There is no traditional Christmas story about the birth of Jesus in the Gospel of John. You remember how it begins: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Instead of putting the Christmas story up front with its explanation, John weaves the story of Christmas and the purpose of Christmas through the Gospel.
For example, after saying in John 1:1 that the eternal Word “was God,” he writes in John 1:14–16, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth . . . And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”
Grace: The Dominant Note of Christmas
So the eternal Word of God took on human flesh, and in that way the divine Son of God — who never had an origin and never came into being and was God, but was also with God — became man. And in doing this, he made the glory of God visible in a wholly new way. And this divine glory, uniquely manifest in the Son of God, was full of grace and truth. And from that fullness we receive grace upon grace.
That is the meaning of Christmas in John’s Gospel. God the Son, who is God, and who is with God, came to reveal God in a way he had never been revealed before. And in that revelation, the dominant note struck is grace: from the fullness of that revelation of divine glory, we receive grace upon grace.
Christmas Is for Salvation
Or as it says in John 3:16–17, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, [that’s Christmas and Good Friday all in one — why?] that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world [Christmas is not for condemnation], but in order that the world might be saved through him [Christmas is for salvation].”
And at the end of his life, Jesus was standing before Pilate, and Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” And Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world [this is the purpose of Christmas — what is it?] — to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37).
A New and Unique Witness to the Truth
What was the effect of the truth that Jesus witnessed to with his words and his whole person? He told us in John 8:31–32, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” So the meaning of Christmas is this: the Son of God came into the world to bear witness to the truth in a way that it had never been witnessed to before.
He is the way the truth and the life (John 14:6). And the aim of giving himself as the truth to the world is freedom. You will know the truth and the truth will make you free. Free from the guilt and power of sin. Free from deadness and blindness and judgment.
He Came to Die
How does that liberation happen? You may recall from John 6 that in coming down from heaven, Jesus is planning to die. He came to die. He came to live a perfect, sinless life of self-giving, and then die for sinners. John 6:51: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, so that he could give his flesh for the life of the world. We sinners can receive grace upon grace from his fullness because he came to die for us. Christmas was from the beginning a preparation for Good Friday.
The Gospel: The Great Meaning of Christmas
So throughout the Gospel of John the meaning of Christmas becomes clear. The Word became flesh. He revealed the glory of God as never before. He died according to his own plan. Because of his death in our place, he is bread for us. He is the source of forgiveness and righteousness and life. This is the great meaning of Christmas in the Gospel of John.
And what I want to do today is to return to John 6 and pick up two verses that we passed over too quickly — verses that have everything to do with how this purpose of God in Christmas can become the source of your life, your forgiveness, your righteousness, your freedom.
The Life-Giving Words of Jesus
The two verses are John 6:63, 68. The link between them is that both refer to the words of Jesus as life-giving. Verse 63: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
Then, after “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him,”
Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:67–69)
Jesus Offers Life Right Now
So in verse 63, Jesus himself says, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” And in verse 68, Peter says, “You have the words of eternal life.” This is what I want us to think about — these two statements and how they relate to the Word made flesh, and to the giving of his flesh that the world may be saved, and to the Spirit that gives life.
I want you to know how Jesus offers you life right now, and how the incarnation of Christ and the death of Christ and the words of Christ and the Spirit of God all work together for your salvation, your forgiveness of sins, your eternal life.
Confusion, Even Terror, over the Sovereignty of God
Let’s start with verse 68. There is something very realistic and very relevant in this verse. Jesus had just said something that caused many disciples to leave him. He had said in verse 65, “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” Then verse 66 adds, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.”
“If God were not decisive, we would not have come.”
When the sovereignty of God over dead sinners coming to Jesus is affirmed, a crisis is created. Objections begin to rise up in our minds, and for many of us there has come a season of great confusion and sometimes terror. And what we get a glimpse of in verse 68 is part of what goes on inside the head of those who don’t leave Jesus because of these problems. How do some people work through the sovereignty of God in the salvation of sinners?
Considering Where Else to Turn
Jesus says in verse 67, “Do you want to go away as well?” And Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” In that simple question, Peter is saying, We’ve considered it. We’ve allowed ourselves to ponder what it might like to turn away from you. This is very relevant for some of you. This is the terror that I referred to. Some of you who find believing easy won’t know what I am talking about. But others will. And I want to help you.
Peter said implicitly, Lord, wherever we look for another Lord, another way, another friend, another philosophy, another view of God, another salvation, another meaning, they all come up short. We can’t walk away. You have the words of life.
“Lord, Where Shall We Go?”
If Peter were alive today, here’s the way his process of thought might have gone. Lord, where shall we go?
To Those Who Deny God’s Sovereignty?
Shall we go to those who deny your full sovereignty and who leave it decisively with sinners to raise themselves from the dead and give themselves spiritual life and become the decisive creators of their own faith, and provide the decisive impetus to come to Christ? As many as find this attractive, Peter says, No, whatever problems I have following a sovereign Christ, this alternative is hopeless. I know my own heart. If God were not decisive with me, I would not have come.
