“Without controversy, great is the mystery of Godliness:
God was manifest in the flesh.” — I Timothy 3:16
It is indeed a great mystery — a fact that defies human reason and exceeds the ability of human understanding to comprehend it — that the eternal “Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), without beginning and without end, could have (and would have deigned to have) been “manifest in the flesh,” to have taken upon Him the form of a servant and to have been made in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:7). Nevertheless, on the basis of clear and unmistakable Scripture, 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, a “mystery” that is indeed “great” and yet “without controversy,” a fact not to be disputed, denied or even argued about. Sadly, however, as we pointed out in our article in the previous issue, all too many who celebrate Christmas either miss the “mystery” altogether or outright deny it and regard Christmas merely as the commemoration of the birth of “the baby Jesus” 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 far ahead of His time, and “providentially” a martyr to His own cause when political opponents mistakenly resented His influence among the people, rejected His testimony that He was the long-promised Messiah, and “killed the Prince of Life” (Acts 3:15). Thus we recognize the great tragedy, even among 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” (Luke 1:35), “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?” and the reasons why this is a primary fundamental doctrine of our faith is absolutely critical to our redemption and justification, and is therefore a fitting focus of our meditation in this holy season of Lent.
The question is asked certainly by those who find themselves in “controversy” regarding “the mystery of Godliness” and muse about whether the incarnation of God was even possible in the first place, but then also by those who speculate as to whether God could have reconciled sinful man to Himself without a Savior who was “Christ, the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Let us first of all, to set aside any “controversy,” settle on the fact clearly set forth in Scripture that, “when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” (Galatians 4:4). The “mystery of Godliness” became a fact of record when “God was manifest in the flesh.”
In the Old Testament Scriptures, the promised Savior and anointed Redeemer or Messiah, the “Seed” of the woman (Genesis 3:15), Abraham’s “Seed” (Genesis 22:18; cf. Galatians 3:16), “Shiloh” (Genesis 49:10), “the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), was consistently identified as True God, “the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Savior” (Isaiah 43:3), “the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father” (Isaiah 9:6), “my Lord” (Psalm 110:1; cf. Matthew 22:43-45), David’s “righteous Branch” and “a King” whose name should be called, “The Lord, our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:5-6), etc. Those were “the Holy Scriptures” specifically identified by St. Paul as having been known by Timothy since childhood, as having been “given by inspiration of God” (II Timothy 3:15-16), and as being “able to make [Timothy] wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus,” Jesus the Messiah. “To Him [“Jesus Christ…Lord of all” (Acts 10:36)] give all the [Old Testament] prophets witness, that through His Name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins” (v. 43).
And the New Testament Scriptures throughout continue to identify God’s Anointed One, the Redeemer, “the Christ” [Hebrew: “Messiah”] as True God, “The [Eternal] Word” and the Creator of “all things” (John 1:1-5), the “only begotten of the Father” (v. 14); and the same Scriptures positively identify Jesus of Nazareth, born of the Virgin Mary, as “the Son of God” (Luke 1:35); they confirm it time after time in His teaching and in His miracles, at His baptism and transfiguration in the voice of God the Father from heaven, in the confession of His disciples, in His own unequivocal testimony (in passages too numerous to cite here), and in His sworn testimony in court which was used by His enemies as “evidence” of His “blasphemy” (Matthew 26:63-66; Mark 14:61-64; Luke 22:70-71; John 10:33-39; 19:7). Those who dare to claim that “Jesus never said that He was the Son of God” are manifestly (and willingly) ignorant of the Scriptures! We can rightly ask them (as Jesus asked the Pharisees in Matthew 19:3), “Have ye not read??”
The Scriptural evidence, both in the Old and New Testaments, is overwhelming that Jesus of Nazareth IS in fact “true God begotten of the Father from eternity and also true man born of the Virgin Mary,” our Lord and our Redeemer (Luther, Second Article, “What does this mean?”). The evidence is incontrovertible that establishes, supports and sustains as true “the mystery of Godliness,” namely, that “God was manifest in the flesh” (I Timothy 3:16), the mystery that is necessary to be believed for our salvation.
Having then conclusively demonstrated who our Savior was from all eternity and indeed still IS to all eternity, we now ask, as we asked in our previous article (January-February 2017) concerning the Savior’s true humanity, WHY was it necessary that He be also true God??
