Introducing the most amazing journey
There are journeys that change history:
· Nellie Bly circumnavigating the globe in 1889, the first woman to do so.
· Charles Lindbergh making the first solo transatlantic flight in 1927—taking off just two miles from where I grew up!
· The amazing voyages of Ferdinand Magellan and Marco Polo.
And one that is taking place right now, the journey of the Voyager space probe. It was launched in 1977 for a planned five-year mission. 44 years later, Voyager is still journeying, actively exploring space from a distance now of more than 200 billion miles away. Voyager has passed Jupiter and Saturn and is now in interstellar space, the first spacecraft ever to go that far. There’s a journey that’s changing our understanding of the universe.
But the greatest journey of all is the journey described in the opening verses of the gospel of John. The gospel of Mark begins with Jesus starting his public ministry as an adult. The gospel of Luke begins with Jesus’ miraculous conception and birth. Matthew’s gospel reaches back through Jesus’ ancestry all the way back to Abraham.
But it is John who journeys back spiritually as far as the Voyager probe is journeying out into space. Where the other gospel writers describe Jesus in earthly terms we can understand, John starts with a journey as spiritually vast as we can possibly wrap our heads around—because he wants us to grasp right at the outset how amazing it is that in Jesus, God has come to us.
Right now we begin a new series leaning in to see Jesus, with the gospel of John as our guide. Building on a message by Leith Anderson, this week we begin way back in time, to survey the vastness of Jesus’ journey so that you can know God, so that anyone who wants to can see and hear and follow God who journeyed to us in the person of Jesus.
So if you have a Bible or a Bible app, open it to John chapter one. John chapter one. While you’re opening there, I can tell you that while the first three gospels major on describing the events of Jesus’ life, John emphasizes the meaning of those events. Next week we will lean in to hear seven names and titles of Jesus that together perfectly reveal the fullness of who he is. For this week, let’s marvel at the vast journey that Jesus undertook so that you can know God and be reconciled to God. John chapter one opens like this:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:1-5, 14
There’s John’s opening panorama of the most amazing journey ever taken. In this opening scene, John lifts our hearts to marvel at five aspects of Jesus’ amazing journey. He begins with Jesus’ journey from heaven to earth.
1. Jesus journeyed from heaven to earth.
As John says it, “In the beginning was the Word.” Word is a nickname for the Son of God. It’s the Greek term logos, and it refers to Jesus as the Word who lived forever in heaven. More than that, John adds that “Through him all things were made,” and “Without him nothing was made that has been made.”
Jesus’ journey brought him from heaven to earth, and John makes clear that Jesus co-created the earth and all that there is. The one and only God eternally existing in the three persons of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit created all things. Jesus was part of that process: through him all things were made.
Everything that the Voyager probe is discovering up close for the first time, Jesus is aware of because he had a hand in creating it. We marvel at space discoveries as they come to our attention for the first time. Jesus was there in the beginning, meaning before there was measurable time. He is our Creator who journeyed from heaven to earth, for us.
John says that like this: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” He uses the Greek word for a tent, which is one of the ways the Bible describes our lives—that we spend a season here, and then the tent is packed up and our spirit goes to God who created us. Jesus journeyed the other direction, from heaven to earth.
Here’s a way to think about it. Maybe you want to jot this down:
Jesus put in a change of address at heaven’s post office
and moved to our world.
Jesus was born to a mother like you were. He grew up in a family like you did. He experienced hunger and thirst and work and rest like you do, because he journeyed from heaven to earth. It’s hard to imagine the contrast between heaven and earth, the vastness of that journey.
Our daughter has a friend at college from South Korea who was excited that she might get to journey home to be with her family over Fall break. It struck us that with Fall break less than a week long, the flights back and forth alone would take up a good chunk of that break. But you can understand it: she longs to be with her family. Jesus, the Word, likewise willingly wanted to make the vast journey from heaven to earth, in order to introduce you to God and to the kingdom of heaven. He journeyed for you, for anyone who wants to know God and go through life with God.
One of the groups of people impacted strongly by the coronavirus pandemic has been senior citizens in assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Two places where I lead Bible studies and worship services have had seasons where the facility goes under lockdown because of illness coming in from the outside.
Mary Daniel hadn’t seen her husband for more than a hundred days due to safety restrictions at the senior care facility where he lives. Her husband, Steve, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s seven years ago and moved into a care facility in their home state of Florida.
Mary had been visiting her husband every night and would get him ready for bed. But when the pandemic hit and seniors were getting sick and dying from the virus being unwittingly carried in by outsiders, they restricted visitors in order to protect vulnerable residents. So Mary couldn’t get in to be with her husband—again, for more than a hundred days.
She was worried about her husband spending so much time alone and was desperate to find another way to stay connected. All of us, but especially dementia patients, need people interaction and touch and music and play so that we don’t just wither away or worry.
But then out of the blue, the corporate office of that memory care center called Mary and said, “We’ve got a part-time job available; would you like to take it?” Mary was thrilled to find any way to get in, and she took a dishwashing position.
