Jesus Christ ~ 20200427 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
04/27 Foundations: Who is Jesus Christ?; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200427_jesus-christ.mp3
Welcome to our foundations study, looking at the basics of Christian belief.
We looked last time at the nature of God as a triune being; There is exactly one God (not three or more divine beings; that would be tri-theism or polytheism). And this one God eternally exists in three distinct persons who are each fully and equally God.
We were helped by the heretics to avoid errors in our thinking about God. Sabellius emphasized that there is only one God but he denied that the Father, Son and Spirit are distinct persons who relate with one another. Arius taught that the Father and Son are distinct persons, but that the Son is a subordinate created being. He denied that Jesus is the same substance or essence as his Father.
Historic Christianity affirms that the Son is a distinct person from his Father, but is fully God, equal and eternal with his Father.
The Identity of Jesus Matters Eternally
Tonight we are going to continue to be helped by the heretics as we think specifically about the Son. What does the Bible teach about Jesus? How are we to think about Jesus, and what are we to avoid in our thinking about Jesus? What we think about Jesus matters, because he demands that we come to him to have life. If we don’t listen to what he says about himself, are we really coming to him? It matters to Jesus what we think about him. When he asked his disciples what people were saying about him, and when Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’,
Matthew 16:17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
Peter was blessed, eternally happy because he was given insight into who Jesus truly was. It is on this foundation, this rock, the identity of Jesus that he would build his church. It matters what we think of Jesus. Jesus told the Jews who did not believe in him:
John 8:24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am [he] you will die in your sins.” ...58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
So it matters eternally what we believe about Jesus.
We’ve already looked at the Biblical teaching that Jesus is God, fully divine, yet a distinct person from the Father and the Spirit.
But what do we do with the incarnation? What did it mean for God to become man? What happened when he took on flesh?
Heresies about the Incarnation
Docetism (from dokeo – to appear) taught that Jesus only appeared to be human and die; his humanity was merely an illusion.
Adoptionism teaches that Jesus was only a human until he was adopted by the Father either at his baptism, his resurrection, or his ascension, and became divine from that point on. Adoptionist teaching would deny the virgin birth of Jesus.
Apollinarius, (bishop of Laodicea c. 361 A.D.) taught that at the incarnation God took a human body but not a human mind or spirit; the mind and spirit of Jesus were replaced with the divine logos or mind. So according to Apollinarius, Jesus would have been part divine and part human, in which case he would be a strange hybrid; neither fully God nor fully man.
Eutyches (c. 378-454 A.D. - leader of a monastery in Constantinople) taught that Christ had only one nature – that the human nature of Christ was absorbed into the divine nature creating a third, different kind of nature. So again, Jesus would be no longer fully human. Neither would he be fully divine.
Nestorius (popular preacher at Antioch and bishop of Constantinople from 428 A.D.) taught that Jesus was fully man and fully God, and his divine and human natures were united in purpose, not in person; so Jesus was two separate persons; a human person and a divine person.
A Heretical Jesus Cannot Save
What is wrong with these understandings of Jesus? Why is this important? The Nicene creed (325) put it this way:
It was for us and for our salvation that God became man. The sacrifice of a mere man would not be sufficient to save any; but something or someone not fully man could not legitimately take the place of mankind. In order for Jesus’ sacrifice to be of infinite value to save us, he must be fully God. In order for Jesus to legitimately be our substitute he must be fully human. ‘A savior not quite God is a bridge broken at the farther end; while a savior not quite man is a bridge broken at the nearer end’ (H.G.C.Moule, F.F.Bruce).
The Biblical Data
The Supernatural Conception
John's gospel tells us that the Word, who existed in the beginning with his Father, the Word who has eternally existed as God,
The Word, the eternal I AM who had always existed became something he had never been before. He became flesh. The invisible God became physical, God who is spirit became embodied.
John tells us that the Word who became flesh is the only Son from the Father. We know Jesus as the Son of God, but that title is open to misinterpretation. The Jews expected a merely human messiah, and Greek mythology told of occasions where one of their many gods would come down and have relations with a mortal and produce superhuman offspring. John is careful to make it clear that Jesus does not fit into either of these categories. Jesus is not merely human, he is the self-existent God who created everything who became man. Neither is he some hybrid half-god half-man produced by an illicit relationship. He had always existed as God and now he has become also fully human. Jesus really and truly became flesh. He didn't just appear in the form of a human, as angels sometimes do, he really truly became genuinely and irreversibly human.
The angel Gabriel said it this way to Mary:
You will conceive in your womb. You will bear a son; not an alien, a real human baby boy.
Mary's question was one of biology and morality.
Mary's question is 'how will this be since I have not known a man? She understood what precedes conception, and for conception to take place, there has to be a father. This is the miracle. No human father would be involved. Her morality would remain intact. The Holy Spirit of God would supernaturally place the divine seed inside of her.
Matthew's gospel records it this way:
In Matthew's gospel, it is Joseph that has the questions. Mary is pregnant. He naturally assumes the worst.
