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It is not surprising that deep thinkers find the gospel of Jesus Christ hard to believe—because some of the realities about the gospel are beyond our understanding. But sadly, so many people make it harder to believe than needed—by finding difficulties in all the wrong places.
Take the atonement, for instance.
Many find that difficult to believe.
– How can we believe that the death of Jesus of Nazareth—one man who died on a Roman cross—put away the world’s sins?
– How can that death have any connection with our sins being forgiven by God today?
Or take the resurrection, which seems to trip so many people up.
– How can we believe that Jesus rose physically from the dead?
– Granted, it is hard to deny that the tomb was empty—but isn’t it much harder to believe that Jesus came out from that tomb with a body that will never die?
– Wouldn’t it be easier to suggest that Jesus had fainted, instead of saying that He had died?
– Or would it not be easier to explain the missing body—by saying that someone stole the body of Jesus—than by using the Christian explanation of the resurrection?
Or, again, take the virgin birth, which many protestants have denied in the last century.
– How can anyone possibly believe in such a biological anomaly—something that is inconsistent and odd?
Or take the Gospel miracles, which some find to be a source of difficulty.
Let’s say that Jesus did heal—because it is hard to deny this when we have so
much historical documentation about His healings—and in any case as far as healing goes, history mentions other healers too, so it is not that much of a deal.
– But, how can one believe that He walked on the water?
– Or that He fed the five thousand,
– Or that He raised the dead to life?
Surely, you cannot believe stories like that!
People who are on the fringes of faith—those who are neither properly in the Christian faith nor clearly unbelievers—such people find matters like this—atonement, resurrection, virgin birth, gospel miracles—deeply perplexing.
The Greatest Mystery
Actually, the real difficulty in believing in Jesus is not any of these things.
The supreme mystery of the gospel—
– is not in the Good Friday message of atonement
– is not in the Easter message of resurrection
But it is in the Christmas message of Incarnation.
The really staggering thing is this, and it is the Christian claim—
– that Jesus of Nazareth was God who became man
– that Jesus—the second person of the Godhead—became the “second man” to determine human destiny. The first man was Adam, of course.
– that Jesus became the second man to be a representative head of the human race, and
– that Jesus took on humanity without loss of deity (without losing any of His ‘God-ness’)
– that, as a result, Jesus of Nazareth was as truly and fully divine as He was human. Fully God and fully man.
The first man was from the earth, a man of dust;
the second man is from heaven. (1 Cor 15:47)
Here are two mysteries for the price of one—
Mystery #1 The plurality of persons within the unity of God. In the Godhead, you have three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Mystery #2 This Godhead is united to Humankind in the person of Jesus.
These mysteries are what make the first Christmas incredible.
That first Christmas, God revealed Himself to us through Jesus. But this revelation is like a deep intense ocean—impossible to understand.
“The Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14)
God became man,
the divine Son became a Jew;
the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby,
And there was no illusion or deception in this.
This Baby was actually human and like any other human baby
– unable to do more than stare and wriggle and make noises,
– needing to be fed
– and needing to be changed
– and needing to be taught to talk—like any other child.
The babyhood of the Son of God was a reality.
The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets.
Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as this truth of the Incarnation— the truth that God became a human.
This is the real stumbling block in Christianity.
It is here that many have lost their way: Jews, Muslims, Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and all those who have issues with the virgin birth, the miracles, the atonement, and the resurrection.
The source of their difficulty is a wrong belief or an inadequate belief in the fact that God became a man. Indeed, all difficulties that people have with the gospel story usually spring from a faulty understanding of the Incarnation.
But once the Incarnation is grasped as a reality, these other difficulties
If Jesus had been just a very remarkable, godly man—then you would have huge difficulties in believing what the New Testament tells us about His life and work.
—The difficulties would be truly mountainous.
But if Jesus was:
– the same Person as the eternal Word,
– the Father’s Agent in creation,
– the One “through whom also He made the universe”
His Son . . . through whom also He made the universe. (Heb 1:2)
If this is who Jesus is, then it is no surprise if fresh acts of creative power marked
– His coming into this world,
– His life in this world, and
– His exit from this world.
If this is who Jesus is, then it is not strange that He—the Author of life, should rise from the dead.
If Jesus is truly God the Son, then His death is much more surprising than His resurrection.
