“So, gather round North Hills Church, come. Listen to the old, old story of the power of death undone by an infant born of glory, Son of God, Son of man.”
Son of God, fully divine … This Jesus of whom we speak was fully divine. He was God. He would make these wild claims about forgiving sin. He would control the weather and do miracles and ask to be worshiped. He was fully God.
Son of man … This Jesus of whom we speak was fully human. He would have mundane needs, like food and water, and he would sleep and cry. He was fully human.
But the question arises, “What does it mean to be fully human?” To get the answer to that question, we have to travel back in time further into the old, old story, all the way back to the beginnings in the book of Genesis, where we read this:
“God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.”
So, to be fully human seems to be that you are a God-created being of flesh and a living soul, an embodied soul, if you will. So, in Luke 2 [1:35] when the angel talks to Mary, she hears this: Mary,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be called holy — the Son of God.”
God created a being of flesh and living soul within Mary. God and the Spirit worked together so that, through Mary, an authentic, fully human being would be born, who was simultaneously the Son of God.
But this is weird and mysterious, and if we’re honest, I think for me at least, hard to believe sometimes. And I think I can help all of us by saying it’s okay for us to say out loud, even at church, the nature of Jesus is hard to understand. That’s not necessarily doubt. Perhaps it’s humility because we’re dealing with something in the nature of Jesus, and there’s nothing else like it. It’s historically, philosophically, logically, empirically, emotionally, naturally and supernaturally, and paradoxically a complete, mind-numbing, mind-expanding, mind-altering statement. God incarnated. One person, two natures, fully God, fully human. We’re not the first to wrestle with this, and that’s the good news. Church people have struggled and investigated this reality of Jesus, perhaps all the way back to when Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
I want to tell you about one specific guy who wrestled with this and unfortunately came to the wrong conclusion, and we call that conclusion heresy. It’s completely, utterly wrong, and we call him a heretic. And unfortunately, those words sound so harsh and evil. So, let’s learn about this guy a little bit first. And then I’m going to give you two reasons why he is a respectable heretic.
So, this guy’s name is Apollinaris. He’s actually called Apollinaris the Younger because his dad was called Apollinaris the Elder. Creative naming there, right? He lived in the 4th century, dying in 382, and he was actually kicked out of the church twice. So, he was a pretty persistent fellow about his beliefs. Almost every source cites Apollinaris as brilliant, a prolific writer, a professor of logic, a pundit of philosophy, and a great debater. And he served as the bishop of the church in Laodicea in the country of Syria.
So now, even before we get to what he believed, I want to tell you two reasons why he’s a respectable heretic. Reason number one — Apollinaris creatively lived in God’s Word. He creatively lived in God’s Word. So, in his day Christians were not allowed to teach Greek classic literature. So, Apollinaris Younger and Elder tag-teamed to creatively reproduce the Old Testament in a Greek style of poetry started by a guy named Homer and a guy named Pindar. The tag team also took on the New Testament and transformed it into another style of literature called Platonic dialogs.
Now listen, I had to Google all of that to figure out what that actually means. So, in my words this is what it means that he did all of that: Apollinaris spent his spare time transforming the Bible into new genres so he could teach classic literature. Anybody in this room spend your precious spare time reworking the Bible into new genres for fun? I’m looking. No hands. No takers there. So, I just want us to remember this guy knew the Bible.
Reason number two he’s a respectable heretic — Apollinaris aggressively investigated God’s reality. He aggressively investigated it. How deeply do you consider the questions of your faith, and how hard do you work to get answers? The mind of Apollinaris seemed hypnotized by the reality of Jesus being divine and human, and how those two things interact. When it comes to being a private investigator of the reality of Jesus, Apollinaris puts me to shame. This dude dove deep. I was going to read a paragraph of what he wrote. But I’m telling you, the paragraph / one sentence … I read it about fifteen times, and I still didn’t know what it meant. He was brilliant and wrote and wrote and wrote about this. So, before we harshly judge someone we call a heretic, let’s humanize him.
