“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” — John 1:14
During the holy Advent season, as well as in our celebration of the Nativity of our Lord at Christmas time, we recognize and profess the sacred truth that, for our redemption and salvation, the eternal Son of God, the “only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14b), “the Word,” as John calls Him by inspiration of the Holy Ghost, “became flesh and dwelt among us” (v. 14a). It is the holy incarnation of the Son of God that we celebrate on Christmas Day, the “mystery of Godliness,” St. Paul writes to Timothy, that “God was manifest in the flesh” (I Timothy 3:16), a “mystery” that is indeed “great” and yet “without controversy,” a fact not to be disputed, denied or even argued about. Sadly, however, all too many who celebrate Christmas as the “Holy Night” and the birth of the “babe of Bethlehem,” “Mary’s boy-child,” who is “the reason for the season” and, in a certain sense, “the Prince of Peace,” miss the entire “mystery” of His incarnation. They regard Christmas, as the modernists teach and represent it, merely as the commemoration of the birth of a baby who would grow up to be a great teacher, a spiritually-gifted healer, a social activist reaching out to the poor and disadvantaged, a preacher of love among human beings struggling to achieve peace in their lives, a philosopher whose ideas were too far ahead of His time, and “providentially” a martyr to His own cause when political opponents mistakenly resented His influence among the people as an effort to create the impression that He was the long-promised Messiah.
Thus we recognize the great tragedy, even among many nominal “Christians” who are acquainted with the Scriptures, that many have bought into the so-called “social gospel” of modernism and deny that “the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12) was truly the Son of God, “God manifest in the flesh” (I Timothy 3:16), “very God of very God …being of one substance with the Father” (Nicene Creed), and regard Him merely as a fellow human being. But the question “Why did our Savior have to be True GOD?” we shall save for a subsequent discussion as we continue to explore the “mystery of Godliness” which manifests our Lord Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world.
In this present discussion, we want to ask a question, arising out of the obvious fact that Jesus of Nazareth was a true human being, namely, “Why did He have to be true man in order to be our Savior?” The question is asked certainly by those who find themselves in “controversy” regarding “the mystery of Godliness” and muse over the holy incarnation of God as being even possible in the first place, and then why God could not have reconciled sinful man to Himself without Christ’s incarnation.
With regard to the first musing as to whether the incarnation of God was even possible, we “set the record straight” with statements of FACT from the Holy Scriptures, the verbally-inspired (II Timothy 3:16; I Corinthians 2:13, etc.) “Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever” (I Peter 1:23b). The long-promised Savior was prophesied from the very beginning, throughout the Old Testament, to have human progeny, that is, to be descended physically from human kind, of human ancestry or lineage, of human parentage, to be a conceived and born son of a human mother, and so on. God Himself said in the Garden of Eden that He would be the woman’s Seed (Genesis 3:15). He would be Abraham’s Seed (Genesis 22:18; cf. Galatians 3:16), Isaac’s Seed (Genesis 21:12), Jacob’s Seed (28:14), of Judah’s line (49:10), of Jesse the Bethlehemite (I Samuel 17:58), of David’s lineage (Jeremiah 23:5-6; cf. Luke 1:27; 2:4-5). He would be conceived and born of a human mother (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6; cf. Luke 1:31-35; Matthew 1:18, 20-23, 25; Luke 2:7, 11). And, “when the fulness of the time was come [when God’s time was right to manifest Him as a true human being], God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” (Galatians 4:4). The “mystery of Godliness” became a fact of record.
In the New Testament, the Scriptures continue to manifest Christ as a true human being, as He grew in childhood (Matthew 2:13-14, 20-21), as a youth (Luke 2:42-43, 51-52), and to adulthood (Luke 3:23ff.-38). He is ascribed by Scripture to have had human form and physical members — hands (Matthew 19:13; Mark 5:23, 7:33, 8:23; John 20:20, 27, feet (Luke 7:38; Matthew 28:9; Luke 24:39), a face (Matthew 26:67), a head (Matthew 8:20, 26:7, 27:29-30, a finger (John 8:6), a body (Matthew 26:12, 27:58-59), flesh and bones (Luke 24:39), flesh and blood (Hebrews 2:14; I Peter 1:19), etc. — also human feelings, emotions and actions (Mark 10:14; John 11:35; Matthew 4:2, 8:24; John 19:28; Matthew 26:37-38). Thus He lived a human life; He also died a human death (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46; John 19:30) as certified by competent witnesses (John 19:33-35; Mark 15:44-45), and his dead human body was consigned to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:59-60; Mark 15:46-47; Luke 23:52-55; John 19:39-42).
