1] The Divine Glory of the Incarnate Son of God.
Bethlehem was not the beginning of the existence of the Son of God. We have noted that he always was the Word, and he always was God. He never became God. But he did become flesh. That means he become man. “The incarnation means that he who never began to be in his specific identity of the Son of God, began to be what he eternally was not … The infinite became finite, the eternal and supra temporal entered time and became subject to its conditions, the immutable became mutable, the invisible became visible, the Creator became the created, the sustainer of all became dependent, the Almighty infirm. All is summed up in the proposition, God became man. The title ‘God’ comprehends all the attributes that belong to God, and the designation ‘man’ all the attributes that are essentially human. Great is the mystery of godliness. He was manifest in the flesh.
“The thought of incarnation is stupendous, for it means in the conjunction of one person all that belongs to Godhead and all that belongs to manhood. It would have been humiliation for the Son of God to have become man under the most ideal conditions, [with] the majesty of the Creator on the one hand, and the humble status of the most dignified creature on the other. But it was not such an incarnation that took place. The Son of God was sent and came into this world of sin, of misery, and of death.
“Paul draws our attention to this by the use of a formula that is on the verge of peril – “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Roms.8:3). He could have used other expressions – “made of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Roms 1:3), “made of a woman,” (Gal. 4:4), “made in the likeness of men” (Phil.2:7), “manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16) … He came into the closest relation to sinful humanity that it was possible for him to come without thereby becoming himself sinful. This is the incarnation that actually occurred.” (John Murray, Collected Writings, Volume 2, “The Person of Christ” p.134).
In other words, if our first parents had survived the probationary period and emerged blameless, before Adam knew Eve, imagine the Holy Spirit overshadowing her, and Eve conceiving and giving birth to the Son of God in a sinless world, that event would have been an unimaginable humbling of God the Son, so great is the gulf between the Almighty One and his finite creatures.
Christ took our nature, and he came into our environment. He came in our flesh into our world of sin. “He came into first century Nazareth. He came into Jewishness. But the important point is that he did not, as incarnate, live a life of detachment. He lives a life of involvement. He lived where he could see human sin, hear human swearing and blasphemy, see human diseases and observe human mortality, poverty and squalor. His mission was fully incarnational because he taught men by coming alongside them, becoming one of them and sharing their environment and their problems…
“He became flesh and dwelt among us. This means that Christ shared our experience of pain, sorrow, bereavement and temptation. None was ever so tempted as the Son of God. We always yield long before the Tempter needs to unleash his full force or deploy his every wile. The only creature who ever felt the unmitigated force of Satanic onslaught was Christ, because he alone dared to do his utmost and stood resisting, to the very end. He knew temptation as we shall never know it” (Donald MacLeod, “A Faith to Live By” Christian Focus, 1998, p. 123).
2] The Virgin Birth.
John Murray points out that there was nothing supernatural in the emergence of Jesus from the womb of Mary – what we usually refer to as the ‘birth.’ The whole process of foetal and embryonic development was again normal. We are told that when Mary’s “full time” had come she gave birth. But let us pause for a moment when we say that it was a ‘normal conception’. Consider your conception and mine, and how Christ’s was just like ours. “The single-celled embryo, at the moment of the fusion of egg and sperm, brings together two sets of genetic information from mother and father – in the form of the DNA code which, when spelt out letter by letter, would fill 24 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica. These 24 volumes are packed into the nucleus of the cell, which is one-5,000th of a millimetre in diameter, which cell has the ability to replicate itself within a few hours and divide billions of times, eventually producing a fully formed human being.
“This trillion-times miniaturised, 24 Encyclopedia Britannica volumes’ worth of DNA information knows first how to ‘instruct’ the single-cell embryo to form the basic structure of the foetus with a back and front, head and limbs; and then to ‘instruct’ the cells to acquire the specialised function of a nerve or muscle or liver; and then ‘instruct’ them to link up together to form the metabolic factory of the liver or the pumping heart or the brain with its billions of connections; and then to ‘instruct’ them to grow synergistically through childhood and adolescence to adulthood.
