Sermon – August 26, 2018
There are many people in the world who see doctrine simply as a divisive activity. They see that creeds and dogma as the very things that have sown discord amongst the people of God, and that for the sake of unity, we must discard it. Some, perhaps with greater humility and less extravagance, desire to avoid doctrine because it turns people off, and is difficult. Yet, doctrine is necessary and, against much of what popular preaching states, immensely practical. Today, we have the great pleasure of looking at the nature of Christ himself: how the Word became Flesh.
1. The heretical positions
- Jesus only seemed to be physical (Docetism) Many in the early days of Christianity wanted to deny the physical nature of the incarnation, due to some widely held (and cherished) beliefs that the immaterial was good, the material bad. Therefore, they claimed that Jesus only seemed to have a real body. John especially wants to counteract such claims (see John 20:27-28; 1 John 4:2-3), and here puts specific focus on the fact that the immaterial Word “became flesh.”
- Jesus only seemed to be human (Apollinarianism) While not denying that the flesh was real, Apollinarianism denies that Jesus was anything more human than flesh. Apollinaris would say “He [Jesus] is not man, though like man; for he is not consubstantial with man in the most important element.” That most important element was a real human mind and soul. He was only human in body. But it is difficult to read John 1:14’s “flesh” in this limited way. Not only because John doesn’t restrict the meaning of flesh to the physical only, but also further inspection of the NT prohibits such a view (see Hebrews 2:14, 17; 4:15).
- Jesus only seemed to be one person (Nestorianism) Nestorius argued, against the above, that Jesus was both a real human and maintained the full divinity of the Word. Yet, because he struggled to understand how the two could combine in one person, he argued that the two natures stayed as two separate people, albeit in one body. But, again, John states that the Word “became flesh”; he didn’t associate with it or simply come near it, but became it. What’s more, Jesus is never referred to as two separate persons, one divine and one human. He is simply Jesus, rightly confessed as being one singular person.
- Jesus only seemed to have two natures (Eutychianism) The combining of the two natures, divine and human, in one person continued to be a problem for some. Eutychus argued that the solution is a sort of third-being – that the human nature was adapted to the divine nature in some way, allowing the two natures to become one. But, by adopting this position, many heretics in the early church were left denying both the divinity of Jesus AND the humanity of Jesus. But, as John writes, the Word became flesh; he doesn’t stop being the Word, but he takes on the fullness of human reality and essence. He is the God-man.
2. The orthodox position
The orthodox position is best summed up by the Chalcedonian Creed of 451. This creed reads:
We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the virgin Mary, the mother of God, according to the manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us
3. The practicality of Christology
What do we lose if Jesus is not fully God?
- We lose the picture of God
- We lose the perfection of God
- We lose the prevalence of God
What do we lose if Jesus is not fully human?
- We lose the picture of faithfulness
- We lose propitiation of God’s wrath
- We lose priestly intercession
In fact, we lose everything that is dear to us. This is why doctrine matters, friends. Not because abstract theological debate has merit on its own, but rather because these things are so eminently practical and important. Yes, we must simply confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. But let us also understand well what we are confessing!