Charles Wesley, the great hymn writer, wrote: “Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies.”
But the Immortal’s resurrection is not mysterious like that.
Just think, if Jesus—the immortal Son of God—actually died, is it not reasonable to expect His death to be very significant? If Jesus was really God in human form, and if He had really died, why should it be hard to believe that Jesus’ death had significance in the saving of our doomed human race?
It is unreasonable—for those who claim to believe that Jesus is divine—to find difficulty in believing the gospel account.
It is all connected.
If you believe that Jesus is divine, it means that you believe in the Incarnation.
And if you believe in the Incarnation, which is an unfathomable mystery, why would you have difficulty with anything else in the gospel account?
Yes, the Incarnation is a deep mystery—but it makes sense of everything else that the New Testament contains.
Who Is This Child?
The gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke give us quite a detailed account about how the Son of God came to this world. He was born outside a small hotel in a Jewish village during the time of the Roman Empire.
Every year at Christmas time, nativity scenes are set up, and they look cosy and friendly. Christmas time is usually a happy time with family— and good food, presents, and carols. Considering that it is at this time every year that we hear the Christmas account read from the gospels, we can easily miss the horribleness of the situation.
Why was Jesus born outside the hotel? Because the hotel was full and nobody was willing to offer a bed to a woman in labour. So she had to give birth in the stables, and then use a cattle feedbox as a crib.
The gospels tell the story in a matter-of-fact way and without comment. But as a thoughtful reader, you shudder when you think of the pathetic situation.
The gospel writers did not write the account to teach moral lessons. Their only focus on the circumstances was to show that the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem was prophesied beforehand.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Other than that, for the gospel writers, the point of the story—was not in the circumstances of the birth—but it was in the identity of the Baby.
About the identity of the Baby, the New Testament gives us two thoughts.
1. The baby born at Bethlehem was God.
It would be even more accurate and Biblical to say that the Baby was the Son of God.
In other words—as Christian theologians would say it—the Baby was God the Son.
Please note that it is the Son and not a Son.
To make very sure that his readers understand the uniqueness of Jesus, John uses the term “The Son” four times in the first three chapters of his gospel. Jesus was indeed the only begotten Son of God or one and only Son of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the , He has declared Him. (John 1:18)
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18)
The confession of the Christian church says this:
“I believe in God the Father … and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.”
– Apostles Creed
Those who defend Christianity (i.e., Christian apologists) sometimes use the statement that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God as if it is obvious and straight forward. They use it as if it is the final and complete answer to all questions about Jesus’ identity. But the statement ‘Jesus is the only begotten Son of God‘ itself raises questions, and it can easily be misunderstood.
What does the statement Son of God mean?
– Does it mean that there are actually two gods? Jews and Muslims have been saying all along that Christianity is polytheistic. Are they right?
– Does it mean that although Jesus was in a special class by Himself, above other created beings, yet He was not divine in the way the Father is divine? In the early church the Arians held this, and in modern times several groups like Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Christadelphians believe this. Are they right?
What does the Bible mean when it calls Jesus the Son of God?
These questions have puzzled some, but the New Testament is very clear about the answers. The apostle John raised and solved these questions in one go in the prologue to his Gospel (John 1:1-18).
In the 20th chapter, he tells us that he wrote his gospel, so that his readers would believe that Jesus is the Son of God . . .
“but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:31)
John was writing for readers from both Jewish and Greek backgrounds, and he knew that both sets of readers would misunderstand the term ‘Son of God.’ The way each would understand the term, the all-important aspect of the term—Jesus being a divine person—would be missed.
– John knew that when Jews heard the term ‘Son of God,’ they would misunderstand it to mean the Messiah in the way they were expecting Him. They were not expecting their Messiah to be a divine person.
– He also knew that when the Greeks heard the term ‘Son of God,’ they would misunderstand it to mean something similar to what the term meant in Greek mythology, which would refer to the sons of the gods who were born by the union of a god and a human woman. So these sons of gods were like supermen but they were not divine persons.
What could John do to make sure that both his Jewish readers and his Greek readers understood the term Son of God to refer to a divine person? John was able to solve this dilemma by writing an introduction to explain this.