“The extraordinary potential of the biological information locked in the nucleus of each and every cell can best be conceived of as the precise mirror image of the infinite size and grandeur of the universe” (Dr James Le Fanu, “The Miracle of Procreation,” Sunday Telegraph, December 19, 1999). In all of that, then, there was actually no miracle in the technical sense of the word. Christ’s conception was as extraordinarily normal as ours.
Where then does the supernatural lie in the birth of Christ? In three places:-
A. It was a Supernatural Begetting. Dr Lloyd-Jones quotes this little statement: “As the Lord’s divine nature had no mother, so his human nature had no human father. “Jesus was not conceived in the womb by the conjunction of male and female, by spermal communication from the man to the woman. He was begotten (rather than conceived) by the Holy Spirit, and the miraculous consisted in this supernatural begetting. In the absence of human begetting, it was that which made the birth a virgin birth. In this connection it is not proper, strictly speaking, to say that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit (even though this is the phrase employed in the Apostles’ Creed) …What is said of Elizabeth’s conception in reference to her baby John (Luke 1:24, 26) is repeated of Mary and her child. The Holy Spirit begat, Mary conceived (cf. also Luke 2:21)” (John Murray op cit p.134).
Now let us here this observation: “The derivation from the substance of the Virgin means that she as mother contributed to him all that any human mother contributes to her child, sin excepted. Through the umbilical cord, he is this particular man, the son of this particular woman, the bearer of the whole previous genetic history of her people and the recipient of innumerable hereditary features. He was a unique genotype precisely because she contributed at least half his chromosomes (as any human mother would). How the rest was contributed remains a mystery. The one certainty is that Mary could not herself have contributed the sex-determining chromosome, Y, which is always provided by the biological father. This chromosome, at least, must have been provided miraculously; and it remains possible that all the chromosomes normally derived from the male parent were provided in this way, the divine act which fertilised the ovum simultaneously creating twenty-three chromosomes complementary to those derived from the mother” (Donald MacLeod, “The Person of Christ,” IVP, p.162).
B. It was a Supernatural Person. A virgin birth by itself does not mean an invariable incarnation. If God willed he could supernaturally beget a thousand babies. What was significant about this conception was that it was the second person of the godhead who was joined to Mary’s ovum. He left his Father’s home above, so free, so infinite his grace. The Father and Son came together to the gate of heaven and off the Son walked across the clouds as his Father lovingly waved him good-bye. His destination was the virgin betrothed to Joseph. What was special about the baby which Mary bore was this, – “It was the eternal Son of God in respect of his human nature. He was begotten of the Spirit and conceived by the virgin in human nature. The most stupendous fact of all is that this was the begetting, conception, embryonic development, and birth of a supernatural person. Because of this there was no point at which the supernatural was not present. The incarnation was supernatural through and through, because at no point was the supernatural identity of the person suspended.” (John Murray, ibid).
Who is he in yonder stall at whose feet the shepherds fall?
Tis the Lord, O wondrous story, Tis the Lord, the King of glory.
There was no diminishing of the One who was in the beginning, who was with God and who was God. There is no transmutation, and no divestiture. When the apostle John says that they beheld him then it was the glory of the only-begotten of the Father that they were surveying, in other words, he says Jesus of Nazareth was, “God only-begotten who is in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18). So the incarnation meant addition not subtraction. God the Son, remaining the immutable second person of the godhead, joined to himself the human nature of one particular man, the true biological son of Mary, who married a carpenter, who lived in Nazareth, in whose home the God-man, Christ-Jesus, grew up. “The incarnation means that the Son of God took human nature in its integrity into his person with the result that he is both divine and human, without any impairment of the fulness of either the divine or the human” (John Murray, ibid).
