As we reflect on the mystery of the Incarnation, we have to recognize that we are dealing with a staggering miracle. And the miraculous aspect of it has to do with what Chalcedon confesses of the one person, Jesus of Nazareth. He is one person, with two natures, and these natures are conjoined, but not jumbled or confused.
“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” (Romans 1:1–4).
Summary of the Text
In this introduction to the epistle to the Romans, the apostle Paul mentions three things that are right at the heart of what we are going to be addressing today. The first is that he refers to one person, God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (v. 3). The second thing is that “according to the flesh,” He was a Davidson—descended from that great king of Israel (v. 3). He had a mother, and a home town. He graduated from Nazareth High. And the third thing is that He was declared to be the Son of God through His resurrection (v. 4). Note that this is when He was declared to be the Son of God, not when He became the Son of God.
So here is the heart of the matter.
Here it is in a nutshell. What can be predicated of one nature can be predicated of the person. What can be predicated of the other nature can be predicated of the person. This is because those two natures are conjoined (this is the miracle of miracles) in what is called the hypostatic union. That word hypostasis simply means “person.”
But what is predicated of one nature cannot be predicated of the other nature. We may not reason thus: “Jesus was six feet tall. Jesus is God. Deity is therefore six feet tall.” You might be tempted to think something like “of course not,” but neglect of this has gotten numerous people in trouble. Jesus is God. Mary is the mother of Jesus, and so Mary is the mother of God. No, she is the mother, according to the flesh, of the one who is God.
I said a moment ago that this mere fact was the miracle of miracles. In the person of the Lord Jesus we have a bridge over the Creator/creature divide.
Whatever would possess us to paint ourselves into this glorious corner? Why do we talk this way? We do it because of our faith in Scripture. Scripture tells us things that we—if we believe those Scriptures—must harmonize. And as we harmonize, realize that we are pointing to things that are above reason, not things that are against reason. There is a crucial difference between them. Many years ago, I was speaking to a woman who belonged to the JWs, and (speaking of the Trinity) she said that she refused to believe in a God that she couldn’t understand. In the first place, think about how sad that is. But in the second place, you should also realize how impossible it is. I asked her if she believed that God was infinite, and she said yes. And so I asked her to explain infinity.
So the most obvious thing that strikes the reader of the four gospels is the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was a singular personality. In everything He does, we see a glorious consistency and unity. Whether we read the scriptural accounts as believers or unbelievers, the person of Christ strikes us as a unitary force to be reckoned with. We are dealing with Jesus of Nazareth, not Jekyll and Hyde, or someone with a schizophrenic multiple personality disorder. That would Legion, living in the tombs, and not the Lord, who was the most fully integrated person who ever lived. That was an aspect of His perfection.
But what happens when we look closely?
When we read carefully, we see the scriptural testimony that Christ participated in all the limitations of human nature. He experienced them. He knew what it was to be thirsty (John 19:28). He was tired enough to be able to sleep in a tempest (Matt. 8:24). He walked to get places (Mark 10:32). He needed to ask for information (Mark 5:31). He was no ghost—He could be heard, seen and touched (1 John 1:1). In short, He was manifestly a man. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). The only part of our humanity that Jesus did not participate in was our sinning, and even that He took on Himself at the cross (2 Cor. 5:21). He experienced our sinfulness without ever sinning Himself.
Thomas addressed Him correctly. “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Who was the Word that became flesh (John 1:14)? It was Jesus. And what is said of Him. He was with God in the beginning, and He was God in the beginning (John 1:1-2). He is the Creator (John 1:3), and God is the absolute Creator (Gen. 1:1). He is the one who made all the worlds (Heb. 1:2), and who sustains all things by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3). If it is created, then the Word created it (Col. 1:16-17).
The fundamental Christian confession is this—Jesus is Lord (Rom. 10:9). We must confess that He is Lord. But what kind of Lord are we talking about? Paul supports his claim by citing Joel 2:32, “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13). This is written in Greek, so the word for Lord is kurios. That could simply refer to a man, just as our English word lord can be used either way—as with Lord Shaftsbury. The same thing is even true with regard to the phrase son of God (Luke 3:38). We must always consider context.
But in this case, the context delivers a staggering truth. The Hebrew passage Paul cites says that whoever calls on the name of Yahweh will be saved. The basic Christian confession is that Jesus is Jehovah.
The Person and Work
The person and work of the Lord Jesus cannot be separated. We are not cleansed and forgiven because we admit that somebody died. No. We must look at this straight on. God took on human flesh in order to be able to die. He did this so that such a death would be followed by a resurrection, in which resurrection the identity of Christ would be proclaimed by God to the world (Rom. 1:4).
And this is the meaning of Christmas. When Mary held the desire of nations in her arms, she was holding the body that would be broken and sacrificed for the life of the world (John 6:51). The Incarnation was the gift that made the great gift a possibility. And what will we do with this? How shall we respond? This is the child who was born to die, and He was born to die so that you and I might live forever. This is the way. He is the door. There is no other door, there is no other way.
When you recite this formula, do you omit the word “Theotokos”?
Josh, no. We are entirely good with theotokos, translated in what we recite as “God-bearer.”