To whom then shall we go?
To Those Who Deny the Power of Sin?
Shall we go to those who deny that sin is such an enslaving, blinding power? Those who say that it may be a bad influence, but it’s not bondage. It’s not like slavery or death. We are tainted, but we are not helpless. Shall we go to them? No, Peter says, that is an unrealistic and naïve view of human nature. We know from our own souls and from universal experience, we human beings do not and will not submit to God on our own. Sin is bondage, not just bad influence.
To whom then shall we go?
To Those Who Say Sin Is Not Serious?
Shall we go to those who say that sin not so serious a problem because God is all merciful and he will, in the end, forgive everyone, and there is no wrath and no final judgment on any person? Shall we go find our place in that rosy world? No, Peter says, because as pleasant as it sounds it is the creation of sentimentality, not reality. In reality, there are horrific evils that must be set right. The outrages of history — including my own — cannot be swept under the rug of the universe. Mere forgiveness without the brokenhearted embrace of some kind of massive atonement will not satisfy my conscience or the justice of God.
To whom then shall we go?
To Those Who Deny God Exists?
Shall we go to those who deny that God exists? Would that be a satisfying escape from the problems of God’s sovereignty? No, Peter says, because if there is no God, and human beings are mere accidental and complex collections of matter and energy, then my very indignation at the evil in the world is reduced to a mere chemical reaction and loses all its meaning. And the one thing that was giving me energy and opposition to the sovereignty of God, namely, my moral indignation with the injustice of it all, turns out to be mere chemicals in my brain not significantly different than the growling of my stomach.
To whom then shall we go?
And the List Goes On . . .
And the list of alternatives to Jesus goes on and on. Some of you are in that position as I speak. You are deeply troubled by what you see in the Bible. And so you are asking: Can I go somewhere else? Is there another view of sin? Another view of God? Another view of salvation? Is there a place to go to rescue me from the sovereignty of God in verse 65?
No One Like Jesus
And for many of us, what keeps us from going to any of these is the same thing that kept Peter. Verse 68: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” In other words, we may not have all the problems solved — the problems of following Jesus and saying yes to his teaching and his Lordship and his saving work. He may confuse us at times, and baffle us with things he says, and provoke us, and offend us.
“The reason for the season is salvation — Jesus, the Incarnate Son, for sinners slain.”
And yet, we say with Peter, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” No one ever spoke like you. No one every acted like you. No was ever so strong and meek, so tough and tender, so authoritative and gentle, so profound and simple, so powerful and so willing to be killed, so just and so willing to be treated unjustly, so worthy of honor and so willing to be dishonored, so deserving of immediate obedience and so patient with people like us, so able to answer every question and so willing to remain silent under abuse, so capable of coming down from the cross in flaming judgment, and so committed not to use that power.
Come Back, Like the Prodigal Son
Where shall we go? There has never been anyone like you, Jesus. No one ever taught like you teach. No one ever loved like you love.
This is how thousands of people come to Christ. Not without tremendous struggles as they look around for a philosophy of life, a god, a world without God, a world without the sovereignty of God, a world with some kind of explanation that makes more sense of more things. And they come back, like the prodigal son, and say, “Where shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
The Spirit Gives Life
And how do they come back? How do you come to that point? How do you come to the decisive point of laying it down? I’m done wandering. I’m not going to fight against Jesus anymore. I surrender. I don’t have all the problems solved but I have seen enough of Jesus. I have seen enough of his Christmas purpose and his Good Friday love and his Easter sovereignty. I have seen enough. I will not sit on this fence any longer looking frantically for another God. Another worldview. Another philosophy of life. A better Savior. A better Lord. A better Treasure. A better friend. No, Jesus, I’m done looking for another world. Another Master. I’m yours.
How does that happen? The key is in verse 63: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” Notice the connection between the Spirit of God and the words of Jesus. “The Spirit gives life; my words are spirit and life.”
Through the Gospel
I take that to mean that what brings you to a final decisive commitment to Jesus — “I’m not looking anymore for another life, another world, another Savior. Jesus, I’m here. I’m yours” — what brings you to this place is the Spirit of God.
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, so that he could give his flesh for the life of the world.”
And the instrument that he uses is the words of Jesus. “The Spirit gives life. My words are spirit and life.” My words give life to your spirit which was dead and unable to come. They do this by displaying myself and my work in Christmas and on the cross. And the Spirit works through my words illumining your mind and your heart so that you see me as more precious than anything else in the world.
That’s why you say, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). You have seen the glory of the only Son from the Father full of grace and truth. You have seen the glory of his birth, and the glory of his death for your sins. And you have received grace upon grace. You are spiritually alive. And you believe! It was the Spirit that gave you this life. And Jesus will keep you. You will not go away from him. And he will not go away from you. That is what it means to have eternal life. And a very merry Christmas.