John 1:14 – He Made His Dwelling Among Us
An edited sermon transcript
Today I just want to look with you at one verse from John Chapter 1, that is verse 14. The reason we’re taking our time and looking at short verses is because this first section of John is like an index page for the rest of the Gospel. It includes all the important subjects that are going to come later and if we know where we’re going from the beginning then we will know where we are as we go along. That’s important, because John is a complicated book if you don’t know where you are, things can seem a little random. But it’s not really a complicated book if you have an index and you know the rest of your Bible well.
We’ve been looking at these 3 themes Creation, God and the Word and how they all come together at the beginning of John to set the scene for the biggest story ever told. And the biggest story is worthy of the biggest stage. That stage isn’t a backstreet theatre somewhere; it’s not the Hippodrome, or Wembley Arena. It is creation itself. The background of the set is not some hand-painted forest like Babes in the Wood or the cityscape from an Arthur Miller play on a giant sheet of plywood, instead the stars and galaxies in their vast number and size set the scene, the orchestra pit is full of the beauty of the created world, which declares the glory of God in all its power and splendour in magnificent polyphonic symphony. Now if we look at the right in the middle of all that, front-stage is a small country called Judea, the spotlight are shining on one tiny bit right at the front and standing in that spotlight is the Word, Jesus of Nazareth. All of this set exists for him and he makes sense of it all. And if we listen carefully to what he says, the very story of God will be made known to us.
So, John is setting the scene, we’re sitting in the theatre at the beginning of the story and the first 18 verses of John are like programme notes that point out the highlights of the production. If you went to see The Wizard of Oz your program might read “One young girl’s journey to a magical place she never dreamed existed!” If it was Oliver Twist it might read “An innocent orphan with a mysterious background is catapulted into London’s criminal underworld – will he ever find his way back home?”
In the same way, here we in these first 18 verse we have John’s programme notes for the rest of Gospel. We’ve already got the first two pieces of the story, we’ve looked at 2 big themes that are going to be in John’s Gospel: Jesus is going to show us who God is, because he is God. And: Jesus is going to show us who we should be, because he’s perfectly and truly human.
Now, today he’s going to show us what the relationship between God and human beings is supposed to be. And in doing so he’s going to show why we’re here, and why everything else is here. He’s going to tell us why God made stars and planets and the Earth and people. He’s going to tell us why, once there was nothing but God, and then, in the beginning God made everything.
2. What Did It Feel Like to Be Jesus?
I’d like us to begin by using our imagination. I want us to imagine what it feels like to be Jesus. Not as God, but as a man. Remember, he was fully human, but because he never sinned he had perfect communion as man with God his Father. His relationship with God, the Father was unbroken. As a man he experienced the manifest presence of God all of the time.
Now, I want you to think about just one thing to start with, put yourself in Jesus’ shoes. Imagine what it FEELS like to be in the manifest presence of God all the time. Now… what did it feel like to go to wake up in the morning with that presence there, before you’ve barely stopped dreaming?
Can you imagine it?
Now, let’s think about some more things. What about to fall asleep? To pray? To eat bread? To drink water? To sing a hymn of praise? To meet new people?
What did it feel like to walk in the fields or stand on the hills and look at the Sea of Galilee in the distance? Or to see the birds of the air and smell the flowers of the field on the breeze? What did it feel like to smell a third-world village, wood smoke, and dung, and sweaty people?
What did it feel like to work with wood or stone?
What did it feel like to see a broken world, a leper, or blind-man or a cripple – to see all the pain and suffering in the lives of people all around. To see your best friends die, or betray you, or wracked with fear or guilt? To be tempted by Satan and to feel the whole of creation bend as if it were leaning forward on the edge of its seat at the climax of a play waiting to see whether you will stand the test or forfeit everything?
What did it feel like to have perfect faith as though you are standing on the very rock of ages? To feel the Holy Spirit blowing steady and strong through you like the breeze that heralds the arrival of a thunder storm.
