Christmas Series: Luke's Christmas Liturgy: Luke’s Christmas Liturgy – Jesus Became a Man

Sermon by Derek Thomas on December 10, 2006

1 John 4:1-3

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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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