8th Sunday After Pentecost August 7, 2011
8, 353, 134(1-4), 341
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.
In Christ Jesus, who is true God and true man, dear fellow redeemed:
“Who do men say that I, the Son of Man am?” (Matthew 16:13). This was the question Jesus put to His disciples. The disciples gave Jesus a list of what the people were saying. Some said Jesus must be John the Baptist back from the dead after being beheaded by King Herod. Others said He was the Old Testament prophet Elijah returned to the earth. Others said that Jesus was the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah and still others said He must be one of the other Old Testament prophets.
After the disciples finished answering Jesus’ first question, He turned the question to them. “Who do you say that I am?” Peter spoke for all of the disciples and gave the confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
We worship and praise the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Each person of the Trinity is vital and important to our salvation. Were we to worship only Jesus, the Son, we would be guilty of a form of idolatry. Nevertheless, the work of the Triune God all comes together in Jesus Christ, so we want to be certain of who He is.
When we answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” we find that He is someone in whom there is a UNIQUE UNION because God and man are uniquely joined in Him. I. Jesus Christ is true God and true Man in one person and II. Jesus Christ brings the fullness of God to man through His person.
Once sin came into the world we were left in a huge mess with no way of solving it. We are like criminals charged with a crime, and we are completely “guilty as charged.” The law is clear and the punishment is clear. Either we live up to the law perfectly or else we suffer the consequences of punishment. There is no way out of this judgment since we are born in sin and break God’s Law. Thus, we are left with the punishment.
God in His grace saw fit to provide a Savior. It would take a unique rescuer to get us out of our mess because God could not just turn a blind eye to our sin and ignore it any more than an honorable judge can set a guilty man free if the law demands punishment. A judge is bound by the law and God is bound by His Law, justice, and holiness.
Two things had to be accomplished by a rescuer in order to save us from our sin. First, the Law had to be fulfilled according to God’s expectations. Secondly, the punishment for disobedience had to be carried out.
This savior-rescuer had to be a man. A savior was somehow going to have to provide obedience for sinners. In order to do this he would have to be put under the same laws and expectations as the people he was endeavoring to save. A savior had to be a man and be “born under the law to redeem whose who are under the law” (Galatians 4:4-5). The savior would also have to be punished for the disobedience of his fellow men. The punishment prescribed by God’s Law is death, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). A man-savior would be able to die and be punished for sins.
There are, however, some problems with a man-savior. In order for this Savior to be effective in providing obedience for the ones he was saving, he’d have to keep God’s whole Law perfectly. No man can do that. Somehow, this Savior’s death would have to count as adequate punishment for every sinner and apply to every sinner. No man’s life is worth so much that by giving it up he can save the lives of billions and billions of people. No man’s life can save even one other human being from finally dying both now and eternally. “No one can by any means redeem His brother nor give to God a ransom for him—for the redemption of souls is costly” (Psalm 49:7).
In view of these problems, perhaps the Savior should be God. A God-rescuer could keep the whole law perfectly and surely a divine life would is precious so as to redeem souls. However, there are again some problems. God can not be placed under the Law and God can’t die. Therefore, a God-savior would not be able to provide salvation from our horrible mess of sin.
In order for a Savior to be our substitute and win salvation He had to be God and man at the same time! Who could ever find this solution to such an insurmountable problem as sin and death? God, whose thoughts and ways are far higher than man’s thoughts and ways, planned our salvation from eternity (Isaiah 55:8-9). Who could accomplish such a feat that would combine God and man into one Savior? The almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth with whom all things are possible (cf: Matthew 19:26).
God accomplished the union of God and man into one Savior. He first promised it and then brought it to pass when the Holy Ghost conceived a child in the womb of the virgin, Mary.
The “man part” of Jesus is easy to see and accept, even the history books do this. It is a universally accepted fact among historians of every type that about 2,000 years ago a man from Nazareth named Jesus walked the earth, had a following of people, and was crucified by the Romans as motivated by the hatred of Jesus’ own people. Jesus ate, drank, slept, cried, bled, and died—all of which is very human.
The turning point concerning Jesus’ person is not that He is a man. The part of His person that finds objection is the assertion that He is God. Paul stresses Jesus’ deity and warns against anything or anyone who would say otherwise: “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” [v.8-9]
Jesus is 100% genuine, pure God. The deity of Jesus is no less God than it is for the Father or Holy Ghost. The “fullness of God” is joined together with the flesh of mankind in the person of Jesus Christ. John wrote, “The Word (the Son of God) was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Later, John records further testimony that Jesus is God, “All should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” (John 5:23).
Scripture gives evidence that Jesus was both God and man. Today’s Gospel reading told us that Jesus was sleeping in the boat—a very human-like thing to do. It also reported that Jesus stilled the storm—something only God could do. Jesus’ manhood is clearly evident in His life and death. His deity is evident in His power.
The union of God and man into one person is a miracle of God. Our confessions use a few comparative illustrations to describe what this miracle is and what it is not. It is not like two boards glued together. Two boards glued together don’t have any interaction with each other, neither gives anything to or takes anything from the other. This does not describe the personal union of God and man in Christ.
The confessions use mead—a fermented drink made of honey and water—for another comparison. The joining of God and man in Jesus is not like the production of mead. The production of mead combines the honey and water and when the process is done there is a new substance that is neither honey nor water, both of which have lost their former natures. God and man were not fused into one essence and changed into each other or into a whole new substance when Jesus was conceived.