And what did it feel like – now, here’s the very heart of it – what did it feel like to know the love – the agapé love – of the Father that existed for you before the foundation of the world? To love him back and overflow ceaselessly and perfectly with that love for the people all around you so that even as they nail you to a cross you can’t help but cry out, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing!”
What would it feel like to be that person?
Is it possible that you and I could live a life full of those wonderful things? Is there hope that we too might somehow share in what Jesus experienced and know the manifest presence of God in unbroken fellowship with him?
I want that! Don’t you? In fact it’s more than “I want it.” I need it. Because, to live like that is “life” itself, that is what we were made for.
So what do we need to do to have that life? What would you give for it?
3. Jesus Wasn’t the First
What is interesting is that Jesus wasn’t the first man to feel that fellowship with God. There have been various places in history when people have experienced that life to some degree or another.
If we go back in time right back to the beginning of the human story in Genesis We find the first people to experience that life. Standing in the middle of a perfect garden are a man and woman, Adam and Eve. They are sinless, protected and surrounded by a perfect creation. The King and Queen of the world in the splendour of their innocence. And what do we find? They walk with God, they talk with him. And what Jesus had, they had. They existed in perfect fellowship in the manifest presence of God.
But as we look closer we see something even more amazing that actually this was just the beginning of God’s plan. Because the way God made the world tells us something really important about God plan.
Firstly, the fact it took 7 days. If we look at the tabernacle, which was the mobile temple that the Israelites took with them around the wilderness later on in the Bible we see that it took 7 days to consecrate it. The temple of Solomon took 7 years to build and was dedicated over a period of 7 days.
What we see in the 7 days of creation are God’s architectural instructions, they match the building of a temple. The cosmos is the outer court, the Earth is the inner court and right in the middle is the Holy of Holies, The Garden of Eden. Now, one thing is missing, something you would get in any temple but the Jewish temple. Right in the middle of every other temple outside of Israel what did you find? An image of the God of the temple.
And what do we find right in the middle of Eden, God saying, “Let us make man in our own image.” The image of God was not a deaf, dumb, blind statue, but a living breathing couple. Male and Female, and the children they would have and the people they would be in the future.
What else do we find in a temple? A priesthood. Later in the Jewish temple God commanded the priests to “protect” and “work” in the temple. The exact same words that he uses to tell Adam in Genesis 2:15 “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work in it protect it.”
And there are whole bunch of other things too that show us that creation was made as a temple of God: the gate of the Eden face east, just like the temple, it was guarded by Cherubim, just like the temple. Eden had a tree of life in the middle, just like the temple which had a Menorah, the seven branched candle that sat at the centre of the temple, made of solid gold and fashioned to look like a tree with 7 branches and flowers and fruit growing out of it.
So creation itself is the temple, humans are the image of God and the priesthood to serve in his house. Don’t you just love how God takes our ideas of God’s and temples and blows them out of the water! We build St. Paul’s cathedral, God builds the universe!
Now there is one thing missing from this temple. A temple was place where God’s manifest presence rested. It was where his glory came to stay, you could see it and feel it and in his presence was the most incredible intimacy and life-giving power.
The name for that glory in the Old Testament was “Shekinah” and when it came to stay they talked about it dwelling or resting. God’s glory “rested”. And when did God rest? On the seventh day, when creation was finished, God rested and his presence rested in there. He put us here to live in and work and protect the temple, to enjoy perfect fellowship with him in his manifest presence. That’s what Adam and Eve experienced.
So, why did God create the universe? He created a temple resplendent with his majesty and power where his glory could rest. He wanted creation to experience his life, his love, his star-shattering power and glory. So Isaiah writes in chapter 40:22: “He stretches out the heavens like a canopy and spreads them out like a tent [a tabernacle] to live in”. This was the place where heaven and Earth met. So when the psalmist signs off in psalm 150 with “praise him in the sanctuary, let everything that has breath praise the Lord” he really means “everything that has breath”, the whole of creation.
