Coty Pinckney is the Senior Pastor at Desiring God Community Church (DGCC) in Charlotte, NC. DGCC is a Treasuring Christ Together Network Church, and Coty currently serves as a National Board Member.
The Center of Christmas: Fully God and Fully Man
Luke 2:7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Amidst gift-buying and Santas and reindeer and “folks dressed up like Eskimos,” what should be the center of Christmas?
Luke 2:7 tells us. “She gave birth.” Mary, a young girl, a virgin, a woman who had never had sexual relations with a man, gave birth. The conception was a miracle – but there is nothing here in the text to indicate that the birth was anything other than the normal process of labor. Mary gave birth just as billions of other women have given birth: her water broke, she began to have contractions, she felt overwhelmed by the process going on inside her body; her back hurt, there was pain and effort and sweat and pushing and stretching and burning – and then, finally, amazingly, this new little creature came forth from her body; a new creature covered with mucus and amniotic fluid and blood and vernix – hair (if any) plastered to his head, that head possibly misshapen from hours of pushing, his skin bluish in color until the first breath, and first cry. Mary gave birth – and the baby, Jesus, came into this world just as you and I did, through His mother’s strong efforts, bloody, slippery – and yet beautiful.
The point of all this? Jesus was a baby – a normal baby, born in the normal way.
Jesus was really human. Jesus was a baby who soiled himself, spit up, cried when He was hungry; He was completely dependent upon his parents for meeting His every need. He could do nothing for himself. With His little hands, he grasped fingers held out to Him. He couldn’t communicate at first except by crying. He took months to learn to crawl, and more months to learn to walk, and to speak. Jesus was a normal, human baby with normal human needs.
Jesus continued to exhibit normal human needs and problems throughout his life. The Bible tells us:
- He became tired (John 4:6).
- He became thirsty (John 4:7, 19:28).
- He was tempted to sin (Matthew 4:1-10, Hebrews 4:15).
- He wept (Hebrews 5:7, John 11:35).
- He suffered (Hebrews 2:18).
Indeed, the book of Hebrews tells us he was “like his brothers in every respect” (2:17).
Scripture is clear: Jesus was a real baby. Jesus was a real man.
But Jesus was not only a man. He was “Immanuel, which means God with us” (Matthew 1:34). Jesus is truly God. How do we know this? The Bible shows this in three ways:
1) While on earth, He claimed to be God
a) Jesus said, “I and the Father are One” (John 10:30-31). His audience clearly understood him to claim deity – for they proceeded to try to stone Him for committing blasphemy! Now, there are many pantheists who would say something that sounds similar on the surface: “All things are God – all things are one – I am one with the universe.” But that’s clearly not what Jesus meant. The Bible never confuses God with His creation. Indeed, the very first sentence in the Bible makes a clear distinction between God and the created order: “In the beginning God created.” Jesus is not saying, “I and the Father are One – You and the Father are One – we’re all One!” He is saying, “I am unique. I am God.”
b) Jesus said, “Before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58-59). Here Jesus clearly claims to have existed prior to Abraham – who lived more than a thousand years earlier. But He is claiming even more than that. Why does Jesus say, “Before Abraham was born, I am” instead of “Before Abraham was born, I was”? Remember God’s revelation of Himself to Moses at the burning bush. There God answers Moses’ request to tell him His name by saying,
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” Exodus 3:14
So when Jesus says, “Before Abraham was born, I am,” He is echoing the name of God. He is hinting at His equality with God. Once again, His listeners understand this and consider such a statement blasphemous.
c) Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 15:24). This is an audacious claim. “Look at Me and you will see what God is like.” Only the God-man can say that.
So Jesus clearly claimed to be God. Now, over the centuries, a number of men have claimed to be God. Today, we put most such people in mental institutions. So making the claim does not establish the point. That leads us to the next point: These other claimants to deity have not done what only God can do.
2) While on earth, Jesus did things only God could do
- He fed 5000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish (Mark 6:35-44).
- He turned water into wine (John 2:1-11).
- In the midst of a storm, He commanded the wind and the waves to be still – and they obeyed (Mark 4:39).
- He raised the dead to life (John 11:43-44).
- He Himself was raised from the dead, and was seen by more than 500 people (1 Corinthians 15:3-6)
- He forgave sins (Mark 2:5-7).
Consider this last incident. Friends bring a paralyzed man to Jesus. They can’t get in the door, so they climb on top of the house, open a hole in the roof, and let the paralytic down through the hole. Jesus looks at him, and the first thing He says is, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” The scribes who are present think, rightly, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At that point, Jesus chooses to heal the man – to show that He had authority to forgive sins. He thus proves He is God by forgiving the man’s sins, and then showing that those sins are truly forgiven by the physical healing.
We could point to many more incidents, but these alone show that Jesus did what only God can do.
3) Other New Testament writers tell us that Jesus is God
Once again, we could point to any number of passages. We’ll look at only two:
Hebrews 1:3 [The Son] 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.
The second phrase is the easiest to understand: Jesus is the “exact imprint of [God’s] nature.” He is exactly like God. Since God is perfectly loving, Jesus is perfectly loving. Since God is perfectly just, Jesus is perfectly just. Since God is perfectly holy, Jesus is perfectly holy.
Use that phrase to help you understand the first: “The radiance of the glory of God.” Jesus is the glory of God shining forth! He displays God’s attributes in ways that no one else does, in ways that nothing else can.
Finally the last phrase: “He upholds the universe by the word of his power.” The entire creation is sustained by His might. He not only created all things, but without Him all things would cease to exist.
Clearly the author of Hebrews claims that Jesus is God.
For our second passage, consider four verses from John 1:
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John tells us that Jesus existed before creation – but more than that, He was God from the beginning.
John 1:3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
Jesus was the active agent of God in creation. Apart from Him, nothing has come into existence.
John 1:14 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.
Jesus is man, but Jesus is God also. His glory is the glory of God. He, like God, is full of grace and truth.
John 1:18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known
Look at this verse carefully. When John says, “the only God, who is at the Father’s side” who is he talking about? Jesus! So he says, “No one has ever seen God the Father, but Jesus, who is God also, who is at the side of God the Father, has shown us what God is like. When we see Jesus, we see God the Father.”
There can be no question. These passages say that Jesus is God.
Put these thoughts together now. Meditate on what it means for Jesus to be both God and man:
Those same infant hands which grasped Mary’s finger were the hands that created the myriads of stars; that same voice that cried out moments after birth was the voice that named each of those stars.
So consider the tremendous truth of the incarnation. We get so used to the words “Immanuel, God with us, God incarnate, God in the flesh,” they role off our lips and we don’t begin to fathom what they mean. Think, now think! The One who made the sun became infinitesimal compared to it. The One who had all glory and power and purity and praise became despised, poor, needy, helpless; the One who was before the world began became – a tiny, seemingly insignificant speck in that world.
Jesus is man, fully man. Jesus is God, fully God.
That’s the mystery in Bethlehem’s manger. That’s the center of Christmas.
By Coty Pinckney