The Word Became Flesh
How would you explain the meaning of Christmas?
There are lots of good ways to articulate what Christmas is all about, but John summarizes it in four powerful words: “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14).
But what exactly does it mean for God to become flesh? Just how human is Jesus? And if he became flesh, did he lose any of his divinity?
One of the most pivotal moments in church history was when the Council of Chalcedon met in 451 A.D. to clarify the answer those very questions. The relationship between Jesus’ divinity and humanity was an urgent question for the church at that time because there were people advancing erroneous views of Jesus.
A guy named Apollinaris, Bishop of Laodicea, taught that Jesus had a human body but not a human spirit. So Jesus was like a Ferrero Rocher, with its hazelnut core encased in a wafer shell. He was God on the inside, but man on the outside.
Then there was Eutyches, an elder from Constantinople, who taught that Jesus was essentially a divine-human hybrid. To Eutyches, Jesus’ humanity was so deified that his human body was no longer even the same stuff that ours are.
An elder from Antioch named Nestorius was so committed to keeping Jesus’ divine and human natures separate that he actually believed Jesus was two separate persons who lived together like roommates in a human body.
So the church had to respond to all of these views and clarify the orthodox, biblical understanding of Jesus’ nature and person.
The result was the Chalcedonian Creed, written in 451 A.D. The Council of Chalcedon clarified that the orthodox position is that Jesus’ deity is “of one substance with the Father,” and that his humanity is “like us in all respects, apart from sin.” In other words, he is fully God and he is fully human. What God is, Jesus is. And what we are, Jesus is.
But the creed goes on to assert that Jesus is to be “recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ.”
That is, Jesus Christ is one single person. He is not two persons sharing one body (like Nestorius taught). But the one person, Jesus Christ, has two natures, divine and human, contrary to what Apollinaris and Eutyches taught. He doesn’t have one hybrid nature, divine and human blended together into something that’s neither human or divine. And he isn’t merely the divine nature in a human shell. He is all God and all human in one person.
Why does this mind-boggling doctrine matter? We could discuss dozens of reasons, but here’s one to cause awe and wonder in your soul.
Jesus had to be fully human—body and soul—in order to save us fully—body and soul.
The Bible teaches that humans comprise both a body and a soul. We are embodied souls. We are ensouled bodies. When the Word became flesh, he became human skin and bones. But he also had a human soul—mind, will, and emotions.
Jesus didn’t come only to save the spiritual part of us. He came to save our bodies too. When Jesus was born as a human, he was born with a body and soul. And when he was raised from the dead, he was raised—body and soul—to live forever.
So put the incarnation and the resurrection together. The hope we have on Christmas is that that the resurrection has begun. Our souls were dead in sin, but they have been raised to new life. All who are in Christ by faith have new spiritual life, new Godward affections and desires. And just as our souls have begun to enjoy resurrection life, we are confident that one day our bodies, too, will be raised.
We are confident of this because the Word became flesh.