The Glory of the Incarnation (Phil Johnson)

Luke 2:52   |   Sunday, December 14, 2014   |   Code: 2014-12-14-PJ

This is the season when we celebrate the incarnation of

Christ. Our culture, of course, has deliberately rejected (and

therefore almost completely forgotten) what Christmas

originally signifiedCthe coming of Christ to earth. In fact,

Christ has been systematically excluded from the public

celebration of His birth. I'm amazed at the number of stores

and other businessesCincluding some of the largest

corporations in AmericaCthat officially instruct their

employees not to mention the name of Christ during

Christmas. It's such an absurd thing no one would have

imagined it 50 years ago. In those days, public expressions of

religion were officially forbidden behind the so-called iron

curtain, and Americans were appalled at the tyranny that

tried to control people's minds and suppress their spiritual

convictions that way. But here we are, in a supposedly

democratic culture ruled by courts that hate the God who

first gave them the law they exist to uphold. It's an irony you

should think about if you haven't.

But nevertheless, this time of year, we still hear a lot of

talk about peace and goodwill toward men; it just has

nothing to do with Christ anymore. There's still a vague

recollection that Christmas is supposed to have something to

Luke 2:52 2

do with giving, and joy, and love. But in a culture devoid of

any true love for Christ, all those things have basically been

re-imagined as disembodied virtues. Love, joy, peace, and

goodwill all sound sweet and nice when people talk about

them, but no one has any idea what they really look like

anymoreCbecause Christ was the embodiment of every

virtue, and once you set aside His incarnation, you lose

perspective on virtue itself.

Hollywood and the major media like to illustrate love,

joy, and goodwill towards men with cartoon

charactersCreindeers, elves, snowmen, Grinches, and

whatever. And that robs virtue of reality. No wonder our

culture is so lacking in true virtueCand doesn't really

appreciate virtue any more.

I was listening to a mix of Christmas music not long ago.

And these days, most of the Christmas music played in

public places consist of warm-sounding pagan songs like

"Chestnuts roasting on an Open Fire," and "Grandma got run

over by a Reindeer," and stuff like that.

But (I can't remember if it was a radio station or a

Starbucks store), but suddenly I realized they were actually

playing "Hark the Herald Angels." And it was a pretty

jazzed-up version, and I got to thinking about how totally

incongruous it is to hear a modern secular jazz orchestra

playing an arrangement of a song that has these words:

The Glory of the Incarnation 3

"Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the Incarnate deity.

Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel."

Well, that got me to pondering the theology of the

incarnation. We're thinking about the incarnation of Christ

this month, so let's turn back to Luke 2 and take another look

at Jesus' humanity this morning.

Since we worship Christ as God, I suppose we naturally

think of Him as God more easily than we think of Him as a

man. Some of you have probably defended the deity of

Christ when Jehovah's Witnesses come knocking at your


But Jesus' humanity is an equally important doctrine. It's

amazing to realize that Jesus was God, and it is important to

defend His deity against those who attack that truth. But it's

equally amazing to realize that eternal God became a real

man, and that He was every bit as human as you and me.

Historically, the heretics who have denied the humanity of

Christ have made shipwreck of the faith just as badly as

those who err in the matter of His deity. The twin truths of

Jesus' deity and His humanity truths are both vital. It is

important, but extremely difficult, to keep them both in


Both Jesus' deity and His humanity are stressed in

Scripture. Just as surely as Scripture teaches that Jesus is

God, it also declares plainly that He is human. Nothing

anywhere in Scripture can be construed as a denial of the



Luke 2:52 4

humanity of Christ. Nowhere does the Bible ever declare that

Jesus' deity makes Him something more than a man, or

something other than human. Scripture never allows the

divine nature of Christ to overshadow or diminish the human

nature. On the contrary, everything Scripture says about

Jesus' role as our Savior depends on the fact that He is fully

and completely a man.

