Our Lord’s Entrance Into Human Flesh
April 12th, 1981 @ 10:50 AM
OUR LORD’S ENTRANCE INTO HUMAN FLESH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-12-81 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message in a long series of doctrinal sermons. The section in which we are preaching now is the section on Christology: the doctrine of Christ. The title of the message today is Our Lord’s Entrance into Human Flesh, a doctrinal message on the incarnation; then there will be a message following on The Lord’s Entrance into Suffering; then Our Lord’s Entrance into the Grave, into death; then Our Lord’s Entrance into Resurrection Life, into heaven; and Our Lord’s Entrance into the Veil, our great Mediator and Intercessor; and today, this hour, Our Lord’s Entrance into Human Flesh.
The avowal that begins the Gospel of John reads like this: “In the beginning was the Logos.” That is a philosophical term referring to the active reason of God – the God who moves, who acts, who creates, who came to visit men. “In the beginning was the Logos,” translated in the King James Version “the Word.” “And the Word was with God, and the Logos, Word was God” [John 1:1]. Verse 14: “And the Logos, Word was made flesh,” entered human life, “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. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” [John 1:14, 17].
From the beginning, this was the kerygma, the heralded announcement of the gospel that God was manifest. And they love to use that word “manifest” in the Bible. God was manifest in human flesh. God was incarnate in Jesus Christ. God came into the world in a body, in order to make atoning sacrifice for our sins.
God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing unto them their sins.
He was made sin for us, Him who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.
[2 Corinthians 5:19, 21]
This was the heart and the soul of the simple gospel preached by the apostles: God was in Christ – God incarnate, manifested in Christ that we might be saved from the judgment of our sins.
From the beginning, even in the days of the apostles, in the life of Paul and even in the life of John – even from the beginning, the gospel was denied and diluted. Heretical sophistry entered into the preaching of the gospel. And these so-called intellectuals, gnostics, sophists, denied the incarnation, denied the virgin birth, God entering human flesh, and denied the bodily resurrection. The background against that heresy is seen again and again in the Scriptures in the New Testament. It was pervasive. It was everywhere.
Gnosticism assumed in most of its development a Docetic form and a Cerinthian form. Docetic gnosticism – the Greek word for know is gnosis, “gnostic.” Docetic Gnosticism; dokeo, “to seem”; Docetic Gnosticism preached that Christ never had an actual body. He had a seeming body, an apparent body. “It was impossible,” they said, “that God could touch human flesh, could be in human form.” So the Docetic Gnostics said He had a seeming body. He just appeared to have flesh and bones.
The Cerinthian gnostics were named after Cerinthus, who was John the apostle’s bitter enemy in Ephesus. Cerinthus said that the power of God came upon Jesus at His baptism and left Him at His cross. Cerinthus denied that Jesus was incarnate God. He denied the virgin birth. He denied the bodily resurrection. This is the Gnosticism, the heresy against which background the gospel was preached throughout the Greco-Roman world. The apostles, in their defense of the faith, never swerved from that gospel of the duality of the person of Christ: God of very God, and Man of very man – the God-Man, and against that gnostic persuasion, heresy that He was not God and that God could not assume flesh and bones, the apostles inveighed.
For example, in the last chapter of 1Timothy, 1Timothy, next to the last verse, the apostle writes to his son in the ministry: “O Timothy, Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust. Avoid the oppositions of,” and he names Gnosticism, translated here, “avoid the oppositions of science”; gnosticism, “falsely so-called, pseudonomos, falsely named,” translated here “science,” gnosis, Gnosticism; oppose it, avoid it [1 Timothy 6:20]. The sainted apostle John will write in the seventh verse of his second letter: “Many deceivers are entered into the world, who deny that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh” [2 John 7]; in the flesh, that He has body and bones, flesh. “The Word they confess not: they deny that Jesus is come, erchomenos,” a present participle of erchomai, to come. “They deny Jesus Christ is come. They deny that Jesus Christ, erchomenos, coming in the flesh.”
That participle can refer either to His first coming – they deny that God is incarnate, that He was born of a virgin – or it can refer to His second coming – they deny that Jesus Christ is coming in the flesh, with a body visible, personal, the same Lord Jesus. They deny that. This is the Gnosticism against which, I say, the apostles inveigh as they preach the gospel. Whether His first coming or His second coming, they deny the physical manifestation of God in human flesh.
Now the modern Gnostics are no different. That same heresy that confronted the apostles in their day is the same heresy that sweeps entire Christendom today. It is in the pulpits everywhere. It’s in the theological chairs in the academic world everywhere. It apparently is the acceptable philosophical explanation of the Christian faith today. Gnosticism; a superior, intellectual approach to the gospel of Christ that denies the virgin birth, that denies the bodily resurrection, and that denies the visible, personable, physical return of our Lord to the earth; to them, the conception is impossible that God should assume human form and human flesh, that there should be a God-Man.
