Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Paradox of the Manger: That Baby is the World’s Sustainer

The early church sang this song:

Colossians 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

These words say some amazing things about that baby laid in the manger. First of all, that Jesus is God. In Him all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form. He is fully God, the exact image or likeness of God the Father, representing to us all that we can know of God in this life. To behold Him is to behold the Father. And yet, Jesus is not the Father. He is an eternal and distinct personal expression of the One God. As one man writes, “fully God, yet not alone fully God.” Or, as the apostle John said:

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

As Paul said it to the Colossians: All that exists was made IN Jesus, BY Jesus and UNTO Jesus. He is the agent of creation – God the Father being the “prime mover,” but Jesus the actual agent of creation.

But at Christmas time we remember the birth of a baby. Not an ordinary child, this Jesus was born of a virgin: “When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.”

Thus, at one point in time, the Son of God was “contracted to a span / incomprehensibly made man” and born to a virgin named Mary. He was fully human and, we might add, fully “infant.” “Remaining what he was, he became what he was not” – he became fully human. Yet He never stopped being fully God.

But Jesus did not just make the world – He sustains the world. Right now.

· Every breath, ray of light, eyelash, sound...

· the laws of nature and gravity...

· the rotation of planets and axis of the earth...

· are all sustained by Jesus.

Paul has already said, “in Him all things hold together,” but I want to take you to a second passage that confirms this in similar language.

Hebrews 1:1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

This passage mirrors the Colossians paragraph quite closely. First, the writer says, “Jesus is God.” Then he follows this by stating that Jesus created all that exists. Then, like Paul in Colossians, he teaches us that Jesus sustains, maintains, continues, carries along all that He has made: he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

I. Jesus is God

All the glorious perfections of God dwell in the person of the Son – He is the radiance of the glory of God”

And all that God intends for us to know of Him is communicated to us through the Son, who is “the exact imprint of his nature”

To illustrate, we might say that “Jesus is the beam out of the unapproachable light that is God.”

John Owen comments in remarkable fashion on the phrase found in Hebrews 1:3 “He [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God”. After noting that the analogy cannot be forced to include anything that is bad or evil, he suggested 6 ways that the sun in our sky with its beams of light illustrate this idea that Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God. I shall list 4 of them for you:

“3. As the sun in order of nature is before the beam, but in time both are co-existent; so is the Father in order of nature before the Son, though in existence both co-eternal.”

– the fiery ball of sun must come first in order, but it exists at the same time as the beam of light which shines from it. This is like Jesus and His Father.

4. As the beam is distinct from the sun, so that the sun is not the beam, and the beam is not the sun; so is it between the Father and the Son.

- the sun in our sky and the light on our planet are distinct. This is like Jesus and the Father.

5. As the beam is never separate from the sun, nor can the sun be without the beam, no more can the Son be from the Father, nor was the Father ever without the Son.

- there is no light beam apart from the sun and there is no sun without light beams. This is like Jesus and the Father.

6. As the sun cannot be seen but by the beam, no more can the Father but in and by the Son.”[1]

- the only way we know the sun is in the sky is by the light it shines... the beams show us the sun. This is like Jesus and His Father.

Jesus really is God that is the point. He is equal to the Father in His deity.

Now, having established the deity of Jesus, we need to consider what it was for Him to become man. Why?

Because we need to figure out, was that baby really managing every microbe and mountain as he lay in the manger? Or did something else happen? Did the Holy Spirit take over for a while? Did Jesus become less God? Was He only faking being a man? Was he some kind of mistaken identity – like the bizarre theatrical flop, Little Man?

What was Jesus? Who are we talking about at Christmas? Is he fact or fairy tale?

Q: What does the Bible say happened to Jesus when he became human?

A: The Son of God, the 2nd Person of the Tri-une Godhead, who Himself is eternal, infinite and omnipotent, joined Himself to human nature forever, becoming One Person with finite man. Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man in one person forever.

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”

This is perhaps the greatest mystery in the Bible – in the universe! So just sitting around and talking about the Person of Christ is fraught with difficulties. Almost every statement we can make to describe the nature of Jesus has to be balanced by another statement. And we are quickly faced with the incredible limitation of language – for words alone are insufficient.

Two Natures

To help guard us from error, Christians over the last two millennia have learned to speak of the two natures of Jesus – His human nature and his divine nature. By doing this, we are able to point out those attributes or characteristics that belong more fully to one of His two natures – all the while acknowledging that whatever one nature does, the Person of Christ does.

But you can see right away how our finite understanding begins to strain under the weight of deity! For, Jesus is not two separate entities in one body. Neither is he divine in heaven and human while on earth. Neither is he some kind of stew – two natures mixed together in one confused pot – both natures becoming less than they were on their own. These are all heresies that have been condemned by the church over the centuries – and rightly so.

The Bible teaches that Jesus is God. The Bible teaches that Jesus is man. The Bible teaches that Jesus is one person.

So, we are plumbing the depths here. What did it mean for Jesus to become man? Did He stop being God?

I will start to answer that question more fully tomorrow!

[1] From Hebrews, Volume 3, Banner of Truth, 92.