The Lord's Day Evening
December 10, 2006
I John 4:1-3; II John 7
“Jesus Became a Man”
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Now these Sunday mornings in December we've been looking, and will continue to look, at four of the songs that we find in the Gospel of Luke, all referring to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ — His birth and incarnation. And then on the three Sunday evenings, we're looking at three theological statements with regard to the incarnation.
Last Lord's Day evening Ligon addressed the issue that Jesus is God, and tonight we want to look at the other side of that, that Jesus was and is a man. And then somehow on Christmas Eve in a very short service, we have to address probably one of the most difficult issues of all: that Jesus was both God and man. And we’ll be doing that on Christmas Eve, but this evening our topic is that Jesus became a man.
I'm going to read some verses from I John 4, and then from II John and the seventh verse, but before we do that, let's come before God in prayer. Let us pray.
Lord our God, we thank You now for this, the Scriptures - Your holy word. We pray Your blessing as we read it together. Come, Holy Spirit, enable us to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. Write Your word upon our hearts, we pray, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Now first of all we read in I John 4, and verses 1-3:
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.”
And then over in II John, and verse 7:
“For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.”
Amen. And may God bless the reading of His holy and inerrant word to us.
Now the issue that we want to look at tonight is one of course that is addressed there in those two sections of I John and II John: that Jesus came in the flesh. In one of John Milton's poems, On the Morn of Christ's Nativity — it's a long poem, has 31 stanzas, and I think it's the second (might be the third) stanza, we read these words:
“That glorious form, that height unsufferable,
And that far-beaming blaze of majesty,
Wherewith He wont at heaven's high council table
To sit the midst of Trinal Unity,
He laid aside; and here with us to be
Forsook the courts of everlasting day,
And chose with us a darksome house of mortal clay.”
Well, that's a poet's way of putting it: that He “...forsook the courts of everlasting day, and chose with us the darksome house of mortal clay.”
I. What do we mean when we say that Jesus became a man?
Our Confession — The Westminster Confession - in the eighth chapter speaks of Jesus as being of one substance, and equal with the Father....of one substance and equal with the Father. That's of course what we were looking at last Lord's Day evening: that “He was God from God; light from light; very God of very God; begotten, not made; of one substance with the Father.” (The Nicene Creed.) It's understandable, of course, that most of the emphasis in Scripture and subsequent to the writings of Scripture have been understandably in defending the deity of Jesus. It was the aspect of Jesus that was most under attack, so by far and away most of the Scriptures are spending their time defending what Ligon was asserting last week: that Jesus was God, of the same substance, or the same essence, or the same being as the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Tonight we want to look at the other half of the story — that Jesus became a man.
Now I want to tell you a story. In 1980, a quarter of a century ago, I was a year into the ministry. I had been ordained just over a year before, and I was brought up on charges at my Presbytery. One of my deacons, who is now in heaven and in glory, officially charged me with heresy. I had said in a sermon that Jesus did not know everything; that is to say, in His human nature He did not know everything. I wasn't referring to His divine nature, I was referring to His human nature. I was referring to that passage in the Gospels where Jesus says, “Of that day...” [referring to the Second Coming] “...Of that day no man knoweth, not even the Son, but only the Father”; that there were things in accord with His human nature and His human mind that He did not know, to which He was ignorant. And of course my deacon thought this was absolute heresy, that I was in some way casting aspersions on the deity of Jesus, and forthwith he wrote this lengthy charge. It was several pages — 10 or 12 pages full of quotations from all of the great names from Calvin down to whoever. Of course, my deacon friend, as the Presbytery concluded in about three minutes, was guilty of another heresy: the heresy of Apollonarianism, which had been roundly condemned in the early church. And the charge was examined and dismissed within the space of about three minutes.
Why this truth? Why do we need to affirm this truth? Why is this truth that Jesus became a man...why is it affirmed? Why does it need to be said at all? After all, Jesus was a man. He had arms and legs, and hands and feet, and eyes and ears. The disciples and the apostles had seen Him and eaten with Him, had walked with Him, had heard Him speak. Of course He was a man! Why was it felt necessary for the church to affirm credally in Confessions down through the centuries that Jesus became a man, a human being?
