King Ahaz was enough of a good guy to at least have the prophet Isaiah tryingto encourage him. Ahaz had refused to join in with an anti-Assyrian alliance, and Syria (also called Aram) and Ephraim (also called Israel) attacked Judah for not joining with them. They failed in that attack, but succeeded gloriously in rattling Ahaz badly. Isaiah invites Ahaz to ask for a sign from God, but Ahaz (rebelliously) declines to do so. And so Isaiah offers the sign—a sign with two layers.
“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
We are not told this explicitly, but the first Immanuel might well be a son to Isaiah. In this section of the book, the prophet has had two other sons with names full of meaning (Is. 7:3; 8:1). And the word for virginhere is interesting. The Hebrew word almahmeans young woman orvirgin, and so the sign for Ahaz was not one of a remarkable birth. The sign was that before a child could be conceived, borne, and grow to a rudimentary knowledge of right and wrong, the kings that he was so worried about would be long gone. But then centuries after this, when the Old Testament was translated into Greek (starting in the 3rdcentury B.C.), the Greek word the rabbis chose to render the word almahwas parthenos. Parthenosmeans virgin, only virgin, and nothing but virgin. So the first Immanuel was born of an almah, and the second Immanuel was born of a parthenos.
“Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin [parthenos] shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matt. 1:22–23).
But the real sleeper in this passage in found in that word Immanuel. When you read this verse on a Christmas card, or hear it read at a Christmas program, the effect is profoundly comforting. God with us. But if your experience is anything like that of the early church, at some point you will have to say, “Hey . . . wait a minute.”
Jesus is the single most arrestingfigure in all of human history. And for His followers in the first century, the authority of His person translated immediately and naturally into responding to Him as God.
This in itself was really unusual, because Jesus was born in the tribe of Judah, in the nation of Israel, a people that had had pagan forms of idolatry painstakingly beatenout of them over the course of multiple centuries. From the incident of the Golden Calf down to the exile into Babylon, the people had repeatedly fallen prey to gross idolatry. But after the exile, the Jews were fanatical about not allowing images in their midst—all their idols were now down in their hearts. In other words, if a manwere to come to be treated as God, this is the last place on earth where you might expect something like that to happen.
“Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God” (Matt. 14:33) “And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). “Inthe beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1–3). “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Col. 1:16–17).
So from the very beginning, Christ has been worshiped by Christians as the Creator God (Rom. 1:4). That was the raw material.
But it did raise some questions. And it did provoke some heretics, who denied it all and wanted to be accepted by the Church anyway. All these things took centuries to unfold, but by 325 A.D. it all came to a point. The question came to this: homoousiaand homoiousia—was Christ the samesubstance with God the Father, or of a similarsubstance with Him? This was actually a monumental question. The wiseacre historian who belittled it as a huge ruckus over the letter iotais just showing us how much he knows—that’s like saying the debate over atheism and theism is a debate over the letter a.
Nicea settled the question definitively. Christ isGod. He is not “like” God.
It took another century (451 A.D.), but there was another “wait a minute.” If Christ is God, then . . . the question naturally arises . . . is He really manthen? And, if so, what is the relationship between His Deity and His humanity? And those are the questions addressed by the creed we recited this morning.
The Definition of Chalcedon affirmed, in unambiguous terms, that in the “hypostatic union” we find one person, the Lord Jesus, who has two natures that were united without confusing them, mingling them, or mashing them together. That which is predicated of one nature can be faithfully predicated of the person, and that which is predicated of the other nature can be predicated of the person, but that which is predicated of one nature cannot be predicated of the other nature.
So let me make it concrete. Jesus is God. Jesus was 5’11” (say). Can we say that Deity is 5’11”? Jesus is God. Mary is the mother of Jesus. Is Mary the mother of God? No. She was the mother of the one who isGod.
There are numerous implications, but one writer thinks (correctly, in my view) that this decision at Chalcedon was one of the most pivotal events in all church history. “Chalcedon handed statism its major defeat in man’s history.” In a world of undifferentiated being, the state can swell up to any size it wants. But not anymore.
