Lutheranism 101

Session Three:  Jesus

The God/Man

Scripture teaches that Jesus is unique in many ways! This includes His very nature – for He is not JUST a human being (what we obviously can see) but He is also God!

He is a real “flesh and blood” human being, the son of Mary, a Hebrew descendant of Abraham, a Jew of the line of Judah and David (Galatians 4:4, John 19:34, 1 Timothy 2:5). But He is also the “incarnate” Second Person of the Trinity (John 20:28, 1 John 5:20). He is altogether BOTH God and Man (the Two Natures of Christ); 100% human and 100% God. Always.

These natures are united and inseparable but not blended into one. The “interplay” of these two natures (called “The Communication of Attributes”) is difficult stuff beyond the scope of our study here – but it’s enough to say that sometimes we see Jesus primarily in one nature or the other, but we must never forget He was/is always and fully both. This can be pretty “heavy” stuff and with a lot of mystery in this– we’ll need to wait for Christianity 201 (or maybe 301) to explore this more. This is enough: Jesus is fully BOTH God and man.

The Two Natures of Christ was another of the huge debates in the Early Church (the Trinity being the other biggie). This was a similar issue: sometimes Jesus is presented as fully human, other times as fully God. WHICH is true was a hot debate! Some argued that He is fully God but only LOOKED like a human being, rather like a ghost (Docetism), others that He was fully human but not really divine, just represented God on earth (Arianism, etc). And still others that both existed but fully separate (Nestorianism) and others that the two natures were blended into one entirely different and new nature. Early Christians prayed, studied Scripture, debated and prayed. In the end, the embraced that there is mystery here but that BOTH are equally and fully true, and physics or philosophy just can’t explain it. Scripture is to be taken at face value – even if we don’t understand it. He is BOTH fully God and man – inseparably and not blended. We accept this – and just stop where Scripture does, leaving our questions as our questions. This was finally affirmed at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.

• There ARE interesting results of this. Jesus’ promise at the Ascension is “I am with you always.” The “I” here refers to JESUS and so traditionally we have held that JESUS (in both natures because they are inseparable) is with us always. You’ll drive yourself crazy thinking about that! But we are right to say “JESUS is with me” rather than ONLY saying “God is all present so God is with me.”

• And that JESUS was involved in Creation (1 John 1:1-3, 14; 1 Cor. 8:6; Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1:2; etc.) and this is JESUS who is both God and man (so JESUS existed long before His conception). Don’t even try to wrap your brain around that.

• And of course, there’s the Sacrament, where we receive JESUS – His Body and Blood.

• Sometimes there’s a need for humility and admitting our brains have a tough time understanding all the things of God.

Without Sin

Because Jesus is God and God is without sin, one of the “functions” of the communication of attributes is that Jesus is completely without sin – He IS morally perfect and DOES fulfill the Law – He is the only human example of that (Well, Adam and Eve before the Fall). This sinlessness of Jesus is an important teaching of the New Testament (Hebrews 4:15, John 8:46, John 8:29, John 17:19, John 18:38, Matthew 27:19, Luke 23:41, Matthew 27:4, 2 Corinthians 5:21, etc.). We’ll later see why this is so important.

By His two natures, Jesus has all the attributes of God and all the attributes of man – except for sin.

The Messiah/Savior!

But the important thing is that He is our Savior! We’ll talk more about that in the next Chapter, but Christianity is centered in the affirmation that Jesus IS the Savior!

“You will give him the name Jesus for he will save the people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). “Jesus is the Savior of the world” (John 4:42). “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven by which we are saved” (Acts 4:12). “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son Jesus, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but has everlasting life” (John 3:16). “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes unto the Father except by me.” It’s understandable that we spend FAR less time and effort on metaphysical stuff about Jesus and far more time celebrating what He did and does! He is the Savior!

A Word about Mary…

The Bible actually says very little about the mother of Jesus, but we are told that all generations will call her blessed and we read about her profound example of faith and obedience. For both of these reasons, Lutherans hold Mary in high esteem – more so than is common in Protestantism. Lutherans historically have referred to her as “Our Lady” and “the Mother of God”.

• Wait a minute! MARY – the Mother of God?!?! Yup, Lutherans use that title.

On the other hand, there are a number of dogmas in the Roman Catholic Church that we do not embrace as such. These include…

+ The Perpetual Virginity of Mary (that Mary remained a virgin all her life, proclaimed in 681 AD). Luther and many Lutherans have embraced this, but not as dogma but as “pious opinion.” Pious Opinion is a very ancient and ecumenical view that is neither affirmed or denied by Scripture. Note that Mark 6:3 does mention siblings of Jesus but the word for “brother” here is very broad and most often does not mean shares the same parents (you and I are brothers). While it’s possible these were children of Mary, the text doesn’t say so. Until after the time of Luther, it was universally accepted that they were either relatives or children of Joseph. Many modern Protestants hold that they are children of Mary and textually that’s possible, too. This text is simply not clear.

+ The Immaculate Conception of Mary (that she was conceived without original sin, 1870). While only dogma in The Catholic Church (and that very recent), this idea goes back to the Early Church and is unofficially embraced in the Orthodox Church, too. This has not generally been embraced by Lutherans since there are Scriptures that speak of the universality of sin.

+ The Assumption of Mary (that she was bodily received into heaven upon her death, 1950). Again, only recently made dogma and that only in The Catholic Church but this too goes way back and is accepted unofficially in the Orthodox Church too.

+ The Mediatrix of All Graces (that she also is a mediator between God and man, 1904). This is the only Marian dogma that Lutherans have tended to reject. 1 Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

• Some Protestants and Catholics like to fight over Mary. Lutherans find ourselves a bit on the sidelines. A prof of mine at seminary said “There are two mistakes people make about Mary – to make too much of her and to make too little of her.” On the one hand, we see her has a Christian of amazing faith and obedience – to be esteemed for that (some Lutherans even speak of her as “Chief of the Saints”), and obviously she’s important as the Mother of Our Lord! On the other hand, we simply don’t want to proclaim things not known to be true or to suggest anything that detracts from Jesus as THE Savior. We share some of the Catholic admiration and spirituality, but not necessarily the Catholic teachings (especially as dogma).. We especially don’t like the fight over her.