Well, first because of something Ligon referred to at the end of his sermon last week — a statement made by a man by the name of Gregory of Nazianzus, that that which Jesus did not assume, He could not heal; that the unassumed is the unhealed; that unless Jesus became a man, He cannot heal us, He cannot save us, He cannot be our representative, He cannot stand in our place, He cannot be our substitute. That's tremendously important. We’ll come back to that later. But primarily the reason why ‘Jesus became a man’ was affirmed by the church was because it was denied, and that denial came from at least two different sources. It came first of all from a source that in church history we call Docetism. It comes from the Greek word docio, which means to seem, or to be like.
Now, the Docetists in some form or another denied that Jesus had a real human body. They did it in different ways, but essentially that's what they denied: that Jesus had a real human body. That's what lies behind these two texts that we just read together in I John 4 and II John 7, behind that assertion of the Apostle Paul that we need to affirm that Jesus came in the flesh, and that there were those in John's time who were saying that Jesus apparently had not come in the flesh. Lying behind that statement was a man by the name of Cerinthius. And there were other characters in the second century — Marcion and Valentinus and others in the second century — all of them denying in some form or another the reality of the human body of Jesus.
Now why would they deny it? Who in their right mind would deny that Jesus had a real human body? Well, of course you know your Greek philosophy...or, if you dredge the cobwebs of your mind, you can remember a little bit of Plato and a little bit of the followers of Plato. And what did Plato say? It's not important for us to know all of what Plato said, but what did Plato essentially say? That the real is the realm of the ideas and the forms. This is not real, the material is not real. The real is the idea and the form.
And you can understand perhaps why Christians would fall into that, because after all, the world in which we live is a sinful world. We don't look for a city which is in this world. We look for the city of God, a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. We talk about the spiritual as being more important sometimes than the physical, and you can understand how in the first and in the early part of the second century how Christians fells into that way of thinking. It was a Greek way of thinking. It was a Platonic way of thinking - that there is something essentially evil about matter itself, and that salvation and redemption is being released from the material universe. And you remember in your Greek Philosophy how it was sometimes said that the soul was kept in the prison house of the body, and that salvation is the releasing of the soul from that prison house of the body.
So if you are to ask the question “What did Jesus derive from the umbilical cord which attached Him to Mary?” the very idea, the very question itself would have been offensive to those who thought that this world, and the material world and the physical world, was inherently sinful. For the likes of Cerinthius, what lies behind what I John is saying and II John is saying, is there is a distinction to be made between Christ and Jesus: the Christ is the divine, but Jesus is just a man; and Christ came upon that man, He came upon that man at the time of His baptism, but left him again before His crucifixion. And there were other forms and variations and permutations along that same line of thought.
Jesus, according to one, simply pretended to be what He really was not, and that the physical form of Jesus was just an apparition of some type. He only seemed to be man, but He wasn't a real man.
And then there was another strand of thought, and a very influential strand of thought, and it's a somewhat confusing strand of thought, and a complicated strand of thought; and it's the strand that I've already mentioned to you, that my deacon friend who's now in heaven and in glory, and presumably beholding the physical body of Jesus that he can touch...and it's the strand known as Apollinarianism. And this strand — Apollinaris, and he's a complicated figure — but he denied that Jesus had a real human soul, denied that Jesus had a real human spirit, so that what happens in the incarnation is that the Word, the Word of John's prologue, supplies both the animating and the rational principle in Jesus, so that Jesus in His flesh had no human intellect; He had no human will, but only a divine intellect, and only a divine will.
Now much later, of course, orthodoxy and creeds and confessions will pronounce that Jesus, in fact, was one person with two natures: He was divine and He was human, but He's only one person. Chalcedon will proclaim in the year 451 that Jesus was “consubstantial with us according to His manhood”; and our own Confession of Faith in Chapter VIII and the second section of Chapter VIII says that He was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary “of her substance.” Why do we affirm that Jesus was a man? Because it was denied.
II. What do we mean when we say
that Jesus became a man?
Secondly, let me ask what is this truth that we are affirming? What do we mean when we say that Jesus became a man?
