The Exact Imprint of His Nature
The oldest know human structure of any size is a temple. This is how National Geographic describes the site:
Known as Göbekli Tepe (pronounced Guh-behk-LEE TEH-peh), the site is vaguely reminiscent of Stonehenge, except that Göbekli Tepe was built much earlier and is made not from roughly hewn blocks but from cleanly carved limestone pillars splashed with bas-reliefs of animals—a cavalcade of gazelles, snakes, foxes, scorpions, and ferocious wild boars. The assemblage was built some 11,600 years ago, seven millennia before the Great Pyramid of Giza. It contains the oldest known temple. Indeed, Göbekli Tepe is the oldest known example of monumental architecture—the first structure human beings put together that was bigger and more complicated than a hut. When these pillars were erected, so far as we know, nothing of comparable scale existed in the world.
No one knows who built it or why; no one knows what they believed or whom they worshipped. We only know that the first bit of substantial building we have is someone trying to answer the God problem. It’s been that way ever since. It’s all over history and art and literature and philosophy; it runs through villages and cities. It’s in the crowd at a baseball game or the audience for a concert. It’s in fashion and advertising; it’s in marriage and immorality. It’s why we like the Internet and why we like the wilderness. It’s politics.
It is a God-haunted world. There is a someone there, and we know it. It is uncanny, like a ghost in the room. Just like Eliphaz the Temanite said in Job 4:12–21 (ESV)
“Now a word was brought to me stealthily; my ear received the whisper of it. Amid thoughts from visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, dread came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones shake. A spirit glided past my face; the hair of my flesh stood up. It stood still, but I could not discern its appearance. A form was before my eyes; there was silence, then I heard a voice: ‘Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker? Even in his servants he puts no trust, and his angels he charges with error; how much more those who dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, who are crushed like the moth. Between morning and evening they are beaten to pieces; they perish forever without anyone regarding it. Is not their tent-cord plucked up within them, do they not die, and that without wisdom?’
You know that feeling you have at times when it seems that the world is somehow out of focus; things to do not seem quite right – as if everything were put like the façades for the pretend city in a movie. Everyone seems merely players and actors and nothing is real. There is a certain tension in the shoulders, a taste in your mouth; your stomach churns for no reason; your fingers twitch anxiously even though no one is around.
You need to know something: You are not right. The world is not right. There is a crime, and you are guilty. If you run to the furthest edge of the universe, the question will haunt you. You cannot drink it into oblivion, for when you become sober, the question will return and then will shrink you in shame. You cannot sin it into submission, because even your charred conscience will belittle you. You cannot become shameful enough to drown your shame; you cannot become good enough to ease your sleep:
Can mortal man be in the right before God?
Can a man be pure before his Maker?
God must speak – he must speak or we are undone. We must know – you must know what he knows. But you cannot drag God down. Reach up and pull – you have no force. And what if he were to come down, tearing open the sky and bursting forth in radiant glory? You would die from awe and fear. Yet someone must speak to God, someone must offer a defense. Someone must plead your case, or you are undone. But who will go – can go — to God, who can stand before him and plead your cause? We are like Job who wails,
For he – that is God – is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him
That we should come to trial together.
There is no arbiter between us
Who might put his hand on us both.
Job 9:32-33. Do you see the problem? Sin has entered the world – thus, God and man separated. You cannot reach up to God, so God must come down to you. And yet, if God were to come, what would you do? You are too frail to stand before God. Isaiah who merely sees a vision of God cries, I am undone! Peter, when he begins to realize who Jesus is, cries, Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord. (Lk. 5:9).
The Psalmist prays in Psalm 130:3
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities
O LORD, who could stand?
Is that not a fearful thing, to think of Judgment? We hope that God will grade on a curve, and fear that he will not. The religions of the world have concocted schemes and plans for setting out a standard which we can meet. Do this, say that, go here – do not go there. Starve yourself; live in a cave – live among men. Be rich – do not be rich. Demand that no one – no one remind you of judgment day. Defame God and claim that he has no right to judge, because he has permitted evil in this world. And then stomp about because he has also forbidden evil.
