The Son’s relationship to his human nature (Christmas 2022)

I made extensive use of ‘Jesus and the God of Classical Theism’ by Steven J. Duby (Baker Academic, 2022).

Introduction

I said this morning that we’ll be doing a little theology today. Christmas is about the incarnation of God’s Only-Begotten Son. It’s about how the Eternal Son of God came into the world as one of us. And we were thinking about the Son’s relationship to the Father this morning. And this evening we’re thinking about the Son’s relationship to his human nature.

Before we get to that, let me remind you of what I said this morning by way of introduction. We believe there is only one God, who is infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his being and in all his perfections. But the one God we worship is also three. There’s God the Father; and there’s God the Son; and there’s God the Holy Spirit. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. However, there are not three gods, because there’s only one God.

We believe this about God because this is what he has revealed about himself. He has revealed this to us by the things he has done; and he’s revealed this to us in his word, the Bible.

He has revealed this to us by the things he has done. In Old Testament times, he revealed himself to be one God, the one true and living God who made all things and who sustains all things and who saves his people. And then, in New Testament times, he revealed himself to be three persons, because, when the time was right, God the Father sent his Son into the world to be our Saviour. And God the Son came into the world when he was conceived by God the Holy Spirit in Mary and was born as one of us. And then, after God the Son ascended to heaven, he received God the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured the Spirit out upon his people on the Day of Pentecost. And so, by the things he has done, God has revealed that he’s God the Father and he’s God the Son and he’s God the Spirit.

And he was recorded what he has done for us in his word, the Bible, where we can read these things and know that our God is one, but also three.

After the Scriptures were completed, and in response to various heresies, the church settled on the language of ‘essence’ or ‘substance’ to signify God’s oneness and ‘person’ to signify his threeness. So, we say that our God is one in essence or one in substance, but three in his persons. There are not three gods, because the three persons possess the same divine essence. And since they possess the same divine essence, there is no difference between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, apart from the fact that the Father is eternally unbegotten; and the Son is eternally begotten from the Father and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and Son.

That’s what we believe about God. And we believe that God the Son became flesh and dwelt among us. And he is therefore both God and man in one person. He is one person: the Eternal Son of God. But the Eternal Son of God not only possesses a divine nature, because he now also possesses a human nature. And he is fully divine and he is fully human; and those two distinct natures are united inseparably in the person of the Son.

This morning we thought about his relationship to the Father. He is God’s Only-Begotten Son, eternally begotten and not made. He is from the Father and he is the radiance of the Father’s glory and the exact imprint of his being. He’s not different from the Father, but he’s a repetition of the Father, possessing the same divine essence as the Father; and distinguished from the Father in only one way, which is that he is begotten whereas the Father is unbegotten. This evening we’re thinking about the Son’s relationship to his human nature.

Body and soul

We looked at John 1:14 this morning where John tells us that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. ‘The Word’ is John’s title for the Son of God, who was with God the Father before the creation of the world and who is himself God.

The word ‘flesh’ sometimes refers to what we’re made of: we’re made of flesh and bone. It can also be used to signify that we are weak and only mortal. For instance, in Genesis 6:3, in the days before the flood, the Lord said about us that he will not contend with us forever, because we are mortal. That’s how the NIV translates the verse, but the Hebrew word is flesh. God was saying that he will not contend with us forever, because we are flesh. We are mortal. And then in Genesis 6:13, the Lord said to Noah that he was determined to put an end to all people. That’s how the NIV translates it, but the Hebrew word is flesh: God was determined to put an end to all flesh. And our life can be brought to an end because we are only flesh. We’re weak and mortal and we can perish. And then there’s a third use of the word ‘flesh’ in the Bible, because the Apostle Paul uses it to refer in particular to our corrupt, sinful nature. For instance, he contrasts the fruit of the Spirit with the deeds of the flesh which are sinful.

So, we are made of flesh and bone; and we are only flesh, in the sense that we are weak and mortal; and flesh can refer to our corrupt, sinful nature. In what way is John using the term when he applies it to the Word who became flesh? He certainly means that the Word became flesh and bone. When he was born, he had the same kind of body as anyone else who has been born. But John probably also means that he was weak and mortal too. He was made like us in every way in that he experienced hunger and thirst like us and he needed to rest and sleep like us. For instance, in the account of the Lord’s conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4, John tells us that the Lord waited at the well while his disciples went to fetch food because he was tired from the journey. And when the woman came, the Lord asked her for a drink, presumably because he was thirsty. Then there was the occasion when the Lord and his disciples were on the boat on the Sea of Galilee and there was a storm. And what was the Lord doing? He was sleeping. And when Satan tempted him to turn stones into bread, it wouldn’t have been a genuine temptation unless he was hungry in the first place. And so, just like us, he was weak and liable to hunger and thirst and tiredness. And, of course, just like us, he suffered real physical pain when he was whipped and beaten and nailed to the cross. And being fully human, he was able to die.

