The Meaning For Us of the God-Man
April 5th, 1981 @ 10:50 AM
THE MEANING FOR US OF THE GOD-MAN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-5-81 10:50 a.m.
As you know, choir and orchestra, I love for you to sing the Word of God. And in the heart of that lyric, in the heart of that text that you just sang is a song, a Christian hymn that Paul quotes in Timothy. It is one of the first Christian hymns that we have any record of sung back there in 50 AD. And for you to sing it here, in a modern melody, isn’t that strange? We have no idea what the song sounded like in that ancient day, because we cannot read the notations. We do not know how the melody went. But with a modern melody, singing the lyric, I think it praises the Lord.
We welcome the uncounted thousands and multitudes of you who share this hour with us on radio and on television. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, bringing the message entitled The Meaning for Us; the God-Man. It is one in a series of doctrinal messages on Christology, on the person of Christ, The Meaning for Us of the God-Man, Christ Jesus.
As a background text, we read from the twenty-seventh chapter of Matthew, beginning at verse 39 – Matthew 27:39:
And they that passed by His cross reviled Him, wagging their heads,
And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save Thyself. If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.
Likewise also the chief priests mocking Him with the scribes and elders, said,
He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He be the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.
He trusted in God; let God deliver Him now, if He will have Him: for He said, I am the Son of God.
Now the reaction of the centurion who supervised the execution, in verse 54: "When the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly, truly this was the Son of God" – the meaning to us of the God-Man, Christ Jesus.
How difficult the conception that in one person, lived, moved, breathed, spoke, was God, a very God; and man, a very man – that in one person could be true deity and true humanity. That difficulty pressed with unbelieving force upon the mind of the Jewish people. How could the great, mighty, Jehovah God, revealed in thunder and in lightning and in earthquake on Mt. Sinai, in giving the testimony of the Law and of the Commandments [Exodus 19:18] – how could that mighty, omnipotent God ever be a man?
I say, with unrelenting force, that conception pressed upon the minds of the Jewish people. There was the judgment hall, where their worst sinners and worst traitors and worst criminals were judged and sentenced and condemned. In that very judgment hall, they saw Him judged and condemned. Their own leaders, the high priest and the priests of the temple, the learned Sadducees and Pharisees, and doctors and scribes of the Law, they clamored for His blood and accused Him unto death.
There, on that hill, just outside the city gate, is the place where He was executed, crucified as a malefactor, as a criminal [Luke 23:32-33]. And in their midst, His own relatives lived among them. How could He be God?
No less so did the difficulty of that conception press upon the minds and judgments of His disciples, His own apostles. They were expecting a messianic kingdom of earthly splendor, and when they saw the promised Messiah, their hope, crucified and buried, buried with Him in the dust and heart of the ground was every vision they’d entertained for a beautiful messianic tomorrow.
We can hardly describe the abject disappointment and frustration and despair of those apostles and disciples when they saw Jesus die. Even the apostle Thomas, who was with the Lord through all the days of His flesh, who saw His wonderful miracles, who listened to His incomparable words – even Thomas said, "Except I put my finger in the nail prints of His hands and except I thrust my hand into the scar in His side, I will not believe" [John 20:25].
One of the most unusual little notes, little addenda, in the whole Bible to me is in the twenty-eighth chapter, the last chapter, of the Book of Matthew, in verse 17. This is the description of the five hundred of the disciples of our Lord that are meeting Him on an appointed mountain in Galilee, and it says, "And when they saw him – the risen and resurrected Lord – they worshiped Him." Now, that little addendum: "but some doubted." They were looking at Him, immortalized, glorified, raised from the dead, "but some doubted." The difficulty of the deity and the humanity in one person was beyond what the human mind could contain.
But, when the apostles and the disciples were persuaded of it, were convinced of it, they laid down their lives for the truth of it. All of them were martyred except John, who was exiled to die of exposure and starvation [Revelation 1:9].
And the kerugma, the announcement of the gospel, that they proclaimed to the world, changed the course of human civilization. It literally changed the channel of the world. And that announcement, that kerugma, that preaching of the gospel that Jesus is God, that He is Lord of heaven and earth, has come down to us [Colossians2:9]. And that is the sermon this morning, the meaning for us of the God-Man, God in human flesh.
First, in the incarnation: in God in human form, we have all truth and wisdom and knowledge in a warm human form – pertinent, close, comforting. For in Him, as Paul wrote in Colossians, "dwelleth all wisdom and knowledge and righteousness" [Colossians 2:3].
