I made extensive use of Jesus and the God of Classical Theism by Steven J. Duby (Baker Academic, 2022).
I thought we’d study a little theology today. After all, what better way to get ready for your Christmas dinner than to study some theology early on a Christmas morning?
Christmas, of course, is about the incarnation of God’s Only-Begotten Son and how the Eternal Son of God came into the world as one of us. And we’re going to be thinking about that today. What we’ll do this evening is we’ll think about the Son’s relationship to his human nature. And what I want us to do this morning is to think about the Son’s relationship to God the Father. And so, he is both God and man. So, this evening we’ll think about how he’s man; this morning we’ll think about how he’s God.
As an introduction, I’ll say that 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 died and was raised and ascended to heaven, he poured God the Holy 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 has 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.
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. He did not give up his divine nature when he came to earth as one of us. And so, he is still God: infinite and eternal and unchangeable in his being and in all his perfections; and he’s of one essence with the Father and the Spirit. But when he came to earth, he took to himself a human nature so that God the Son is now God and man in one person.
I should add that these two natures were not mixed together to form a third nature which is part divine and part human. The Son is fully divine and fully human. His human and divine natures are inseparably united in the person of the Son, but they remain distinct from one another.
So, that’s a summary of what we believe about God and about the Son’s incarnation. These things are difficult to understand, but there are many things which are difficult to understand and we apply ourselves to understand them because they’re important to us. The student wants to do well in her exams, and so she’ll work hard to understand her subjects. And there is no one more important to us than God; and therefore we should make the effort to try to understand these things as much as we can. And the more we understand our God, the more we will love and worship him, because we’ll see just how great and glorious and gracious he is.
With that introduction, let me turn your attention to John 1 which we read a moment ago. We’re not going to study the whole passage, but I want to focus your attention on two verses. Take a look at verse 1 where John refers to the Word. This is his way of referring to God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity. As I said when we were studying 1 John recently, it’s a great title for God the Son, because the Son came into the world to tell us about God. And when we meet someone for the first time, we get to know one another by speaking to each other. We tell one another about ourselves and we use words to communicate with one another. And God the Father sent his Son into the world as his Word to us to tell us about God and about the greatness of his love and his willingness to pardon us for our sins and to give us eternal life.
So, when John refers to the Word, he’s referring to God the Son. And look what he says in verse 1. In the beginning, before the world was made, there was the Word. The Word already existed. He existed before the world. He existed before time began. He existed in the beginning.
And he existed with God. Do you see that? It’s the second thing John tells us about the Word. The first is that the Word existed in the beginning. The second is that the Word was with God. So, there’s God and there’s the Word, existing in the beginning before the world was made and before time was made. In the beginning, God and the Word were together.
But then John tells us a third thing about the Word. He tells us that not only was the Word with God, but the Word was God. That is, the Word is God. The Word is not less than God. He’s not a lesser being than God. He’s not a creature. He’s not part of creation. He’s not an angelic being. He is God.
And so, according to John 1:1, there’s a distinction in God, because there’s the Word who is God; and then the Word is also with God. There’s more to God than the Word.
Let’s turn now to verse 14, where John tells us that the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. So, he’s referring to the incarnation, when the Word who is God became flesh. That is, he became one of us. We’ll say more about that this evening. For now, note that he says that we have seen his glory, which is the glory of the One and Only. The Greek word translated ‘One and Only’ can mean unique. But it was traditionally translated ‘Only Begotten’ or ‘Only Begotten Son’.
I should perhaps explain the significance of the word begotten. We were thinking about this when we were studying the book of Hebrews. What’s the difference between beget and create? Well, when you make something, or when you create something, you create something which is different from you. So, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The heavens and the earth are not the same as God. They are different from him. But when you beget something, you’re begetting something which is the same as you are. So, in Genesis 5 we have that long list of Adam’s descendants from Adam to Noah. And the NIV translates verse 3: ‘When Adam lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.’ But in the King James Version of verse 3, it says: ‘And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth.’ And throughout the chapter, where the NIV says ‘he became a father of’, the King James says ‘he begat’. Adam did not make or create his son; he begat his son, because the son he produced was in his own likeness, in his own image. Adam’s son was a human being just like Adam was. And so, when we say God the Father begat the Son or when we say the Son was begotten from the Father, we’re saying they are the same as one another. The Father did not make something different from himself. The Father eternally begets a Son in his likeness, in his image. The Son is not different from the Father, but he’s the same as the Father. He’s a repetition of the Father. And he’s a repetition of the Father, because — as I said at the beginning — they possess the one divine essence. They are identical to one another apart from the fact that the Father is unbegotten and the Son is begotten.
Modern translations have moved away from using the words ‘Only Begotten’ in verse 14. However, whether or not the Greek word should be translated ‘One and Only’ or ‘Only Begotten Son’, John’s next words make clear what the relation between the Father and the Word is, because John goes on to say that the Word came from the Father. He is from the Father. He comes from the Father. He originates from God the Father. And because he comes from the Father, it’s appropriate to call him Son.
And it’s because he comes from God the Father that he possesses glory and grace and truth. From all eternity, he received God’s glory and grace and truth from the Father. As the Father’s eternally begotten Son, he possesses with the Father the one divine essence which they also share with the Spirit.
Let’s consider some other verses which refer to the Son’s relationship to the Father. And so, in John 5, the Lord Jesus angered the Jews because he called God his Father and was therefore making himself equal with God. And the Lord responded by saying that he only does what he sees the Father doing; and the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. And this is the important bit: just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. In other words, the right and power to give life belongs to the Father and to the Son, because they both possess the same divine essence. And the Lord went on to say in verse 26 of John 5 that the Father has life in himself and he has granted the Son to have life in himself. What the Father has, he gives to his Son. And what the Son has, he has received from the Father. And this is so from all eternity, because the Son is eternally begotten from the Father.