First Timothy 2:5 makes this as clear as it can possibly be:

"There is one God, and one mediator also between God and

men, the man Christ Jesus." Hebrews 2:17 also suggests Jesus'

humanity was essential to His saving work: "He had to be

made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a

merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to

make propitiation for the sins of the people."

You'll find a particular stress on Jesus' humanity in the

later epistles, because even during the apostolic era, the

earliest gnostics were already beginning to deny the true

humanity of Christ. That's why the apostle John wrote, "Many

deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not

acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the

deceiver and the antichrist" (2 John 7).

So Scripture says this is a crucial doctrine, and not some

minor point. Don't become so singularly focused on the deity

of Christ that you begin to think of His humanity as

something secondary or optional. The doctrine if Christ's

humanity is no less important than His deity.

The Glory of the Incarnation 5

And let me give this word of caution, too: Don't ever

think of these truths as contradictory. Jesus is fully God and

fully man. Some people regard those as contradictory ideas.

You'll occasionally hear a well-meaning Christian say

Christ's deity contradicts His humanity, but we need to

affirm both truths anyway. I say this a lot, but it's worth

repeating: Don't ever think of difficult truths like these as

contradictions. By definition truth cannot be

self-contradictory. And we are not supposed to think of

Jesus' deity and His Humanity as antithetical ideas. The truth

of one does not and cannot exclude the reality of the other. If

you start to imagine these things as contradictory, you'll

either become imbalanced in your Christology, or end up

thinking that truth itself is irrational.

Jesus' deity and His humanity are both true, and perfectly

compatible with one another.

That's not to suggest that we are capable of fully

comprehending these truths and explaining to everyone's

satisfaction how Jesus can be both God and man

simultaneously. Let's be honest: the Person of Christ is a

doctrine that cannot easily be explained in a way that

satisfies the human mind. This is difficult stuff. The Person

of Christ fits in the category of truths like infinity, or

timelessness. In the words of Psalm 139:6, such truth is "is

too wonderful for [us]; it is too high, [we] cannot attain to it" (Ps.

139:6). The incarnation is like nothing else in our

Luke 2:52 6

experience. There is nothing else to compare it to or illustrate

it with.

We are in the presence of mystery. Paul, quoting what

seems to have been one of the hymns of the early church,

calls it "the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the

flesh" (1 Tim. 3:16). This doctrine is inscrutable,

unfathomable, beyond our ability to comprehend. Yet it is

taught with utmost clarity in the Word of God, and we must

affirm it as true.

Now it won't do biblically to give lip service to the

humanity of Christ, but then try to place him in a

superhuman category that renders His humanity

meaningless. You hear people do this all the time: "How can

I follow Christ's example? After all, He was perfect because

He was God. That can't be the standard God holds me to, can


But it is the standard God holds us to. First Peter 2:21-23


For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ

also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to

follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any

deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did

not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats,

but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges


There's no analogy for it.

The Glory of the Incarnation 7

Don't miss what Peter is saying: Jesus is our example in His

humanity, not in His deity. He revealed to us what God

designed the human race to be. Yes, He was sinless. But He

was "tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin" (Heb.

4:15). Because "He Himself was tempted in that which He has

suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted"

(Heb. 2:18). And this is what makes His humanity such a

glorious truth.

Now, if you have turned to Luke 2, we're going to look at

one of the few verses about the childhood of Christ, and it is

one of the most difficult verses in all of Scripture: Luke 2:52.

This verse, speaking of Jesus in his boyhood, says "[He] kept

increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and


That verse teaches several vital truths about the humanity

of Christ. First of all, it emphasizes how utterly normal Jesus'

childhood and youth were. There is no hint of anything

spectacular or atypical about Him. Of course He behaved

perfectly. If you think about it, He must have been a parent's

dream. Verse 51 says He was continually in subjection to His

earthly parents.

But aside from His sinlessness, there was nothing

extraordinary or miraculous about Jesus' childhood. Some of

the apocryphal books tell fanciful stories about the child

Jesus and silly miracles he supposedly did as a child. (By the

way, how do we know those tales are false? Because John

Luke 2:52 8

2:11 says the miracle at the wedding in Cana was the first

miracle He ever performed.) Jesus' childhood was

unremarkable except for the fact of His sinlessness.

