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Christmas is the time of year when we celebrate the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus. But lest this become an exercise in jargon, we need to think through what we mean by it. If we were to reapply the apostle Paul at this point, we should celebrate with the fudge, but celebrate with the mind also (1 Cor. 14:15).
“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:1-4).
Summary of the Text
The apostle Paul was a servant of Christ (v. 1), called as an apostle (v. 1), and separated for his service in the gospel of God (v. 1). This gospel was promised to us all beforehand through the prophets in the holy Scripture (v. 2), and the gospel concerned the person of the Lord Jesus. Whenever we think about the gospel, we must think in two categories—in terms of the person of Jesus, and in terms of the work of Jesus. Paul here alludes to His work by referencing the resurrection (v. 4), but he is emphasizing the person of the Lord Jesus. Our Lord Jesus Christ was made according to the flesh of the seed of David (v. 3). He was a Davidson. And He was declared to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead (v. 4). Now Jesus was the Son of God the entire time, but He was not declared openly to be such until the resurrection established him as the first born from among the dead (Ps. 2:7; Acts 13:33; Col. 1:15, 18).
A Delayed Fuse
So what we find is that God placed certain truths in His Word, and the ramifications of these truths took some centuries to work out. The Church finally settled them in the Council of Nicea (325) and in the Definition of Chalcedon (451). Nicea settled that Jesus is God, and Chalcedon settled what that has to mean since He was also a genuine man.
So Start With Jesus of Nazareth
We know from Scripture that Jesus was a true human being. John makes a point of saying it bluntly. Their eyes saw Him (1 John 1:1), and their hands touched Him (1 John 1:1). He had a true body—He had bones (Luke 24:39). He got thirsty (John 4:7). He knew what it was to be hungry (Matt. 4:2). One time He was so exhausted that He slept through a storm (Mark 4:38). Scripture makes the point in countless ways—Mary gave birth to a baby boy (Luke 2:7). So whatever else we are dealing with here, we dealing with a fellow human being, someone who is not ashamed to call us brothers (Heb. 2:11). Jesus was a true man.
Start With Jesus Again
But He was such a remarkable man that to say He was just a man does not begin to cover it. This reality extends beyond His miracles—many of which had been done in the power of the Spirit by prophets before Him. From the very first, Jesus was identified by His followers as God. When Thomas saw Him after the resurrection, He said “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28). God the Father speaks to the Son, and says, “Your throne, O God . . .” (Heb. 1:8). The Word was with God in the beginning, and the Word was God (John 1:1) and, lest there be any confusion on the point, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). The Word created everything, including the world He was born into (John 1:3). The fundamental Christian confession is that Jesus is Lord (Rom. 10:9-10). Further, whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Rom. 10:13; Joel 2:32). The Hebrew in the passage Paul cites is talking about YHWH. Jesus is YHWH.
Jesus Himself had made this identification, and the fact that people still want to call Him a great moral teacher (only) is simply another argument for how remarkable He was. As Lewis points out, this is actually like claiming that you are a poached egg. Jesus said to the Jewish leaders that “Before Abraham was, I am.”They got His point, and picked up stones to kill Him for blasphemy (John 8:58-59).
Yet Another Antinomy
Some people want the object of their worship to be fully in accord with common sense. But one of the first things common sense tells us is that this is an impossibility. Is God infinite? Yes, of course (Ps. 147:5). But can we conceptualize that? Of course not. Did God make everything out of nothing? Yes, of course (John 1:3). But can we imagine nothing and then something, on the basis of a Word? Did God ordain every word that we speak, before we speak it, and yet we are the ones who speak? Yes, of course (Ps. 139:4). It is the same here—we cannot do the math, but we can bow down and adore. This is not contrary to logic, but it certain goes well beyond our abilities in it.
So what are we to do? We begin with right worship, which in its turn—just as it did with the early church—will lead to right definitions. Right worship shapes our theology. In this case, we echo what our fathers at Nicea and Chalcedon said. Jesus of Nazareth is one person, the Lord Jesus Christ. This one person had, unlike us, two natures, one divine and one human. These natures were not blended together, but were rather united in a person. They were not mixed up. They were not parceled out. The Incarnation was not God in a man-suit. It was not as though He had a human body and a divine soul. No—He had a complete human nature, and He was fully God.
As Chalcedon put it, that which can be predicated of one nature can be predicated of the person. That which is predicated of the other nature can be predicated of the person. Jesus is true God. Jesus is true man. But that which is predicated of one nature cannot be predicated of the other nature. Humanity is not divinity, and finitude is not infinitude. And glory goes to God in the highest.