Sermon by Daniel L. Sonnenberg | December 21, 2014
Audio file not available. However, the sermon text and manuscript can be found below.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-5, 9-14)
Who is this person whose birth we celebrate and whose coming again we anticipate during the season of Advent and Christmas? The Westminster Catechisms ask these questions and provide us with answers from the Bible.
In the opening passage of Genesis we learn the good news of how in the beginning God created man in his own image, in knowledge and righteousness and holiness. But as the story continues we discover the tragic news that all mankind fell into a condition of sin and misery when the first man Adam rebelled against God. Mankind lost fellowship with God and brought his anger and curse on themselves and are now subject to all the pains of this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever. So we can’t help but ask, but “Did God leave all mankind to die in sin and misery?” And the answer is this, “From all eternity and merely because it pleased him, God chose some to have everlasting life. These he freed from sin and misery by a covenant of grace and brought them to salvation by a redeemer.” But who is this redeemer? Where does he come from? And how can he rescue mankind from the predicament of their own making? That’s the subject of our next series of messages. Who is the redeemer of God’s chosen? How did Christ, the Son of God, become human? Why did the mediator have to be God? Why did the mediator have to be human? And, Why did the mediator have to be God and human in one person?
- Christ is the only mediator between God and man. 1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 9:15
The word “only” is an important word in the Scriptures. It teaches us some of the most important things we need to know in order to be saved. “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.” (Mat. 4.10) “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (Jn. 17:3) “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (Jn 3.16). It’s also important in the catechisms. It tells us that Jesus Christ is the only Redeemer of the elect, the one and only mediator of the covenant of grace because that is what we find in the Scriptures. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim. 2:5). “By his blood, Christ offered himself without blemish to God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant.” (Heb. 9:14-15). But why is Jesus the only redeemer of God’s elect? Why is he the only mediator between God and man? The answer is that Jesus alone is qualified to be our redeemer and mediator because of his eternal deity and true humanity, because he was and is both God and man. Let’s think for a few moments about what this means.
- Christ is the eternal Son of God, of one substance and equal with the Father. Jn. 1:1; 10:30
Jesus alone is qualified to be our redeemer first because of his eternal deity. He is the eternal Son of God, of one substance and equal with the Father.
He is the eternal Son of God because He has always been the Son of God, the second person of the divine Trinity, from all eternity. In verse 1 we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” He didn’t become the Son of God when he became man nor at any time in the history of the created universe. “He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” He already existed before the creation. He is eternal.
Not only is he the eternal Son of God. He is also one substance with the Father because there is only one God, and Jesus Christ is the one God just as truly as the Father and the Spirit are the one God. As Christians we don’t believe in three Gods, but in one God who exists in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. JC is therefore not like God; he is God, the only God that there is. “In him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col 2:9).
Not only is he one substance with the Father. He is also equal with the Father because by nature, Christ is not subordinate to the Father in any way. Only by position, by reason of his self-humiliation during his life on earth, he was subordinate to the Father since he took on himself the form of a servant. But in nature, even during his life on earth, he was and is today, fully equal with God the Father. Jesus himself claimed to be equal with God, saying “I and the Father are one.” (Jn. 10:30). And Paul wrote of him that “though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. (Phil. 2:6)
- Christ became man at a certain point in history. Jn. 1:14; Gal. 4:4
So Jesus alone is qualified to be our redeemer because of his eternal deity. But also Jesus alone is qualified to be our redeemer because of his true humanity. Because at a certain point in history the eternal Son of God became human.
He took upon himself a human nature at a point in history the Scriptures call “the fullness of time” or “the fullness of the time.” “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal. 4:4-5). In the eternal counsels of God, when all the preparations were made for human history, a time was appointed for Christ’s incarnation. This time was the same time in history as that of Peter, James and John. As John wrote in v. 14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (Jn. 1:14). At Christmas we celebrate his birth as a human being, the eternal Son of God coming to live as a man in order to fulfill a divine purpose on behalf of men through his death and resurrection. As Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, wrote in the early fourth century A.D. in his treatise on the incarnation, “the [living, eternal] Word of the Father, so great and so high, has been made manifest in bodily form so that the renewal of creation might be wrought by the same Word who made it in the beginning.” (On the Incarnation, p. 9-10)
- Christ will continue to be God and man forever. Phil. 2:5-11; Heb. 7:24-25.
