Conspiracy theories about Christianity: #5: did the Church hide other Gospels to bury the truth about Jesus?

 

In Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, a character named Sir Leigh Teabing makes a number of assertions about the history of Christianity, nearly all of which are completely wrong. At one point he says that “More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion.” A bit later he adds, “any gospels that described earthly aspects of Jesus’ life had to be omitted from the Bible.”

A large number of Gospels from the early centuries of Christianity have been found, in whole or in part. Only four Gospels are in the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. When and how were these four selected, and why were the other ones omitted?

Conspiracy theories aside, the Church in those centuries had a simple process of selecting the books of the New Testament. It was not done quickly, nor was it done by a small secret group. The criteria for books of the New Testament were threefold. Each had to come from an apostle. Each had to agree with the doctrines that were being taught in the churches. And each had to be known in most of the churches, rather than just a few of them, or only one.

Matthew and John were apostles of Jesus. Mark was not, but he wrote what Peter taught, and so his Gospel was accepted. Luke also was not an apostle, but his badge of authority came through the apostle Paul, along with the likelihood that—as he researched for his writing—Luke spoke with other apostles.

Doubts were not expressed in the early Church about these four Gospels. Around the year 185, a Christian named Ireneaeus wrote, “It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principle winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the ‘pillar and ground’ of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars….” We can question his reasoning, but historically we see that the Church had settled upon Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the four authentic Gospels long before Constantine and the Council of Nicea.

Other books in the New Testament required greater discussion. Christians had doubts about the unsigned Letter to the Hebrews. II Peter and Revelation were also questioned. Additional books were considered: a letter from Clement, one of the first pastors in Rome was highly regarded, as were the Shepherd of Hermas and the Didache. In the end, the twenty-seven books of the New Testament were selected because they passed the tests of apostolic authority, agreement with the proper doctrine, and familiarity to all Christians.

The apostles received their authority directly from Jesus. They were messengers, not like mail carriers, but like corporate vice presidents authorized to negotiate and sign documents for the company. They recognized the authority of each other, as Peter wrote, “And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (II Peter 3:15-16). So, when they were first received, the four Gospels and the other books of the New Testament were already regarded as the Word of God.

The many other Gospels failed the Church’s test. They did not agree with the teachings accepted throughout the Christian congregations of that time. But Teabing was wrong when he said that the rejected Gospels described a more earthly Jesus. Quite the opposite: they described a more spiritual Jesus, a Jesus who was not at all human but who took on the appearance of humanity to bring a spiritual message to spiritual people.

The people who wrote those other Gospels and the people who read and believed them are now collectively called Gnostics. Only a few of them used that label in their own time, but it implies possession of a secret knowledge. Modern discoveries have uncovered various versions of the secret knowledge that was hidden in their extra Gospels. For the most part, they were trying to change the Christian message into something that matches Greek philosophy. That change requires rejecting the physical world, including the human body, and preferring the world of mind and spirit.

Douglas Adams wrote, “In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.” The Gnostics would have agreed. They taught that the physical world was made by an inferior god. They further taught that specks of divinity, pure spirit, had fallen into the world and had become trapped as human beings. They said that Jesus was a messenger from the higher gods to rescue those specks of divinity and to tell them how to return to pure spirit. For the Gnostics, Jesus never became flesh and dwelt among us. He could not be killed; and if he did die, he certainly would not choose to raise his body back to life again.

One Gnostic Gospel depicts the body of Jesus hanging on the cross, and his disciples stand at the cross, mourning at his suffering. But then they look above the cross and see the true Christ, unharmed, laughing at his enemies for the thought that they could harm him.

Missing from the Gnostics is the goodness of creation, the Incarnation of the Word, forgiveness through his sacrifice, and a resurrection to life in a new and perfect creation. Instead of those key teachings, Gnostics were to deny the body—most by living ascetic lives, although a few said you could do anything you want in the body, since it doesn’t matter. They were spiritual without being religious. They looked forward to leaving the body, not to be in Paradise with Jesus awaiting the resurrection, but to be free from contamination from the physical world.

