I believe in Jesus Christ, his Son our Lord
by Jack Wald | October 2nd, 2011

Apostles’ Creed

Jesus has been a confusing figure from the very beginning. Mary told Joseph she was pregnant and Joseph assumed what any other man would assume. As hard as it was to believe of her, she had betrayed him by having sexual intercourse with another man. It took the appearance of an angel to convince Joseph this was not the case.

Mary went to see her cousin, Elizabeth, and had a strange encounter in which Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit: (Luke 1:42–45)
and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem where Mary gave birth to Jesus. Shepherds showed up at the cave where they were staying and said that angels had appeared to them, telling them of the birth of Jesus. Having a baby is enough of an emotional experience, but the story of the shepherds made it even more of an eventful day. Luke says that: (Luke 2:19–20)
Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.

My daughters loved hearing about the day they were born. Each year, on their birthday, Annie and I would tell them again about how it was as the day of their birth approached and what was happening and how we experienced their birth.

I wonder what Mary and Joseph told Jesus about his birth?

Mary heard an angel tell her that her baby: (Luke 1:32–33)
will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

An angel told Joseph (Matthew 1:20–21)
“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

What did Mary and Joseph think about the angelic visitations and their messages? It is most likely they thought Jesus would grow up to be a leader who would deliver Israel from the Roman occupation than anything else.

Who was Jesus?

What did the teachers in the Temple think when a twelve year old boy, not even old enough for his bar mitzvah, came to them and displayed a mind and spirit full of insight and understanding?

Mary and Joseph had come with their family to Jerusalem for the annual Feast of Passover. When they left Jerusalem, in all the commotion, they assumed he was with other members of the extended family. But when they couldn’t find him, they returned to Jerusalem and after three days found him in the temple. (Luke 2:46–50)
sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

The teachers were amazed that this boy could ask such insightful questions and have such deep and profound answers.

Mary and Joseph had heard angels talk about Jesus before he was born. They had heard shepherds testify to the announcement of the angels. They had heard Simeon and Anna prophesy about Jesus in the temple when they went for his dedication. But even with all these experiences, they did not understand who Jesus was. When Mary and Joseph found Jesus at the temple
they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” 49 And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them.

“Who is our son Jesus?” they most likely asked each other.

Mary and Joseph had the experience of having angels deliver messages to them and having prophetic words spoken about their son, but they also had the experience of watching him grow up.

After Jesus was born, Mary nursed him until he was able to eat solid food. Mary and Joseph changed his diaper. (OK, probably not Joseph. But in a figurative way “they” changed his diaper.)  They watched him learn to lift his head and roll over. They watched him try to crawl. Then they watched him crawl and stand and then take his first stumbling steps. They saw his toothless grin when his baby teeth fell out. They held him when he had a high fever. They comforted him when he injured himself playing. They cleaned up after him when he had the flu or diarrhea. They watched him as he went through puberty and testosterone raced through his body.

They had, on the one hand, the strange and mysterious experiences of his birth; and on the other hand, the ordinary experiences of his growing up.

Joseph died sometime after Jesus was twelve years old, but Mary and her other sons and daughters had the experience of Jesus growing up and then beginning his public ministry of teaching, healing and casting out demons.

What did the half- brothers and half-sisters of Jesus think of him?

Put yourself in their place. Your oldest brother is smart, obedient, always seems to do the right thing. In Hebrew school he is at the top of the class. When the rabbi asks for a verse your brother always seems to know the right verse and he has an understanding of the meaning of the verse that amazes the rabbi. It must have been tough to grow up with Jesus as an older brother.

Your father, Joseph, dies and Jesus takes over the carpentry shop with you as his helpers. You see Jesus hit his thumb with the hammer and cut himself with the saw, just like all carpenters do. The years pass by and then Jesus sets off and begins to heal people, deliver people from demons, teach with authority. This is not some religious figure we are talking about, this is your brother with whom you shared a bed.

A crowd begins to follow Jesus, he never comes home and the family gets together to figure out what should be done. Mark records that Jesus came back to Capernaum to a house, probably the home of Peter, and again a crowd gathered, so many people that they could not even eat. (Mark 3:21)
And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”

It was clear to them that Jesus was getting carried away with himself and needed to be brought back to his senses.

Another time, the Feast of Booths was at hand but Jesus was avoiding Judea because the Jews were trying to kill him. What did his brothers tell him? (John 7:3–5)
“Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. 4 For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For not even his brothers believed in him.

They mocked him. They pushed him to go where it was dangerous for him to go. They saw his miracles and they remembered him growing up and chose to believe he was a man, their half-brother.

Who was Jesus?

God told John the Baptist that the Holy Spirit would come down on the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. When his cousin, Jesus, came and John saw the dove come down on him, John must have asked himself, “Who is Jesus?”

