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Advent Series: Why the God-Man?

Tabletalk Magazine, May 2011

Tabletalk Magazine, May 2011 articles/?tt=90

Contrary to popular thinking, the medieval age produced some of the church’s most brilliant theologians and philosophers, including Peter Abelard, Duns Scotus, Thomas Aquinas, William of Ockham, and Bonaventure. One of them was Anselm (ca. 1033-1109), Archbishop of Canterbury, who first formalized the ontological argument, “We believe that thou [God] art a being than which nothing greater can be conceived.” He also wrote a great Christian classic that has influenced the church through the centuries: Cur Deus Homo, which literally means “Why the God-Man?”

In this magnum opus, Anselm set forth the church’s understanding of the satisfaction view of the atonement of Christ. What is this satisfaction view? Anselm argued that Christ’s atonement was necessary to satisfy the justice of God, a view that became the centerpiece of medieval Christian theology and philosophy. The Son of God came down from heaven to assume human flesh and blood and to offer himself as a sacrifice to God, since God’s justice can only be satisfied by punishing the guilty, who are human beings.

"Adoration of the Shepherds" by Giorgio da Castelfranco, ca. 1500-10 (click to enlarge)

“Adoration of the Shepherds” by Giorgio da Castelfranco, ca. 1500-10 (click to enlarge)

The 16th century Protestant Reformers built on and improved Anselm’s satisfaction view. Heidelberg Catechism Question & Answer 12-17 (Lord’s Day 5 and 6) explain this view in the simplest terms.

This Advent season, I thought that it is then fitting to reflect upon Anselm’s query, “Why did God become man?” from the vantage point of what Scripture says supported by the Heidelberg Catechism (HC) and the Belgic Confession (BC). So below is my first attempt at this year’s Advent sermon series, which I would headline, “Why the God-Man?”:


Why the God-Man?

Date Title and Text Readings
November 27 “The Son Fulfilled the Righteous Requirement of the Law”
Romans 8:3-4
Exod 34:4-7; Rom 8:1-8; HC 12 & 13
Born to Be “Like His Brothers in Every Respect”
Hebrews 2:14-18
Ezek 18:4, 20; Phil 2:1-11; HC 14
December 11 Immanuel: Born of Woman, True and Righteous Man
Isa 7:14; 53:3-5, 9, 11; Gal 4:4
Heb 7:26-27; HC 15 & 16; BC 18
December 18 The Holy One Who Bore God’s Wrath and Did Not See Corruption
Acts 2:22-24, 36-38
Psa 16:1-11; HC 17 ; BC 19
December 24 “God Sent Forth His Son”
Galatians 4:4-7
Isa 9:6-7
December 25 “For Unto Us a Son is Given: Savior, Christ and Lord”
Luke 2:11
Isa 9:6; ; Matt 1:18-25; HC 18
“He Opened Their Minds to Understand Everything Written About Him in the Scriptures”
Luke 24:44-45
Gen 3:15; Acts 17:10-12; HC 19


Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 5

12. Since, then, by the righteous judgment of God we deserve temporal and eternal punishment, how may we escape this punishment and be again received into favor?
God wills that His justice be satisfied;[1] therefore, we must make full satisfaction to that justice, either by ourselves or by another.[2]
[1] Ex 20:5, 23:7; Rom 2:1-11; [2] Isa 53:11; Rom 8:3-4

13. Can we ourselves make this satisfaction?
Certainly not; on the contrary, we daily increase our guilt.[1]
[1] Job 9:2-3, 15:15-16; Ps 130:3; Mt 6:12, 16:26; Rom 2:4-5

14. Can any mere creature make satisfaction for us?
None; for first, God will not punish any other creature for the sin which man committed;[1] and further, no mere creature can sustain the burden of God’s eternal wrath against sin and redeem others from it.[2]
[1] Ezek 18:4, 20; Heb 2:14-18; [2] Ps 130:3; Nah 1:6

15. What kind of mediator and redeemer, then, must we seek?
One who is a true[1] and righteous man,[2] and yet more powerful than all creatures, that is, one who is also true God.[3]
[1] 1Cor 15:21-22, 25-26; Heb 2:17; [2] Isa 53:11; Jer 13:16; 2Cor 5:21; Heb 7:26; [3] Isa 7:14, 9:6; Jer 23:6; Jn 1:1; Rom 8:3-4; Heb 7:15-16

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 6

16. Why must He be a true and righteous man?
Because the justice of God requires that the same human nature which has sinned should make satisfaction for sin;[1] but one who is himself a sinner cannot satisfy for others.[2]
[1] Rom 5:12, 15; 1Cor 15:21; Heb 2:14-16; [2] Isa 53:3-5; Heb 7:26-27; 1Pt 3:18

17. Why must He also be true God?
That by the power of His Godhead[1] He might bear in His manhood the burden of God’s wrath,[2] and so obtain for[3] and restore to us righteousness and life.[4]
[1] Isa 9:5; [2] Dt 4:24; Isa 53:8; Ps 130:3; Nah 1:6; Acts 2:24; [3] Jn 3:16; Acts 20:28; [4] Isa 53:5, 11; 2Cor 5:21; 1Jn 1:2

18. But who now is that Mediator, who in one person is true God and also a true and righteous man?
Our Lord Jesus Christ,[1] who is freely given unto us for complete redemption and righteousness.[2]
[1] Mt 1:21-23; Lk 2:11; 1Tim 2:5, 3:16; [2] Acts 4:12; 1Cor 1:30

19. From where do you know this?
From the Holy Gospel, which God Himself first revealed in Paradise,[1] afterwards proclaimed by the holy patriarchs[2] and prophets,[3] and foreshadowed by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law,[4] and finally fulfilled by His well-beloved Son.[5]
[1] Gen 3:15; [2] Gen 12:3, 22:18, 49:10-11; [3] Isa 53; Jer 23:5-6; Mic 7:18-20; Acts 3:22-24, 10:43; Rom 1:2; Heb 1:1; [4] Lev 1:7; Jn 5:46; Heb 10:1-10; [5] Rom 10:4; Gal 4:4-5; Col 2:17; Heb 10:1

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