No conspiracy led to the selection of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John for the New Testament. Those books are the clear Gospel which conforms to Moses and the prophets and to the other apostolic writings. The Church did not hide the other Gospels; it merely set them aside as valueless. Now that they have been rediscovered, they are easily available to researchers. And anyone who troubles to read the Gospel of Thomas, or any of the other Gnostic writings, will see clear difference between their sayings and Christian truth. J.

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Advent thoughts: December 10

“The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you’” (Psalm 2:7—read Psalm 2:1-12).

The doctrine of the Trinity was not invented in fourth-century church conferences, as some conspiracy-minded historians claim. Nor was the doctrine of the Trinity first revealed in the New Testament. The Old Testament is filled with Trinitarian language. Moses writes of the Lord, the Angel of the Lord, and the Spirit of the Lord in a way that shows that they are one God but three Persons. Psalm 2 also speaks of the Father-Son relationship in the Holy Trinity. As John describes Jesus as the only-begotten Son of the Father, so this Psalm also pictures the Messiah ruling on his throne while also being eternally begotten of the Father.

Among humans and in the animal kingdom, sons are born as babies and must grow up into adults to become the equals of their fathers. God is eternal and timeless. Jesus is always being begotten of his Father; but, as the Son of God, he is always fully mature, always equal to his Father. As a man he experienced moving through time, growing from a helpless baby into a boy, a teen-ager, and then a man. As the Son of God had had authority over the universe, yes, even as he lay swaddled in a manger in Bethlehem.

When it comes to Jesus, all people must take a side. You are for him or you are against him; there is no neutrality. You cannot say, “He is the Jewish Messiah, but I have my own religion.” Jesus rules over all the nations; the entire earth is his possession. Those who oppose him are rebels who will be crushed. Those who serve the Lord and kiss the Son are safe and secure; he is their refuge forever.

Yet all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. Christ alone is righteous; the rest of us are polluted by sin. We are rebels against the King, for we have not done all the things he commanded, and we have done many of the things he prohibited. His Law judges us and condemns us as sinners. We deserve to be told to depart from him and to spend eternity in the outer darkness, in Satan’s prison, in the place where rebels belong.

Jesus has the right to break us with a rod of iron and dash us in pieces like pottery. He would rather be our refuge. Because we could not come to him, he came to us. The Shepherd went into the wilderness, seeking his lost sheep. More than that, he became the Lamb of God to redeem his lost sheep. He offered his life as a sacrifice to take away our sins and to cleanse us from the pollution of sin. He defeated all our enemies. Now that he has found us, he carries us home with great joy, where our Father will welcome us with equal joy. A celebration of victory and reunion is planned, a celebration that will last forever in the new creation, the kingdom of God.

Even kings are warned to be wise. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom. When Jesus makes himself our refuge, we take our shelter in him. Then we need to fear nothing. We are always safe in his loving care. Thanks be to God! J.

I know something God doesn’t know

God is omniscient. That means that he knows everything. God is also omnipotent—that is, almighty. There is nothing God cannot do. God is omnipresent. If any place exists, God is there. God is holy, just, and perfectly good. All goodness is measured by God’s will—if he approves of something, it is good; if he disapproves, it is not good.

People sometimes question God’s omnipotence with logical puzzles. They ask, “Can God create a stone so heavy that he cannot lift it?” or, “Can God make a circle that is also a square?” Since God, by his very nature, violates the laws of mathematics, I would not consider him incapable of doing things that are logically impossible. For God is three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and yet he is one God, not three gods. The Son of Man became human. Jesus Christ is one hundred percent God and one hundred percent human, yet he is one Being, not two beings.

The Bible does mention one thing that God cannot do. God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). He cannot lie, not only because he is so good, but also because he is so powerful. When God speaks, what he says is invariably true, because nothing in the universe can resist his will. God says, “Let there be light,” and there is light. God says, “Let the waters be gathered together and let dry ground appear,” and it happens. God says, “Let the land be covered with vegetation,” and it happens.

Therefore, when God says, “Your sins are forgiven,” your sins truly are forgiven. When God says, “You are a citizen of the kingdom of heaven,” you are a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. When God says, “I have made you a member of my family,” we are indeed members of his family.