I'm glad Luke 2:52 is in Scripture, because it answers a lot

of questions I would have asked about the humanity of

Christ. Look at the verse again: He "kept increasing in wisdom

[that's intellectual growth] and stature [that's physical

growth] . . . in favor with God [that's spiritual growth] [and in

favor with] men [that's social growth].

Intellectually, physically, spiritually, and socially, Christ

was fully human, and Luke expressly says that He grew and

matured in those areas. Let's look at His humanity from those

four perspectives. First, considerC


Did you ever wonder how Jesus could grow in wisdom?

How could an omniscient being gain any knowledge or


The answer is that during His earthly ministry, Jesus laid

aside the free, independent exercise of His divine

omniscience. There were things Jesus did not know in the

realm of His human consciousness. Would it offend you if I

said the earthly Jesus was ordinarily subject to the normal

limits of human ignorance? Leon Morris was an Australian

Bible scholar who wrote a number of very helpful books. His

best-known book, perhaps was The Apostolic Preaching of

the Cross, and he is one of the best when it comes to

The Glory of the Incarnation 9

understanding the cross and the biblical meaning of

atonement. But he also wrote an excellent book on the

incarnation of Christ, titled The Lord from Heaven. Here's

what He wrote about the limitations of Jesus' conscious

human knowledge:

Often [Jesus] asked questions. We are not unfamiliar with

the person who asks questions when he already knows the

answers, e.g. a schoolteacher; but Jesus does not appear to be

acting like this. When, for example, He asked the father of

the epileptic, "How long is it ago since this came unto him?"

(Mk. ix. 21) the impression we get is that He wanted the


In other words, Scripture gives us every indication that Jesus'

mind normally worked the same as any human mind. His

human brain did not perpetually contain the fullness of all

truth that was available to Him in his infinite and omniscient

mind as God. He had access to that knowledge, of course,

but He normally kept it veiled even to His own human mind.

Now there were times, of course, when Jesus knew things

it would have been humanly impossible to know. Luke 9:47

tells us He knew what the disciples were thinking in their

hearts. He knew the marital history of the woman at the well

in John 4. He knew the precise moment when Lazarus died

1. Morris, 45.

Luke 2:52 10

(Jn. 11:11-14). And John 2:25 tells us "He did not need

anyone to bear witness concerning man for He Himself knew

what was in man."

Those were times when the window of divine knowledge

was open to Him. He knew those things because it was

essential to His saving work to know them. He knew those

things because the Father willed that He should know them.

Jesus Himself explained His relationship with the Father

during His time on earth: "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can

do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father

doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also

does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows

Him all things that He Himself is doing" (Jn. 5:19-20).

So when we see Jesus asking questions, the most natural

way to interpret the biblical text is to assume that He

genuinely did not know the answer and He was asking in

order to get it. Sometimes we see His divine knowledge and

His human limitations displayed side by side. When a

woman in the crowd touched the hem of His garment and He

asked, "Who is the one who touched Me?" (Lk. 8:45-46), Peter

said, "Master, the multitudes are crowding and pressing upon

You." But Jesus said, "Someone did touch Me, for I was aware

that power had gone out of Me." It is certainly consistent with

what Scripture teaches about the incarnation of Christ to

interpret that passage in its natural sense. Although Jesus

seemed to know that a miracle had occurred. Someone had

The Glory of the Incarnation 11

touched Him, and power went out of Him. But He did not

seem know who it was that touched him.

It is no slight on the character of the savior to say that

there were things He did not know while He was on earth.

He Himself explicitly stated that He did not know when His

second advent would be. Mark 13:32-33 says this: "Of that

day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor

the Son, but the Father alone. Take heed, keep on the alert; for

you do not know when the appointed time is."

The limitations in His human knowledge were fully

consistent with the plan of God. They didn't make Jesus less

than God. They were temporary, purposeful, and deliberate.

