Our Lord’s Entrance Into Human Flesh
April 12th, 1981 @ 8:15 AM
OUR LORD’S ENTRANCE INTO HUMAN FLESH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
John 1:1, 2, 14
4-12-81 8:15 a.m.
And welcome to the great throngs who are listening to this hour on radio. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering one in a long series of biblical doctrinal sermons. We are now in the series on Christology, on the doctrines that pertain to our Lord Christ. And the title of the message this morning is Our Lord’s Entrance into Human Flesh. There will be sermons on Our Lord’s Entrance into Suffering; Our Lord’s Entrance into Death; Our Lord’s Entrance Into Heaven; Our Lord’s Entrance Beyond the Veil, Our Great Intermediary, and Intercessor. The message this morning: Our Lord’s Entrance into Human Flesh; the incarnation.
In John 1:1 and 2 and 14, John chapter 1, verses 1, 2, and 14: “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. The same was in the beginning with God” [John 1:1-2]. You could translate logos as “Word,” in the King James Version, or as “active reason,” or as the manifestation, the activity of God, the message of God. Then in verse 14, “And the Logos, 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” [John 1:14].
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” [John 1:14]. This passage that I have read is but representative of all the passages throughout the New Testament presenting the incarnation of God in human flesh, the manifestation of the great God in heaven in form of a man. And that was the kerygma, the great preaching, the announcement, the heraldic gospel of the first century. The disciples, the converts, the apostles of the Lord Jesus, throughout the whole Greco-Roman world, the whole Roman Empire, presented that message that God had manifested Himself in human flesh. And this is the word of atonement, and reconciliation, and salvation [2 Corinthians 5:18-19]. That was the simple message that they preached throughout the civilized world.
From the beginning—not as a development in the years and the centuries that followed, but from the beginning so-called sophisticated intellectuals infiltrated that gospel and compromised it heretically. They were called Gnostics. The Greek word for “knowledge” is gnōsis. They were called Gnostics. They arrogated to themselves a superior knowledge far beyond that simple message that was preached of God in Christ Jesus, dying for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3].
And in those many shades of Gnosticism, there were two especially. One was called Docetic Gnosticism, from the Greek word dokeō, “to seem”; Docetic Gnosticism. They taught that Christ just seemingly had a body, nothing physical, just seemingly, just apparently He had a body. God was not incarnate. God did not assume human flesh, but the body of our Lord was just seemingly, apparently a body, but not really. That was Docetic Gnosticism.
We don’t have time to elaborate on why those intellectuals thus interpreted our Lord Christ. The basic reason was a philosophical dualism in all creation that spirit is good, but matter is always evil, and therefore spirit, God, could never touch matter or evil. And the Docetics and the Gnostics placed between the creator God and the evil matter of creation a whole series of hierarchical angelic beings. And the first one was just a little below God, and the next one was a little bit below him, and the next hierarchy was a little below, and down, down, down until finally you got to one that could touch matter. That is Gnosticism. So the Docetic said that God couldn’t be in human flesh. He just seemingly had a body.
Now another manifestation of that first ancient heresy of Gnosticism found in the days of the apostles was Cerinthian Gnosticism, from Cerinthus who was the enemy of John the apostle at Ephesus. And Cerinthus taught that there was no virgin birth [Matthew 1:20-23]. Jesus came of the natural generation of Joseph and of Mary, and there was no bodily resurrection [Matthew 28:1-7]. Cerinthus taught that the angel, the aeon, the God who could touch human matter, came upon Jesus at His baptism and departed from Him at the cross; that Jesus was born as anybody else was born, a man, and that He died as anybody else died, a man; and certainly not resurrected bodily from the dead. Now that is the first Christian heresy. And you find the apostles combating it in the Bible. It’s all through the New Testament, but I’ll point out two passages.
First, from the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 6:20, he says, “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding the oppositions of science falsely so called.” There he names the Gnostic heresy by name. The word translated “science” is gnōsis, gnosticism, and “falsely so-called,” pseudo-nomos, pseudo-nomos, “falsely named”; superior intellectualism that denies the virgin birth [Matthew 1:20-23], the incarnation [John 1:14], the bodily resurrection [Matthew 28:1-7].