C. It was a Supernatural Preservation. There was such a preservation at the end of his life when his body lay in the grave, but God would not allow his Holy Child Jesus to putrefy. There was the alarm of Mary and Martha at the opening of the tomb of their brother after three days, that his body would be stinking. But there was an intervention of God. The tomb was new and clean; no stench of death; a fine mausoleum for the Prince of Life. So too when he lay in the womb of Mary, our God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man, tinier than a full stop, then, when all other men must say, “In sin did my mother conceive me … I was born in sin and shapen in iniquity,” he could never say those words, even as at the end of no day did he need to confess his sins to God. At his conception there was somehow a preservation from any taint of sin, from that contamination that would have otherwise proceeded from Mary. His was a humanness without sin. His was not a humanness without temptation, nor a humanness living in a sanitised spiritual environment, but from his conception there was no prenatal sin – whatever that may be – and thenceforth, after his first breath, no propensity to sin, no affinity with sin, and no stain of sin ever upon him, though he were bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh. He was the Word of God who had become the Lamb of God without spot and without blemish. The little Lord Jesus no crying he made, that is no crying which was characterised by petulance and anger and greed and attention-seeking and boredom and pride – as every other baby makes. He was not like any other baby.
3] The God-Man. The Two Natures of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lord Jesus Christ was one person. He never said, “Verily, verily we say unto you.” He is only, and eternally, the great I AM. Whatever he did was done by that one person who is Son of God. He made the world, and he upholds the world, and he was crucified on the cross. A nature did not do it. He did it. He bled and died to take away my sin. The human never existed independently of the divine, and from that time and for evermore the divine will never exist without the human, and yet the divine nature was never lost or compromised by this union. In other words, all the qualities and powers that are in us, as well as all the qualities and powers that are in God, were, are, and ever will be really and distinguishably present in the one person of the man from Galilee.
J.I.Packer says, “The idea that Jesus’ two natures were like alternating electrical circuits, so that sometimes he acted in his humanity and sometimes in his divinity, is quite mistaken. He did everything, and endured everything, including his sufferings on the cross, in the unity of his divine-human person” (J.I.Packer, Concise Theology” IVP, 1993, p.109).
The Christian always returns to the definitive statement of Chalcedon. In the fifth century there was a battle with error going on in the church, as there generally is. There were the Nestorians who were teaching that Jesus had two personalities – the Son of God and a man – under one skin. There were also the Eutychians who were teaching that Jesus’ divinity had swallowed up his humanity. And there were the Apollinarians who taught that the one person of Christ had a human body but not a human mind or spirit, but that the mind and spirit of Christ were from the divine nature of the Son of God. We occasionally come across these views in the New Age-charismatic blend of strange religions spreading through the world today.
So the church leaders gathered together in what is today a part of Istanbul in Turkey, and I understand that there is a library on the site of the Council of Chalcedon and I have been told that an evangelical church is now holding its meetings there. I would like to believe that that were true. But then, in the year 451, that Council came up with a splendid ‘formula’ which contains four famous Greek adverbs. They acknowledge the God-man to be in two natures, “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.” In other words the two natures weren’t, [a] put into a blender in the womb of Mary and confused. Neither were [b] the divine and the human changed one iota from being divine or from being human. [c] The God-man was not schizophrenic in a personality division, oscillating from the one to the other. [d] But the two natures were eternally inseparable from the moment of conception for evermore – “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.” It has often been said that if you choose to move beyond the borders of Chalcedon you have decided to choose a heresy.
Or think of the way that the natures of Christ are summed up in Chapter Eight of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith: “the two whole, perfect and distinct natures were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion.” [a] There is no conversion. The divine is not changed into the human, nor accommodated to the human, nor is the human transmuted into the divine. [b] There is no composition. The divine and human do not coalesce so as to form a third. [c] There is no confusion. The natures are not mixed: there is no blending.
Wales has been utterly Chalcedonian in its theology, the Celtic Church, the pre-Reformation Church, the Reformed churches, the 1823 Confession; its piety and its praying all reflect that. There is a hymn of Ann Griffiths, and in its first verse you find the Formula of Chalcedon turned into doxology. It’s the hymn, ‘O am gael ffydd i edrych,’ and in the first verse she is praying for the faith to see this:-
‘Two natures in one Person,
Distinct and not confounded,
In perfect unity.’