So well do I remember in preaching through the Bible, coming to the last chapter, chapter 24 of the Third Gospel, the Gospel of Luke. Expounding the Scriptures, I was in the center of that last chapter. It is the story of the appearance of the risen, resurrected, glorified Lord to His apostles. And when He suddenly stood in their midst, the Scriptures say “They were affrighted, thinking that they were looking at a ghost,” at a spirit. And the Lord said, “Do not be afraid. It is I. A spirit hath not flesh and bones such as you see Me have. Handle Me and see that it is I Myself.” Then He said, “Is there here any meat, anything to eat?” And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and a honeycomb. And He did eat before them [Luke 24: 36-43]. That was the passage I was expounding; the actual, physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus our Lord.
There happened to be present that morning a modern Gnostic – an intellectual that denies the virgin birth, the incarnation of God, and His bodily resurrection. And as he went out from the church service, he said to a friend, “Such a sermon, how grossly material! And how unbelievably and crudely physical!” You see, the Christ that they preach was never incarnate God. The Christ they preach was never born of a virgin. The Christ they preach never rose bodily from the dead. The Christ they preach never ascended bodily into heaven. And certainly, the Christ that they preach will never come again in visible and personal form. The Christ that they preach is a metaphysical speculation. It is a philosophical opinion. The Christ they preach is an immaterial ghost. It is an idea. It is a thought. It is an intellectual presupposition.
Can you imagine a man saying, “I believe in a spiritual, intellectual idea of George Washington, but I don’t believe in the physical existence of the man himself? I don’t believe in a George Washington that was born in Westmoreland County in 1732. I don’t believe in a George Washington who married [Martha] Custis of Mount Vernon. I don’t believe in a George Washington who led a Revolutionary War, whose ideas framed the Constitution of the United States and who was elected first President of the Republic. I don’t believe in a physical George Washington, but I believe in a spiritual George Washington, whose ideas pervaded the colonies in their Puritan days and whose ideas are among us today.” They are rationalists without reason. They are thinkers without thought and without logic.
With unswerving unanimity, the Scriptures bear witness to the duality of the person of Christ. He was God of very God, God incarnate. And He was man of very man, a human being like us. The scriptural presentation of the duality of Christ is a marvelous thing to behold in the revelation of the goodness of God. In the Old Testament, there is a marvelous and beautiful and wonderful figure who appears again and again, even in bodily form. He is a theophanic Angel. He is the Angel of Jehovah. He is the Angel of the presence of the face of God.
And He appears in the Old Covenant bodily to a Jacob at Peniel [Genesis 32:24-30]; or to a Joshua before Jericho, introducing Himself as the Captain of the host of the armies of God [Joshua 5:13-14]. He introduces Himself as the Lord Jehovah as Isaiah saw Him high and lifted up [Isaiah 6:1]. He introduces Himself as the Ancient of Days to Daniel [Daniel 7:13, 22]. In the Old Covenant there is a marvelous and glorious figure who appears again and again.
At the consummation of the age, in the pages of the ultimate end, that same glorious figure appears. In the first chapter of the Apocalypse, the sainted John describes Him as He looked upon Him, walking in the midst of the seven golden lampstands, in the midst of His churches – His feet burnished brass as if they flamed in a fire, His eyes burning like fire itself, His face shining above the countenance of the sun. And before Him, John fell down as one dead [Revelation 1:12-17]. The same glorious Somebody in the ages before, pre-existent and eternal, and in the ages to come, the same, marvelous, glorified Christ Jesus, and in between – the little valley in between – the days of His flesh, of His humiliation, and of His suffering when we knew Him as the lowly and precious Lord Jesus. That is the Bible, and that is the revelation of God, and that is the gospel the apostles preached.
I just made the avowal that, with great unanimity, the Scriptures witnessed to that duality in Christ. He is God of very God and man of very man; the God-Man; God incarnate. For example, in the ninth chapter of the Book of Isaiah, the beautiful and incomparable prophecy: “For unto us a Child is born, and unto us a Son is given, and His name is Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” [Isaiah 9:6]. Look at the duality in that marvelous prophecy: “For unto us a Child is born.” The prophet conducts us to His humanity. He introduces us to the wonderful Child. And he takes us to Bethlehem and the stable and the manger. He takes us to the desert with its hunger. He takes us to the well of water with His thirst. He takes us to the sea with its midnight storm. He takes us to the carpenter shop with its daily toil. He takes us in His humanity to Golgotha, where He died a malefactor’s death. He takes us to Gethsemane, where He agonized in soul. And he takes us to the grave where He was buried. “Unto us a Child is born,” His humanity! But there is more: “And unto us a Son is given.” He was a Son before He was born. The prophet conducts us now to heaven: to the preexistent, co-eternal Christ, whose name, he says, is “Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” The duality in the Scriptures, and they are always there.