“As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103: 12). Send one traveler to the east, ands however long and far the traveler goes, there continues to be more east. Send another traveler to the west, and however long and far the traveler goes, there continues to be more west. The Earth has a North Pole and a South Pole, but east and west are infinitely far from each other. That is how far our sins have been removed from us—infinitely far.

Seen another way, our sins were nailed to the cross with Christ and killed with Christ (Romans 6:6). When Christ rose, he left our sins behind in the tomb; they remain dead and buried to this day. When God looks at me, he sees no sin. He sees perfection, for I have been clothed in the righteousness of Christ (Galatians 3:27).

Therefore, God no longer sees my sins. Jesus has taken away my sins, and God has deliberately forgotten them. As Jesus could deliberately forget the day and year of the Day of the Lord (Matthew 24:36) during his time on earth, so God purposely forgets our sins and treats us as worthy of his kingdom.

God has forgotten our sins, even though we remind him of those sins. We confess our sins to God and ask for his forgiveness, even though he has already promised to forgive and forget those sins. God does not need our confession, but we need confession. We need to remember that we are sinners, saved from sin only by the life and death of Jesus Christ. We need to remember the reason for his sacrifice, even though his sacrifice is sufficient to make our sins disappear from God’s memory, which means that they are truly gone.

John Chrysostom said it this way: “He that is penitent ought never to forget his sin, but on the one hand, to beseech God not to remember it; while on the other, he himself never forgets it. If we remember it, God will forget it.” God is so powerful that, when he forgets something, it no longer exists. In this way, each of us knows something that God no longer remembers. J.

Are you ready?

This time of year, the usual greeting of “How are you?” tends to be replaced with the question, “Are you ready for Christmas?” For some reason, this year that question is striking me as a rather odd thing to ask.

“Are you ready for Christmas?” It sounds as if people are preparing for a storm. In Florida people prepare for hurricanes by boarding up windows, carrying moveable things indoors, and tying down whatever cannot be brought indoors. Further north, people prepare for a winter storm by checking on their snow shovels and sidewalk salt, perhaps running out to the hardware store to buy a new shovel or another bag of salt. Then they stop by the grocery store to buy milk, eggs, and bread. When the grocery store is running short of milk, eggs, and bread, you know that the weather forecasters have predicted that it is going to snow.

I don’t know why forecasts of winter weather make people hungry for French toast. I have my own favorite meal to prepare for winter weather, but it is a lunch, not a breakfast. It starts with a pound of cubed meat–my first choice is summer sausage, but I can use hot dogs, ground beef, chicken, pork, or ham. (Fish doesn’t work as well.) I chop and sauté some onion and green pepper, add a can of diced tomatoes, the meat, oregano, salt, and pepper. Meanwhile I prepare a box of macaroni and cheese. When everything is prepared, I stir the macaroni and cheese into the skillet of meat and vegetables and bring it to the table. I have been known to walk a mile to the grocery store in four inches of snow to buy ingredients for this meal if some were lacking in the kitchen.

But, “Are you ready for Christmas?” No doubt this question means different things to different people. To one person, it might mean, “Have you bought and wrapped Christmas gifts for everyone on your list?” To another, it might mean, “Have you made fifteen kinds of Christmas cookies, along with peanut brittle and fudge?” To a third, it might mean, “Have you finished decorating your home and your office for Christmas?” To a store owner, it might mean, “Have you stocked your shelves with everything your customers will want to buy?” To a preacher, it might mean, “Have you prepared your sermons for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day?”

“Are you ready for Christmas?” I’m tempted to answer, “With appropriate counseling and the right medications, I think I will survive.” The other day, I heard someone answer, “Is anybody ever ready for Christmas?” I think the next time someone asks me if I am ready, I will reply, “Is Christmas ready for me?”

