Rev Dr Edgar Mayer – Living Grace Lutheran Church, Toowoomba – Date: 24 December 2015
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No Fake Baby
On the night that Jesus was born, an angel announced his birth to shepherds in a field:
Luke 2:8-12: And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
The angel had great news – a Saviour had been born to the world – but I have never quite understood the sign that he was giving – a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. The information about the manger – an animal’s food box – is a little more unusual but what about a baby wrapped in cloths? What else would you wrap a baby in but clothes? How can this be a sign for the birth of an extraordinary person? In another translation, the words of the angels are even less spectacular: “You will know who he is, because you will find him dressed in baby clothes and lying on a bed of hay.” How can you find the newborn Saviour when he seems to look like all other babies – dressed in baby clothes and lying in his bed (even though it is a bed of hay but in crises human babies can and do sleep anywhere)?
I am not quite sure how to interpret this verse but in church history – from the earliest times – the birth of Jesus among the most ordinary human needs and circumstances has been questioned even in the church. People agreed (more or less) that this Jesus was no one less but the Son of God who had always been one with the Father and the Holy Spirit from eternity. Through him the world was created:
Colossians 1:16: For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.
John 1:2-3: [Jesus] was with God [the Father] in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
In the church, there was no disagreement over Jesus’ status as the Son of God – his divine nature as God (who reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit – three persons in one [however, the doctrine was only formulated explicitly later in church history) – but there were people who questioned his birth as a human. They said that he may have looked human but he really wasn’t. And because he wasn’t, he didn’t really need baby clothes or nappies and he did not need a bed for resting his human body. He was God and not human.
This is an interesting theory but it becomes a rather devastating theory when we come to the heart of Jesus’ mission on earth – his death on a cross as a sacrifice for our sins. Did he really suffer on the cross and then die? If he was God – God only and not human – the answer to these questions is “no” – “no” he did not suffer and “no” he did not die (just discarded his human body shell) because God (who is immortal) cannot die – which ultimately questions and casts doubt on the very validity of Jesus’ sacrifice. Was it all just fake – fake suffering – fake death? Was Jesus as God just playacting but not pay any personal price of suffering and death? This is serious because: If there was no real sacrifice on the cross, are we really being saved?
Already in the Bible, these speculations were repudiated in the strongest possible terms:
1 John 4:2-3: This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
2 John 1:7: I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.
Jesus, the Son of God, did come in the flesh which means that he fully became a human person. God did become human in the man Jesus Christ. This is called the “incarnation” which is a Latin word that means “embodied in flesh” or “taking on flesh”.
The Book of Concord, translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959 – Epitome VIII:18, p489: Our doctrine, faith, and confession do not divide the person of Christ … Nor do we mingle the natures and their properties together in one essence … Nor do we deny or abolish the human nature in the person of Christ, or change the one nature into the other. Christ is, and remains to all eternity, God and man in one indivisible person. Next to the Holy Trinity this is the highest mystery, as the apostle testifies [“Great indeed is the mystery of our religion: God was manifested in the flesh” (I Tim. 3:16)], and the sole foundation of our comfort, life, and salvation.
The Book of Concord, translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959 – Solid Declaration VIII:33-34, p597: Next to the article of the holy Trinity, the greatest mystery in heaven and on earth is the personal union [of the two natures in Christ], as Paul says, “Great indeed is the mystery of our religion: God was manifested in the flesh” (I Tim. 3:16). Since St. Peter testifies with clear words that even we, in whom Christ dwells only by grace, have in Christ, because of this exalted mystery, “become partakers of the divine nature” (II Pet. 1:4), what kind of participation in the divine nature must that be of which the apostle says that “in Christ the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9) in such a way that God and man are a single person!