We can’t know what God wants. We build temples; we delude ourselves. But try as we might, we cannot know what God will have from us, if he does not tell us plainly. God must speak, or we will not know what to do. But we need more than just God speaking to us, we must have someone who can speak for us. We need someone who can approach our heavenly Father on our behalf. We need someone who can plead our case, who can sympathize with our weakness, who knows our frailty, who understands the weight of sin and pain of temptation and pain of this life. We need a man like us to plead our cause.
We need an arbiter, a mediator between God and man who can touch both God and man who can speak for both God and man. Ah, Job, that arbiter, that mediator has come:
For there is one God and there is one mediator between God and man
The man Christ Jesus.
1 Tim. 2:5.
It is about that mediator, that answer to our God problem that we will turn.
Hebrews 1:1–4 (ESV)
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
We will focus on the second clause in verse 3: the exact imprint of his nature. And here is our point: The mediator has come and he is the exact imprint of the nature of God.
To understand what this means, we will ask two questions: (1) What does it mean that Jesus is the “exact imprint” of the nature of God? (2) What does it mean for us, for you and me, that Jesus is the “exact imprint” of the nature of God?
Our first question: What does it mean that Jesus is the “exact imprint” of the nature of God?
Let’s put this question is some context. This is the beginning of the letter called “Hebrews”. Except for the final remarks, the letter actually reads more like a sermon than a letter. There is no introduction, not even a “hello”. We don’t know who wrote this, except that he seems to be in Paul’s circle of ministry.
It begins like a gunshot: it begins with God and goes from there. It does not for second try to prove a thing about God existence. It starts with God’s existence and goes to God’s action. It is an interesting thing: We have two books of the Bible that give us God’s first actions, first interaction with the Creation. The very first thing we learn about God is that he speaks. In fact, the most ancient fact which God has revealed to us is found in the first verse of John’s Gospel. There we read,
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
The most ancient fact, the revelation of God which reaches back to before the Creation is the speaking God. That is precisely where Hebrews begins: God speaks. What is remarkably curious about Hebrews is that God speaks – not just by some words taken down by prophets. No, God’s final speech is God: God speaks in or by means of his Son.
The book then proceeds to take the first two chapters to tell us who this Son is. In the first chapter, we learn that this Son is God. In the second chapter we learn that this Son is man. The book then builds its case until we get to the main point in Hebrews 8:
Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, Hebrews 8:1 (ESV)
And what is a High Priest? He is one who brings my case to God. Here in Hebrews 1, we learn that this man who brings my case to God is God.
Now, let us consider the words of our text.
The text itself is, on one level, rather simple: God has spoken by to us by his Son who is the exact imprint of his nature. That is, the Son is the exact imprint of God’s nature.
A quick note on two words and translation: Your Bible may have the words, “exact representation of his being” or “express image of his person”, or “representation of his essence” or “exact representation of his nature” or something quite similar.
Let’s take the first word image or imprint or representation. Have you ever watched a movie where the king pours some liquid wax onto the back of an envelope and makes a little circle? He then takes his ring and presses the flat part of the ring into the wax. When he lifts the ring, the same image appears on the ring and on the wax. The Greek word for that stamp and the image made by the stamp is “character”. Because this idea of an image, the word also means the typical features of a man, what makes one distinctive – what a man is like: his character.
The second word “nature” or “essence” means the substantial nature, the essence, the actual being, the reality of someone or something.
When put the two ideas together we get this big idea: When you look at the Son, you see God. The essential nature of God, the reality of what God is the same as the essential reality of the Son. This is one of ideas which seem simple at first, but become very difficult as soon as you start to put your thoughts upon it.
Consider this scene recorded in John 14:8-11. It is the last night of Jesus before the crucifixion. One of the disciples, Philip asks a rather straight ahead question and then receives a very strange answer:
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me ….”
