Duality (Week 1)
Jesus (Philippians 2:5-8)
Imagine you’re holding a postcard in your hand. On one side of the card, side A, there is a sentence that reads, “The statement on the other side of this card is true.” But if you flip the card over, the sentence on that side, side B, says, “The statement on the other side of this card is false.” Which statement is correct? Statement A claims statement B is true, while statement B claims statement A is false. So if statement A is true in its assertion that statement B is true, then statement B must be correct in saying that statement A is false. But if statement B is correct in saying that statement A is false, then it’s wrong for it to say that statement B is true. This is known as a logical paradox.
A form of this paradox was first proposed by Chrysippus, an ancient Greek philosopher. He formed his paradox in this way. He said, imagine that a Cretan sailed to Greece and announced: “All Cretans are liars!” Does that mean this Cretan is a liar? If so, does that mean he’s lying when he says all Cretans are liars? If so, does that mean that not all Cretans are liars? And if that’s the case, does that mean we can actually trust what he’s saying about all Cretans being liars? As you can see… this probably would continue to loop around ad nauseam. There’s no resolution. It’s a paradox.
I’ve always found paradoxes to be interesting. As I’m sure you can tell. Some paradoxes are just a matter of semantics; they’re impossible in the real world, but fun to think about. For example, what happens when an unstoppable force runs into an immovable object? Another one I really like is the question “If God is all powerful can he create an object so big that he himself cannot lift it?” Either he can, in which case there is now an object in the universe God can’t lift, thus showing his not all-powerful, or you have to say no he can’t do that, in which case his inability to create said object also shows limits to his power. However, this is once again, simply a semantic paradox. This can’t actually exist in the real world.
However, Christianity is full of more tangible, real paradoxes. There is a paradoxical tension between God being sovereign and humans having free will. If God is sovereign over everything, do we really have free will? Or, if we really, truly have free will, can we say that God is sovereign? The Trinity is another example of a paradox within our faith. God is both three and one. There persons in one Godhead. God is not simply one God wearing three different hats. Nor is God three distinct and separate identities and just share the title of “god” like in polytheism. But the paradox we’re going to take a look at this morning is the paradox of Jesus.
Scripture tells us that Jesus is simultaneously fully God and fully human. That there is a duality to his nature. This morning we’re going to try to look at that tension and understand why it’s so important to maintain both the humanity and divinity of Jesus. But before we do that, let’s open with a word of prayer.
This morning we’re going to jump around a lot in the New Testament, looking at a bunch of different passages in order to wrap our heads around this concept of the dual nature of Jesus. So let’s start in John chapter 1, verses 1 through 3 which says,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him, nothing was made that has been made.”
And then, just in case we’re unsure who exactly he’s talking about, down in verse 14 John adds, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
John starts his gospel with this big bold claim that since the beginning, before the dawn of time, the Word of God was both with God—meaning distinct from God—and yet was God. And then goes on to say that this Word of God who was with God and was God since before time became flesh.
The Greek word John uses for flesh is the word sarx which can mean flesh and bone. It’s also the word Paul uses often times to describe our sinful nature. Our spirit desires the things of God, but our flesh desires carnal things. And John says that God, the Word, became flesh. He put on flesh and bones and lived here among us.
Later in John chapter 10, Jesus says in verse 30, “I and the Father are one.” In John chapter 14 Jesus is speaking to Philip, one of his disciples and he says, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’ Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and that the Father is in me?”
I’m not going to spend a bunch of time on this because I think for most of us as Christians we have a much easier time wrapping our heads around Jesus as God. Jesus says that he and the Father are one, that when we see him, we see the Father. Jesus is God. Not merely a representative of God, not simply a prophet speaking about God, but God himself. Jesus is the best, most accurate understanding of who God is and what God is like. Jesus is God come to show us himself. Religion is humanity’s attempt to understand God, to reveal what we think God is like. But Jesus is God choosing to reveal himself to us.
Before coming to Faith Community, I worked at Deep Water in Halifax. At the time our lead pastor was Jon Stephens. But Jon wasn’t just my boss or my pastor, he was also my friend. I could stand up here and tell you story after story about Jon. I could tell you about his sense of humour. I could tell you about how he got me into running. I could tell you about the conversations we had in the office. And based on everything I told you, you would start to get a sense of who Jon is; what he’s like.
But if you talked to Karly about Jon, since she had a different experience with him, you would hear some different stories. Maybe she would tell you about some of his sermons or what it was like to interact with him on a Sunday morning. Some of the things Karly and I would tell you would probably be pretty similar but there might also be some differences as well. A story I tell you about Jon might not line up with a story Karly tells you about Jon. And if we bring in a third person to give you their perspective on Jon, you might get even more contradictory information.
This is how religion works. This is what happens when different cultures have different experiences with the divine. Some are probably more accurate than others. But the one thing all of them have, whether we’re talking about Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, folk religion, whatever… all of them are us as people trying to put words to and articulate the experiences we have had with God.
Jesus is entirely different. Jesus isn’t just another prophet, he’s not simply a good moral teacher; another voice being thrown into the mix. Jesus isn’t just offering his own idea about what God is like. Jesus is God come to reveal himself to us.
In this way, it would be like if I brought my friend Jon here to guest preach. Karly and I can tell you all kinds of things about Jon, but Jon can show you what he’s like himself. And if what I tell you about Jon contradicts something Jon says about himself… I’m wrong.
But Jesus isn’t just fully God, he’s also fully human. Paul examines this in Philippians chapter 2 when he says,
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Jesus Christ: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
Here we see this tension perfectly. Paul says, yes Jesus was in his very nature one and the same as God and yet he did not use his divinity to his own advantage. Rather he became like us in every way, even dying like us.
