The Lord's Day Evening
December 24, 2006
“Jesus Is God and Man”
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Our Lord and our God, our hearts rejoice at the very thought of Your gracious sending of Your Son into this world for the salvation of all who rest and trust in Him. Grant that this Christmas and always we would trust the Savior and glorify You in Your love for the giving of Him, and revel in His love to us in the giving of Himself. By Your Spirit we ask that we would carol to You today for Your glory. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Please be seated.
It's time to read the Christmas story. We've been doing this for as long as we've done the Carol Service. We’re going to read from Luke 2:1-20...from the King James, the version that so many of you remember hearing this story read to you when you were children. This is God's word:
“It came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. And this taxing was made when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be taxed, everyone into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of Bethlehem, which is called the City of David, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be taxed with Mary, his espoused wife, being great with child.
“And so it was that while they were there the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them,
‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: you shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly hosts, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’
“And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, ‘Let us now go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which has come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.’ And they came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. When they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.”
Amen. This is God's word.
Now turn over in the Scriptures to the book of Philippians, Paul's letter to the Philippians, and the second chapter. Our reading will be from verses six through eleven. Philippians 2:6-11. Let me back up to verse 5 to get a context:
“Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Amen. May the Lord add His blessing to the reading of His holy and inerrant word.
Now let's pray together.
Father, as we gather together on this Christmas Eve, mindful as we are once again of the great gift of the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior and Redeemer, we pray now in these moments that You would draw near. Help us as we think and meditate and ponder on these things together, that we might behold something — even a little — of the mysteries of God. And hear us for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Now, some time ago when Ligon asked me to help him do a sort of program for the Advent season this year, we decided together that we would do the songs in Luke in the morning, and in the evening services - the three evening services of Advent — we would look at something a little more deep and theological. We looked at three statements which on the surface are very simple to make: that Jesus Christ is God (which was the first one that we looked at); second, that Jesus Christ is man; and, this afternoon, that Jesus Christ is both God and man.
Now, the plan was that Ligon would get that third one...because I have to speak to you about such things as the hyperstatic union and the communicato idiomatum and the anhypostatic nature of Jesus–all of that in about ten minutes!
I was flying to Dublin on Tuesday, and as I was coming in over Shannon it was early in the morning, about 6:30 or so. Dawn was just approaching. Almost the entirety of Ireland was covered in a deep, deep, fog. And the pilot — who was a very bright fellow far too cheerful for what he was about to do! — told us to fasten our seatbelts because we were in for some turbulence. And sure enough, we were.
Well, fasten your seatbelts, because we're in for some turbulence!
Jesus is God in every conceivable way that you define deity. Jesus is God. But He is also a man. In every conceivable way that you define humanity, He is a man...a perfect man. By the end of the fourth century, the church had more or less fully affirmed both of those truths. Against Arianism on the one hand (a view that tended to deny the full deity of Jesus), the church had affirmed that Jesus was truly God. Against Apollonarianism (a view that tended to deny the full reality of Jesus’ humanness, especially in regard to His human mind), the church fully affirmed that Jesus was fully man. He was fully God, and He was fully man.
But how, exactly? How could He be both fully God and fully man at the same time? And that was a debate and an issue that more or less was decided and debated over in the fifth century. What is the relationship between the two natures — the divine nature of Jesus and the human nature of Jesus? Are they two different persons, so that you have a divine person and a human person? Or, are they mixed in some way, or co-mingled in some way in one person? Are they fused together so that you don't really have a divine or a human, but something in between, a tertium quid?
Well, come with me. Keep your seatbelts fully fastened, but come with me to a council, the third ecumenical council, which took place in Ephesus in the year 431 A.D. The issue...I don't see anybody taking notes, but the issue was Nestorianism.
Now, Nestorius basically had a tendency to give too much emphasis to the human nature of Jesus, so that what you seemed at least to end up with was such a radical distinction between the divine and the human that it looked as though there were two different persons: a divine person and a human person. We’re not quite sure what this fellow Nestorius actually believed these days...maybe he didn't quite say what I've just been saying, but that's traditionally been the interpretation of Nestorianism. But for our intents and purposes this afternoon on this Christmas Eve, the Council of Ephesus roundly condemned Nestorianism and said whatever it was that Nestorius was saying, it was wrong.