He is assured that her purity is intact. The origin of this child is supernatural. The Word became flesh. But everything else about this child is as normal and natural as any other human child.
They had him circumcised on the eighth day (Lk.2:21), which tells us that he came with all the standard equipment that every other baby boy is born with.
Luke tells us that his growth and development was normal and natural human development.
He nursed. He had to be fed. He rolled over. He began to crawl. He stood up. He took his first step. He learned to eat. He learned to walk. He learned his aleph-bet. He was taught to be quiet in synagogue. He was taught to read the Torah. He learned how to relate to other people. He learned how to relate to God. He had to grow up just like every other boy had to grow up. There was only one unique difference with Jesus. He never once sinned. In everything he pleased his heavenly Father. He got left behind in Jerusalem when he was 12. He was submissive to his parents.
Doctor Luke tells us that he developed intellectually, physically, spiritually and socially like every other human. The Quran and the non-biblical Infancy Gospel of Thomas have the boy Jesus doing mischievous miracles, cursing, healing, and breathing life into clay birds. But this clearly contradicts the historically reliable biblical accounts. When Jesus changed over 100 gallons of water into fine wine at the wedding in Cana, we are told this was the first of his signs (Jn.2:11). When he returned to his hometown of Nazareth claiming to be the fulfillment of Scripture, those who saw him grow up took offense at him.
Jesus was so normal, so ordinary, so familiar, so human, that his own townspeople refused to believe that he was anything more than a mere man.
We see Jesus in the gospels as fully human. He thought, felt and acted in a fully human way. His human body was subject to the same limitations that we all have.
Jesus had an ordinary human mind. As we have seen, Jesus learned. He increased in wisdom. He asked questions in order to find out information he didn't know. When a woman touched him in the crowd, he asked “who touched my garments?”. In conversation with a demon-possessed boy's father, he asked “how long has this been happening to him?” In response to questions about the timing of the end of the age, Jesus said:
Jesus had ordinary human emotions. In John 11, we are told:
At the death of his friend, not only did Jesus ask “where have you laid him?” but it says:
When Jesus predicted that one of his own disciples would betray him, it says “Jesus was troubled in his spirit” (Jn.13:21). Looking toward the cross, he said “now is my soul very sorrowful, even to death” and he begged his Father to remove the cup from him (Mk.14:34-35). Luke tells us :
From the cross, Jesus cried out:“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt.27:46).
Jesus had an ordinary human body. At the beginning of Matthew, we are told
And after the temptation, Jesus was so physically weak we are told:
When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well and asked her for a drink, it describes his physical condition this way:
In Matthew 8, Jesus was so exhausted from a day of ministry that he was sleeping right through a great storm. After his scourging, Jesus was so weak that he fell under the weight of his cross, so the Roman soldiers compelled a man named Simon to carry it for him.
Jesus' body was real. And he really died a violent human death of public execution. John tells us after his death,
Real physical human blood. Real physical human death. In a real physical human body. Mark tells us:
A Roman centurion verified the real physical death of Jesus. His dead physical human body was taken down from the cross, wrapped in linen and laid in a tomb. The women came Sunday morning with spices to anoint the dead body of Jesus (Mk.16:1), because they fully expected that his body like any other dead body would begin to decompose and stink.
When Jesus presented himself alive to his followers, he made a point to demonstrate that he was really bodily physically there.
Providentially, Thomas was absent from this first appearance of the risen Jesus to his disciples. Thomas refused to believe unless he could handle real evidence.
Jesus ascended bodily, physically into heaven, where he is now bodily, physically seated at the right hand of the majesty on high. He promised that he would bodily, physically return to this earth.
The Importance of His True Humanity
Why is this so important? Why do the gospel writers give so much evidence to demonstrate that Jesus was really truly human? According to the Apostle John, the true humanity of Jesus is essential to Christianity.
The author of Hebrews gives us several reasons.
God the Son took on human flesh so that he could experience human death as a legitimate substitute for sinful humans. In order to die in the place of humans, he had to be himself human.
Animal sacrifices could never take away sin, because animals are not human, created in the image of God. Jesus took on a human body so that he could substitute himself for us.
Jesus partook of flesh and blood so that he could destroy death, the consequence of sin, by dying. He did not become an angel to rescue angels. He became human to rescue humans.
He had to (notice the language of necessity); he had to be made like his brothers in every respect (being sort of human or partially human would not be adequate; he had to be fully human); he had to be made like his brothers in every respect in order to carry out his role as our great high Priest making propitiation for sin. To bear the wrath of God against the sins of mankind, he had to be a man.
The next verse gives another reason he became a man.
Jesus really truly experienced temptation, so we can go to him for help when we are tempted.