I turn to the apostle Paul. He is quoting – He is quoting a hymn out of the church. And in this hymn in 1Timothy chapter 3, the last verse, Paul writes: “Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in flesh.” They love that word “manifest,” phaneroo, a pre-existent person who is presented to us, manifested to us now. And Paul writes: “Great is the mystery of,” translated in the King James Version, “godliness,” eusebeia. Eusebeio is “to worship God, to bow down before the Lord”; eusebeio. Eusebeia, the substantive form, is “the true worship of God, religion.” Paul writes, “Without controversy great is the mystery of true religion, the true faith, namely that God was manifest in the flesh” [1 Timothy 3:16]. It is a mystery that overwhelms us: that God should be man and dwell among us.
The Book of Hebrews follows that up gloriously. In the [first] chapter, this God, who is “the express image of the Father,” who is “the brightness of His glory” [verse 3], in the tenth chapter, that same glorious God is given a body that He might make sacrifice; atoning, pouring out of life and blood for our sins [Hebrews 10:5-14]. And in the fourth chapter, that He might be a faithful High Priest; sympathetic with us, “tried in all points like as we are, though He without sin. Wherefore come boldly to His throne that we might find grace to help in time of need” [Hebrews 4:15-16], always that duality, the glorious God in human life.
And thus it was that the apostle Peter wrote in the same vein: “He verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world but was,” and there’s that word they loved, phaneroo, “but was manifest in these last times for us” [1 Peter 1:20]. The great, eternal, preexistent God is manifest to us now, in order that we might be saved. And that same glorious message is repeated again by the apostle John in his first epistle, chapter 3: “For this purpose, the Son of God was,” and there is that word again, phaneroo, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested” [1 John 3:5]. The eternal Logos was made flesh and we looked upon Him.
He was manifested that He might luo, translated here “destroy,” that He might “break up” the works of the devil [1 John 3:8]. For this purpose did God come into the world in human form and flesh: that He might break up Satan’s house of despair, the prison hole for sinners, the program of damnation, the house of hopelessness and helplessness, the dominion of death and darkness. He came into the world, was manifest, that He might break up the house of Satan and the works of the devil.
And the apostle writes in the same vein as he introduces his first epistle:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, namely, the Logos, Word of life; For the life was,
– and there is that word again, phaneroo –
For the life was manifested
– it assumed flesh –
and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was,
– and there it is again, phaneroo –
manifested unto us: That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you.
[1 John 1:1-3]
The apostles knew Christ in the same way that a chemist knows salt, or a geologist knows rocks, or an astronomer knows stars. They knew Christ. They heard Him. They handled Him. They listened to Him. They saw Him. They touched Him. They lived with Him. And they bear witness to this living Lord; in His birth of a virgin, in His life as a preacher of the gospel of the good news, in His death and burial, in His glorious resurrection, and in His ascension into heaven, and His promise of coming again. That’s the gospel. That’s the witness of the Word. That’s the manifest revelation of God.
In His birth, in His incarnation, the Lord Christ had flesh and bones. In His ministry, He was a Man preaching the gospel; a Man with flesh and bones. In His death, He was a Man crucified, flesh and bones. In His burial, He was a Man crucified dead, flesh and bones. In His resurrection, He was the same Man, raised from the dead, glorified, a Man with flesh and bones. In His ascension into heaven, He is a Man glorified, resurrected, a Man with flesh and bones. In His session in heaven, in His great mediatorial capacity as our High Priest, the God of glory is a Man with flesh and bones, God incarnate. And one of these days – one of these glorious days, it will be that same Lord Jesus, a Man with flesh and bones, whom we shall see visibly and personally, coming down in triumph and in glory in the shekinah clouds. And every eye shall see Him, the same Lord Jesus [Revelation 1:7].
If we depart from the historical Christ, we depart from the gospel itself, and we empty the Christian faith of its very definition. Just as there is no Jesus who is not born of a virgin Mary, just as there is no Jesus who was not bodily raised from the dead, just so there is no such thing as a Jesus who will not bodily and physically and openly and personally descend from the skies [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. The church is looking upward – not like a stargazer, not like one examining an almanac – but the church is looking up, its face is heavenward and Christ-ward, believing “God hath prepared some better thing for us” [Hebrews 11:40].
