Friday, January 01, 2021
I had the good fortune of hearing two sermons before the season of Christmas had got going. Each were quite different but both reflected on Jesus as God. This was most unusual, for more usually I am told in such an Easter sermon, that on the first Good Friday, Jesus died, and that since he was God, God died. He was died usually for the period of Easter, whatever that period was. Then, Easter forgotten, God had become restored to fully God again, for the rest of the church year until the onset of the next Advent, which was another occasion when this nonsense was bruited. And Christmas sermons (where they continue to exist) have come to have a childishness too.
You will see that this inference i ‘when Jesus died, God died’ is not due to a failure of logic, but I like to call it a mistake of grammar. I should like to take up on this occasion what this means and why it is useful. Jesus is God, but he is not only God. He has another nature, which John in his peerless introduction of John’s Gospel asserted, though it was not the first thing he said. The chapter starts with the Word who was with God and more importantly, was God, from eternity, ‘from the beginning’. He was the creator. ‘All thing were made through him’, which John calls ‘life’, ‘in him was life’ and that life had an enlightening force on mankind. He had the power of creation, and so was the Creator, as Paul says, (Col.1.16). That ‘from the beginning’ or ‘in the beginning’ may suggest that the Son was alongside his Father, but he was God every bit as much as his Father was God, One God. In the Nicene Creed we read that the Lord Jesus Christ, ‘is from the essence of the Father, God from God…begotten not created, of the same essence as the Father, through whom all things came into being….’ The Son of God is God, both scripturally and creedly.
John does not use ‘Son’ until v. 14. Then, John says ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us….’ (v.16) It does not say that the word was a creature , or the flesh, or that the flesh brought about the Word. So now John has passed on to the incarnation of the word, or of the Son. And this incarnation becomes more apparent from what is later, said in v. 39 and following……He is a man who ‘stands’ with others. The entire first chapter can be thought as a disclosure of the incarnate Son of God in successive verses. He is first the Word who was with God, (v.1) and who was God, (v.1) and is our Creator, (v.3), and then as the God-man, becoming flesh, (v. 16), and the originator of the new birth ( v.1,13), full of grace and truth (v.12), at the Father’s side(v.1. 16). And in the latest phase of the Son he gives evidence of his true humanity, as he not only is shown as the eternal son of God, displaying his glory as the Son of the Father, but as incarnate.
So if we study this bit of what John has stated, we find that there are things we can and cannot say of Jesus if we have keep to what is revealed, that in John the Baptist’s words, Jesus is the Lamb of God. (1.29)
The word ‘became’ is particularly liable to send us in the wrong direction, ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (v.16) ‘Became’ can have a strong and a weak sense. When it is stated that the Word who was God and with God (V.1), obviously cannot change as those who are in time change. He became flesh, but this cannot mean that in becoming flesh the Word ceased to be with God and that he was not with God. Rather he took on flesh. Here we at the heart of the mystery of the Incarnation, what Paul called ‘Great is the mystery of godliness’ (I Tim.3. 16). At this point we must be resolute in our maintenance of the divinity, the godhead, of the Word. As such he was eternally was God and with God, and was with us.
He became flesh, possessing a human nature, when Mary was told by Gabriel not to be afraid, in that ‘you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, and he shall be great………(Luke 1.31-2), and ‘The Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over his house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1.32) And ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore he child to be born will be called ‘holy’…..the Son of God. (1.35): Christ – great,
Here we see the mysterious working of the Incarnation, insofar as we are given it, and can understand it. But that event was unparalleled, and so it does not become us to try to understanding this profound mystery by producing this or that ‘model’ of the Incarnation in order to comprehend it. But we can confidently state that here the eternal Word became flesh, as John states so. ( Jn. 1.14)
The second sermon
The second on was an exposition from the well-known words from Isaiah 9.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulders, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and for evermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isa. 9. 6-9)
This is a rich description of the divinity of the one who is to come. He is the mighty God and, even more strangely perhaps, the Everlasting Father. (But he is [fatherly] in the sense that by Holy Spirit he is the Comforter of his people’.) Through the work of the Father, He exercises an everlasting government, inheriting the throne of David for ever. But the verses give us of his humanity, says Calvin, concentrates our attention not to the divine essence (though this is affirmed, but to the various divine powers by which he defends and comforts his people. ‘He does not speak of Christ’s mysterious essence , but applauds his excellencies, which we perceive and experience by. This ought to be the more carefully considered , because the greater part of men are satisfied with his mere name, and do not observe his power and energy, though that ought to be chiefly regarded’. As Paul states in Colossians (II.3) in Christ ‘are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’. Imagine a sermon at Christmas concentrating upon the wisdom and government of the newly born baby!
It is interesting that in Luke’s extensive account of Christ’s birth, the angels who spoke to those godly believers into whose circle he came, used the language of the Old Testament was what they expected, a Mighty King. Mary was told by the angel Gabriel that her child was to be ‘great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end, (Lk I. 32-33). This continues in the Magnificat of Mary who refers to the child as ‘God my Saviour’, (Lk. 1.48), the one she magnified as ‘the mighty one ’.
We should remember that Christmas is not best celebrated as a climax of the pantomime season. It is the declaration of the birth of the mighty king.
[The review of Rod Dreher’s book Live Not By Lies has not been forgotten. It should appear at the end of the month.]