************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 19 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 15, 2009
Belgic Confession Article 19
"The Two Natures of Christ"
The thoughtful Christian is puzzled, confused, and intrigued by the relation of the human to the divine in the one person Jesus Christ. How is one's mind to comprehend the idea that there is a person Who is both fully human and fully divine at the same time? All sorts of questions come to mind:
-If He was fully divine, why did He get tired?
-Why did He weep?
-How was Jesus able to go forty days without eating? How are we to understand the temptations that followed?
-Was Jesus all-powerful? For instance, was the weight of the 400 pound cross as light to Him as a feather?
-Was Jesus omniscient? Did He know the earth was round in an age when many believed it was flat and square? Did He know Einstein's theory of relativity 1900 years before it was discovered?
-If Jesus was and is God, how come He did not know the day or the hour of the second coming?
Let me remind you of where we are at in the Belgic Confession of Faith. We are dealing with the doctrine of Christ. Article 16 tells us about election - salvation planned. Article 17 tells us about God's promise in the Garden to crush the head of the serpent - salvation promised. Article 18 tells us about the incarnation - salvation accomplished. Article 19 finishes the Confession's examination of the doctrine of Christ - as it looks at the two natures of Christ in terms of our salvation.
One thing to keep in mind today: we need to have a sense of mystery and awe, worship and adoration, as we consider the two natures of Christ. We need to be like the Apostle John in the Revelation. John, if you remember, was given a glimpse of the glorified Christ. What was his response? John writes, "When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead" (Rev 1:17). John was awed into silence and humbled into prostration. That should be our response as well as we meet Him Who is fully divine and fully human.
I The Christ of Chalcedon and Athanasia
A Article 19 of the Belgic Confession of Faith has its roots in history way back in history, all the way back to the fourth and fifth centuries. But before we go there, let me explain the problem faced by the fourth and fifth century church.
The fourth and fifth centuries saw various attempts to relate the divinity and humanity of Jesus. The attempts fell into two main groups or schools of thought.
How are the human and divine related to each other in Jesus? One school of thought stressed the unity of Christ's two natures. This school said the Christ was one person with one nature and one will. This position destroyed the uniqueness of Christ's two natures so that they were mixed or interwoven with each other.
The person identified with this heresy is Eutyches. Eutyches was a fifth-century leader of a monastery outside Constantinople whose teaching overemphasized the divine nature of Christ. His teaching was that the eternal Son absorbed the human nature at the incarnation, and all that really remained was the divine nature. In other words, Jesus' humanity became divine. Do you see what this does? Do you see what is wrong with this? Christ is no longer human like us. He is no longer one with us. Instead, He is a third kind of being. To use an analogy, Christ's divine nature was like hot water, while His human nature was like cold water. When these two waters are combined, you end up with something else lukewarm water.
Under this view it is easy to answer the questions I posed at the start of this sermon. The temptations they really were nothing. Same with the 400 pound cross. Same with the forty days of fasting. Again, Jesus isn't really one of us and one with us.
B The other school of thought emphasized the separation of the two natures in Christ. This school said that Jesus was two persons with two natures and two wills. This position tore apart the unity of the human and the divine in Christ and made them separate unlike the first school which mixed them with each other. Jesus, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, became a person with a multiple personality: sometimes He was God and sometimes He was man.
The person identified with this heresy is Nestorius. Nestorius was a bishop of Constantinople whose trouble began with the phrase "bearer of God" as applied to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Nestorius did not like this phrase. He preached provocative sermons, saying, for instance, that Mary could not carry the deity for nine months, the deity could hardly be wrapped in diapers, and God certainly could not suffer and die and be buried. The eternal Son of God, according to Nestorius, lived in the man Jesus as in a temple. To use an analogy, the divine was like oil and the human was like water. When you pour them into the same container, the oil simply rests on top of the water. There is no union; only division and distinction.
C What does the church say about these two heresies and the union of the human and divine in Jesus? Let's start with the Formula of Chalcedon on your hand-out. Right smack in the middle are the two most important lines in the history of Christianity when it comes to the relation of the two natures of Christ. The line starts with the word "recognized":
recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separationDo you hear the words "without confusion, without change"? These words condemn Eutyches who said Christ was one person with one nature and one will. Do you hear the words "without division, without separation"? These words condemn Nestorius who said Christ was two persons with two natures and two wills.
Next, I ask you to turn to the Athanasian Creed at the back of the Psalter Hymnal (p.816):
Although he is God and human, yet Christ is not two, but one. [This is against Nestorius.]
He is one, however, not by his divinity being turned into flesh, but by God's taking humanity to himself. He is one, certainly not by the blending of his essence, but by the unity of his person. [This is against Eutyches.]
How would I sum up the teaching of Chalcedon and Athanasia? Christ is one person with two natures and two wills.