This guy spent more time in God’s Word than any one person in this room, and probably more than some sections of this room. I don’t say that to belittle anybody in here. I’m just telling you, heretic or not, this guy was in God’s Word, and he thought more deeply about his faith than I have ever done. And so for those two reasons, where we’re going to start today is with respect, charity, and a big dose of humility.
Humility is really important when considering the nature of Jesus and when considering people who come to a wrong conclusion. Apollinaris’s error, in one sense, is the fact that his dominating goal seems to be the ability to make the person of Jesus make perfect sense. He wanted to make it congruent and consistent, this person of Jesus. He wanted to make it make sense, and in my opinion, one of the dangers about talking about Jesus is to think that we can make it make perfect sense. See, I love people who can think brilliantly and logically and defend what we believe and know languages. We need all of that. But even after all of that brilliance and logic, what we’re dealing with today is a cosmic reality, revealed to us within a divine document, given to us by a Word-speaking Creator that we can’t see. So, at some point you’ve got to just humble your heart. So, that doesn’t mean Christianity plays dumb. We work hard. We think hard. It means Christianity plays humbly. Remember, God doesn’t give grace to the smart. He gives grace to the humble.
So, let’s come now to where Apollinaris went rogue, why he was kicked out of the church twice, and why his teaching was a heresy. How is Jesus both 100% human and 100% divine? That was one of the questions of Apollinaris’s life. Here are his conclusions in Ryan Ferguson words, okay? He would say Jesus can’t be both. He can’t be fully both. Divinity has to win out. Jesus was human in body, but not human with a mind or soul. Jesus was God in a skin costume. Apollinarianism is “Jesus was God in a skin costume.” So, I want you to picture a kid at Halloween. He’s got his favorite Spiderman costume, and he holds it up, and he steps into it and puts it on. Parent kind of buttons and zips it up. He puts on the hood, and he thinks he’s Spider-Man. Nope. He is a person with Spider Man cloth on. In the same way, Apollinaris would say the incarnation of Jesus was God just stepping into flesh and blood. That was it. No mind, no soul of humanity. The divine mind squashes the human mind. The divine soul crushes the human soul. He was human in body only.
So, how do we answer that? And if that’s true, what happens? I want the author of Hebrews to answer Apollinaris. We had that read earlier by Jeremy. I can’t explain all of Hebrews, but the book of Hebrews deals bluntly about the humanity of Jesus. So, if Apollinaris and the author of Hebrews were to get together, the author of Hebrews would begin by saying, “Hey, I agree with you wholeheartedly about the divinity of Jesus.” And the author of Hebrews would put it this way:
“Long ago at many times and in many ways God spoke to our Fathers through the prophets, but in these last days, he has spoken to us through his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things and through whom he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God, the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”
Jesus is most definitely divine, the exact imprint of God’s nature. That’s who Jesus is.
After that, the author of Hebrews would begin disagreeing heartily with the conclusion that Jesus wasn’t human. I think he would look at Apollinaris and say, “Apollinaris, if Jesus isn’t fully human, body and soul, and embodied soul, we all lose.” If he’s not fully human, we all lose. We lose a reason for redemption; we lose destruction of the devil; we lose deliverance from death; we lose hope of being helped; we lose pity from our priest; we lose a source of sinlessness; and we lose nearness in need.
Now, before I lose everybody, I know that’s too many points for a sermon. So, here’s the point. You don’t need to grab onto all of them. I want you to right now ask the Spirit to show you through God’s Word one area of Jesus’s humanity, one thing we lose from Jesus’s humanity that you need to hold onto throughout this holiday season, moving into next year.
So, here’s how we start. If Jesus is God in a skin costume, we lose reason for redemption.
Hebrews 2, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things…. Therefore, he had to be made like his brothers in every respect.”
Hebrews 4, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who was tempted in every respect as we are yet without sin.”
So, Jesus did partake of the same things, and there he’s talking about flesh and blood. He really was a human, flesh and blood. But the author of Hebrews pushes it much farther than a skin costume. He had to be made like his brothers in every respect. He was tempted in every respect. Just as Jesus is the exact imprint of God’s nature, Jesus is human in every respect, not just flesh and blood, but in stuff like temptation. Jesus was made like us in every respect, and he was tempted like us in every respect. Jesus’s mind was tempted. That’s really, really important because Apollinaris would say, “Nuh, uh! That can’t happen to Jesus, because he has a divine mind.” The divine mind squashes the human mind. Jesus can’t be tempted.
