Love and Glory in the Incarnation
John 1:14 and John 3:16
21 December 2014
A study in the series on the Gospel of John by John Dugas
Grace Bible Church, Tulsa
Full Audio Message
Is God’s glory at the front of your mind when you think of the Incarnation? God the Son took on a human nature. The Word became flesh. Does that make you think of God’s glory? Read Luke 2:1-20. On the day Jesus was born, two groups glorified God—the holy angels and the shepherds. Later in this chapter when that righteous man Simeon held Jesus in his arms he called Jesus “the glory of Thy people Israel” (Luke 2:32). God’s glory was at the front of their minds.
Does it matter? I think it matters very much. Without it, we can’t know the ultimate reason why God sent His Son. You could say with Paul that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1:15). It is true too that God sent His Son because of His love for the world (Jn 3:16). But is that the ultimate reason that God sent His Son? While our redemption is one of the grand themes of Scripture, the grandest of all themes is the glory of God.
Still, does it matter? It seems to matter for John. He mentions ‘glory’ forty times in this Gospel. And his first mention of glory ties it to the Incarnation. For John, the Incarnation is an act of uncommon love that became the supreme display of God’s glory.
Understanding this matters because it properly orients our worship and it properly orients our lives. If we understand God’s purpose in the Incarnation, we’ll properly focus our worship. And if we grasp God’s motive in the Incarnation, we’ll work to make love the motive of our lives too. We want to think and behave as God’s children. To do so, we must better understand our Father.
Let’s consider first this theme of God’s glory. How does it come to play in the Incarnation?
I. God’s purpose in the Incarnation was to reveal His glory (John 1:14).
We need to define God’s glory. God’s glory is the revelation of His excellent character. God reveals His holy splendor. This is what Simeon referred to when he called Jesus “the glory of…Israel”. It’s what John meant here in John 1:14 as he recounts how he and the others “beheld His glory.” They got to see Jesus’ excellent character as He lived with them as the perfect Man.
God has glory within Himself. It is radiant beauty that shines from the excellence of His character. In Ex 32:18-19 Moses asked God to show him His glory and God said that He would show Moses His goodness, or better, His moral beauty. That is, the beauty of His character. Sometimes this glory is represented by blazing fire or brilliant light (Ezek 1:27-38). That represents the holy splendor of God’s nature. Jesus had shared this beauty of character with His Father in eternity past (John 17:5).
In 1:18, John points out that Jesus is the perfect revelation of God’s character. But here in John 1:14 John helps us using word pictures. He reports that Jesus “dwelt among us,” that is, Jesus “tabernacled” among men. His readers should think about God’s glory filling the OT tabernacle (Ex 30:34-35). In this way Jesus was unique in displaying God’s glory. John calls it in John 1:14 “the glory of the only begotten” or better “the glory of the one and only.” This agrees with Heb 1:3 which proclaims that only Jesus is “the radiance of [God’s] glory and the exact representation of [God’s] character.”
So when John says that the disciples beheld Jesus’ glory, he means that they were eye witnesses of Jesus’ excellent character and works (John 2:11). Those works flowed from His character. They saw firsthand Jesus’ moral beauty in the flesh and in action. This leads to another side of glory.
If God possesses glory, how them do we give Him glory? We said that God’s glory is the revelation of His excellent character. But God’s glory is also the recognition of His excellent character. God’s creatures—angels and men—recognize His glory and they respond to Him with praise. When received from angels or men, glory simply means ‘praise.’ We praise God for His moral beauty.
God revealed His moral beauty through His Son and we recognize it and respond with praise. That’s what it means to ‘glorify’ God. This properly orients our worship. Our worship is to be oriented to God alone with no thoughts to self. But our worship is also for the purpose of recognizing God’s glory and responding to it with praise. In worship, think deeply upon God’s moral beauty. Consider how excellent are His attributes and works. Then turn that into praise given back to God. The substance of praise must be God’s worthiness, beauty and excellence.