The virgin birth. Now, we need to be careful here, and there's no way round it. I know it's Sunday evening, and I know that we're in danger of roast beef and unbelief–you've had your wonderful Sunday lunch, but there's no way round this. There are some aspects in the humanity of Jesus that separates him from us. We’re wanting to affirm this evening that there are some aspects of the humanity of Jesus that actually unites Him to us, but there are some aspects of the humanity of Jesus that separate Him from us. The virgin birth - He was born of the Virgin Mary. The Virgin Mary contributed to Him 23 chromosomes, but the other 23 chromosomes, the “Y” chromosome, was presumably created miraculously. He did not get that from Joseph. He did not get that from any human man or male in this world. The virgin birth separates Jesus from us.
But Jesus was also sinless. He was without sin. He had no actual sin, and He had no inherited sin. He did not inherit the guilt and corruption of Adam. He had no moral defect. He had no tendency or proclivity to sin. He had no want of original righteousness. He had no lust. He had no fallenness. Miraculously, from the 23 chromosomes of Mary, by the power and overshadowing of the Holy Spirit a zygote was formed, and then a fetus, and then a child, then an adolescent, and then a fully grown man with the same nutritional and environmental needs as any man: the same physiology, the same biochemistry, the same central nervous system, the same DNA. It would be fascinating to ask (and impossible to answer) what hereditary features the human Jesus bore of Mary's line. He became a man. He became a human being with a human body, with a human physiology, so that we read of Him in the Gospels as hungry, and eating fish for breakfast, and thirsty, and exhausted by exhilaration and work, and suffering and enduring unimaginable pain of scourging and crucifixion–and death–He could die. He became alive as a human being, but He also became dead. He died, however you define that death to be.
With a human mind–with a human...not just physiology, but a human psychology. With a brain, with gray matter and white matter, with axons and cranial nerves and a spinal column, so that as a man He gained information and assimilated information and processed information as a human being. He became what our Confession says: “A reasonable soul.” There's that verse, isn't there, in Luke 2:52 — the last verse of chapter two of Luke — that “He increased in wisdom and in favor with God and with man.” He says in Mark 13 of the Second Coming, “...of that day no man knows, not even the Son, but only the Father.” Now Jesus had extraordinary knowledge, and we might even say miraculous knowledge of events which otherwise He had no course of information to. He knew the character of Nathaniel before He met him. He knew that Lazarus was dead before He got to Bethany. He knew that inside the fish's mouth there was a coin so that He could pay the temple tax. He knew that there was a shoal of fish ready to be caught, even though the disciples had toiled all night and caught nothing. He knew that at the time of Passover the disciples would find a man carrying a jar of water. But that doesn't mean to say that in His human mind He had infinite knowledge. It seems to me that the divine mind imparted to the human mind of Jesus such information as was necessary for Him to perform His role as the Servant of the Lord.
He had a human body, and He had a human mind, and He had human emotions. Calvin says of Jesus that He put on our feelings along with our flesh. He knew sorrow. Remember Him weeping at the grave of Lazarus? He knew grief. He knew joy. He knew the need for company. You know, Mark says when Jesus called the disciples, he says He called them “in order that they might be with Him,” as though Mark seems to be saying He needed their company. He needed their fellowship. He knew what it was to need the companionship of friends — James and John and Peter, especially...and especially John. And He knew anger - righteous anger, overturning the table of the moneychangers in the temple precincts - and great darkness, and great wrestling with the will of God in the Garden of Gethsemane. He had a human body and He had a human mind, and He had human emotions.
And He had a human will. He had a faculty of choice, which is what we mean by saying that we are human — the need to make choices. Appolinaris was charged with being — and wait for it! — with being a Monopolite, which means that he advocated that Jesus only had one will, but it was roundly condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 680, affirming that Jesus had two wills. He had a divine will but He also had a human will, because it is impossible to be human without a will, without a center that drives and enervates, so that He can say, “Not as I will, but as Thou wilt [or, as You will]”, so that His own divine will and His own human will had to be set side by side.