The book of Hebrews takes it even further. Paul uses language like “human likeness” and “found in appearance as a man”. These could give us the impression that Jesus only looked human. That he was God masquerading or pretending to be human. But in Hebrews 2 we read, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is the devil.”
A few verse later in verse 17 the writer again says, “For this reason, he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God.”
Since we have flesh and blood, Jesus shared in our humanity. He was made like us, fully human in every way. And we see examples of this all throughout the New Testament, specifically the gospels. In Mark 11 we read, "The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry.” In John 4, we’re told, “Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.” Jesus got hungry and tired like we do.
Are you with me so far? Now, we’re going to start examining the depths of Jesus humanity and I suspect this might start to make some of us feel comfortable.
In Luke chapter 2 we’re told about Jesus as a child and twice we read a similar phrase. In verse 40 Luke says, “And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.” Then again in verse 52, Luke says, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” Jesus had to grow up, not just physically, but also in wisdom and in stature. Jesus wasn’t perfectly wise. And he didn’t know everything.
Jesus himself in Matthew 24, talking about when the Resurrection will occur says, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
Jesus, being fully human, had limited knowledge. He didn’t know everything. Now, I’ll also mention that, since Jesus was a prophet, he had prophetic knowledge. There were many times when God gave him supernatural knowledge like any other prophet. But Jesus didn’t know everything. Which actually explains some of the temptation Jesus experienced.
In Matthew chapter 4, when we read about Jesus temptations, the first and second start out with the Devil saying, “If you are the Son of God…” If you’re the Son of God, turn these loaves into bread and eat. If you’re the Son of God, jump off this building. Won’t the angels come and save you? The temptation wasn’t just for Jesus to break his fast. The temptation was, prove that you’re really who you think you are. Prove you’re actually God. The temptation Jesus faced was to prove what he believed, that he was God in the flesh. Jesus wasn’t God pretending to be human. He didn’t just appear to be human, all while really holding on to his divinity. Rather he surrendered it and in every way became like us.
When I was at Deep Water, I remember having a conversation with someone and in it, he mentioned that Jesus raised himself from the dead. And I said, well actually, God the Father raised Jesus. He brushed that off and said, “Well that doesn’t matter because Jesus is God.” But it actually does matter, because as humans we can’t raise ourselves from the dead. So if at any point, Jesus opted to use his divine power, he is no longer fully participating in the human experience. Everything Jesus did on earth, every miracle, every teaching, everything he did completely and fully as a human through the power of God the Father.
This is why the writer of Hebrews later says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” Jesus was truly human in every single way. It’s the reason why he can empathize with us in our weakness because he experienced it himself.
Now here’s why this is important. It means that for Jesus, trusting God was not just theoretical. 1 Peter 2 tells us, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” Jesus was fully human in every way. He got hungry, he got tired, he had limited knowledge and he faced temptation. Which means when he tells us to trust God, he’s not doing it from a place of detached from the human experience.
Catholic theologian Raymond Brown in his book Jesus: God and Man says it this way,
“A Jesus who walked through the world knowing exactly what the morrow would bring, knowing with certainty that three days after his death his Father would raise him up, is a Jesus who can arouse our admiration, but still a Jesus far from us. He is a Jesus far from mankind that can only hope in the future and believe in God’s goodness, far from a mankind that must face the supreme uncertainty of death with faith but without knowledge of what is beyond.
“On the other hand, a Jesus for whom the future was as such a mystery, a dread, and a hope as it is for us and yet, at the same time a Jesus who would say, “Not my will but yours”–this is a Jesus who could effectively teach us how to live, for this is a Jesus who would have gone through life’s real trials. Then we would know the full truth of the saying: “No man can have greater love than this: to lay down his life for those he loves” (Jn 15:13), for we would know that he laid down his life with all the agony with which we lay it down. We would know that for him the loss of life was, as it is for us, the loss of a great possession, a possession that is outranked only by love.”
Jesus’ humanity included his limited, albeit prophetic, knowledge. The God of the universe, in every way imaginable, condescended to the human experience and became like us in every way. This should have a few implications for us.
First of all, I think all too often, it’s easy for us to brush off the words of Jesus. “Of course he could say that he’s God, it was easy for him.” Of course, he trusted God, he knew exactly what would happen. Of course, he could love perfectly, he was God. But everything, everything, everything he did he did as a human like us. Temptation and trust as well. So if Jesus could trust God, so can we.
This is why Hebrews calls us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. He went before us, he blazed the trail. And so we’re called to constantly cling to Jesus is all things and in all ways. Trust Jesus, fix our eyes on Jesus. Jesus didn’t have the easy out of being God. He became human in every way.
Secondly, and here’s the really important part. The humanity of Jesus does not make him any less divine. So when we see a Jesus that looks and acts in very human ways, that shouldn’t scare us or make us nervous. Yes, he’s fully human and every way—just like us. But at the same time, he is completely and totally divine.
God is most revealed not through Moses or the prophets, but through Jesus himself. A tired, hungry, tempted and limited Jesus. We understand what God is like most when we look at Jesus. Sometimes I think we can think of Jesus as some kind of bait and switch.
As if, because he was human, he acted meek and mild, but when he comes back the second time he’s going to show his true nature as a God of wrath like in the Old Testament. But Jesus doesn’t say that. He says if you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father. Everything absolutely must be filtered through Jesus.
Jesus is simultaneously fully God and fully human. Two natures in one person. It’s a paradox that isn’t meant to be resolved but held in tension. So let’s fix our eyes on Jesus, the trailblazer of our faith. The one who showed us what trusting God looks like, while also showing us the heart of God himself.