“Are you ready for Christmas?” I have not finished my shopping for gifts, and I have not started wrapping gifts. I am still in the process of adding decorations to the house, one decoration each day until the 24th of December. But, yes, I am ready for Christmas. I am looking forward to celebrating the Incarnation of the Son of God. I am looking forward to sharing good news about how the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. I am primed to remind Christians that the real meaning of Christmas is not found in the gifts or the sweets or the decorations, but in the birth of Jesus who came to fulfill the meaning of that name: “The Lord saves.”

“Are you ready for Christmas?” If my job was to prepare myself for Christmas, I would have to say, “No. I’m not ready.” But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who are under the Law.” God has made his people ready for Christmas, and ready for an eternal celebration in a new world, one in which every day will be a holy day. J.

Christ in Genesis: Raising Cain, Raising Abel

Because of their sin, Adam and Eve were removed from the Garden of Eden and were not allowed to return. Yet they left with a promise that they would be rescued by a descendant of Eve who would crush the serpent’s head and would reconcile them to God. Adam and Eve’s children faced the same burden of sin that their parents had brought into the world, but they also inherited the same promise of forgiveness and reconciliation.

When Eve gave birth to her firstborn, a son, she uttered a sentence which consists, in Hebrew, of three words: “I-have-gotten, a-man, the-LORD.” Most translations add helping words to her sentence, rendering it as, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” Even the Septuagint, the Hebrew Bible translated into Greek more than twenty-two centuries ago, adds the proposition “apo” in front of the Name of the Lord. A few Bible scholars believe that adding words to this sentence is a mistake. For example, Martin Luther taught that Eve had said, “I have gotten a man, the LORD.” Luther believed that Eve understood the promise of her descendant, who would crush the devil’s head, would be God taking on human form, as Jesus took on human form from his mother, Mary. If indeed Eve thought that her firstborn son was the promised Savior, what a dreadful disappointment occurred when Cain instead became history’s first murderer.

When they had grown to manhood, Cain and his brother Abel both offered sacrifices to the Lord. God accepted the sacrifice of Abel but rejected the sacrifice of Cain. Much needless speculation has tried to discover the difference between the two sacrifices. The answer is found in Hebrews 11:4. Abel offered an acceptable sacrifice “by faith.” Cain evidently did not offer his sacrifice by faith. No sacrifice to God has any value if it is not offered by faith.

All the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament were pictures of Jesus suffering and dying on the cross, having his heal bruised as he crushed the head of the serpent. No sacrifice, other than Christ, ever purchased mercy and forgiveness from God. No human act, other than the work of Christ, can purchase God’s forgiveness. God hates the times when people go through the motions of worship or sacrifice apart from faith in him. (See Isaiah 1:14, Amos 5:21-23, and Psalm 50:7-11.) He wants these things to be done by faith. When people do these things without thinking about what they mean, God is displeased. When people do these things thinking that they are earning something from God, putting him in debt to them, God is angered.

The animals that died so Adam and Eve could be clothed were pictures of Jesus. Likewise, the firstborn animal offered by Abel—and the countless animals offered to God by his people over the centuries—were pictures of Jesus. It appears that Cain forgot this important truth. He offered a sacrifice to God, but not by faith. Therefore God did not accept the sacrifice Cain offered. The fact that Cain was angry to have his sacrifice refused shows that he expected to gain something from God by that sacrifice.

Jesus warned Cain of the dangerous temptation lurking in his anger. Cain ignored the warning. Instead, he acted in violence, murdering his brother. He thought that his crime would be secret, but no one keeps secrets from God. As God had given Adam and Eve the opportunity to confess their sin, so Jesus also asked Cain about Abel.

Cain lied to God. He said that he did not know where Abel was. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain asked. The answer to that question is “yes.” We are all commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves, and a brother is a very near neighbor. We are all expected to help one another, to bear each other’s burdens. Obeying God’s commandment not to murder is not as simple as never violently taking another’s life. We are not to hurt or harm our neighbors, but we are to help them and care for them. Neglecting a neighbor in his or her need is sinful, just as violently striking him or her is sinful.

Jesus challenged Cain’s lie. “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground,” Jesus said. Other Bible verses also describe the blood of victims as crying for justice. Because God loves each of us, God is angry when any of us are hurt by a fellow human being. All the blood of all victims in history cries for justice, and God hears those cries. On the Day of the Lord, the justice of God will be revealed. Those who have harmed their neighbors will finally receive what they deserve.