So, he was made of flesh and bone like us; and he was weak and mortal like us. However, the gospels are clear that the Lord Jesus never sinned. He never did anything wrong. And so, when John says the Word became flesh, he does not mean that the Son of God became corrupt and sinful like us. If he was corrupt and sinful like us, then he himself would need a Saviour. And in order to be our Saviour, he needed to be sinless.

When John tells us the Word became flesh, we mustn’t think that he only possessed a body. After all, we are more than our bodies, aren’t we? We are body and soul. And, since the Son became one of us, since he became fully human, then he too must have a human body and soul. In fact, John makes this clear. So, when Lazarus died, John tells us in John 11:33 that the Lord Jesus was deeply moved in spirit. In John 12 the Lord Jesus was speaking about his upcoming crucifixion. And in verse 27 he said that his heart was troubled. That’s how the NIV translates it, but the Greek word is the word for soul. And so, he really said: ‘My soul is troubled’. And in John 13, where John tells us about the Last Supper, John tells us in verse 21 that the Lord was troubled in spirit. And so, the Lord not only possessed a body like ours, but a soul or spirit like ours as well.

In Luke 2:40 we’re told that the child Jesus grew and became strong and he was filled with wisdom. And in verse 52 it says that he grew in wisdom and stature. So, just like any other child, he grew physically and he also grew in wisdom and knowledge. And even though he is the Eternal Son of God, possessing the same divine essence as God the Father, there were some things he did not know as a man. For instance, according to Mark 13:32, he did not know when the last day would come.

These are just a few ways the Bible makes clear that when the Eternal Son of God became flesh, he became just like us, with the exception of sin. He had a body and soul like us with the same needs and sorrows as us. He was grew physically and mentally. And even though he is God and knows all things, as man he did not know all things. And, of course, in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he prayed for God’s will, and not his own will, to be done, he showed that he had a human will which he submitted to God’s will.

Became flesh

It’s important that we take note that John tells us the Word became flesh. This distinguishes what happened at the incarnation from what happened with someone like Saul in the Old Testament when the Holy Spirit came upon Saul in power. It’s different from what happened when the Holy Spirit inspired the prophets and enabled them to proclaim the word of God. It’s different from what happened to John the Baptist who was filled with the Spirit from birth. In each of these cases, there was a complete human person who existed before the Spirit came on them. And so, God, in a sense, used these people as his instruments to do his will here on earth.

However, the incarnation is different, because it’s not as if there was a man named Jesus who already existed; and then the Son of God came down upon him and entered his body and soul and used this man as his instrument. It’s not even as if there was a fetus in Mary’s womb and the Son of God took up residence in it. As one of the church fathers (Cyril of Alexander) said: ‘it was not the body of another from among us but the proper body of him who is the Word from the Father that was begotten from [the virgin Mary].’ This was not the body of another person who already existed, this was his own body, which was formed when he was conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit. This was not someone else’s body and soul which he possessed, but it was his own body and soul. As the same church father puts it: he made human traits his own.

In Philippians 2, Paul tells us that the Son did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but he made himself nothing, taking to himself the very nature or form of a servant; and he was made in human likeness. And so, says Paul, he was found in appearance as a man. However, Paul does not mean by this that he was only like a human, but was not really a human. He did not mean he only appeared to be a man, but in reality he was not a man. When Paul says he was made in human likeness, he means we are alike in that he and we share the same human nature. And when Paul says he was found in appearance as a man, he means that he was seen. He appeared visibly. In fact, John tells us in his first letter, that the apostles heard him and they saw him with their own eyes and they looked upon him and they even touched him with their own hands. It wasn’t that he only appeared to be a man; he really was a man.

And in the book of Hebrews, the writer makes the point that he had to become a human being since he had come to help human beings. So, since we have flesh and blood, he too shared in our humanity. In other words, he was made like us in every way.

And because he was made like us in every way, the Bible refers to him as a man. For instance, in Acts 2:22, Peter is preaching to the people in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost and he said: ‘Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs.’ Yes, he was able to perform miracles and wonders and signs. But he was a man. Later in the book of Acts, in 17:31, Paul spoke to the Athenians about how God has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He was referring to the Lord Jesus, who was made a man like us. In Romans 5, Paul contrasts Adam and the Lord Jesus and the sin of the one man, Adam, and the gift of God’s grace which has come to us by the one man, Jesus Christ. And in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul writes how death came through a man, Adam, and the resurrection comes through another man, Jesus Christ. And as Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 2:5, there is one mediator between God and men and it’s the man Christ Jesus.

