The Most Shocking Words Ever Written


In days past shocking words might be found in Ripley’s Believe it or Not or The Enquirer.  They’d now be on TikTok, Instagram, or X. Shocking words are remembered so high voltage are they but not ours. The most shocking words to people at Christmas are, “only one more shopping day left”. We’re inured to shock this time of year. We don’t even raise an eyebrow at snowmen coming to life, reindeer flying, and 48-inch belly slipping down a 30-inch chimney. So, today, we pause so as not to pass by the most shocking words ever written. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Peter said of this truth that the angels in heaven bend over, hands on their knees, and look over the edge of heaven to wonder at this miracle of miracles (1 Pt 1:12).

The “Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” If these words don’t shock you, then you either don’t know or don’t care what they mean. The people John writes to did. The OT Church had waited for centuries for the coming of the Lord in the Person of His Word. After returning from their captivity in Babylon, when the Scriptures were read instead of reading ‘the Lord appeared’; they would say ‘the Word of the Lord’ did. Any time the Lord revealed or manifested Himself the OT Church said it was the Word of the Lord doing it. Well, John announces that the Word of the Lord that had come to Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, and all the prophets had at last put on flesh and blood for good. No more would He take human form to walk with Adam, talk with Abraham, or meet with Moses only to put it off after. Now, the Word was made flesh and would dwell among us.

Isn’t this itself shocking? Flesh and blood are far beneath the Word of God. We consider it a ‘miracle’ when someone of wealth and power gets grimy and dirty helping a poor family fix up a ghetto home. The Word becoming flesh is a far greater reach. The Word existed from before the beginning. He’s always been with God for He Himself is God. He without beginning or end takes a ‘birthday’ in time. The Word which always existed outside time steps into time, grows, and ages. Adults do something like this when they play with toddlers. A toddler has a slow conception of time. If you play too fast, they can’t keep up. Furthermore, they can play the same game over and over but not get bored. The Word was made flesh and came down into our time zone not to play with us but to redeem us.

Isn’t this shocking? No? Maybe it’s not concrete enough. The Creator is entrusting Himself into the hands of His creatures. If you’ve had teenagers you can relate. Remember how your felt the first time you got into the passenger seat with the child you brought into the world driving? Still can’t relate? The Word of the Lord is spirit. Spirits don’t have flesh and blood. As spirit God the Son didn’t have to eat or drink to sustain a body. And not to put too fine a point on it: As spirit, God had no spittle to swallow; no waste to eliminate. Bodily functions aren’t sinful in themselves, but there is an unpleasantness about them. If you don’t think so, you haven’t been around little ones in a while. C. S. Lewis said, "If you want to get the hang of it [of a spirit taking on a body], think how you would like to become a slug or a crab" (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 155).

In becoming flesh, the Word accepted all the bodily functions and knew that. You and I don’t remember being diapered, nursed, burped, or bathed. The Word did at the time and remembers it now. How humbling for God Almighty. Think of a parent showing naked baby pictures to a prom date. You and I only get a glimpse of the real humiliation Jesus went through when we’re old, infirm, and must depend on loved ones or strangers to be bathed, fed, dressed, or toileted. We shudder at the thought and even pray that the Lord spare us from needing such care. Yet, we’re not shocked to that God became flesh – a newborn – needing to be cared for by sinners. 

“The Word was made flesh” is shocking enough. It only increases when we get to the 2nd part of the verse: “and dwelt among us.” It would’ve been shocking enough for the Word to take on flesh and remain in heaven. It is shocking that the temporarily enfleshed Word walked with Adam and Eve in Paradise. But the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us: This is the “bulls and blood/ the dust and mud” that Garth sang of. It’s the “muscle and blood” that Ford sang of. You’ve been around people of other cultures and noted how they have distinct odors some which are off-putting to you. What does a creature smell like to the Creator? What does that which is mortal smell like to immortality? What does fallen humanity smell like to holy divinity? If the heavens aren’t clean in His sight, as Job 15 says, what do you think we look like? Yet shockers of shockers: The Word came to dwell in all ‘this’ to rescue us, to save us, to reclaim us.