We reiterate in consideration of that question that, 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), a demand which He is perfectly entitled to make of those whom He created “in righteousness and true holiness” after His own image (Genesis 1:26-27, 31; Ephesians 4:24; etc.). Indeed, God’s perfect Justice demands perfect righteousness on the part of every soul of man for entrance into His heavenly kingdom (Psalm 1:5-6; Matthew 13:43; 25:46b; Luke 10:28; etc.).
Tragically, through the fall of man into sin (Genesis 3:1ff.) and Adam’s disobedience (Romans 5:19a) “[the (Greek)] many were made sinners.” “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “There is none righteous, no not one; there is none that understandeth; there is none that seeketh after God; there are all gone out of the way; they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (vv. 10-12). “There is not a just man upon earth that doth good and sinneth not” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). “Therefore by the deeds of the Law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight, for by the Law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). No human being is capable of the righteousness demanded by God for reconciliation, for forgiveness, for justification, for eternal salvation. Therefore the Psalmist writes by inspiration of God: “None of them [sinful human beings] can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him; for the redemption of their soul is precious” (Psalm 49:7-8a).
In order to avert the dire consequence of sin upon all mankind, namely, that since “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), since “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10; cf. Ecclesiastes 7:20), and since “no man is justified by the Law in the sight of God” (Galatians 3:11) and therefore no man is worthy of eternal life, that all men be damned as “the wages of [their] sin” (Romans 6:23a), God devised a way in which He could justly, rightly, and legitimately impute righteousness to the unrighteous (Romans 4:5) that they might be saved. In order to reconcile the entire world of the ungodly unto Himself (II Corinthians 5:19) without partiality (Acts 10:34), He had to insist that the demands of His divine justice were satisfied without reducing its legislative requirements; and He had to demonstrate the extent of His divine mercy without requiring works as a partial payment for the exercise of His favor.
Thus it was necessary that God “anoint” as His Messiah, as His Christ, as the Redeemer of mankind (I Peter 1:20), “His Son” (Galatians 4:4a), “the Lord our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6b), to take our place under the Law and to do for us, in our stead, what we are incapable of doing, namely, to “keep the whole Law and [NOT] offend in one point” (James 2:10), “so [that] by the obedience of One [namely, “the Holy One of Israel,” (Isaiah 43:3)] shall [the] many [the ‘all [who] have sinned and come short of the glory of God’] be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). “The redemption of their soul is precious” (Psalm 49:8a), and only the Son of God Himself was capable of perfect compliance with the Law and capable of offering to His heavenly Father His active obedience so that His righteousness could be imputed to sinful mankind as God’s free gift to cover all their iniquities and transgressions (Psalm 32:1-2; 85:2-3; Romans 4:6-8) and to remove those sins from His holy sight and remembrance (Isaiah 38:17; Hebrews 8:12).
Moreover, God’s perfect Justice also 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). It was therefore necessary that our Savior be true God, so that His passive obedience as He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4), His suffering and death in which He endured “the wages of sin,” the agony of the damned (Matthew 27:46), as our Substitute, would be sufficient punishment according to God’s justice to pay the penalty of our guilt and the guilt of all mankind. Thus it had to be that “Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (I Peter 3:18). Thus it had to be that Christ as “true God begotten of the Father from eternity,” the “Lamb without blemish and without spot” (I Peter 1:19), “slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8b), became “the Propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:2). What a price was necessary for our redemption, justification and salvation — the fact that GOD had to die, in the person of Jesus Christ!!
Finally, it was necessary that our Savior be true God so that He could destroy death and the devil for us. The writer to the Hebrews tells us by inspiration of the Holy Ghost that we human beings, since the fall of Adam and Eve, have, by virtue of sin and the fear of sin’s “wages” (Romans 6:23), been “subject to bondage,” bondage to “him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14-15). It was hell, the place of “everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41), that had been the abode of Satan since he and his evil angels rebelled against God shortly after their creation. Hell is quite literally a “prison house” of confinement in “chains of darkness” (II Peter 2:4), “everlasting chains under darkness” (Jude 6), a place of permanent abandonment by God in which all unbelievers share the fate of their father, the devil, upon temporal death (Luke 16:22b-23) and continuing into eternity after the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:41 and 46). Eternal death in hell is “the wages of sin” (Romans 6:23), what each and every sinner has earned and well deserves because of his transgression of God’s Law; and to that punishment he is in “bondage” by nature according to God’s justice (Galatians 3:10).