Cain knew what he deserved. He had taken away his brother’s life; now he deserved to be killed. His parents, his other brothers and sisters, his nephews and nieces all had the right to take vengeance on the killer of Abel. Yet God did not give Cain what Cain deserved. Instead, Cain was marked by God so that no one would kill him, even though he deserved to be killed.

The firstborn animal offered by Abel was a picture of Jesus. Abel himself became a picture of Jesus, innocent before God and yet killed by his brother. Jesus was rejected by his own people and sent to his death. Yet the blood of Jesus does not cry for vengeance. Instead, in his death, Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them.” His blood is more powerful than the blood of Abel. Our sins caused the suffering and death of Jesus, but now he washes us in his blood to redeem us as God’s people. Because of the death of Jesus, we will not receive what we deserve on the Day of the Lord. Instead, we will receive what Jesus deserves—eternal life in God’s perfect new creation.

Like Cain, we have been marked by God so we will not receive what we deserve. He has marked us with the blood of Christ; he has marked us with his own Holy Spirit. On the Last Day, Jesus will see that mark on us and claim us as his people. He has already paid to purchase us. Now and forever we belong to him.

Seven Mysteries of the Christian Faith–Chapter two: the mystery of the Incarnation

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Some years ago, when I was teaching in a Christian school, a mother of one of the students contacted the principal of the school, upset because her son said I had taught the class about reincarnation. The principal checked with me and was able to tell the mother that I had not said anything on reincarnation, but I had been teaching the class about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. The next time I spoke to that class, I made sure that they understood both words and knew the difference between them.

Reincarnation is an idea found in the Hindu religion (and also in some ancient Greek philosophers) that, after death, the spiritual substance of a being returns to the world in a different body. Most Christians reject the idea of reincarnation, since it is not supported by any portion of the Bible. The Incarnation of Jesus Christ, however, is one of the central mysteries of the Bible. The word Incarnation comes from the Latin expression for “became flesh.” When the Son of God was conceived by the Holy Spirit and was born in Bethlehem, he was a human being, as human as the rest of us. This miracle, celebrated by Christians every Christmas, makes Jesus unique in the history of world religions. According to some religions, their founders were wise men but were not gods. Confucius, the Buddha, and Muhammad never claimed to be gods. In some other religions, gods pretended to be human. Greek and Roman gods were said to walk among people disguised as humans, and Krishna was said to be the human appearance (avatar) of the Hindu god Vishnu. In none of these cases, though, were the beings said to be entirely divine and entirely human at the same time.

Christians say that Jesus is the Son of God, equal to God the Father in every way. Both the Father and the Son are eternal, timeless, and unchanging. They both know everything and can do anything; they both are present everywhere in the universe. They both are good, holy, and loving Persons; and all of these things can be said of the Holy Spirit as well. At the same time, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit never became human. God the Son was born in Bethlehem. As a man, he was known as Jesus of Nazareth. He was arrested, tried, convicted, sentenced, and put to death in Jerusalem. He also rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.

This Jesus is 100 percent God, and he is also 100 percent human. Here is the paradox, the mystery of the Incarnation. Although he is completely God and completely human, he is still only one Person. Nothing can be said of Jesus the Son of God that is not true of Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary. Nothing can be said of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Mary, that is not also true of the eternal Son of God. A Person who can be God and human at the very same time surpasses human understanding. Yet this is what Christians have believed and taught since the earliest times of the Church, because this is what the apostles said and wrote, and this is what Jesus said about himself.

Some conspiracy theorists claim that Jesus never said that he was God. They say that even the apostles did not clearly declare Jesus to be God. These theorists point out that dozens of gospels were written about Jesus, and they say that three hundred years after Jesus died, church leaders chose to hide the gospels that emphasized Jesus as a man and included in the Bible only the four gospels that can be used to teach that Jesus is truly God.

