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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Christ: Two natures united in one single person
Text:BC 19 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 30:1,2,5

Psalm 2

Hymn 23:1-3

Hymn 1

Hymn 23:4-6

Scripture readings: Matthew 27:32-56, Philippians 2:1-11

Catechism lesson:  Belgic Confession article 19

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

The story is told of a king who wanted to understand the poorest of the poor in his kingdom.  He wanted to step in their shoes and really identify with them.  The king thought about the possibilities.  He could dress up as a beggar each day and wander the streets with the poor and homeless.  But at the end of the day he’d go back to his palace and still be the king.  With that option, he’d only be pretending to be poor.  So there was another option:  he could give up his position as king, give away all his riches, and become a beggar.  But that wasn’t a good option because it’d mean that he wouldn’t be king anymore ever again.  Finally, he thought of a third possibility.  He’d officially remain king, but he’d give up the use of his powers and resources for a limited time.  During those three years, he’d be a beggar, but at the end he would take up his throne again.

That’s not a perfect illustration of what Christ did, but it helps.  Christ is the eternal King.  According to what we read from Philippians 2, he “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”  Christ humbled himself by taking on a human nature.  He remained King, but he temporarily gave up his royal glory when he became one of us.  And he did this remarkable thing out of love for us, to rescue us from our sins and their consequences.

This afternoon we’re learning from the Belgic Confession about the two natures of Christ.  Specifically, we’re going to see how he has two natures united in one single person.  We’ll learn about:

  1. How the Bible teaches this truth
  2. The mystery this truth includes
  3. Why this truth matters

When it comes to this Bible teaching, there are a few terms we need to be clear about.  Let’s start with “person.”  You’ve heard that term before in connection with the doctrine of the Trinity.  God is three persons in one being.  A person is a someone, “an active subject who does things and to whom things happen.”  The three persons in the one God are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  We confess that the Son of God is one single person.  He has always been one person and he always will be.

Then the next important term is “nature.”  What is a “nature”?  Nature is the essence of what makes a being what it is.  There is a human nature.  The human nature is the essence of what it means to be human.  Every human person possesses this.  There’s also a divine nature.  The divine nature is the essence of what makes God who he is.  Each person of the Trinity possesses this one divine nature.

Before Jesus was conceived and born of the Virgin Mary, he existed in the person of the Son of God.  Before his incarnation, he only had a divine Nature.  But at the moment of his conception in Mary’s womb, a human nature was added to his person.  A human nature was added alongside his divine nature.  As John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…”  The Son of God took on human nature and he really became one of us. 

Article 19 of our Belgic Confession explains what a human nature involves.  A human nature has a beginning and it is a created thing.  A human nature is finite – it can only be in one place at one time.  A human nature has “all the properties of a true body,” which is to say that it has a material aspect to it.  Someone who has a nature can be touched.  Even after his resurrection, Christ still has a human nature with “all the properties of a true body.”  In Luke 24:39, Jesus urged his disciples to touch him.  He said, “For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”  Then he went on to eat broiled fish with them.  But there’s more to a human nature than a human body. 

As our Belgic Confession says in article 18, a human nature includes a human soul.  We’re made up of both body and soul as human beings.  When Christ took on a human nature, he also received a human soul.  That’s because he had to be a true human being in every respect.  Both body and soul were lost to sin, so Christ had to assume both to save both.  When our Belgic Confession says that at the end of the first paragraph of article 18, it’s paraphrasing Gregory of Nazianzus, an early church father.  He said, “What is not assumed is not healed.”  In other words, if Christ didn’t assume a human body, our bodies wouldn’t be healed.  If Christ didn’t assume a human soul, our souls wouldn’t be healed.  So the Son of God took on a human nature like ours, body and soul, yet without sin.

Article 19 also explains what a divine nature involves.  The divine nature is “uncreated, without beginning of days or end of life.”  The reference there is to Hebrews 7:3.  It says Christ is a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.  Melchizedek was this mysterious priest-king from the book of Genesis.  He suddenly appeared and blessed Abraham.  The author of Hebrews notes that there’s no mention of Melchizedek’s ancestry.  We don’t hear about his father or mother and we don’t hear about his death.  In this way, he’s pointing to the Son of God.  The Son of God doesn’t have a beginning or an end.  He’s not a creature with a biological history.  We also confess that he “fills heaven and earth” with his divine nature.  In other words, with his divine nature, the Son of God is omnipresent.  That’s why he can say at the end of Matthew 28, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Every three years I do a seminar format with the senior catechism students.  Each of them has to do a presentation on a Lord’s Day.  It gets them to work doing some research for themselves.  Last time around one of the students did a presentation on Lord’s Day 14 and she shared what she’d learned about Christ’s two natures.  She spoke about those two natures as being inseparably united.  Then she used a term I never thought I’d hear from a catechism student:  the hypostatic union.  I was so impressed.  Now I figured that since one of my catechism students could learn about the hypostatic union and explain it to her peers, I could use the term in this sermon too, and you can learn it just as well. 