When Jesus set out on his public ministry, teaching with authority, casting out demons, healing people, pulling in nets full of fish, the disciples and others asked themselves, “Who is Jesus?”

Once when Jesus and his disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee, a fierce storm came up and the disciples were afraid they would drown. They woke Jesus up from his nap and he rebuked the storm. The storm stopped, the sea calmed, and the disciples asked one another in fear and amazement, (Luke 8:25)
“Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”

All of these people knew Jesus was a man. They saw him as a baby, as an infant, as a toddler, as an adolescent, as a teenager, as a young adult and then as an adult. Jesus was a man. That was clear. He had to eat and drink just like everyone else. He had to go to the bathroom just like everyone else. But what more than a man was Jesus? That was their question.

Jesus gave sight to the blind, helped the lame to walk, brought the dead back to life and they knew he was a special man. He was different from other men. But who was he?

The disciples and others who followed Jesus thought he was the Messiah, sent by God to lead a rebellion against the Roman occupiers and restore Israel to the grandeur it had when David was king. They had high hopes and expectations for Jesus.

Who was Jesus?

Who is Jesus?

In the Apostles’ Creed we say, “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary”

We believe Jesus is the Son of God. We also believe he was born of a woman – but not the result of sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. This is what Mohammed wrote in the Koran, but he was using a discredited view of the Trinity that was available in the Arabian peninsula in the fourth century as his source document.  This is not what we believe nor is it what the Roman or Orthodox church believed in the 4th century. We, along with the church in the 4th century believe Jesus is fully man and fully God.

How can this be? Make up your mind. Choose one or the other, but you can’t choose both. It is not rational to choose both. It is impossible for Jesus to be fully man and fully God.

But we believe the impossible.

Language has limitations. Sometimes we cannot translate a word in one language because it has a meaning that our language does not have words for. There is a German word, Gemütlichkeit. Its closest equivalent is the word coziness; however, rather than merely describing a place that is compact, well-heated and nicely furnished (a cozy room or a cozy apartment), Gemütlichkeit carries the sense of belonging, social acceptance, cheerfulness, the absence of anything hectic and the opportunity to comfortably relax.

It takes a paragraph to explain what that one word means. Another example would be the Hebrew word, Abba. This is a word that carries the intimacy of the word papa but the dignity of the word father. Because it is not easily translated, the Bible keeps the Hebrew word.

I mention this because I think this is similar to the problem we have with the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. There is a unity in the relationship between Father, Son and Spirit that is so close there is only one being.

But the Triune God needs to be communicated into a world where there is no adequate social or linguistic way of communicating who the Triune God is. So in our limited world, the Triune God is communicated in terms of a relationship when it is clear that the Triune God is far more than a relationship. To say there is a relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit is already to severely limit the reality of who God is. God is already being described in earthly terms that catch only a part of the reality of God.

The Triune God is communicated in terms of Father, Son and Holy Spirit when it is clear that the Triune God is not limited in any way by how we understand father, son and spirit. We have earthly fathers and sons and have a conception of spirit; we knowhow fathers and sons act, but God is far more than those roles. Those roles do not define who God is, they are only an attempt to communicate to us who God is in terms we might understand.

So we ask, “How is it possible that Jesus is fully God and fully man?” and the answer is that we are incapable of understanding.

Frederick Buechner talks about the difficulty of explaining to Job the meaning of pain and suffering in the world. And he writes that God did not respond to Job’s questions about why he had suffered so terribly, he revealed himself.
God doesn’t explain. He explodes. He asks Job who he thinks he is anyway. He says that to try to explain the kind of things Job wants explained would be like trying to explain Einstein to a little-neck clam…. God doesn’t reveal his grand design. He reveals himself.

We are little-neck clams, incapable of comprehending the grand mysteries of our Pre-existing Creator God. If God sat us down and explained the reality of his eternal existence, it would be gibberish to us. We will never, at least not in this life, be able to have more than a very limited understanding of who God is and the limiting factor is not God’s ability to communicate, it is our ability to comprehend.

Augustine, the 4th century church father who was born in what is today Algeria, understood that this was a mystery. He preached this mystery of the incarnation in several sermons and I love quoting him at Christmas. Here is a poem from his sermons:

Maker of the sun,
He is made under the sun.
In the Father he remains,
From his mother he goes forth.
Creator of heaven and earth,
He was born on earth under heaven.
Unspeakably wise,
He is wisely speechless.
Filling the world,
He lies in a manger.
Ruler of the stars,
He nurses at his mother’s bosom.
He is both great in the nature of God,
And small in the form of a servant.

When the baby Jesus lay in the manger in Bethlehem, he, at the same time, filled the universe with his presence. If we have difficulty with that, then we will have a deviant view of Jesus. Jesus is at the same time fully man and fully God. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.

