Last week, I introduced you to this quote from A.W. Tozer: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Every one of us has theology, what we believe about God, and it shapes everything we do. So, we’re doing a series called I Believe: Exploring the Theology of the Apostle’s Creed. Again, theology is what you think about God. And this particular creed, or set of beliefs, is a great summary of biblical, accurate thoughts about God.
Last week I told you I have three goals for you with this series:
- I want to help you clarify your beliefs. To know what you believe.
- I want to challenge some of your beliefs. I want to help you align your beliefs with Scripture
- I want to check your definition of what it means to be Christian. If you say you’re Christian, does that match what Scripture and the Church have said for 2,000 years?
I want to start by reading the whole Apostle’s Creed. It dates back as early as 150 AD. First formal statement of belief, outside of the Bible that the church wrote. They taught with it, and they challenged false teachers with it. It’s a great summary of the basics of the Christian faith.
I believe in God,
the Father Almighty
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ,
God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate
was crucified, died, and was buried;
On the third day, he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of Father
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy universal Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
One of the things you might notice about this is that it’s distinctly Trinitarian: I believe in God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Today, we begin the section on Jesus. It reads like this:
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
This is packed with theology about Jesus. So, let me highlight the phrases:
- Jesus – the human name given to a baby born in Bethlehem
- Christ – the title of Messiah-Savior of the Old Testament
- God’s only Son – a title of exclusive divine status & relationship
- Our Lord – the highest divine king, master, and ruler over your life
- Conceived by the Holy Spirit – divine in conception; not having earthly father
- Born of virgin Mary – human in delivery
Do you notice the contrast, the tension here? Human and divine. How is that possible? Those things don’t go together. That’s as ridiculous as saying: oil and water, republicans and democrats, Taylor Swift and a regular, sane person.
Well, theologians have developed a term for this: the incarnation. In Jesus, God became flesh. Jesus was fully God and fully human. I have two things to help us understand the incarnation. First is a great quote; second is a short video.
First, I found this quote while researching. It’s one of the clearest explanations of the incarnation that I found. I wanted to share it with you. I’m going to read it slowly so that it’s easy to follow along
“The incarnation of Christ is a central Christian doctrine that God became flesh, assumed a human nature, and became a man in the form of Jesus, the Son of God and the second person of the Trinity. This foundational Christian position holds that the divine nature of the Son of God was perfectly united with human nature in one divine Person, Jesus, making him both truly God and truly man. The Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son, became flesh when he was miraculously conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary.”
Do you know where I found that? Wikipedia. Who knew that Wikipedia could have solid, biblical theology?
Next, here’s a video from a great series called “3-Minute Theology”. As you might have guessed, it’s 5 minutes long… J/k. It’s about 3 minutes long. In addition to talking about what the incarnation is; it also talks about what it is not.
The word incarnation doesn’t appear in the Bible. So, where does it come from?
- Earlier you heard from Philippians 2, where Jesus was the same nature as God but also became the same nature as a human.
- I could read from John 1 where Jesus was with God from the beginning and he became flesh to be with us.
But this week, I want to read you the beginning of the incarnation—the birth of Jesus. Two of the gospels, Luke & Matthew, give detailed accounts of the incarnation. Today, we’re going to look at Luke.
So, you can flip to Luke 1:26-35. This story begins with a person named Elizabeth. This is Mary’s cousin and the mother of John the Baptist. While Mary was pregnant with Jesus, Elizabeth was pregnant with John. Also, as you read this, listen for the words of the Apostle’s Creed about Jesus: Christ, Son, Lord, virgin, and Holy Spirit.
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
There’s the setup. Mary was a virgin, pledged (similar to engaged) to Joseph, and an angel comes to her.
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.
His human name Jesus means “Jehovah saves”. That’s an incredible title there – “Son of the Most High.” He was the divine Son of God (“Most High is a common OT name for God.”)
The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
That’s Lordship right there. The angel is saying, “He will be our Lord.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
I think that’s a pretty legitimate question… Here’s God’s solution: conception from the Holy Spirit.
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.
I know there’s a little more, but I want to stop here. The Holy Spirit would conceive Jesus. It wouldn’t be Joseph. Do you see that word “So”? It can also be translated “therefore”.
Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit; therefore, he will be holy and called the Son of God
Why was it important Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit but born of Virgin Mary?
If he had two human parents… he couldn’t really be God. The best he could get would be to receive some divinity during his life. Or be divinely empowered. But he would still be human. Still subject to the original sin of Adam. Still broken. He could not be the Son of God. He could not be the Lord. There are strictly divine titles.
If he was born solely by God (not Mary) … He would be fully divine, but he wouldn’t be human. If Jesus just came down from the Trinity, he would only look human. But not be human. He wouldn’t understand our pain, temptations, our sorrows. He couldn’t save humanity from sin by becoming the punishment for us.
Jesus was fully God, fully human. The same essence and substance, God and man. One didn’t diminish the other.
There are a few implications of this
(1) It sets Christianity apart from every other world religion that exists or has ever existed. Other religions have gods and holy men. But none claims to have a holy God-man like Jesus. Even virgin births aren’t uncommon in religious systems of the Ancient Near East. In Greek mythology, Zeus was constantly impregnating women. But the result was never a God-Man. It was a demigod, like Hercules. A single combined nature and essence. But that wasn’t Jesus. He was two complete natures in one. So, when someone says that all religions are the same or that savior archetypes are all the same, they’re not. Jesus is completely different and unparalleled.
Now is when it gets personal…
(2) Jesus is with you. God is not out there. Here’s right here. He’s standing next to me; sitting next to you. He was with me every step of the way for 13.1 miles.
(3) Jesus understands you. Because of the incarnation, Jesus can relate. He can empathize.
Come to Jesus. Remember, God is “not far from any one of us”.