That’s Chalcedon. She wasn’t writing ditties was she? Dr Lloyd-Jones in Volume One of his Great Doctrine series in his lecture on the “God-Man: The Doctrine” quotes the entire Chalcedon formula, and then he looks up and characteristically says to the Friday night congregation at Westminster Chapel, “What a glorious, what a magnificent statement! We rather tend to think, do we not – at least some people do today – that we have advanced a great deal since the fifth century; we are the wonderful people of the twentieth century! Yet that is the sort of thing they taught to Christian people in the fifth century. I hope we all appreciate it! Christian people lacking all our educational facilities and advantages were given truth like that … Get it and read it for yourselves. Notice that its emphasis is this: one person, the two natures unmixed, joined but not mixed, not fused, not intermingled, remaining separate, God and man” (D.M.Lloyd – Jones, “God The Father, God the Son”, Hodder & Stoughton, 1996, p.282).
These great confessions are saying that there was in Christ a total consciousness of his divine identity, and there was an equally total consciousness of his human identity, but there was only one self-consciousness. He can never speak as a purely human personality. He never says, for example, “as a man I have mortality written over me and I am to die.” He must speak of death as the God-man would speak of death, and so he acknowledges that he is indeed going to die, but he views death like this, “No man takes my life from me. I have power to lay it down and I have power to raise it again.” That is his singular self-consciousness as the God-man speaking.
Again, anything that is true of the human nature of Christ is true of the person of Christ. Anything that is true of the divine nature of Christ is true of the person of Christ. For example, Christ says, “Before Abraham was, I am.” He doesn’t say, “Before Abraham was, my divine nature existed.” On the cross he cries, “I thirst!” He does not cry, “My human nature thirsts.” Always it is the one person of Christ who speaks.
Wayne Grudem says, “In the human sphere, this is certainly true of our conversation as well. If I type a letter, even though my feet and toes had nothing to do with typing the letter, I do not tell people, ‘My fingers typed a letter and my toes had nothing to do with it’ (though that is true). Rather, I tell people, ‘I typed a letter.’ That is true because anything that is done by one part of me is done by me” (Wayne Grudem, “Systematic Theology”, IVP, 1994, p.562).
So Christ says both “I am leaving the world” and he also says the very opposite, “I am with you always” and it is correct for the God-man to make both of those statements because both are true. Anything done by one nature or the other is done by the person of Christ.
Of course he speaks as a human and is intensely aware of his human identity, and then he also speaks as the Son of God who sustains to the Father a unique relationship. And it is clear that when he is most aware of his humanity and weakness, then, on those occasions, he is also most conscious of his relationship with his Father. He can cry, “I thirst” and then within a moment cry, “Father into thy hands I commend my spirit.” When he is most intensely human the consciousness of his divinity is also instantly evidenced. It is a step from this Man’s bloody sweat in Gethsemane to standing erect and saying to the soldiers “I am.”
So we must say that there are two wills in Christ, and two centres of consciousness, human and divine, but only one self-consciousness. And this Christ is offering himself, and giving himself without spot on Golgotha. The divine is not offering the human nature. The spirit is not offering the body. The sufferings are not being offered. He is sacrificing himself to God on our behalf.
So he is God and he is man. As God he has not emptied himself of any select attributes. That’s not simply a view popular a century ago even in conservative men like A.B.Bruce and Godet, and later by such men so revered in our Welsh theological colleges as liberals like Vincent Taylor, but what Millard Erickson is arguing today in his 1984 Baker Book House “Christian Theology,” that in the incarnation the Son of God has accepted certain limitations on the functioning of his divine attributes, for example, Millard says that Christ laid aside his omnipresence. That means that there would be have been parts of the universe where God in Christ was not, indeed all of the universe apart from the specific place in Israel where the Lord Christ happened to be.
We simply ask the question how would God do that? How would it be possible for God selectively to separate his attributes from his very being? One may take a pin or two out of a pin cushion and still have a pin cushion, but can a divine attribute be removed and God still be God? The divine essence is the sum total of his attributes. If the Son of God disrobed himself of one or two attributes when he became incarnate, then, while he would still be more than mere man, he wouldn’t be altogether God. A God who is not at all present in certain locations is not God. A Saviour who is not quite God is a bridge that doesn’t quite reach the other end of the abyss. When you look at the New Testament you find the Lord speaking of his omnipresence and saying, that the one who came from heaven is the Son of Man who is in heaven. He says, “Where two or three gather together in my name there I am.” He filled all creation as God even while he was filling, as an unborn babe, the womb of Mary.