John’s famous prologue or intrduction (Jn 1:1-18) is a very important passage. Nowhere else in the New Testament is the nature and meaning of Jesus’ divine Sonship so clearly explained as here. The Church of England reads this passage every year at Christmas as the Gospel lesson for Christmas Day, and rightly so.
See how carefully and conclusively John develops his theme. He does not bring the term ‘Son‘ into his opening sentences at all. Instead, he talks about the Word first.
There was no danger of this being misunderstood.
Old Testament readers would pick up the reference at once.
– God’s Word in the Old Testament is the Word that He spoke to create the world.
– God’s statement held power.
– God said, “Let there be . . . ” and there was.
– God’s Word is powerful.
– God’s Word is God Himself at work.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Gen 1:3)
And God said, “Let there be an expanse . . . (Gen 1:6)
And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens . . . (Gen 1:9)
And God said, “Let the let the earth sprout vegetation . . . (Gen 1:11)
And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse . . . (Gen 1:14)
And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of . . . (Gen 1:20)
And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures . . . (Gen 1:11)
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made. . .For he spoke, and it came to be . . .(Ps 33:6,9)
John takes up this idea and goes on to tell us seven things about the divine Word.
(1) About the Word’s eternity
“In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1)
The Word did not have a beginning of His own.
When other things began, He was already there.
(2) About the Word’s personality
“And the Word was with God” (John 1:1)
The power that carries out God’s purposes is the power of a Person. This scripture makes it clear that this Person who is called the Word is:
– Someone who is a distinct personal being.
– One who has active fellowship with God.
– One whose has an eternal relationship with God.
(3) About the Word’s deity
“And the Word was God” (John 1:1)
Though the Word is personally distinct from the Father:
– He is not a created being.
– He is divine in Himself, just as the Father is divine in Himself.
This is mysterious and hard for us to understand. The mystery is to do with how the different Persons in the united Godhead are distinct from each other.
(4) About the Word creating
“Through Him all things were made” (John 1:3)
He was the Father’s agent in every act of ‘making’ that the Father has ever done. All that was made was made through this Person referred to as the Word.
(By the way, this is further proof that He, the Maker, does not belong to the class of created things—the class of all things made. The Father does not belong in this class and the Word does not either.)
(5) About the Word animating
“In him was life” (John 1:4)
All physical life in the realm of created things exist in and through the Word. This means:
– All creatures live in Him.
– All creatures live because of Him.
Thinkers have puzzled over how life started. Scientists have wondered about how life continues.
Here is the Bible’s answer to the problem about origin and continuance of life, in all its forms: Life is given and maintained by the Word.
– Created things do not have life in themselves, but
– They have life in the Word—the second person of the Godhead.
(6) About the Word revealing
“And that life was the light of men” (John 1:4)
In giving life, the Word gives light too.
This means that God communicates with everyone simply because:
– they are alive in God’s world
– the Word makes it happen
(7) About the Word incarnate
“The Word became flesh” (John 1:14)
The Baby in the manger at Bethlehem was none other than the eternal Word of God, about whom we have discussed these other six points above.
And now, having explained who and what the Word is—that He is a divine Person and that He is the Creator of all things—John identifies the Word in human form.
John tells us that because of the Incarnation—because of what happened on that first Christmas day—we have been shown who the Word is. We now know who the Word is. John identifies the Word in John 1:14 and confirms it again in John 1:18.
And the Word became 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.(John 1:14)
No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. (John 1:18)
John wanted to ensure that his readers understood what the term Son of God meant. He wanted to show them that the Son of God is the Word of God. In the prologue, John explains who and what the Word is, and then tells his readers that the Word is the Son.
So, when the Bible proclaims Jesus as the Son of God, it is actually asserting His distinct personal deity. In other words, the Bible proclaims that Jesus is God.
The Christmas message rests on the staggering fact that the Child in the manger was—God!
But this is only half the story.
2. The baby born at Bethlehem was God made man.
The Word had become flesh—the Word had become a real human baby. He had not stopped being God. He was no less God than He was before this. But, He had begun to be man.
He had not become: God MINUS some elements of His deity
He had actually become: God PLUS all the elements of manhood that He had taken on Himself.
It is interesting to note that the Word had made man, and now He was learning what it felt like to be man.
