â€œHe will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor Davidâ€ (Luke 1:32, NRSV).
â€œThe angel said to her, â€˜The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of Godâ€™â€ (Luke 1:35).
What child is this? As we journey through Advent, preparing our hearts and anticipating the celebration of Christâ€™s birth, we pause each week to ponder this question. We ask God to reveal wonder to our inmost being through the names of Christ found in the nativity narrative.
Mary and Joseph were expecting the birth of a child, one born of human flesh by a human mother but not of a human father. This child would be born of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, therefore being the Son of Godâ€”the Son of the Most Highâ€”holy.
How does a human give birth to God? How does the unholy give birth to the holy? Mystery. Pure Christmas mystery. Theologians have spent centuries debating, discerning, and developing doctrine over this very question, particularly in the fourth and fifth centuries at the Council of Nicaea and the Council of Chalcedon. Is Jesus both human and divine, both man and God?
â€œâ€¦both human and divineâ€¦ â€˜two naturesâ€™â€¦ [but] only one person and one hypostasis. (The technical Latin term for this is communication idiomatum, the interchange of attributes.) Thus, for example, although Christ suffered as a human being and worked miracles as God, and although Mary had borne a human being, one could sayâ€¦that the divinity had suffered and the humanity had worked miracles, and that Mary had borne the divinity. Humanity and divinity so came together in Christ as to justify such an exchange of predicates.â€[ii]
Jesus referred to himself as the Son of God multiple times in Johnâ€™s Gospel.
â€œThose who believe in [the Son] are not condemned, but those who do not believe are condemned already because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of Godâ€ (Jn. 3:18).
â€œVery truly, I tell you, the hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himselfâ€ (Jn. 5:25-26).
â€œBut when Jesus heard it, he said, â€˜This illness does not lead to death; rather, it is for Godâ€™s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through itâ€™â€ (Jn. 11:4).
Not only did Jesus refer to himself with this title, but so did the demons. They knew all too well who this One who spoke everything into existence was.
â€œAs the sun was setting, all those caring for any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to [Jesus], and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them. Moreover, demons also came out of many, shouting, â€˜You are the Son of God!â€™ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiahâ€ (Lk. 4:40-42).
â€œAs he stepped out on shore, a man from the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had not wornÂ any clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs.Â When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him, shouting, â€˜What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me,â€™ for JesusÂ had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the manâ€ (Lk. 8:27-29a).
Just as significantly, Jesusâ€™ disciples understood (by the Fatherâ€™s revelation) who he was.
â€œWhen they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, â€˜Truly you are the Son of Godâ€™â€ (Mt. 14:32-33).
â€œ[Jesus] said to them, â€˜But who do you say that I am?â€™ Simon Peter answered, â€˜You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.â€™ And Jesus answered him, â€˜Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father in heavenâ€™â€ (Mt. 16:15-17).
It was for this very reason, claiming to be the Son of God, that Jesus was arrested and given the crucifixion death sentence of a criminal.
â€œThe Jews answered [Pilate], â€˜We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of Godâ€™â€ (Jn. 19:7).
In fact, Johnâ€™s entire gospel was written so that you and I would believe this essential truth regarding the identity and nature of Jesus.
â€œBut these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his nameâ€ (Jn. 20:31).
Life in his name! What child is this? He is the Son of God!
- Consider the mystery of Christâ€™s two natures in one personâ€”both divine and human. Not only that, but the divine nature suffered the same as the human, and the human nature performed miracles along with the divine. What is Jesus revealing to you about himself as you hold this mystery?
- How does Jesus being both the Son of Man and the Son of God shape your perspective and affect your daily life?
- Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God who offers you life in his name? Talk with Jesus about your response. What do you want to say to him? What might he be saying to you?
Pray: Lord Jesus, you are the Son of God, the Son of the Most High, the holy one, born of a womanâ€”have mercy on me. With Peter and all your disciples through the generations, I declare this truth and worship you. Help me to hold this mystery which the angel declared to Mary with awe and wonder. I bow before you in adoration and praise. Come, Lord Jesus, come. Amen.
Listen: â€œInfant Holy, Infant Lowly.â€ Written by Isaac Wardell, Kate Bluett, Paul Zach. Performed by Lauren Plank Goans, Paul Zach, The Porter’s Gate. Produced by Isaac Wardell. November 12, 2021. Â© 2021 The Porter’s Gate, exclusively distributed by Integrity Music. â„— 2021 The Porter’s Gate, exclusively distributed by Integrity Music.
[i] Logos Bible Software, Exegetical Guide, â€œWord by Wordâ€ (Bellington: Faithlife, LLC , 2022), Luke 1:32, 35.
[ii] William C. Placher and Derek R. Nelson. A History of Christian Theology: An Introduction. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 69.
About the author:
Julie Meissner is the Assistant Director of Spiritual Formation for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, developing and curating retreats and spiritual formation resources for the holistic flourishing of all InterVarsity staff. She is a spiritual director, seminary student, and house mom at Abba's House refugee ministry, which she co-founded with her husband Michael, a pastor. They have two adult childrenâ€”a son who works cattle in West Texas and a daughter studying biology at Baylor, as well as one high school son still in the nest, along with their menagerie of farm animals and the community garden in Cypress, TX.