So who is Jesus Christ? Who is He who is our Lord and our God? Who is He who is our Savior and Redeemer? Who is He who is God from God and the Only Begotten? Who is He who is the Consubstantial One? Jesus takes on many titles. He is eternal. He is God. But He is also man. And this fact presents a great mystery to us. It also presents us with the reality of God’s unfathomable love for us. So let’s take a look at this God-man and try to understand who He is and what He has done for humanity. The truth of who Jesus is will shock us with a holy shock. It will leave us with a burning love for Him and gratitude that will compel us to give Him our lives. His life is, no doubt, the greatest story ever told!
I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ…
When we profess our faith in Christ, we are professing our faith in a person. It would be kind of like saying to someone, “I believe in you! I know you can do this or that. I know your goodness and believe this can shine through, etc.” Believing in someone is a profession that this or that person has potential for good. We see that, acknowledge it, and profess it as true. Well, though this does get at the heart of our profession in Christ, we do need to add some important nuances so as not to be misled.
First of all, believing in Christ is not so much a favor we do for Him, rather, it’s a favor He does for us. Our profession comes about because the public revelation of “Who He is” also becomes personal and real. God reveals the truth of His very Person to us in our conscience, and we accept that revelation as true. So this personal faith is a gift and a realization of the truth.
Second, our act of faith is also an act of love. To profess the truth of who God is in the Person of Jesus Christ is also to love Him. When we truly know Him and believe in Him, we are compelled to love Him and cooperate fully with His plan of redemption. We cannot fully comprehend Him and then fail to love Him at the same time. A lack of love also implies a lack of understanding. The two go hand in hand.
Third, knowing and loving Him changes us, it doesn’t change Him. God is immovable and unchanging. But we are always changing insofar as we are drawn deeper into either the Truth or error. The more we come to know Christ the more we are changed by the Truth and become more fully human, more fully who we are made to be. And, conversely, the more we lack knowledge of Christ, the more we become less human, less of who we are. So the often quoted phrase from John 8:32 “…the Truth will set you free” applies here. Knowing Christ, He who is the Truth, the Lord, the Son, frees us to be who we are. So let’s look at who He is.
Let’s take a moment to look at the more technical aspects of who Jesus is, what His name means and what His titles mean.
Jesus means in Hebrew: “God saves.” (CCC #430)
This phrase tells us not only who Jesus is—God—it also tells us what His mission is—to save! As the people of the Old Testament continued to progress in an understanding of themselves and God’s interaction in their lives, they slowly understood, on a deeper and deeper level, the reality of sin. The good news was that with a greater understanding of the reality of sin, they understood more and more the need they had for a Savior. Jesus becomes that promised Savior. And the name Jesus itself is now sacred and powerful and evoked in prayer. Simply to call on the name of Jesus is to pray. There is power in the name of Jesus! One day all will bend a knee as this name is proclaimed!
The word “Christ” comes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Messiah, which means “anointed.” (CCC #436)
Just as a king or a prophet is anointed for his mission, so also is the Christ. He is anointed by the Father with the Spirit. In His very anointing, we see the full action of the Trinity.
Only in the Paschal mystery can the believer give the title “Son of God” its full meaning. (CCC #444)
Jesus’ title as “Son” is spoken numerous times by numerous people in the Gospels. This title is also used at times in the Old Testament. It refers to Him being eternal, existing before the Universe, always in this unique relationship to the Father. It also reveals the intimacy between the Father and the Son. Jesus is the “Beloved Son.” The relationship within the Trinity is one that is deep and personal. It is a relationship that reveals a familial bond.
He is also called the “Only Begotten” Son. This implies that He is the one and only of His kind. There are no others like Him. Sure, we are all sons and daughters of God, but we are called “adopted” children of God. Jesus is the only one “born” of the Father. This again shows His unique relationship with the Father and shows that He, and He alone, shares in the very nature of the Father. He is God. He is Light from Light. He is True God from True God. He is Begotten and not made. In other words, He is the only one of His kind and holds a very special and unique relationship with the Father. That relationship must always be honored, adored, acknowledged, and identified as one of a kind. The Creed also calls Him “Consubstantial” with the Father. This is a philosophical term stating, once again, that He is also God. He is of the same divine “substance” as the Father.
The New Testament uses this full sense of the title “Lord” both for the Father and—what is new—for Jesus, who is thereby recognized as God Himself (Cf. 1 Cor. 2:8). (CCC #446)
The title of “Lord” is used often for Jesus. It’s a title of great respect. But it is also a title used for the Father. Because “Lord” is used for both Jesus and the Father, it points to the divinity of Jesus, just as the Father is divine.