You find it again by description in 2 John verse 7, “Many deceivers are entered into the world, who deny that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh” [2 John 1:7]. Now that word translated “is come,” they “deny that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh” [John 1:14], erchomenos, a present participle from erchomai, “to come”; they deny Jesus Christ coming in the flesh. Now erchomai, erchomenos, the participle here, “Jesus Christ coming in the flesh,” the verbal form could refer to His first coming, His virgin birth [Matthew 1:20-23]. They deny that God was incarnate [1 John 4:2-3], that He came, that He appeared, that He was manifest in the flesh [1 Timothy 3:16]. They deny that.
Or the word erchomenos, “coming,” could refer to the second coming of our Lord [Acts 1:11]. They deny that there will be a visible, and personal, and physical appearing of our Lord from heaven. Whichever way John is writing it, these Gnostics are denying that Jesus Christ is God incarnate [John 1:1, 14], that He came in the flesh in his virgin birth [Matthew 1:20-23], that He is coming again in the flesh at the consummation of the age [Matthew 25:31; Acts 1:11].
Now, that heresy of Gnosticism is as rampant and as far-flung today as it was in the days of Paul and John and among those first Christian disciples. World without end they are legion who are in the pulpit and in the theological chairs. And in all of Christendom there are the modern Gnostics. They are denying the incarnation of God in human flesh. They deny blatantly and vigorously the virgin birth [Matthew 1:20-23], and they deny the bodily resurrection of Christ [Matthew 28:1-7], and certainly scoff at the idea that we would ever see a physical, literal, visible personal Lord returning to this earth from heaven [Revelation 1:7].
I so well remember in the days when I was preaching through the Bible, I came to Luke 24. And in the heart of that twenty-fourth chapter of Luke, the last chapter of Luke, is the story of the appearance of our Lord before His apostles. And they were affrighted, thinking that they were looking at a ghost, at a spirit [Luke 24:37].
And the Lord said to the apostles, “Handle Me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones such as ye see Me have,” and asked, “Is there here anything to eat? And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And He did eat before them” [Luke 24:39-43].
Well, I was preaching on that passage, the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead, that He is alive. He, this same Lord Jesus, is alive. He has flesh. He has bones. God has a body now, resurrected, glorified. That was what I was preaching, just as vigorously as I could.
Well, a representative of one of those modern Gnostics was present in the service, and he went out and made the remark to somebody else. He said, “What gross materialism. What carnal physical interpretation.” To him it is unthinkable that God should manifest Himself in human flesh; that God should assume the proportions of a man, and that He should die, and that He should be raised in bodily form from the dead, and that He has a body.
Their Christ is not God incarnate. He’s a man, a hero, a great teacher but just a man. Their Christ is not born of a virgin. Their Christ has no body. Their Christ was not raised from the dead. And their Christ is not coming again. Their Christ is a metaphysical idea. It is a philosophical speculation. Their Christ is an immaterial ghost. Their Christ is an idea.
What would you think of a man who said, “I believe in George Washington, but I don’t believe in George Washington as being a man, a physical existent being; but I believe in George Washington as an idea, as a spirit. I don’t believe in the George Washington who was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia in 1732. I don’t believe in the George Washington who married Martha Custis of Mount Vernon. And I don’t believe in the George Washington who was a general in the Revolutionary War. And I don’t believe in the George Washington whose ideas helped frame the Constitution of the United States. And I don’t believe in the George Washington who was the first president of the republic. But I believe in the George Washington who was a spiritual idea in the days of the Puritan colonies. And I believe in a George Washington whose spirit and whose ideas move in American history today. But I don’t believe in the actual physical George Washington.”
That kind of thinking is rationalism without reason, and it is cerebration without logic. It is the same thing exactly with the presentation of the Christ of the Bible, the manifestation of God and deny the incarnation, deny the manifestation, deny the virgin birth, deny the bodily resurrection, deny that God appeared in human form.
Now, the Bible, the Holy Scriptures, with unswerving unanimity always presents Jesus as being the incarnate God, God of very God [John 1:1, 14], and man of very man [1 Timothy 2:5], God as though He were God alone, man as though He were man alone, a duality in His person, God-Man. And I say the Bible, the Holy Scriptures, with unswerving unanimity always witnesses to that marvelous and divine revelation.