Another interesting observation is that the Word had made the angel who became the devil, and when the Word came to the world as a man, He was in a position where the devil could tempt Him. In fact, the conflict with the devil and the temptations He faced were all necessary to achieve perfection in His human life.
The author of the epistle to the Hebrews is greatly comforted because of this fact.
“He had to be made like His brothers in every respect. . . For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Heb 2:17-18)
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”(Heb 4:15-16)
The mystery of the Incarnation is unfathomable.
We cannot explain it.
At best, we can lay it out in a methodical way—the Athanasian Creed does it well.
“our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man . . .
perfect God and perfect Man. . .
although he be God and Man, yet he is not two, but one Christ;
One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh
but by taking of the Manhood into God.” (Athanasian Creed)
Our minds cannot get beyond this.
What we see in the manger is, in Charles Wesley’s words,
“Our God contracted to a span;
Incomprehensibly made man.”
Let earth and Heaven combine,
Angels and men agree,
To praise in songs divine
The incarnate Deity,
Our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made man. (Charles Wesley)
‘Incomprehensibly.’ We have to remember that this is a mystery far beyond our understanding. So we should be wise and avoid speculating about how God could become a man and so on. Let us rest in the wonder of the fact that God did become man, and let us contentedly adore Him.
Born to Die
How are we to think of the Incarnation? How are we to think about the fact that God came in human form?
The New Testament—
– does not encourage us to puzzle our heads over the physical and psychological problems that it raises,
– but it certainly encourages us to worship God for His love that it shows.
The Incarnation was an act of God where He had to stoop down low and come to our level. Coming to earth in the form of a human being would have been very self-humbling. This is how Paul described it in his letter to the Philippian church.
For He, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to His prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped Himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, He humbled Himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death He died was the death of a common criminal. (Phil 2:6-8 J.B.Phillips New Testament).
And all this was for our salvation.
Some theologians have tried to say that the Incarnation—Jesus coming to earth as a man—was to perfect the creation that was broken after the Fall. According to these theologicans, the cross —Jesus dying to redeem His people—was an afterthought or a bonus, but it was not the main purpose. But, James Denney rightly insisted that:
“the New Testament knows nothing of an incarnation which can be defined apart from its relation to atonement. . . Not Bethlehem, but Calvary, is the focus of revelation, and any construction of Christianity which ignores or denies this distorts Christianity by putting it out of focus” (The Death of Christ, 1902)
James Denney (1856-1917) was a Scottish theologian and preacher. He is known for his book ‘The Death Of Christ’ and for his emphasis on Penal Substitution—that Christ by His own sacrificial choice was punished in the place of sinners.
The cradle at Bethlehem was one of the important steps leading from heaven to the cross. These steps would lead the Son of God to the cross of Calvary. This is the most important significance of the cradle at Bethlehem. If we want to understand the true significance of the Incarnation, we have to look at it in this context—like one of the stepping stones to the cross.
Take a look at the two scriptures below:
“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14)
“You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)
We saw the first scripture (John 1:14) in John’s prologue to his gospel. It states the fact of the Incarnation—that God came in human form—in a simple straightforward way.
The second scripture (2 Corinthians 8:9) is a key scripture about the Incarnation because it not only tells us the fact of the Incarnation, but it also gives us the meaning of the Incarnation—by setting the incarnation before us as a showpiece of grace.
– is not just a marvel of nature—that God took on human form—but rather
– is a wonder of grace—that God became poor for us.
Made Less Than God?
We quoted Philippians 2:7 and 2 Corinthians 8:9 earlier. We need to stop here to talk about another way that some people interpret these texts, particularly two of the phrases.
– Phrase #1 “stripped Himself of all privilege” (Phil 2:7 Phillips version)
– Phrase #1“made Himself of no reputation” (Phil 2:7 King James version)
– Phrase #1“emptied Himself” (Phil 2:7 Literal translation found in many versions)
– Phrase #2“became poor” (2 Cor 8:9)
Because of these two phrases, people think that the Son’s deity was reduced when He became man. This theory is the so-called Kenosis theory, and the term is taken from the word kenosis, which is the Greek word for emptying.
The word used in Phil 2:7 is the verb ἐκένωσεν (ekenōsen), meaning ‘to make empty’. This is from the noun kenos/kenosis.
The idea behind the Kenosis theory is this—
– To be fully human, the Son had to give up some of His divine qualities.