This line is quite simple in its meaning, while at the same time it is quite profound and mysterious. First, it shows that the Trinity acts in unity. Everything the Father does is also done in union with the Son. They act as one. Their will is one. Yet they are still distinct in their Persons. But the key here is their unity of action. The created world is an act of God the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s simple, yet it is also mysterious. This leads us to a second point.
The act of creation cannot be fully understood and comprehended by us. It is beyond us. It is glorious, real, an act of God, but mysterious at the same time. A mystery is not so much something that we cannot figure out. Rather, a mystery in Christian language is something we are called to enter into on a deeper and deeper level all the time. And so it is with the act of creation. God, in His omnipotent power, was able to create all things. Ponder this simple truth of faith and let it sink in deeper as you do.
One of the greatest mysteries of God is the act of the Incarnation. The Incarnation is the fact that God took on our nature. He took on the nature He created. So let’s now look at this mystery of Him coming “down from Heaven.”
For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven…
Why did God become a human being? We are so used to the story that we may miss this important question. And if we miss the question, we may also miss the answer. Couldn’t He have saved us another way? Did He really have to be born of the Virgin Mary? Did He have to become a little child? A poor child? Be raised like any other child? Learn to walk and talk? Grow and mature? Did He really have to become one of us sharing all parts of our life?
The proper answer is both “yes” and “no.” “No” in the sense that God can do whatever He wills. He could have chosen a different way to redemption. But He didn’t. So, for that reason, we shouldn’t even ask the question of whether or not He could have chosen to redeem us a different way. Reality is reality, and things are the way they are. And that’s that.
The answer is also “yes.” Yes, God had to become one of us simply because this is His divine will and the way things are. So we should accept this fact as a fact and try to understand not so much “why,” rather, we should seek to understand what the results are of Him becoming man.
So what are the results of God becoming man? What does this do to and for us? How are our lives affected by this act? These are profoundly significant questions.
First, we can say that God becoming man—the Incarnation—reconciles us to the Father. In other words, there was a problem. Something was broken. We were not at peace and harmony with the Father. And this had to be fixed. So when Jesus took on our human nature, there was suddenly a reunion of sorts with God. Jesus is God and also man. Since He is God, He is fully united with the Father. And His humanity was fully united to His divinity. Therefore, the effect was that humanity itself, that is, human nature itself was able to be reunited to the Father. Now read that paragraph again slowly to make sure you followed it. It takes a little extra concentration.
This also means that we, in our human nature, can experience all that Jesus experienced in His human nature. And one of those experiences was the love of the Father. So we can now experience this love again because of the bridge that was made between God and humanity in the very Person of Jesus. This unity is potentially so complete that we are able to actually share in God’s divinity. This is mysterious to say but true. We do not actually become divine, but we do share in God’s divine life.
Jesus is also our perfect model. No, He’s not only a role model for us, He is so much more. But He is a role model nonetheless. He’s an example and model for our holiness and unity with the Father. We look to Him to know how to live and to understand what we are called to as humans. He is the perfect human and, therefore, the perfect example.
Jesus is not part God and part human. He’s not like one of the Greek gods who has a human mother and divine father. Rather, He takes on both natures 100%. This concept is similar to the understanding outlined earlier that Scripture is 100% inspired by God and 100% the work of the human author. It’s also similar to the understanding that human beings are a full unity of body and soul.
Jesus was always God. God the Son existed from eternity. He was not created at the moment He became human. Our souls, however, are created in that moment. We are not eternal. We may be everlasting in that we will always exist from now on. But we are not eternal in that we do have a definite beginning. Jesus is different. He is eternally God and, as God, has no beginning. But at one moment in human history, He took on this new nature, the human nature. He is the only one to ever do this, and this is what we call the Incarnation.
In our earlier reflection on the human soul, we looked at the philosophical fact that our body and soul are united in our person. We are one person comprised of body and soul. So it is with Jesus. He is one Person, the Eternal Son of God. And that Person also assumes His human nature. He is not two but is one. The unity of His human body and divine soul are perfect and are one. Again, it’s mysterious language we use, but that shouldn’t keep us from using it.
Within that body and soul, we look at another mystery. Jesus has two wills—a human will and divine will. But, with that said, it must also be mysteriously said that they are united as one. They do not oppose each other or fight each other. They are united in Him and act as one. And the ultimate way that this unity of wills was made manifest for the world to see was His free embrace and willing acceptance of the will of the Father to embrace the Cross.
Lastly, we should point out that Jesus’ heart was truly human and truly divine. This is an AMAZING reality to ponder. It means that a human being is capable of loving like God. A human loves with the love of God. The heart of God is alive in human nature. Again, wow! This is extraordinary and so very significant for all humans. It shows us the potential we now have for love. It’s an infinite potential, and we are all called to share in it!