They are no blemish on His divine character. It helps to

remember that ignorance per se is not sinful. Part of our

humanity involves limited knowledge. Ignorance. It's not a

sinful ignorance, but a natural human limitation. And it is

therefore part of what Christ assumed when He took on


That is how Christ could grow in knowledge like any

other person. If He had retained full use of His omniscience,

it is hard to see how He could have suffered all that we

suffer. Some degree of ignorance is at the very essence of

our humanness.

Leon Morris wrote,

Think how very different life would be for the student if he

knew from the beginning of the year what questions

Luke 2:52 12

would turn up in His examination paper! What vistas of

bliss and ease the prospect opens up! . . . Ignorance is an

inevitable accompaniment of the only human life that we

know . . . . If this was the manner of it {if Jesus lived life

knowing all the secrets of the universe], then the life Jesus

lived was not a human life."2

Now, I'm going to say something that runs the risk of

confusing you, but I need to say this as plainly as possible

lest anyone goes out of here with a wrong idea: None of this

denies Jesus' omniscience. He did not divest Himself of His

omniscience when He took on humanity. Christ's deity

means He is immutable. He cannot change. Hebrews 13:8

says "He is the same yesterday, and today, and forever." He

could never give up His essential attributes.

So how is it that there were things He did not know in His

humanity? Right away, we have hit upon one of the most

tricky mysteries of the incarnation. Don't ever get the idea

that Christ's humanity means He gave up His deity, or even

some of the attributes of deity. The language of Philippians

2:7 can be misleading if you're not extremely careful. It uses

a Greek verb that is sometimes translated "empty"Cin fact,

the New American Standard version translates Philippians

2. Morris, 46-47.

The Glory of the Incarnation 13

2:7 this way: "[He] emptied Himself, taking the form of a

bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men."

But that does not mean he emptied Himself of His deity.

He willingly made Himself nothingCor in the words of the

King James Version, "He made Himself of no reputation." But

He certainly did not empty himself of his divine attributes.

Peter Lewis is a pastor in Nottingham, England, and has

written a very helpful book called The Glory of Christ. In it,

he says this:

We must be very careful here not to imagine, as some have

done, that at the incarnation our Lord "left behind"

something of his Godhead or its attributes. God exists in the

perfection of his attributes. Take away any of his perfections

and you no longer have God. You cannot have reduced

Godhead. There is God and there is not-God: but there is

nothing in-between!3

Here's a helpful way to think of it: Notice that Philippians

2:7 says that Christ emptied himself by "taking the form of a

servant," not by losing the form of God. The form of a

servant was added; the form of God was not set aside. The

nature of man was added; but equality with God was in no

sense diminished. He gave up the independent use of His

divine attributes, and took on a human nature. It was not the

3. Peter Lewis, The Glory of Christ, 233.

Luke 2:52 14

subtraction of His divinity, but the addition of a human

nature that made Him who He is.

And in some way that we cannot fully understand, Christ

voluntarily limited the use of His omniscience while on

earth. That's the only way to understand Mark 13:32, where

Jesus says He did not at that time know the timing of His

second coming. We cannot say that He gave up His

omniscience. But we can't insist that He always made full use

of His omniscience, either, because Scripture clearly tells us

he did not.

As God, Jesus retained all the divine attributes, but as

man, he voluntarily laid aside the free, independent exercise

of those attributes. How that worked is not explained in any

detail for us, but we don't need to understand it to know that

Scripture plainly teaches it is so. Christ clearly did not

simply "give up" His deity or "empty Himself" of any of the

divine attributes. In fact, we see all of them manifested from

time to time by Christ. But normally He did not use them. He

lived His life voluntarily subject to the normal limitations of

humanity. His humanity was a kind of veil for His deity, and

he only pulled back that veil when it suited the Father's


But for the most part, it pleased the Father that Christ

should be truly like us in every sense, fully human. He

shared every aspect of our humanity except for our sin. And

The Glory of the Incarnation 15

that means that in some mysterious way, he was subject to

the normal limitations human knowledge.