You know how people in glass houses ought not throw stones? People of dirt who live in the filth of their fallenness shouldn’t take the Savior in flesh for granted. But, “The Word came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” That is the OT church did as Isaiah lamented, “An ox knows its owner, and a donkey recognizes its master’s care— but Israel doesn’t know its master” (1:3). The Word of the Lord became a persona non gratia among His own people, and not only them but the world He made also didn’t recognize their Creator. “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.” That’s the word for ‘recognize’. It’s devasting when dementia takes you from your loved one’s knowledge, i.e. they don’t recognize you. Even if a pet does that it hurts. 

What more could the Word do? He had come in the mouths of the prophets. He had come in the actions of His priests. He had come in the reign of Godly kings. Yet, the Word of the Lord was not received, not recognized, but rejected. Still, the Word was made flesh and dwelled among us. Rather than rejecting His creation, rather than leaving them in their self-chosen darkness and death, the Word came down and got us. Recognize this from the parable of the vineyard? After the Lord sent messengers whom they beat, mistreated, and even killed He says: “I will send My beloved Son. Probably they will respect Him when they see Him” (Lk 20:13). Probably? They did not. Yet still the Lord sent Him into the Virgin’s womb to dwell among us.

And He dwelled among us under the sentence of death and damnation for sin although He Himself was sinless. He dwelled among us with the sadness and sorrows that sinners live with daily. He didn’t just take on flesh but in it bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. Although He was without sin, His conscience knew the weight of all your sins. Although His body was perfect, according to Matthew, He took our infirmities and carried our diseases. Every disgusting, repellent, foul thing we experience in the body in our sins and sinfulness, Jesus felt in His perfect body. The clothes I hunt and fish in I could care less what I spill on them or stain them with. A suit I feel bad, disappointed to stain. Sinners are hunting and fishing clothes; Jesus is the clean, dressy suit. And He goes forth in that suit to hunt and fish for sinners in the blood and the mud of our fallen world.

This is shocking. God did for us like a father did for a son he had told that if ever did a certain thing again, he would be locked in the attic without supper for the night. The boy did it, and after sending the boy into the attic, the dad tried to eat but couldn’t. His wife noticing said, “I know what you’re thinking, but you must not bring the boy out of the attic. It would only serve to make him disobey again. He won’t respect your word if you don’t keep it. You must not fail to keep your promise to punish his disobedience.” The dad replied, “You are right; I will keep my word.” The dad left the table, went to the attic, and when his son went to sleep that night on the hard floor, his dad’s arm was his pillow. Shocking but not as much as the truth. The Word made flesh spent the night of darkness and death locked in the attic of our sins and their judgment alright, but He took our place in the attic. Only He experienced the death of that dark, dead attic, so that we might dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

The Word made flesh did what we can never do. Understand that? Before you believed this, took comfort in it, or knew it. Whether you ever believe that the Word was made flesh to take your place under the weight and penalty of God’s Law, He did it. Whether you ever take comfort in it or even know it, this is the truth. Jesus came into our flesh and blood to save sinners, swallow death, and defeat the Devil. Charles Wesley’s Christmas hymn paints the picture: “Those infant hands/ Shall burst our bands,/ And work out our salvation;/ Strangle the crooked serpent,/ Destroy his works for ever,/ And open set/ The heavenly gate” (Join All Ye Joyful Nations, 5). This Christmas hymn speaks of a foundational truth. The legend of Heracles has him killing two snakes sent into his crib by a jealous stepmother and that story is a foundation of his mythology. So, the truth that the snakes of sin and death were sent after the Word made flesh by the Devil, but Jesus killed them by being bitten to death, is a foundation of our theology.

Luther too expresses the comfort of the shocking theology of the word made flesh, and he does so with an emphasis on it being a done deal. “What harm can sin and death then do?/ The true God now abides with you./ Let hell and Satan rage and chafe,/ Christ is your Brother--ye are safe” (To Shepherds as They Watched, 4). Lewis, as we say, ‘goes here’ too. He observes that “the higher a thing is, the lower it can descend - a man can sympathize with a horse but a horse cannot sympathize with a rat.” Then he closes with, “Only One has descended into Hell" (The Great Divorce, 139). But the longest step was the first: Into flesh and blood to dwell among us. Amen

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

The Nativity of our Lord (20231225); John 1:1-14