It is at Christmas that the birth narratives of both the New and Old Testaments get a special ‘airing’; Carols old and new are rehearsed and polished — often to suit our post -modern mindset. Nativity Plays (of various genres) take to the stage and Churches put on their ‘Sunday Best’ as they endevour to reach the unchurched world with the ‘real meaning’ of Christmas. Indeed, we at St Mary’s Ferndown, prayerfully and, of course, professionally ‘stage manage’ our Nine Lessons & Carols — to be performed at 1630 & 1900 on the Sunday before Christmas with the (expectant) hope of God opening the hearts and minds of those for whom Christmas is for families and for giving to charity—and who have managed to, against all odds, find themselves at church — the Sunday before Christmas.
My own Christian journey began at the end of 1975 when, after desperate efforts on my part to be elsewhere, I attended a nativity ‘thingy’ at the church my wife and children had started attending in Southampton. The occasion of this Christmas event was the beginning of that which led to an unexpected encounter with the ‘life-changing’ person of Jesus.
In 1 Peter chapter three (verse 15) the apostle Peter encourages disciples of Christ to “Always be ready to give an answer for the reason for the hope that they have”. In other words, always be ready to give a defence (Greek ‘apologia’ — where we get the English word ‘apologetic’) for the hope that they experienced—indeed that present day Christians may experience. This is a hope, I suggest, that [is] based not only on the personal experience of these professing ‘followers of the way’ but also on the actual basis for this hope. The hope the apostle Peter refers in his letter is not to be confused with any half-truths based unsubstantiated accounts of events—as if the accounts given in the New Testament have no veracity whatsoever — as if Jesus’ life, death and resurrection were the invention of disillusioned disciples or—more recently — the [popular] authors of ‘historical fiction’ (Dan Brown comes to mind). Now, of course, should the claims made by the writers of the New Testament be based on anything other than authentic accounts of events — events that actually happened in the early part of the first century — then there would be no ‘reason’ to believe it.
Regarding the apologetic style of the Gospel of John, David Wenham says that:
If you or I were telling the story of Jesus today, we would inevitably bring out things about Jesus that are particularly important to us, or that we see as particularly important for people today to hear. The evangelists were the same, as the so-called redaction critics (those who inform us that Scripture was written/edited with a ‘BIAS’ to suit Christianity have told us.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John have all told the story of Jesus in different ways, because all had their own agenda in writing their accounts. Well — John quite specifically tells what his agenda is in chapter 20:31 when he writes that,
“These (words) are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.” John 29:31
Wenham says that this may well have been the original ending of the gospel, with chapter 21 being a sort of appendix. Whether or not it is, it sums up the gospel brilliantly. Chapter after chapter in the gospel, story after story, may be seen as being written in order to help us believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God and that there is life in him. So the first observation to make about John is that the gospel’s focus is on the identity of Jesus. Of course, Matthew, Mark and Luke are interested in the person of Jesus too. But, whereas they give us a relatively broad-brush picture of Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God and of his work, John’s gospel has a narrower ‘Christological’ focus, probably (as can be seen throughout the gospel) because he (John) was in a situation where people were proposing all sorts of answers to the question of : Who is Jesus?
In the beginning was the Word [Logos/Sophia],and the Word was with God [Theos], and the Word was God [Theos]. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1-5 (NIV)
Genesis 1:1 states ‘In the beginning God’. Here in John 1:1 we have something similar—except that, here in John chapter one — instead of Theos we have something that can be termed as ‘The Word’ [Gk] ‘Logos’or ‘Wisdom’ [Sophia]. We also have the personal pronoun ‘He’ [i.e. ‘This one/he’]. There is no doubt here that John is referring to a person, ‘through him all things were made. However, I suggest that neither John or any other of Jesus’ disciples/apostles etc. were (presently ‘are’) naïve enough to imagine that, prior to his incarnation, the baby Jesus’ born of a virgin in, what we term as the first century was somehow a pre-existent Superman figure who, physically — as being ‘corporeal’ — ‘in the flesh’, flung the stars into space etc. No,not at all, and even if they [we] have no idea how to ‘imagine’ the Son of God before the incarnation — except in anthropomorphic terms — we can be assured that, as the text says, “The Word was with God and the Word was God, id est, The Second Person of the Trinity.
About the Son: Colossians 1:15-20 [ESV]
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn [NB] of all creation. For by/in 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. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
NB.’first born’ is a metaphor for ‘sovereignty’ or rank. It echoes a psalm [of David]: “I will make him my firstborn — greatest of kings of the earth.” (Ps.89:27) Elsewhere Israel is called “God’s first born” (Ex.4:22). Jesus is, clearly, not the first born in a series.
