Posts Tagged ‘God-Man’

The Two Beautiful Names Behind ‘Merry Christmas’

December 25, 2011

Christmas – and the meaning of Christianity itself – can be summed up in two names.

The first is “Immanuel,” which translates from Hebrew to “God with us.”  It comes from a prophecy written approximately 700BC about the future Messiah 

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” — Isaiah 7:14

Of this same miraculously conceived child the same prophet writes about other things this same child would be called in addition to “Immanuel”:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” — Isaiah 9:6

I often marvel over the bickering of unbelief over whether the Hebrew word in Isaiah 7:14 should really be translated “virgin” given what is said about this same child in Isaiah 9:6.  How ELSE would one expect this child, this son who would be born, who would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace to be conceived other than by miraculous supernatural means?  Seriously?

What does “God with us” mean?

It means that this child – rightly called “Immanuel” in Isaiah 7:14 and “Mighty God” in Isaiah 9:6, would literally be God come to be with mankind in some powerful way.

It is a beautiful reference to the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the unique, One-and-Only Son of the Living God.  Isaiah prophesied that some day in the future, God would somehow take a human nature and be born as a child, as a son.  It was a prophecy of the coming birth of One who would one day call Himself “the Son of Man” (e.g. Mark 10:45).

The other name that completes the meaning of Christmas and Christianity is “Jesus.”  It comes from the Hebrew name “Yeshua” (or “Joshua”) which means, “Jehovah is Savior.”

Two things emerge from this name: the first is that God Himself would one day come to personally save and deliver mankind from the bondage and death sentence of sin; the second is that One particular bearer of that name would be Himself God on earth.

The same Book of Isaiah that we have been discussing amply attests of our Lord Jesus Christ taking upon Himself the name both of “Jehovah” and “Savior.”

Isaiah 43:11 makes it most clear:

“I, even I, am the LORD [i.e., Jehovah], and apart from Me there is no Savior.” — Isaiah 43:11

See also Isaiah 45:21 to see that this is no fluke description from the prophet who described the coming of “Immanuel” who would be “Mighty God”:

Declare what is to be, present it–let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the LORD [i.e., Jehovah]? And there is no God apart from Me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but Me.” — Isaiah 45:21

But as we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate the birth of the One of whom the angel proclaimed:

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.”

The mystery of Jesus, of this Savior who would be born in spite of the fact that only JEHOVAH could be called “Savior,” is given a little clarity in the first words of the Book of John as it identifies Jesus Christ as “the Word”:

“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 came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being which has come into being.” — John 1:1-3

When St. John says, “In the beginning was the Word,” it is a direct reference of Genesis 1:1, which begins, “In the beginning God…”

When St. John says, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” he is pointing out that while the Word, Jesus, is divine (i.e., is God), He is not God in the logically exclusive sense that the Father and the Spirit are not also God.  Jesus is God (the Son), and Jesus was also with God (the Father and the Spirit).

When St. John tells us, “He was in the beginning with God,” we know that Jesus was NOT a created being.  He could not have in any way, shape or form been created, because in fact He always existed; He was with God the Father from the very beginning.

If this wasn’t clear enough already, St. John further elaborates on the eternality of Jesus Christ when he says, “All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being which has come into being.”  All things came into being by Jesus Christ.  God the Son was the Creator Moses describes in Genesis 1:1 (“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”).  Not only that, but “apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”  Which is to say that this Son of God, the Word – who would one day become Incarnate under the name of Jesus who was born of a virgin in fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 – created every single thing which has EVER been created or come into existence.  It is a logical impossibility that the One who created ALL things could Himself have been in any way created.

A short poem sums it up more simply and more concisely that I ever could:

“He came to die on a cross of wood, yet made the hill on which it stood.”

He was truly God.

But He was truly God become man.

How?  Why?

God the Son added to Himself – added to His eternal divine nature – a human nature in the Incarnation.  God became man.  And 700 years before it happened, He revealed it to His prophet Isaiah.

One verse from the first chapter of the first Book of the Bible becomes significant in understanding this:

“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” — Genesis 1:27

In Genesis the Son of God, the Word, created man in His divine image; in the Incarnation, that same Son of God assumed the image He had created.  Which is to say that God made man in such a way that He could one day become man Himself.