Because Jesus in every respect has been tempted as we are, we can confidently come to him to receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
He was tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sin. Sinfulness is not a necessary part of being human. Adam and Eve were fully human, created good and without sin. The Father attested both at his baptism at the beginning of his ministry (Mt.3:17) and at his transfiguration toward the end of his ministry (Mt.17:5) ‘this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’ The Jewish leaders ‘were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward’ (Mt.26:59-60). Pilate three times attested to the innocence of Jesus (Lk. 23:4,14,22; Jn.18:38; 19:4,6)
Jesus had to be perfect,
Jesus came ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin’ (Rom.8:3), but he had no sin of his own.
Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 calls Christ the last Adam or the second man. Where Adam was placed in paradise with all of his needs met and he disobeyed, Jesus, driven into the wilderness and literally starving to death, fully obeyed. He lived his whole life in perfect obedience. He was even obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Paul says in Romans 5:
Because of Jesus' perfect obedience as a man to his Father, his perfect righteousness as our substitute now makes us righteous.
For Jesus to truly mediate and be the spokesman both for God and for men, he must be both fully God and fully man.
The God-Man Now in Heaven
The eternal Word who was God became fully human to save us, and he remains fully human forever. In all his post-resurrection appearances, he made a point to demonstrate that he was real flesh and bone, no mere ghost or apparition. He allowed his disciples to touch him to see that he was real. He ate food with them, and he promised his disciples that he would drink wind again with them in his Father’s kingdom (Mt.26:29). In Acts 7, Stephen saw the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God in heaven. Hebrews contrasts him with the priests who died.
The Hypostatic Union
How do we put this all together? The council of Chalcedon in 451 met to discuss what we call the hypostatic union [from ὑπόστασις hypóstasis, "sediment, foundation, substance, subsistence"], that the eternal Word became flesh, two natures united in one person forever.
The Chalcedonian Definition: A.D. 451:
Hilary of Poitiers c.360 Trinity, III.16;
“But what is this glory with the Father, for which He looks? It is that, of course, which He had with Him before the world was. He had the fulness of the Godhead; He has it still, for He is God’s Son. But He Who was the Son of God had become the Son of man also, for The Word was made flesh. He had not lost His former being, but He had become what He was not before; He had not abdicated His own position, yet He had taken ours; He prays that the nature which He had assumed may be promoted to the glory which He had never renounced.”
Gregory of Naziansen (Nazianzus) (329-389); 379 Orat.XXIX.19:
“He Who is now Man was once the Uncompounded. What He was He continued to be; what He was not He took to Himself. In the beginning He was, uncaused; for what is the Cause of God? But afterwards for a cause He was born. And that came was that you might be saved,”
Leo the Great (c.400-461) Serm.XXI.2
“with the purpose of delivering man from eternal death, became man: so bending Himself to take on Him our humility without decrease in His own majesty, that remaining what He was and assuming what He was not, He might unite the true form of a slave to that form in which He is equal to God the Father, and join both natures together by such a compact that the lower should not be swallowed up in its exaltation nor the higher impaired by its new associate. Without detriment therefore to the properties of either substance which then came together in one person, majesty took on humility, strength weakness, eternity mortality: and for the paying off of the debt, belonging to our condition, inviolable nature was united with passible nature, and true God and true man were combined to form one Lord, so that, as suited the needs of our case, one and the same Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, could both die with the one and rise again with the other.”
Here’s a phrase to remember; ‘remaining what he was, he became what he was not.’ Continuing in undiminished deity, he took an additional nature and became human. Remaining what he was, he became what he was not.
Jesus, being equal with God, did not cling to his divine privileges, but emptied himself. What is this emptying? In the mid 19th century, some German theologians taught that Jesus laid aside some of his divine attributes during his time on earth. They taught that to become truly human, he could no longer be omnipresent (everywhere present), omniscient (knowing everything), or omnipotent (all powerful). But in saying this, they are saying that Jesus ceased to be fully God. Remember, ‘remaining what he was, he became what he was not.’ Philippians 2 does not say that he emptied himself of himself, or emptied himself of any characteristics of himself; but rather he ‘emptied himself by taking.’ This is parallel to ‘he humbled himself.’ The text does say how he emptied and humbled himself; he ‘emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, being found in human form.’ His emptying was not by subtraction, but by addition. Remaining what he was, he became what he was not. Remaining fully God, he humbled himself by being born as a human. Jesus in his divine nature continued to possess all the attributes of Deity, while his human nature had all the weakness and limitations of humanity. And this should cause us to wonder and worship.
The helpless babe in the manger (Luke 2:7) was at the same time upholding the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:17)
Jesus learned and grew (Luke 2:52) and he knew all things (John 16:30)
Jesus, sleeping because of exhaustion (Matthew 8:24) could rise and exercise sovereign authority over nature (Matthew 8:26-27)
The one who turned water into wine (John 2:6-11) and fed thousands with a boy's lunch (John 6:9-14) was hungry (Matthew 4:2) and thirsty (John 19:28)
Jesus went to the Father and was no longer in the world (John 16:28; 17:11) but promised his followers that he would always be present with them (Matthew 28:20)
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org