In the Old Testament Scriptures, there appears again and again in bodily form a glorious theophanic Angel. He is called “the Angel of the Presence” or “the Angel of the face of God” [Isaiah 63:9]. He is a marvelous person who is God Himself.
And He appeared in bodily form to Jacob at Peniel [Genesis 32:24-30]. He appeared in bodily form to Joshua as Captain of the host of the Lord before Jericho [Joshua 5:13-15]. He appeared before Isaiah when he saw Him high and lifted up [Isaiah 6:1]. And He appeared before Daniel [Daniel 7:13]. All through the Old Testament there appears a marvelous epiphany, a christophany, a glorious Angel of God.
In the pages of the ages to come, there appears before John that same marvelous, iridescent, glorious Somebody [Revelation 1:9-14]. “His feet are as if they burned like brass in a furnace. His eyes are as a flame of fire. And His countenance is as the sun shineth in His strength. And in His presence John fell at His feet as one dead” [Revelation 1:15-17]. That marvelous Angel, theophanic, angelic, christological, that appears in the Old Covenant, and the glorious Being who appears in the consummation of the ages to come; they are both one and the same. Just that in the valley in between those two great shining peaks there is a brief interlude called the days of His flesh, the days of His incarnation, the days of His humility and suffering; but He is ever the same: the coequal, preexistent Christ; in the ages past glorious, in the ages to come incomparably glorious, and our Lord Jesus of the gospel.
Now I have said that with unswerving unanimity does the Bible witness to that great duality in Christ: God manifested in the flesh [1 Timothy 3:16]. Let’s look at just some of the passages. And we could spend the rest of the day and of the week looking at what God has revealed to us.
One, in the Old Testament: in the ninth chapter of Isaiah and the sixth verse, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given” [Isaiah 9:6]. First: Isaiah speaks of His humanity, “For unto us a Child is born,” and the prophet conducts us to Bethlehem with its stable and its manger [Luke 2:7-16]. He conducts us to the desert with its hunger [Matthew 4:1-11]. He conducts us to the well with its thirst [John 4:6-7]. He conducts us to the carpenter’s shop with its daily toil [Mark 6:3]. He conducts us to the storm, the midnight storm, and the quietness of its miraculous waves ceasing [Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:37-41]. He conducts us to Gethsemane with its agony of soul [Luke 22:42-44]. He conducts us to Calvary, to Golgotha with its cruel execution [Luke 23:33-47].
“For unto us a Child is born” [Isaiah 9:6]. The prophet conducts us to the path from the cradle, from the manger in Bethlehem, to the cross on Golgotha. But he’s not done. Having spoken of the humanity of our Lord, look now: “Unto us a Son is given” [Isaiah 9:6]. He conducts us now to heaven. He was a Son before He was born. And He conducts us to heaven and says, “And His name is Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” [Isaiah 9:6]. Both of them, both of them; the Child born, His humanity, and the Son given, His deity, whose name is the Mighty God and the Everlasting Father [Isaiah 9:6].
The witness of the apostles is uniformly the same. The apostle Paul will write in 1 Timothy [3:16], “Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: namely, God was manifest in the flesh.” That word “great is the mystery of godliness,” eusebeia, from eusebeiō; eusebeiō, means “to worship God.” So the substantive form of it, the noun form of eusebeion means “religion, true religion, true worship.” “Without controversy great is the mystery of true religion,” what? “Namely that God was manifest,” phanerothe, they love that word, “God was manifest in the flesh” [1 Timothy 3:16]. That is true religion and that is true trust, and true belief, and the true faith, and true worship. “God was manifest in the flesh” [1 Timothy 3:16]. I must hasten.
The apostle Peter will use that same word “God manifest,” not a present creation but of prior existence and just manifest now. In 1 Peter chapter 1, verse 20, “He verily was [foreordained] before the foundation of the world, but was phaneroō, manifest in these last times” [1 Peter 1:20]. The manifestation of God, the preexistent Lord Christ, we see now in human flesh. Look again in the apostle John, as he writes in 1 John 3:8, “For this purpose the Son of God was phaneroō, manifested,” the preexistent Son is manifested, “in order that He might destroy the works of the devil.”