Of course, as man he was not, nor ever will be, omnipresent, nor omniscient, nor infinite. He was true man. But as God he possessed all the divine attributes. Thus the God-man, Christ Jesus, was everywhere and almighty and eternal and unchangeable.
So he was God and he was man. And there are miracles which are only explicable because he is God, and there are prayers and tears which are only explicable because he is man. Then we can say that the man Christ Jesus could, when God willed, draw on divine resources to transcend human limits of energy and knowledge. And we can say that the Lord’s divine nature would contribute power and insight to his human nature. And we can also can say that the Lord’s human nature contributes the experience of the state of humiliation to the divine. There is a difference between a midwife knowing all about childbirth from the most exhaustive study, and observation of children being born, and she herself actually giving birth. There is a great difference between ourselves visiting the beds of the dying and actually tasting death for ourselves. The incarnation brings human experience into the deity of love for ever. The God man tasted death for every man. He will never lose the knowledge of that taste.
And the application of all this? Think of Paul’s problems in the Philippian congregation, vainglory and the failure of Christian liberality, and as he wrestles with them he has recourse to the massive theological statement of Philippians 2. You have these practical problems, and the answer is theological. Remember your theology and place your behaviour in the light of that theology. We ourselves in our own Christian callings are to be conscious of this. We must never leave the doctrine of the Trinity or of the Incarnation hanging in the air. There is application. We must not hesitate to enforce the most elementary Christian obligations with the most sublime doctrines.
Christ’s self humiliation means that all his people must be mutually submissive to one another. I dare not insist on my rights because my Lord himself refused to do that. I cannot refuse to be a servant among my brothers and sisters because Jehovah Jesus became a servant. I cannot forego humiliation and loss because he did not. So we are to be of the same mind, having the same love, in full accord and of one mind. We refuse to look to our own interests, but we are anxious for the interests of others. Costly love. Servant love.
21st century Wales has to see that quality of life and love in the Christian community. When Augustine was asked to list the central principles of the Christian life he replied, “First, humility. Second, humility. Third, humility.” A humble minister is a mighty weapon in the hands of Jehovah Jesus, the servant Son of God.
4] Christ’s Ministry
We sometimes hear men say that Christ did not come to speak but to do things that we might have something to preach. Now that is an incorrect and an unhelpful statement. Mark tells us in his opening chapter, “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God” (Mk.1:14). We know that his preaching made a remarkable impression on his audiences, that there were those who said that, “No one ever spoke the way this man does” (Jn. 7:46). We can see the divinity of Christ in his preaching in two ways, in his authority and in his claims:
1] His Divine Authority.
People heard him and told others that what struck them was that he spoke with authority, unlike their scribes. There was a majesty about the way he presented his message, and in that there were several different elements (I owe these three observations to Donald MacLeod – though the terminology may be mine), his originality, cogency and durability.
i) Christ’s originality. God is not derivative. The scribes were content to recite the views of other men – the ancients, and one of the great historic rabbis like Simeon son of Hillel. The prophets of the Old Testament went directly into the presence of the Lord himself, and when they came from him they prefaced their words with the phrase, “Thus saith the Lord.” They said it hundreds of times. They were co nscious of the secondary nature of their message, that it was not original but it came from God. But Christ never quoted a rabbi, and never referred to any other book than the Scriptures. He never once says the phrase, “Thus saith the Lord.” Instead, he says, “But I say unto you.”
Christ corrects the teaching of the ancients and the rabbis on his own authority. He is content to speak, not in God’s name, but to speak magisterially in his own name. “But I say unto you.” He legislates, on the independent basis of his own status and with his own insights and he tells us that he is the Lord of the Sabbath, he can forgive sins. He makes pronouncements on oaths, divorce, scripture itself, constantly and simply in his own name. “I” he says as over against all the arguing, debating rabbinical schools and traditions. On the basis of his own authority he will correct them all.
