Advent Midweek 3
John’s Genealogy: Begotten of the Father before All Worlds
December 17, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church – New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In our meditations this Advent, we’ve considered the genealogies in Matthew’s and in Luke’s Gospels. The fact that Advent has three Wednesday midweek services, and four Gospels presents a bit of a problem, which is made a bit easier by the fact that Mark begins his Gospel with the baptism of Jesus and includes no infancy narrative or genealogy at all (it’s Mark’s nature to get to the point quickly).
So that leaves us with John’s Gospel—which doesn’t really have a genealogy, either. In the second chapter, we’re introduced to Jesus, His mother, and that He’s part of an extended family (that’s at the wedding in Cana). John is the last of the evangelists to write, so perhaps he was content with Matthew’s and Luke’s presentation of Jesus’ family tree from both sides of the family. But John does included a genealogy of a sort in his magnificent introduction. It’s quite short. Two in fact. Father-Son. John explores the divine familial relationship of the eternal Word of God, who was with God and was God. John reveals the mystery of two divine persons sharing one divine essence from before all worlds.
This genealogy is taught and confessed in our Nicene Creed: I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made, Being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. The last genealogy is the eternal genealogy of Jesus.
Jesus Is Begotten of the Father before All Worlds, and United with Humanity in Time and for Eternity
“There was when he was not,” chanted the people in the streets of Alexandria. After nearly 300 years of persecution, Christianity was now not only a legal religion, but it had become the preferred religion of the Roman Empire. But as the Christian faith had been given free course, so had Christian error. A preacher by the name of Arius was preaching and teaching that the Logos, that is, the Word from John chapter 1, was a creature of God and not God Himself. And so the followers of Arius marched through the streets chanting, “There was when he was not.” In other words, there was a time when God’s Son did not exist, and it was only God.
This clearly was a problem, as identified by a young preacher by the name of Athanasius, because then salvation would not be from God, but from one of God’s creatures. But no one can restore creation, except for the Creator Himself.
The solutions to this theological problem isn’t found in philosophy or reason, but in Scripture. John’s Gospel is the most explicit in showing that Jesus, who calls Himself the Son of Man, is also truly God. In the first verse of John’s introduction, we are brought into eternity. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God; and God was the Word (Jn 1:1). John even emphasizes this fact grammatically in the last phrase. English translations always change the word order to “the Word was God” but the original order serves to emphasize the eternal divinity of Christ: God was the Word.
Further on in John’s Gospel, Jesus Himself says, I and the Father are one (John 10:30). Again, when the Jews press Jesus, that He is making Himself to be like God, He doesn’t retreat, but intensifies His claim that He and the Father are united—not only in will and work, but in their essence. Furthermore, Scripture applies divine attributes to Jesus—attributes that only belong to God. These claims cannot lead to a middle road—either Jesus truly is God, or the Scriptures are false.
To confess what the Scriptures say about the divine nature of the Son of God, the ancient Church used the word homoousios—same substance. That’s where the line in the Nicene Creed comes from: being of one substance with the Father. There is a unity of the divine “stuff” that is shared coequally between Father and Son. All that the Father has is also the Son’s.
So how does this all fit into a sermon series about genealogies? Well, the Nicene Creed also contains the statements: begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made. The Son is begotten of the Father, just like all those fathers begetting sons in Matthew’s genealogy. He is God of God, just like all those sons of fathers from Luke’s genealogy. Jesus is called the Son of God by Scripture. If Jesus is begotten of the Father, this suggests that the Arians were indeed right—there was a time when He was not.
To understand this, we need to consult another Church father by the name of Gregory from Nazianzus. Gregory was one of three theologians known as the Cappadocian Fathers, and he explained that the name Father and Son should not be understood as referring to the substance of God, for then the Son could not be of the same substance. Neither should the name Father and Son be understood as referring to the action of God, for then God would be Creator, and the Son a creature.
Gregory rightly taught that the names Father and Son should be understood as referring to the relationship of the two persons. We don’t approach God by how we understand fathers and sons in our genealogies, but we understand the relationship of fathers and sons in our genealogies because of how the Father and Son relate themselves within the one, united, divine essence.
Again, it’s not philosophy or reason that helps us, but Scripture. And again, it is the Beloved Disciple who teaches us, this time in his first epistle: Beloved, let us love each other, because love is from God, and all who love have been begotten of God and know God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 Jn 4:7-8). God is love. This is a strong statement, stronger than even an attribute of God. John does not tell us that God is a loving God, but that He is love. Love is His nature. And this kind of love is not simply an emotion or a comradery, but it is the unconditional, self-giving agape love. It is God’s nature to give of Himself.
A giver always needs a receiver of the gift, and so by nature, God is Father and Son from the foundation of the worlds. The Father is called Father because He is the source of the gift, the Son is called Son because He is the receiver of the gift of the Father, as He Himself says in the last chapter of Matthew, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me (Mt 28:18). So the Son is begotten of the Father from the Father’s love. In like manner, the Holy Spirit is included in this Trinity, related to Father and Son by His procession. This is the mystery of the economy of the Holy Trinity—three Persons coequal, coeternal, comajestic—yet willingly related to each other as Father, Son and Spirit.
But the Sonship of God isn’t just an eternal phenomena that’s outside the grasp of us here in time. In time, the Son of God also becomes the Son of God in a completely new and unique way. And the Word became flesh and tabernacle among us, and we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only-begotten from beside the Father, full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14).
The eternal Son of God, of the same substance as the Father, begotten before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, becomes flesh. The divine nature that the Son shares with the Father from eternity is united with the human nature that He creates in time. In Him is dwells all the fullness of the deity, bodily (Col 3:9). Not just a sliver of God, not just an attribute or two of the divine essence, not a creature, but the fullness of God’s own divinity becomes man in the person of Jesus Christ, the Child of Bethlehem, the Man of Nazareth, the Crucified of Jerusalem.
The eternal genealogy of Father-Son-Spirit enters into our human genealogy when the Word of God becomes flesh. It is a divine mystery—a contradiction even. But all the best theology is found in the contradictions. The Son of God is at the same time the Son of Man. This Man, Jesus, is the singularity of all genealogies. He is the promised Descendent of Abraham, by whom all nations are blesses. He is the Son of Adam, the Son of God, who has entered this world to redeem all the sons of Adam and begin a new creation. He is the eternally begotten Son of God, who loved you and gives Himself for you, so that you also would be begotten of God and love each other.
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
 Justo L. González, A History of Christian Thought, Vol. 1 (Nashville: Abingdon Press), 265.