The Greatest Difficulty

“Thoughtful people find the gospel of Jesus Christ hard to believe, for the realities with which it deals pass our understanding”[J.I. Packer, 52].*

One might think that one of the real stumbling blocks is that Jesus hung on the cross and bore man’s sins.  How did He do that and that act impact our sins today?

If that is not it, maybe it is the resurrection.  Jesus rose physically from the dead.  I have read numerous theories calling the resurrection into question—resuscitation after a faint or perhaps someone stole the body of Jesus from the tomb.  There are several rational explanations that do not require faith.

Possibly the virgin birth is a problem for intelligent doubters; they just can’t believe that such a biological event could have occurred.  It is too far from science. 

The miracles seem too hard for many, the walking on water, feeding five thousand or raising the dead.  These are incredible stories for many, too incredible for belief.

But no, the biggest mystery that people cannot accept is not any of the above, it the incarnation.  Christians claim that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man; the second person of the Godhead was born a human without loss of His deity. 

This makes two mysteries that people struggle with, “the plurality of persons within the unity of God, and the union of Godhead and manhood in the person of Jesus” [53].  In John 1:14, it says the “Word became flesh” and that means that there was no deception about this: there was a real baby in that manger, staring, wiggling, making noises, needing to be fed and taught to talk like any other human child.  “Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation.”

John says four times in the first three chapters of his gospel that the Baby in the manger was “the Son,” not “a” son.  He is trying to make a point that this Baby was unique, the only begotten, the one and only Son of God. 

Jews, Muslims, Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses are groups that take this idea and posit that the birth of Jesus means that there are two Gods, instead of one.  Packer digs into the Gospel of John to explain this problem and how John confronts it.  The writer John knew that the phrase “Son of God” would cause misleading associations within the minds of contemporary readers.  Jewish theology predicted that the Messiah would be a “Son of God.”  Greek mythology told of many “sons of gods” born between a god and a human.  Neither the Jews nor the Greeks attributed deity to the offspring between a God [for the Jews] and god [for the Greeks] and a human woman.

The famous first eighteen verses of John 1 are written the way they are to solidify the idea that the baby in the manger was God.  “In the beginning was the Word” is a clear statement that when things began, Jesus was there.  “Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made”. 

There is a lot in those words, when you stop and meditate on them.  “The Word was with God” means that the Word has a personality, a power that fulfills God’s purposes and stands in eternal relation to God.

The “Word was God” highlights the deity of Jesus, not only being a human, but also possessing divinity, as God the Father has. 

“Through Him all things were made” is a creating phrase.  Everything His Father has made, Jesus was there creating also.  “All that was made was made through Him” [Packer, 56]. 

“In Him was life” is a phrase pinpointing that Jesus was part of animating life.  Not only was Jesus there when things were made originally, but in the continuing of life in all its forms, Jesus will be there also. He will be involved in future life.

That life was the “light of men” reveals that in giving life, Jesus is giving light to the world.  People who are alive in this world have “intimations of God” and those intimations are due to the work of the Word in their lives, the work of Jesus in their lives.  “Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

It is not until verse fourteen that John expresses “the Word became flesh.”  That baby in the manger was none other than the eternal Word of God.  Now as Packer writes, John “has now made it clear what is meant by calling Jesus the Son of God.  The Son of God is the Word of God.  We see what the Word is; well, that is what the Son is.”  Such is the message of the first eighteen verses of the book of John. 

The biggest mystery that people cannot accept may be the incarnation, but as Packer says “once the Incarnation is grasped as a reality, these other difficulties [atonement, resurrection, virgin birth and miracles] dissolve.”

Once that reality is grasped, one can experience the Light, the brightness that emanates from that little Baby in the manger.

From his book Knowing God

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