[B16] The God-Man

Man is subject to the law, but cannot fulfill it. He can suffer the penalties of outraged law, but it would never suffice to pay his own debt, much less the moral debts of all men. God is the law-giver, and cannot be subject to it. He has the worth to pay man’s debt of sin, but as God alone He cannot suffer and die, which was the price of payment. By the union of God and man in Jesus Christ, in such manner that the properties of the one nature became the properties of the other, and the attributes of the one nature the attributes of the other, the requirements were met on all sides. God in Christ could endure for man’s sins, and the humanity of Christ had the merit fully to cancel the debt.

16. The God-Man

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made. … And the Word 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. — [St. John 1:13, 14.]

A few weeks ago we declared it as our faith that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, really the Son of God. A little later we confessed, with equal emphasis, that Jesus is truly the Son of man. We are now face to face with a problem. Are there two Christs, one of whom is God, the other man? No, there is but one Lord Jesus Christ, who has been God from all eternity, but became man, and is now God and man in one inseparable person. All the secrets of this mysterious relationship, all that is meant when the Scriptures speak of a person who is, at the same time, both God and man, it is not for mortals to know. But there are certain truths concerning the subject which we can know, and should be at pains to know. Indeed, it is a subject of such supreme importance, with such definite bearing on the plan of salvation, that we should with all earnestness seek every possible ray of light on it. Fully conscious, then, of our limitations, let us make a brief study of the mysterious, but all-glorious, person known as the God-man.

The subject of the God-man presents three leading thoughts for our prayerful consideration: The Son of God before He became man; the Son of God who has become man; and the union of the Divine and human in the person of Jesus Christ.

The Son of God Before He Became Man

Two of the synoptic Gospels begin the record of Christ’s life with the Christmas story. Then, by recital of heavenly manifestation, by sketching the character of the one born as the Babe of Bethlehem, and by various statements of His, and concerning Him, they conclusively prove that Jesus was not a mere human babe, not a mere man; but the Christ, the Lord, the very Son of God. The fourth Gospel does not so begin. St. John writes with the specifically stated purpose not only of showing that the Babe of Bethlehem was Christ the Lord, but that He existed from all eternity, as the Son of God. He begins at the beginning. He goes back to the abysmal depths of eternity, and shows that before all worlds the Son of God was.

We are not going into any detailed discussion of the significance of the term “Word” used here as the name for the eternally begotten Son of God. For practical purposes it is sufficiently explained in the eighteenth verse of this chapter. “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” By our words we best declare ourselves, our thoughts, our truest inner selves. The Bible is the Word of God, the revelation of His mind and heart. Through it He is still declaring Himself to men. This tells us why the Son of God is called the “Word.” Through Him God was eternally expressing Himself. And the Son came to earth expressly to declare God, to make Him better known to men, to set forth His will, to do His work.

“In the beginning. These three opening words of our text lead us into regions where human mind becomes lost. They are an accommodation to human limitations. We must have a starting point for our thinking. When the Bible starts out with the statement, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” it refers to the time when the visible world began to exist. But when St. John says “in the beginning” he goes infinitely beyond the beginning of Genesis. But even then he finds no historical starting point for the existence of “The Word”; for at the time he designates as the beginning “The Word” already “was.” Before those all-powerful, creative words were spoken which brought forth the light, the earth, and the heavens peopled with its countless worlds; before all things by which mortals are capable of reckoning; at the time when there was nothing but God and infinite space, then the eternal, uncreated, but begotten, “Word” “was.” Indeed, our text says:

“All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made.”

Note, not by it, some kind of an impersonal energy; but by “Him,” a self-conscious, personal being. And this being was the Son of God who became our Savior.

The identity of this “Word” is made unmistakable when, in the fourteenth verse, the Apostle says:

“And the Word 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.”

This is St. John’s way of telling the Christmas story. And he has an all-important purpose in so telling it. He wants the world to know, for its own eternal good, as well as present assurance, that the child born to the fair and virtuous virgin more than nineteen hundred years ago, was not a mere human child, that He was not a mere God-endowed man; that He did not begin His existence, or His career, when He was given, for a time, into the care of the maid of the house and lineage of David; but that He had had an eternal existence before this as the Son of God. This is what we mean when we speak, in theological language, of the pre-incarnate existence of Christ. He did have an existence, a personal existence, before He became a man.

In numerous places besides our text, and in almost every conceivable manner, the Word of God teaches this truth that He whom we worship, and to whom we look alone for salvation, had a personal existence before the date from which the world reckons time. Hundreds of years before His human birth He is called, by the prophet, the everlasting Father, whose goings forth were from of old, even from everlasting. Jesus Himself often asserted the truth of His having existed before He came to earth as the Son of Mary. To the caviling Jews He said: “Before Abraham was,” two thousand years ago, “I am”, the eternally present One. In His great high priestly prayer, He said: “And now, O Father, glorify Thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was.” And whenever Christ’s ascension is spoken of from the point of view of His Divinity, it is regarded simply as a return to the state and condition from which He had come forth when He came to do His Messianic work.