What a strange answer: Let’s say we speak this afternoon and you mention your father is in town. I say great, I’d like to meet him. You answer, why? If you’ve seen me, you have already seen my father. That would be nonsense. You may be like your father, you might be a chip off the ol’ block. But, it would be ridiculous to say that seeing you is really seeing your father. My children and I have many things in common, but if you want to know my children, you’ll have to meet them. If you want to know me, you’ll have to meet me.
But Jesus says something strange and wonderful: If I want to know God, I must know Jesus. The theologian T.F. Torrance said, “There is no God behind the back of Jesus.” If you want to know God, then you must know Jesus. Jesus is what God has to say:
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:6–7
No man could ever say that of himself and his own father. There are people whom I know, that my sons do not know. There are people my sons know that I do not know. To know my sons may tell you something about me, but it would not communicate me.
Jesus says something different than any man could say: If you know Jesus, then you know the Father.
In Colossae, the church fell into a serious error. Apparently the people thought that Jesus was good and all, but there was something more to be had, there was some way around Jesus to some serious divine knowledge. Paul wrote a letter to explain to them plainly: Jesus is all there is to know about God, there is no God behind Jesus’ back. In Colossians 1:15-20 we read of Jesus as follows:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Jesus is the image of God. If you want to see God, then look to Jesus. Jesus is the Creator and sustainer of all. He has made peace through the Cross, thus reconciling God and man.
This idea that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, that to see Jesus is to see the Father, that the Son is the exact imprint of the very nature of God is painful to our pride. It is too wonderful to comprehend. The world is full of things which do not understand. I just read a book by a geneticist who thinks that the complication of our genetic information may be too complex for us to ever fully understand.
This problem of Jesus and God does fully reduce to any mere human words. It is like beauty. You can use words to list the colors and forms of a sunset over the ocean, but you cannot reproduce the beauty there. There are times when all you can do is look in wonder and joy.
We humans however want a god we can keep our pockets; one small enough to fully comprehend; one small enough to pacify and manipulate. First, we want to get rid of the Trinity: we want either one God who sometimes acts like three different persons; or, we want three gods. Or we want one God who has made some special powerful helpers who take over icky tasks of actually making the physical world.
We’ve discussed the Trinity before, so we’ll move to the particular problem for this morning: How can God become man? Answer, I don’t know. There are things which we can say about. There are some hints as to what is going on. But, in the end, the Incarnation is a miracle which cannot be solved. It is just there, like the ocean in a storm: It is wonderful, fearsome, beautiful; it could wreck me, but I cannot turn away.
We have the incarnation: God became man, without ceasing to be God and while being fully man. This problem was so knotty that the Christian church did not even settle on what could said about the Incarnation until 451, and even then it settled on a definition of what we mean by the idea of incarnation.
Here is the definition in brief:
Jesus was truly God. He was and is of the same substance as the Father.
Jesus was truly man. He had a soul and body exactly like us.
The two natures, God and man, were both present in the one person Jesus Christ.
The two natures did not mix nor were they confused together.
The definition is far more precise than my quick sketch, and so I commend it to you.
Now, this business of being God and man and one person is too much for many people. Some try to solve the problem by ditching the humanity of Jesus. These people admit that Jesus is God but they leave him as something far less than a real man. This is the earliest known Christian heresy. First John is already dealing with this problem.
These people were willing to admit that Jesus was God – he had done wonderful things, he spoke like no man ever spoke. He was altogether better than any mere man. It was easy to admit that he was God. But, to think of him as a regular man who ate and slept and got tired and hungry seems wrong. And so these people said that Jesus only seemed to be a man: He looked like a man, but he was not really a man. The humanity of Jesus was a strange show – not his real nature. These people are called docetists.
When you read through John’s Gospel and especially through John’s first epistle, you see over and again an emphasis on the real physical humanity of Jesus. It is in John’s Gospel that Jesus invites Thomas to touch him after the resurrection. It is in 1 John 1:1 that John writes that he saw Jesus with his own eyes and touched Jesus with his own hands.
