“The First Word (and the Last)”
April 22, 2007 - Third Sunday of Easter
The Word Made Flesh
As we enter upon the theological study of the Bible, which we believe is the Word of God, we first touch base with the fundamental meaning of that phrase, “the Word of God.” We believe Jesus Christ is God’s Son, the Messiah promised by the prophets of the Old Testament and the Savior proclaimed in the New Testament. And at the very heart of our trust in Scripture is the conviction (based on John 1:1-14) that Jesus is and was the living Word of God, before any Scripture was ever written. God’s revelation to us is first Jesus Christ, and then, in and through Him, the Bible.
When God speaks, the Word He speaks is first and primarily His Son. This is why John 1:3 and Hebrews 1:2 connect Jesus the Word with the Word by which God spoke the world into existence in Genesis 1. The Word who became flesh in Jesus Christ is the Word by whom the world was made. He is also the Word of God which is spoken throughout the Old Testament, as the fathers and prophets of Israel hear, speak and write down God’s Word to His people.
We might almost say there are two Words of God. There is the living Word Jesus Christ and there is the written Word of Scripture. And it is in some sense correct to distinguish these two. As Hans Urs von Balthasar says, there is the testifying Word of the Bible, and there is Jesus Christ the Word, to whom the Bible testifies.
Yet there is a unity to the Word of God, and to the testifying and testified about aspects of His Word. We believe that the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of God given to His people through the Son, and who also lived within Jesus Christ, inspired the writers of the written Word. Thus the Old Testament, which is God’s Spirit speaking through the fathers and prophets, is ultimately about Jesus the Messiah.
When the Word of God became flesh in Jesus Christ, He took the written Old Testament Scriptures up into His own life. By fulfilling the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17) Jesus brought the Old Testament to life in Himself. The Word already spoken really did become flesh and blood as Jesus lived and taught the fullness of everything contained already in the Hebrew Scriptures. His perfect life encapsulated everything that God had already said, making the Word flesh.
In the future direction, the written Word of the New Testament flowed directly out of the life of the living Word. Whatever was written in the Gospels or the epistles was based on what Jesus taught or did. So we speak of the power of the Gospel, knowing that the message about Jesus possesses His own power and authority. Reading and hearing the New Testament, we actually meet Jesus Christ and experience the Word made flesh in our own hearts and lives.
My sister discovered she didn’t like her pen pal. The feeling was mutual. Helen had written to a girl in Germany for years. Now she was spending a college year in Vienna, Austria. Her pen pal Anna came from Germany to visit. What hadn’t surfaced in all the letters they had written, was that Anna was a party girl and Helen was not. She found Helen boring. Helen felt the same in reverse. Anna expected to be entertained and do lots of drinking and late night partying. Helen thought they would visit museums and go shopping together. When the time came for Anna to return home, they were both relieved. They never wrote to each other again. Helen had a whole stack of letters, but she didn’t really know Anna. Meeting in person changed everything.
The letter to the Hebrews begins by remembering the stack of letters Israel received from God. Verse 1 says they came “at many times and in various ways” through the prophets, God’s mail carriers. These men heard God speak aloud. They had dreams. They had waking visions. They saw God work miracles. They heard and saw and they wrote it down and sent it all out like letters from heaven to the people of God.
In all that speaking and writing, very seldom did God’s people actually meet God. Once or twice a rare individual caught a glimpse. Moses spoke face to face with the Lord. Elijah felt God pass by him in a gentle breeze. After long agony, God appeared to Job in a storm and in Job 42:5, Job said “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.” But that was rare. God spoke in all sorts of ways. His prophets wrote down His words. But only a handful of people actually met Him and no one really got to know Him. That is all changed now.
Verse 2 of Hebrews 1 says, “but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” That is the heart of the Christian faith. God quit just sending letters. In the life of Jesus Christ paid us a personal visit. Human beings received the opportunity to meet and live with the Son of God. Nearly two-thirds of the Bible had already been written, but the arrival of Jesus Christ changed and re-focused the whole story. God showed up in person. As John 1:14 says, the Word became flesh and lived among us.
Many other religions have sacred books. Hinduism has the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. Islam has the Koran. Confucianism has the writings of Confucius. Taoism has the Tao Te Ching. Christian Scientists have the writings of Mary Baker Eddy. The Unification Church has the Divine Principle. Yet in the Christian faith we believe in a Word, a revelation from God, that lived and breathed and walked among us in flesh and blood. Not just a book, not just words on paper, no matter how true or inspirational, but a living Word. We love our Bible, our sacred Book, but the important thing for us is that in that Book, Jesus shows up.