The Son of God Becomes the Son of Man

The time came when the eternal Son of God came down to earth, assumed human nature, was born of a human mother, flesh of her flesh, and lived a real man among men. This act of the Son of God is thus expressed by our text: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” St. Paul thus voices the same great truth:

“When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” (Gal. 4:4—5.)

But the coming was not an unwilling one on the Son’s part. He could say:

“Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O God.)”

And the Apostle exhorts us saying:

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus; who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:5—7).

Here, now, we have the explanation of the oft used word, — incarnation. Carnal means pertaining to the flesh. To incarnate means to clothe in flesh. Incarnation means being clothed in flesh. And the incarnation means that the eternal Son of God came down from heaven, and was clothed in flesh; taking on Himself a body of flesh and blood, yet without sin. And in this form He dwelt among men, and those who allowed the Spirit to give them vision were privileged to see, shining forth in the words and deeds of Jesus, the glory of God.

You remember how, in the days of old, when Israel wandered in the wilderness, God gave them a visible sign of His presence, in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. In this form God led them, rested when the people were to rest, moved forward when they were to advance. So Jesus dwelt a God-man among men. He marked man’s way from the cradle to the grave. He hallowed each place of our sojourn. There is nothing in human life so trying that Jesus did not experience it. He asked for no privilege but that of service; to bear the burdens of the weak; to espouse the cause of the oppressed.

“And we beheld His glory.” Not the dazzling glory of power, not the generally envied glory of station and wealth, not the glory of an isolated grandeur; but the appealing glory of unselfish service, which stoops to save. The glory of the God-man was the glory of grace, of love unmerited, love for the unlovely, faithful service in behalf of the unfaithful. The grace seen in Christ is full sister to truth. It is a grace, not in fancy or fiction, not merely dreamed of, or hoped for; but in reality. Jesus came with a grace which actually pardons every sin for which there is true repentance; a grace which in reality renews every longing, receptive soul; a grace which is the bearer of a salvation which actually saves. The truth of which Jesus Christ was the living embodiment is a truth steeped in love; a truth brought, not from the Judgment-seat, but the Mercy-seat.

This is but a shadow-picture of Jesus Christ as He walked the valley of humiliation; very God, but clothed upon with a human body of flesh and blood. Human utterance is wholly inadequate to paint a picture of Him such as He really was. To the eyes upon which still hung the sin-begotten scales of unbelief Jesus seemed but a Galilean peasant, making claims which proclaimed Him an unbalanced enthusiast. But Saint John, and those like him, saw the glory which no veil sufficed to hide. And multitudes in every age, and in every clime, have learned to see in Him all the goodness, all the beauty, all the glory of God; for He anointed their eyes and gave them sight, and they experienced His salvation.

To what lines of reflection should thoughts like these lead us? Naturally, it seems, to what it cost our Savior to do for us what He did. He, before whom the angelic hosts bowed in love and reverence, came down to bear the insults and taunts of sinners, to be a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He, by whom all things were made, and to whom all things belong, came to be a child of poverty, with not a place where to lay His head. He to whom, by right, belongs the radiant throne of eternal glory came down to be spit upon, to bear the cross, and be borne by the cross; and to repose His weary, mangled limbs in the dark solitude of the tomb.

And the secret of it all! It is an open secret. Jesus came love-impelled. And where love dwells, enlightened and consecrated, no cost is counted. Indeed, where such love is duty becomes a pleasure; and sacrifice for the one loved, a transport of soul which deadens pain.

And what shall our response be to this love? Oh, that it might be a realization of George MacDonald’s words. He recounts the beauties of nature, and art, which he passionately loved, and then cries out:

“But I leave all, O Son of Man,
Put off my shoes, and come to Thee,
Most lovely Thou of all I see,
Most potent Thou of all that can!

“As child forsakes his favorite toy,
His sister’s sport, his new-found nest,
And, climbing to his mother’s breast,
Enjoys yet more his late-left joy —

“I lose to find. On fair-browed bride
Fair pearls their fairest light afford;
So, gathered round Thy glory, Lord,
All glory else is glorified.”

The Union of the Divine and Human Natures in Christ

It is an unquestioned truth of Scripture that the eternal Son of God came down from heaven, and took upon Himself human nature. And He who was born of the Virgin Mary, in Bethlehem, and lived for thirty-odd years among men here on earth, showed beyond question, in both word and deed, that He was both God and man. The mystery we cannot fathom; but with respect to it there are some errors we must be careful to avoid, some helpful truths we should be careful to distinguish, and cherish.

The fact that Jesus Christ is God and man does not mean that He has a double personality. We have one Savior, not two. “There is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by Him” (1 Cor. 8:9). Again the Apostle explicitly tells us, “There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). We understand from such passages that when the Son of God, the second person of the holy Trinity, came down from heaven He did not join Himself to a human person, but took on Himself simply a human nature of flesh and blood, with a human soul, drawn from the life of His human mother. That differentiation of attributes which marks people of the same general nature as distinct, and gives them that which we call personality, Jesus did not assume with His human nature. His Godhead gave Him His personality.