It was going to start with mankind, Adam and Eve, as they worked and protected and multiplied and filled and subdued creation and worshipped God in perfect communion with him. That was the plan – a whole world full of what Jesus experienced every day. Sounds like heaven, right?
But it went wrong. Adam didn’t protect God’s sanctuary. He allowed evil in; he didn’t slay the serpent, but succumbed to temptation and desecrated the temple and what happened? The Shekinah glory of God departed. We know he is still present in a general sense, he still acts and speaks, but they are alienated from him, they don’t have that incredible life-giving presence experience of knowing him that they had before. Compared with the life they had before they are now dead. And that’s what life is like for everyone, compared with what we were designed to have, we are dead.
Now, let’s follow the story forward in time. I’m not going to go through all the details; I just want to paint enough of a picture for you to see the thread through history.
Where else do we see people experiencing Heaven touching Earth by the manifest presence of God? If we go forward in time, through Babel, through Noah and the flood, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and then…Moses. First on the mountain and then God instructed Moses to build a dwelling place for him, a place where his presence could rest and Moses could meet with him face to face. Moses built the tabernacle and God’s manifest presence, his glory descended upon it. It was the place where, just like back in Eden, heaven touched Earth.
Moses talked with God and fellowshipped with him there. After he met with him his face shone with the glory of it and he had to wear a veil so that people weren’t blinded by the light. Moses knew the glorious presence of God. By that presence he experienced revelation, he was empowered to work miracles and he led the people of Israel through 40 years in the wilderness. He died at 120 years old, full of strength and vigour; he had experienced the life-giving presence of the Spirit of God.
Jump forward in time again, through Joshua, the Judges, Israel’s first King, Saul and we end up in the period of David and Solomon and those who worshipped God in Jerusalem at the temple. Again, it was a place where heaven touched Earth. When Solomon’s temple was dedicated it says that the Shekinah glory of God’s presence descended like a cloud and ignited the offering on the altar and the power of it knocked everyone off their feet so that all they could do was lie on their faces.
They, and others, speak of what it was like to experience the presence of God in the Lord’s sanctuary:
Psalm 84 says: “How lovely is your dwelling-place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh cry out for the living God…Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”
It wasn’t architecture that made the David or anyone else write those words! It was fellowship with God in that most Holy place. Likewise, the psalmist writes in psalm 42, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my pants for you, O God. My souls thirsts for God, the living God, where can I go and meet with God”
Do you thirst like that for God? To meet with him? To drink from his presence?
The intensity that is found in that psalm is not theoretical. This guy hasn’t read about God in a book somewhere and then written “My soul thirsts for the living God!” No! He has tasted of what Moses had, and Adam and Eve had and what Jesus had, and when it’s not there he can’t think about anything else!
That has to be our attitude to God.
4. Jesus Fulfils God’s Plans
So we’ve looked at history and now finally, we come to our verse. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” The word in Greek for that word “dwelling” is “tabernacled”. Tabernacled. If you’re really into languages, in Hebrew that word is “sakan”. And then what comes next? We have seen his “glory”. The word for glory in Hebrew is “Shekina’” – the glorious, manifest presence of God. The two words are intimately related, tabernacle and glory.
Jesus is the place where heaven touches Earth. He’s not standing in a tent, not standing in temple, not staying in one place. And over the course of the next 21 chapters of John he goes around acting and talking for all the world like he is the temple. That’s exactly what John is saying. Jesus is the temple, he’s the fulfilment of it all. Jesus is the fulfilment of Eden, and the tabernacle and the temple. Not a place, not a building, but a person. He is the place where where God meets creation in his shekinah glory, his manifest present and if you’re in him then you’ll have the life-giving presence of God.
And in him God’s purposes all find their fulfilment, listen to where it is all headed: story has a beginning in Eden and a middle in John’s gospel and an end in Revelation 21:3, ‘And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.’ ”
Jesus is the beginning of a new creation, a new temple which will one day fulfil Adam’s commission, to fill the whole Earth with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.
Now here’s the question. If Jesus is the new temple where God’s manifest glorious presence rests (and that is where all the good stuff is) then how do we get into Christ? Into the temple? That’s what John is going to tell us over the next 21 chapters.