– Only then could He be limited in space, time, knowledge and consciousness.
– Only then could He truly share the human experience.
The Kenosis theory comes in different forms and flavours.
Here are some—
– The Son has put off only the category of attributes known as metaphysical attributes. The metaphysical attributes are omnipotence (to be all-powerful, omnipresence (to be present everywhere at the same time), and omniscience (to be all-knowing). Those who believe this say that although Jesus put off these qualities, He kept his moral qualities such as justice, holiness, truthfulness, and love.
– The Son put off all divine qualities. He even put off the consciousness that He was God. Those who believe this, say that during His life on the earth, He got back His God consciousness.
– Bishop Gore’s Kenosis theory. He was the first person who raised this theory, and we will look at this form in more detail.
In England, the Kenosis theory was first raised by Bishop Gore in 1889. This was the time when a type of scholarship known as Higher Criticism was very popular in England. Higher Criticism is the term for a type of biblical studies that started in academic circles in Germany in the 18th century, became popular in England in the 19th century, and faded out in the 20th century. Higher Criticism was to do with interpretation of ancient texts, but without the restrictions that come from theological conviction.(On the other hand, Lower Criticism or textual criticism was to do with the study of ancient manuscripts, texts, and literary sources.)
Higher critics thought they knew all about the errors of the Old Testament.
Bishop Gore, influenced by Higher Criticism, did not believe that every word in the Old Testament was true and inspired by God. He also did not believe that Moses wrote the Pentateuch or that David wrote Psalm 110. But it was clear that Jesus believed these things.
So, Bishop Gore used the Kenosis theory to explain why Jesus was so “ignorant” of such matters.
Gore explained that when the Son became a man,
– Although He was still infallible on moral issues,
– He gave up His divine knowledge of factual matters.
– So, about historical fact, Jesus was limited to Jewish ideas, and
– He accepted these Jewish ideas without question, not realising that not everything was correct.
– That is why Jesus “wrongly” believed that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch and
– That is why Jesus “wrongly” believed that David wrote Psalm 110.
– That is also why Jesus “wrongly” believed that every word in the Old Testament was true and inspired by God.
Sadly, many followed Bishop Gore, wanting to have a good reason to reject what Jesus thought about the Old Testament.
But the Kenosis theory will not stand.
Firstly, it is mere speculation
Secondly, the texts (Phil 2:7 and 2 Cor 8:9) quoted for it with the scripture phrases “emptied Himself” and “became poor” do not support the argument at all.
What is Paul saying in these scriptures?
– He is not talking about laying aside divine powers and attributes
– Rather, he is talking about laying aside divine glory and dignity.
“the glory I had with you before the world began,” as Christ put it in His great high-priestly prayer (Jn 17:5).
The Phillips and King James renderings of Philippians 2:9 are correct interpretations of Paul’s meaning. Scripture does not support the idea of Jesus shedding any aspects of His deity.
The Kenosis theory also raises great and unsolvable problems of its own:
1. How can we say that the man Christ Jesus was fully God, if He lacked some of the qualities of deity?
2. How can we say that He perfectly revealed the Father, if some of the Father’s powers and attributes were not in Him?
3. The Kenosis theory assumes that Jesus could not be fully and truly man earth if He were fully God. If this is really the case, then what about now, and what about for all eternity? Is Jesus—the man in the glory—not a true man now or has He lost some of His divine powers for all eternity?
This is not what Christians have understood from the scriptures. For example, it contradicts the second article of the Anglican Church head-on. If the Kenosis theory is true, then you have to conclude that—at the Incarnation, the Son forfeited some of His divine attributes, never to recover them!
” . . . the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided . . .” [Anglican Article II. Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very Man]
No, no, Jesus certainly did not lose His divine attributes for ever. In the risen Christ, we see the divine attributes of omnipotence (being all-powerful), omnipresence (being present everywhere at the same time), and omniscience (being all-knowing). The New Testament is very clear about this.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Mt 28:18)
“. . . And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:20)
“He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (Jn 21:17)
“He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things” (Eph 4:10)
This shows that the Kenosis theory is wrong when it assumes that the Son cannot experience true humanity without reducing His deity.
And in turn, this shows that Jesus did not need to have His deity reduced when He came to the earth in the form of a man.
