By Horatius Bonar, 1867
"The Word was made flesh." John 1:14
It was "little among the thousands of Judah" (Mic. 5:2);
perhaps but a shepherd-village or small market town; yet there the great
purpose of God became a fact; "The Word was made flesh."
It is in facts that God's purposes come to us,
that we may take hold of them as real things. It is into facts that
God translates his truth, that it may be visible, audible, tangible. It is
in facts (as in so many seeds) that God embodies his good news, that
a little child may grasp them in his hand. So was it with the miracle of our
text. God took his eternal purpose and dropped it over Bethlehem in the form
of a fact, a little fragment of human history. Over earth, the first promise
had been hovering, for four thousand years, until at last it rested over
Bethlehem, as if it said, "This is my rest; here will I dwell."
The city is poor rather than rich. It is not without its
attractions; but these are of the more homely kind. Its scenes are not
stately; its hills are not lofty; its plains are not wide; its slopes are
rocky; it is not like the city of the Great King, beautiful for situation,
the joy of the whole earth. Yet there "the Word was made flesh."
It has no palace nor temple; only an inn for the
travellers passing between Hebron and Jerusalem; its dwellers are not
priests nor princes; it is not a sacred city, and is but little noted in
history. Yet there, not at Jerusalem, "the Word was made flesh."
But its lowliness makes it more suitable as the
birthplace of Him who, though he was rich, for our sakes became poor. And
all about it seems to suit him too. It is "the house of bread," fit dwelling
for him who is "the bread of God." Its old name was Ephrathah, "the
fruitful," as if pointing to the fruitful one. At its gate is the well of
David; and not far off are the pools of Solomon, which pour their water into
Jerusalem, telling us of the living water, and the river whose streams make
glad the city of our God. The gardens of Solomon are also nearby, speaking
to us not only of "the garden of the Lord," and the second Adam, and the
tree of life– but giving us the earthly scenes (which are the patterns of
the heavenly) which the "Song of Songs" describes. (Song of Sol. 2:12, 13.)
In walking through its streets, or wandering over its
heights, one seems to read text after text, written, not with an iron– but a
golden pen, upon its hills and rocks. "Unto us a Child is born," seems
inscribed on one; "Unto us a Son is given," on another; "Unto you is born a
Savior," on a third; "Glory to God in the highest," on a fourth; the name of
Jesus upon all. The city is not now what it was, yet there it sits upon the
northern face of its old height; the one town in Palestine still possessed
exclusively by those who call themselves by the name of Christ.
Bethlehem is not named in our text; but you cannot read
the verse without being transported to that city. "In the beginning was the
Word," carries you up into heaven, and back into past infinity. "The Word
was made flesh," brings you down to earth and the finite things of time; to
the manger, and the stable, and "the young Child." The shepherds are gone;
the wise men have departed to their own country; the glory has passed up
again into heaven; the angels have left; the song of the plain has ceased;
the star has disappeared– the star of which Balaam spoke, as yet to sparkle
somewhere in these eastern heavens, and which Micah may be said to have
fixed and hung over the city, when he named the name of Bethlehem as the
birthplace of the coming King– but the city itself is still there, rooted to
its old spot; not like Rachel's tomb nearby, a memorial of death and sorrow–
but a remembrancer of joy and peace, a witness of the everlasting life which
came down from heaven.
At Bethlehem our world's history begins. All before and
after the birth of the young child takes its color from that event. As the
tree, rising from a small root or seed, spreads its branches, and with them
its leaves, its blossoms, its fruit, its shade, north, south, east, and
west; so has this obscure birth influenced all history, sacred and secular,
before and behind. That history is an infinite coil of events, interwoven in
endless intricacies, apparently with a thousand broken ends; now upward, now
downward, now backward, now forward; but the raveled coil is one, and
its center is Bethlehem. The young Child there is the interpreter of all its
mysteries. As He is "the beginning of the creation of God," the
"first-begotten of the dead," so is he the beginning and ending, the center
and circumference of human history. "Christ is all and in all;" and as such,
from the manger to the throne, he is the incarnation of Jehovah's purposes,
the interpretation of the divine actings, and the revelation of the heavenly
Few statements contain in them such a world of truth as
this of our text. Let us see (I.) what it is, (II.) what it teaches.
I. What it is. The "Word" is the eternal name
for the young Child of Bethlehem. He is so called because he is the revealer
of the Father, the exponent of Godhead. He is so now; he was so in the days
of his flesh; he has been so from eternity. The names Christ, Immanuel,
Jesus, are his earthly ones; his names in time connected with his
incarnate condition; but the names "Word" and "Son" are expressive of his
eternal standing, his eternal relationship to the Father. What he was in
time and on earth, that same he has been in heaven and from eternity. The
glory which he had "before the world was" (John 17:5), and of which he
"emptied himself" (Phil. 2:7, see Greek), was the glory of the eternal Word,
the everlasting Son. As the eternal revealer of Godhead, the "brightness of
Jehovah's glory, and the express image of his person," his name ever was THE
WORD; as the declarer of the mind of God to man, his name is no less THE
WORD, with this addition, "the Word made flesh."
