For various reasons, the Deity of Jesus Christ, as well as the whole of the glorious Trinity, has shown up in much of my preaching of late. Certain sermon topics have taken me there. It is a rich study including both the Old and New Testament scriptures. The Bible says much on this topic.
Today, I wanted to speak to you about the opposite end of that stick, Jesus’ humanity. The full humanity of Jesus is a biblical fact. He was a man as much as you, I, or any other man, except for our sinfulness. Fully God, yet fully man. In Jesus, manhood is God’s. Some in the past did not believe so.
The Cathars lived in the 12th century. In a sense, they were the last of the Gnostic philosophers. They taught that only the spirit is good; all things flesh and blood are evil. They believed that once baptized, if someone sinned again, he would permanently and hurtfully alter his spiritual condition and be alienated from God forever. They believed in this so much that many would not participate in baptism until they were on their deathbed, making it that much less likely for them to sin against God before they died, damning the soul. What foolishness and a wasting of spiritual life.
Though these had their own scriptures (very late to the scene and inauthentic) written by other Gnostics, they could also reference (and distort) certain legitimate biblical passages to bolster their claims, such as Romans 7:18 (“For I know that in me – that is, in my flesh – nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.”), Romans 7:24 (“O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”), and Galatians 5:17 (“For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.”)
I will not break all of that down right here, it does not suit my purpose, but leave it be said that these passages speak of the sin nature and not merely the physical human body. You can read Romans 6 which speaks on this. The human body can indeed be used for God’s goodness. It is a matter of to whom does the Christian yield, to God or Satan, to the Spirit or the sin nature.
The problem, as to our topic, comes in with the false ancient belief of the Gnostics that the Christ could not have come in the flesh, since the flesh is always evil. They used weird shape bending teachings that had the “Christ” appearing here as a spirit, and then “Jesus” appearing there, now a man. The two were ne’er to abide together. They would assert that God cannot have a real human body. Their story goes that physical bodies are always evil and God cannot be evil, so it follows . . . on and on.
The aged apostle, John, was already dealing with this false doctrine at the end of the first century, before his death, when he wrote, quite pointedly, in 1 John 4:2-4 this:
“By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”
He does so again in his second epistle, verses 7 and 9: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.”
“Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.”
Pretty sharp terminology there against the Gnostics. Jesus had (and has) two natures. Both are full, complete, and distinct from each other. The first (Deity) does not change or alter the next (humanity). How could Jesus have hungered in Matthew 4:2? How could He have thirsted in John 19:28? Let alone these, how could He have died? God ravenous, thirsty, and dying? It was the human who experienced these things. Yet, at other times, He would forgive sins, control creation of His own power, spoke of His eternity past, read the thoughts of total strangers, and claimed the place of glory and divinity. It was his Deity who performed these things. Both in Him, active and real, abiding in the same person at the same time. It had better. Without them, we could not be saved.
In 1 Corinthians 15:16-17, Paul writes, concerning the resurrection, this: “For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!”
It was not the Christ (divine) who lived the perfect life, and then, presto-change-o, the Jesus (human) who died. The Christ is not the Great Houdini of the Skies, in, then escaping out from, human form. They are one. Through His incarnation (God becoming flesh) infinite God could now die for an infinite number of men. And they are not infinite; there are only just so many. The humanity of the Christ is just as important as His divinity.
How did He achieve this? It was His coming, by the power of the Holy Spirit, into the womb of the virgin maiden, Mary. Actually, Philippians 2 (verse 6 and 7) describes it better than Luke 2 does, though let us revere both:
“Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.”
That phrase, “made Himself of no reputation,” is (in the Greek) kenoo (“emptied”) and heautou (“himself”). Heaven was His. Glory was His. Owned by right of His being. He gave these up. Not his divinity, but the pleasure of his divine place. In the very act of becoming a man, He, the greater, took on the lesser, so that He could save the least.
The fictitious Tarzan was Lord of the Apes. That may not exactly sound like the hill in life that you were hoping to be king of, but so what; it suited him fine. Through a set of most unfortunate circumstances, none of them of his choosing, Tarzan lived with the apes, ate with them, grew up with them. He all but became one of them. He did this too, in one sort of way, socially. But in the end, two things: he was not, in fact, an ape, and what he did do with them was not wholly voluntary.
Let us say that you, like Jane Goodall, the primatologist (ape-ologist, whatever) of the 60s, really care for apes, just like Tarzan. You love them. Your heart beats for them. Dare I say, in very poor humor, that you are ape for apes. Yes, let’s. Let’s further say that your concern rises all the way up to wanting to save the creature from certain extinction. I might carry the same sentiment. I might even put my money where my mouth is and mail in a contribution of $100, or even $1,000, alas, my ability to assist would end about there. Jane (the scientist, not Tarzan’s heartthrob) certainly did more. She dedicated her entire life. She lived out there in the rain forests among them. She visited them daily, studied them. But in the end, she did not, nor could not, actually become an ape herself, could she. Even the “living with them” ended every night, when she would return to her tent with its cheese and crackers, warm bed, English tea, and mosquito netting.
Jesus did what Jane Goodall would not do, at least, certainly could not do. He not only lived before us for a time, but He become one of us, right down to DNA ladders. He took on the actual form. The eternal God was assigned a date of birth, a human one, so that He might also be qualified for an end date, dying for mankind.
Romans 5 articulates some more the need there was for Christ to become a man so that he could help men. Verse 15 says that since by “one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God . . . by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.” Verse 17 adds that “if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace . . . will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” And verse 18: “. . . through one man’s offense judgment came to all men . . . even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men . . . ”
Forgiveness and removal of the offence from all the law books of heaven might very well rise from the place of a merciful heart, but it is also that same heart which possesses only the purest righteousness. What would mercy look like in the court of a judge who lets serial sexual predators and mass murders go scot-free with no more than a stern look and a rebuke to “never do that again. Now, vamoose. And don’t let me catch you again at any more of your high jinks.” The murder and abuse rates would vault to the sky. No one is willing to get in their way, so why should they stop, with sinful desires gnawing on their wills all the time.
I would even go as far to say that righteousness must be satisfied before mercy can play any part. In one way, it trumps mercy. Mercy may win the day, but righteousness always wins. Even hell says that Love sometimes loses. Mercy will not yield to unrepentant sin. God’s righteousness won’t let it. It always has the right of way.
God solved all of this through His plan of salvation. “I will send my Son. He will go to Earth, become a man and perfectly pay the price. If anyone will accept that payment, turning from their sin and applying faith to the significance of the events surrounding Calvary, I will forgive that person.
Romans 5:8 speaks to the substitutionary nature of Jesus’ death: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Compare what Christ did to other acts of great compassion. A protective father does less when he offers up one of his kidneys to a needing son or daughter. A security agent does less when he takes a bullet for the president. A fire man does less when he runs into a burning building. Unbelievably altruistic actions all, impressive sacrificial kindnesses, each one, but then there is Jesus.
God’s Son left heaven, not just to His beat in the Earth district to bust a few muggers, He, God the Son, took on the actual, and infinitely lesser form, of man, right down to our sin. There is no comparison. Even his 33 years of living here, volunteering for a sweaty brow and tired limbs after working all day and then doggedly falling into a primitive mattress, when before He was the Self-sufficient Almighty Lord of all. His becoming acquainted with physical weakness and bodily suffering and death, it goes far past anything we know as charitable activity. It is on another plain altogether, off by itself. It makes Mother Teresa look like a slacker.
I’m not sure exactly how I feel about all of it. Besides being blown away, besides loving God in heartfelt gratitude, it seems like what Christ did beckons more from me. I am left with looking on the giving of all my heart, soul, might, and life is not nearly a good enough gesture to state proper appreciation. Yet, in the end, heartfelt thanks is all we lepers really possess.
“This Thanksgiving, thank you Lord for your greatest gift of all – Jesus, the Son of Man.”