What is God like? Look at Jesus. How shall I learn about the Lord? Sit at the feet of the blessed Jesus. In Him the whole substance and revelation of God is revealed. Would a man know God? Know the Lord Jesus. Would a man follow God? Follow the Lord Jesus. Worship God? Worship Jesus. Love God? Love Jesus. He is the revelation of all truth and righteousness and wisdom, the glory of God.
For us, He is precept, for He is "the way." For us, He is doctrine, for He is "the truth." For us, He is experience, for He is "the life" [John 14:6]. If I would know God, look at Jesus.
No longer must we take down from the library shelf a dusty, dry, heavy tome and pore over its pages, reading those cabalistic, mysterious, double-meaning sentences to find the truth of the Almighty. I can just look to Jesus, and there is revealed the fullness of the glory and meaning of God. I may be puzzled at the innumerable theories of the atonement, but if I would know the forgiveness of sins, trust in Jesus – look to Jesus.
In my doctoral work, in my Ph.D. work, I minored – one of my minors was the atonement. And for two years, unceasingly for two years, I studied the atonement. I passed the examination on it in a room filled with learned professors. And when at the end of the two years and I was given the doctor’s degree, I knew no more about the atonement than when I began. If you are puzzled by God’s sacrifice for sins, just look to Jesus. Trust in Jesus.
I may stagger before those divine mysteries that concern theology, that overpower the minds of the greatest thinkers of the two thousand years of Christendom, but I can look to Jesus. I can trust in Him.
The Christian faith is, above all things else, an objective religion, an objective faith. It is out of ourselves and away from ourselves and looking at Jesus. The Holy Spirit is our mentor and our instructor and His lesson is the Lord Jesus. He will not speak of Himself, but He reveals to us the glory of God in Christ Jesus [John 16:13-15].
Verily, verily, I think out of the years of the experience of my own pastoral work, I have a cure for every psychotic and neurotic and paranoid and schizophrenic. Everyone that has an aberration of mind, I have a simple cure: just forget about yourself. Quit looking at yourself. Quit thinking about yourself and look to Jesus. There’s healing and salvation, life for a look at the Crucified One. If I seek knowledge and wisdom, if I seek salvation and light, I can find it looking at Jesus:
Turn your eyes and look upon Jesus.
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of this world
Will grow strangely dim
In the light of His knowledge and grace.
["Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus," Helen Lemmel]
The meaning for us of the God-Man.
Number two: in the incarnation – in God revealing Himself in human form and in human flesh, in the incarnation, we see a new dimension of God. In Christ, He is revealed as our wonderful Savior, our tender, loving Shepherd. That is especially, cognitively emphatic against the background of the conception of "god" in most of the histories of the families of the earth.
For the most part, "god" appears to be fierce. I remember, in Calcutta, standing in a temple before a god in the midst of a great group of worshipers. And as I stood there in their midst, and looked at the god before whom they were bowing, his face was terrible. His visage was horrible, his hands like claws, and his teeth bared – a terrible vision. And I said to one of the Hindu worshipers there – I said, "God is so fierce." And he replied to me, "Indeed, and that’s why I worship him. I am afraid of him."
Many of you have been in Bangkok, before all of those temples of those pagan, heathen gods in Bangkok. You see images that are fierce in the extreme.
In Oyo, in the heart of central Africa, I went to see the king. And there, before his spacious compound, where he lived with about thirty or forty of his wives and their children, before that very large compound was a devil house where he worshiped the devil. And I asked him, "Why, at the entrance to your home, your compound, do you have a house where you worship the devil?" And he said to me, "I’m afraid of him. I am scared of him. He can do me harm."
Even in the revelation of God in the Old Testament, the number one attribute of Jehovah in the Old Testament is holiness: an unapproachable righteousness, perfection, holiness. And that separates us from God.
In the beginning, in the story, because of sin, God drove out Adam and Eve, our first parents, from His presence in the garden of Eden [Genesis 3:22-24]. The God that was revealed as the administrator of the covenant of Moses was in lightning and in thunder and in earthquake, so much so that if even one chanced to touch the mountain, he was immediately killed [Exodus 19:12-13].
And in the later revelation of the worship of God, in the temple, there was a wall to keep these out; and on the inside of that, another wall to keep these out; and on the inside of them, a wall to keep others out; and finally, a door of a sanctuary to keep all of them out. And on the inside of the sanctuary, there was a veil into which no one could enter into the sanctuary of God but a high priest, once a year, with blood of expiation [Hebrews 9:3-7] – the separation of the holiness of God from His people.