We’re looking for Jesus – not a ghost, not an apparition, not a philosophical ideal, not a metaphysical hope or persuasion – we’re looking for Jesus, the God-Man, our wonderful Savior, King of the earth, Captain of the host of heaven, the atoning lover of our souls, Him who writes our names in the Book of Life, who is our companion and fellow pilgrim in the journey through this world, who is our great friend in the hour of death, and who waits to receive us into heaven; that Jesus, the God-man Christ Jesus: that is the gospel of the Bible; it’s the gospel of Peter, and Paul, and John, it’s our gospel, in whom we have found hope and refuge today.
A beloved physician in our church sent me a little note and enclosed in it a poem. And it avows the truth that I have tried to expound in this doctrinal sermon this hour on the duality of the person of Christ: God and man.
Our blessed Lord combined in one,
Two natures, both complete;
A perfect manhood all sublime,
In Godhead all replete.
As man He entertained [Cana’s] feast,
A humble guest to dine;
As God, He moved the water there,
And changed it into wine.
. . .
As man, He climbed the mountains height,
A suppliant to be;
As God He left the place of prayer,
And walked upon the sea.
As man He wept in heartfelt grief,
Beside a loved one’s grave;
As God He burst the bands of death,
Almighty still to save.
As man, He lay within a boat
O’erpowered by needful sleep;
As God He rose, rebuked the wind,
And stilled the angry deep.
. . .
Such was our Lord in life or [death],
In dual nature One;
The woman’s Seed in very truth,
And God’s eternal Son.
O child, O Son, O Word made flesh,
May Thy high praise increase.
Called Wonderful, the mighty God,
Our eternal Prince of peace.
[adapted from “The Dual Nature of Christ”; Author unknown]
That is the gospel. The God who died for us, the God who saved us, the God who shall raise us too from the dead, the God who is coming for us, and the God who has prepared a place for us in heaven; His name is Jesus, our Lord God in the flesh. That’s the most precious gospel that mind could imagine; that God is Christ – touchable, moved with the feeling of our infirmities, knows all about us, still loves us, saves us, keeps us, hears us when we pray, bows down His ear to listen, lives in our hearts, waits for us in heaven. Oh glory, that we could sing about it and praise Him adequately – the glorious Savior, our Lord Jesus! Now may we stand together?
Our Lord if we had ten thousand tongues, they would not be sufficient to sing our Savior’s praise. How wonderful His name, how marvelous His seeking love, how efficacious His atoning sacrifice and grace, how marvelous His willingness to save:
O how wonderful, O how marvelous
And my song shall ever be
How wonderful, How marvelous
Our Savior’s love for me
[“I Stand Amazed at the Presence”; Charles Gabriel]
And our Lord to give our lives to Thee in faith, to gather our families with us in worship, to belong to the family of God with Jesus our elder Brother, to find strength for the way in this pilgrimage, and the brightness of the promise of heaven beyond the portals of death, O Lord Jesus, we love Thee and praise Thee world without end forever and ever.
While our people pray and in a moment when our choir sings our hymn of appeal, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you; out of the balcony and down one of those stairways, from the press of the people on this lower floor into one of those aisles, “Pastor today, I have decided for God, and I am answering with my life.” “To be baptized according to the commandment of His Word, to follow Him into the waters of the Jordan,” “to come into the church by letter,” “to give your life in faith and trust to the wonderful Jesus”; make the decision now in your heart. And in a moment when we sing, that first step will be the most meaningful you have ever made in your life. Angels will attend you in the way as you come.
Thank Thee Lord for the sweet response and the gracious harvest, in Thy wonderful and saving name, amen. While we wait, while we pray, and while we sing.
OUR LORD’S ENTRANCE INTO HUMAN FLESH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-12-81I. From the beginning the gospel denied, diluted
A. Development of Gnosticism in the lifetime of John, Paul
1. Docetic Gnosticism preached Christ never had an actual body
2. Cerinthian Gnosticism denied Jesus was incarnate God
3. The apostles in their defense of the faith (1 Timothy 6:20, 2 John 7)II. Modern Gnosticism
A. Same heresy that confronted the apostles
1. Impossible conception that God should assume human form
B. The Christ they preach was never incarnate God
1. Preaching through Luke 24:36-43III. The Scriptures bear witness to the deity and humanity of Christ
A. In the Old Testament, a theophanic angel
1. Same glorious figure appears in the Apocalypse (Revelation 1)
B. Old Testament prophets
1. Isaiah conducts us to His humanity and to heaven (Isaiah 9:6)
C. New Testament apostles
1. Paul (1 Timothy 3:16, Acts 20:28)
2. Book of Hebrews (Hebrews 1:1-3, 2:9, 14-15, 18, 4:15-16, 10:5)
3. Peter (1 Peter 1:20)
4. John (1 John 3:8, 1:1-2)
D. If we depart from historical Christ, we depart from gospel itself