The Greatest Mystery of the Gospel
What is the greatest mystery of the gospel? Is it that Jesus died as a substitute for all mankind? Or is it that he rose from the dead on the 3rd day following his crucifixion? Is it the feeding of the 5,000 with a boy’s small lunch or the raising of Lazarus from the dead? Maybe the greatest mystery is virgin birth or the calming of the storm on the Sea of Galilee. While these are all points at which men and women stumble in disbelief, Packer suggests in this 5th chapter, that the supreme mystery of the gospel is the incarnation of Jesus Christ. “The really staggering Christian claim is that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man – that the second person of the Godhead became the ‘second man’ (1 Cor. 15:47), determining human destiny, the second representative head of the race, and that he took humanity without loss of deity, so that Jesus of Nazareth was as truly and fully divine as he was human.” While difficult to explain fully, this claim puts to rest all of the other objections that men may have to the believability of the gospel. If Jesus truly is God in human flesh, then it is not difficult to accept that he could heal the sick and raise the dead, feed thousands with some loaves and a few small fishes, or die for the sake of the human race and rise again the third day. This really is the linchpin of the message of Christianity.
Packer suggests that there are two main points in the NT record of the incarnation, also known as the Christmas story.
The baby born at Bethlehem was God. “When, therefore, the Bible proclaims Jesus as the Son of God, the statement is meant as an assertion of his distinct personal deity. The Christmas message rests on the staggering fact that the child in the manger was – God.”
The baby born at Bethlehem was God made man. “He had not ceased to be God; he was no less God then than before; but he had begun to be man. He was not now God minus some elements of his deity, but God plus all that he had made his own by taking manhood to himself.”
So we see that it was an act of supreme grace – God himself being made man in the person of Jesus Christ – and as such it ought to inspire a sense of awe and a desire to worship him for his great love which he has shown to mankind.
But what, then, do we make of the NT statements concerning his humiliation, such as Philipppians 2:7, “[he] made himself of no reputation…”? Did Jesus give up some of his essential divine characteristics when he became man? This theory is called the kenosis theory, based on the Greek word for “emptying” which is used in Phil. 2:7, and it suggests that Jesus somehow became less than fully God when he took on human flesh.
Packer deals with this objection thoroughly by pointing out that kenosis refers to Jesus’ voluntary restraint of power, temporary laying aside of glory, and acceptance of the hardships and suffering that would entail his complete obedience to the Father’s will. In fact, this was simply the Son’s continued obedience and submission to the Father that has been a part of their relationship from eternity past. He says, “Thus the obedience of the God-man to the Father while he was on the earth was not a new relationship occasioned by the Incarnation, but the continuation in time of the eternal relationship between the Son and the Father in heaven. As in heaven, so on earth, the Son was utterly dependent upon the Father’s will.” Jesus did become poor, so that unlovely human beings could be loved with the all-surpassing love of God. According to Packer, this is the essence of the Christmas message, “that there is hope for a ruined humanity – hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory – because at the Father’s will Jesus Christ became poor and was born in a stable so that thirty years later he might hang on a cross. It is the most wonderful message that the world has ever heard, or will hear.”