Throughout the history of the church, we have deviated on one side of this mysterious truth or the other, and this is the history of Christological heresies. The church, throughout the ages, has drifted toward Jesus being divine but not fully human, or being human but not completely divine.

When we read the gospels, if we are to discover the truth they contain, we need to see Jesus as fully man and fully God.

In our adult Sunday School class we are listening to lectures by Gordon Fee who co-wrote the book, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth. He said last week that modern, liberal Christians have no difficulty seeing Jesus as human but are not sure in what way he is divine. But then he said that Evangelicals and Pentecostals react to this not with a balanced view of who Jesus is but go over to the other side. They view Jesus as divine but are not quite sure in what way he was human.

Let me ask you, were you a bit nervous when I talked about Jesus having the flu? Do you think Jesus ever got sick? Were you uncomfortable when I said Mary and Joseph watched Jesus move through puberty and testosterone raced through his body? Did he ever get nervous in front of a girl?  Did Jesus ever fall and skin his knee? Did he ever break a bone? Did he ever make a mistake in measuring a board and saw in the wrong place?

We say that Jesus was a man but did not sin. Is it sinful to be sick? Is it sinful to be tempted? Is it sinful to make a mistake?

The writer of Hebrews wrote: (Hebrews 4:14–16)
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

This is a great verse but means nothing if we deny Jesus his humanity.

There is another way in which we deny the humanity of Jesus. We tend to assume Jesus knew who he was from the beginning of his life – but this is a cruel burden to put on the shoulders of any boy or girl.

Jesus had a progressive understanding of who he was. He did not know, when he was a child, that he was God in the flesh who came to die for the sins of the world.

If that makes you nervous, what did Luke mean when he wrote: Luke 2:52
And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

Does God grow in wisdom and stature? No. But men and women do grow in wisdom and stature and Jesus was a man who was more wise as an adult than he was as a child.

He heard the stories of his parents about his birth. He knew he had a special relationship with his father in heaven, this is revealed in the incident in the temple when he was twelve years old. But what more than that did he know?

At his baptism he had a transforming experience with his father in heaven when he heard God say to him: (Matthew 3:17)
“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

He went into the wilderness and fasted for forty days, reflecting on what these words meant. After that, he came out and began his ministry. Clearly he received further knowledge in these days in the wilderness that led him to say in his hometown synagogue: (Luke 4:18–19)
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then on the Mount of Transfiguration he received further instructions. He understood that he came to die for the sins of the world. He willingly chose to obey and set his face toward Jerusalem where he would be crucified. This, along with his baptism, were major turning points in his life and in his understanding of who he was and what he came to do.

Jesus was a man and gradually became aware that he was also God. But regardless of how aware Jesus was about his nature, he was fully man and fully God, even as an infant in the manger. He was not a man into whom God breathed himself. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He was not the one man in history most like God, the most perfect expression of the divine we have ever seen. Jesus was and is God.

Brennan Manning wrote:
My brothers and sisters, Jesus is our God. He and the Father are one. He is the image of the invisible God. Our Jesus image makes all the difference.

This is the difference it makes. The benefit for us of Jesus being fully man and fully God is that, as the writer of Hebrews wrote:
we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Jesus can empathize with us. He knows what it is like to be tempted. He knows what it is like to be hungry. He knows what it is like to be overwhelmed by the needs of the world. He has experienced the temptations of the world. He knows the seductiveness of the world. In that sense, he is your older brother to whom you can go and expect to be understood.

Secondly, he is the all-powerful God. (Colossians 1:15–17)
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Jesus can empathize with us and he has the power to work in us to make what is best for us to happen. He empathizes with us and he can do something about it.

When you get into a relational mess or a financial mess or a moral mess, you can turn to Jesus and ask for his help in pulling you out of the mess. While he may not have made the same mess you have, he knows the pressures of this life. He can help you.

Jesus is God. He knows the situation you are facing. He knows your fears and anxieties. He knows where you are being tempted. He knows the ways in which you have given in to temptation. Jesus is also a man and he knows how difficult it is to resist temptation. He knows how difficult it is to see suffering in the world and not be worried or anxious about those you love who are suffering.

When you read the gospels, read them as though you are reading about your older brother who sets an example for you. Look at his life and learn from him about how to face the joys and sorrows of life. See how he holds on to truth and resists temptation and draw strength from his example.

But at the same time, when you read the gospels, read them and be amazed at the love of God that chose to come and live among us. See the power of his love, his mercy, his grace. When you draw on his strength, you can live like Jesus did. You can overcome the temptations of the world. You can resist the devil. You can make good choices. You can wait patiently for him to bring resurrection out of the ashes of defeat.

Jesus did it and so can you –  because his feet walked the same soil as you and he is with you, as he promised, even to the end.