The Reflection of God’s Image: Hebrews 1:1-4 (part 9)
and the exact image of his essence…
The early church fathers faced a lot of challenges as they sought to defend believers from heretical teachings and to define the boundaries of what may be described as “orthodox” Christian theology. Probably the two most important areas in which they were required to work was in the area of defining the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of the dual nature of Christ. Both of these doctrines are clearly affirmed in scripture as a whole, but neither doctrine has a nice neat prooftext that one can go to for the purpose of articulating said view. As a result, there were many who put forward views of both of these doctrines that were either heretical in themselves or would lead another to heresy. Hence, the church fathers needed to find a way to Biblically and clearly articulate what scripture presents as true, but in a precise way that did not leave room for error. All four of the early church creeds, called the “Ecumenical Creeds” (The Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Chalcedonian Christological Statement, and the Athenasian Creed) come out of this struggle within the early church.
With that in mind, this verse is one of the important passages that were used by the Fathers in defining the dual nature of Christ—in what we technically refer to as “Hypostatic Union.” The word Hypostatic comes from the Greek word uJpo/stasiß (hupostasis), which refers to the basic structure or most essential nature of something. In terms of Christ, we recognize that he had two distinct and unconfused natures—one human and one divine. He had within his human nature everything that makes one human, for he is in essence human. In addition, though, Jesus had within his divine nature everything that made him God, for he is in essence divine. These parts are not confused in any way within Christ; Jesus is not some sort of Greek demi-god or amalgamation of God and man, but his being is marked by a perfect union of a fully divine nature with a fully human nature.
One may wonder why this degree of precision is so important for us as Christians. To begin with, were Jesus not fully human, he could not be described as having suffered in this life and died on the cross as a bloody sacrifice. Also, were he not fully human, he could not have fulfilled the failed role of Adam as covenant mediator for his people and could not have been tempted and tried in every way as we are (Hebrews 4:15). Were Jesus not fully human in every way, he could not have redeemed every aspect of fallen humanity. In addition, were Jesus not to have died, he could not have been resurrected and thus, we would have no hope of a bodily resurrection ourselves. At the same time, were Jesus not fully God, he could not have done for us what he did. He would not have been sinless, and thus could not have entered guiltless before God to mediate a new covenant. Nor could Jesus have made atonement for sins, for a guilt sacrifice had to found as faultless and without blemish before God. Were Christ not fully God he could not be said to be pre-existent as scripture presents and thus could not have entered into a covenant to save the elect from before the foundations of the earth (see Ephesians 1).
Now that we have the technical language before us, sensing the theological importance of making sure that we articulate correctly the nature of our Lord, I think that it is important for us to stop here for a minute and dwell on just what this means. Here is one who is, to use creedal language, “very God of very God.” This is the second member of the divine Trinity, the Son of the Father, the Living God. Everything that makes God, well, God, belongs to God the Son as well as to God the Father (and Spirit for that matter). Jesus is the very word which God used to bring existence into being—to form everything from nothing and to bring about life. Here is the Son of God, worthy of all praise and glory and honor by the very principle of who he is. And it is this one—one whose very presence and name defines the very meaning of glory itself—one who is exalted on high—who chose to veil that glory in flesh and descend to earth not simply for the purpose of communicating with us, but to suffer and die in our place. Loved ones, that is incomprehensible. That the King of Glory would become flesh cannot be simply rationalized and put to the side. It is an overwhelming reality that we must deal with, and when we understand this reality, there are only two possible responses for us to take: falling on our faces awestruck in humble worship or fleeing in sin and shame. One cannot remain ambivalent when it comes to this mighty act of our Lord—one must respond, but which response will it be? Knowing what you know, will you commit yourself to a life of praise of our God? Will you adore him with your words as well as with your actions? Will you adore him even in crowds where it might be unpopular to do so? Will you lead your family in adoring him, and will you seek to live your life as a living sacrifice, seeking to be blameless so as to honor him, for He is holy and he calls us to be holy as well. Will you be deliberate in the way that you order your days, your accounts, your plans, and your careers, so as to honor Him with them? Will you cherish his word as the very word of life? Or, will you go on living for yourself in guilty fear, bound in sin and hatred, and continue to rebel against the one who gave more than you can comprehend to offer life to those who come to him in faith? Beloved, there are two responses to this truth about Christ, and only two responses; which will you choose? And, dear ones, knowing this, what must change in your day to day life so that your life reflects this choice?