Becoming Truly Human

In his work On the Incarnation, the 4th century church father Athanasius of Alexandria wrote, “He [Jesus] became what we are that we might become what he is.”

At first glance, it might be easy to think Athanasius means we become god–or a god. Certainly theologians over the years have argued that.

But that’s not quite right.

When we trust in Jesus, we don’t get to become a god.

We get to become truly human again.

You see, we were created in the image of God. That’s what it means to be human. But because of sin and its destructive effects, our image bearing is marred.

We were created to live in perfect, sweet fellowship with our Father in heaven. But we don’t. We can’t.

We are like cracked mirrors reflecting God’s glory and beauty. So, we are still image bearers, but the reflection is far from ideal. In a way, we can say that we are functionally operating as “less than human.” That’s what sin does.

Enter Jesus.

The Second Person of the Trinity took on flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and lived a perfectly obedient human life, always walking in perfect, intimate fellowship with his Father in heaven.

When God gives someone new life by his Spirit, he begins to transform them to become more like Jesus–the perfect Human. The horrible effects of sin are being undone, as it were, and we learn what it means to truly be image bearers and live before God in constant fellowship.

This process isn’t ever completed this side of the grave. The cracks are still there.

But God is working (slow as it seems to us). And we’re becoming truly human again.

I can’t help but think of Jesus’ words in John 10:10: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

The full life is lived with, under, and before God. It’s what we were made for. It’s what it means to be truly human. And it’s only possible because the Son took on flesh.


Day 6: The Word Became Flesh

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The unique thing about John’s Gospel is that it predates the birth narrative of Jesus. Not just by a few years or decades. It goes back before the foundation of the world, into the annals of eternity.

John introduces us to the Word—logos in the Greek language. Logos does not really mean “word,” as we know it in English. We simply don’t have another word that expresses its meaning. In Greek philosophy, logos carried with it the idea of a central, divine, organizing principle of the universe. What John does is connect this idea to the beginning of creation (“In the beginning…”, Gen. 1:1) to convey the notion of God’s divine self-expression. Thus, John goes beyond the Greek philosophers who came before him. The logos is indeed central to the origin and purpose of the universe. But it’s not an impersonal force or an idea. This Word, this logos, this self-expression has found fulfillment and completion in a person. John identifies this person as the “the only Son from the Father” (v. 14), the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ.

God’s solution to the brokenness of this world was not to ignore it, start over, or let us fend or ourselves. He entered. The God who created the universe and everything in it, took part in his creation. It’s like Shakespeare entering Romeo and Juliet or Macbeth and participating in the story he’s writing. Can you believe it? A Creator who lives not only among created things but partakes of flesh and blood, skeleton and muscle, tendons and ligaments? One who gets hungry, stubs his toes, enjoys sunsets, and, yes, even goes to the bathroom? It seems to good to be true.

But it’s not too good to be true. It’s the miracle of the incarnation. Advent means the end of vague spirituality, it also means the beginning of God-in-the-flesh spirituality. Christmas is the celebration that God has acted in time and space. And this changes everything.

Scripture and Reflection Questions
Read John 1:1-18

  1. How should the fact that God enters creation in flesh and blood change your outlook on the physical and material?
  2. Read v. 11. Who are Jesus’ “own”? Why didn’t they receive him? How is that a warning to you?
  3. Have you received Jesus and become a child of God? If not, what’s holding you back? If so, how should your life be different?
  4. If you know grace and truth through Jesus, how then should you live today?
  5. Read John 14:9. How can you cultivate a desire to look at Jesus, and therefore God, more and more?

From We Look for Light: Readings and Reflections for Advent


A Beautiful Rose from a Rotten Tree

Everyone has a beloved Christmas hymn–I mean the classic, Christmas songs about “baby Jesus.” Even if you aren’t a devoted Christian, you have found yourself happily singing “Joy to the World” or “O Holy Night” because of the rapturous power in these songs.

Christmas carols and hymns like these often drip with deeper theological meaning than the “regular” songs we sing the other eleven months of the year. Most, if not all, of the classic Christ-centered “Christmas songs” were not written simply to be sung on or around December 25. They, like all other hymns, are instructional in nature. That is, they were written so that congregations would be taught sound doctrine as they sung them. The incarnation of the Son of God that we celebrate during our modern Christmas season is a part of sound doctrine and therefore Christians needed to be taught about it. That is why “Christmas” hymns, as we know them, exist.