Notice that John is writing to people who are already Christians or at least willing to entertain the Christian claims. John is writing to convince these people that Jesus is really a man – as well as God.
Many Christians who try to earnestly be true to the Scripture wander off into Docetism. They want so badly to be careful of Jesus being God, that Jesus’ humanity evaporates. This is probably the most common sort of error what are called conservative Christians.
Now there is a matching error in the other direction: these people admit that Jesus was a man, but they deny that Jesus was God. These people are typically called Adoptionists. They believe that Jesus was a remarkable and very special man: that Jesus was peculiarly transparent to God and understood God better than any man ever. They will often say that at his baptism, God revealed himself to Jesus in a very unique way. Jesus in turn revealed to us what he had learned about God.
This error is very common with the so-called Liberal Christians.
Both of these errors are errors, both are serious mistakes when it comes to Jesus.
Let’s consider the problems of each view.
First, we’ll take Docetism: Jesus only seemed to be a man.
This view takes the various statements in the New Testament concerning the divinity of Jesus seriously. However, they consider the true humanity of Jesus to be somehow beneath God, and thus read these passages as metaphor or somehow not completely reliable. The Bible plainly says that Jesus was born, that walked, that ate and drank, that he grew thirsty and hungry and tired. In 1 John 1:1, John says that he saw the man with his eyes and that he even touched Jesus with hands. The real, substantial body of Jesus, his true humanity is affirmed everywhere throughout the New Testament. Lest you think this a minor point, consider the words of the Apostle John in 1 John 4:2-3:
By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
Docetism is a deadly heresy. If Jesus was not really man, he was deceptive. He went to great pains to show himself to be a man. All the people around him prior to the crucifixion understood him to be a man. In fact, they would not have arrested him if they did not believe he was a man.
If Jesus is not a man, then Jesus never really suffered like you or me. Imagine two people who each travel to a part of the world engulfed in tragedy and famine. One man lives with the people, suffers along side them, hungers with them, feels pain with them, hopes with them. Another man, makes a tour of their pain but spends every night in a luxury hotel. He is like a journalist eating a sandwich and taking pictures of children starving to death.
Jesus was not really crucified.
Jesus did not really raise from the dead, because he never died.
And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 1 Cor. 15:14.
No crucifixion, no resurrection, no hope, no salvation, no reconciliation. Jesus is a cruel joke.
If Jesus is not a man, then he has not come to rescue me. He cannot be a merciful and faithful High Priest. He can’t be anything for me. He can’t be a mediator. Hebrews 2:17 says that Jesus is a merciful and faithful high priest. Hebrews 5:1 says that a high priest is “chosen from among men [and] is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.” Now, if Jesus is not a man, then he cannot be a high priest who offers sacrifices to God for sin. If he is not a man, then we cannot be saved.
In short, if Jesus is not a man, then Jesus is not a Savior.
Docetism also creates all sorts of problems when it comes to how one leads their life. The physical world is bad and the problems of this life are not important. God is going to destroy the world – not redeem it. When I see the pain of another human being, I may tell them about a distant God who can bring them to the new world – but I will not bear their burdens and feel their sorrow. This world is going to burn, so who cares. Sin becomes an abstraction: I’m saved so who cares really what my body does.
Again, a Jesus who is no man cannot be a picture of true faith. Hebrews 2:17 says that he was tempted like us. Hebrews 4:15 says that he is a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weakness. But, if he no man then has never been tempted and he cannot sympathize with our weakness. Jesus was simply a play-actor who fooled us all. But he never had to exercise faith as a man – indeed, he only gave lip service to faith but never did a true act as a man.
A man who lives like this, cannot be saved. James, the brother of the Lord commends such “faith” as no real, saving faith:
James 2:14–17 (ESV)
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
When Jesus ceases to be a real man, real faith disappears.
