For my Systematic Theology II class, we had to write a sermon...not preach it in front of the class thankfully! Although I think it would have been fun to present it, it was so much easier to just write it! Now, this is my first doctrinal sermon I've written. I've spoke various times and taught on different subjects, but this sermon was heavier for me. Maybe it's because it had to be doctrinal and it was going to be handed in to a brilliant theologian. Can you say 'pressure'?!
So, I decided to write my sermon on the incarnation; one of my favorite topics in theology. I told my friends I would share my sermon if I got a good mark (and it wasn't heretical!) so I wouldn't be sharing something of low quality to you. We were supposed to extract the material mostly from our main textbook: The Christian Theology Reader by Alister McGrath. The specific excerpts from McGrath's book which I used for this sermon are:
- Athanasius on the Two Natures of Christ
- Athanasius’ on the Relation of Christology and Soteriology
- Anselm of Canterbury on the Atonement
- Thomas Aquinas on the Satisfaction of Christ
- F.D.E. Schleiermacher on Christology and Soteriology
- James Denney on Atonement and Incarnation
And hey- be easy on me...I'm not a pastor nor a preacher. Here goes:
Who Do You Say I Am?
Christmas has just passed. We saw many images of baby Jesus in a manger. In the church, we learn that that baby Jesus was God. We learn that God came to earth and became human. We call it the incarnation. The incarnation brings about tons of questions like “how does the incarnation work; God being divine and human?” and “What was the point of the incarnation?” We take our questions about the incarnation further because as humans we can be selfish, so we always want to know how things will directly affect us. Therefore, we may ask “is the incarnation important to me? If so, how?”
There are two main reasons why the incarnation is important to us which we’ll talk about today. First reason: The incarnation is important because it helps us to understand Jesus’ identity. Second reason: The incarnation is important for us to understand the work of salvation. You see, understanding the incarnation brings about implications for our faith. This is why it is important to ask all the questions about the incarnation and seek its answers.
Let us pray to ask the Holy Spirit to lead our time of learning and lead me as I teach: God, who are we that You are mindful of us? We are blessed that God almighty wants anything to do with us. Thank You for being a loving God, who is interested in Your creation. Even when your creation has failed You, You have remained faithful and have continued to pursue a relationship with us. It is only through Your Son that we can have that relationship. So, today, we pray that You may help us to understand more of Your Son, Jesus. Allow the Holy Spirit to teach us and enlighten us with the truth of the incarnation. And when we come to understand, that we may believe, treasure and apply Your truth. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Who do you say I am?
Let us begin discussing the first reason of the incarnation: to understanding Jesus’ indentity. Let’s start this time with a question that Jesus asked the disciples. Turn to Matthew 16:13-17.
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven (New International Version).
If Jesus were to ask us the first question today: Who do people say I am? We could answer for the religious people: The Jehovah Witnesses say that He was an angel. Mohammed said that He was just a prophet. Buddhists believe He was just a good man. Hinduism believes that Jesus is one of many other gods. We could also answer for some celebrities: Alanis Morset implied that Jesus was just one of us; “a slob… stranger on the bus…just trying to make his way home”. John Lennon said the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. Malcom X said Jesus was black. And Pamela Anderson said Jesus was her “homeboy”.
Almost everyone has something to say about who Jesus is. People will live according to who Jesus is. If you think that Jesus was just a good man, what’s it to you? It would just make him an exemplary human and it would not affect you in any way. But if Jesus is God in the flesh, then the way He lived His life, the miracles He did, His death and resurrection affect you because they were all done for you! John MacArthur says that the way you answer the question of who Jesus is determines your eternal destiny.
So, the same question that was asked to Peter on that day is extended to you: Who do you say I am? [Pause for a brief moment of silence]
We have heard the answer of a few religions and celebrities as to who Jesus is. Now, let us turn to God’s very own word to find out who He is: Jesus asked the disciples: Who do you say I am? Being the hasty, impulsive guy that Peter was, He answered for everyone and said “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. This passage takes place before the crucifixion of Jesus. The disciples have now spent a few years with Jesus, seeing Him preach and do miracles that verified or authenticated that He was God. By now, Peter could confess that Jesus was the One the scriptures had prophesied about for thousands of years. By now, Peter was able to confess that Jesus was the Son of God and therefore God Himself. You see, the disciples did not just see Jesus eat, get tired, sleep, and go to the washroom- but they also saw Jesus read the minds of people, heal people and forgive sin. Even after Peter’s confession, they saw Jesus die, resurrect, and ascend back to the Father. The disciples were eye witnesses of seeing Jesus be 100% God and 100% man.
Now, you and I have one nature; we are 100% human. God the Father and God the Holy Spirit have one nature: 100% God. But Jesus had two natures: 100% man and 100% God. Anselm of Canterbury had a great title for Jesus to describe his two natures: “The God-man”.
For some reason, every time I refer Jesus as the God-man, a guy in his early 20’s says “that sounds like a super-hero!”. Let’s get something straight: Jesus was not like a super hero. Super heroes are humans with supernatural powers…super heroes are also not real! Jesus was not a human with divine powers.
When I was younger, I tried to understand the two natures of Christ. Consequently, I reasoned that Jesus was like Hercules: half man and half god. But this is also wrong! Let me preface by saying that it can be difficult and mysterious to understand the two natures of Jesus- but there is hope for understanding it through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit and studying of the Scriptures.
Jesus was fully God and fully human. Because Jesus was God, this means He existed before he became human. John 1 says that Jesus existed in the beginning and that He is God! Jesus did not cease being divine when He became human. There were some things that Jesus could not do as God because of His human body, like be omnipresent. However, He was still fully God who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin, tempted but did not sin, did miracles and resurrected. Jesus was FULLY divine.