One of my favorite Christmas hymns is not typically sung on the radio or during the CMA Country Christmas. It is ”Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming.” As I’ve already alluded to, this hymn, like others, is not simply a “Christmas song.” It is designed to teach on the theme of the “righteous Branch” spoken of by the prophets (see Isaiah 4:2; 11:1; Jeremiah 23:1-7; 33:14-16). God promised David that his offspring would rule the world forever (2 Sam. 7). The prophets pick up on this theme and teach that from David’s family tree would come a Branch that would rule the world in righteousness and justice. That Branch, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth, son of David, who would save his people from their sins and reign over them forever.

This hymn has underwent a lot of changes over the centuries. I’m nerdy, so stuff like that interests me (though I’m not a hymnologist or a musician). For all you nerds out there, you too can compare the all the versions and differences.

The original English translation sticks closest to the writing of the prophets. Read it. Learn from it. Sing it. Enjoy it. Enjoy Jesus in it. How? Let this song point you to the truth of the gospel: just as the prophets foretold, a righteous Branch has sprouted, a bright flower, from a rotten tree of sinners, who from death will save us and share our every load!

Lo, how a rose e’er blooming,
From tender stem hath sprung.
Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
As men of old have sung;
It came, a flow’ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah ’twas foretold it,
The Rose I have in mind,
With Mary we behold it,
The virgin mother kind;
To show God’s love aright,
She bore to men a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

O Flower, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispel with glorious splendour
The darkness everywhere;
True man, yet very God,
From sin and death now save us,
And share our every load.


The Purpose of Advent

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8b)

If we are going to meditate on Advent throughout the month of December, we must know the reason we celebrate this season. It’s not about giving gifts or receiving gifts. As good as it may seem (and as warm as it may make you feel inside), Advent (the Christmas season) is not about making the holiday special for the poor or widows and orphans. It is not about serving others.

We anticipate and celebrate Christ’s Advent because he was ultimately born to die. In his first epistle, John writes it as plainly as it gets in Scripture: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (3:8b). That is a Christmas verse if I have ever read one. What are the works of the devil? Sin (see 1 John 3:8a). Christmas only makes sense from the top of Golgotha, where Jesus gave up his life for the sins of men and women.

Just before Jesus was born, an angel appeared to his earthly, adoptive father, Joseph. The angel said to Joseph “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). From all eternity, God had planned to save a people from himself through the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of his Son (see Eph. 1:3-14).

Jesus appeared (i.e. was born) for the crucifixion and resurrection, God’s culminating salvation event when Christ would die for God’s people to satisfy God’s wrath and reconcile them to God and rise from the dead to provide justification before God and eternal life in his never-ending joyful presence. That is something worth celebrating this Christmas.


Jesus: Son of God, Son of Man

I’m starting an in-depth study of Romans, so throughout this year as I work through the book I’ll post some of my notes here on the blog.  Here are some thoughts from Romans 1:3-4:

Paul says that the gospel of God is directly “concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.”  The gospel is never removed from the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Paul does not give a systematic Christology in the rest of this letter, so it is important for us to note these two verses and Paul’s theology of who Jesus is and what he did.  These verses tell us two major things about Jesus:

  1. Jesus is the Son of Man: The gospel of God (the Father) is “concerning his Son,” Jesus, “who was descended from David according to the flesh.”  Jesus was born fully human, with human genes, a human family line, of human flesh.  This was to fulfill the Scripture (cf. v. 2) that the Messiah would come from David (see 2 Sam. 7:1-17).  The phrase “according to the flesh” implies that he has another nature, namely, a divine one.
  2. Jesus is the Son of God: The gospel of God (the Father) is “concerning his Son,” Jesus, “who…was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.”  The phrase “in power” can mean, “Jesus was powerfully declared to be the Son of God” (Luther), or it can mean that Jesus has been declared the Son of God “in possession of that ‘power’ which belonged to him as the only begotten of the Father” (Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown; Calvin; Hodge).  It seems that the latter would make more sense.  After Jesus rose from the dead, he was no longer marked by lowliness and human limitation.  He became the powerful King, ruling over the world with authority (see Matt. 28:19-20; 1 Cor. 15:25-26).  Jesus was God before the world ever existed — even before his resurrection.  Jesus was in the beginning with God (John 1:1-3), is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15), and is the exact representation of God’s nature (Heb. 1:1-3).  The point in verse 4 is to show that after his resurrection, Jesus took on a different role than he did before: he was no longer simply Son of God as Messiah, but now Son of God as Messiah and the powerful, reigning Lord (Moo, Epistle to the Romans, p. 49).