But in Christ, in Jesus, we have a new dimension of the revelation of our Father in heaven. Go with me to Bethlehem, where He was incarnate, where He became human flesh [Luke 2:12-16]. Tell me, wouldn’t anybody feel welcome, perfectly at home, in the presence of a baby in a manger, born in a cattle stall and surrounded by flocks and herds and goats and cattle? Even the untutored and the unknowledgeable shepherds glorified God in the presence of such a gift from heaven.
And in His ministry, He took little children in His arms and blessed them. He preached the gospel of hope to the poor. He healed all who were sick [Matthew 11:4-5], and, "The common people heard Him gladly" [Mark 12:37]. The humanity of God in Christ Jesus is the greatest comfort we could ever know in our lives.
I thought, today, if you take your Bible and open to the Book of Hebrews, you might mark three passages especially that speak of the meaning for us of the humanity of God: that He revealed Himself our friend and our shepherd in Christ Jesus. The first is in Hebrews 4 – chapter 4, the last two verses – Hebrews chapter 4, Hebrews chapter 4, verses 15, 16. Read it out loud together with me:
For we have not a High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, though He without sin.
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
Turn with me back to chapter 2, the last two verses – Hebrews chapter 2, verses 17 and 18. Now read it out loud with me:
Wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.
For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succor them that are tempted.
Our Lord, living our life, knowing all about us, understanding every trial that we experience. And the last, we won’t read. It’s in chapter 12, but mark it. Hebrews chapter 12, beginning at verse 18 through verse 24:
For we have not come to the mount that… burned with fire – to Mount Sinai…
That at the sound of the trumpet of… His voice so frightened the people they said, Speak to us no more…
So terrible was the sight, that even Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake.
We have not come to Mount Sinai with its fire and its judgment: but
Ye are come to unto Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, to the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels,
To the general assembly and church of the firstborn whose names are written in heaven, and to…
Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, to a blood of sacrifice that speaketh better things than that of Abel.
What the author of the Book of Hebrews is saying is that, in Christ, being as we are – human – He sympathizes and understands every experience that we have. Many a sufferer in a long night has found comfort in the presence of the Lord Jesus.
At the funeral service of my father, I so well remember the pastor saying, "I went to see Mr. Criswell in the hospital where he died, and I said to him, ‘Mr. Criswell, how are you getting along?’ And he replied, ‘Pastor, the nights are long and lonely, but Jesus is with me.’"
How many an agonizing soul has been comforted with the remembrance of our Lord’s intercession in Gethsemane? [John 17:1-26]. And how many a martyr has clapped his hands for joy and sung praises of exaltation remembering the crucifixion of our Lord? [Matthew 27:32-50]. That’s the meaning of the God-Man for us: to sympathize, to understand, to help, to comfort, to be a fellow pilgrim with us in our journey from this world to the world that is to come.
Number three: the meaning of the God-Man for us. First, He revealed to us all truth and wisdom and knowledge in a warm, human form. Number two, He brought to us a new dimension of God as a shepherd, as a loving Savior, as a sympathetic and understanding Intercessor and Mediator and High Priest. Number three, only God can forgive sins, and Jesus as God paid the sacrifice, an atoning offering, in order that we might be forgiven our sins.
What or who can wash sins away, the stain out of our souls forgiven so that we can appear spotless and without blemish in the presence of the holy and righteous God? Who can deliver us from the penalty and judgment of death and sin? All the blood of bulls and goats that was ever poured out on all the sacrificial altars of the world couldn’t forgive our sins. "Shall I offer my son or my daughter as a sacrifice for my sin?" [Micah 6:7].
Do you remember the heart-cry of Micah, the prophet in Micah, chapter 6, verses 6 and 7:
Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God? shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
Who can forgive sins and wash the stain of transgression out of our souls? Who? Can the greatest saints and leaders of the world, those who passed through the pages of the Bible and through human history? Can they forgive our sins? Can Moses die for me? Could he? Could David or Daniel or Samuel die for me? Could the great saints of the new covenant – Peter, James, Paul, John – could they die for me? Could they? In heaven, are there those in the angelic orders who can make expiation for my sin? Could the angels, could the archangels, die for me – Michael or Gabriel?
Who can make the atoning sacrifice for my sins? It was because of who He was; it was because of the preeminence of His person that gave efficacy, power to the saving sacrifice of the Son of God. It was because He was God that He was able to atone for our sins. No one else could achieve it – the meaning for us of the God-Man.
And in our behalf, as the Scriptures say, our Lord "tasted death for every one of us" [Hebrews 2:9]. He died and paid the penalty for each one of us. And no one can enter into the grief of Jesus as He died for us – no one. When Satan afflicted Job, righteous Job, God said to Satan, "You can take away everything that he has, but upon him, lay not your hand" [Job 1:12]. And in the next chapter, God says to Satan, "You can afflict him, but spare his life" [Job 2:6].
