Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Omnipresent in a Manger

After finishing Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology a month ago with my Thursday men’s theology reading group, we’re planning on starting John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion early next year. Along with trying to memorize Hebrews 10:4-10, I’ve been studying the Institutes in my “personal” study time.

I came across this passage in the Institutes today: “They thrust upon us as something absurd the fact that if the Word of God became flesh, then He was confined within the narrow prison of an earthly body. This is mere impudence! For even if the Word in His immeasurable essence united with the nature of man into one person, we do not imagine that He was confined therein. Here is something marvelous: the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that, without leaving heaven, He willed to be borne in the virgin’s womb, to go about the earth, and to hang upon the cross; yet He continuously filled the world even as He had done from the beginning” (2.13.4).

At least two Scriptures point us to the Son’s omnipresence (note that both of these are direct quotes from the Lord Jesus):
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that [as it says in Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15] by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father Who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst (Matthew 18:15-20).
“…the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:16-20).

Of course, the Son is present with His covenant people by the presence of the Holy Spirit, Who is “the Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9; 1 Peter 1:11) and “the Spirit of Jesus” (Acts 16:7; Philippians 1:19). But He is also, because He is “God of God…very God of very God…being of one substance with the Father” (Nicene Creed) and “in this Trinity none are before or after another, none is greater or less than another…equal to the Father as touching His Godhead” (Athanasian Creed), omnipresent as God. We attribute to God omnipresence, and therefore, since the Son is fully God, we must attribute omnipresence to the Son.

We may stumble over this confession, especially during Advent, as we consider the mysterious wonder of the eternal, divine Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us (John 1:1,2,14). How could the Son be omnipresent and yet in a body dwelling as one of us among us during the years of His earthly life? How can the New Testament, after His ascension, locate Him at the right hand of the Father in heaven (Acts 2:33; 7:56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22; Revelation 3:21)?

Why is this strange? If we confess the Son to be fully God, are there not lessons from the Old Testament to learn about His omnipresence? God, Who cannot be contained in space or time, manifests His glorious, Personal Presence in places like the Tabernacle and Temple in the Old Testament. No one believes Him to be located solely between the cherubim, or solely even on the throne in Heaven. Just as God was manifest between the cherubim and yet omnipresent, the Person of God the Son is manifestly present in His human nature/body, and yet as God is omnipresent.

As Stephen preaches before his martyrdom: “Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern which he had seen. And having received it in their turn, our fathers brought it in with Joshua upon dispossessing the nations whom God drove out before our fathers, until the time of David. David found favor in God’s sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for Him. However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says [in Isaiah 66:1,2]: ‘“Heaven is My throne, and earth is the footstool of My feet; what kind of house will you build for Me?” says the Lord, “Or what place is there for My repose? Was it not My hand which made all these things?”’” (Acts 7:44-50).

Hercules Collins, a 17th century Baptist pastor, gave his congregation a teaching on the Son’s omnipresence. After speaking of Christ’s ascension into heaven, Pastor Collins writes: “Q. 46. Is not Christ with us then until the end of the world, as He has promised? A. Christ is true God, and true man, and so according to His manhood is not now on earth, but according to His Godhead, His majesty, His grace and Spirit is at no time apart from us. Q. 47. Are not by this means the two natures in Christ pulled apart, if His humanity be not wherever His divinity? A. No. Seeing His divinity is incomprehensible, and everywhere present, it follows necessarily that the same [the Son’s divine nature] is without the bounds of His human nature which He took to Himself, and yet is nevertheless in it, and abides personally united to it” (Orthodox Catechism, 1680). 

This Advent, as we adore the baby in the manger, let us worship in awe at the reality of the omnipresent God the Son.

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