How Could God Become a Man?
April 16th, 1984 @ 12:00 PM
HOW COULD GOD BECOME A MAN?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-16-84 12:00 p.m.
The theme is the exclamation of doubting Thomas when he looked at the living resurrected Lord, “My Lord and my God” [John 20:28]. That is the theme and the sermons taken from the Gospel are, today, How Could God Become a Man?; tomorrow, How Can God Recreate Me?; the next day, Wednesday, How Can God Save Me Forever?; and on Thursday, How Can God Sympathize with Me?; and on Friday, How Can God Die for Me?; and on Sunday, resurrection Easter day, How Could God Raise Me from the Dead? Each one of the messages from the Gospel of John; and this first one, How Could God Become a Man?
From the first chapter of the Gospel of John, verses 1 and 14. John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Verse 14: “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” [John 1:14]. The incarnation of God: God in human flesh, God becoming a man.
The denial and the perversion of that revelation in the Holy Scriptures has characterized the Christian faith from the beginning to this present day. You could almost write the history of the Christian faith in the heresies that have attacked that doctrine of the humanity and Deity of the Son of God. Arius and the Arian controversy that simply tore apart the Roman Empire; Apollinaris and the Apollinarian controversy; Sabellius and the Sabellian controversy; Nestorius and the Nestorian controversy; Eutyches and the Eutychian controversy. And even in the days of the apostles, they were attacked by heretical teachers, academician sophists called gnostics—from the Greek word ‘know,’ gnosticism.
In the days of Paul and the days of John, they confronted those heretical teachers. For example, one of the sect of those sophists were called Docetic Gnostics. They preached the doctrine that Jesus had just a phantom body, a seeming body, but He was really pure Deity. They denied the humanity of our Lord. Another branch of that gnostic sect that attacked the apostles was Cerinthian Gnosticism, from Cerinthus who was a contemporary of John and lived in Ephesus at the same time that John lived.
The Cerinthian Gnostics taught that the Deity, the unction, of God came upon Jesus at His baptism and left Him at His cross. They denied the Deity of our Lord. You’ll see references to that confrontation with the gnostic heretics throughout the New Testament. For example, John will write in his second letter in the seventh verse: “Many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh”; erchomenos, translated here “come.” It is the participial form of erchomai which means come, erchomenon, erchomenon. You could translate it two ways. You can do it as it is here. They denied that Jesus is God incarnate, God in the flesh. Or you can translate it “coming,” that Jesus is coming in the flesh, a visible, personal, actual man.
In any event, throughout the story of the Christian faith, there have been heretics who have attacked the idea, the gospel that God could become a man, that the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us [John 1:14]. These gnostics are everywhere today. They’re in every part of the church life. They’re in every part of its academic institutions. They’re in every denominational pulpit in the land—modern gnostics denying either the full humanity or the full Deity of Christ, that God could become a man.
I so well remember, when I was preaching through the Bible for those eighteen years, that I came to the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, and in Luke 24:36-43 is the story of the appearance of the risen, resurrected Lord to His disciples. And they thought He was a phantom [Luke 24:37]. They thought He was a ghost. It couldn’t be that it was actually the Lord raised from the dead. So the Lord said, “Handle Me, and see that it is I Myself; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, such as you see Me have” [Luke 24:39]. Then He asked, “Do you have anything here to eat?” And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish, and of a honeycomb. And He did eat before them [Luke 24:41-43].
Now that was the passage that I’d come to in the Bible. Well, there was one of these gnostics who belongs to a denomination—whole denomination is gnostic—and she was present in the service. And when she went out that door she exclaimed to her friend, “Never have I heard anything so crassly material and so grossly physical in my life, that Jesus should have a physical body, raised, immortalized, but flesh and bones, a human man.” Their idea of the Christian faith and of our Lord is that He is a metaphysical idea. He is a philosophical conception. It is a spiritual faith without pertinency to actual human life.
That is the same thing as if a man were to come and to say, “I believe in the idea, in the metaphysical conception of George Washington, but I don’t believe in a man George Washington of a physical existence. I don’t believe in a George Washington who was born in Westmoreland County in Virginia in 1732. I don’t believe in a George Washington who married Martha Custis and lived in Mount Vernon. I don’t believe in a George Washington who led the revolution. I don’t believe in a George Washington whose ideas help frame the Constitution of the United States. I don’t believe in a George Washington who was the president of the new republic. I believe in the idea and in the spirit and in the conception—in the philosophical, metaphysical presentation, of the spirit of George Washington that lives today. But I don’t believe in the actual man.”
There are rationalists without reason. They are logicians without logic. It’s the same gnosticism that denies the deity of our Lord, the incarnation of our Lord [Matthew 1:20-25; John 1:1, 14], the godliness and the physical humanity of our Savior. Yet, when I read the Bible, from beginning to ending, the Bible, with great unswerving unanimity, presents the humanity and deity of the Lord God our Savior all through the Bible.