What is the hypostatic union?  Well, it’s simply the union of Christ’s human and divine natures in one person.  ‘Hypostasis’ is the Greek word for “nature.” Hypostatic union is the union of the two natures.  Just as you can’t divide the persons of the Trinity from one another, so also you can’t divide the two natures of Christ.  We distinguish them, but we can’t separate them, and they never are separated.  Thus the one person of Christ is always true God and true man at the same time.

Now I need to point out that what we have here in our Belgic Confession isn’t unique to us as Reformed churches.  The doctrine that you find here has been taught in the Christian church for centuries.  It’s the same teaching that you find in the Athanasian Creed which dates back to the first half of the sixth century.  Before that, it’s the doctrine of the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451.  But most importantly of all, this is the teaching of Scripture.  Scripture teaches us to confess that the Son of God, who is and remains true and eternal God, took upon himself a true human nature in order to rescue us.  As Philippians 2:6 puts it, he was in the form of God, he was equal with God – in other words, he was God.  But he set aside his heavenly glory and took on the form of a servant – in other words, he became one of us.  His incarnation was his humbling, but it was our salvation.

Now in saying these things I don’t want to leave you with the impression that it’s all so easy to make sense of.  There are mysterious aspects to what we confess in article 19 about the hypostatic union.  That’s the second thing we’ll learn about this afternoon.

One of our readings was from Matthew 27:32-56.  I remember hearing a sermon on that passage from Rev. Richard Aasman when I was a university student.  He preached on that passage for a Good Friday service.  It struck me that Christ cried out about God forsaking him, quoting from Psalm 22.  I thought, “How can that be possible if Christ has a true divine nature?  How can God forsake God on the cross?  Was there a break in the fellowship of the Trinity?  Was the Son excluded from the Trinity for a time?”

After the service I went up to my pastor and asked him about it.  Rev. Aasman said, “I don’t know.  It’s a mystery how the Son of God could be forsaken by God on the cross.  I don’t know how to explain it.”  Since then, I’ve done a lot more thinking about it.  I’ve done a lot more reading about it.  The truth is that I can’t get any further than my old pastor did.  When we try to consider how these things work, we run up against a wall.  We run up against a wall because God doesn’t explain these things in the Bible.

We have to hold to what we know from the Bible without having an explanation of how it can all be so.  As our Belgic Confession says, the hypostatic union wasn’t even broken by Christ’s death.  The human nature and divine nature were still joined in the one person of the Son of God.  The hypostatic union wasn’t even broken with Christ’s burial.  His human body was lying in the grave, his human soul was in heaven with the Father, and yet his divine nature was united with both.  Can I explain that?  No, I’m sorry, I can’t.  The suffering and death of Christ involve a great mystery.                                                    

Loved ones, the Christian faith includes things we can’t understand, things that haven’t been revealed to us by God.  As Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God…”  And as God says in Isaiah 55, “…my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”  Our Creator has a right to reserve certain things for himself and we have no right to demand it otherwise.  He’s God, we’re not. 

But someone might say, “Does that mean we just have blind faith?”  Blind faith is when you’re told to trust someone on something when you have no basis for trusting them.  Let’s say I meet a stranger on the street and he tells me, “I have a deal for you.  I’m going to sell you a certain bridge for $200 and then you can put a toll booth on it and make millions.”  If I believe that stranger and give him my $200, that’s blind faith.  When we talk about the mysteries of Christianity, we’re not talking about blind faith. 

No, we’re talking about what’s called “warranted faith.”  There’s a basis for trusting what God says.  If he’s revealed so much about himself in the Bible that you know what he’s like, then you know that you can trust him on the things he holds back.  Your warrant for faith is that you know him personally.  God isn’t a stranger on the street trying to sell you a bridge.  He’s your Father.  You’re not blind to who he is or what he’s done.  He’s revealed himself to you in the Bible. 