In John 6:46 the Lord says that no-one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. He’s referring to himself. And he has come from God, not only in the sense that he has come to earth from God the Father, but in the sense that he is eternally from the Father. Since he is eternally from the Father, then he alone has seen the Father and knows him and can make him known to others.
In John 7:29, he says that he is from God and that God has sent him. God the Father sent him into the world to be our Saviour. But before he was sent by God into the world, he was already from God, because he is the Only-Begotten Son of God.
In Colossians 1:15, the Apostle Paul says that the Lord Jesus is the image of the invisible God. Paul’s point is not only that he made the invisible God visible when he came to earth, but that before he came to earth he was already the image of God, because he’s the repetition of God the Father, possessing with the Father and the Spirit the same divine essence. He therefore images or reflects God the Father perfectly. And, as Paul goes on to say in Colossians 1:19 and 2:9, God the Father was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him. All the fullness of the essence of God dwelt in the Son. And so, when he came to earth, the man people saw was God. He was God the Son who possessed the fullness of God.
And then there’s the book of Hebrews which we were studying recently on Sunday evenings. And it says a lot about God the Son. It begins with the writer saying that in the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways. But in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son. And who is the Son? He is the radiance of God’s glory. Think of the rays of light which radiate from the sun in the sky. Where does the light come from? It comes from the sun. And the Son of God comes from the Father. He is Light from Light and true God from true God. The Father is the source; and the Son has come from him from all eternity. But having the Father as his source does not make the Son inferior to the Father, because there’s no difference between the Father and the Son, because they possess the same divine essence. In fact, the writer to the Hebrews goes on to say that the Son is the exact representation or imprint of God’s being. The image here is of stamp or seal which leaves its mark on the page. There’s a correspondence or match between the mark on the page and the stamp which made it. And by applying that image to the relation between the Father and the Son, the writer is saying that the Father’s stamp is placed upon the Son so that the Son corresponds to the Father exactly. He is the image of the Father. He is the imprint of the Father. He is not different from the Father, but is a repetition of the Father. There is an exact likeness between them.
And the writer goes on to quote from Psalm 2 which depicts God the Father saying to his Son: ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you.’ The psalm depicts how God the Son is eternally begotten from the Father.
The point the writer of Hebrews is making is that because the Son is the Eternally-Begotten Son of God, who is the radiance of God’s glory, and the exact imprint of the Father, then he is pre-eminently qualified to reveal the Father. He’s pre-eminently qualified to reveal the Father because he’s a repetition of the Father. He’s not different from the Father, but he’s the same. They possess the same divine essence. One is not different from the other. One is not less then the other. They are the same apart from the fact that the Father is unbegotten and the Son is begotten of the Father. And so, who better to reveal God to us than God himself?
But what is the point of all of this? What is the significance of all this theology for us?
The first thing to say is that it is significant for us simply because God has revealed these things to us. And God has revealed these things to us so that we might know them and worship him accordingly. Our chief end, our purpose in life, the reason for our existence, is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. And to enable us to glorify him and to enjoy him, God has made himself known to us. He has revealed to us what he is. He hasn’t hidden himself from us, but he’s revealed himself. And he’s revealed himself to be one God in three persons. And he’s revealed about himself that the Son who came to earth as one of us is the Eternal Son of God, begotten from the Father from all eternity. God has made these things known to us so that we might know him and glorify him. And the more we know him, the more we will worship him, because we’ll see more clearly his glory and his goodness. Everything that he makes known about himself shows us why we should worship him, because everything about him is wonderful.
Furthermore, learning these things demonstrates our love for him. If we love someone, or admire someone, we want to know more about them. That’s why we read biographies, isn’t it? Here’s a person I admire. I want to know more about him: his background and upbringing and what he has done and what has happened to him. I want to know everything I can about his life. And here’s a person I love. I want to know all about her. I want to spend time talking to her to learn all about her and what she’s like and what she likes. And here’s God. I love him. And therefore I want to know more about him; and I will give all the time I can to knowing and understanding what he has revealed to me about himself. Because I love him, I want to know more about him. Maybe you’re not able to understand very much about him; and perhaps studying comes hard to you. But every one of us should always be growing in our knowledge of the one we love.
But then, there’s another reason for knowing these things. These things show us the wonder of the incarnation. Let me try to explain.
Here we are, celebrating another Christmas Day. Why do we do it? Why do we do it year after year? Why is the incarnation so important? Why is it significant? Why should we pay attention to it? It’s because the one who took on flesh and dwelt among us is none other than God the Son, who was with the Father from all eternity and who is himself true God. In the past, some people said that there’s no way that God would become flesh, because God is God and he’s holy and he’s pure and he’s transcendent over all, living in a high and holy place, far above the world. And the world is evil. It’s corrupt. It’s impure. And there’s no way that a holy and transcendent God would ever come down to earth. He might send someone else to represent him. So, he might send a lesser being: someone who is not quite God, but who is greater than us. He might send a demi-god, someone who is half god. But God would not come himself.
And so, when people tried to imagine what God might do, or what might be fitting for him, or what he might be willing to do, they could not imagine what he did actually do. What he did actually do was more than they could think or even imagine, because God did come down to earth. He came down to earth in the person of his Son. And the Son is not a lesser being. He is not inferior to God. He’s not less than God. He is God himself, the radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of the Father. He is the Eternally-Begotten Son of God, who has received from the Father the fullness of the divine essence. He is not different from the Father, but he’s the same as the Father. He’s the repetition of the Father. He is true God from true God and Light from Light.
And the reason he came down to earth as one of us was to deliver us from our sin and misery and to give us everlasting life in the presence of God where we will see him and be with him forever and forever.