“Destroy,” luō, “to break up,” to break up Satan’s house of despair, his prison of souls, his house of hopelessness and helplessness, his program of damnation; Christ the Son of God was manifest, became human flesh that He might break up the kingdom of Satan. And look again just this once more at the beginning of the first epistle of John: “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, the Logos, the Word of life, of God; for the life was manifested” [1 John 1:1-2]. There’s that word phaneroō again.
“And we have seen it, and we bear witness to you, that you may have eternal life; that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you” [1 John 1:3]. What a vigorous statement John makes against those who deny the incarnation of God. “We have seen. We have heard. We have touched. We have handled.” He has flesh and bones. He is a man.
Those disciples handled Jesus, looked upon Jesus, studied Jesus, knew Jesus in the same way that a chemist knows salt, or a geologist knows rocks, or an astronomer observes the stars. And they bore witness, not to a philosophical idea or a metaphysical speculation, but they bore witness to a reality of God manifest in human flesh; God in Christ Jesus.
God became flesh and bones in His birth, in His virgin birth [Matthew 1:23-25]. Christ the Son of God had flesh and bones in His ministry. Christ the Son of God had flesh and bones in His resurrection [Matthew 28:5-7]. Christ the Son of God ascended into heaven a body with flesh and bones [Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:9-11]. The God who sits in the Majesty on high is a man [Hebrews 8:1]. His name is Christ Jesus, God incarnate, God in human flesh. And He presides over the whole creation and makes intercession for us [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25].
And the same Lord God Christ in human form, this same Jesus is someday coming again in bodily form, physical, personal, tangible. We’ll see Him. “Every eye shall see Him” [Revelation 1:7]. That is the gospel. That is the mystery of eusebeia, the mystery of worship, of religion. “God was manifest in the flesh” [1 Timothy 3:16].
Just as there is no such thing as a Jesus who was not born of a virgin [Matthew 1:20-25], just as there is no such thing as a Jesus who was not bodily raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7], just so there is no such thing as a Jesus who is not coming again physically, openly, tangibly, personally [Acts 1:11]. And when we turn aside from the historical Jesus, we turn aside from the gospel. And when we deny Christ coming in the flesh, we deny the very essence and definition of the Christian faith itself.
That’s the gospel. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself: not imputing to us our sins, He was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” [2 Corinthians 5:19-21]. And only God could do it. May I close? I must.
I received a greeting from a beloved physician, a doctor, in our church. And in that greeting he had enclosed this poem:
Our blessed Lord combined in one,
Two natures, both complete;
In perfect manhood all sublime,
In Godhead all replete.
As man He entered 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 mountain’s 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 on earth,
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,
The eternal Prince of Peace.
[adapted from “The Dual Nature of Christ,” author unknown]
That’s our Lord. That’s our Savior. That’s our great Mediator and Friend in heaven. That’s our sympathetic High Priest tried in all points like as we are, just that He was without sin. “Wherefore come boldly to the throne of grace, bow in His presence, call upon His name, that ye may find grace to help in time of need” [Hebrews 4:14-16]. What a glorious and incomparable gospel; the truth of the love of God in Christ Jesus [John 3:16-17]. May we stand together?
Our Lord, if ever it is that we stagger in almost unbelief at such an incomparable truth, that God should assume the form of a man, that Christ is the incarnate preexistent eternal Logos, Word of God, help Thou our unbelief. And may the truth of it, and the simplicity of it, and the glory of it, and the promise of it, and the triumph of it be our praise and rejoicing forever and ever.
And in this moment when we stand before the great God and our Savior Christ Jesus, as Paul calls Him [Titus 2:13], to give your heart in faith to Him, or to put your life in the circle of our dear church; a family, a couple, or one somebody you, make the decision now in your heart. And in this moment, when we pray and sing our hymn of appeal, down one of those stairways, down one of these aisles, come, and welcome. And thank Thee, Lord, for the sweet harvest You give us, in Thy wonderful and glorious name, amen. While we sing, while we wait, while we make appeal.