This creates another problem: If Jesus is not a man, than God is too far away. I cannot reach up to God, so I must find another mediator to reach for me. We see this problem in the history of Christianity. Over the course of time, Jesus became less and less a true man. The physical world is seen as inherently evil and less than the spiritual world. Men retreat from the physical world, because only far away from the physical world can there be any salvation.
Jesus goes further and further away, and so men compensated by creating what were in effect lesser gods who could go from me to Jesus. One reason for the whole realm of saints and the worship of Mary was to solve the problem of distant Jesus. Consider this quotation from a Mary worship website:
We have often been told that it is not easy to go to heaven. And indeed it is not easy, for how can it be easy given our fallen human nature, and given the sheer power of the enemy who constantly attacks our intellects, hardens our hearts, and breaks down our wills? But despite our fallen nature, despite the power of the enemy, there is a shortcut. There is a faster route, a faster way: Our Lady, the Mediatrix.
God is too far away; heaven is too distant. Why, because God never actually reached down to earth and became like me. I am too wicked to reach up to God. So, I must have someone who has actually been a human being to reach up.
What is interesting is that such people typically will say that they believe that Jesus did become a man. But as soon as they say the words, they deny the meaning. That is what makes this error so poisonous: it wraps itself in piety and claims to be exalting God most highly. But in doing that, it denies God’s work most profoundly.
The alternative of Adoptionism fares no better.
This, too, has its roots in the earliest days of Christianity. In fact, it was among the earliest charges hurled against Jesus:
The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” John 10:31–33
This passage underscores one of the grave problems of Adoptionism. If Jesus was not a God, then he was seriously disturbed or even truly evil. Jesus repeatedly makes claims for himself as the equal of God. This is important: God has no equals. For instance in Isaiah, God says:
I am God and there is no other
I am God and there is none like me.
Is. 46:9. God does not share his glory: “My glory I will not give to another” (Is. 48:11). However, Jesus repeatedly makes claims to be God, share God’s glory, to have power which belongs alone to God. In Mark 2:5, Jesus forgives sins. Those in attendance knew what this meant: Jesus was claiming to have the powers and privileges of God (Mark 2:7).
If Jesus is not God, then he is at least insane if not deliberately evil. Yet, the whole point of adoptionism is that Jesus is the best of man – a man so wonderful that he was transparent to the only true God. This makes for an awkward problem: This best of man is either evil or stupid or wicked.
Indeed, the ultimate reason Jesus was delivered over by the leaders was their belief that Jesus was a mere man who thought himself to be God.
Another problem with Adoptionism is that Jesus cannot be my advocate – he cannot rightly intercede for me. Indeed, that is one of the great points of the entire book of Hebrews:
Before Jesus came into the world, God had appointed a first covenant which created mediation between God and man. God appointed a temple, sacrifices, priests and a high priest who would go from man to God. God gave Moses a prophet who was speak for God to men. The book of Hebrews goes through each of the elements of the old covenant: prophet, temple, sacrifice, alter, priest and shows how Jesus – being God incarnate – was better than the old covenant.
In fact, the old covenant practices and elements were shadows, symbols of what God was actually doing. They were temporary forms which were filled when Jesus came.
Recently there was a lot of talk about the Navy Seals ending the career of Osama Bin Ladin. The stories told of how the Seals practiced for months on a mock-up compound and practiced different problems arising and what they would do. Only after the practice, they approach the real thing.
The old covenant was similar: It taught us about God and man, about sin and sacrifice – so that when the real priest, the real sacrifice came we could understand what it meant.
But if Jesus is not God, then Jesus cannot reach up to God on my behalf. The crucifixion is merely an example of selfless denial, not an atoning sacrifice.
If Jesus is not God, then I cannot be saved.
I remember a story some years ago, when a group of people wanted access to the President of the United States to plead some case to them. They had a problem that they thought the President could fix. And so an in-between fellow offered them access to the President, but at a very steep price. These people saved up their money (a tremendous sum for them, because they were very poor) and gave it over. The other man took their money and they got a table at a lunch attended by the President. But the lunch was large and President did not know why they were there. No one pled their case and they were left behind with their problem. Their mediator lied.