In the most remarkable act of other-centered love in the history of the universe, Christ the Son of God did the following as recorded in Philippians 2:5-11:

“You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.  Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.  Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.  Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” — Philippians 2:5-11, (NLT)

In verse 7 of that marvellous passage in the original Greek language we have the word “kenosis” occur.  It means, “emptied”:  “He emptied Himself.”

In becoming a man, God had to temporarily let go of attributes of deity that belonged to Him by very right of His divine nature.  He entered into time, which means He had to divest Himself of His eternality while on earth so He could age and grow and die.  He set aside His omniscience so He would experience living as a man, depending on faith just like any other man before or after Him.  He laid aside His omnipotence, such that He could experience the helplessness and fatigue that all men feel.  And so on.

Jesus was completely dependent upon His Father and upon the Spirit for all things, because He had made Himself weak in the Incarnation in order to fully experience human frailty.  He had to walk by faith and live by the power of faith, just as we do.

We can imagine the One who created the Cosmos – and in whom all things literally hold together (Colossians 1:17) – emerge from Mary’s womb that first Christmas as a tiny, helpless baby, struggling just to open His eyes.  He grew in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52) because He had made Himself a man in every way that it was essential to be a man.

It makes me weep to think about what Jesus laid aside so He could come to live with mankind as a man.  Think of the choice of God to do that!  We all want to become great and mighty and awesome and have all the status that accompanies our greatness; Jesus radically went the other way and took a plunge from all the glorious majesty of heaven to a trough that farm animals ate out of.

And the obvious question is, why did He do this?

He did it to take the blame that rightly belonged to me, to live and then die in my place.

He did it to be my Savior, because He as God knew that I, a miserable sinner, desperately needed saving.

In the Incarnation, Jesus lived a perfect life in our place because we could never hope to live such lives.  And then, as the perfect God-Man, He gave His life to take the death sentence earned by OUR sins upon Himself, so that we would not have to experience eternal death the way that all sinners apart from His grace will one day experience.

This mighty act of salvation was God-sized; no mere man could even attain his own salvation, let alone that of the entire human race. And yet just as sin entered the world through a man, only a man acting as a true representative of man could deliver us from that sin.

Enter the God-Man.  Enter Jesus.

Jesus explained His mission to a Jewish Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin named Nicodemus in the most beautiful and powerful words ever spoken:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life.” — John 3:16

Isaiah 64:6 says,

“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”

Isaiah 53:6 says,

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” — Isaiah 53:6

On Christmas morning, a little over 2,000 years ago, in the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4), God came to save me from that from which I most needed saving: from myself; and from my sins which separated me from my Creator, my King and my God.

God is holy and righteous and perfect and sinless: He can not tolerate sin in His presence; nor can any sinner survive His presence.  As a sinner, I deserved hell.  And apart from the grace of God, hell is precisely where I would have gone.

Only there is a God who loved me, and gave Himself for me (see Galatians 2:2o; Ephesians 5:2; Titus 2:14) so that I could be alive in Him and share eternity with Him in His glorious presence forever and ever.

Thank you, Jesus.  I bow down before You and thank You with all of my soul that You alone had the power to save.  I desperately needed a Savior, and You came to save me.

I pray that you, too, bow down before Jesus your King and thank Him from the bottom of a saved, delivered soul this Christmas day.

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On Celebrating The Virgin Birth Of Jesus With Both Heart And Mind

December 25, 2009

I take my “Santa cap” off to the American Spectator – which is such a strong force for political conservatism – for providing articles such as this one.

There is more than health care, or cap-and-trade, or deficits, or any part of the ideological battle between Democrats and Republicans.  Because long before we were fighting any of those issues, we were celebrating Christ.  And we shall be celebrating Christ long after all of these other, lesser issues are gone.

The Case Against the Case Against the Virgin Birth

By Jeremy Lott on 12.22.09 @ 6:07AM

Every year at about this time, readers can count on a few Christmas-themed articles appearing in newspapers and magazines that question the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ. It really is something to see the wide variety of people who get worked up over this ancient Christian belief.

Scientific reductionists — the Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins set — will tell us that it’s impossible. By definition, a virgin cannot be with child. Certain biblical scholars will be trotted out to poke holes in the dogma, by making points about the Bible passages in question that sound convincing to non-scholars. And moderate, embarrassed believers such as Newsweek editor Jon Meacham will try to smooth things over. The Virgin Birth, they will say, is symbolically but not historically or scientifically important. It’s about new life or specialness or some other non-offensive, wooly-headed thing.