Now considerC


Just as our Lord relinquished the independent use of His

omniscience, so He temporarily laid aside the autonomous

use of His omnipotence. He was subject to the same physical

limitations you and I feel. John 4:6 tells us He grew weary.

Matthew 21:18 says, "He became hungry." When He fasted,

He had the same gnawing hunger you and I would have. We

know He experienced thirst, because we remember that

moment on the cross when He asked for something to drink.

If Jesus had not assumed those physical limitations, He

would not have been fully human. More important, if He had

not had a normal human body, He would have been unable to

die for us. That's why He said in Hebrews 10:5, "A body Thou

hast prepared for Me."

Physically, He was exactly like every other person.

Here we face a similar issue that helps shed light on how

Christ as God could retain His omniscience, yet as a man be

subject to normal human ignorance. As God, He is

omnipresent, right? But as a man, He could not be in Jericho

and Jerusalem at the same time.

But was there a sense in Which Christ was spiritually

omnipresent, even during His earthly incarnation? Yes.

Luke 2:52 16

Remember Matthew 18:20, "For where two or three are

gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." I

believe that was true in some sense even while Christ was

here on earth. Notice His use of the present tense. He

remained God, even while He walked on earth. Colossians

1:17 says, "he is before all things, and by him all things hold

together." And Hebrews 1:3 says He is "the radiance of

[God's] glory and the exact representation of His nature, and

upholds all things by the word of His power"Cso that even

while Christ was on earth, He was simultaneously holding all

the universe together.

John Calvin wrote this:

[Although] the Word in his immeasurable essence united

with the nature of man into one person, we do not imagine

that he was confined therein. Here is something marvelous:

the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that,

without leaving heaven, he willed to be home in the virgin's

womb, to go about the earth, and to hang upon the cross; yet

he continuously filled the world even as he had done from

the beginning!4

Again, this is an incredible mystery, but it does not

diminish the real humanity of Jesus, who could grow tired,

4. John Calvin, Institutes, 2:13:4.

The Glory of the Incarnation 17

and hungry, and even be so utterly exhausted that He would

sleep through a tempest on the sea of Galilee.

In His humanity, He was subject to the same physical

limitations as you and me. That means the exhaustion that

kept Him from being able to bear His own cross all the way

to Calvary was a genuine bone-weariness. He felt it in its

fullness. And the pain he felt from the tortures of the

crucifixion was real, excruciating agony. He felt that, too in

all its fullness.

But I have to move on. Let's talk aboutC


When tells us Jesus grew "in favor with God," he certainly

cannot mean that God's love for the Son increased as He

matured. It simply means that the Father was well-pleased

with the growth and spiritual maturity of the Son. Luke 4:16

tells us it was His custom to observe the Sabbath by

worshiping in the synagogue. He was faithful in His prayer

life, often even rising before sunup to pray in solitude (Mark

1:35), and sometimes even praying all night (Luke 6:12).

Prayer was characteristic of His life.

As we noted earlier, Jesus underwent the most acute

temptation. He was tempted in the wilderness at the

beginning of His ministry, after a forty-day fast, when He

was in a weakened and hungry condition. He nevertheless

defeated Satan by using the Word of God.

Luke 2:52 18

He was tempted just as intensely at the end of His

ministry in the garden, when His soul was in utter agony.

We'll look at that account more closely in a moment.

But for now, the point is this: Jesus' temptations were real,

earnest, passionate struggles. It makes nonsense of Scripture

to suggest otherwise. These temptations were powerful

spiritual wrestlings: He was tempted in all points like we are.

People always want to know the answer to the

hypothetical question of whether Christ could have sinned. I

believe He could not, because He would not, because He is

totally pure and there is nothing in Him that would incline

Him to sin. Perhaps someday we'll have time to delve into

this question more fully.