How different he was from us. Billy Graham would repeat the phrase, “The Bible says…” and he could urge all the tens of thousands listening to him to change what they were living for and believing on the authority of the Scriptures. That’s the posture of every one of us: Proverbs 18:2, “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding, but delights in airing his own opinions.” But we point to Scripture and explain and apply it. We hide behind the Book. We are like Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth: “he opened the book and found the place.” We never say, “I’ll share with you my personal beliefs,” but Christ said, “Verily, verily I say unto you” and all his disciples accept his authority.
Think of the Gentile centurion of Capernaum in Luke 7: “Jesus was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: ‘Lord don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.’
This soldier ascribes to Christ such purity and glory that he feels unworthy of approaching Christ, nor worthy that Jesus should draw near to his home. “Lord don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you.” Then he adds that this One has such resistless authority and power that, with the same ease as he addresses a private and tells him “Go!” so Jesus, with the same ease had but to speak to cancer, heart disease, death or all nature and it would obey him. “Say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes.” He doesn’t even think it necessary to draw the conclusion in so many words – “The like authority, Lord, thou hast over death, disease, and everything like that.” He assumes that. He takes it for granted.
What will Jesus do? Will he shrink back from such a commendation? Will he be like the angel who, when the apostle John in an unguarded moment fell at the angel’s feet, cried to John, “See thou do it not, for I am thy fellow-servant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book. Worship God!” No way! It is written in the next verse that, “When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” In other words, he welcomes the praise of the centurion as nothing more than his due, “I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Doesn’t that remind you of the Syrophenician woman’s words, “Lord help me. But he said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table” – I, the dog; thou, the master!” Jesus answered and said unto her, ‘O woman great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt.’ Who is this one speaking? It can be none other than the God to whom the prophet of old addressed himself, “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for thou art my praise.” So there was a unique originality and independence of thought in Christ, and this authority was recognised by the people.
ii] Christ’s cogency – that is, the loveliness with which he spoke: the beauty of his own personality: the truth and convincing nature of his words: the aura of divinity that they had. So the common people heard him gladly. There was the Sermon on the Mount which he preached, and when he comes to its end we are told that the people were spellbound. They looked in silent wonder at one another. It was so impressive. They had never heard anything like it. You know the phrase in the 1689 Confession of Faith in its opening chapter about the Holy Scriptures, those familiar words where it speaks of “the heavenliness of the contents, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole, which is to give glory to God … together with many other incomparable excellencies and entire perfections. By all this evidence the Scripture more than proves itself to be the Word of God.” In those words it could be just as accurately describing the teaching of Christ.
That means there will be a love for the Bible, that, at some moments, we will clutch it to us at times with unspeakable joy, and we will have confidence in the New Testament, in distributing it, and reading it to the congregation clearly on Sundays. In other words, one of the great antidotes to doubt and anxiety is pick up the Bible and expose ourselves to the words of Christ given to us. You remember how that saved Dr Machen from being destroyed by modernism at a German university a hundred years ago, how he would walk home dazed by the onslaughts of shining eyed mystic professors presenting their ‘Christs’ and he would sit in his room, far from home and troubled, and then read, say, Mark’s gospel through, and there encounter again the uninventable and unique personality of the Lord with his arresting teaching and feel the impact of that life upon his soul. Go to the Fountainhead!
There was a time when the most heated issue in Wales was a fourth Welsh TV channel, and members of Cymdeithas yr Iaith (the Welsh Language Society) had invaded the Blaenplwyf TV transmitter outside Aberystwyth, and they were threatening to do it again, to climb it and handcuff themselves to it a few hundred feet up. So Securitycor were hired to guard the transmitter, and if they saw any intruders they were to hit a button which was connected with the police station in Aberystwyth and a squad car would come tearing out to Blaen Plwyf with its siren and flashing lights. One of my deacons was then working for Securitycor and he was on duty there so many nights a week. They gave him a TV set to watch during the night. Right above it soared the massive transmitter. Gordon told me that he had never seen a TV picture like that. You could see every pore in the newsreader’s skin, and every blade of grass on a football pitch, because the set was so near to the transmitter.