The scholars will say that the verse in Isaiah (7:14) that prophesies a “virgin shall conceive and bear a son” is a mistranslation. “Virgin” could be “young woman,” you see. They will point out that only two of the four Gospels of the New Testament mention the Virgin Birth and that the Virgin Birth Gospels (Matthew and Luke) do not agree about many details. They will say that the earliest Gospel (Mark) leaves it out entirely.

Therefore: Who can say what really happened? The point of this exercise is to paint defenders of the virgin birth as narrow fundamentalists who cling to two tenuous, unscientific, conflicting scraps of the biblical text that rely on a questionable translation of Old Testament prophecy. There are perhaps a dozen problems with this approach. We’ll focus on three:

One, it manages to misrepresent all four Gospels at the same time. Matthew and Luke have miraculous conception and birth narratives. Mark and John are rooted in the first chapter of Genesis. That itself says something about Christ’s origin. According to the first chapter of John, “In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God.” In Jesus, “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”

In fact, all four Gospels are rooted in Genesis. Modern audiences tend to focus on the creation narratives of the first few chapters and skip over the genealogies. To a first century Middle Eastern audience, those lists were far more important. Echoing this, both Matthew and Luke attempt to construct genealogies of Jesus, and in the process both books finger God as the father and Mary as the mother.

Two, in pointing out contradictions between Matthew and Luke, scholars and more progressive believers think that they are scoring points against literalism and fundamentalism. The supposed contradictions do present a problem for some believers, but they help make their case as well. Historians are trained to suspect collusion of sources: if two accounts line up too neatly, then one is likely based on the other and thus less valuable. It’s better to have two divergent accounts — even wildly divergent accounts — of the same event to serve as confirmation of the details where they agree.

The stories about Jesus’ conception and birth in Matthew and Luke are far enough apart — the “wise men,” the flight to Egypt, and the murder of innocents are in Matthew but not Luke; the census, the shepherds, the meeting between the mothers of the still unborn Jesus and John the Baptist are unique to Luke — that they must come from different sources. They both agree about the Virgin Birth.

Three, the case for a mistranslation of Isaiah is simply beside the point. Yes, the word in Hebrew could be rendered “young lady” but that’s irrelevant. When an angel tells Mary that she will have a child and she wonders, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34) she’s not saying “since I am a young lady.” The Gospel writers, the popular early Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint, and the early church all understood it to mean “virgin,” and their understanding is what matters here.

None of this is indisputable proof for the Virgin Birth, nor is it meant to be. We can give evidence for miracles but cannot replicate the results in a laboratory, and the chasm between history and mystery is where faith comes in. However, the hostility of scientific reductionists to the idea does not make nearly as much sense as it used to. Now, with advances in reproductive technology, a woman who was biologically a virgin could in fact conceive a child. Experiments in animal DNA are showing that you can manipulate eggs in such a way that sperm is not necessary to create a whole new creature. If scientists in the 21st century can manage it, is it really such a stretch to say that God 2,000 years ago would have been up to the task?

You should go to the American Spectator site itself to read this, as there are some excellent and informative comments that follow the article.  But I have a few things to say, myself.

The Septuagint was the translation into Greek by Jewish scholars (it is often abbreviated as “LXX” because tradition holds that 70 scholars were involved in the translation), and was undertaken and completed between 300 and 200 BC.  It was not written by Christians.

It is, however, particularly noteworthy to Christians that the Jewish scholars translated the Hebrew word “almah” in Isaiah (which basically meant a young woman of marigiable age still under the protection of her family) as “parthenos,” which is the Greek word that clearly means “virgin.”

Some scholars rigidly maintain that the Hebrew word “almah” does not necessarily mean “virgin.”  But the fact of the matter is that in Hebrew culture/tradition, a young unmarried girl under her family’s protection was basically either a virgin, or else she was stoned to death as an adulteress.  When you add the fact that the LXX scholars – who clearly were more in touch with the understanding of the ancient Hebrew Bible than we are today – deliberately chose the word “parthenos,” you have a rather ironclad case that the Jews understood Isaiah 7:14 as prophesying a virgin birth (i.e. an immaculate conception).

