Which is harder: To say that God is everywhere, or that God has become a human being? Is it easier to say that God is far away or very near?
What is harder to believe: That God is everywhere, or that God is one of us?
Philosophers go for the low-hanging fruit and pick the former rather than the latter. But if God is everywhere, then there is nowhere He can be found. God becomes abstract, like a force or a feeling. In times of trouble, it is very hard to find that sort of a god. Like moments of joy, such a god slips quickly through our fingers.
It is harder to say that God became one of us. This means that God is close. To say it in the way of Dr. Martin Luther (not King Jr.): He is so near that He cannot be any nearer.
This is who Jesus is. God near us. Not far away, ignorant of our existence. Not just watching from afar. Not distant, aloof from our suffering. But near, in the flesh, available and present and distributed to His people every day, every week, all our lives. Christ Jesus is the God who is near.
Jesus, the God-man, makes us think differently about God. God has come into our world. He is not up there somewhere — we are unsure where. He has come through a uterus, been washed and diapered.
He has cried and felt cold, pain and joy. He drank wine. He worked, sweated, grew tired, slept. He has eaten, been annoyed, felt the sting of rejection and ridicule. God has become one of us. God has done all these things, and all these things have happened to God. Jesus is God near us.
This offends. Philosophers prefer the god who is far away — and everyone can be such a philosopher.
No college degree is required.
But the God who is near, Jesus, will not be pushed far away. He becomes one of us to be most near us in every part of our lives. He is like us and, therefore, knows us. Although God is no sinner, He takes our sins on Himself and dies for them on a cross. In that moment, God is the most sinful of us all. God dies in our flesh, His flesh. He is come in our flesh to save those who have flesh, those who suffer from their flesh and those who sin in their flesh. He does this because of His compassion for those who are like Him. God is a great lover of sinners. That’s Jesus.
The Scriptures testify to this. Join us in listening to God’s Word as it tells us that in Jesus, God walks among us.
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)
Read Luke 1:39–45, paying special attention to verse 43. The word “Lord” is a euphemism for YHWH, the divine name of God. What is Elizabeth saying by calling Mary the mother of her Lord?
Press this child, born of the Virgin Mary, who is also God’s son, close to your heart. When you have gotten this, then you are secure and well-protected against all the treacherous ambushes and dangerous attacks of the Devil. If you let this child, born of the Virgin Mary, out of your sight and in the meantime give in to speculation to understand the Divine, you will never recognize God. Believe me in this because I have also been to this school where I thought I was among the angels but found myself much more among devils. Learn to be wise from my misfortune and come down here with the Son who descended for this reason to you so that you would recognize God in him. “Wherever I am,” he says, “there my servant shall also be.” (John 12:26)
Martin Luther, Walch Edition, Vol. 6, p. 186
This is my body, which is given for you. … This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” (Luke 22; Mark 14; Matthew 26)
Take a moment to read John 6:43–59, paying special attention to verses 53–59. What does it mean when Jesus says whoever eats and drinks His body and blood shall receive eternal life?
Meditation: Note: Oecolampadius and Zwingli were two 15th-century reformers who disputed Luther’s understanding of the Holy Supper.
When Oecolampadius exhorted Luther at Marburg to elevate his thoughts up to the high and heavenly God, Luther would have no “other God than him who became man . . . for there is no other who can save. Hence he could not bear that the humanity be treated as so little worth and cast aside.” Oecolampadius and Zwingli were following the tradition of assigning things either up to the heavenly spiritual world or to the earthly material world. Obviously, then, the right hand of God belongs in the heavenly realm, and if that is where Christ has ascended to, you can hardly expect Him to be grateful for being dragged down to the earthly level again. This is what horrified Zwingli about Luther. As Luther puts it, Zwingli said to him: “Here you fool, open your eyes! Don’t you see that heaven is high up there where Christ sits in his honour, while the earth where his supper goes on, is way down here? How can a body be seated so high and in honour and at the same time be down here allowing itself to be dishonoured and handled by hands, mouth and stomach, as if it were a fried sausage?”
Norman Nagel, Reformation Day sermon, 1967 – from Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis (2004), p. 309
This phrase stands and explains clearly and openly, that we truly and physically eat Christ’s Body and receive it. We don’t know how this happens or how he is in the bread — and we shouldn’t know it. We ought to believe God’s Word and not set any means or limits on him. We see bread with our eyes. But with our ears we hear that his Body is present.
Martin Luther, Walch Edition, Volume 20, p. 777 (from the German)
Christ is born in Bethlehem!
Read Luke 2:1-21, paying special close attention to the angels’ song in verse 14.
Why would the angels give glory to God over a newborn baby?
In verse 11, the angels announce to the shepherds that the child is born “for you.” Why would they bother to emphasize for whom the child was born? Is this birth only for shepherds, or is it also for you?
Meditation: Now get this whoever can. I will say it once again: God lets this child be born for those who are damned and lost. Therefore reach out your hand and receive and say, “I am certainly godless and wicked, there is nothing good in me, only pure vice, sin, blasphemy, death, devil and hellfire. But against all of these I set this baby, whom the Virgin Mary holds in her lap and at her breast. Because it is born for me so that it should be my treasure, I therefore take this child and set it against everything I lack. I am neither reputable nor faithful, so I find in this baby pure goodness and faithfulness. If there is nothing but death and misfortune in me, then I find in this child life and everything that is good. And this is so certain it is as if I can see it now already before me with my own eyes.” This is what it means to receive: When we make use of this treasure by our faith (in Him).
Martin Luther, Walch Edition, Volume 13b, p. 2594 (from the German)
When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matt. 27:54)
Read Exodus 3, especially verses 13–15. Then read John 18:1–11, taking careful note of verses 5 and 6. Why did the guards fall down before Christ as they went to arrest Him? What does it mean that Jesus uses the phrase so many times in John’s Gospel? For some examples, see John 4:26; 6:20; 6:35; 8:12; 10:7; 10:11; 13:19; 14:6; 15:1. This list is not exhaustive.
Finally, what does it mean when Jesus says He is the great I AM who is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25)?
Meditation: Note: Nestorius was an ancient heretic; the Manicheans were an ancient cult.
So if I were to say: “Jesus the carpenter was crucified by the Jews. And this same Jesus is really God.” Nestorius would say to me that this is true. But if I were to say: “God was crucified by the Jews,’ he would say: “No! For to suffer the cross and to die are not divine, but human, (attributes)”. . . Christ is God and a human being in one person because whatever is said about him as a human being must also be said of him as God, namely, “Christ has died,” and, as Christ is God, it follow that “God has died” — not God isolation . . . but God united with humanity . . . If this were not the case, what type of human being would God have been united to, if it did not have truly human (attributes)? It would be a phantom . . . as the Manicheans taught earlier.
Martin Luther, taken from The Christian Theology Reader, edited by Alister E. McGrath, Blackwell Publishers (Oxford and Cambridge), 1995. p. 152.