On the Incarnation
A Homily for Trinity XXII
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
October 27, 2018
Text: John 1:1-18
Let the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
A week and a half ago Ligonier Ministries released their 2018 State of Theology survey. In it were a lot responses that we as pastors found disappointing, but not overwhelmingly shocking, given the world we live in. However, one response surprised many of us, and gave us serious pause.
The participants, who were self-identified evangelicals, were asked to agree or disagree with various statements. Some of the questions were about nature of God, while others were about morality, and salvation. The statement which rippled across the internet and led to several coffee shop conversations read as follows: “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.”
73% of respondents strongly agreed, and another 5% of respondents agreed.
78% of Evangelical Americans agreed that Christ is the first and greatest of creation. I hope we can all see how shocking this response is.
Before we press on, let me be utterly clear – Jesus Christ is not a created being, Christ is the second person on the trinity, one in essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He is not a lesser God or an incarnate angel. Or to quote the Athanasian Creed which we read this morning: “The Father is uncreated, the son is uncreated, the Holy Spirit is uncreated.”
So, if you sat down, and started to look at the bulletin and wondered “why are we doing the Athanasian Creed today?” which is typically reserved for Trinity Sunday. Or, perhaps you looked in the front of the prayer book and wondered why the lessons were not from the lectionary, wonder no more, the Prayer Book allows for the changing of lessons when a special occasion occurs, and so we have done that, least there be any confusion: “The Christian truth compels us to confess each person individually as both God and Lord.” And so, I want to take some time this morning and explore this often confusing theology of the Incarnation.
Perhaps another thought you had was “well, does it really matter?” I think it does, for we want to live our lives defined by a rich, and robust theology. We talk about doing the will of God that he would be glorified, and about living out our lives in love and service of Him, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. If we do not know God, we cannot love him. Or to put it more eloquently, John Stott once wrote “our love grows soft if it is not strengthened by truth and our truth grows hard if it is not soften by love.” May our love be strong and firm, because it is so deeply steeped in the truth.
Let us explore some of the arguments that are often leveled against the divinity of Christ. The first attack that is often used goes something along the lines of this “well, Christians didn’t believe in the trinity until the council of Nicaea in 325 AD.” Yet, here in St. John’s, we see vividly clear statements about who Christ is. Nicaea, as well as the later councils at Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon were not to develop doctrine, but affirm, and explain it in such a way that there would be no doubt in the minds of bishops, priests, deacons, and any member of the Christian of the nature of God.
The next attack goes along the lines of this, “well, sure you see that John thought Christ was God, but John’s gospel is really much later than the rest of the gospel accounts of Christ life.” First, even if John’s Gospel is considerably later than the other Gospel accounts, which I don’t think it is, we see clearly in the other Gospel’s that Christ is God. It is subtler, but it is there.
Let us ponder that for a moment, an interesting way to look at this is the acronym “HANDS.” That is – H. A. N. D. S. What do the Gospels and Epistles say about Christ’s Honor, Attributes, Names, Deeds, and where he is seated.
As we have been reading through the Gospels, so far of Matthew and Mark, we have see that he is honored, often only as God can be honored.
He has the attributes of God, we see this especially as he knows the hearts and thoughts of those around him.
He is given names that belong to God, most specifically the name of Lord.
His deeds are those deeds of God, he heals the sick and calms the storm.
Finally, we proclaim and affirm that he is seated at the right hand of the Father.
But now, let us turn to St. John’s Gospel. I think it is fine to believe St. John’s Gospel is written later than the other 3, however, I do not think it is later than the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Modern scholarship has made some arguments for this, but I find what J.C. Ryle has to say on this point particularly helpful: There is little doubt that this Gospel was written at a much later date than the other three Gospels. How much later, and at what precise time, we do not know. It is commonly supposed that it was written after the rise of heresies about the Person and natures of Christ, such as those attributed to Ebion and Cerinthus. It is not likely that it was written at so late a period as the destruction of Jerusalem. If this had been the case, John would hardly have spoken of the “sheep-market” at Jerusalem as still standing.
A later dating of the gospel doesn’t hurt its witness, but it can make things feel far removed. However, being written no more than 40 years after the death and resurrection of Christ helps to sure up its authority.
The introduction, that we often call the Christmas Gospel, stands as a beautiful testament to the nature of Christ. John intentionally links His open thoughts to the beginning of Genesis. The first three words are the same “In the beginning.” Genesis 1 goes on to Say “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The mind of the reader or listener to John’s introduction would have immediately turned to these words.
Yet, John takes a turn here, he needs the reader to know what he’s about to talk about. He turns his attention from the act of creation to make perfectly sure that it is understood who is doing the creating. He writes: “In the beginning was the Word.” Do you notice how simple this phrase is? Yet how profound? We could easily let it slip by without really being hit with how profoundly beautiful it is.