But if Apollinaris wins here, if Jesus is only God in a skin costume, then the inner part of us, our mind and our soul, can’t be redeemed through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Our inner selves, our very soul … If Jesus isn’t an embodied soul, his work on the cross does nothing for our soul. A guy named Gregory, who really disagreed with Apollinaris back in the day, put it this way,
“What [Jesus has not] assumed has not been healed; it is what is united to his divinity that is saved.”
If Jesus didn’t assume a real human mind, then your human mind and my human mind can’t be saved. If Jesus didn’t assume a human soul, then our souls can’t be saved. Jesus can only redeem what he became. And if Apollinaris reaches in and takes out the real humanity of Jesus, soul and mind, we lose our reason for redemption.
If Jesus is just God in a skin costume, we lose the destruction of the devil …
“That through death he might destroy him who has the power of death that is the devil.”
Jesus partook of flesh and blood so that through his death, he could destroy the evil one, the one who has the power of death. Jesus’s humanity is the agent through which the devil is destroyed. Without it, the devil isn’t defeated.
If Jesus is just God in a skin costume, we lose deliverance from death. He’s going to “deliver all those who through fear of death [were] subject to lifelong slavery.” Death is a servant of Satan. Death is a fear master of humanity. Death holds humanity captive through intimidation. Death stands up and mocks us that in the end, he wins. Jesus, the God-Man, steps in and destroys the power of death through his own human death and his resurrection. Jesus came back from the dead and now promises that to his people. That’s why we can sing songs in church like this: “Because death is just a doorway into resurrection life.” Do you realize how powerful a statement that is? Death … It’s just a doorway into another room for those of us who believe that Jesus is the God-Man that died for us.
If Jesus is just God in a skin costume, we lose hope of being helped.
“For surely it is not the angels that [Jesus] helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service [to] God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
Two times in this section Jesus is a helper. The author looks at us and says, “Listen, Jesus didn’t become an angelic thing to help angels. He became a human to help humans.” Jesus actually suffered when tempted; so he’s able to help you when you’re being tempted. Jesus’s help for you during your temptation hinges upon the reality of him experiencing the same suffering when he was tempted.
If Jesus isn’t fully human, we lose pity from our priest. He’s a “merciful and faithful high priest.” “We don’t have a high priest who’s unable to sympathize with our weakness.” What kind of priest do you want? What kind of person do you want that comes in between you and God? Do you want someone who leads you who has no idea of what your life is like? Or do you want someone intimately aware of what it takes for you to be you every day that you live? The kind of priest you get in Jesus depends totally upon his humanity. No humanity? No mercy. No sympathy during our weaknesses.
If Jesus isn’t fully human, we lose our source of sinlessness. “We don’t have a high priest who’s unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who is tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sin.” Those last three words are so important! “Yet without sin.” That means that when Jesus was tempted, in his humanity, he was able to persevere through every last temptation. Jesus never caved. Jesus never gave in. Jesus never got to a point of temptation, shrugged his shoulders and said, “I know this is wrong, but I’m going to do it anyway.” He was tempted like us in every way, but without sin. God made Jesus who knew no sin to be sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in him. Jesus is ultimately my source of sinlessness: Jesus living a human life and doing it all correctly. Jesus is righteousness. That perfect human life is transferred to me. His perfect human life becomes my perfect human life. Jesus’s perfect human life becomes your perfect human life.
If Jesus isn’t fully human, we also lose nearness in need.
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Without Jesus’s humanity, our need becomes our own burden. We no longer are mercy receivers and grace finders. We’re actually kind of powerless pawns under the power of our own burdens. Not only that, but the humanity of Jesus is actually the confidence builder that energizes me to move towards God during need. I’m granted access to the very seat of divine power through the humanity of Jesus. When it comes to God, I don’t have to be outside, sending him DMs, texts, emails, hoping that he’ll get it and respond. Actually through the humanity of Jesus, I can with confidence walk right into the throne of grace, the divine seat of government, and ask the ruler of all divine government to help me, and I get to do that by treating him like a dad. That’s all hinged upon the humanity of Jesus.