So, the one who claims, “I and my Father are one” has appeared, and when he is appears before men and women, he transmits, as none other, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. People leave all and they follow him. Women like Mary want to sit at his feet because the nearer she gets to him the more certain she’ll be of hearing everything he says. She doesn’t want to miss anything of the heavenliness and the incomparable excellency and the entire perfection of all his words. As the light of the world he beams out his truth. Other men have displayed something but only he manifests the glory of God.
iii] Christ’s durability. How quickly are the words of men dated. How soon do novels grow out of date, and records, and films, and fashion. But you never think of the teaching of Christ as old-fashioned. The word of the Lord endureth for ever. No date stamp: no ‘consume by’ date. An acquaintance was given a bottle of natural water. It said, “Crystal French Spring Water. Purified by 5 Million Years in Volcanic Rock.” Then in small print it added, “Best drunk before September 2000.” The Word of the Lord is not like that. Its truths have no date stamp.
At the end of the Sermon of the Mount Christ speaks of a man who builds his house on a rock, and when a fierce storm blows through that area, although other houses cave in, his house endures. He is speaking of those secure people who build their lives on him and his teaching, and our Lord is absolutely certain that every such life will survive. He is thinking of this new century, and that little Christian girl with all her life before her, or that young couple just setting out in married life, or that congregation seeking to build its life around the Bible, and our Lord is absolutely convinced that every such life built on the Word of God will survive the storms of philosophical speculation, and computer research, and scientific pretension, and persecution, and hot temptations – if they have been delivered by God from the fearful pit and the miry clay and their feet have been set on this rock of Christ’s teaching they are not going to fall into the lake of fire. Christ is totally sure of this. He is confident that what he has to say is immediately relevant to every life who hears his teaching, and everyone who by grace takes their stand on his words is invulnerable from every kind of assault.
Here is this man, so meek and gentle. He stands before the twelve apostles and the other disciples on that mountain in all his vulnerability. He was found in fashion as a man. They know something of his background and antecedents, and he makes this staggering claim. He tells them that if they build their lives on his teaching, those lives will never crash. There is no possibility of failure. They will be effectually kept. Others will stand, but not them. And as Jews they knew it was the Word of the Lord that endured for ever. Who did they have with them there? It was the Word made flesh. What manner of authority is this that even the winds and waves obey him.?
2. His Divine Claims.
There are those absolutely staggering claims that he makes, but let us just look at one or two of them, made, it seems, almost in passing.
A] Consider these words: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matt. 23:37). We see the compassion of the Lord in these words, of course, and his earnest longing that sinners should be delivered from judgement. Yes, that is there, but consider the bearing this phrase has on the glory of our Lord’s person: “I have longed to gather your children together,” said he, addressing the city of Jerusalem. When he refers to the ‘children’ he is talking of the inhabitants of that community. Let us say that they might have been a million people. “I would have gathered them under my wings,” said Jesus Christ, even as a chicken brings her little brood of chicks under her wings.
What manner of man is this? A million souls gathered under his wing! This must be he of whom David sang, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most high shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust.” It is hard to conceive of a million people, spreading out and out in a huge crowd, what a hubbub, and what movement! Who is this that speaks of gathering them secure to eternity, and with as much ease as a hen gathers her half-a-dozen chicks under her wings? This is the one of whom Moses sang, “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings, so the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange God with him.” This is the one whom we meet here weeping over Jerusalem of whom Boaz said to Ruth, “The Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust” – that very God, now manifest in the flesh, and about to purchase the church with his own blood.
Let all Jerusalem come to me, he said. I have such competence, and such power. I have such authority and such love. I have such capable grace I can give the population of this whole city complete protection. Suppose every man leaves its dark streets and comes to me with their antagonisms, and every woman bringing her fears, and every teenager and all the children too – let them come. I can deal with them all. The wings outstretched so broad and strong, absolutely nothing can penetrate to harm them. This powerful God of Moses and of Boaz and of David is unspeakably tender and compassionate. He is willing to gather beneath his wing, close to his own heart, the killers of the prophets and the stoners of those who were sent to them. He has all the tenderness of a mother’s yearnings over her young, and yet the wings are Emmanuel’s, the sheltering wings of Jehovah the God of hosts manifest in the flesh.