Jesus is qualified to be the only redeemer of the elect finally because not only did the eternal Son of God become man in human history, he will continue to be God and man forever.
Christ, the eternal Son of God, became man at his incarnation, was man as well as God throughout his life on earth, is man as well as God now in heaven, and will continue to be man as well as God forever, to all eternity. The idea that Christ was human only during his earthly life is contrary to the teachings of the Bible. We find in Phil 2:5-11, and in Rev 5:6 that not only Christ’s human nature, but even the evidences of his crucifixion continue in heaven. John wrote, “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain. (Rev. 5:6.) Also, Christ’s heavenly High Priestly ministry depends on his retaining a true human nature in heaven. “He holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Heb. 7:24-25)
Notice the three ways he continues to be both God and human forever.
First, “he is God and man in two complete natures.”
The word “complete” emphasizes the fact that Christ is both fully God and fully man on earth and in heaven. Christ by taking on a human nature at his birth, possesses both a human body and a human soul, in addition to his divine Spirit. Many overlook this fact, and so Christ is wrongly represented as composed of a divine Spirit and a human body. If that were true, he would not be fully human. To be fully human, he must have a human body and a human soul. He was fully human on earth and he is fully human in heaven. Jesus was fully God on earth, and he continues to be fully God in heaven, of one substance and equal to the Father and the Spirit. He is God and man in two complete natures forever.
There’s another way he continues to be both God and human in heaven. “he is God and man in two distinct natures forever.” The word “distinct” tells us that Christ’s two natures, divine and human, while they were and are mysteriously united in one divine person, still are not in any way mixed, blended, or confused. Each remains distinct and retains its separate identity. Christ’s divine nature always remains his divine nature; his human nature always remains his human nature; these two can’t be mixed in any way. Christ is not a being halfway between God and man; he is a person who is both God and man at the same time; he is as truly God as if he were not man at all; and he is as truly man as if he were not God at all. According to the Gospels, in his life on earth, at some points his deity is more evident, as when he said, “Before Abraham was, I am;” and at other points his humanity is more evident, as when he said, “I thirst.” But the two are never mixed or confused in any way. This is certainly a mystery.
There’s one final way he continues to be both God and human for eternity. “he is God and man in one person forever.” Throughout the history of the church, some have mistakenly thought of Christ as a divine person united to a human person, so that Christ had a double personality. But according to the Scriptures, Christ, though he possessed two natures, was only one person. So Christ, though he is a human being, is not a human person. From all eternity he has been a divine person. At a certain point in history, this divine person took upon himself, not a human person, but a human nature which lacked personality. Christ therefore was and is a divine person with a human nature. A human nature is what all members of the human race have in common, that is, a human body and a human soul. Personality is what distinguishes one member of the human race from all the others. In the matter of human nature, all human beings are exactly alike. In the matter of personality, of all the people that have ever lived, there have never been two alike; each individual is different from all others. We should be careful to avoid the popular misconception that considers Christ to be a human person. If Christ were a human person, it would be idolatry to worship him. But because he is a divine person, even though he possesses a human nature, it’s not idolatry to worship him as the Christian church has always done.
Again, Athanasius wrote, “This is the paradox… The Word was not hedged in by his body, nor did His presence in the body prevent his being present elsewhere as well. When He moved [about in] his body he did not cease also to direct the universe by his mind and might. As the Word, he was not contained by anything, he actually contained all things himself. As the Word, he is present everywhere in creation, yet is distinct in being from it; ordering, directing, giving life to all. Existing in a human body, to which he himself gives life, he is still the source of life to all the universe, present in every part of it, yet outside the whole; and he is revealed both through the works of his body and through his activity as the Word in the world. His body was for him not a limitation, but an instrument, so that he was both in it and in all things, and outside all things. At the same time, as man he was living a human life, and as Word he was sustaining the life of the universe.” (On the Incarnation, pp. 26-27). This is the only redeemer; this is the only mediator between God and man whose birth we celebrate this Christmas season. Thanks be to God.