But there was no interdiction and there was no reserve when Satan afflicted Jesus bearing the sins of this world. They spit upon Him. They beat Him. They mocked Him and jeered Him. They crucified Him [Matthew 27:30-50]. Isaiah 52:14 says, "His visage was more marred than that of any man." Isaiah 53:11 says, "God shall see of the travail of His soul." I don’t know what that means. How He suffered in His soul – the holy, pure, and righteous Jesus, I don’t know. It is just that it was God making atonement for our sins, that we might be delivered from the judgment of death and of hell, that we might be saved, that we might see God’s face someday and live.
Last, the incarnation of God: God in Christ, the God-Man, took away nothing of His glory; rather, His humanity, His condescension, His humiliation; His suffering has ministered to His greater glory. As the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of John says, Christ had a glory before the world was [John 17:5]. But this is an added glory. That glory that Jesus had – God before the world was – was an incommunicable glory of deity, an unshared glory of God.
But this glory is a glory of His humanity, a shared glory with the redeemed family of God, for whom He paid His life and bought us with His own blood [1 Corinthians 6:19-20], and counts us as brothers and sisters in the household of faith. And that’s why we praise Him, and sing songs about Him, and preach sermons about Him, and seek to serve Him all the days of our lives: what He has done for us, adopted us sinners into the holy, heavenly family of God [Romans 8:15-17].
My brother, if the world – the whole world – were an alabaster box, and it includes heaven itself, He would be worthy if it were broken and its oil of perfume poured out upon Him. Thus it is that, when the preacher preaches Christ – when he preaches Christ, the people are blessed, and there is life and light and salvation and elevation that comes to the soul that listens to the message of the preacher that preaches Christ – not extraneous drivel, not grinding out a tune of a pet economic or political persuasion, but preaching Jesus, lifting up the Lord.
Tell me, did you ever hear any Christian in your life go out of the service and say, "The pastor preached too much about Jesus today. He exalted Christ too highly today. The pastor preached Jesus too joyfully and too zealously and too triumphantly and too hopefully today"? Did you ever hear that?
Tell me, did you ever stand at the door and see a Christian man walk out of the congregation with a long, sad face and say, "You know, the pastor today exaggerated Jesus too much. He exalted the Lord too highly"? Did you ever hear that?
Tell me, did you ever hear of anyone who was sick and listening on the radio or watching on television, who said, "You know today the pastor preached too much about Jesus. He had too many words of loving adoration about the Lord." Did you ever hear that?
Tell me, did you ever know anyone who was bowed down with indescribable sorrow and grief who ever said, "I’m bitter because the pastor came and brought me a loving promise from Him who said, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee’"? [Hebrews 13:5]. Did you ever hear it? Somehow, preaching Christ is life, and salvation, and hope, and heaven; "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me" [John 12:32].
If Jesus Christ is a man, and only a man – I say that of all mankind, I will follow Him, and Him will I follow always. But, if Jesus Christ is a God, and the only God, I swear I will follow Him through heaven and hell, the earth, the sea, and the air – the meaning for us of the God-Man, incarnate God, Christ Jesus, our Lord and our Savior. Now may we stand together?
Wonderful, wonderful Savior, O that we had the words to say it better, to exalt Thee the more gloriously. How worthy Thou art, the theme of our songs in heaven, worthy, worthy, worthy! [Revelation 5:12]. And, our Lord, to bow at Thy feet in the days of our pilgrimage, to look unto Thee, to love Thee, seeking to serve Thee. O God, place Thy hand upon us in blessing. Speak to our hearts the encouragement for the way. And in Thee, sitting at Thy feet, may we come to know the deep, beautiful, treasured truths that belong to God. Forgive our sins. Write our names in the Book of Life. Save us, Lord, to Thyself in heaven, and make us a blessing in earth. Thank Thee for the family of God and for opening the door to welcome us as one of Thy redeemed.
And while our people pray, in a moment, when our choir sings an appeal, a family you, to give your hearts to God or to put your life with us in this dear church, a couple you, or just one somebody you, out of the balcony, down a stairway, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, "Pastor, we have decided for God. Our hearts are open heavenward and Christ-ward, and we’re coming."
Make the decision now. And in that moment when we sing, that first step will be the most beautiful and meaningful you’ll ever make. And thank Thee, Lord, for the precious harvest, for these who come, in Thy dear and saving name, Amen.
While we sing, welcome. Come.