Paul Tripp tells of how he had to say ‘no’ to his children when they were small.  He had to say ‘no’ at times when they wouldn’t be able to understand why.  They’d get upset and ask, “Daddy, why?  Why?”  Then Paul Tripp would say, “Daddy would love to help you understand why, but if he told you why, you still wouldn’t understand.  Does your daddy love you?  Does he want good things for you?  Does he want to keep you safe?  Then trust your daddy.  Walk down the hall and say to yourself, ‘I don’t know why my daddy said no to me, but I know my daddy loves me.”  Tripp goes on to say that “Rest of heart is always personal.  Peace of soul is always relational.”  You see, we rest in God’s person.  We have peace because we have this relationship of fellowship with him.  He’s our Father.  That’s true for everything God holds back from us, including how the hypostatic union was preserved in the suffering and death of Christ.  We have faith that it’s so, but it’s not blind faith.  It’s warranted faith.

The last thing we’re learning about this afternoon is why this truth of the hypostatic union matters.  What difference does it make that Christ was and is true God and true man? 

Here you can look with me at the last paragraph of article 19.  He had to be true God “in order to conquer death by his power.”  God is the only one stronger than death.  If Christ was going to deliver us from eternal death, he had to be more powerful than death.  He had to be able to rise again victorious over it.  And prior to that, he also had to be able to experience the hell we deserve.  Hell is the expression of God’s righteous wrath against sin.  It’s an infinite wrath.  And the only one powerful enough to bear that wrath and deliver others from it would be God himself.  Jesus had to be true God.

And why did he have to be a true human being?  Our Belgic Confession says, “that he might die for us according to the infirmity of his flesh.”  God is immortal – God can’t die.  But a human being can.  The only way Christ could die for our sins on the cross was to become one of us.  The only way Christ could suffer the wrath of God in body and soul was to become one of us.

You see, we have an enormous problem.  We’re sinners.  The weight of our debt against God’s majesty is infinite.  The weight of God’s wrath against us is infinite.  There’s no way we can pay that debt for ourselves.  Someone else has to do it for us.  But any mere human being wouldn’t be able to bear that infinite weight.  Only God himself can bear the weight of his own infinite wrath.  We need to pay, but we can’t.  This is where we see the goodness and mercy of God.  He gave us Christ, true man and true God.  This is where we see the wisdom of God and we worship.

Christ is the wisdom of God.  As we look to Christ, we see the finite joined with the infinite.  We see mortality united to immortality.  As we look to Christ, we see the nature of the Law-maker inseparably welded to a nature under the law.  Amazingly, we see the Creator closely knit to his creature.  All this we see in the one person of Christ, the Son of God, the God-man.  As Stephen Charnock put it, “He had both the nature which had offended, and the nature which was offended.” 

He had both those natures in order to secure rescue for us.  There was no other way for us to be saved from our sins.  The Son of God laid down his majesty and came to this earth to rescue creatures who had rebelled against him.  He did it out of love.  As we see that, these truths lead us to love.  These truths lead us to awe and worship for God.  The wonder of the God-man leads us to a life dedicated to Christ as one of his disciples.

In 1739 Charles Wesley wrote a Christmas hymn based on Luke 2:14.  He gave it a pretty bland title, “A Hymn for Christmas Day.”  As Charles Wesley wrote it, its opening line was “Hark how all the Welkin rings…”  But since few people know what “welkin” means, in 1758 George Whitefield changed the opening line to “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”   That became its title too.  The second verse contains these beautiful words:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
  Hail th’ incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with man to dwell,
  Jesus our Immanuel.

That’s a brilliant poetic expression of what we’ve been learning about here this afternoon, the hypostatic union.  Indeed, in Christ, God was veiled or clothed in flesh.  He became the incarnate Deity, God in the flesh.  A true human being dwelling with us human beings.  Jesus our Immanuel, our God with us.  Praise be to God for his wisdom!  Praise be to the Son of God for his love and humble sacrifice in our place!  AMEN.


O wise and loving God,

We praise you for the gospel truths we’ve been learning about this afternoon.  Thank you that you devised a way to show us your grace while still upholding your justice.  We worship you for the plan to have your Son take on a human nature for our salvation.  Lord Jesus, we adore you for your love and your humble sacrifice.  Thank you for agreeing to come into this world, to lay aside your majesty and glory, that you were willing to humble yourself unto death on the cross.  We’re so grateful that you did that for our rescue from sin.  Please help us with your Holy Spirit so we’d never take this great love of yours for granted.  Stir in us a greater measure of love for you.  Please give us a deeper level of commitment to you.  O Lord, help us each day to live as your disciples for your glory.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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