If Jesus is not God incarnate, if he is merely a man who cannot plead my case. If Jesus is not God, then he is a liar.
Again, no mediator; no salvation.
Adoptionism, too, creates problems of the practical life. By denying that God has reached down to man, the adoptionist must create a moral world in which my conduct becomes good enough to save. Adoptionist can be wonderful on helping the poor. These people frequently point to Jesus helping the poor. They must work, because they need to work to be saved. They need to do something to save themselves, because God has not come down to save them.
But they adoptionist forgets the importance Jesus placed upon help for bodily needs. What these people really needed was not more food – what they needed was the real bread from Heaven: God incarnate, Jesus Christ:
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” John 6:26–29
They are like children who receive a present. They receive the box with its paper and ribbon. They tear of the wrapping and then play with the wrapping, ignoring the present for which the wrapping was only a pleasant side light. To look only the humanity of Jesus and ignore the divinity, is to take up the part and leave best: The best being that Jesus was God incarnate, the Word become Flesh, God and man in one person.
There is one final alternative, which I will mention briefly: Arianism. It takes its name from Arius, a church leader in the early 4th Century. Arius taught that the Son was not God, but rather a little god – the most powerful created thing, but not God him. He got this idea from Neoplatonism: which held to a transcendent God who would never touch the physical creation, and the Logos (the Greek word which Word or reason) who was a creator mediator between God and the physical world. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are the most prominent current follower of Arius. They hold that Jesus was a created being, an angel, who dressed up like a man. After the crucifixion, he put away the clothing of flesh and went back to being a spirit being.
This view takes the worst of both the Docetist and the Adoptionist: I am left with a mediator who is neither God nor man.
(2) What does it mean for us, for you and me, that Jesus is the “exact imprint” of the nature of God?
Think of a wife who receives a letter from her husband who has been away in Afghanistan. She will treasure that letter greatly, because it comes from one whom she loves, one who affects her greatly, one who has information of the greatest importance. If we were treasure the words which come from one we dearly love, how much greater then should we treasure the words from the one created us, who knows us, who sustains us?
We have read that God not has merely spoken by prophets and that there were recorded. We read that God has spoken in his Son. We hear that this Son is himself God: that the Son is the heir of all creation, that the Creator and sustainer of all things, the radiance of God, the exact imprint of God’s nature: not merely that he is a copy of God, but that he is the true exhibition of God.
God has spoken in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God himself and yet he is a man. This is something far more profound than mere words. The wife who receives the letter from her husband gone away to war will treasure the words of the letter, because she treasures the one who sent the letter. But she far more desires to have her husband in the flesh.
We have the words of God, which an inestimable treasure. But we have something even greater than the words, we have the Word of God, we have God himself.
Stop and truly consider what is here claimed. That God, God who comes before all time and space, who upholds all creation, and for whom creation is as dust; the God who calls out all the stars by name; the God is and was and ever more will be; that such a God who dwells in unapproachable light, the God who says
I am God, and there is no other
I am no God, and there is none like me
Declaring the end from the beginning
And from ancient times things not yet done.
Is. 46:9-10; that the God whose word is deed, who speaks and stars fill the expanse; that such a God has spoken in Jesus Christ.
God has come into the world. Sin had separated heaven and earth; sin had thrown man far from God, so far that man could only see the impressions in the creation, monuments which said that God has been here. Men are like children playing in the ruins of a great civilization and thinking, Giants lived here before; no gods. When men look out into the creation, they can see God has been here.
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. Romans 1:19–20
But some more has happened. The distant God, the transcendent God, has done more than leave monuments to work in Creation. He has done more than send word through prophets that he still knows that we are here. No, God has done more.
God himself has come into the world. God has become a man – like you and me. God has come down and has come into the world. God has come to claim his own. Jesus is what God has to say.