That part-time job allowed Mary to see her husband regularly, and she’s grateful or it. She explains, “It’s worth it to be able to visit him, and I can already just tell the difference in his demeanor…[she says] I get to go again tonight … it has made the world of difference for me.” And her husband Steve now feels love again—something he missed out on when they were separated.
Mary Daniel is so glad that she can make that journey, because she wants to be with her husband every day.
This is where John begins his gospel: Jesus, the Word who created us, who was in heaven from the beginning, gladly journeyed from heaven to earth, so that he could be with us—with you.
He knew what he was doing. He knew where he was going. He knew what the sacrifice would be. He journeyed from the perfection of heaven to the mixed bag that is earth under the effects of sin. He who saw the perfection of the earth in the beginning knowingly chose to come to the earth as humanity has corrupted it.
Anderson says, “I think if God had a consultant who was a modern businessperson, probably the advice would be to cut his losses and forget about this human race and start over someplace else. Except God so loved the world and us in it that he sent his One and Only Son from heaven to earth.”
There’s the first aspect of the most amazing journey ever taken. Jesus journeyed from heaven to earth. Let’s keep going—and let your heart grow at how Jesus journeyed for you and for us. Second, the second aspect of the most amazing journey ever taken is that…
2. Jesus journeyed from eternity to time.
As John describes that journey, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” When was the beginning that John means? Go back as far as you can possibly imagine. No matter how far in your wildest imagination you can go back in time, the beginning John means here was before that.
Here’s a way to say it:
As long as ever there was,
In the beginning, the Word already was. He already lived and existed at the beginning, because he never began. Jesus journeyed from eternity to time. He came to our calendars, to our clocks, to our way of thinking and organizing schedules. He counted birthdays and spoke of the days of the week and lived in terms of bedtime and time and workdays and days off and time past.
When Jesus journeyed from eternity to time, he fit into our schedules. He became part of our history. He came at exactly the right time on history’s calendar. The best time for the good news of Jesus Christ to be break into the world was not now, but it was when Jesus journeyed from eternity to time. Alexander the Great had spread one common language, Greek, all around the Mediterranean basin. Then the Pax Romana, the Roman peace enforced by that next Empire, brought many nations under the rule of a single emperor. People could safely travel on the Roman roads as well as by sea around the Mediterranean. It was the best time for the Word to journey from eternity to time.
Jesus’ journey from eternity to time actually reset our calendars as well. Before him, a year might be called “The tenth year of the reign of so-and-so emperor.” That’s not how we measure time anymore. Today our calendars are set in terms of when the Word journeyed from eternity—B.C.—to time—A.D.
From the time when Jesus journeyed from eternity to time, heaven and earth forged a new link. Our whole understanding of time has changed because the Word came to us.
Let’s keep going. The third aspect of the most amazing journey ever taken is that…
3. Jesus journeyed to spirit and body.
Likely the least understood aspect of Jesus’ journey was his journey from spirit to body. John 1:14 tells us, “The Word became flesh.” Before his birth in Bethlehem, Jesus the eternal Word was a spirit only, as is God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. You couldn’t see him. You couldn’t touch him.
When Jesus journeyed from heaven to earth and from eternity to time, he also journeyed to spirit and body, something he had never had before. The eternal Word became for a time limited by space in his body.
This is hard to conceive no less explain, and that’s okay. Here’s something to chew on and maybe write down:
Anyone who talks about God without any sense of mystery
isn’t actually describing God.
Anyone who talks about God and there’s no room for mystery, they’re not really talking about the real God! John makes no attempt to explain or defend this, he simply lays out the evidence from what he saw and heard and touched, that Jesus journeyed from heaven to earth, he journeyed from eternity to time, and as he did so, he also journeyed from spirit to spirit and body.
The Word of God took on the confines of a human embryo in Mary’s womb. The Word in whom is light and life was for nine months kept in total darkness. And when he was ushered into daylight in Bethlehem, he looked like any other human, a few pounds in weight, unable to feed himself, hands not quite able to grasp, unable to speak, and totally dependent upon a young married couple for every necessity of life.
Augustine, who came to faith in Jesus well into his adult years, marveled at Jesus’ journey to spirit and body, writing this way back in the 5th century:
“He so loved us that, for our sake,
He was made man in time,
although through him all times were made.
He was made man, who made man.
He was created of a mother whom he created.
He was carried by hands that he formed.
He cried in the manger in wordless infancy, he the Word,
without whom all human eloquence is mute.”
—Augustine, Sermon 188, 2
An astounding journey as the Word who was there in the beginning, our co-Creator, took on creation in a body for us, in order to reach us, in order to communicate to us in our way, in order to save us from the sin that separates us from God in this life and beyond. This eternal Word journeyed to spirit to body.
Let’s keep moving and marveling. The fourth aspect of the most amazing journey ever taken is that…
4. Jesus journeyed to deity and humanity.
John 1:1 again says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” There is no mistaking what John is claiming—and this is what separates Jesus from every other world religion and philosopher. Others claim to have revelation from God; Jesus is God in the flesh!