Only Jesus – in all of recorded human history – has been proclaimed as having been uniquely born of a virgin.  And the two largest religions in the world – Christianity and Islam – recognize and affirm that Jesus of Nazareth was born of a young Jewish virgin girl named Mary.

The passages presented in the New Testament then eradicate even the tiniest shred of remaining doubt.

The so-called “scientific reductionists” claim that the miracle of the virgin birth was impossible.  What is interesting is that a “virgin birth” is quite possible today, given our medical technology.  I bring this out just to say that these are philosophical atheists, who don’t believe in the virgin birth simply because they do not believe in God.  Otherwise, their view toward the virgin birth becomes asinine: they would literally be arguing that God the Creator of all matter, energy, space, and time would be unable to replicate a feat that humans today routinely perform.

As one who accepts the possibility of God, I have no problem whatsoever accepting the possibility of miracles.  Some atheistic thinkers have defined a “miracle” as “a violation of the laws of nature.”  But they are trying to load the issue and tilt it toward philosophical naturalism by doing so.

Let me explain it this way.  Suppose someone accidentally knocks my cup of coffee off the table and I catch it.  Is this a “miracle”?  After all, according to the law of gravity, that cup should have continued to fall and strike the ground – and that didn’t happen.  What did happen was a personal agent possessing sufficient power chose to intervene and change the outcome of natural laws by themselves.

A miracle is God – the all-powerful Creator and Sustainer of the universe – intentionally choosing to reach down and intervene in the affairs of men, usually by a means we our limited understanding cannot fully understand.

Please allow me to explain why Christmas is so important to me, by means of a series of declarations of faith:

I believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ.

I believe that God supernaturally implanted into Mary’s womb (and specifically into one of her unfertilized eggs) a human baby possessing a perfect human nature, uncorrupted by the effects of the Fall.

I believe that this baby, Jesus, possessed every single property essential to human nature (flesh and bones, a human brain, etc.) such that He was 100% man.  Sin is not essential to human nature; God created both Adam and Eve without sin.

I believe that this baby, Jesus, simultaneously possessed every single property essential to Deity, particularly the Deity of The Word, the Second Person of the Triunity of the Godhead.  Such that He was 100% God.  As He grew in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52), He came to recognize His unique Christ-consciousness.  And specifically, He began to become aware that He was the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6-7, and Micah 5:2 (among some 300 other unique and amazing prophecies).

I believe that when God created human beings in His image (the Imago Dei) in Genesis 1:27, He was in fact creating beings whose image and nature He Himself would one day assume.  He created Adam in His image so that He could ultimately assume Adam’s image and so save mankind from the Fall (Genesis 3).

I believe Jesus voluntarily restricted the use of His divine prerogatives prior to His assumption of human nature, such that He lived His life on earth as an ordinary human being who had to rely completely on the Holy Spirit for His power (just like every Christian since has had to do).  Please read Philippians 2:1-11.  And then read it again and again.

I believe He came to live a perfect life on earth as a human being so that He could fully and truly represent the human race.

I believe that He died in my place – and in the place of everyone who believes in Him – so that I could be fully restored with God the Father (Luke 19:10, Mark 10:45).  I believe that I am a sinner (Romans 3:23; 6:23), saved only by grace and by faith in the name of Jesus (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 5:1; 10:9).

I believe in the words of a simple poem,

He came to die on a cross of wood,
Yet made the hill on which it stood (see John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:15-17).

I believe that Jesus had to become a man to die in my place – or even (as God) to be able to experience death on my behalf – and that He had to be God to have the power to save me from my sins.  Only Jesus, as true God, and true Man, could save me (Hebrews 9:24-28).

And I believe that, because of His finished work of sacrifice in my place, that I will live forever with Him in heaven, celebrating an eternal life more magnificent and more exciting than anything I have ever begun to imagine.

And all of the wonder of God coming to His creation, all of the wonder of the most loving act in the history of the universe, all of the existential cries that are answered by God taking my place and saving me, are all answered in the birth of Jesus.

And so I read Job 19:25-27 and say with him, “For I know that my Redeemer lives…”

And so I read with tears of joy the words of Mary in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).

And so I recognize in that First Christmas not only joy to the world, but hope for the world.  And the source of that Christmas joy and hope is Christ.

Merry Christmas.