Only one thing said by these conspiracy theorists is true: dozens of gospels were written about Jesus. Within 150 years of the death and resurrection of Jesus, prominent Christian leaders were already proclaiming the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to be the only reliable gospels. The other gospels were not hidden by the Church, but they were rejected because they did not agree with the teachings of the Church, drawn from the writings of the prophets and apostles.

Most of the other gospels were either early attempts at historical fiction, trying to fill in the missing gaps of Jesus’ biography (such as what kind of child he was), or were deliberate blends of Christian teaching and Greek philosophy. To the Greek philosophers, the material world is an evil place from which truly spiritual beings want to escape. Writers who blended that philosophy with Christianity are known as Gnostics, because they claimed to possess hidden teachings of Jesus that are meant only for truly spiritual people. Many of the Gnostic writings claim that the world was created by an inferior god, but sparks of divinity fell into the world and became human beings. A better god then sent a messenger, Jesus, to free those divine sparks and return them to the spiritual world. Jesus was pure spirit and only pretended to be human. He could not be hurt or harmed in any way. One Gnostic gospel describes the disciples of Jesus crying when they saw his body hanging on the cross, until they looked higher, where they saw the spirit of the Christ, laughing at his enemies for thinking that they had hurt him. Basic teachings of Jesus, and of the apostles and prophets, were rejected by Gnostics. These teachings included the goodness of God’s creation, the idea that sinners could be redeemed by a sacrifice, and the promise that God’s people would rise as Jesus rose from the dead. Christian leaders rejected the Gnostic writings, not because they carried embarrassing truths, but because they completely changed the teachings of the Christian Church.

Even some sincere Christians, rejecting most of the Gnostic ideas, still believed and taught that Jesus is truly God but that he only pretended to be human. Reason and logic convinced them that Jesus could not be completely God and completely human at the same time. They viewed Jesus as a Teacher who came to show people how to live and how to be saved. Like the Gnostics, they did not believe that the Son of God could truly suffer or die, so they described his crucifixion as a lesson in sacrificial love. John addressed this view of Jesus in one of his epistles. He wrote, “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (I John 4:2). John had strict words for those who denied the human, fleshly, reality of Jesus, identifying them as “antichrist.” From that first epistle of John, Christians identify three teachings that John said were essential for Christianity: Jesus is God, Jesus is human (“came in the flesh”), and Jesus is the Savior.

Other Christians, both ancient and modern, have emphasized the humanity of Jesus without being sure that he is truly God. They have suggested that in some way he became God, at least for a time. Some said that Jesus can be called the Son of God because he was inspired by God. Others have said that Jesus was adopted by God the Father (perhaps on the occasion of his Baptism) and so became the Son of God in that way. Some people who call themselves followers of Jesus continue to suggest that Jesus is only a wise teacher, on the same level as Confucius and the Buddha and Muhammad, but no greater.

The Bible says that Jesus allowed people to worship him, even though he taught that only God should be worshiped. In the face of opposition, he claimed the authority to forgive sins, and he also described himself as the one Judge to appear in the sky at the end of time. When Jesus was on trial and was asked under oath whether or not he is the Son of God, he clearly claimed that title (Mark 14:62). Jesus could have escaped execution had he said, “I’m not claiming to be God; I’m just trying to teach people how to live.” The high priests told Pilate that Jesus deserved to die because he made himself equal to God (John 19:7). To the Romans, claiming to be “a son of a god” was not grounds for punishment, but to the priests such a statement was blasphemy. They were his enemies because he claimed to be the Son of God.

Trying to make the mystery of the Incarnation acceptable to reason and logic, other Christians have suggested that Jesus is a god but not the Almighty God. Such Christian teachers said that the Son of God was the first thing created by the Father, and that the Father then created everything else through the Son. This suggestion that Jesus is a god who deserves worship but is not eternal or almighty prompted a meeting of the Church leaders around three hundred years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. This meeting was not held to invent new teachings about Jesus; it was held to study the Bible, to learn what Christians had been saying all along about Jesus, and how to summarize this teaching in clear and concise language. At this meeting, Christian leaders voted to accept a statement of faith which describes Jesus as “God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, Being of one substance with the Father…” These words describe the traditional Christian understanding of Jesus as the Son of God. Many Christians still say these words aloud as part of their regular services.

