John begins his account of Christ, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” He then describes the incarnation by simply telling us, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” John does not so much give us a narrative to explain the incarnation, as did Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but seems to be composing a hymn to a profound mystery with deep implications. There are many wonderful comforts for our souls tucked into this mystery, but there are two that seem most important to John. One is life. The other is light.
These two things, life and light, are important because man, separated from God, no longer has them.
“In the beginning” (both Genesis and John begin with these words), man lived in perfect communion with God. He became separated from Life Himself when he sought life apart from God by taking of the fruit of the forbidden tree. All men are since born into a state of death and darkness. John explains our situation, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” All men, apart from the saving work of God, do not know what life and light truly are. In the beginning, we knew blessing in God’s commands to eat and multiply. Now, in sin, we blindly fight for food and drink and physical life in hopes of true life. We think that eating and multiplying in toil produces and sustains true life, but Jesus came to show us otherwise.
It was into this death and darkness that the light of life came.
“No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Jesus himself tells us why this is important, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” ( John 17:3). God sent his Son so that we would know God, and therefore, have life. Though not all are given the knowledge of sight, John promises, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Where once we toiled unsuccessfully to bring forth and sustain true life, we are now born again by the will of God alone. Once born again, we are sustained, not by the food gained by our toil in a cursed ground, but on the body and blood of Christ given freely to us, as John unfolds for us later in chapter 6.
Life is indeed the greatest need of man. But even so, John offers another great comfort, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The author of Hebrews explains more fully in Hebrews 2:14, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things.” Hebrews 4:15 in the KJV says, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities [emphasis added]”
Mysteriously, just like us, Christ was knit together in the womb of a woman. All that belongs to a person—his body, mind, will, and emotions, all those things seen and unseen—were an integral part of him. Jesus himself was brought forth in pain, and his body depended upon bread gained by the sweat of toil. He came in our flesh, touching all our infirmities, assuming all our weaknesses. He himself endured suffering to the fullest in every respect—physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Just as mysteriously, because of his incarnation and through our death in baptism, we are born anew and now share his incarnate life. He did not come to show us how to transcend the body, but gave us the means to be in it—his very self.
Even sharing Jesus’ incarnate life, those who have been born again see only dimly now. Because he can be touched with our infirmities, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). As he, the light and life of men, was sent into the world, so are we. How great is our comfort now, that life does not depend on our toil, and Life Himself can be touched with our struggles until the day our faith is made sight.