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Pastor Robin Fish
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church  
Laurie, MO

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Tue, Feb 1, 2005 

The Christian faith has a great deal to do with - and to say about - sharing.  February is a good month for the topic because February is the month of Valentine's Day (a sharing day), and the month that has the Presidents' Day holiday - in which Washington and Lincoln share a holiday rather than the nation celebrating each of their birthdays separately.  The Christian faith is bound up in sharing.

First, God shares with us the mystery of the Trinity - that three persons - each distinct from one another, share the same 'essence' or being.  Then there is the Incarnation, in which the two natures in Christ "share" in the one person without mixing or diminishing of one nature or the other, and yet there is just one person of Jesus Christ- true God and true man.  There is the communication of attributes - the word "communication" literally means "sharing".  That is the name of the article of faith which explains how the human and the divine in Jesus each shared in the powers and abilities (the 'attributes') of the other, so that the man Jesus could perform miracles, and God could do 'mortal' things like die for us.

We also have the 'sharing' of the atonement, in which Christ shares in our sin, and so may bear them to the cross and endure our punishment in our place, and we, in turn, share in His righteousness and the eternal life which He has won and earned.  Then there is Holy Communion, in which Christ shares with us His body and blood in with and under the form of the bread and the wine.  "Communion" is another one of those words which means "sharing" or "to share".  All together, these few examples from the top of my head demonstrate that Christianity is all bound up in sharing.

And the sharing that I want to focus on this month is the sharing of the Incarnation, where God in Christ shares in our humanity, and the human nature in Christ shares in the attributes of the divine nature in Christ.  This is, as I said earlier, called "The Communication of Attributes."  In some ways, the doctrine is intuitive - that is, it just makes sense.  In other ways, it is counter-intuitive - some people simply cannot accept it or make it work for them.  But it is a teaching of the faith, and important to the Gospel.

Jesus, as a man, shared in all of the powers and prerogatives of God.  That sentence should not be in the past tense, except that it points our minds back to Jesus' ministry among us as He walked this earth.  Whatever we might say about Jesus back then we can say about Jesus right now - except as regarding His humiliation and His exaltation.  During the time between His conception and His resurrection, Jesus did not always or fully take advantage of the powers and prerogatives which were available to Him as a man - according to His human nature - by virtue of the fact that He is also God.  That is, roughly, the definition of the state of humiliation.

While He walked among us as a man, Jesus did not use all of the powers of God as a man.  As God, He still ran the universe, made the winds blow, and caused the chemical processes of life to continue, and so forth, but as a man, He restricted Himself generally to doing what only normal people can do.  There were exceptions, of course.  We call them miracles, generally.  Fasting for a forty-day period may have required some outside help.  Walking on water definitely did.  Healings, raising the dead, feeding five thousand on a mere sack-lunch, cursing fig trees, and those sorts of things required Jesus to exercise His divine powers as a man.  Generally, however, Jesus was perfectly normal in behavior and apparently in abilities.  And when He did miracles, Jesus did not do them to show off, or just to be a nice guy.  He did miracles to demonstrate something and teach.

Jesus performed miracles to fulfill prophecies.  The Old Testament Prophets predicted that He would make the blind see and the deaf hear and the lame walk.  Even raising the dead was prophesied.  We rarely take note of it, but even forgiving sins required the authority (power) of God.  That is why the Pharisees got all bent out of shape when Jesus pronounced absolution of paralytic, for example.  They knew that only God had the power - by virtue of possessing the authority - to actually forgive sins.  Jesus healed the body of the man (something only God can do, too) to demonstrate that He also had the power to heal the soul.

Jesus fed the people in the wilderness to make a point, not just because they were hungry.  He used their hunger as the opportunity, but He was doing something deeper than providing first-century catering.  He was demonstrating who He is, and teaching that He is the "Bread of Life".  First He used an object lesson, the feeding of the five thousand, and then He preached the Word and taught them with detailed instruction - John, chapter 6.

When He walked on water, Jesus was doing something more than getting His aerobic exercise, or catching up with the boat.  He was showing the disciples who He is, by virtue of His command over the elements of the natural world, and He was using the opportunity to show them that in Him they were able to do whatever He wished, and whatever they needed to do.  With Jesus, nothing is impossible - not just for Jesus, but for us, as long as we are in Him (meaning in connection to and with Him through faith).  Look at Peter walking on water!  (Until he lost his focus on Jesus, and stopped believing.)

What we often find frustrating is that we cannot do whatever we wish to do, but we can do and are made able by Christ Jesus to do whatever He lays before us to do - even if it seems impossible, physically impossible, to us.  That is part of what Jesus was doing when He walked on water.  We might add to that the first-century superstition that the deep water was the abode of the demons, in which case they would also have seen Jesus demonstrating His dominion over the hoards of demons, as well.