Jesus was also fully human. Some believe that Jesus only appeared to be human, but this is untrue. Jesus was fully human. The Bible says that He grew up in stature, wisdom and grace before God and man. The Bible says He had to learn obedience. Jesus also got hungry, tired and sleepy. Jesus had human needs. Jesus felt pain! This means He felt the anxiety of incoming death in the
sweat blood. Jesus felt every humiliation, beating, and hammering on the Via
Dolorosa and on the cross. He felt it
because He was fully human. garden
Now you may be thinking: wow. This sounds great. Jesus was fully God and fully man- but what does that mean to me and my Christian faith? My friend, the incarnation FULLY affects you. God is wise and brilliant. Thus, the way He works is complex, yet intentional.
We have just discussed the first reason of why it is important to understand the incarnation; that is so we understand Jesus’ identity. Jesus was not only a man. He was also God.
The purpose for Jesus’ Two Natures
Jesus was not fully God and fully man so that we could try to figure out how his two natures work together, although it is important to understand. But, there is a beautiful and significant intention that exists behind Jesus’ two natures! The fact that Jesus was fully God and fully man relates to our salvation; this is the second reason why the incarnation is important!
In the beginning, Adam and his wife, Eve, experienced the perfect state of creation and perfect communion with God. As you know, their disobedience brought corruption to everything. Perfect communion with God was ruined. There was nothing that sinful humanity could do to restore that communion. As humanity, we deserved eternal punishment and separation from God. But God being loving wanted His creation back to what He originally intended it to be; with Him in perfect communion. But how was that perfect communion going to be established again if humanity was now in a corrupt state? How was the wrath of God for our disobedience going to be satisfied?
Anselm says that in God’s kingdom, mercy cannot be simply given out; the wrong must be corrected because God is just. God’s wrath must be satisfied with payment for the wrongdoing. Therefore “Satisfaction cannot be made unless there is someone who is able to pay to God for the sin of humanity. This payment must be something greater than all that is beside God […] Now nothing is greater than all that is not God, except God…then it is necessary that someone must make [satisfaction] who is both God and a human being”.
“…[W]ho is both God and a human being”… both God and a human being. [Pause for a brief moment of silence]
Does this sound familiar? Jesus, the God-man was the only one who could satisfy the wrath of God. Jesus, who is God and existed before He was clothed in flesh, was the only one who could satisfy the wrath of God and thus redeem our perfect communion with God. Only GOD could make the atonement last forever. If it wasn’t for Jesus’ divinity, we would have had to continue making atonement year after year like they did in the Old Testament. But because Jesus is God, He is eternal and can make the atonement ONCE and FOR ALL and make it LAST FOREVER. It was only Jesus who was able to do the powerful work that would restore the fallen because He is God. Only Jesus could abolish death that came to us through sin, by dying and resurrecting.
Because Jesus was God, He was able to be conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin, be tempted and not sin, heal, control the weather, forgive sin, resurrect, appear to more than 500 men at the same time and ascend! We know God can do all these things because He is God! So, then what was the point of the Son becoming human?
The point of becoming human was so that He could represent us, like Adam did in the beginning. Adam, the first representative of humanity, failed to obey- but Jesus, the second representative of humanity obeyed even until death. Jesus did what Adam could not do; obey. Jesus did what all of us humanity could not do; that is, pay for our sin and satisfy God’s wrath. It was OUR obligation to pay God back for our sin! But when Jesus became human, he took on our obligation upon himself. Thus, the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, the sinless One.
Allister McGrath puts it this way: “A “God-man” [Jesus Christ] would possess both the ability (as God) and the obligation (as a human being) to pay the required satisfaction. Therefore the incarnation takes place, in order that the required satisfaction may be made, and humanity redeemed.”
That’s why Jesus had to have the two natures: so that He could make eternal atonement as God, and represent humanity as a man.
Conclusion and Application
Let’s go back to that question that Jesus asked the disciples: Who do they say I am? Some say Jesus was just a moral man and a good teacher. Others say He was only God and not man; His body was only an appearance. But at the end of the day, what matters between you and God is what your answer is- not what others answer is.
Jesus then asked the disciples “But who do you say I am?” Peter answered correctly. Peter was looking at God in the flesh at that moment. Peter could have just seen Jesus’ weather-beaten face, His tired-prone body and the rest of His humanity…but instead Peter saw Jesus as God. Peter answered “You are the Messiah, Son of the Living God”. Peter saw Jesus as a man, but also as God. Who do you say Jesus is? [Pause for a silent moment]. Your answer determines your eternal destiny.
After Peter answered, Jesus said that his answer was actually revealed to Him by God. You see, when you confess that Jesus was not only a mere man, but also God- that means something. When you confess it and believe it- that means something! If you already have a relationship with Jesus today but this truth of the incarnation is making you see Jesus differently…good! The more we know Jesus, the more we love Him, obey Him and become like Him! If you do not have a relationship with God today, and you believe this truth of the incarnation and it is stirring you up inside- it is because God is drawing you to Him. Fall into God’s pursuit for you! He loves you and wants a relationship with you. Your answer as to who Jesus is must go beyond head knowledge; it must penetrate your heart. You will treat God according what your answer is. So, who is Jesus to you?
I will conclude with the words of the apologist, Ronald Nash:
…if Jesus Christ is God, we have more than a revelation from God in human language. God has revealed himself- his person, his nature, his character- in a living way. To know Jesus’ teaching is to know God’s teaching; to know Jesus’ character is to know God’s character; to believe in Jesus is to believe in God; to know Jesus is to know God.
McGrath, Alister. Christian Theology Reader. 4th ed.
Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. Oxford
Nash, Ronald. Worldviews in Conflict.