To use the categories of the theologian Peter Jones, there are two basic approaches to reality—oneismand twoism. In oneism, all things are part of the same great chain of being. In twoism, there is an infinite divide between Creator and creation. There is one (and only one) intersection between the two, and that intersection is our Lord Jesus Christ. But note, even at that intersection, the nature of humanity and divinity must never be muddled. In fact, coming to Christ is the only way to prevent them from being muddled.
Because of what happened in the first Christmas, and because of how it was defined and defended at Chalcedon, it is possible for mankind to be saved and glorifiedwithout being deified. The Incarnation brings us together with God, but with a hard stopbuilt into the system.
The point of union and the point of distinction are forever and always the same, our Lord Jesus Christ.
This Sunday begins the season of Advent. Advent is a season of waiting and anticipation for the arrival of Jesus at Christmas. Two traditions that have developed during Advent are writing wish lists and then waiting for those wishes. “What do you want for Christmas?” is often answered by writing a wishlist. But then follows the long wait for those hope for gifts. At Advent, we have an annual opportunity to want and wait. How do we do this? We need to learn how to want and to wait like Simeon. Simeon was a man waiting for the consolation of Israel and was led by the Spirit to Jesus Christ.
Luke introduces Simeon as a just and devout man, “waiting for the Consolation of Israel.” Consolation means comfort, sympathy, compassion. When Simeon is waiting for Israel’s consolation, we find that Simeon is waiting for a person––the Lord’s Christ. The Spirit has revealed to Simeon that he would not see death until he has seen the Lord’s Christ. Consolation is coming to Israel, because the Christ is coming to Israel. How is he waiting? He is waitingas a just and devout man. He is waitingwith the Holy Spirit upon him. That means that a believer can be filled with the Spirit and still not have all he wants.
When Simeon waits in the Spirit, the Spirit leads Simeon to the Christ. Verse 27-28, “So Simeon came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God” (vs. 27-28). This may be an odd question, but what right did Simeon have to go to Jesus? What are his credentials to go up to a mother, scoop up a baby, and bless God and the family? Simeon’s credentials are the Holy Spirit! Luke makes it very clear that the Spirit leads Simeon to Jesus.
This is not limited to Simeon but to all believers. Simeon is a picture, a forerunner of the church––all Christians who have the Spirit are lead to the Christ. So, if you have the Spirit, what are you waiting for? The Consolation is here because Jesus the Christ has come.
Simeon gathers Jesus in his arms and blesses God, saying, “Lord, now You are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel” (vs. 29-32). Simeon sees Jesus and concludes this is the fulfillment of God’s promise. Jesus is Lord’s Christ. Jesus is God’s salvation.
Simeon says that he can now depart in peace. Having seen the Lord’s Messiah, Simeon can die a happy man, a satisfied man, a fulfilled man. We often use this phrase in jest, “I can die happy now…” The focus of this sentiment is not the desire to die, but the value of the desire fulfilled. Luke shows that Simeon’s desire to see his Savior was so valuable, so glorious that nothing else experienced is his whole life could match this sight.
Jesus is God’s salvation that he has prepared before the face of all peoples and for all people. What do all people need to be saved from? The answer is in Jesus’ name, “You shall come his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mat. 1:21).
Joseph and Mary rightfully marvel at what Simeon says about Jesus. And then Simeon blesses them with a specific word to Mary, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (vs. 34-35). These prophecies are fulfilled in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Remember that Simeon is saying all of this as a blessingto Mary and Joseph. But what he is saying does not seem like a blessing, a comfort, but a deep grief, a soul-piercing sorrow. So how was such a piercing to be a blessing to Mary—to see, as she was to live to see, her Son mocked, stripped naked, body flayed open and brutally crucified? Simeon is revealing how God will comfort his people, bless his people––through the cross. It is the crucifixion of the Christ that brings consolation for the world.
Advent is a season that reveals the thoughts of many hearts. What did the advent of Jesus reveal in this story? A longing and ache for the consolation of Israel. The soul-piercing sorrow of a mother. The Advent season is not the absence of grief, fear, pain, dread. Rather it is the season of God entering into our grief, fear, pain, dread. That’s why our Advent preparation must not be all jolly and jingle bells. A pierced heart is present, a life-time of longing. Advent is a season of waiting for Christ’s Consolation. But wait like Simeon who was led by the Spirit to Jesus Christ.