It’s fun to hear that Harrison Ford is going to star in one more Indiana Jones movie. With some discretion, Beth and I, will generally watch anything that has Ford in it. Hans Solo, Indiana Jones, Jack Ryan, John Book in Witness, the president in Air Force One, an android hunter in Blade Runner—it’s all good. Something happens in a Harrison Ford film. A movie may start out like Witness, a story about people we don’t really know, caught up in events we don’t quite understand. But then Harrison Ford walks on, makes his first appearance in the film, and you know. This movie is about him. Whatever character he’s playing, he’s center stage. This is his story. From that point on it all revolves around him. He’s a superstar.
That’s what happened to our Bible. Right up to the coming of Jesus, we meet a cast of many different characters. Some are great, some despicable, some a bit bizarre. The Old Testament is like a movie in which the main character hasn’t appeared yet. Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Ruth, David, Elijah, they are all important. They have fascinating stories and God speaks to them. But the plot moves on and those characters each die and vanish from the scene. You can’t quite really say the Bible is about them. They just play supporting roles in a bigger epic.
Then in what’s probably the first book of the New Testament to be written, Paul’s letter to the Galatians, chapter 4, verse 4, we read, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son…” Scripture, the Old Testament, up to that point had been a long meandering soap opera with a changing cast and constant ups and downs of fortune. But when the right time came, “God sent his Son.” When Jesus appears, when you encounter Him in the pages of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, you know. You know that He is what this Scripture epic is all about. Suddenly, He is at the center of the story. You realize that everything before has been leading up to Him and everything after is because of Him. As the title of the old rock opera suggests, Jesus Christ is the superstar of God’s Word. He just is God’s Word.
Our text in verse 2 goes on to explain some of why Jesus is the superstar, the center of God’s story. It says that He is the “heir of all things.” Everything belongs to Him. God the Father has given it all to Him as His rightful inheritance. But it doesn’t all belong to Jesus as if he’s some rich kid inheriting a fortune he didn’t work for. Everything belongs to Jesus because, as the Word of God, He helped it all. So we read that it is God’s Son “through whom he [God] made the universe.” We read the same this morning from John 1:3, “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”
Remember how God created? He simply spoke! In Genesis chapter 1 we read “And God said,” six times. Each time, whatever He said simply was. He spoke His Word, and it happened. Now both John and the writer to the Hebrews tell us that the Word of God is the Son of God, a person. God is no longer just talking, just writing letters. He speaks to us the same way He spoke when He created the universe. He speaks by Jesus Christ His Son.
What this all means is that it’s not only the Bible that is all about Jesus. Because He made everything, because everything by right belongs to Him, everything is about Jesus. The universe we live in was designed and created to show off and reflect the glory of Jesus the Son of God. Verse 3 of our text says that the Son Himself is a reflection and image of the glory of God. “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.” Our world radiates with the glory of Jesus and Jesus radiates the glory of God.
Today many people are celebrating Earth Day. April 22, 1970 was proclaimed Earth Day in Congress in a bill introduced by Senator Gaylord Nelson. On that first Earth Day, my friend Adrian Casillas and I were handed a cassette recorder, a big deal in that day, and urged to walk around our junior high gym as reporters. We interviewed our fellow students who had set up booths and displays about clean water and air, endangered species, trees and all sorts of ecological concerns. It was the beginning of an environmental awareness that our children have now grown up with.
Some Christians have been a bit reluctant and suspicious of Earth Day. We believe that Jesus and God His Father are the ones to honor, not mother earth. Yet when we read passages like this we realize we can and should celebrate this world as His creation, as the Word of God written large across the sky and the ocean and the fields and the forests. It’s the Word of God written small in rain drops and lady bugs and budding rhododendrons. All of it, says Hebrews, says John, is about Jesus and the glory of God.
All the Bible and all the universe is about Jesus Christ. He is the first Word ever spoken when the world was made, and Jesus is the last Word on everything. He said so Himself in Revelation chapter 1, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” the beginning and ending of the alphabet. Everything that can be written, every letter, every word, begins and ends with Jesus the Son and glory of God.
If all Scripture, if all Creation is about Jesus Christ, then it can only mean that our own selves, our own lives are about Jesus as well. A Peanuts comic strip yesterday had Charlie Brown lying in bed saying, “Sometimes I lie awake at night, and I ask, ‘Why am I here? What’s the purpose of it all? Does my life have any meaning?’” In the next panel he says “Then a voice comes to me that says, “Forget it! I hate questions like that!” But that’s not true. The voice, the Word that speaks both through nature and through Scripture is the Word of Jesus, a Word that says your life has meaning and purpose in Him.
