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The Mystery that Makes Sense of Everything

“The real difficulty, the supreme mystery with which the gospel confronts us, does not lie here [in the atonement, the resurrection, or the Gospel miracles] at all.  It lies not in the Good Friday message of atonement, nor in the Easter message of resurrection, but in the Christmas message of Incarnation. 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). . . 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.

Here are two mysteries for the price of one — the plurality of persons within the unity of God, and the union of Godhead and manhood in the person of Jesus. It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the profoundest and the most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. “The Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14); God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation.

…It is from misbelief, or at least inadequate belief, about the Incarnation that difficulties at other points in the gospel story usually spring. But once the Incarnation is grasped as a reality, these other difficulties dissolve.

If Jesus had been no more than a very remarkable, godly man, the difficulties in believing what the New Testament tells us about his life and work would be truly mountainous. But if Jesus was the same person as the eternal Word, the Father’s agent in creation, “through whom also he made the worlds” (Heb 1:2 RV), it is no wonder if fresh acts of creative power marked his coming into this world, and his life in it, and his exit from it. It is not strange that he, the Author of life, should rise from the dead. If he was truly God the Son, it is much more startling that he should die than that he should rise again.

‘Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies,’ wrote Wesley; but there is no comparable mystery in the Immortal’s resurrection. And if the immortal Son of God did really submit to taste death, it is not strange that such a death should have saving significance for a doomed race. Once we grant that Jesus was divine, it becomes unreasonable to find difficulty in any of this; it is all a piece and hangs together completely. The Incarnation is in itself an unfathomable mystery, but it makes sense of everything else that the New Testament contains.”

J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993 – 20th-Anniversary Edition), Pages 53-54.

Roger Nicole, 1915 – 2010

Evangelical scholar and reformed theologian Roger Nicole passed away yesterday at the age of 95. Dr Nicole was a lesser-known theologian, but his leadership and writing has had an enormous influence on theology in the latter half of the twentieth century. A native Swiss Reformed theologian and a Baptist, Dr Nicole was an associate editor for the New Geneva Study Bible and aided in the translation of the NIV Bible. He taught for over 40 years at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and was a past president and founding member of the Evangelical Theological Society. Among his many articles and authored works, Dr Nicole’s largest contributions were in the areas of the atonement, the thought of John Calvin, and the doctrine of Scripture. His stalwart defense of Biblical inerrancy alongside other Evangelicals such as Jim Boice, RC Sproul, Jim Packer, and Carl F. H. Henry (Dr Nicole was a founding member of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy) has left an important and enduring legacy for a generation of evangelicals.

In his introduction to a biography of Dr Nicole, J. I. Packer wrote:

“For a man of such power of mind, clarity of thought, range of knowledge and strength in argument, Roger’s patience and courtesy toward the less well favored is a marvel that has become a legend. He was said when first I knew him to have learned to greet people in something like fifty different languages so that he could always welcome overseas students and make them feel at home. Such sweet pastoral care in the conventional coolness of academia is also the stuff of legend, and deservedly so. No one could ever accuse Roger of throwing his weight about; very much a Swiss gentlemen in style, he is also a gentle man and a great encourager, overflowing with goodwill at all times. He has been a model for me in this, as in so much more. Roger stands at the head of my private list of persons worth celebrating, and I am sure I am not the only one who would say that.”

For more about Dr Nicole and his work, Justin Taylor has much more detail on his blog, while Colin Hansen has also posted tributes from Mark Dever, Tim Keller, and Don Carson.

We thank the Lord for Dr Nicole’s service and work for the cause of Christ and the good of the church. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time.

What do Christians mean when they say 'God cannot suffer'?

God is impassible, which means that no one can inflict suffering, pain, or any sort of distress upon him. Insofar as God enters into experience of that kind, it is by empathy for his creatures and according to his own deliberate decision, not as his creatures’ victim. The words “of that kind” are important, for this impassibility has never been taken by Christian mainstreamers to mean that God is a stranger to joy and delight; it has, rather, been construed as an assertion of the permanence of God’s joy and delight; which no pain clouds. How the formula applies to the atoning sufferings of the incarnate Son is a special and open question, on which different views have been, and are, maintained . . . The historical answer [to the question of what is meant by ‘God cannot suffer’] is: not impassivity, unconcern, and impersonal detachment in face of the creation; not insensitivity and indifference to the distresses of a fallen world; not inability or unwillingness to empathize with human pain and grief; but simply that God’s experiences do not come upon him as ours come upon us, for his are foreknown, willed and chosen by himself, and not involuntary surprises forced on him from outside, apart from his own decision, in the way that ours regularly are. In other words, he is never in reality the victim whom man makes to suffer: even the Son on his cross, where “a victime led, thy blood was shed,” was suffering by his Father’s conscious foreknowledge and choice, and those who made him suffer, however free and guilty their action, were real if unwitting tools of divine wisdom and agents of the divine plan (cf. Acts 2:23; 1 Peter 1:20).

J. I. Packer, “Theism for Our Time,” pages 7-8, 16-17.