The author of Hebrews would look at Apollinaris and say, “Your belief, your view of Jesus, if that’s true, we all lose.” And we lose a lot. The author of Hebrews relies upon the humanity of Jesus, and so must we, because if Jesus is fully human, an embodied soul, that means all the losses become our gains. We gain a reason for redemption. Jesus’s life as a true human and embodied soul means that ultimately my body, mind, and soul can be redeemed, and so can yours. Remember this.
We gain destruction of the devil. Jesus destroys the devil. Therefore, our enemy must be to us like the head of a decapitated snake. When you cut the head off a snake, it will still bite. It doesn’t know it’s dead yet. Our enemy is ignorant of his own death and demise. Remember this.
We gain deliverance from death. And brothers and sisters, I think this one is so important at this time of year. I’m going to pop the nostalgic bubble of the holidays. I don’t know if you feel this too … There is so much cultural, Christian, social pressure to enjoy the holidays. Guess what? Not everybody in this room is going to enjoy the holidays. Do you know why? Because there are families in this room, there are families in other services today, who will have an empty chair at their Christmas dinner because of death. And if we follow Jesus, and he isn’t human, we have no hope to offer those people whatsoever. But if Jesus is fully human, then death is just a doorway into resurrection life. And then we even get to mimic Jesus, where guess what? Jesus cried at death twice. But he did it with hope. Remember this.
We gain hope of being helped. Jesus is a helper to humanity specifically when they’re being tempted. Sometimes when I’m in the middle of being tempted to do something that I know God doesn’t want me to do, I feel an additional pile of shame because I feel myself wanting to give in. The temptation is there, and I actually really want to do that, and then I feel terrible in that moment. And I often don’t connect the reality that, because Jesus was human, in that very moment of temptation and shame is the very moment that I look at Jesus and go, “This is actually when you help me. This is when you’re my helper, not when I’m doing great and I’m fine and good. It’s actually in this moment of temptation and shame that you say, ‘I get you, Ryan. I was there. Live my life. Live my perfect human life.’” Remember this, brothers and sisters.
We gain pity from our priest. We have a leader who loves us, a priest who pities us, and a Savior who sympathizes with us. Jesus’s humanity allows you to know how God looks at you: love, sympathy, and pity. Remember this.
We gain a source of sinlessness. I’ve been around this church a very long time. There are people in here who’ve known me for a very long time, and if you don’t know me, you will know the answer to this question as easily as somebody who’s known me forever. What hope does Ryan Ferguson have of standing in the presence of God if God can’t abide the presence of sin? I don’t have a shot — unless Jesus was human. Unless Jesus is human and divine, then I actually do have hope of standing in the very presence of God in the righteousness and sinless life of Jesus Christ. Remember this.
I gain nearness in need. We have a whole section of our country, fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, whose lives were just wiped out this past week. When we’re in need or in trouble, that’s when we draw near. We have confidence. We don’t just … what I love about this too … the humanity of Jesus allows us to draw near to God, not like we’re barely able to get in the door. Do you feel like that sometimes when you’re talking to God? “I’m just, I know I’m allowed to talk to you, but you don’t really want me here.” The humanity of Jesus and my position in him actually lets me walk in and talk to God as if I deserve to be there. But it’s done with confidence! “Draw near to the throne of grace so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Remember this.
If Jesus is fully human, then we are recipients of gain after gain after gain after gain. So, how has the Spirit and the author of Hebrews spoken to you about the humanity of Jesus? Where do you need to hold onto that during this holiday season and moving into next year? I’d like you to take thirty seconds of just quiet altogether and consider where you need to hold onto the humanity of Jesus.
“So, rejoice, you children, sing and remember now God’s mercy, and sing out with joy for the brave little boy is our Savior, Son of God, Son of man.”