In the second of these short reflections on the glory of Christ, I want to draw attention specifically to the constitution of his person in two natures, fully divine, and fully human. As a truth it is something that can be stated with relative ease. It is to say that in Christ, there is one individual person with two distinct and unconfused natures. One is eternal, without beginning or end, immense, almighty, in the very essence and “form of God”, as Paul puts it (Phil 2:6). The other has a beginning in time, is finite, limited, confined to a particular place – our own nature which he took on when he “became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14). It is to say that in one person inhabits all the difference between the eternal creator and the finite human creature. It is to affirm that God has not drawn any closer to us than he has in Christ, and yet, in doing so never ceases to be who he is eternally, in all his infinite otherness. Or to put these relatively abstract statements more concretely, it is to say that as the Son was nursed at his mother’s breast, or cried out his last breath on the cross, he continued to sustain the universe through his almighty power.
But if this truth is straightforward enough to state, the immensity of it can intimidate us into a kind of indifference. It’s a bit like the doctrine of the Trinity, perhaps. Why look at the sun if it will burn my retina, when the cosy gloom of my 40-watt desk lamp more-or-less provides all the light I need?
Before rushing on to the equally wondrous consequences of the incarnation, however, we need to let its sheer truth dazzle us for a while. Hebrews presses us to “fix our eyes on Jesus” (Heb 12:2; 3:1). Likewise, in his letter to the Colossians, Paul exhorts us to set our hearts and minds “on things above”, because that is where Christ “who is your life” is seated (Col 3:1-4). And the two natures of Christ are the very foundation upon which everything else entailed in this claim rises.
What I mean by this can be illustrated even from the Old Testament’s depiction of God’s relationship to his people. Think of the Israelites’ journey from slavery in Egypt, through the wilderness, to the promised land. Here there is always the ominous spectre of a holy God who threatens to break out in judgment on an unholy, and miserably ungrateful people. But ultimately it is his gracious presence in the form of a “fiery, cloudy, pillar” that prevails; a presence that provides for a people he has called his own, and eventually lands them “safe on Jordan’s side”, as the old hymn puts it. Most strikingly, perhaps, there is the mysterious spectacle of the burning bush, where he who is at once a “consuming fire” (Heb 12:29), the great “I am”, speaks to Moses of a promised redemption. And yet! “Though the bush was on fire,” we are told, “it did not burn up” (Exod 3:2). Nec tamen consumebatur, as the old Presbyterian crest has it.
As an earlier generation of Christians readily (and rightly!) understood, these marvellous and stirring events are all getting us ready for that day when the eternal fire of God’s holy nature would come to dwell in the bush of our frail humanity. Paul captures the profound wonder of this mystery succinctly: “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col 2:9). And yet! Rather than consuming our nature in a terrifying inferno of holy judgment, it is a gracious and healing presence, “for God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17).
When Moses was drawn towards that fire, to “go over and see this strange sight”, the awesome glory of that gracious divine presence was undiminished: “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground” (Exod 3:5). But if Moses only saw a shadow, how much more should we, who have been drawn to the reality of God’s fiery, gracious presence in Christ, set our “minds on things above, not on earthly things”?