B] Consider these words of John 7:37, “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.” Those were words addressed to all his hearers. “Let them all come. It doesn’t matter how dry and parched they are. Let the most dehydrated people in the history of the world come to me and drink. I can satisfy them. However their thirst is raging, let them come to me and drink and drink and drink.” Then there are similar words spoken to one individual, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldst have asked of him, and he would give thee living water … Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water, springing up into everlasting life.”
Of course, there we have Christ’s sincere offer of life to one and to all as long as they ask, or if they come to him. But our concern here is with the preacher. Who is this that bids these multitudes, bids a world, come and draw everlasting refreshment, living water, rivers of living water, the Holy Spirit, from his Person? “The water that I shall give him … let him come unto me, and drink.” This is “the true God and the eternal life.”
Consider the great word of the Old Testament, “the fountain of living waters.” That is the title of the living God. “My people,” he says, “have committed two evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns” (Jer. 2). And again, “They that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken Jehovah, the fountain of living waters” (Jer. 17).
Now, what a strange place to find that fountain, weeping tears there in the dusty streets of defiant Jerusalem. But here is a stranger place, at the side of a well in Sychar, in Samaria, and the Fountain speaks, “the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water, springing up into everlasting life.” But I tell you of a stranger place yet to find this Fountain, nailed to a cross between two thieves, and speaking, and crying, “I thirst.” The very fountain of living waters, athirst! Because there on Golgotha the rock is being smitten. Jehovah’s rod is descending upon it. Because if that fountain remains a spring shut up and a fountain sealed our thirst will rage for ever. “Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” But the only one who can refresh us is the living fountain himself. And on the cross that Fountain cries, “It is finished!” and he bowed his head and gave up the ghost, “And one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came out blood and water” –
“Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.”
The psalmist cries, “Who is a rock save our God?” Who was it, but that very God, that cried in the last day of the feast, whose inviting streams are still flowing, “If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink.” May our whole nation be irrigated and refreshed by this fountain of living waters.
C] Or think of the great words of John 6:37, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” There are times when doubts are so eloquent, and more easy to be embraced and rested on than all the promises of life. And at such times these words of Jesus are so gracious. On no account whatsoever will he throw out anyone who comes to him. This verse is a sheet-anchor to troubled men. The preacher James Durham was on his death bed and knowing little comfort and peace, but he said to a friend visiting him, “After all I have preached, and all I have written, there is just one word in the Bible I can get any hold of now. Do you think I can venture my soul on this – “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out”? His friend said to him, “If you had a hundred souls you could venture them all on that word.
So much for the grace of the word, but think of its glory. Who would dare say these words if they were merely a creature’s? If any fellow-creature came to him he wouldn’t cast him out? Here is someone higher by far than every other man, and he looks down on them from some immense height and he says, “If they come to me I wont cast them into hell. If Saddam Hussein comes I wont reject him. If Bill Clinton comes, I won’t throw him out.” This is divinity speaking.
Maybe you have invited a vagrant to spend a day or two in the Manse, and that was not an easy time, but you felt you had to. Maybe it was a heroin addict, or an alcoholic, and you invited them to come home, but what if they were to talk about you to all their friends, and all the addicts, and the drunkards, and the homeless people, and the Big Issue sellers, all began to wend their way to your front door and knocked on the door. Could you cope? Would you cast them out? How quickly would your white-faced wife and tearful children beg you to draw the line? But Christ says, let the stinking outcasts come, let the lepers come, let the busy-bodies and chatterboxes and fussy people come, let the weaklings and nobodies come, let the perverts come. Please come! You must all come to me, and I won’t slam the door on you, and I won’t say, “Why are you bothering me?” It is God alone who can say things like that.
John Owen reminds us that if we should go to someone for help we must be sure of the answers to two questions. “Is that person willing to help us? Is that person able to help us?” (John Owen, “The Glory of Christ,” Banner of Truth, pb., 1994, p.48). Sinners need to know that Christ is both willing and able to meet their every need, and so doubt no more. In the light of all his great claims what will Christ not do for us? He who humbled himself, coming down from such heights of glory to take our finite nature into union with his infinite nature. Having done this will he not meet our every need? That is the great New Testament affirmation in which our lives must rest in peace.