Even with the issue resolved that Jesus is truly God and Jesus is truly human, the relationship of those two Natures in the one Person of Jesus Christ remains a mystery. Christians have struggled to understand this mystery, but as in all the mysteries, any attempt to use reason and logic to resolve the paradox leads only to false teachings.

The simplest solution is that the body of Jesus is fully human and the mind and spirit of Jesus are fully divine.  While this might seem to make sense, it would mean that Jesus is not truly human. If his thinking was the thinking of God and not that of a man, then he could not be tempted as we are tempted. The soul that Jesus committed into his Father’s hands from the cross was a human soul, not only the soul of the Son of God. Jesus has experienced humanity in every aspect that makes us human; in human body, human mind, and human spirit.

The next simplest solution is to think of the two Natures as somehow combined in the one Christ like two boards glued together or two liquids (such as vinegar and olive oil) mixed together. The divine Nature remains divine, and the human nature remains human. The mixture results in a unique Being, both God and man, but neither really influences or shapes the other. Mary is the mother of Jesus of Nazareth, who has no father; Jesus the Son of God is the Father’s only-begotten Son, but he has no mother. As a man, Jesus experienced hunger, but the eternal and unchanging Son of God was never hungry. Jesus the Son of God calmed storms, cast out demons, and raised the dead, but the human Jesus of Nazareth had no part in those miracles.

That solution also fails to describe the Jesus of the Bible. The Son of God truly became human and experienced humanity; he did not just join himself to a human body or mingle his Nature with a human nature. The Son of God has experienced everything that it means to be human. The Gnostics denied the importance of the physical world which was created by God and was called good by God. Any attempt to separate the divine and human natures of Jesus, so that one or the other exists alone, denies from the goodness of God’s creation and makes Jesus only a spiritual Savior rather than the Redeemer of all creation.

One more solution has been suggested from time to time: it is thought that Jesus is fully human, but that the divine nature of Jesus consumed his human nature. He had a human mind, but all his thinking was done by his divine mind; he had a human will, but all his decisions were made by his divine will. This solution seems logical, but it also counters the Bible’s teaching that Jesus is fully human, like us in every way (except that he never sinned). After debating these resolutions to the mystery of the Incarnation, early Christians decided to retain the mystery. Jesus is one Person who is one hundred percent God and one hundred percent human. He has the mind of God, but he also has the mind of a man. He has the will of God, but he also has the will of a man. Because Jesus never sinned, his human will always agrees with his divine will. Jesus felt no inner conflict being both God and human. The two Natures within him never fought or contradicted each other. At every time, then, Jesus remains completely divine and completely human.

The mystery of the Incarnation means, then, that the Son of God became a created being, traveling through time as all men and women and children travel through time. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Mary can be identified, then, as the mother of God. The Son of God was born as all other babies are born, and he experienced infancy and childhood as all other people experience them. The Son of God grew to be a boy and then a man. He learned how to walk, and how to talk, and how to read. He was hungry and he ate. He was thirsty and he drank. He was tired and he slept. He needed friends, and when he was without his friends he was lonely. He was in danger from every menace that might threaten any person: the hostility of a king, the danger of a storm, or the plotting of a group of enemies. Like every other person, Jesus was subject to the commandments God had given to his people. Jesus was required to love and obey God the Father, and he was required to love and to help his neighbors. As a human being, Jesus was tempted to sin—not just in the wilderness for forty days, but every day of his life on earth. All the things that distract us from God were there to try to distract Jesus too. All the suggestions that something might be better than obeying God’s commands were suggested to Jesus too. The Son of God faced every temptation that we face, but Jesus always resisted temptation and did the will of his Father. Not just the human Jesus of Nazareth, but the all-powerful Son of God, was arrested by his enemies and dragged from trial to trial. His enemies slapped and beat the Son of God, and they spit on him, and they mocked him. The Son of God was beaten with whips, and he bled. The Son of God was nailed to a cross, and there he suffered, and there he died. The Son of God knows how it feels to face death, because he has faced death as surely as any mortal human being.