Now we turn to our Blessed Mother and reflect upon her and her role in Salvation.
…and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
It was the Holy Spirit who overshadowed the Blessed Virgin Mary inviting her participation in the act of the Incarnation. The incarnation is the moment in time when God, the eternal Son, took on flesh in the womb of Mary. This was not done through the marital act, rather, it was done by an overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. This is the beginning of the “fullness of time” in that God is now united with humanity in a new and profound way.
Mary was the chosen one for this mission from all eternity. It was eternally the will of God to bring this act forth in and through her. But she had to be a willing participant. Eve had said “no” to God by her disobedience and, thus, humanity suffered the consequences. Mary enabled humanity to enter into this new relationship with God by her “yes.” By her free choice of obedience, the Savior came.
God prepared our Blessed Mother for this by a special grace. We call it a “prevenient grace.” She was preserved from the effects of original sin from the moment of her conception. We call this the “Immaculate Conception.” In this preservation God applied the redeeming power of Christ her Son retroactively. How did God do this? Not sure. But He did it; and since He is God, He obviously knows what He’s doing and how to do this. God transcends time, so He can act outside of time—and that’s what He did. He took the saving power of His Son’s life, death and resurrection and transmitted this to the Blessed Virgin at the moment of her conception. Thus, her Son was her Savior and He saved her even before He was born. What a wonderful mystery of faith to ponder!
This grace of the Immaculate Conception certainly had dramatic effects on Mary. But what’s important to note is that this preservation she received at the moment of her conception did not make her less human. Rather, it made her more human in a sense. In other words, it’s commonly said that “to sin is to be human.” But that’s not true. Sin is not, properly speaking, something that is essentially part of who we are. In fact, the contrary is true. To sin is actually to act contrary to our humanity and our dignity. Therefore, Mary is the only one, other than her Son, who acted always in accord with her human dignity. And her perfect cooperation with the eternal plan of God in the Incarnation is the perfect example of that fact. She didn’t have to always act in obedience and love, but she did so by her own free will. Her perfect “yes” was an example of how she always lived throughout her life. In that “yes” she said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).
Mary is given many titles, and among them the most sacred title is that of the “Mother of God.” This title is given her because she bore the eternal Son as her own child. She is the God-bearer. This actually says just as much about Jesus as it does about Mary. Jesus is true God and true man. Since He is not divided within Himself, then Mary is the mother of this Person. And this Person is God as well as man. So if one were to say that Mary is only the mother of the flesh of the Son, this would be strange and inaccurate. A mother is the mother of a person, not a nature. Her Son is a Person, and this Person is God. Therefore, the logical and definitive conclusion is that Mary is the Mother of God.
Scripture is quite clear that Mary conceived Jesus in a virginal way—by the Holy Spirit. Additionally, it is the constant teaching of the Church that she always retained her virginity. She had no other children and never engaged in the marital act with Joseph. Sometimes this is confusing since there are references in the Scriptures to Jesus’ brothers and sisters. But this language was commonly used in reference to cousins. So this shouldn’t confuse us if we understand the language of the time. In fact this is still a common practice in other cultures of our day. For example, those from various African countries commonly refer to those within their own village as their brother or sister when they are with them outside of that village.
It was God’s plan that Mary only have one Son for various reasons. It was especially so because of the fact that we are all called to become brothers and sisters of Christ through spiritual adoption. Therefore, if Jesus had blood brothers or sisters, it would have undermined his spiritual brotherhood with them. It would have made their relationship with Jesus different. But God desires this deeper spiritual relationship with all people. Mary is the only blood relation to Jesus, thus, she shares a special bond with Him that no one else does. But it had to be that way if God was to become true man.
Interestingly, though, even Mary’s deepest bond with Jesus does not come as a result of her physical blood relationship. It comes, first and foremost, by her spiritual motherhood. She is united with her Son primarily by her perfect faith and obedience. It is this bond that surpasses the natural one.
Mary undoes the sin of Eve and, thus, becomes the new Mother of all the Living. She is the new Eve in the order of grace. She, therefore, becomes our spiritual mother insofar as we are united with her Son. By becoming one with Jesus, we adopt His own Mother in this new family of man. And Jesus’ perfect obedience makes Him the new Adam, the new Father of all the Living. So we are not only spiritual siblings of Jesus, He is also our father in the order of grace. And only in Him can we call the one Father in Heaven “Our Father.”
Now that we’ve reflected upon Jesus as God and His Incarnation as man, let’s look at His suffering and death.
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