I don’t know about you, but if someone is going to tell me how I can experience what Jesus experienced, what Adam and Eve had, what Moses experienced, what David wrote about, I’m going to listen. And God wants us to listen! He wants to grab your attention.
He wants to shout, like a doctor reviving a patient, slapping us round the face, “WAKE UP!”
What John wants to tell us is that God’s manifest presence isn’t just some random thing that comes and goes with revival every 100 years or so, but it is the very life blood of the church. Whenever there is a revival, or a country like China is broken open to the gospel and millions our saved, whenever the church does anything of true power and eternal value, at the heart of it is the presence of God empowering his people.
It doesn’t come by revival, it doesn’t come by getting prayed for at Spring Harvest, or by coming forward at the end of a meeting to the pastor. It is not a cycle of ups and downs. The life of the Christian is not supposed to flutter and flicker like a damp candle. It is supposed to blaze! And if your willing to listen to the Lord, and lay your life on his altar then the fire of God WILL fall upon you and your life will burn with the glory of God.
So here we are, the play is about to start, Jesus is front and centre stage, the spotlight is fixed, the play is about to start and he’s going to tell us how we can have this life, and life in all its fulness.
Are you ready to listen?
Or, do you need to pop to the loo? Have you turned off your mobile? Are you rustling around in your bag for that bag of sweets you brought with you. Or are you ready to hear the story? “We have seen his glory! The glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
There are going to be a few things that distract you as Jesus speaks to us through John’s Gospel.
First, If you think you’ve heard the story before, and it wasn’t that good last time. You’re happy to hear it all over again, for the fun of hearing it, but it’s not going to change your life.
If you think you’ve heard it all before, you’re not going to listen. I want to challenge you to listen for the same reason that I have confidence to tell you these things. I want to tell you that I believe what I’m telling you for no other reason than the Bible says it. It’s the united witness of Scripture that this is the life the Christian should lead. To quote Jesus, John, Paul, and Peter, “Life in all it’s fulness”, “Streams of living water”, “Love poured out into our hearts…by which we cry Abba Father”, “Peace, Righteousness and Joy in the Holy Spirit”, “gazing upon God, like Moses, with unveiled faces”, “participation in the divine life”, “joy inexpressable”.
And if its not like that, then its not the Bible that’s wrong, we’re doing it wrong.
I’m not saying that in judgement or to make anyone feel bad. It’s just a fact. And I’m not saying that I’ve got it sorted, but just like you, I’ve had wondeful tastes of the fulness of life that Jesus promised. Enough to make me hungry for more, to make me fixated on knowing him. And it’s so good, I don’t care what it takes, I’m going to cling on to God and wrestle like Jacob. “I will not let go until you bless me!” And I don’t want to do it alone, I want to do it with you.
Secondly, as he speaks are you willing to do what Jesus says to stay “in Him”?
The key to that is hunger. Are you hungry? Please stop filling your lives with what is second best – make yourself hungry for God. Get rid of whatever distracts you from seeking his presence. What are you filling your life with? Let’s get hungry! Let’s fast, let’s pray. Let’s get rid of all the petty things. Let’s just create space for God shall we? TV off, iPhone off, internet off. All the things that fill us up, our busyness, our appetites, our posessions.
How cluttered is the sanctuary of our heart? Is there room for the Spirit of God to dwell? Of have we filled it with other Gods? “God’s that we have created, and because we’ve created them can never surprise or never overwhelm us, nor astonish us, nor transcend us?”
He wants to come into his temple and clear out the money-changers and the busyness and replace it with his life-giving presence. Will you make room?
I want you to respond today with a commitment to listen to what Jesus is going to say, a commitment to be hungry and not to fill yourself with the things of the world. Actually fast if necessary. Whatever it takes.
Let’s give ourselves to taking hold of this life, which God intended us to have since the beginning, which he sent his Son to give us, which one day we will have in God’s perfect Kingdom.