And so, the Son of God did not take over the body of another human being. He did not come upon someone who already existed. He did not fill another person with his presence the way the Holy Spirit fills us with his presence. And he did not merely appear to be a man. It’s not that he only seemed to be a man. The Bible is clear that he became flesh. He became one of us. He made human traits his own so that he can rightfully be called a man.

The same person

And though he became flesh, he remained the same person as he was before the incarnation. He did not become another person. And so, in John 1:14, John tells us that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us; and we have seen his glory. Whose glory did they see when he became flesh and dwelt among us? They saw the glory of God’s One and Only Son. Before the incarnation, he was God’s One and Only Son. And after the incarnation, he was God’s One and Only Son. When he became flesh, he did not cease to be what he had always been.

In Philippians 2, Paul tells us that the Son, who was in very nature God, made himself nothing. Other English translations say that ‘he emptied himself’. And some theologians have interpreted this to mean that he emptied himself of his divinity. He gave up his divine nature in order to take on a human nature. Or he gave up part of his divinity in order to take on a human nature. People wonder: How can one person be divine and human at the same time? It seems impossible. Therefore, he must have given up something of his divine nature in order to become like us.

The problem with this is that we believe that God is unchangeable. He’s the same, yesterday, today and forever. He cannot change. He cannot cease to be what he has always been. And so, the Son could not change himself when he became one of us, because God cannot change.

And so, it’s not that he gave up being divine when he became flesh. He did not change. And so, when Paul says he emptied himself, or when Paul says he made himself nothing, Paul doesn’t mean the Son of God gave up being God or that he gave up part of what it means to be God. He didn’t take away his divinity. No, he emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant and by being made in our likeness. He didn’t cease from being God, but he added to himself our humanity. He is still the Son of God and he still possesses the same divine essence of his Father. But now he also possesses a human nature like ours.

Conclusion

And so, when John tells us that the Word became flesh, he means that the Eternal Son of God became one of us. He took to himself a human nature like ours and made it his own, so that he is now the Eternal Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, with two natures. He is fully divine with all the attributes of God; and he is also fully human, with a human body and soul like ours. And since he became fully human, he grew physically like us and he grew in knowledge like us. Like us, he hungered and thirsted and he grew tired and weary and he was capable of suffering. And, like us, he was able to die.

But when he became one of us, he did not cease to be God. And so, he continued to possess all the attributes and perfections of God. As God, he sustains the whole of creation by his mighty power; but as a man, he was sustained by Mary’s milk. As a human baby, he lay in a manger in a stable in Bethlehem. As God, he was present everywhere, filling all of space with his presence. And he who upholds the universe by the might of his power was held up by the arms of Mary his mother.

And the reason the Eternal Son of God became one of us was so that he would give up his life on the cross to pay for our sins. As God, he could not die, because God is immortal. But as one of us, he could suffer and die in our place and on our behalf, taking the blame for what we have done wrong, suffering the penalty we deserve to suffer.

And yet it was important that he remained God the Son, because throughout the Old Testament God had revealed himself to be the Saviour of his people. He revealed himself to be the only Saviour. And therefore it could not be someone else who saved us. It had to be God. And God did save us in the person of his Son, who, without ceasing to be God, became flesh and died in our place. From all eternity, God the Father was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in the person of his Son. And then, when the time was right, God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things through his Son, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. God has reconciled us to himself through his Only-Begotten Son who became flesh and shed his blood for us.

And since he became one of us and suffered as one of us, he’s able to sympathise with us in our weakness. Isn’t that the point the writer to the Hebrews makes? To Christians who were suffering, and who were tempted to give up their faith, he wrote about our merciful and faithful High Priest who shared in our humanity and who was made like us in every way and who suffered as one of us and who is able to sympathise with us in our weakness. He knows what it’s like for us to suffer, because he himself suffered. He knows what it’s like for us to face temptation, because he himself was tempted. And so, he’s able to help us. He’s able to help you with whatever you’re suffering, and with whatever temptations you face, and with whatever trials you encounter. He’s able to help you, because he too faced all of those things and overcame them all. And when our conscience accuses us and reminds us of our sins and shortcomings, we can look up to heaven to Christ our Great High Priest and remember that, when he became one of us and dwelt among us, he offered himself as the perfect sacrifice to take away our sins. He gave up his life as the ransom for our sins. He shed his blood to cleanse us. Whatever sins you have committed: they are pardoned by God because of his Son who became flesh and who died for us and for our eternal salvation.