The human nature of Jesus Christ, therefore, was and remains a creature. He was “made of a woman” (Galatians 4:4); “the Word was made flesh” (John 1:14); He was “the fruit of [Mary’s] womb” (Luke 1:42). He “was made in the likeness of men” and was “found in fashion as a man” (Philippians 2:7-8). Over the centuries, motivated and ruled by sinful human rationalism apart from and contrary to the clear statements of Scripture, false teachers perverted the doctrine of the true humanity of Christ, making His a phantom body (Docetism), or teaching that He had a body but not a soul (Arianism), or that He had a body and soul but no spirit (Apollinarianism), or a body and soul but no human will (Monotheletism), or a “heavenly, spiritual body which alone was worthy of Him” (the Gnostic, Valentinus).
Nevertheless, the human nature of Jesus Christ was NOT a human being and person of its own, as we are, and as the modernists teach Christ was, having only a divine connection, a divine likeness, a divine authority, and a divine personality, but not the divine person of the Son of God. For the pre-incarnate Son of God, the Bible says, “the [eternal] Word,” John writes, “was made flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14); and, “as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself [the eternal Son of God] likewise took part of the same” (Hebrews 2:14). The eternal Son of God took the created, genuine, and true human nature, subsisting from His human ancestry and “born of the Virgin Mary,” into Himself, united it with Himself, making it part of His own person, so that He was, from the moment of His conception in the Virgin Mary, both true God and true Man, “both natures together forming one undivided and indivisible person” (Exposition of the Small Catechism, 1943 edition, Question/Answer 128). The only thing that differentiated Christ’s human nature from ours was His sinlessness. Having been “conceived by the Holy Ghost” (Apostles’ Creed) in the Virgin Mary (Cf. Matthew 1:18, 20b; Luke 1:35), Christ had no “original” or “inherited” sin (“Holy Thing,” Luke 1:35; also John 8:46); and during His earthly life committed no “actual” sin (I Peter 2:22; cf. Luke 23:41). Therefore the sin for which He was “smitten” and “slain” was not His own but the sin and guilt of men which were imputed to Him (Isaiah 53:4-6, 8b; I Peter 2:24; etc.).
According to His eternal, holy, perfect, impartial and uncompromising justice, God demands perfection of every human being (Leviticus 11:44; 19:2; 20:7; Matthew 5:48; etc.), including perfect obedience to His holy Law (Luke 10:28; Romans 10:5; Galatians 3:12), which He is perfectly entitled to demand of those whom He created in righteousness and true holiness after His own image (Genesis 1:26-27, 31; Ephesians 4:24; etc.). Thus God’s perfect Justice demands perfect righteousness on the part of every soul of man for entrance into His heavenly kingdom.
Nevertheless, though man in his perfect concreated righteousness could have indeed resisted and survived Satan’s lying offensive in the Garden of Eden and could have thus overcome, defeated and conquered him, man willingly yielded to the temptation of the devil, disregarded God’s simple directive and command, and fell into the sin of disobedience, thus bringing upon himself and all men after him a sinful nature, the corruption of which and its total depravity made him spiritually blind, dead, and an enemy of God, and therefore unable to remediate and remedy his lost condition (Romans 3:12, 23; 5:19; 3:20; etc.). That total corruption or total depravity has been passed on through the entire human race by inheritance (as it were by corrupted spiritual DNA), so that all are conceived and born in sin (Psalm 51:5; John 3:6a). Our whole life and way of life (KJV: “conversation”) is “vain,” useless and empty, as it has been “received by tradition from [our] fathers,” handed down by inheritance from our ancestors (I Peter 1:18), totally without righteousness, so that even we Christians “were by nature the children of wrath, even as others” (Ephesians 2:3), having earned and therefore being deserving of God’s wrath and displeasure, death and damnation in hell (Romans 6:23).
In order to avert that dire consequence of sin upon all mankind, in order to reconcile the entire world of the ungodly unto Himself without partiality, in order to satisfy the demands of His divine justice without transgressing it by reducing its legislative requirements, and in order to demonstrate the extent of His divine mercy without requiring works as a partial payment for the exercise of His favor, God “had to” (in our way of thinking) “devise” a plan that would accomplish all those things without compromising His justice or limiting His mercy.
Thus it was necessary that God’s eternally anointed Redeemer of mankind ( I Peter 1:20), His only-begotten Son (Galatians 4:4a) be “made man” (Nicene Creed), “made of a woman” (Galatians 4:4b); “made under the Law” (Galatians 4:4c), made subject to its demands as we are; to take our place under the Law to redeem us (the Vicarious Atonement – Galatians 4:5a), since we sinners are incapable of such a “precious” work, either for ourselves or for others (Psalm 49:7-8). To that end, “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son” (John 3:16), “so [that] by the obedience of One shall [the] many be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). “Then said I [declares His Son], ‘Lo, I come (in the volume of the Book it is written of Me,) to do Thy will, O God.’” (Hebrews 10:7); and to the Jews Jesus said: “Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the prophets. I am not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). Thus it was necessary that our Savior become true man under the Law as our Substitute, so that He as a true man would be required to render satisfaction to the requirements of the Law, and so that He, as a true man, would indeed render that satisfaction by His active obedience, devoting all the attributes of His human nature to the fulfillment of the Law in our place.