For all eternity past, John declares, Jesus has been God, fully God. Everything that God is—all-powerful, ever-present, everywhere at the same time, all-knowing, all-wise, not a secret withheld from him, holy and powerful, merciful and miraculous, Jesus is. This is who also became human.
Verse 14, John explains, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” As he journeyed to deity and humanity, the Word became fully human. Jesus took on a real human body that functioned exactly as yours does. He felt every emotion that you do—happiness and hatred (you can ask me about that later if you want), loneliness and longing, feeling sad and feeling scared, excitement and a sense of satisfaction—all the feelings that we have.
And here’s the miracle: when Jesus journeyed from heaven to earth and from eternity to time and journeyed to spirit and body, he continued to be and is still today, fully God. Jesus is unique, absolutely one of a kind, unparalleled in history or philosophy or religion.
If you’re taking notes, here’s a way to say it:
Jesus is God with us,
come for us.
He understands what you go through—because he’s one of us, fully human.
He knows what it feels like to be tempted—because he was tempted as well.
He gets what it’s like to feel tired, bored, stressed, or conflicted—because he’s been there.
So when we call on Jesus in worship together, we are speaking with God. When you experience Jesus’ truth or touch or comfort or courage, you are experiencing the touch of God. When you see Jesus, you are seeing God. And yet he is also one of us, fully human. God almighty, and fully human.
If each of us were Japanese Christians, we would have an easy way to grasp the vastness of this journey that Jesus took in a big news item in that nation these days. Japan’s Princess Mako is a member of the Japanese Imperial Family who, while a student at Tokyo’s International Christian University fell in love with a classmate who is a commoner, not from the Japanese royal lineage.
Princess Mako is renouncing her royal status. None of the usual traditional wedding ceremonies for Imperial family members’ weddings will be offered to her. And she has voluntarily declined the $1.35 million gift she is entitled to upon leaving the Imperial family. Why give up all of that? Because of love. She is leaving behind title and wealth for love: Jesus journeyed from heaven to earth, and from eternity to time, to spirit and body, and to deity and humanity moved by love as well.
There’s one more aspect of the most amazing journey ever taken, the one that pulls it all together. And that is that…
5. Jesus journeyed to us to save us from our sins.
The Voyager probe’s journey may someday save astronauts from life and death errors in their space travels. Jesus’ journey is already saving all who will trust him from our sins.
Romans chapter 6:23 says…
“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Another translation says, “When you sin, the pay you get is death.” The problem is that we all sin. There is the good we ought to do that we willfully neglect, and there is the wrong we run after that we know we should run from. Sin separates us from God—a problem that continues after death apart from God’s direct intervention.
That, my friends, is why Jesus made his vast journey. All of it—journeying from heaven to earth, from eternity to time, journeying to spirit and body, and journeying to deity and humanity—he did for you. For anyone who will trust and follow him through this life and on into eternity. Jesus did it all, the entire journey, to save us from our sins.
As John 3:16 explicitly declares…
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
Let me give you a picture of the love that compelled God when he sent his Son for us. When the wife of Morocco’s king gave birth to a daughter not many years ago, her husband the king was delighted, thrilled, overjoyed. He wanted to celebrate and to bring others into his joy. And so instead of giving out cigars, the king of Morocco pardoned more than 8,000 prisoners and reduced the sentences of almost 25,000 others as a humanitarian gesture.
When the Word who was in the beginning—eternal—who was with God in the beginning—as co-Creator—and who was God in the beginning, took on flesh and made his dwelling among us—fully God and fully human—when he covered that vast, vast journey from heaven to earth, from eternity to time, that journey to spirit and body, and to deity and humanity, his whole purpose was to bring pardons for the guilty, to declare release to us held prisoner to sin, to declare exoneration to those standing in the shadow of sin’s condemnation.
Source: Tribune News Services, “Thousands Receive Pardons from King,” Chicago Tribune, (3/3/07)
Friends, we get excited about Christmas coming. We get excited about the home team winning a single football game. We get excited about vacations and getaways and babies being born and graduations and anniversaries—and rightly we should!
Yet the greatest cause for excitement should be the coming of Jesus, rightly understood: who it is that was born in Bethlehem, the amazing journey that he took to be with us, and why he came: to save us from our sins. To rescue us from hell. To begin ushering in his kingdom. To begin spreading the yeast of God’s kingdom, bringing blessing in place of curse, and hope in place of despair, and bringing peace where there is anxiety. This, friends, is why the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
So trust him. Be saved from your sins and let the good purpose of his journey be fulfilled in you. Respond with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. Join your voice with those already in heaven shouting and singing praises, liftings hallelujahs to Jesus Christ the eternal Word, now become our Savior and our Lord.
Pray with me, please.
Word of God
Who was in the beginning,
And was God,
Word of God through whom all things were made,
We bow before you,
ever-grateful for the journey you took—
From heaven to earth,
From eternity to time,
to spirit and body,
to deity and humanity.
We praise you that you became flesh and made your dwelling with us, for us.
Savior of the world,
We take you as our Savior.
Cleanse us from sin and lead us in your ways,
Till the day when our faith becomes sight just as surely as it did for those who saw the Word become flesh in their day.
With our grateful praise we come before you who came to us.