The picture which best describes the union of God and man in Jesus Christ is that of a hot iron. A hot iron is a combination of an iron and heat. The iron is not the heat nor is the heat the iron. Yet, the two meld together into one inseparably hot iron. So also the two natures of Christ. Thus, Mary conceived and bore, not just a plain ordinary, mere man, but the Son of God. God and man are uniquely joined in Jesus so that Mary can rightly be called the “mother of God” even though at first hearing that would seem impossible.
It was not just an ordinary man who suffered, died, was buried, descended into Hell, rose to life, ascended into Heaven, and will return to judge the living and the dead. It is the Son of God who suffered, died, and rose again. It is the complete Christ—God and man uniquely joined—who won our salvation for us and who rules all things for us, and who will return to take us to Heaven where we will forever live with our God-man Savior.
This unique union is the truth which Paul emphasized to the Colossians. Paul called anything else an empty philosophy and deceit. He warned the Colossians so that they would not let the philosophy and “logic” of the world rob them of the truth concerning Christ and plunder their treasure by leading them to doubt who Christ is. He gave a similar warning to the Ephesians, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 5:6).
There have been and continue to be many worldly philosophies and empty deceits concerning Christ. These include empty conclusions that there are two Christs, each separate from the other; or that Jesus was a type of transformer who was man at one time and then God the next; or that God and man were mingled into one new substance; or that He was “kind of” God; or that Christ is simply not true, eternal God which denies His deity altogether. Such an outright denial of Christ’s deity was refuted by the Nicene Creed. However, this false notion remains today and all the more so as we see even churches denying Christ’s virgin birth. In the midst of all of this, the truth still stands: There is but one Christ who is both the Son of God and man at the same time.
These empty deceits may be pleasing to the logical mind, but they are destructive to the soul. If any of the principles of the world and empty deceits are followed, it destroys who Christ is, diminishes Him, ruins the miracle, and eliminates salvation because only through just such a unique and miraculous personal union of God and man as could we be saved. What makes Christ great is that He is God, without that He is nothing more than the next guy.
There are great followings of people who pursue the empty deceits that forsake the true person of Christ. They diminish Christ by making Him a culture hero, a civil rights leader, a philosopher, etc. Rather, let Him be who Scriptures say He is!
In his explanation to the second article of the Apostles’ Creed, Luther confessed the unique union of God and man in Christ saying, “I believe that Jesus Christ true God begotten of the Father from eternity and also true man born of the virgin Mary is my Lord!” May our confession always be the same!
God and man are uniquely joined in Christ. Through Christ’s redemption, sinners are now uniquely joined to God.
Sin creates a huge gulf between God and mankind. We need a bridge. Consider what is lost if we don’t have the bridge! Prayer is lost because how could a mere human being who is separated from the holy God by sin ever dare to approach His throne? Confidence for this life is lost and replaced by a constant fear that God is out there ready to pounce on you with punishment. Any hope for eternal life is also lost without the bridge that connects sinners to God.
In order for the gulf of sin to be bridged we need a Savior. Earlier in this letter, Paul speaks of both the fullness of God in Christ and the reconciliation that He would accomplish between God and sinners: “It pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:19-20). Paul wrote similar words to the Corinthians, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them…” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
Jesus bridged the gap that existed between us and God by fulfilling the Law and dying on the cross for our sins, thereby reconciling us to God. Through Jesus Christ we are redeemed, our sins are forgiven, we are made God’s beloved children! Because of what our unique Savior has accomplished by His life and death we are “complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” [v.10]
By nature God is a stranger to us and we to Him. We can’t see Him because He is a spirit, we can’t comprehend Him because He is the infinite almighty God, and we can’t approach Him because our sins condemn us in His sight. Limited human beings that we are, we still can’t fully comprehend God but we do see and know Him and can approach Him through Christ. We know God through Jesus Christ. Jesus brings God to man. “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (John 1:18).
We know and understand the love of God through Jesus Christ because it is through Jesus that we see God’s love put into action for sinners. God’s love for us becomes observable through Jesus and through Him we are made partakers of God’s grace.
The fullness of God is ours! The fullness of God’s love is showered upon us through Jesus and His work. We are forgiven and now live as God’s children. Through the working of the Holy Spirit we have been brought to faith, put off the old man of our sin, and now live in Christ and He in us. As Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). If Christ lives in us then the fullness of God has been brought to us and lives in us!
This is not to say that we all now have a little bit of God in us or that we have the fullness of God living in such a way that we are now God and man and have become “Christs” like Jesus. Rather, we have the fullness of God in that we have become temples of the Holy Spirit and we seek to live in a way that is befitting for the dwelling place of God. We have the fullness of God in us because our hearts and lives are ruled by the Son of God and we seek to follow Him. We have the fullness of God in us because our dreams, hopes, and aspirations rest on our beloved Father who has adopted us as His own children through Christ Jesus.
We are joined to the almighty and holy God as His beloved children. We have the Triune God living and active in our hearts and lives. This is made possible through the miracle of the incarnation which joined man and God in Christ Jesus. It is accomplished through Jesus’ work of redemption which brings us to God and makes us holy in His sight. We have the fullness of God through Him. Jesus did all of this so that we could “be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from death, lives and reigns in all eternity” (Luther’s explanation to the 2nd article of the Apostles’ Creed).
Who is Jesus? True God and true Man. Knowing this what shall we do? Believe that He is who He is. Stand firm against all empty theories. Put our complete trust in His work and forgiveness. Rejoice to know Him and love Him. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.