That’s why verse 3 continues on from Jesus being the exact representation of God’s being, “sustaining all things by his powerful word,” to the message that He provided “purification for sins,” then “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” Jesus the Word who made the world came into the world for the sole purpose of caring for our lives. He died on the Cross and rose again to sit down at God’s right hand to forgive our sins and straighten out our messed up lives. He came as a Word of grace, a personal, living letter of love from God.
I was with some people talking the other night about how education so greatly affects a child’s future. Someone brought up the Japanese school system, where parents push their children to do well and excel at every turn. There are entrance exams to get into the best schools at every level, including elementary school. Fail an exam and miss getting into the proper class and it could determine your whole career. The course of your whole life may be written as you write an exam at six years of age.
We think the Japanese extreme, but we may still see our successes and particularly our failures as the writing of our lives. Miss practice and get cut from the team in high school and you think life is over. Study poorly and make less than 1,200 on the SAT and the career you dreamed of vanishes. Behave incorrectly and fail to marry the girl of your dreams and happiness is lost. Create a poor first impression and lose out on a job opportunity and success is gone for good. At every turn, good or bad performance writes the book of our lives, and it’s often a tragedy.
Yet Jesus comes to us and says that He is the first and last Word. He is the Alpha and Omega of our lives. He is our beginning and our end. Yes, our sin and our failure write strong words in life’s book. But Jesus writes the last Word. He is the final Word. He began your life and, if you let Him, He will create in you a wonderful story only He can write.
Jesus is the first and last Word on your life from beginning to end. He’s the first and last Word on your education. You can read it in His own life, as He demonstrated His own study and learning by His amazing understanding of the Scriptures. And if you find study hard and learning a burden, He still has a good Word for you when He says in Matthew 11:29 and 30, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Even in academic failure we may learn the gentle, humble lessons of Jesus.
Jesus is the first and last Word on your relationships. Jesus blessed the bond between a man and a woman by working His first miracle at a wedding. In His own faithfulness to God and to us, even to the point of death, He taught us what faithfulness should look like in our own relationships. Yet He also dealt with our weakness, our unfaithfulness by speaking gently and forgivingly in John 4 to a woman who had been married five times and in John 8 to a woman who had committed adultery. He forgave their sins and simply said, “Go and sin no more.”
Jesus is the first and last word on your success. He taught us to do those things which really matter with our whole being. “Love the Lord your God with all heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Put everything you have into being successful in loving God. Success in loving God may not look like what you think is success. Jesus said that to be a success, you need to be a servant. If you want to be first you need to be last. If you want to live, then you need to die. And Jesus’ own life was successful in just that way. He succeeded by being a servant, by being last, by dying. That’s the Word of Jesus about our own achievements in life.
Whatever your concern in life, Jesus is the first and last Word. Money? Jesus taught us not to worship it, to hold it lightly, to give it away generously. Children? He welcomed and loved them and told us to become like them. Politics? He confronted the government with the plain fact that it had no power but by God’s will, then He submitted Himself to that power. Whatever it is that worries you, that troubles you, that occupies your heart and your mind, Jesus is the Word, the Word of God, the first Word and the last.
Most of all, Jesus is God’s Word on life and death. He’s the Word on how to live and He’s the Word on how to die. Jesus died showing love to those around Him and trusting Himself to God. It’s how He taught us to die. I once stood in an intensive care unit and watched a Christian man named Waldo say good-bye to his family one by one, to his son and to his daughters, to his grandchildren and to his great-grandchildren. He told them he loved them and told them Jesus loved them and told them he would see them in heaven. He knew Jesus is God’s Word on dying.
In the end, though, Jesus the Word is not about dying. Jesus is the Word about living. On Easter we celebrated His great victory over death, His new life. The new life of Jesus is the true last Word. When God speaks, what He says goes on and on and never ends. He spoke the world into existence and so when we sing “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost,” we continue “as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.” God’s Word never fails, never stops. In Jesus Christ the Word of life has been spoken and that’s the first and last Word. He made life in the beginning and He gives us life in the end, forever.
So we come here week after week and read this Word, this written Word, because in it we find life. In the Bible we find the living Son of God, who gave up His life and received it back again, so that we can have life. We can trust this written Word, trust it from beginning to end, from first to last because it’s the Word of the Word, the one great Word who made us and loves and saves us. I pray that you will trust that Word, believe and trust Jesus. And He will give you life.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2007 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj