He pitched His tent among us
John 1: 10-18
If I asked you this morning “What is the central fact of Christianity - the very heart of this faith which we celebrate today? What is the wonder of wonders in this all-wonderful gospel of Jesus Christ?” What would you answer as the heart and soul of this faith that has changed the course of human history, the face of civilization, and the personal lives of innumerable souls?
I know it is the first Sunday of 2014 and we’re only just warming up to being back in church but …
Is it “the fatherhood of God” which Jesus himself stressed so forcefully?
Is it the amazing movement of the Holy Spirit making Christ real to people?
Or, is it the cross? The outpouring of sacrificial love, the living out to the ultimate of Jesus’ own claim: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for a friend.”
For the Christian Church in the West, this has been the central fact - the cross. The cross of Calvary is our Holy of Holies. Around the cross is where we feel nearest to God, more conscious of His Presence, pierced to the heart by His sacrificial love poured out for sinners such as we are.
But consider another possibility.
I wonder if you can remember where you were on 21 July 1969? Perhaps you were on holiday with the family – maybe you are too young to remember or not even born!!
But if you were around on that day you would have witnessed history in the making – the day when Neil Armstrong stepped on to the moon. We hold that event in awe and amazement, as well as the man who performed that amazing feat.
But listen to Dr Charles Allen – the pastor of the largest United Methodist Church in USA in Houston Texas.
“I live around the corner from a man who walked on the moon. When I see him, I experience a bit of awe until I remember that the greatest event in human history is not when a man walked on the moon, humanity’s greatest event was when God walked on earth.”
This is the second Sunday after Christmas – a bit of a lull after the onslaught of Christmas and New Year – when people just want to lie down and rest. But today I want to focus on humanity’s greatest event - or God’s greatest event - the coming of God to us in, as a human being, flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. The Eastern church, unlike the West, has focused on Bethlehem rather than Calvary, as the central place, as the Holy of Holies – that it is there that the mystery of divine grace staggers men most. There is much to be said for that – this event in Bethlehem being the central fact of Christianity.
Before Bethlehem life for many was desperate. Life was full of pain and problems past our understanding, and sorrow upon sorrow, every kind of terrifying thing. And they were facing it alone. For God was out of it. That was the privilege, and the prerogative, that a God possessed, that He was out of it. He was untouched by it all. Then it happened. Men found that they were not alone. There was someone beside them and that someone was God; not out of it, but in it, at the raw heart of it; touched by their infirmities, afflicted in all their afflictions, and always there; so that, in the loneliest, toughest situation or experience, there are two of us - our own frail, foolish, frightened heart, and the all-sufficient God upon whom it can lean.
In our passage today, there’s a whole series of staggering assertions that sweep us along, allowing no breaths to be taken, no pauses for reflection, and reaching the most staggering of all assertions in the fourteenth verse: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of Grace and Truth; we have beheld His Glory, Glory as of the only son from the Father.”
But this is no isolated concept in John.
Right at the very beginning we read of God walking in the cool of the evening with Adam. Time and again when it says the angel of the Lord it is referring to the Lord God Himself – so often do these things occur that they are given their own name – theophany – times when God comes down and dwells with man.
Time and again God reinforces this with His own words – none more so than in Exodus where God promises to Moses: “I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar and.. .I will dwell among the Israelites.” (Exodus 29:44—45 NIV). What a staggering thought! The sovereign God of the universe promised to pitch his tent among us actually to dwell in the midst of his chosen people
So at the beginning of this new year this is our theme – for it is true today as it is on 25 December or on 21 July or any other day in the year - He has pitched his tent among us. This remarkable promise is a central theme of Scripture. It reached climax in our reading: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” This is the sentence for the sake of which John wrote the entire fourth gospel. The Greek word used here for “dwelt” is derived from the noun for tent, so connection with the tabernacle in the wilderness where the Lord dwelt with Israel. In Christ, God has pitched his tent among us.
I wonder if you remember that word of John near the close of the Book of Revelation where he describes his vision of the new heaven and the new earth. “And I heard a great voice out of heaven, saying, “Behold, the Tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.”
Again, the word “dwell” is literally translated to “pitch a tent”. Thus, from beginning to end of scripture, we find the identical imagery, a Holy God “pitching his tent” among his people; first in the tabernacle, then in the wilderness, and ultimately in His Kingdom, when he comes again to establish a new heaven and a new earth.
God has pitched his tent among us. Is there a more heartening message in the Bible than that?
God is with us; He mixes with us; He’s one of us. Even before He speaks, even before He demands anything of us, he comes and is with us. He is with those who suffer and cry out, and He is with those who rejoice.
That’s the gospel faith - Jesus is Immanuel “God with us.”
Here is the word, my friends, the very best exceeds the best or the worst of any situation - for the very best is “God is with us!” He has pitched his tent among us in joy and jeopardy; in success and sickness; in pleasure and pain; in tragedy and triumph, in life and death - he has pitched his tent among us.
Therefore we are never alone. We do not have to move and do in our own power. And there is nothing – absolutely nothing – that can separate us from the love of God that is found in Christ Jesus.
I began by asking the question – What is the central fact of Christianity?
What is the wonder of all wonders in this all-wonderful Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Amongst all that could be said, none surpasses this most wonderful fact – God has pitched His tent with us in His Son Jesus Christ.