In God’s inspirational providence, John uses words that are simple, they are words that we have probably known all of our life, they are words that regardless of what language this is read or pronounced in, it can be understood perfectly by the hearers. Yet, they are saying something so profoundly true.
In the beginning – our world has a beginning. Even an atheist recognizes this there is time, and there was a time when the world was not. Cosmologists teach that there was a time when the entire universe was not. Some 13.8 Billion years ago the was an inexplicable bang of energy and the universe became.
John knew too that there was a time when the world was not, as did Moses and so they both say – in the beginning. Moses tells us – in the beginning God created. Yet, John tells us what was there prior to the beginning.
Prior to the beginning the Word was. Did you notice that? Did you notice that beautiful turn of phrase? In the beginning was the Word. John is telling us the Word already existed prior to the beginning of all things created. The Word is eternal, He existed before time, throughout time, and will exist when time comes to an end.
The church father, Basil the great, said this: “Those two terms, ‘beginning’ and ‘was,’ are like two anchors,” which the ship of a man’s soul may safely ride at, whatever storms of heresy may come.”
But, least he be unclear John continues – and the Word was with God. J.C. Ryle again writes: This sentence means, that from all eternity there was a most intimate and ineffable union between the first and second Persons in the blessed Trinity,—between Christ the Word, and God the Father. And yet, though thus ineffably united, the Word and the Father were from all eternity two distinct Persons. “It was He,” says Pearson, to whom the Father said, “Let us make man in our image.”
So, we are not even through the first sentence and we can already start to see the first glimpses of the Trinity. For the Word existed outside of time, has existed for all of time, and yet, the word is different from the Father, and different from the Holy Spirit. And still these three persons existed in one. John is careful here to be clear that there are two persons being described here, but not two gods. Or as St. Athanasius puts it, John “neither confounds the person, nor divides the substance.”
Our first verse ends with And the word was God. We often look at this as the final blow to those who would deny the divinity of Christ. Yet, those who detract from Christ’s divinity argue here that what John was intending to say was that the word was divine, that he contained in himself some divine nature, but not that he was a part of the trinity.
Yet, this acts to turn Christ from a co-equal part of the triune God which we worship, into a demi-god, and suddenly the Christianity proclaimed is not monotheistic, but polytheistic. But there is one God, not three, and Christ is God. Christ, the Word, is not the Father, nor is He the Holy Spirit, but each person contains the same essence. Let us not confound persons nor divide the essence.
In the first verse alone, we have seen that the Word, that is Christ, existed before all was created, that he is distinct from the Father, and yet, He and the Father contain the same essence. We have already refuted both the ancient heresies that the councils condemned, but the modern versions of them that all too often get battered around Christian communities.
We have refuted Arianism, and the survey results cited above – which say that Christ is inferior to God.
We have refuted Sabellianism and modalism that says there is no difference in the persons of the trinity.
We have refuted Unitarianism, and secularism that say that Christ was a very good and very Holy man, but deny his divinity.
And John continues – He was in the beginning with God. This verse seems to us to repeat what we have already seen, and it does, but its repetition is not vain, but rather it acts to draw us in deeper. It acts, to drive home what we have already seen. For, there has been much confusion, yet repetition in scripture is never meaningless. Rather, repetition is always there for a reason, and in this case it is there to show us the necessity of believing what has been stated. It is there to affirm in our minds that Christ has always been.
Yet, what if we are still unconvinced John drives home the point: All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. The Word, that is Jesus Christ was not made, he could not both create all things, and yet also be created.
John is being overtly clear here. As we saw above there are those who would make Christ into a created being. He yet again plays with the words to create not only a beautiful phrase but something so theologically rich. If Christ created all things – Christ cannot be a created being. Christ cannot both create and be created.
Yet this verse also acts to over throw another heresy, one that is strangely still present in our day and age that says the created world is evil. Certainly, as Christians we want to cling loosely to that which the Lord has blessed us with, but we do not wish to see the created world as evil. No, the created world is very good, it is fallen and corrupt like us and our will, but it is not evil.
No, the good and Triune God worked in chorus to create the world around us, and when He was finish He proclaimed “it is very good.” The world was created not devoid of value or of negative value, but because it is created, and created through the actions of the Word, the Word which we will see in a moment is the light of all men – the hope of all men – it is good indeed.
So yes, cling loosely to the world, cling loosely to all that you find valuable, but cling firmly to your savior, cling whole heartedly to the Lord Christ, who has died for us sins, and rose again, and is the king of king and lord of lords. For the world may tremble and quake before us, but He will never fail us.
Then John states “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” There is some debate as to whether this life refers to the very animation which we enjoy, the heartbeat and the blood that courses through our veins and the oxygen that fills our lungs or our spiritual life. The reanimation of our soul which we experience when we come to Christ. I suspect there is a bit of both.