Moreover, according to His eternal, holy, perfect, impartial and uncompromising justice, “God threatens to punish all that transgress His commandments” (Luther). According to His justice, He hates “all workers of iniquity” (Psalm 5:5b), prescribes “death” as “the wages of sin” (Romans 6:23a) and sentences every sinner, saying: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4b); He curses “everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the Book of the Law to do them” (Galatians 3:10) and declares: “The way of the ungodly shall perish” (Psalm 1:6b). To put away His just anger and to lessen the punishment that His justice requires would be to destroy that divine attribute whereby He is completely fair and impartial, who “rendereth recompense to His enemies” (Isaiah 66:6). In order to justify themselves before men as “humanitarian” when they hand down sentences in the country’s courts, many judges in secular society “temper justice with mercy,” not imposing punishment “to the full extent of the law” but reducing sentences to a fraction of what is prescribed. Such judges are not truly just, or they would exact the maximum sentence allowed. But neither are they truly merciful, or they would set the convicted criminal free, granting him a complete and unconditional pardon regardless of how heinous the crime. However, God’s perfect Justice demands full retribution and unremitting punishment for sin upon every soul of man and for any and every transgression of the Law in thoughts, desires, words and deeds (Ezekiel 18:4b), as well as for the guilt incurred because of Adam’s transgression, including man’s inability because of “original sin” to be perfect and holy (Romans 5:18, 19a) and therefore having “come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), whether by a millimeter or a mega-mile.
Again, then, in order to avert that dire consequence of sin upon all mankind, in order to reconcile the entire world of the ungodly unto Himself without partiality, in order to satisfy the demands of His divine justice without transgressing it by reducing its punitive curse, and in order to demonstrate the extent of His divine mercy without simply setting aside “the due reward of our deeds” (Luke 23:41a), God “had to” (in our way of thinking) “work out” and decree a plan according to which He could visit the full fury of His wrath upon the sinner and the full punishment that His justice demands of the transgressor without either compromising His justice or limiting His mercy.
Thus it was necessary that God’s eternally anointed Redeemer of mankind ( I Peter 1:20), His only-begotten Son (Galatians 4:4a) be “made man” (Nicene Creed), “made of a woman” (Galatians 4:4b); “made under the Law” (Galatians 4:4c), made subject to its punitive sentence as we are; to take our place under the Law to redeem us (the Vicarious Atonement – Galatians 4:5a).
Remember that the only thing that materially differentiated Christ’s human nature from ours was His sinlessness. Having been “conceived by the Holy Ghost” (Apostles’ Creed) in the Virgin Mary (Cf. Matthew 1:18, 20b; Luke 1:35), Christ had no “original” or “inherited” sin (“Holy Thing,” Luke 1:35; also John 8:46) passed down to Him by His progenitors since He was not begotten of men (cf. Seth, begotten of Adam “in his own likeness, after his image,” Genesis 5:3); and during His earthly life He committed no “actual” sin (I Peter 2:22; cf. Luke 23:41). Therefore the sin for which He was, in His truly human body, “wounded,” “bruised,” “smitten” and “slain” was not His own but the sin and guilt of men which were imputed to Him (Isaiah 53:4-6, 8b; I Peter 2:24; etc.). Likewise, the sin for which He suffered in His own truly human body and soul the tortures of the damned in hell (Matthew 27:46; cf. Romans 6:23) was “the sin of the world” (John 1:29) imputed to His person and accepted by Him to bear in our place (Isaiah 53:8b; I Peter 3:18).
“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same, that through death He might destroy him that hath the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver them who, through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14-15). God, who is eternal, is not, according to that essential divine attribute, subject to death; but God Himself truly died in the person of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, in order to redeem us. In order to make satisfaction for our transgressions and to propitiate divine justice, “[God] hath made him who knew no sin to be sin for us” (according to the Greek grammar of II Corinthians 5:21). He imputed the sins of the world to Christ, who was made in the likeness and fashion of a man (Philippians 2:7-8), and caused Him, according to His human nature as a true human being, to suffer and die vicariously in the stead and in the place of all mankind. That vicarious or substitutionary suffering and death would not have been possible had Christ not become incarnate for our redemption.
(In our next issue, we shall complete our exploration of the vicarious atonement of our Savior during the holy season of Lent with an article entitled: “Why was it necessary for our Savior to be True God?”)
— D. T. M.