Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Jesus is God and Man

(Nicole and Josh)

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 and the language we use to speak of it, 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 qualifying exam on what the early Church Fathers said about Christ as both divine and human, and the eventual development of the monumental 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 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 today, I see that I still believe it, more than ever. In Jesus, true God was made human. 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 divine. They pick up stones to throw at him, viewing his claim as blasphemous.

For example, Jesus claims to forgive sins. From the ancient Jewish point of view, only God can do this. 

Imagine you are in a heated conflict with someone. I walk by, see you arguing, and invite myself into the mess. I raise my hands before you both and say, "Why not use some conflict resolution, some 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 John 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 the 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. He claims such an intimate relationship with the Father 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 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. 
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. He had a physical, human body, like we have. Jesus got tired (John 4:6), hungry (Matt. 4:2), and thirsty (John 19:28).

Jesus went through a learning process, as we do. We read: 

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, 
and in favor with God and man. 
(Luke 2:52)

Jesus felt the spectrum of different emotions, as 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. He was without sin (1 Peter 2:22).

OK. Jesus was fully God. But why did he have to also be 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)

And, the beautiful words of 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 human-ness, converge. The everlasting, world-creating Word became flesh, and pitched his tent among us.

That's Christmas.

I believe in one Lord, 
Jesus Christ, 
true God from true God, 
who came down from heaven,
and was made man.