For those of you who love dealing with the hard questions and the deepest mysteries, chapter five of Knowing God addresses the greatest mystery of the Christian faith, the incarnation of God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, as the son of Mary, Jesus, the man not who would be, but is God.
The Word became flesh. Four of the most important words in the history of the human race. They were spoken by the apostle John, midway through the chapter of chapters.
Packer begins this part of his study by pointing out the historical problems people have had with the gospel of Jesus Christ: his virgin birth, the miracles, his atonement, and his resurrection. But, the biggest stumbling block, the bite that just won’t go down, dwarfing all the others combined, is the claim that Jesus is God made man. Somehow, the infinite Son expressed himself in the finite body of a human being, born of a woman, as a totally dependent baby who grew and matured and eventually became a man. That is just too hard for much of humanity to accept.
Even for believers the Incarnation is beyond imagining and the more you think about it the more difficult it becomes, with “what abouts” and “but hows” springing up at every turn. It is here, on this rock of Christian theology, that the Jews, various heretics, Muslims, and most of all, secular Enlightenment mankind breaks, losing any possibility of belief. It is here they are confronted with what C. S. Lewis addresses in his famous arguments in Mere Christianity:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of thing Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunaticon a level with the man who says he is a poached eggor else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to
…There is no halfway house and there is no parallel in other religions. If you had gone to Buddha and said ‘Are you the son of Bramah?’ he would have said ‘My son, you are still in the veil of illusion’. If you had gone to Socrates and asked, ‘Are you Zeus’ he would have laughed at you. If you had gone to Mohammed and asked ‘Are you Allah?’ he would first have rent his clothes and then cut your head off. If you had asked Confucius ‘Are you heaven?’ I think he would probably have replied, ‘Remarks which are not in accordance with nature are in bad taste.’ The idea of a great moral teacher saying what Christ said is out of the question. In my opinion, the only person who can say that sort of thing is either God or a complete lunatic suffering from that form of delusion which undermines the whole mind of man. If you think you are a poached egg, when you are not looking for a piece of toast to suit you, you may be sane, but if you think you are God, there is no chance for you. We may note in passing that He was never regarded as a mere moral teacher. He did not produce that effect on any of the people who actually met Him. He produced mainly three effects — Hatred — Terror — Adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval.’
No, Jesus was a liar, a lunatic, or the Son of God as he said. Choose one only.
But that brings us to another problem. Packer address the baggage the phrase Son of God carried with it, being tainted in the minds of those who interacted with Jesus and later with John in his gospel. As a result, John begins his gospel with the famous prologue (1:1-18) in which he tries to pin down the eternal deity of the Son in Jesus Christ beyond misinterpretation. Packer spends several pages expounding on those verses, ending with:
The Son of God is the Word of God. We see what the Word itself is; well, that is what the Son is. Such is the prologues message.
When, therefore, the bible proclaims Jesus as the Son of God, the statement is meant as an assertion of his distinct personal deity. The Christmas message rests on the staggering fact that the child in the manger wasGod.
From there Packer deals with the fact that the Son was a real baby, made like his brothers (all of us) in every way, but pure and without sin. He quotes Wesleys words:
Our God contracted to a span;
Incomprehensibly made man.
Why? Well to die. To bring salvation to the unsavable, redemption to the unredeemable, to do what only God could do, that while we were yet sinners, he died for us.
Packer then goes on to deal with the problem and misuse of kenosis and the various theories of what did the Son actually leave behind (if anything) when he took on flesh in time and space. He quotes part of Anglican Article 2 of the Thirty-nine Articles, which says in its entirety:
II. Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very Man.
The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took Man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man; who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men.
The problem at the root of Jesus “emptying” goes straight to the heart of everything he did and said. Either we give complete divine authority to all of his statements and actions, accepting what he said about the inspiration and authority of the Old Testament as well, or we have to call everything into question, which is what modern critics have done. Packer tackles these issues carefully and comprehensively and in the end rejects the kenosis theory.
From there he talks about the poverty of Jesus and the “Christmas spirit.”He proclaims that “Spending and being spent” is what our goal should be. Do this and you will get the spiritual quickening so many seek after. He closes with three biblical quotes:
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. 2 Corinthians 8:9
Let this same attitude and purpose of mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus Philippians 2:5
I will run the way of Your commandments, when You give me a heart that is willing. Psalm 119:32
There you have it, the great mystery, the great stumbling block addressed. On this one point all other points hinge. If you cannot accept this keystone in the arch of the Christian faith, nothing else makes much sense and reduces the Gospel to a pile of rubble, but with it everything else fits and works and falls into place, arching over you in glorious splendor, holding up the vast weight of the faith once delivered unto the saints.
Grace and peace and understanding be yours until we meet again next week to look at who is the Holy Spirit in Chapter Six: He Shall Testify.