In Article 19, the Belgic Confession is very faithful to the teachings of the Scriptures and the early church. Against the teachings of those who would say Jesus is one person with one nature and one will, the Confession says,
We believe ... there are ... two natures united in a single person, with each nature retaining its own distinct properties ...
And, against those who would say Jesus is two persons with two natures and two wills, the Confession says
... there are not two Sons of God, nor two persons, but two natures united in a single person.The two natures and two wills of Jesus are joined together in the one person. It was this way when He was a baby in Bethlehem. It was this way upon the cross. It was even this way in the grave.
The Confession views this teaching to be so important the teaching that Christ's two natures are united in a single person that it gives us three illustrations.
The first illustration. What did Jesus do at the moment of death? He committed a real human spirit to His Father's care. What, then, was separated from Christ's body when He gave His spirit to His Father? Committed to the Father "was a real human spirit" and not His divine nature.
The second illustration. What was in the grave? Even there, Christ's divine nature was united to His body.
The third illustration. Who was the baby in the manger and the little child in Egypt? Even then He was man and God. His deity may not have been obvious, but it was there. Even as a child He had the power to calm storms, give sight to the blind, heal the sick, raise the dead, and multiply loaves and fish.
II Christ has a Divine Nature
The teaching of Scripture is plain Christ has a divine nature. The Belgic Confession puts it this way:
Thus His divine nature has always remained uncreated, without beginning of days or end of life ...This is based upon Hebrews 7:3. There, we are told about the intriguing figure of Melchizedek who resembles the Son of God in that he was "without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life" (Heb 7:3). This is a perfect description of Jesus' divine nature.
Speaking of Christ's divine nature, the Confession continues by telling us it fills heaven and earth. Remember Jesus' promise before He ascended into heaven? Jesus promised, "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Mt 28:20). And He is: in divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit He is not absent from us for even a moment (cf Heidelberg Catechism, Q & A 47). Christ never leaves us because His divine nature fills heaven and earth. He is everywhere present.
This means over against the Lutherans that Christ's divinity goes outside of and beyond the bounds of His humanity. Christ's divinity is not confined to His body (cf Heidelberg Catechism, Q & A 48).
III Christ has a Human Nature
The teaching of Scripture is plain Christ also has a human nature. The Belgic Confession puts it this way:
His human nature has not lost its properties but continues to have those of a creature it has a beginning of days; it is of a finite nature and retains all that belongs to a real body. And even though he, by his resurrection, gave it immortality, that nonetheless did not change the reality of his human nature ...Remember what our Scripture reading from Hebrews said? It told us that Jesus "shared in their humanity" (Heb 2:14); and, "he had to be made like his brothers in every way" (Heb 2:17).
We see this, don't we, when we look at the Biblical record? In contrast to His divine nature, which is "uncreated, without beginning of days or end of life, filling heaven and earth," His human nature was created, had beginning of days, and is finite. Furthermore, we see the reality of Jesus' humanity when we consider that He grew in wisdom and stature (Lk 2:52), that He knew exhaustion (Mk 4:38), that He knew hunger (Mt 4:2), that He knew thirst (Jn 4:7). Jesus could be happy and He could also be angry and grieved (Mk 3:5). And how real was our Lord's humanity when He wept at the grave of His friend, Lazarus (Jn 11:35)!
Now, why all this stress on the humanity and divinity of Christ? Why is it so important that we confess He is both true God and true man? Why is it so important for us to confess that He is both God and man without division or separation, without confusion or change? Why is it so important for us to confess He is one person with two natures and two wills?
At the end of Article 19, we are told why this is important for you and for me:
These are the reasons why we confess him to be true God and true mantrue God in order to conquer death by his power, and true man that he might die for us in the weakness of his flesh.Remember the context? Salvation planned. Salvation promised. Salvation accomplished. At stake is our salvation.
In saying this the Confession undoubtedly has the words of the Apostle Paul in mind:
(Rom 4:25) He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Think about this. If Jesus were God and NOT man, then He could not have died, for God cannot die. On the other hand, if Jesus were man and NOT God, then He could not have been raised from the grave, for man is incapable of conquering death.
Let's go a step further. If Jesus were God and NOT man, then He did not die for our sin and there is no forgiveness. On the other hand, if Jesus were man and NOT God, then He was not raised for our justification and there is no new life and no future life.
Do you see why Jesus has to be true God and true man at one and the same time? He has to be or He is but half a Savior and ours is but half a salvation.
"Praise God," I say. "Praise God." For ours is not half a Savior and ours is not half a salvation. Our Savior is true God and true man. And our salvation is full and complete. To paraphrase Paul:
He had to be man to be delivered over to death for our sins; and He had to be God to be raised to life for our justification.
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