Come with me to the fourth great ecumenical council which took place twenty years later– not in Ephesus now, but in another place called Chalcedon. Chalcedon is part of what we would today call Istanbul on the Asian side of Bosporus, and the year is 451 A.D. The issue this time is not Nestorianism, but actually the opposite. It's Eutychianism. I still don't see anybody taking notes! You have two theology professors up here!] It's not Nestorianism, but the opposite of Nestorianism, something called Eutychianism. If Nestorius had a tendency to make too much of the human nature, Eutychias had the tendency to make too much of the divine nature, so that Eutychias said something like this: that the divine nature came down sometime during the life of Jesus and so absorbed His human nature that it sort of became subservient to His divine nature. You still following?
Well, let me tell you that Eutychianism, too, was roundly condemned at Chalcedon in 451 A.D. It was a great council. It was one of those things that you would love to go and just eavesdrop. Six hundred and thirty bishops from what was then almost the entire world, gathered together in this place called Chalcedon, and for a month, every day for long, long hours, they debated back and forth on this issue of Eutychianism and a whole lot of other things. And they came up with a creed, a creed which the whole church affirmed — at least, most of the church affirmed. Turn in your Trinity Hymnals to page 852. We don't have the Chalcedonian Creed in the hymnbook, but we do have The Westminster Confession, and The Westminster Confession in the eighth chapter and Section II, on page 853 of the hymnbook. Chapter VIII, Of Christ the Mediator, Section II. Follow with me, because this is more or less what Chalcedon said:
“The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father...” [There's the full deity of Jesus] “...did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man's nature, with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin;...” [There's the full human nature.] “...being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the God-head and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.”
He has to be God, else He cannot save us: and He has to be man, else He cannot identify with us. But the divine nature and the human nature, perfect and yet distinct, are held together in what Chalcedon called a hyperstatic union. And you notice those words... “..without conversion, composition, or confusion.” Not a mixture of the two; not an amalgam to form a kind of tertium quid, neither divine nor human, but something else; but fully divine and fully human at the same time.
Now, Chalcedon went further to talk about the way in which the divine properties relate to the one person of Jesus, but cannot be transferred to the human nature of Jesus; so that even though He is divine, His human body cannot be in more than one place at the same time, an issue, by the way, that even the great Martin Luther didn't get quite right.
Confused? You think this is deep? You weren't ready for this turbulent ride? You wanted Schmores and a fire, and Christmas stockings, and something sentimental.
My dear friends, I have been asking myself all week, does any of this matter? I've only scratched the surface of what they spoke about at Chalcedon. I don't dare even begin to talk to you about the concept known as anhypostasia, or even enhypostasia, or even the communicato idomatum. We simply do not have time. But does any of this matter? Yes, it does.
It matters because our salvation ultimately depends
on it. But you say to me this afternoon, “But I don't understand what you’re
talking about.” Of course not! Of course not! There is mystery here! How could
you possibly understand the way in which the divine nature of Jesus relates to
the human nature of Jesus? The greatest minds that have ever lived are still
trying to get this right.
You know, I've been reminded again of those words of Lucy, in The Last Battle of Lewis's Narnia Chronicles. “Yes,” she says (when they've been thrown through a stable door and found that the inside was bigger than the outside)... “Yes,” she says. “In our world, too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than the whole world.” And I don't understand that either. I just bow and worship. I just get on my knees and I praise God that He found a way to be just and the Justifier of him who believes in Jesus, the theanthropic Jesus — the God-man, Jesus. Our Lord. Our Savior.
Now, boys and girls, that's what Christmas is really all about. It's all about Jesus. It's all about Jesus and who He is, and why He came. And boys and girls, before you go to bed tonight, ask your moms and dads, or uncles and aunts, or grandparents, or whoever puts you to bed tonight, ask them to tell you the story of why Jesus came into the world, and how He came into the world to save sinners like you and like me.
Now may the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and the love of God our Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with each one of you, now and forevermore. 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.