CHRIST: GOD INCARNATE

 Over the years there has been much debate over the central doctrines of Christianity and their probability and trustworthiness. Much has been said and questioned about the miracles of Jesus.  His supposed resurrection and subsequent appearances are merely the capstone to a thoroughly unbelievable life-story. What if we step back from the chorus of the doubters and make the assumption that this Jesus of Nazareth was more than a human being; that he was indeed the incarnate Word of God? It is more than probable that the creator of the universe would heal the sick, feed the hungry and exercise authority over creation. The author of life would rise out of the grave victorious over death. So the real problem people are faced with may be solved by establishing the divine nature of the man, Jesus. The leap from accepting the historical Jesus to seeing the kerygmatic Christ (the Jesus proclaimed by the apostles as born by the virgin Mary, crucified under the Romans and raised from the dead, our exalted God and Savior) is one that must be accepted by faith.

John 1:1-4

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

 

Thus begins the marvelous book of John and his prologue describing the fact of God becoming man so eloquently. John presents his case with the incarnate Christ as the defendant, John as his lawyer and the original readers as the members of the jury. This prologue can truly be seen as the opening argument stating the facts of Christ: fully human and fully divine. The evidence follows as John sets forth 7 signs, as well as the witnesses; God the Father, John the Baptist, Moses and the scriptures which all testify to the same truth the man Jesus is the Messiah!

The historical situation in which John wrote this prologue and his entire Gospel is remarkable. It deals with the very question of the incarnation.

John wants to make it very clear that the person Jesus of Nazareth, that he is testifying about, is fully human as well as fully divine. Throughout his Gospel John makes it very clear that there was not a dichotomy between his physical body and his spirit, but that he was indeed God and Man in one person. In the early stages of Christianity there were a number of heresies that were spreading denying either the deity of the man Jesus, or the humanity of the Christ. Much of their ideas came from the Greek concept of dualism, the differentiation between matter and spirit, one evil beyond repair and value, the other far beyond any contact with matter and ultimately good. One of the offshoots of gnosticism was Cerinthianism, founded by an Ephesian named Cerinthus. The teaching of this group included that earth was matter and therefore evil not created by God but by an evil emanation of that true and good God. The body was evil and therefore it didn’t matter what they did. They assumed they might as well do as they pleased. Spiritual knowledge would lead to God and spiritual heights might be achieved despite their apparent moral bankruptcy. These heretics further believed that Jesus was not the Christ, but that he was either a Phantom or spirit (and therefore his suffering not real); or a human possessed by God at the baptism and left at the cross. This system of belief did not believe in the incarnation of the Word of God and was called Docetism from the Greek word “dokeo” to seem.

Philippians 2:5-8

Your attitude should be that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!

 

The word that is here translated as “made himself nothing” is the word kenosis meaning emptying. This has led some people to falsely interpret this act of humility as abdication of his divinity or at least some of its attributes, known as “Kenosis Theory”. This however is in contrast to the intended meaning of Christ giving up his glory and majesty that he had from the beginning with the Father.[1] It also clearly contradicts the rest of scripture, especially the Gospels, that affirm and demonstrate Jesus’ supernatural activities. Paul confirms to the Philippians that the eternal God had chosen to become man, to humble himself and to endure all the aspects of that incarnation, including the frailties of human existence, and ultimately death to save them.

The writer to the Hebrews remarks:

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebr.2:14-15)

He states very clearly that the divine became human sharing, that is partaking in their humanity in order to save them. Nothing in this passage suggests that he therefore lost his deity, on the contrary, how could a mere human gain the victory over both the devil and death. Having been made fully human Jesus now could become the “merciful High Priest” [2], who could relate and sympathize with mankind[3], and because “he was tempted in every way, yet without sin” Jesus was able to become the supreme sacrifice for our sin.

The question formulated by Jesus to his disciples “Who do the people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27), not only stunned the disciples, but it continues to be of crucial importance two thousand years later.[4] At the time Peter broke forth with what only the Holy Spirit could have revealed, “You are the Messiah!” The humanity of Jesus, his historical existence is attested not only in scripture but in secular writings as well. The Jewish historian Josephus writes about his existence and there are other historical writers as for example Pliny and Tacitus, both Roman historians, that state the fact that a person named Jesus of Nazareth really lived and breathed in Galilee. This at the very least ascertains the fact that Jesus existed, which makes him obviously human. His death and the described fatal torment that he endured assure his death and counter any theory of a possible reviving after he “fainted” at the cross. He appeared to his disciples after his resurrection and endowed them with the power of the spirit. They in turn turned the known world upside down with the power and steadfastness of their testimony, enduring unspeakable torment and persecution. Their willingness to endure such extreme suffering can only be explained with one fact; Jesus the man rose from the death proving his deity in his victory over death and the devil.

The Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) produced the Christological definition that fixed the boundaries for all future discussion. It declared that “Christ posessed two natures without confusion, without change, without division, without separation, the distinctiveness of the natures being by no means removed because of the union, but the properties of each nature being preserved.”[5]

 

Jesus is  the Christ, the only Son of God; Fully divine as well as fully human. Jesus of Nazareth was God made man. He took humanity without loss of deity and as such is able to not only relate to the rest of humanity, but was able by his death to save them as well. He is the word that was made flesh.

The magnificent mystery of the incarnation when grasped must have the deepest implication for the life of the believer. Not only dies it show the amazing love of our God for his children (which in itself should give us tremendous confidence), but it enables us “to approach the throne of grace with confidence” because of the mediator who became like us[6]. He was clothed in our humanity and frailty, subjected to temptation and suffering, and he died making atonement for our sin. In realizing what God has done for us we also should have the same attitude as Christ-serving and loving our fellow man and in that showing Christ’s love.

Bibliography

 

 

Elwell, Walter AEvangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1984.

Grenz,Stanley J.  Created for Community. Connecting Christian with Christian

Living. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1998.

Grenz, Stanley J.; Guretzki, David; Nordling, Cherith (eds.)  Pocket

Dictionary of Theological Terms. Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 1999.


[1] Cf. John 17:5 [2] Hebrews 2:17-18 [3] Hebrews 4:15 [4] Grenz, Created for Community, p. 107 [5] Elwell, Dictionary of Evangelical Theology, pp. 555-556 [6] Hebrews 10:19-23

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