In verse 14 of chapter 1 John makes a statement about who it is ‘they’ have[i] seen:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
“Verbum Caro Factum Est” [flesh on the verb
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.(The Message)
If Jesus had been [just] human — with all that comes with it: ‘will’ and ‘EGO’ we’d have to assume that ‘the man’ Jesus was no more than a prophet or a teacher—BUT, in no way ‘the Son of God’…Certainly his contemporaries, even his own disciples,saw him as a man, called him a prophet, teacher — Rabbi. But this doesn’t imply that the ‘EGO’ of Jesus was human and nothing more. Gerald Hawthorne
It’s not that the Eternal Son of God added humanity to his divinity; such a claim smacks of that teaching which viewed the human form as a ‘guise’ (see Gnostic Gospels Thomas, Judas etc.). The Gnostics taught that all material things are irrelevant/evil — so that any notion of an incarnation — at least a real, fleshly, incarnation had to be ruled out as it didn’t fit in with their ‘philosophy’. NO~The Word Became Flesh. This is to say that the Logos, the Son (GOD the Son)set the divine life in the human neighbourhood — and for our sake put himself at our level, so that he actually thought and acted, viewed the world, and experienced time and space events strictly within the confines of a normally developing human person.
Under the conditions of humanness it is possible to dare to say that — God the Son —learned as we learn, felt as we feel, laughed as we laugh; was surprised as we are surprised, suffered—to the full our sorrows (Isaiah 53) and disappointments, hurt as we hurt, died as we die. The word became flesh. Hawthorn p210
Making this ‘Self-Limitation’ possible:
Before time began the Son, in obedience to the Father, made a conscious decision to set aside everything that would be incompatible with his ministry of ‘humiliation’ and ‘redemption’: Philippians. 2:6-8.2 Corinthians. 8:9. Compare John1:14 with John17:5,3:13,16:8 and Romans 15:3. Such an understanding of the person of Christ presupposes that the divine attributes are potential and latent during the Son’s earthly life — present but not (necessarily) operative. [ii]Moreover, ‘The Son’ isn’t cut off from the life of God but consents to live on earth—within the bounds of human limitation. However, there is no ‘iron curtain’ between the earthly life of Jesus and his heavenly mode of existence—but that there was indeed a curtain — through which the light shone — Dynamic — breaking through natural laws/effects…
Jesus and The Holy Spirit: BAPTISM
Luke 4:1, Mark 1:12, Matthew. 4:1 and Romans 8:14-16
Please note that Jesus’ own baptism does not indicate something ‘missing’ in the ‘person’ of Christ but that Jesus placed himself so fully alongside us that, like us too — id est Christ Followers, he relied on the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ journey from Nazareth to be baptised by John marked the beginning of his ministry — there was though a significant difference between Jesus’ and all the other baptism:
You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached – how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. (Acts 19:37-38)
Jesus was therefore anointed at his baptism — his commissioning, if you like, as the messiah of God—just as the Old Testament kings were so anointed.
God’s life [in] you…Christ [in] you: your hope of Glory
It seems to me that Scripture is clear in that it gives, more than, strong enough ‘clues’ that it is the flesh, indeed, that gives birth to flesh and that it is the Spirit that gives birth (God breathed life to the spirit of mankind) to the spirit: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit…You must be born again.”(John 3:6&7), Clearly, there is something that needs to transpire that brings ‘spiritual’ life to that which would otherwise take its ‘natural’ course and die.
To whom God was pleased to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)
Please note that what I am saying here is that there is such an entity as ‘the soul of man’ and that this ‘soul life’ is God given — the Imago dei; its existence is not the result of natural selection or of the wishful-thinking of a desperate species seeking meaning in a ‘meaningless’ universe. Moreover, it is not from the telos of a ‘soulless’ cosmos that ‘desires’ to bring everything into its ‘vortex’ so that, along with the universe, it loses its identity, its personality — sans everything. It is for this reason that Christ came into the world—‘that we may have life—life in all its fullness’ (John 10:10)
TWEET @GeraldWhite: Jesus is not just a word, but life, the Word of life, and the eternal life! That we may have eternal fellowship with the Father and Himself.
[i] Note that the tense used in both the original and in the English translation is in ‘the perfect’ which connects past events — the arrival of the ‘Word’ in the world — with their (the disciples’) experience of being with him to the present.
[ii] Of course: in the flesh Jesus wasn’t omnipresent and neither was his appearance like that of the examples given in the Bible of the ‘unusual appearances’ of beings that were not of the ‘flesh’ yet appeared in human likeness — or had the appearance of an angel; these appearances are considered to be (mostly)pre-incarnate appearances (a theophany[ii]) Ergo. a Theophany isn’t an incarnation.