But don't underestimate the reality of Jesus' temptations,

just because He was without sin. The temptations He faced

were no less powerful than the ones you face. If anything,

they were more powerful. Yielding to temptation is easy;

resisting is the real torture. The person who yields to sin's

enticement never feels full force of it. Only the person who

resists knows the full extent of temptation. Jesus experienced

a degree of temptation that is unparalleled, unfathomable to

us. Yet He held steadfast, sinless, pure through it all. He

experienced the full force of temptation precisely because He

did not yield.

Leon Morris wrote this,

The Glory of the Incarnation 19

To think of Jesus as going serenely through life's way with

never a ripple of real temptation to disturb His even course is

to empty His moral life of real worth, and to prevent us from

seeing in Him our Example. His sinlessness did not result

from some automatic necessity of His nature as much as

from His moment-by-moment committal of Himself to the

Father. He overcame. But it was a real victory, over real


Hebrews 5:7-9 explains a little more what Luke meant when

he wrote that Jesus grew in favor with God. It says,

In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and

supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to

save Him from death, and He was heard because of His

piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from

the things which He suffered. And having been made

perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source

of eternal salvation.

That's a quick look at Jesus' humanity from a spiritual

perspective. So He grew intellectually, physically, and

spiritually. Now considerC

5. Morris, 52.

Luke 2:52 20


Jesus loved people. He called His disciples "friends" (Jn.

15:13-15). The apostle John described himself as "the

disciple whom Jesus loved" four times in his gospel (19:26;

20:2; 21:17; 21:20). He had all the social cravings that are

natural to humanity. The scene in the garden on the night of

His betrayal shows this aspect of His humanity in a

fascinating way. He clearly wanted the disciples nearby. He

took all eleven of them with him to the garden, leaving them

within a stone's throw of where He was praying. He brought

Peter, James, and John even closer, though He actually

moved far enough away that He could pray in solitude (Luke

22:41). He obviously wanted them to be nearby, praying

with Him.

Jesus had all the appetites and passions inherent in sinless

humanity. It is clear that He experienced the full range of

human emotions. Scripture never dwells on images of Jesus

laughing or merrymaking with the disciples, but He certainly

knew what is to be joyful. We would expect that. He had

normal, healthy social relationships, and there are times in

His words where flashes of real humor show through. He

was by no means a morose or melancholy personality type.

In John 15:11, He told the disciples, "These things I have

spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may

be full."

The Glory of the Incarnation 21

On the other hand, Scripture does stress the fact that Jesus

experienced all the same kinds of negative feelings we often

go through in this life. Matthew 26:37 records that He was

"grieved and distressed." And when Lazarus died, "He was

deeply moved in spirit, and was troubled" (John 11:33).

Scripture tells us He wept (v. 35). It was real sorrow. He was

"a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief," according to

Isaiah 53:3.

He was also clearly troubled by the prospect of His own

death. Luke 12:50 records this statement, spoken long before

the time of His death arrived: "I have a baptism to undergo,

and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!"

His final night in the garden of Gethsemane shows us His

humanity as starkly as any other account recorded in the

gospels. He told His disciples, "My soul is deeply grieved, to

the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me" (Matt.

26:38), then "He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face"

to pray (v. 39). Luke 22:44 tells us that "being in agony He

was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of

blood, falling down upon the ground."

What was He praying for? Matthew 26:39 records the

words of His prayer. This is an honest prayer of human

agony: "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me."

Scripture is giving us a very human picture. This is a glimpse

of His humanityCfearful, troubled, in deep distress, longing

to be released from His ordeal. But this is no wavering of His

Luke 2:52 22

divine intent. He is not backing out from the cross. Notice

that the ultimate desire of His prayer was not expressed in

the words "let this cup pass," but in the words that

immediately follow that phrase: "yet not as I will, but as Thou


I said He was fearful, and perhaps that makes you uneasy.

But this was not a sinful, faithless fear. It was very natural,

human dread of what He knew He was about to undergo. It is

crucial that we see this. Not until we realize the depth of

human passion He felt does the reality of His agony and

suffering make its full impact on us.