Here is another reason why Gore’s use of the Kenosis theory is wrong. How can you say that Jesus made mistakes in some of His teachings—when He quoted from the Old Testament—and then claim that He had divine authority for the rest of His teaching?
Jesus was so clear when He said that all His teaching was from God—that He was never more than His Father’s messenger.
So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but His who sent me.” (Jn 7:16)
Then Jesus said to them, “. . . I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.”(Jn 8:28)
“For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak.”(Jn 12:49-50)
but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did.(Jn 8:40)
Notice what Jesus declared of Himself: a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God.
We have only two options now.
– Either we accept the claims of Jesus and credit His teachings with full divine authority, including what He said about the inspiration and authority of the Old Testament,
– Or we can reject the claims of Jesus and discredit all His teaching entirely.
If Gore really wanted to hold to the authority of Jesus’ moral and spiritual teaching, then He should not have questioned the truth of His teaching about the Old Testament.
But if Gore was determined to disagree with Jesus about the Old Testament, then he should have been consistent and said that Jesus’ claims about His teaching cannot be accepted and that we do not need to agree with Jesus about anything.
The Kenosis theory—used in the way Gore used it—proves more than what Gore wanted it to prove.
What did Gore want it to prove?
– He wanted it to prove that what Jesus said about the Old Testament need not be accepted as true.
But what did the Kenosis theory at Gore’s hands actually end up proving?
– It ended up proving that if Jesus—who claimed that all His teaching was from God—could be wrong about the Old Testament, he could well be fallible at every point, and by claiming that all His teaching was from God, He was fooling both Himself and us.
If we want to maintain the divine authority of Jesus as a teacher, according to His claim, we must reject the Kenosis theory, or at any rate we must reject Gore’s way of applying it.
Actually, the gospel narratives themselves give us evidence against the Kenosis theory:
1- Sometimes, Jesus does not know information—
– “Who touched my clothes?” (Mk 6:38)
– “How many loaves do you have?” (Mk 5:30)
– “But concerning that day or that hour appointed for the Son’s return, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mk 13:32)
2- At other times, Jesus displays supernatural knowledge—
– He knows the Samaritan woman’s shady past (Jn 4:17-18).
– He knows that when Peter goes fishing, the first fish He catches will have a coin in its mouth (Mt 17:27).
– He knows, without being told, that Lazarus is dead (Jn 11:11-13).
3- Similarly, from time to time, Jesus displays supernatural power in miracles of healing, feeding large groups of people, and raising the dead.
So what can we make of all this?
This is the impression we get—
– Jesus was not completely without divine knowledge and power.
– Every now and then He used divine knowledge and power.
– But for the most part, He was content without divine knowledge and power.
– It is not a case of deity reduced but a case of deity restrained.
What could be the reason for the deity of Jesus to be restrained in this way?
Surely, it has something to do with the submission of the Son to the Father’s will—we see this truth in John’s gospel a lot.
Part of the mystery of the Godhead is that the three Persons stand in a fixed relation to each other. Let us put down some points about the Son’s position in the Godhead.
** The Son is not an independent divine Person, but a dependent one. All His thinking and action is only as the Father directs. We see this in the gospels.
– “The Son can do nothing by Himself” (Jn 5:19)
– “By myself I can do nothing” (Jn 5:30).
– “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of Him who sent me” (Jn 6:38).
– “I do nothing on my own . . . I always do what pleases Him” (Jn 8:28-29)
** The nature of the second Person of the Trinity is to acknowledge the authority of the first Person and submit to His good pleasure. That is why Jesus declares Himself to be the Son and the first Person to be His Father.
** The Son is coequal with the Father in terms of eternity, power and glory,
and yet, it is natural for Jesus to play the Son’s part. As the Son, He finds joy in doing His Father’s will.
In the same way, it is natural for the first Person of the Trinity—the Father— to plan and initiate the works of the Godhead.
And it is natural for the third Person—the Holy Spirit— to proceed from the Father and the Son to obey what They both tell Him to do.
Looking at it this way, we get more clarity about the obedience of the God-man to the Father while He was on earth.
We see that—
– it was not a new relationship that began because of the Incarnation.
– instead, it was the continuation of the eternal relationship between the Son and the Father in heaven, even though Jesus had entered into our world’s realm of time.