The Mount of Transfiguration hints at just how much Jesus was holding back and concealing throughout His earthly life.  Jesus didn't appear to do anything on that mountain, He just changed.  Suddenly, His face and even His clothing began to show some of the glory of God in Him.  Just being near Him was to be in heaven, as the two great figures of Judaism, Moses and Elijah, appeared to the eyes of the disciples conversing with Jesus about His departure which He was about to make at Jerusalem - the heavenly perspective on His death and ascension.  Moses and Elijah were likely actually having that conversation with the Lord in heaven, even as He was on earth.  The Transfiguration simply revealed that to be near Jesus, with Jesus, or in Jesus, was to be in heaven.  Jesus did not transfigure Himself just to impress the boys.  He did it to teach, and to give the disciples the experience of seeing all that they saw and hearing the voice of the heavenly Father speak about Jesus' fitness for the great work He was about to undertake, and to see it for our sakes.  Many years later, Peter would write about his experience on that mountain-top, and say that, while seeing Jesus transfigured and hearing God speak out of the cloud was thrilling, the Word of God in Scriptures and in faithful preaching was "more certain"

Everything Jesus did here, He did as a man, that is, according to His human nature.  He could do it because He was both true man and true God in one person.  He was not two people chained together in one body.  He was not merely a man with whom God worked closely at times.  He was (and is) true God, and fully and genuinely human, at the same time and in the same person.  Today, of course, Jesus can and does always use His divine powers even according to His human nature.  That explains why we cannot see Him, even though He promises to be with us always, and to gather with us whenever two or three are gathered together in His name.  That He uses His divine power at all times, even according to His human nature, is the definition of the state of exaltation.

So, while Jesus was sharing in our humanity by being fully and truly human, He was still fully and truly God, the second Person of the Trinity.  Now, it makes sense that if He was one person, whatever either nature is capable of, the whole person was capable of - and so we talk about the communication of attributes.  When Jesus did a miracle, He was doing what came naturally to Him since He is God, and doing what only He could as a man, since He alone is true God and true man.  The two natures share in what they can do and the whole person is able to do those things.

Miracles make the God-to-man communication evident, and because Jesus was doing things we cannot do by ourselves, we are impressed.  What doesn't often sink in to our minds, though, is that because of the communication of attributes, God could do things in Jesus Christ that God on His own cannot do.  It seems odd to say that there are things we can do that God cannot, but it is true.  God cannot sleep.  He even says so, Psalm 121:3-4, "He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.  Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep."  I know, it doesn't say that He cannot, but the fact that God promises that He will not tells us that He cannot.

But God could sleep in Jesus.  He did not sleep as God, but as man, but just as the man Jesus could heal the sick and raise the dead by divine power, due to the union of the two natures into one person, and so the man also healed the sick, so due to the same union, when Jesus the man slept, God slept in the person of Jesus, while as God, Father and Holy Spirit, He never slept.

Again, God could not hunger, or thirst, or do any of those "body-things" because, as God, He had no body.  But now, in Jesus, God dwelt in human form - Colossians 2:9, "For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form."  Now, when Jesus grew hungry, God grew hungry - only with a human and bodily hunger, not a divine hunger (whatever that might be).  When Jesus grew thirsty, God knew human thirst as a personal experience.  We Christians can no longer imagine that God has no idea what it is like to be one of us, or to endure whatever it is we must endure.  He has done it all!

Even to the point of dying.  God as divinity is not able according to that nature to die.  God is pure being, and to die would mean to cease to be - and then so would we and all that God has created.  When God became man in Jesus Christ, however, God also was able to die - not a divinity death (as if there were such a thing) but a human death, the separation of body and soul.  He died the same exact sort of death you and I each will.  It was not easier.  It was no less painful or frightening for Jesus.  He had to approach it as we do - by faith.  He knew what the Bible said was going to happen, but He, too, had never died before, and had to face it all on faith.  Part of the humiliation of Jesus was that He did not always permit Himself to see the future with divine foresight.  Some things were left to faith - as when the disciples asked Him if the end of he world was about to happen, and Jesus said that no man knows, not the angels, and not even the Son of Man, only the Father knows.  So God had to face dying and face death, and face pain, and experience it all just the way we do.  Therefore, when God tells you "Do not be afraid", He is speaking not just about His promises but also from experience.

This is a sharing - a communion, if you will - which God has revealed to us for our comfort and our reassurance.  He has truly been there ahead of us, and knows what the future holds for us.  He understands what it is like to face death, and need things, and be hungry, and to fear and cry out for help.  He is also there ahead of us to catch us when we fall, and help us in time of need.  We can depend on His mercy, and we already have His grace.  His participation in our daily sort of life brings us the reassurance that He is not One who cannot sympathize, but One who has endured everything we must, and many things we will not need to endure because of Him.

That is, perhaps, the best "sharing" of all.  Even when the way seems dark and spooky to us, God can see, and He knows what we are going through, inside and out.  His death on our behalf demonstrates how He cares.  He has come to share our troubles, so we might share in His Joy!

Yours in the Lord,

Pastor Fish

These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due. Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.

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