For example, in the Old Testament there are what you would call theophanies, christophanies, epiphanies. That is God manifest in human form, in human flesh. You have that story in the wonderful conversion of Jacob in the thirty-second chapter of Genesis, who became Israel, the prince of God [Genesis 32:28]. All night long he wrestled with an Angel [Genesis 32:24]. And the thirty-second chapter of the Book of Genesis says that Angel was the Lord God. And Jacob called the place Peniel, the face of God, “because I have seen God and lived” [Genesis 32:30]. That’s a christophany. That’s an appearance of the Lord Christ before the incarnation.
Or take again, in the fifth chapter of the Book of Joshua, there appears before the captain of the host of Israel a glorious warrior. And Joshua asks Him, “Who are You?”
And He says, “As the Captain of the host of the armies of God am I come.”
And Joshua bows before Him, and says, “What will Thou have me to do?” [Joshua 5:13-14].
And that glorious Person says, “Take off your shoes from your feet, for the place whereon you stand is holy ground” [Joshua 5:15]. Who is that glorious Captain? That’s the Preincarnate Christ. It is a theophany. It is a christophany. It’s an appearance of the Lord before He came down into this world incarnate.
Or take again, in the sixth chapter of the prophet Isaiah, the prophet sees the Lord high and lifted up [Isaiah 6:1]. And the seraphim cried, “Holy, holy, holy” [Isaiah 6:3]. And the apostle John in the twelfth chapter of the Gospel says that was Christ the Lord Jesus that Isaiah saw on the throne high and lifted up [John 12:41; Isaiah 6:1]. It’s a christophany. It’s an epiphany. It’s an appearance of God in human form.
We read of it several times in the Book of Daniel. That glorious, illustrious One who comes to the Ancient of Days and is given a kingdom that shall last forever and ever [Daniel 7:13-14]. That’s the preincarnate Christ.
Then when I turn the pages and come to the New Testament, I see again the glorious appearing of that incomparable Lord God in human form. In the ninth chapter of Book of Acts, on his way to Damascus, Saul of Tarsus meets that glorious Lord in the way. His face shines above the brightness of the midday Syrian sun [Acts 9:1-3].
And Saul falls at His feet saying, “Who art Thou, Lord?” [Acts 9:5].
And He replies, “I am Jesus.”
How? “I am Jesus.” He uses His human name. “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest” [Acts 9:5], the humanity and the Deity of our Lord.
The same figure and the same glorious experience is recorded in the first chapter of the Apocalypse. John, on the isle of Patmos [Revelation 1:9], is confronted by One whose face shines above the glory of the sun [Revelation 1:16].
And John says, “I fell at His feet as one dead” [Revelation 1:17].
And he read, “And He laid His right hand upon me, and said, ‘Fear not. . .I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen: and I have the keys of Hell and of Death’” [Revelation 1:17-18].
All through the Word of God, from beginning to ending, you’ll see those christophanies, those theophanies, those epiphanies, those appearances of the great Lord God in human form. And you find the Word of God with unswerving unanimity bearing witness to that great gospel truth—the humanity and the Deity of our Lord.
In the Old Testament we take just one passage, out of Isaiah 9, 9:6, “Unto us a Child is born.” The prophet leads to us to Bethlehem, and to Galilee, and to Calvary. “A Child is born.” Then he adds: “And unto us a Son is given” [Isaiah 9:6]. This is the Lord God, the Son, the glory of the Father. And he says: “And His name is Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father” [Isaiah 9:6].
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul will write in 1 Timothy 3:16: “Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh.” Or, as John will write in the first chapter of his first epistle: “Our hands have handled, our eyes have seen, we have felt and touched the Word of God, the life everlasting” [1John 1:1].
What a chemist knows about salt or water, or a geologist knows about the rocks, or an astronomer observes about the stars, the apostles say they observed, and saw, and touched, and felt, and heard the Lord God incarnate, the living Word, Jesus our Lord [1 John 1-2]. There is no such person as a Jesus who is not the Word, the eternal God [John 1:1]. There is no such person as a Jesus who was not born of a virgin Mary [Matthew 1:20-25]. There is no such person as a Jesus who did not do miraculous works [Matthew 11:4-5; Acts 10:38-39]. There is no such person as a Jesus who did not die for us on the cross [1 Corinthians 15:3]. There is no such person as a Jesus who was not raised from the dead [Matthew 28:5-7]. There is no such person as a Jesus who did not ascend into heaven [Acts 1:9-10]. And there is no such person as a Jesus who is not coming again personally, visibly, the great God-Man, Christ Jesus. “This same Jesus shall so come in like manner as you have seen Him go” [Acts 1:11].
We’re not stargazing. We’re not almanac examining. We are disciples of the living God, with loins girt and lamps lit, with our faces raised upward, praying, waiting, working, serving, till our great Lord God Jesus appears once again [Titus 2:3]. May we pray?
Our Lord, what a hope, what a blessedness, what a faith, what a revelation, what God hath done for us! We praise Thee forever, in Thy glorious and living name, amen.
LORD’S ENTRANCE INTO HUMAN FLESH
I. From the beginning the gospel denied,
A. Development of
Gnosticism in the lifetime of John, Paul
Gnosticism preached Christ never had an actual body
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
conception that God should assume human form
B. The Christ they
preach was never incarnate God
through Luke 24:36-43
III. 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
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
4. John (1 John 3:8,
D. If we depart from
historical Christ, we depart from gospel itself