Can God die? The death of the Son of God is like the death of any other human being: his spirit was separated from his body, and his body was laid to rest. We learn about the death of a Christian by remembering the words Jesus spoke while hanging on the cross: “Today you will be with me in Paradise,” and, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When any Christian dies, he or she is with Jesus in Paradise. Though the body is laid to rest on earth, the spirit of that Christian is in the hands of God the Father until the resurrection that is to come.

The Son of God knows what it is to live a human life and to die a human death. Jesus of Nazareth, the human son of Mary, knows what it is to be “God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God.” The son of Mary knew everything (although he chose to forget a few things—the Day of his coming in Judgment, for example, or the sins committed by his people). The son of Mary was present everywhere in the universe even as he walked across Galilee and Judea. The son of Mary could do anything, although the miracles he worked always helped other people and not himself. The son of Mary is timeless, eternal, and unchanging. The son of Mary is in charge of the universe and was running the universe even as he slept in a manger in Bethlehem.

What was true two thousand years ago in Bethlehem and Nazareth and Jerusalem is also true today. The two Natures of Christ remain together and cannot be separated, because Jesus Christ is one Person, not two persons. The Son of God is the son of Mary; and the son of Mary is the Son of God. He rules the universe, and he does so while thinking of his people, those who trust his promises. He hears the prayers of his people, and he answers those prayers. When Christians pray for the things we need this world, Jesus hears and understands, because he is still one of us. When we pray for others Jesus understands our love for them, for he had a mother and brothers and sisters and friends and neighbors and enemies in this world. When we are tempted and pray for help, Jesus knows how to help us, because he was tempted in every way that we are tempted today.

Sometimes Christians imagine that the body of Jesus has been put into storage until he needs it again on the Last Day. Nothing in the Bible says that the body of Jesus is in storage; instead, the Bible makes it clear that the Jesus who is with us always is the same Jesus who taught his disciples and ate and drank with them. The Bible says that Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father, but the right hand is not one place in the universe; it is power and authority over the entire universe. Instead of placing his body and his human nature in one location after his ascension, Jesus “ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things” (Ephesians 4:10). Jesus—the one Jesus, with a divine Nature and a human Nature—is in the largest places and in the smallest places. No one can find any place where Jesus is not present. He fills the entire universe with his presence, so he can keep his promise to be with all his people, wherever we go. He has the power to hear all our prayers and answer all our prayers, even if millions of us are talking to Jesus at the same time.

Jesus can be with all of us and can pay attention to all of us because he is not limited by time. He can walk through life with me and be aware of every detail about me, and then he can do the same with you. Because time does not limit him, Jesus can be with each of his people always and still can run the entire universe without forgetting anything that needs to be done. Jesus is the ultimate time traveler, because he does not even need a time machine to move forward and backward in time as he chooses.

Until science fiction writers began writing about time travel at the end of the nineteenth century, Christians did not think of Jesus as a time traveler so much as they pictured him as timeless. We know that “no one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18). Some Christian writers mentioned the “preincarnate Christ” who was present in the Old Testament, before the Son of God had been conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. When Jesus ascended “that he might fill all things,” he was able to fill time as well as space. The same body that was born to Mary, that grew from a boy to a man in Nazareth, and that preached and taught and worked miracles in Galilee and Judea, traveled backward in time to speak to believers of earlier generations. The God seen by the prophet Isaiah seated on a throne in the Temple was the Jesus who had died on the cross and had risen from the dead. The God who ate with Abraham and wrestled with Jacob was the Jesus who had ascended that he might fill all things. Even the hands that took clay in the Garden of Eden to form the first man were hands scarred from the nails of the cross; the Savior could see those scars and know what would come from the man he was creating and from his descendants.

The mystery of the Incarnation is that God would choose to become human, to live among humans, and to help humans. Beyond that, though, is another mystery, the reason God chose to be Incarnate. God can do anything he wishes, but he wished to create the world, and he wished to redeem the world. The mystery of redemption, accomplished on a cross outside of Jerusalem, is the reason that God chose to bring about the mystery of his Incarnation.