The Incarnation Considered…

If you are anywhere in the western world, it’s likely you know it’s the Christmas season. With the arrival of Christmas comes a certain danger. It isn’t the danger that you might be more consumed with shopping than with worshiping – although that’s a concern. The real danger isn’t that December’s busyness will leave you drained and ripe for January’s flu and cold season. The real concern isn’t whether or Santa is real or not, or whether you get what you asked for for Christmas. The danger is that you are so familiar with details of Christmas that you will miss the wonder, the theological significance of what God brought to pass in the birth of Christ. In short, you may miss the glory of the incarnation. The enfleshment of God. The reality that in the manger of Bethlehem is God, veiled in human flesh. This mystery is worth considering. In John 1:14we find the weight of this moment distilled into a single sentence. John states it profoundly, directly. The Word became flesh.

In one person, there is the fullness of undiminished deity and the fullness of undiminished humanity. How is this even possible? Theologians have made some attempts to articulate how it is that God and Man could be both in one person. These theological debates on the nature of Christ in the incarnation raged for centuries.

ImageFirst came the views of Appollanarius, who was bishop of Laodicea in AD 361. He reasoned that the person of Jesus was a human body but not a human mind and soul, the mind and soul were divine, part of the divine nature. In essence he saw that Jesus as one person was part Divine and part human. But, this fails the test of scripture. According to Heb.2:17, Jesus had to be completely human to die for humans. So any lessening of his human nature robs Jesus of true humanity and makes his death on the cross unable to atone for human sin. I include this graphic to aid your understanding. (adapted from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, p.554)

Next came the views of Nestorius. Nestorius was a popular preacher in the ancient city ofImage Antioch in the late 4th and early 5th century. he became the bishop of Constantinople in 428. It is possible that Nestorius never actually taught the error which is now associated with him, but nonetheless history has attached the fault to him. Nestorius taught that Jesus was two distinct persons. This goes beyond just 2 natures, and does injustice to the scriptural presentation of Jesus. Nowhere in scripture are we ever told that Jesus was two different persons. The Bible always speaks of Jesus as he, not they. Again, an illustration will help (adapted from Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology, p.554)

ImageFinally, the views of Eutyches. Eutyches was a leader in a monastery in Constantinople, now Istanbul, Turkey around the 4th-5th century. He taught that the human nature and the divine nature were absorbed into one person, making a third kind of nature. Some Eutychians also claimed that the human nature was absorbed into the divine, so much so that the remaining nature was not human, but divine. The problem with this view is not unlike Appolinarianism. If we make Jesus less a man, he cannot pay for human sin. If we make Jesus less than God, we do injustice to the text of scripture and stain his perfect life so that he unable to atone for sins. (adapted from Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology, p.556)

In order to settle these questions and deal with the heresies that were making their way across Christendom, a church council was called and met at Chalcedon, near Constantinople in AD 451. From October 8 until Nov.1 the brightest theological minds in the Imagechurch met and hammered out the best way to encapsulate the Biblical teaching on the person of Christ which would form orthodox Christian doctrine. The result was the Chalcedonian definition. I won’t quote the entire thing, but here is what it says, “Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body, consubstantial (meaning of the same essence)with the father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial (meaning of the same essence) with us according to manhood.” The definition says much more, but that is the essence of it. Fully God and fully man in one single person. It is best seen in this illustration (adapted from notes from Dr. Kevin Bauder)Image

The Bible is clear…Jesus Christ was fully man and fully God. Jesus could express the frailties of being human through thirsting – John 19:28. And he could express the realities of his deity by confidently declaring in John 10:30, “I and my Father are one.” Perhaps the union of these two nature into one person can best be illustrated by a story we recently studied on Wednesday night, in Mark 5, where Jesus is sleeping in a boat – you know God never sleeps (Ps.121:3), yet awakens to use his divine power and authority to calm the waves and sea.

Here in the manger we have this amazing truth. The eternal son of God, second person of the triune God, undiminished, lying in human form. So Jesus comes – fully God, fully man and is born to a virgin in Bethlehem. Don’t miss out on the theological wonder of this – God took on flesh and died for you!

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