All of a sudden, it does become important whether Jesus needed baby clothes and nappies. Was he human – possessing a human nature with his divine nature – so that he could share in our human existence and fully partake in suffering and death through his human nature? This evening – with these questions in your mind – take another look into the manger and see your Saviour. He is a real human baby. The Son of God did become flesh (dressed in baby clothes and needing his sleep on a bed of hay). He needed his mother. He could pay the ultimate price for us – 1 Peter 2:22-24: “… ‘He committed no sin …’ ‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness …”
However, after this rather task driven meditation on the human nature of baby Jesus (particularly the question whether he actually had a human nature that would enable him to suffer and die for us), we better spend a few minutes taking in the mystery of the incarnation – the Son of God – eternal God before the creation of the world – becoming a newborn baby boy – human with tiny fingers and sucking at his mother’s breast, absolutely being dependent on her.
One pastor (Thomas Watson) writes in the 17th century:
Behold here a sacred riddle or paradox – “God manifest in the flesh.” … That the Ancient of Days should be born, that he who thunders in the heavens should cry in the cradle; … that he who rules the stars should suck the breast; that a virgin should conceive; … that the mother should be younger than the child she bore, and the child in the womb bigger than the mother; … Christ taking flesh is a mystery …
At the heart of this mystery is not only its seeming impossibility but that God would actually do this because it is such a radical demonstration of humility and willingness to be of the lowest in rank and do what no one else would want to do – serve, wash feet, and be rejected – especially when there is no need to be in this low position. How did the Son of God ever give up the glory and comfort and recognition of heaven (among millions and millions of angels, enjoying and deserving his status as the Son of God) and become a baby boy – crying to be fed – suffering nappy rash and whatever else humans go through – and finally be rejected by everyone and die with blood running down his body on a cross? What is in the nature of God that he would do this?
2 Corinthians 8:9: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
1 John 4:8-10: … God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
God loves you. And we know this nowhere better than, on Christmas Eve, standing at the manger of Jesus, meditating on the mystery of God becoming man:
Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians: Chapters 1-4, trans. Jaroslav Pelikan (Luther's Works Vol. 26; St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1963 ), p29: [T]rue Christian theology . . . does not present God to us in His majesty, as Moses and other teachings do, but Christ born of the Virgin as our Mediator and High Priest. Therefore when we are embattled against the Law, sin, and death in the presence of God, nothing is more dangerous than to stray into heaven with our idle speculations, there to investigate God in His incomprehensible power, wisdom, and majesty, to ask how He created the world and how He governs it. If you attempt to comprehend God this way and want to make atonement to Him apart from Christ the Mediator, making your works, fasts, cowl, and tonsure the mediation between Him and yourself, you will inevitably fall, as Lucifer did, and in horrible despair lose God and everything.
For as in His own nature God is immense, incomprehensible, and infinite, so to man’s nature He is intolerable. Therefore if you want to be safe and out of danger to your conscience and your salvation, put a check on your speculative spirit. Take hold of God as Scripture instructs you: “Since, in wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Therefore begin where Christ began – in the Virgin’s womb, in the manger, and at His mother’s breasts. For this purpose He came down, was born, lived among men, suffered, was crucified, and died, so that in every possible way He might present Himself to our sight. He wanted us to fix the gaze of our hearts upon Himself and thus to prevent us from clambering into heaven and speculating about the Divine Majesty.
Therefore when you consider the doctrine of justification and wonder how or where or in what condition to find a God who justifies or accepts sinners, then you must know that there is no other God than this Man Jesus Christ. Take hold of Him; cling to Him with all your heart, and spurn all speculation about the Divine Majesty; for whoever investigates the majesty of God will be consumed by His glory. I know from experience what I am talking about … Christ Himself says: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father, but by Me.” Outside Christ, the Way, therefore, you will find no other way to the Father; you will find only wandering, not truth, but hypocrisy and lies, not life, but eternal death. Take note, therefore, in the doctrine of justification or grace that when we all must struggle with the Law, sin, death, and the devil, we must look at no other God than this incarnate and human God.
