Aaron earnestly; unfortunately, their worry is premature.  The pillar of cloud is still on Mount Sinai.  There is no evidence that it has departed.  They were told that when Moses ascended, he would return and lead Israel to dwell with YHWH.  But like in the garden, Satan plays on the emotions of Israel, and they fall for his temptation.

Second, the worship that Israel offers looks sacrificial.  Here Aaron, failing to guard Israel, like Adam failed to guard his wife, calls for gold to fashion an idol.  And the people give.  They give liberally! It is a major act of spirituality–false spirituality.  Sadly, they miss God’s mark.  Part of God’s plan is for Israel to gather gold, silver, fabrics, etc (Exod 25, 35), thus, what Aaron calls for seems very natural. Sadly, his construction will distance Israel from God, it will not bring them near.  Access to God requires God’s revelation.

We learn something very important here: Sacrifice does not equal spirituality.  Spirituality calls for sacrifice. David says of Araunah’s threshing floor in 1 Sam 2:24, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing”  True spirituality will cost you  (cf. Luke 14:25-33), but just because you offer costly service, does not mean your spirituality is pleasing to God.

Third, the materials Israel offers for worship are essentially the same. The people of God build an altar, offer burnt offerings and peace offerings, and feast with the Lord (v. 5-6).  Yet, while in name these offerings and elements of worship are the same, they are different because they are invented by men and not God.  Aaron is not responding to God’s revelation, he is building the altar and offering the sacrifices according to all that he had seen in Egypt.

At this point in the narrative, Moses alone had God’s instructions.  He is still on the Mountain.  Israel does not yet have Exodus 25-31.  We do.  They don’t.  Worse: Because of the sexual promiscuity often associated with temple worship in the ancient world, the “playing” in Exodus 32:6 is likely to have a sexually perverse element.  Overall, the offering is an abomination, because it fails to do what God’s word says; it offers worship according to the vain imagination of fallen men.

Here is the application, via negative example, for us: It is natural and easy for the worship of God’s people to reflect more of the culture than of the court of heaven.  False worship is indeed what will happen whenever God’s word is minimized.  Unless we employ a regulative principle that allows Scripture to define and delimit our worship, we run the risk of offending God with the very thing with which we intend to please him.

Worship Without the Word Invokes God’s Wrath

The reaction of God is evident to all.  YHWH was incensed.  Verse 7 describes the distance that now existed between God and Israel.  He calls Israel “Moses’ people,” and he tells Moses that he brought them up from Egypt.  YHWH wants to have nothing to do with Israel.  In verse 8, he condemns them legally for breaking the part of the law that they had.  Remember, more than once, Israel swore that they would do all the words the Lord had spoken (Exod 25:3)They knew that failure to obey meant death.  And so, God was fully within his rights, to say in 32:10, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them & I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you’

The people of God worshiped YHWH (v. 5), but not according to the way YHWH designed.  Thus, they invoked his wrath.  How many churches today do the same?  As they creatively invite the presence of the Spirit through smells, bells, dramas, and personal interviews, they may actually distance themselves from the Christ they name.  For churches and their leaders, it is worth asking: What biblical sanction is there for such activity in corporate worship?  Failure to think through these things, invites God not to write his name on our churches, but rather the word “Ichabod.”

May God protect us from false worship, and may we pursue true worship as we look to the Word of God and worship according to all that he has revealed and prescribed in his sufficient revelation.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

A Biblical Meditation on God’s iBible (1): Illumination and Intervention

In a informational age, where “data smog” threatens to pollute the air we breathe, where iPods, iPhones, and iGoogle have become part and parcel of daily living, and where keeping up with the Jones requires 24-hour instant information, it is salubrious to be still and know that our Lord is still God (Ps. 46:10) and that His Word remains fixed in the heavens (Ps. 119:89).  Yet, God’s Word is not a static, concrete fixture of law, suspended in time and space; it is living and active (Heb. 4:12), it has taken on flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), and as we will consider over the next three days, it has come to God’s people over an extended period of time that has been marked by a number of progressive steps.  By means of nmenonic device, these stages included: general illumination (i.e. general revelation), historical intervention, divine inspiration, and Spirit-wrought inscripturation, transmission of information, and personal illumination.  Taking these “I” steps together, you might say that God has given us his own iBible.  Let us consider together the amazing process by which God has given us his Word:

Illumination (in General): In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1). With the power of his voice he breathed life into being (Ps. 33:6; cf. Gen. 2:7) and with the command of his voice he spoke light into existence (Gen. 1:3ff). In a very real sense, the first day began with a massive burst of light, a grand illumination. From this moment in time until now God has illuminating his world with his glory and has been making himself known (cf. Rev. 22:5).  He maintains the existence of all things by the power of His Word (Heb. 1:3), and in his creation he has made his divine nature and infinite power known (Rom. 1:18-20).  As Psalm 19 says: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaim his handiwork; day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge; there is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.”  In other words, God’s general revelation, or general “illumination,” has transcended the cosmos.

Intervention (in History): Throughout the Scriptures, the God of the Bible is a God who reveals Himself. This is seen in his creation (Ps 19:1-7) and in his written Word (Ps 19:8ff); this is evident in the Imago Dei and in the mystery of marriage. In every area of life and in each stage of creation he gives more light to view ponder his nature and understand His work in the world. As the author of Hebrews says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his son, who he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he created the world (Heb. 1:1-2)” This progressive revelation can be seen in the way that each stage of Scripture offers are more complete picture of who the Triune God is:

Pentateuch: The God who is (Ex. 3:14)
History: The God who acts in love on behalf of his people (Ex. 34; Deut. 7)
Psalms: The God who reigns and deserves all worship (Ps. 93, 97, 99)
Prophets: The God who keeps his Word; the Covenantal God (Jer. 31; Ezek. 36)
Gospels: The God who is with us (Matt. 1:23)
Epistles: The God of Glory seen in the face of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:1-14)
Revelation: The Creator and Redeemer God; the Alpha and Omega (Rev. 1:8)

(For a more complete discussion of theocentric revelational see Timothy George’s chapter on God in Theology for the Church, edited by Danny Akin [Nashville: B & H Academic, 2007]).

Perhaps today is the day to be still and once again know that he is God, to turn off the iPod and pick up God’s inspired Word. If that is hard, as it so often is, there is all the more reason and need to once again hear the voice of God in his eternal Word. Or perhaps, instead of opposing one against the other, download God’s Word on you iPod. Listen to it as you go, drive, workout, or whatever. In any case, wherever the word finds you, may we together make sure that we find the Word; may we have ears to hear what the Spirit of Christ is saying in God’s holy book.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss.