|Door, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem|
Back in the 1970s I read German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg's magnum opus Jesus: God and Man. I was so inspired by Pannenberg's study, especially his analysis of the resurrection of Christ, that I incorporated his thinking into my doctoral dissertation. My studies began focusing more and more on the matter of the nature of Christ, and led to a doctoral qualifiying exam on what the early Church Fathers said about Christ as both divine and human, and the eventual development of the great Christological Creeds. (See, e.g., J.N.D. Kelly's Early Christian Doctrines and Early Christian Creeds)
I grew up in a Lutheran Church (ELCA), and on Sunday mornings we recited one of those creeds, The Nicene Creed. The word "creed" is from the Latin word credo, which means "I believe." The Nicene Creed begins with "We believe..." It reads:
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
As I read this creed today I see that I believe it, now more than ever. In Jesus, true God was made man. Here's a brief look at this.
Jesus is True God
In the four Gospels we see many places where Jesus acts like he is God and even claims to be God. This is recognized by the religious leaders, who accuse him of claiming to be God. They even pick up stones to throw at him, viewing his claim as blasphemous.
For example, Jesus claims to forgive sins. From the ancient Jewish POV, only God can do this. This still holds today. Imagine that you are in a heated conflict with someone. I walk by, see your conflict, and invite myself into it. I raise my hands to you both and say, "Why not use some conflict resolution and anger management techniques to work this thing out?" Presumably you would not have a problem with me saying that. But if I said to you "I forgive you both for acting this way," you would wonder "Does this person think he is God?" The religious leaders asked, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Jesus walked around doing that. He went to a bloody death because of that and to accomplish that. Jesus was speaking and acting as if he were God.
N.T. Wright explains this God-thing about forgiving sins in his excellent book Simply Jesus. Wright writes:
"How does God normally forgive sins within Israel? Why, through the Temple and the sacrifices that take place there. Jesus seems to be claiming that God is doing, up close and personal through him, something that you’d normally expect to happen at the Temple. And the Temple— the successor to the tabernacle in the desert— was, as we saw, the place where heaven and earth met. It was the place where God lived. Or, more precisely, the place on earth where God’s presence intersected with human, this-worldly reality." (Wright, N. T., Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters, pp. 79-80)
There are many examples in Scripture where Jesus acts like he is God. Jesus claims such an intimate relationship with God that it causes the religious leaders to accuse him of making himself equal with God. (For example, Jesus said "I and the Father are one.") Their accusations were on target. In Jesus, God's very presence intersected with earth in the form of humanity.
Jesus is Human - The Humanity of Jesus
For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
- Hebrews 2:17-18
"What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us?"
- Joan Osborne
Jesus is fully and completely human. He was conceived in a human womb. Jesus had a physical, human body, just like we have. Jesus got tired (John 4:6), hungry (Matt. 4:2), and thirsty (John 19:28).
Jesus went through a learning process, just as we do. We read: And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:52)
Jesus felt a variety of different emotions, like we do. He marveled (Matt. 8:10), he wept (Jon 11:35); and he was inwardly troubled (Matt. 26:38; John 12:27).
Jesus was like us in every way except one. Jesus was without sin (1 Peter 2:22).
OK. Jesus was fully God. But why did he have to be also fully human? Wayne Grudem writes: "Jesus had to be fully human to serve as our perfectly obedient representative... If Jesus wasn't fully human, his obedience in our place would be meaningless. Just as Jesus had to be human to live in our place, he had to be human to die in our place. Hebrews 2:17 says: It’s obvious, of course, that he didn’t go to all this trouble for angels. It was for people like us, children of Abraham. That’s why he had to enter into every detail of human life. Then, when he came before God as high priest to get rid of the people’s sins, he would have already experienced it all himself—all the pain, all the testing—and would be able to help where help was needed. (The Message)
I have always loved and held closely to Hebrews 4:15 - We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help. (The Message)
In Jesus full God-ness and full humanity converge. The everlasting, world-creating Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, true God from true God, who came down from heaven and was made man.