We've covered this before, and perhaps we'll look at Jesus'

agony in the garden more closely one of these days.

But before we close let me quickly note how important it

is to be precise in our thinking about the person of Christ and

His humanity. The pages of church history are strewn with

the corpses of heretics who decided what the church really

needed was some novel explanation of the person of Christ.

These are not areas where theological novices ought to feel

free to experiment. This is one area where the people of God

have shared a common understanding for hundreds and

hundreds of years.

If you study church history, particularly early church

history, you learn that during the first three or four centuries

after Christ, the church was racked with doctrinal

controversy about the person of Christ. Early heretics all

The Glory of the Incarnation 23

seemed to fall into error at this crucial point. Some denied

the deity of Christ, some denied his humanity. Others

concocted strange, complex explanations of who He is and

how He relates to the Father.

A wide array of different teachings caused a tremendous

amount of confusion and discord among early Christians.

The Ebionites insisted that Jesus was a mere manCthe holiest

of all men, but no more than that. The Apollinarians

acknowledged His deity but denied that He had a human

soul. The Nestorians made Him both God and man, but in

doing so made Him two persons in one bodyCa man in

whom the divine Logos dwelt rather than a single person

who was both human and divine. The Eutichians, the

monophysites, and the monothelites went to the opposite

extreme. They all found various ways to fuse the divine and

human natures of Christ into one new nature. The Arians

claimed He was not God, but the highest of all created

beings. And most of the gnostics taught that Jesus' human

body was only an illusionCwhich was a denial that He was

truly human.

Church councils were repeatedly called to decide between

these differing views. As soon as one issue was settled,

another would surface and need to be dealt with. Finally, in

451, the council of Chalcedon issued a statement about the

Person of Christ that has stood as the definitive test of

orthodoxy from that time until now. In that statement they

Luke 2:52 24

said that Christ is "to be acknowledged in two natures

without confusion, without change, without division, and

without separation". They said that "the distinction of

[Christ's two] natures [is] by no means taken away by the

union, but rather the property of each nature [is] preserved,

and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted

or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and

only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ."

The genius of that statementCthe element that put an end

to incessant heresies on the nature of ChristCis found in the

phrase "two natures without confusion, without change,

without division, and without separation." Those four

negative statements forever defined and delimited how the

person of Christ is to be understood. G. C. Berkhouwer

called those four negatives "a double row of light-beacons

which mark off the navigable water in between and warn

against the dangers which threaten to the left and to the


The fact is that every heresy that has ever surfaced with

regard to the person of Christ either fuses or separates the

deity and the humanity of Christ. Chalcedon declared that the

two natures can be neither merged nor disconnected. Christ

is both God and man. Truly God and truly man.

6. Berkhouwer, 85.

The Glory of the Incarnation 25

Here's an interesting fact you may never have considered:

Jesus will be forever exalted as the God-man. He ascended

into heaven in human form, and He sits today at the right

hand of God the Father in human form. From there He

ministers as our Great High priest, ever making intercession

for us, one who is fully touched by the feeling of our

infirmity, because He was in all points made just as we

areCyet without sin.

He is not a mere man, or He could only be in one place at

one time. The limitations of His earthly existence are now

cast off, and the free and full exercise of His divine attributes

is unhindered by His glorified humanity. As A. A. Hodge

wrote, "in the wholeness and fullness of both natures, he is

inexhaustible and accessible by all believers in heaven and

on earth, at once and for ever."7

He is still both God and man, so when we pray to Him

even now, we are praying to someone who knows our

struggles and shared our infirmities and even was tempted in

all points like as we are. Hebrews 2:18: "Since He Himself was

tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the

aid of those who are tempted."

So isn't that an encouragement?

7. A. A. Hodge, Evangelical Theology, 199.

Luke 2:52 26

These are precious truths. I can't think of any truth that

makes my heart more glad. Hebrews 4:15 says something

similar: "We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize

with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all

things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with

confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy

and find grace to help in time of need."