"In the beginning was the Word," is the divine, or
heavenly, or upper portion of the mystery; "the Word was made flesh," is the
human, the earthly, the lower. It is this latter that so specially concerns
us; for without it the former was nothing to us. God manifest in flesh
is the "great mystery of godliness," which links together the creature
and the Creator; which brings down to the sinner's side the waters of the
eternal well. It is this that makes the inaccessible and unapproachable
Godhead accessible and approachable; the unseen becoming the seen– no, the
most seen of all; the far off becoming the near– no, the nearest of all; the
incomprehensible becoming comprehensible, no, the most comprehensible of
all– a little child– a child of poverty and weakness, nursed at a woman's
breast, and resting upon a woman's knee.
The Word was made flesh! He became truly man– man all
over, within and without, in body, soul, and spirit; in everything but sin.
All the nations of the earth God has made of one blood, and of that
one blood was the Word made partaker, becoming bone of our bone and
flesh of our flesh; his soul truly human, not superhuman nor celestial; his
body of the very substance of the Virgin– true, real, yet holy flesh; the
holiness not making him less truly flesh, and the flesh not making him less
Thus Bethlehem becomes the link between heaven and earth.
God and man meet there, and look each other in the face. In the young child
man sees God, and God sees man. There is joy in heaven, there is joy on
earth, and the same song suits both– "Glory to God in the highest; on earth
peace and good-will towards men." Jacob's ladder is now firmly planted on
the earth. God is coming down; man is going up; angels are in attendance
upon both. The seed of the woman has come. God has taken man's side against
the old serpent. He has not only knocked at man's door– but he has come in.
The winter is past; the rain is over and gone; the day has broken; the
shadows have fled away!
II. What it teaches. The angel was the first
to interpret it– "Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy." Yes,
tidings of peace and good-will; tidings of God's free love; tidings of his
design to pitch once more his tabernacle here, and to take up his abode with
the sons of men.
It teaches us God's thoughts of peace; for incarnation
means this at least, that God's desire is to bless us, not to curse; to
save, not to destroy. He seeks reconciliation with us; no, he has brought
about the reconciliation. He has not merely made proposals of peace, and
sent them to us by the hand of an ambassador; but he has himself come to us
bearing his own message, and presenting himself to us, in our nature, as his
own ambassador. Incarnation is not, indeed, the whole– but it is much. It is
the voice of love, the message of peace. God himself is both the speaker
and the maker of peace.
The message that comes to us from Bethlehem is a very
decided one. It is not a finished one; it was only finished at the cross;
but, so far as it goes, it is quite explicit; quite unambiguous. It means
love, peace, pardon, eternal life. The lesson taught us at Bethlehem is the
lesson of grace; the grace of God, the grace of the Father and of the Son.
We may learn much, indeed, as to the way of life, from Bethlehem. It must
not, indeed, stand alone; you must associate it with Jerusalem; you must
bring the cradle and the cross together. But still it teaches us the first
part of the great lesson of peace. It says, though not so fully as Golgotha,
that God is love. The beginning is not the end– but still it is the
beginning. The dawn is not the noon– but still it is the dawn. Bethlehem is
not Jerusalem– but still it is Bethlehem. And the Prince of peace is there.
The God of salvation is there. The manifested life is there.
Do not despise Bethlehem. Do not pass it by. Come; see
the place where the young child lay. Look at the manger– there is the Lamb
for the burnt-offering, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the
world. These little tender hands shall yet be torn; these feet, that have
not yet trod this rough earth, shall be nailed to the tree. That side shall
yet be pierced by a Roman spear; that back shall be scourged; that cheek
shall be buffeted and spit upon; that brow shall be crowned with thorns– and
all for you! Is not this love? Is it not the great love of God? And in this
love is there not life? And in this life is there not salvation, and a
kingdom, and a throne?
At Bethlehem, the fountain of love was opened, and its
waters have gushed out in their fullness. The well of David has overflowed
the earth, and the nations now may drink. The good news have gone forth from
the city of David, and all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of
Would you learn the way to God? Go to Bethlehem. See
yon infant– It is God; the Word made flesh. He is "the Way." No man comes to
the Father but by him. Go and deal with him. So shall Bethlehem be to you
the gate of heaven.
Would you learn the vanity of earth? Go to yon manger
where the Lord of glory lies. That is reality; all else is hollow. What a
vain world is this of ours! Yon manger contains the only thing on earth of
which it cannot be said, "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity."
Would you have a safeguard against worldliness, and sin,
and error, and the snares of the last days? Choose and keep the young
Child's companionship. Wherever you go, be like Joseph and Mary, when they
fled into Egypt; take the young Child with you. Is it into the world's
business? Take the young Child with you. Is it into its philosophy and
literature? Take the young Child with you. Is it into its relaxations and
amusements? Take the young Child with you. If you take Him, all is right. If
you forget to do so, or find you cannot, all is wrong.
Would you learn to be humble? Go to Bethlehem. There
the highest is the lowest; the eternal Word a babe; the King of kings has
not where to lay his head; the Creator of the universe sleeps in a woman's
arms. How low he has become; how poor! Where shall we learn humility if not
here? All earthly pride is here rebuked and put to shame. Be not proud, says
yon Bethlehem manger. Be clothed with humility, say the swaddling bands of
yon helpless Child.
Would you learn to be self-denied? Go to Bethlehem.
See the Word made flesh. He "pleased not himself." Where shall we find such
self-denial as at the cradle and the cross? Where shall we read a lesson of
self-sacrifice, such as we have in him who made himself of no reputation;
who chose not Jerusalem– but Bethlehem, for his birthplace; not a palace nor
a temple– but a stable for his first earthly home? Shall we not be followers
of his lowly love? Shall we not deny self? Shall we not stoop for others as
he has stooped for us?