– the Son was utterly dependent upon the Father’s will on earth, just as He was in heaven.
If this is how it was, then everything has been explained:
– The eternal relationship between the Father and Son is such that the Son never acts independently. He always does His Father’s will. This is the normal way in which they relate to each other. This is the way they have always been in heaven and this is the way it was when the Son was on earth.
– The God-man did not act independently. He did not do all that He could have done, unless the Father wanted Him to.
– In the same way, the God-man did not know information independently. He did not know all the information that He could have known if He had wanted to. He consciously chose to only know whatever the Father wanted Him to know.
“Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Mt 26:53-54)
Like the rest of Jesus’ activity, what He knew and what He did not know was bounded by His Father’s will. So, we can now understand why Jesus did not know some matters when He was on earth—For example, He did not know the date of His return. It was not because He had given up the power to know all things, at the Incarnation. In reality, the arrangement was that Jesus would know only what the Father wanted Him to know, and there were things like this that the Father did not want the Son to know before His death on the cross.
Calvin was surely right to comment on Mark 13:32 as follows:
“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32)
“Until He had fully discharged His (mediatorial) office, that information was not given to Him which He received after His resurrection.” (John Calvin)
So we can explain Jesus’ limitation of knowledge,
– not as being because of changes that happened when He took on human form,
– but as being the will of the Father for the Son while on earth.
In conclusion, we can say that:
– Some facts in the gospel accounts contradict the Kenosis theory, and
– No facts in the gospel accounts need the Kenosis theory to explain them well
– So, we can let the Kenosis theory go.
He Became Poor
We can now see what it meant for the Son of God to empty Himself and become poor.
It meant that—
– He had to lay His glory aside (the real kenosis),
– He had to voluntarily restrain His power,
– He had to accept hardship, isolation, ill-treatment, malice and misunderstanding, and finally
– He had to die a death that involved such spiritual agony—which was worse than physical agony—so much so that His mind nearly broke, in the Garden of Gethsemene, thinking about it shortly before it was going to happen.
But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! (Lk 12:50)
– loving unlovely human beings—not just with a little love, but loving them to the uttermost.
In this way, by Jesus becoming poor, they could become rich.
The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity—
– hope of pardon
– hope of peace with God
– hope of glory
All this is because, at the Father’s will—
– Jesus Christ became poor
– and was born in a stable
– so that thirty years later, He might hang on a cross.
It is the most wonderful message that the world has ever heard, or will ever hear.
We talk so casually of the “Christmas spirit,” and when we do, usually we are referring to the sentimental jolly time we have with family during the holiday season. But what we have said in this chapter makes it clear that the phrase ‘Christmas spirit’ should in fact carry a tremendous weight of meaning.
When we mention the “Christmas spirit,” we should mean—
– the reproducing of Jesus’ nature in human lives—because of that first Christmas, when Jesus became poor for us.
And the Christmas spirit is not just for the month of December. It should be the mark of every Christian all the year round. It is our shame and disgrace today that so many Christians—I will be more specific—so many of the soundest and most orthodox Christians—go through this world behaving like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
They see human needs all around them, and what do they do?
– they feel bad about it and maybe they even pray a short prayer about the needs they see,
– but after that, they look away and “pass by on the other side.
From the Parable of the Good Samaritan
“ Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him (the wounded man), he passed by on the other side.
So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.” (Luke 10:30-33)
That is not the Christmas spirit, nor is it the Christian spirit.
Sadly, many professing Christians have this limited ambition in life:
– to build a nice middle-class Christian home
– to make nice middle-class Christian friends, and
– to bring up their children in nice middle-class Christian ways.
In this way, they leave the sub-middle-class sections of the community, both Christian and non-Christian, and become a separate group along with others like themselves.
The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob.
Those who have the Christmas spirit are like their Master:
– They live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor.
– They spend and are spent in making the lives of others richer.
– They give of their time, trouble, care and concern, to do good to others in need—and these others are not just their own friends.
There are not as many who show this spirit as there should be.
If God has mercy on us and revives us, one of the things He will do is to work more of this spirit in our hearts and lives.
If we want to be alive spiritually, each of us has to seek to cultivate this spirit.
“You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5).
“I will run the way of Thy commandments, when Thou shalt enlarge my heart” (Ps 119:32 KJV).