And what does Jesus say; what does he do? First, proclaims and reveals God to us. Our eyes are weak and are minds are frail; our hearts fails and our courage sinks. We cannot see God. We are too weak. We fear the one who can take the life of our body. But here is one who can not only take our life but can cast us into hell. The one who has the power of life and death, the one who upholds my very existence has come into the world.
I could not find out God, so God found out me. You cannot reach up to God, and so God has reached down to you. A child who falls and is trapped cannot save herself, and so she calls for her father. Her father reaches down into the ditch and pulls up his daughter. She could not go up, so her father came down.
But there is more. Jesus came not merely to proclaim words, but to proclaim salvation. The God who was God has now come to man. Men rebelled, and yet God came to save. Before the Fall of Adam it reads that God went with Adam in the Garden. And, in Jesus Christ, God again walked among men. Only this time, God came as a savior.
Jesus saved by bearing the burden of sin. The Father heaped the curse of sin, the weight of sin onto his Son. Jesus was born to bear the curse and shame of sin—a curse and shame and sin which I cannot bear, which you cannot bear. Do see the love the Father has for you, that he cursed his own Son so that he could save your soul? You could not save yourself, and so God the Father sent his Son to be a ransom for your sin, to be a propitiation for wrath meant for you, deserved by you.
To say that God has spoken in his Son, means that God has proclaimed pardon, an amnesty to all who will be found in Jesus Christ. I could not bear the wrath of God and so God sent his Son as hiding place in which men and women can flee to find safety for their souls.
And God has done more. He has granted me an advocate, a high priest who can sympathize with my weakness. I can go to him with my pain and sorrow and shame and sin and he will show me mercy.
Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Hebrews 2:17–18
There is more, he bids you come to him for help and rest and hope:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14–16
Come to this priest, this advocate with God. Come to him. Have you sinned? Well then, he sits upon a throne of grace only to receive sinners. But my shame and my sin – how many times I have sinned. So, his grace is greater than all your sin. He is God, he has paid for your sin, he welcomes you should you but come.
Do you see that there is only one sin which will damn your soul to Hell? Your angry or lies or immorality or covetousness or foolishness or murder will not damn you. These sins are far too small to throw you beyond the reach of God’s grace. All these will be forgiven and more. God has spoken in his Son and declares forgiveness to all who will come to Jesus Christ.
No, there is only sin is grave enough to put you beyond the bounds of this grace. You know John 3:16, but it is the next two verses which I want you to consider:
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. John 3:17–18
There is the sole damning sin: That you will not receive the grace of God. God has come, but you will not believe. For that there is no grace.
The Father has given his Son, his unique and only Son to spare you. If you despise this gift, what hope is there for you? Judgment Day will not seek whether you were good enough or did you say enough prayers or did you make some trip or give some sum of money. Judgment Day asks one question, Did you receive the free gift of salvation granted in Jesus Christ? Did you believe? If you have not believed, then you will be judged for sins in full.
But if you have come to God in Jesus Christ, if you have received the free gift of the grace of God, if you have come to the throne of grace and plead forgive my sin for it is great (Ps. 25:11), you will be received. No power of Hell, no scheme of men can keep you from peace with God should you throw yourself wholly upon the mercy of God in Jesus Christ. If you say to God, this sin is mine, this rebellion is mine, this shame is mine – I can bear it no longer, take it, lay it to the account your soul – I believe he is the savior of mankind. That prayer will take, that request will be granted.
And if you have come before, do not think that your sin today this morning, last night will cast you out. God has come and he will lose none that are his. Do not shrink back in shame, come to Christ that he may heal your wound. Show him your sin, confess it fully and you will receive grace freely.
But I have sinned one too many times, I have pled forgiveness, but I have not changed. God has come in the flesh. God has spoken in Jesus Christ. Redemption is here. His mercy knows no bounds for those who humbly seek him. Seek him and you will find him.
In Jesus Christ God has reached down and man is reconciled with God. There is a mediator between man and God. Without Jesus there is no hope. Come to him and be healed, come to him and be saved.