In the fourth century, the Council of Nicea settled the question of the Lord’s deity, and consequently became the touchstone that enables us to address various Trinitarian heresies. A Trinitarian heresy has to do with the unity of the Godhead, and the tri-personal nature of God’s existence, and all without reference to the creation. What is God like in Himself? In the fifth century, the Council of Chalcedon addressed the relationship of the human and divine in Jesus of Nazareth, a question that arose as a result of the Incarnation. Errors on this question are usually called Christological heresies.
“And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven” (Col. 1:18–20).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
We have seen that the apostles held two very distinct conceptions of the Lord Jesus. On the one hand, they recognized His full humanity. We saw Him, John says, and we touched Him (1 John 1:1). At the same time, they also speak easily and readily of Christ as a cosmic Lord, as in our text this morning. And moreover they speak of Him as one integrated personality.
Our Lord Jesus is the head of the whole body, the church (v. 18), and He is the arche of all creation (v. 18). He is the integration point of all things, which is the word underneath “beginning.” He is the firstborn from among the dead, and this privileged position makes it plain that He is to have the preeminence (v. 18). All the fullness of all things dwells in Him, and this was the pleasure of the Father (v. 19). Everything in this fragmented creation order was shattered and broken, and Christ’s mission was to make peace for all of it, reconciling all of it to Himself (v. 20). But this soaring rhetoric comes down to earth with a crash when we see that it is to be accomplished through the “blood of His cross.” This was blood that was shed, remember, because of the collapse of Pontius Pilate in the face of a mob.
This is the heart of what Chalcedon is testifying to.
“our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man . . . not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ.”
Remember that we are simply stating what Scripture requires us to state, and is not an attempt to “do the math.” This confession is admittedly miraculous, and this means that you won’t be able to get your mind fully around it. You can get your mind around the fact that we confess two distinct natures united in one person, without any muddling of them.
A QUICK RUN DOWN OF SOME HERESIES
Heresies often arise as the result of people trying to make all the pieces fit together within the tiny confines of their own minds. Some people have an itch to make it all make sense to them, and the result is tiny (and tinny) dogmas.
Ebionism holds that Jesus was the Messiah, but just an ordinary man, with Joseph and Mary as his parents. The Ebionites were Jewish Christians in the early years of the church. People who want to say that “Jesus was a great moral teacher” represent a modern form of this.
Docetism holds that Jesus was completely divine, and that His humanity was only an apparition. The word comes from the Greek verb dokein, which means “to seem.”
Adoptionism holds that Jesus was fully human, and was “adopted” as the Son of God at a point in time, whether at his baptism or at his resurrection.
Apollinarianism taught that the Word (a perfect divine nature) took on a human body in Jesus, replacing his human soul and mind. Thus Jesus was God inside and man outside.
Nestorianism is the view that denies the unity of the person of Christ, suggesting that there were two natures, two persons going on, loosely joined. In the interests of fairness, it should be mentioned that there are good arguments suggesting that Nestorius himself was not a Nestorian.
THROUGH THE BLOOD OF HIS CROSS
And so here is our confession, here is our faith. We are Christians, which means that our lives center on the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we get Chalcedon wrong, we are corrupting the doctrine of His person. And if we do that, then we empty the cross of its dynamic power.
The cross has the ability to fascinate all men, and to draw them to God, precisely because of the identity of the one who died there. Unless Jesus were a man, He could not die. He could not shed His blood for us unless He had blood. Unless Jesus were God, His death would not have the ultimate salvific meaning that it does. And so it is that we acknowledge that Jesus of Nazareth, fully God and fully man, died on the cross for the sins of the world.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16–17)