Now, the Incarnation includes more than Jesus’ birth and life. It also includes His death. And His death becomes the high point of revealing God’s glory. A number of times in this Gospel, John refers to Jesus’ death on the cross as the high point of being glorified (John 7:39; John 12:16, 23; John 13:31-32). In a sense, His death was the goal to reach for ultimate glory. In 12:23 Jesus points out that “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” speaking of His death which was only hours away.
How could death be the high point of glory? Look at John 3:14-15. Whenever this term “lifted up” is used in John’s Gospel, it has two ideas: being lifted up on the cross and being exalted. You can see how both relate to the idea of being “lifted up.” John is not the first to combine these ideas. Isaiah did the same thing in Isa 52:13-53:12. In 52:13 God promises “Behold, My Servant will prosper. He will be high and lifted up, and greatly exalted.” And how does that happen?
The verses that follow describe how much the Servant of Yahweh will suffer for His people: being smitten of God, crushed, pierced through. Where did that occur? On the cross! For Isaiah and John, being lifted up meant that Jesus would be lifted up on the cross to die and thus highly exalted. On the cross, Jesus would more fully display the glory of God than at any other time. How is that so? Look now at 3:16 [read].
II. God’s motive in the Incarnation was to reveal His love (John 3:16).
We already touched on this last time but I want to expand on the nature of God’s love. To reveal His moral beauty to the greatest extent, God exposes His heart and reveals His love. Love motivated the Father to send His one and only Son into the world. His Son would take on a human nature, live among us, then die in our place. Why? The Incarnation happened because God loved us.
Now, before I go further into God’s love, I want to look at a contrast to it. I want to look at this same love in fallen men. Look at John 3:19. Fallen men loved the darkness. The word for ‘love’ here is the same word used for God’s love—agape. Can unredeemed sinners possess the agape sort of love? According to John, the answer is ‘yes.’ That doesn’t sound right, does it? What we need to do is to step back and look more closely at what agape is.
Before being used in the NT, Greek writers didn’t color this word agape much. That made it the perfect candidate for NT writers to use it to describe a person’s deepest drive at its most basic level. This love is a person’s will in action to achieve what it desires most. At its most basic level, agape is a deep-seated pursuit of what matters most. It is moving toward the person most loved for the sake of their benefit. For unbelievers, agape is a deep-seated drive to protect their own interests. It is the drive to provide for the one they care most about—themselves. Agape in an unbeliever will seek to provide pleasure, security, significance, etc., for oneself. That is whom they love most.
For God, this love was also His will in action. It motivated Him to act as He considered the hopeless plight of His people. He was moved with an intense, deep-seated love for others. John says here that God so loved the world. But it wasn’t mere warm, strong, positive feelings for us. Remember that agape is deep-seated pursuit for the benefit of the one who is loved.
Unlike UN-godly agape, the object of God’s love was not self, but others. He loved the world. He loved those who could claim no worthiness to be loved. “God’s love is to be admired not because the world is so big…but because the world is so bad” (Carson, p. 205).
John tells us what the Father did for those whom He loved. He gave. Giving for the sake of others is the essence of godly love. Godly agape engages the will for the good of others. God gave that which was most precious to Him. Notice how great was God’s gift. He gave His only begotten Son, or better, “His one and only Son”. God loved sinners, so He gave His Son to die in the place of sinners. God’s love is a deep-seated pursuit of our welfare. His love drove Him toward us to do such amazing good to us. His Son died in our place so we could live with Him forever!
God’s love then is the chief character trait at the high point of His glory. The cross became the high point of God’s glory because it was the supreme act of love. He displayed for us the beauty and the brilliance of an uncommon love—a love that turns enemies into children. At humanity’s lowest point, God’s love reached its highest. Taking on human nature, God displayed His glory through the supreme act of love.
How should this impact those of us who are believers in Jesus Christ? When Jesus spoke of being ‘glorified’ through that supreme act of love on the cross in Jn 13:31-35, He taught His disciples a new commandment: to love one another. He wanted them to redirect their most basic and powerful drive from themselves to others.
Jesus elaborated on this in Mt 22:37-40 where He directed His followers to move that most powerful drive from themselves to loving God and neighbor. By loving others with this new life-defining drive, they will imitate God and be recognized as “sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:43-48). Love for God and others is the proper orientation of our lives.