From of old there have been errors associated with the doctrine of the personal union, or the coming together of the Divine and human natures in Christ, against which we should guard ourselves. In the first place, the Son of God did not so take up human nature into His being that it was absorbed into the Divine. Nor did the coming together of the Divine and human in Christ result in a compound, or mixture, of natures which was neither truly human, nor truly Divine; for, during His earthly life, He was still called truly God, and truly man. And it was absolutely essential that He should remain both true God and true man if He was to be really our Savior. In the incarnation the Son of God did not lose an iota of His Godhead, and the humanity of Christ did not lose aught of that which belongs to human nature. For instance, Christ’s humanity did not, in itself, or by virtue of any properties now inherent in it, become almighty, or all-knowing.

The Divine nature of Christ remained truly Divine. The human nature, which He assumed into inseparable union with the Divine, remained truly human. Yet there was a union which, while mysterious, was true, real, vital. So real was, and is, that union that there is a wonderful inter-penetration of the properties of the one nature by those of the other. So truly is this the case that frequently in Scripture those works which only God can do are ascribed to the man Christ Jesus. And just as frequently are experiences which can take place only in a human life ascribed to the Son of God. For instance, the prophet calls the Babe of Bethlehem “the mighty God, the everlasting Father.” In our text it is said of the Son of Mary that in Him was to be seen the glory of God. Saint John says, “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son (the Son of God) cleanseth us from all sin.” Jesus Himself spoke, while on earth, of His being in heaven, even as the Son of Man. On the other hand, the Apostle says, “God spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all,” namely, into death (Rom. 8:32). And again, “They crucified the Lord of glory.”

How can language such as this be used, or justified? Let us remember that we are dealing with God’s inspired Word. God never uses words lightly. These words about Christ appear to be contradictory only to unenlightened human reason. They are perfectly true. And they are so because of the personal union of the two natures in Christ, and the consequent inter-penetration of natures, and the communication of attributes from one nature to the other. Because of this that which can be said of God only, apart from the God-man, can truthfully be said of either nature, or both, when He is the subject of whom we speak. In like manner, that which can be said of man only, such as becoming hungry and weary, suffering and dying, can be said of God, when He is spoken of in the person of Jesus Christ.

These rather difficult subjects are not presented from a love of dealing with difficulties. They help us to understand the work Christ did for our salvation. It helps us to understand how the Son of God could actually pay the price of our transgression. It throws light on the great question of how the work done by Jesus of Nazareth could have such worth for all the sons of men. Only thus can we begin to grasp the significance of the oft repeated Scripture teaching that we have a brother and friend on the throne of heaven, who is also unfailingly with his brethren here on earth.

Our Catechism thus answers the question as to the necessity of Christ’s being both true God and true man:

“True man He must be that He might put Himself under the law, suffer and die for mankind; true God He must be, that He, by such obedience, could merit for us forgiveness of sin, life and salvation.”

Man is subject to the law, but cannot fulfill it. He can suffer the penalties of outraged law, but it would never suffice to pay his own debt, much less the moral debts of all men. God is the law-giver, and cannot be subject to it. He has the worth to pay man’s debt of sin, but as God alone He cannot suffer and die, which was the price of payment. By the union of God and man in Jesus Christ, in such manner that the properties of the one nature became the properties of the other, and the attributes of the one nature the attributes of the other, the requirements were met on all sides. God in Christ could endure for man’s sins, and the humanity of Christ had the merit fully to cancel the debt.

We join most heartily in the words of the Formula of Concord, as wise as they are apt and forceful:

“We would exhort all devout people not to attempt to scrutinize this deep mystery with the curious search of human reason, but rather with the Apostles of our Lord to exercise a simple faith, closing the eyes of human reason, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. But most sweet, most firm consolation, and perpetual joy may they seek in the truth that our flesh is placed so high, even at the right hand of the majesty of God, and of His almighty power. Thus shall they find abiding consolation in every sorrow, and be kept safe from every hurtful error.”

“Thou, O Christ, art all I want;
More than all in Thee I find:
Raise the fallen, cheer the faint,
Heal the sick, and lead the blind.
Just and holy is Thy name;
I am all unrighteousness:
False and full of sin I am;
Thou art full of truth and grace.

“Plenteous grace with Thee is found,
Grace to cover all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound;
Make and keep me pure within.
Thou of life the Fountain art,
Freely let me take of Thee:
Spring Thou up within my heart,
Rise to all eternity.”

By God's grace, each week LutheranLibrary.org will present a new message on the basics of the Evangelical Christian Faith. Our guide is the Small Catechism, as expounded by Traditional Pastor Robert Golladay. May this series bless and inspire you.

Luther’s Small Catechism: Series B – The Apostles’ Creed

Publication Information

  • Author: “Golladay, Robert Emory”
  • Title: “The Apostles’ Creed”
  • Originally Published: 1917 by Lutheran Book Concern, Columbus, Ohio.
  • Lutheran Library Edition: 2020
  • Copyright: CC BY 4.0