Jesus became a man. He became someone who could be tempted. Now, in one sense it was impossible for Jesus to sin. He could not sin. And yet, the devil tempts Him — tempts Him in His humanity, tempts Him, you remember, after forty days of fasting — tempts Him with food, as a natural basic human instinct, to need food, and to say to Jesus, “Turn these rocks into bread, these stones into bread,” to utilize His divine nature on behalf of His human nature, so that He would no longer be our Servant of the Lord and our representative, because at the moment of temptation, at the moment of need, He would resort to His divine nature — something that that you and I could not do.
He became a man, and not just a man, but a man, as our Confession and our Catechism says, “...in a low condition.” He wasn't born in northeast Jackson. He didn't go to River Oaks Hospital. He didn't hang out at the mall. He didn't drive a Humvee. He never knew what an iPod was. He was born in the humblest circumstances imaginable: in a stall, a feeding trough for domestic animals in Bethlehem, because there was no room for Him in the inn.
No sooner is He born than He has to flee to Egypt. He grows up in a relatively poor home in Nazareth. He would say of His life and His existence, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” He only ever owned what He wore. He didn't have a bank account. He was in a low condition.
III. But let me return to that first question: Why the need to affirm it? And let me suggest to you two reasons.
First of all, if Jesus hadn't become a man, a man in every aspect of how we define humanity, sin apart, with a human body and human will, and human affections and a human mind...if Jesus had not become a man, He could not be our representative, He could not be what Paul calls in First Corinthians 15 “the last Adam.” He came to undo what Adam did. He came to fulfill in His humanness, in His humanity, what Adam had failed to do. He came to be the representative man. He came to be our substitute. He came to be one of us, but without sin; to be the perfect sacrifice, so that in His own body nailed to that tree He might stand in our place and bear the unmitigated wrath of the holy God, unaware, it seems, of who He was according to his divine nature, so that He cries not “My Father! My Father!” but “My God! My God! Why have You forsaken Me?” as though at that moment all that He was conscious of was being a condemned human being...for us, you understand. For sinners like you and me.
One of the great books in theology that's ever been written, one of them is by a man called Anselm, Anselm of Canterbury, who wrote a book called Cur Deus Homo (Why Did God Become Man?) and there's a character in that book aptly named Boso. He's a little dumb. He doesn't get it. And after a while he seems to explode, and to which this answer is given to him:
Nondum considerasti quanti ponderis sit peccatum - “You have not yet considered the weightiness [or the gravity] of sin.”
Why did God become man? Because we are sinners. Because we cannot save ourselves. We cannot redeem ourselves. We cannot undo the damage. If Jesus doesn't become a man, we are doomed forever. We’re doomed to eternal damnation forever. It's because of sin that He came. It was because of your sin and mine that He came.
But there's another reason. Why affirm that Jesus became a man? Because many of you are hurting. Many of you are experiencing trials and tribulations; you’re lonely, you feel let down, discouraged by the fickleness of those around you. If you find yourself the victim of a providence that seems on the surface to be without reason and without cause and without justification, then I say to you tonight it doesn't matter where you are; doesn't matter what set of contingencies you may find yourself in: we do not have an High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He's been there. No matter how dark the tunnel may be, if you get down on your hands and knees and feel the sand and the floor, you’ll feel the shape of the footprints of Jesus, who has gone before you, who's trodden this path. There is no darkness, there is no trial, there is no ache or pain, there is no set of circumstances where Jesus hasn't stood there for us, so that we can go tonight with such great assurance into the very presence of God and know that at the right hand of God there sits the very dust of the earth: that Jesus in a resurrected and ascended and glorified human body — the divine and the human in a union which we're going to try and explain on Christmas Eve; and He's there for us to intercede for us, to pray for us, to bless us, to encourage us, to motivate us in our human bodies, in our human condition, in the frailty of our human minds and psyches.
What a glorious truth that is! We glory in the truth that Jesus is divine, but we equally glory in the truth that Jesus is also at the same time human. Let's pray together.
Father, we thank You this evening as we come to the close of another Lord's Day, for the blessedness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, and took the form of a servant, and was found in fashion as a man. We thank You that we do not have an High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. Receive our praise and thanks, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Please stand and receive the Lord's benediction.
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
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This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.