Bishop's Message

The Word became flesh

Dec 2010    

“ The truth that the Word became flesh is the distinguishing mark of biblical orthodoxy – the foundation of our salvation.” (1 Jn. 4:1-3).

THE ASTOUNDING TRUTH that the unseen and divine Word became visible and human flesh dawned on the first Christians as they tried to make sense of the Jesus they had been with (Jn. 1:12). They heard Him, saw Him, touched Him, and were convinced that He was the “Word of life” and eternal life itself (1 Jn. 1:1 -2). Such was the experience and the convictions of the early Christians.

Not that there were no debates in the church about who Jesus was and what actually was going on when He was born on earth. In fact, there were some vigorous debates that took place. In this, the Spirit of God ensured that the church was guided by the truth and the testimony of the eye witnesses who saw and walked with Jesus. The debates produced various heresies which were identified as so.

For example, because Jesus was considered to be both human and divine, that is He had two natures, various proposals were made as to how these two natures related to one another. One idea that emerged has come to be called adoptionism, a teaching that was promoted by Paul of Samosata, a bishop of Antioch. Simply put, it held the belief that Jesus was born as an ordinary human being, but at His baptism (and a few claimed it was after His resurrection) the divine Logos or Christ entered Him, and He became divine after that.

A man became God? Well, that by itself is quite a radical idea, but that is not what the Bible says. It does not say: the flesh became the Word, or a man became God. It says, rather: e Word became flesh. e Bible proclaims the existence of a pre-incarnate Jesus; in other words Jesus existed as the Son of God even before He was born 2,000 years ago. at is why in the Nicene Creed we say that Jesus Christ is “eternally begotten of the Father, God from God… true God from true God…”

This truth was documented after serious debates in the early church. Paul of Samosata was declared a heretic and excommunicated in 269 AD. He had a student named Arius, who was the centre of a controversy dealt with by the first ecumenical council in Niceae (325 AD). Arius taught that Jesus was created by God to be a special Creature, but that He was not the same as God. At the Council, the debates became so heated that at one point (going by several accounts), Bishop Nicholas of Myra (who later became St Nicholas, and eventually Santa Claus) slapped Arius. The next time you see a Santa Claus, think of this incident!

The Council of Niceae (almost unanimously) pronounced Arius and his teachings to be heretical and developed the Nicene Creed, reiterating what the Bible says: that the Word became flesh.

It is important to say that the Word became flesh, that God became a man, because of its implications for our salvation. Elsewhere I have shown how Athanasius, one of the chief defenders of the orthodox faith at the Council of Niceae, had argued so clearly why the biblical teaching of the incarnation is central to the doctrinal foundation for our salvation. One need only read passages like Heb. 2:10-18 to be convinced of this.

The truth that the Word became flesh is the distinguishing mark of biblical orthodoxy – the foundation of our salvation (1 Jn. 4:1-3). It not only grounds us firmly on doctrine that is connected with our salvation; it also brings us comfort.

If a man had become God, it speaks of human potential in spiritual terms, but it would bring stress to all of us. How can we achieve the same? But the truth is: God became a man – and what a comforting truth that is! It means that the heart of Christian experience is not human effort, but divine grace. It means that we worship not a God who is far away, or even if he is sympathetic to our plight, He does not fully understand what human beings actually go through. No, for “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Heb. 4:15).

Jesus as God, through His experience as Jesus the Man, knows all about human suffering. He faced all kinds of evil in this world, the same kinds we all face: natural, human and demonic. He has a first-hand experience of poverty, rejection, betrayal, human treachery and hypocrisy, loneliness, grief, and physical exhaustion and suffering. What a God! A God who is not only beyond us, but who also chose to be with us. A divine messiah who comes into our human mess.

No one need suffer alone in this troubled world. God has come in the flesh, to walk with us. He walks alongside us and looks at us with understanding eyes of compassion. ink of all the people who are suffering in this world today, through natural disasters, personal tragedies and social evils and injustice – the Word became flesh for them, for all of us. At times, we may feel that our personal and social worlds are going out of control, like a runaway train. But God has come to be with us.

In a sermon he preached in America in 2005, Bono, the lead singer of U2, said this: “God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.”

The Word became flesh so that we may come to know Jesus our Saviour, for it is through Him that we receive our salvation. The Word became flesh also for us to know Emmanuel, God with us, who brings us comfort. We know that when we pray to Him, we pray to One who has personally walked this earth like the rest of us, who was wounded by this world. All because God chose to be born into this world – the Word became flesh. A blessed Christmas to you all.

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