It is proposed that before the fall it is Christ that pointed humanity towards heaven and walked with him in the garden, and after fall it was faith in Christ, faith in the promised, foretold and then known redeemer that again reanimates the sinful man, and again points him back to that eternal promise. We know that it is in Christ that we know life.
In the fifth verse we come to a hopeful point for times such as ours. We do not deceive ourselves into think that the world around us is at peace. This week news of bombing attempts and hate crimes woke us each morning, and it would be easy to grow despondent, and rightly pray “how long O Lord?” and “Come Lord Jesus Come.” Yet, we are given this amazing promise here: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There is no power of hell, no wickedness that can over come Christ. There are some who believe that there is a cosmic battle between good and evil forces, let us put that to rest as well. The battle has already been won, at the moment of the fall of man, the battle was already over, Evil, though is reigns for a moment, already has the seal of defeat placed upon it. Evil will be stomped out, heaven and earth recreated, and man redeemed, and restored to right fellowship with God.
There is no darkness that can stamp out the light of Christ and when times get dark, when times get scary, our call as Christians is not to yell how evil our opponents are, our job as Christians is not to vilify the other side, no, our job as Christians is to boldly take the light of Christ into the darkness. It is to take the lamp in our life that is Christ and hold it high. Our duty, our job as Christians is to burn brightly for Christ, it is to push back the darkness and proclaim the hope that we know in Him. For we have a great hope, a great promise and it is not ours to hoard, but to shine as a hope for the world. A hope that will not fail, but has already prevailed over the evil that seems so persistent.
Christ promises the church that there will be war raging around us, natural disasters, that the church would be oppressed, that Christians would be martyred. We don’t like to hear these things, and yet he foretold such things. Our calling therefore is not to join with the wicked and evil, but to cling firmly to the light, and to let that light shine, to let that light shine that others may know, that others may come to worship the Father in heaven. For we have such a great hope in Christ, let us not be hoarders of that hope, but beacons of it in a world that is lost, that hurts, that longs for something that it does not understand or know.
Let us be like John the Baptist, let us be like John the Evangelist, let us be like Matthew, Mark, and Luke, let us be like Peter, and Paul and be ready to make a testimony for the Christ that we know. Be ready to make a testimony for the triune God, who is king over the world. Let us be ready to bear witness to that light, not so that we could be confused for the light, but so that others may enjoy the same eternal hope which we have in Christ.
And now we fast-forward to the last four verses – and the word became flesh and dwelt among us. On the other side of the controversy we’ve spent much of this morning talking about, and we have denied, that Christ is the first created being – is the controversy that said Christ was divine, and only a spiritual being. John leaves no question for us, as we have seen Christ is fully God, and he is also fully man.
Gregory Nazianzen why this is important particularly well – “What (Christ) has not assumed has not been healed.” Christ had to assume a human form in order to redeem humanity. Christ had to become man, had to dwell among us in order to redeem us and when he did that we were able to behold the glory of the only Son, from the Father.
What we believe is important, and sometimes we can lose sight of what we believe. In order to redeem humanity Christ had to become man.
As I was thinking about how to address these deep theological issues that the church is facing in this day and age, I was on the fence between going through John 1 or Philippians 2, which follows a similar form.
However, Philippians is primarily interested in Christ’s emptying of Himself of his divine privilege. I wanted to be intensely clear that Christ is God and I hope I have done this.
Let me make one final point – for we have seen that Christ had to become man, had to dwell among us in order to redeem us, for he had to take on humanity in order to redeem humanity, however, why is it so important to believe that Christ is God?
If Christ is not God, he is either the victim of a divine gamble, or He cannot truly bind the believer to the Father. If Christ is not God, then God in Christ did not lay down his life for sinners, did not open the doors of heaven to all who believe, but rather he is someone subservient to God came and died. And in that, God could not be binding those who believe to Himself. We awould come up short of the divine glory which we see in Christ.
No, Christ had to be both fully man and fully God in order to redeem us, and to make us live unto God yet again. Christ perfect humanity redeems humanity, and Christ’s divinity unites us to the divine.
I realize that this had to potential to be dry, and I hope and pray that it was not. I hope that now in your mind it is clear to you, not only that this theology is important, but that it is true. That the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us, that Christ is fully man and fully God, and that as the second part of the trinity He shares in every way the same essence as the Father and the Holy Spirit.
As we end, let us remember that it is Reformation Sunday. We remember the Reformation of Christ’s Church, and the men whose rallying cry was – back to the sources, back to the text. Let us be determined to be constantly returning to the text, to have our theology constantly reformed, not by modern ideas, but by that which the Word of God has proclaimed to be true all in all times. And let us therefore, be determined to place our hope in this truth, not only because it is true, but because it is the only hope we have in the tumultuous world that we live in. Because it is the hope that makes us alive, it is the hope that burns brightly for the kingdom when the kingdom of earth loves only darkness. May we cling to this hope that others too may come to cling to it.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.