[Apart from the manger, the majesty of God is too intimidating and seems to demand works rather than faith in Jesus’ sacrifice and grace.]
Jesus loves us, shared our lives, and truly understands how hard it is to live in a fallen world. We can trust him and draw near to him and pray with faith:
Hebrews 4:14-16: Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
This is what we have said so far. 1) The Son of God became a human person – Jesus born at Bethlehem – which means that he lived a real human life and was able to suffer real pain and die on a cross. Jesus’ death was not the fake sacrifice by a super-human immortal that had no share in humanity. 2) When the Son of God gave up his exalted position in heaven and became a person of flesh and blood, he humbled himself, thereby demonstrating his love and character of humility. We can trust him.
However, he also meant us to learn from his example. Jesus grew up with a message – “Follow me” – and this means to become like him and take on his character:
Philippians 2:3-11: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
2 Peter 1:3-4: By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvellous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.
If we begin to understand the depth of Jesus’ humiliation, then – maybe then – we learn to let go of our selfish ambitions and clamouring for control and glory. It is okay to make yourself nothing and wait for God to exalt us at the right time. This is the key to unity among us.
I want to make one more point. God could not have done anything more life-affirming – for life on earth even this side of eternity – than to become a human person with the same kind of body that we have. Throughout church history, there have been people who have looked down upon the human body – our flesh and bones and blood – and just wanted to escape the irredeemable corruption of human flesh. But this is not the view of the Bible, certainly not the truth of the incarnation.
God created us in his image (Genesis 1:26) and, though corruption has come through sin, we remain his creations reflecting his image. If this was not true and all of our humanness was simply beyond a shred of goodness (in its creation), Jesus would not and could not have become one of us. Yet, he did become a man and embraced and affirmed our humanity and – taking this a little wider – he affirmed earth, our home, as God’s good creation.
The view of the Bible is not that our bodies and humanness have no value. On the contrary, from the very beginning, Christians have declared that their hope is in the resurrection of the body – not discarded but transformed – together with all of earth:
Matthew 27:52: And the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.
1 Corinthians 15:42-44: … Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies … / 1 Corinthians 15:53: For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.
Romans 8:18-24: I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved …
Jesus became a man with human eyes to eyes, human ears to hear, human nose to smell. Jesus operated in all of the five senses of humans and, according to the Bible, this will continue even in eternity. It is good to be a human person. We will continue to have bodies. Everything will just be perfect.
Jesus, born as one of us, affirmed our humanity – even this side of eternity. Our bodies and life on earth are not all bad. And Jesus further demonstrated the value of our current human bodies and current human life by showing us in his own person how you can live as a human person on this earth and be filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God – who is as humble as Jesus and the Father – does not despise to take residence within us.
John 3:34: For he whom God has sent says God’s words; and God does not give him [Jesus] the Spirit by measure [but gives him the Spirit without limit].
Jesus had a human body like ours and his human body did not limit the fullness of the Spirit in any way. Sin is a problem – remains a challenge for us – but not the human body. Jesus showed us what is possible – our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit:
1 Corinthians 6:19: Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God …
At Christmas, we look at baby Jesus and confront the greatest mystery (1 Timothy 3:16): The Son of God – God in eternity – became a human person. We may not fully understand this truth but it is good news – great news. 1) The Son of God became a human person – Jesus born at Bethlehem – which means that he lived a real human life and was able to suffer real pain and die on a cross. Jesus’ death was not the fake sacrifice by a super-human immortal that had no share in humanity. 2) When the Son of God gave up his exalted position in heaven and became a person of flesh and blood, he humbled himself, thereby demonstrating his love and character of humility. We can trust him. 3) He gave us an example of humility which we can follow and 4) he affirmed life on earth. It is good to be human. Our human bodies can be temples of the Holy Spirit and, when Jesus returns and this world comes to an end, our human bodies and earth will be transformed, not discarded.
Jesus is amazing. You can trust the Son of God who became a human baby to save you. Amen.