Redemption from “the curse of the Law” (Galatians 3:13), redemption from the curse of eternal death, is not possible for man to achieve, as the Psalmist declared by inspiration of God, “None of them [human beings] can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him; for the redemption of their soul is precious” (Psalm 49:7-8a). Therefore our Redeemer had to be true God in order to purchase our release from the “bondage” to which God justly curses all sinful mankind, from the “bondage” that Christ, as true man, took upon Himself as our Substitute when He was “made under the Law” (Galatians 4:4; cf. Isaiah 53:8; II Corinthians 5:21; I Peter 2:24; Galatians 3:13), and from which He, as true God, “redeemed” us (I Peter 1:18) with the price that His Father’s justice demanded, the price that no mere man could render, the price not valued in terms of cold, hard cash, the price not payable “with corruptible things as silver and gold” (v. 18a), “but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot” (v 19). Thus the God-Man, Jesus Christ, the only truly-precious One, by His innocent suffering and death, won “the victory” over sin, “the sting of death,” as Paul calls it in I Corinthians 15:56a, and from the curse of the Law in its wages, which he calls “the strength of sin” (v. 56b), so that the “bondage” to which we and all human beings were subject by nature is now broken. We have been “delivered” by Him from the “fear of death” and the threat of the prison house of hell, and Satan is now defeated and has no power rightfully to accuse us before God (Romans 8:33-34). As prophesied of old (Genesis 3:15), Christ, the woman’s Seed, “God…manifest in the flesh” (I Timothy 3:16), “accomplished” [tetevlestai, John 19:30 (cf. John 17:4)] the bruising of Satan’s head (which man could never do), as the propitiation of God’s justice for man’s reconciliation (I John 2:2; Romans 5:10; II Corinthians 5:19; etc.), the very purpose for which Christ was “manifested” or made known in the fulness of time: “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil” (I John 3:8), “that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16b), no longer living in “fear of death,” no longer “all [his] lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:15). Instead he will have for His very own, by faith in God’s mercy for Christ’s sake, “peace with God” (Romans 5:1), the “righteousness” that Christ earned for every soul of man (Romans 5:18) imputed to him by faith (Romans 3:22; 4:3; Isaiah 61:10; etc.), and all the blessings of redemption purchased and won for all by His innocent suffering and death (John 1:29; II Corinthians 5:15a; I John 2:2) and received by faith in His merits alone (Acts 10:43; 26:18; Galatians 3:14; James 1:12; etc.): Forgiveness of sins, life and salvation!
Since Christ hath full atonement made
and brought to us salvation,
each Christian therefore should be glad
and rest on this foundation:
“Thy grace alone, dear Lord, I plead;
Thy death is now my life indeed,
for Thou hast paid my ransom.”
(TLH 377, 6)
“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the Law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!!” (I Corinthians 15:55-57). That victory was won by “His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,” who was “declared to be the Son of God with power…by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:3-4). That “victory” was manifested when “our Lord Jesus Christ,” quickened from the dead on Easter morning according to His Word (John 2:19 and 22; Matthew 17:9b, 20:19; Mark 8:31, 9:9 and 31, 10:34; Luke 18:33; 24:7, 46), descended into hell, not to suffer but to declare His victory over His enemies! That “victory” was demonstrated “by many infallible proofs” (Acts 1:3) when He visibly rose from the dead and appeared to His disciples as chosen witnesses (Acts 10:40-41) to the fact that God “for our justification” (Romans 4:25) had accepted the sacrifice of His Son for the reconciliation of the world (II Corinthians 5:19; I John 2:2; cf. Catechism Q/A 152C). That “victory” is assured personally to all believers by Him “who shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body” (Philippians 3:21), like unto Him who is “the Firstfruits [the Prototype] of them that slept” (I Corinthians 15:20). It is because Jesus Christ is truly the Son of God, who won for us the victory over sin, death and the devil, that all true believers shall on the Last Day rise with glorified bodies to everlasting life in heaven!
Jesus lives! The victory’s won!
Death no longer can appal me.
Jesus lives! Death’s reign is done!
From the grave Christ will recall me.
God is faithful! Doubting hence!
This shall be my confidence!
(TLH 201, 1 and 2, adapted)
— D. T. M.