This past Sunday in church as we sang the hymn “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” a particular portion of the second verse reminded me of a truth that is too often lost or ignored during this busy season.
The portion I’m referring to reads: “…Veiled in flesh the Godhead see/Hail the incarnate deity/Pleased as man with men to dwell/Jesus, our Emmanuel…”
In less than two weeks, most of us will gather with friends and family and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. There will be music, decorations, lights, gifts, celebration, and most of us will eat more food than we care to admit.
That’s all great. But in the midst of the busyness, let’s not lose sight of why we are celebrating.
The late R.C. Sproul said it this way:
“What we celebrate at Christmas is not so much the birth of a baby, but the incarnation of God Himself.”
Carefully read that verse of the hymn I referenced above.
You see, it’s more than just a baby being born. After all, babies are born every day. It’s a celebration of God Himself taking on human form, dwelling among men, being our Emmanuel – quite literally, God with us.
In no way do I intend to distract from the wonder of the season. Rather, by sharing some thoughts about the incarnation of Christ, I hope to add to the wonder, and maybe even provoke you to some wondrous thoughts of your own.
While there is so much that could be said concerning the doctrine of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, I simply offer the four following thoughts.
Consider the Mystery of the Incarnation
I can’t fully explain the Incarnation. Nor can you. Nor can we fully understand it.
It is impossible for our finite minds to grasp the enormity of the Son of God being made flesh.
In fact, throughout history, attempts to reconcile Christ’s deity with His humanity have resulted in numerous heretical teachings about the Incarnation.
Man’s desire to explain it invariably results in Christ’s nature as theanthropos, the God-man, is minimized. A few are mentioned below:
- One of the earliest heresies about the Incarnation denied Christ’s deity and taught that He was a created being who possessed some divine attributes but was not divine or eternal.
- Another early heresy took the opposite stance, positing that Christ was divine, but rejecting His humanity, suggesting that His appearances were mere illusions – this includes His suffering on the cross.
- Some attempted to explain the Incarnation by comingling His divinity and humanity, teaching that Christ possessed some of both characteristics, but had neither attribute fully.
- Others believed and taught that Christ possessed both humanity and divinity, but as two distinct persons who shared one body.
All the above heresies have fancy names, but that’s beyond the scope of this article. These, and many more, represent man’s futile attempts to explain something beyond explanation.
As believers, we must understand that Christ was not, as many believe, all God and no man, all man and no God, half-human and half-divine, or anywhere else on that spectrum.
While Christ dwelt among man as a man, at no time did He ever cease to be God or abrogate His divine nature, yet while He was robed in flesh, He was also fully man.
How is such a thing physically possible? Again, the human mind can’t comprehend it, but it is one of the many distinguishing characteristics of our Savior – two distinct yet inseparable natures.
It is indeed a mystery; one we must accept by faith.
I have no qualms with our God being mysterious in many ways. I’m reminded of Adrian Rogers preaching about how he wouldn’t want to serve a god he could understand, because then he wouldn’t be, well, God.
Scripture tells us a number of times there are simply things that are beyond us.
We read in Deuteronomy 29:29,
The secret [things belong] unto the LORD our God: but those [things which are] revealed [belong] unto us and to our children for ever, that [we] may do all the words of this law.
Paul wrote in Romans 11:33,
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable [are] his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
We read in Isaiah 55:8-9,
For my thoughts [are] not your thoughts, neither [are] your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For [as] the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Consider the Miracle of the Incarnation
Beyond being mysterious, the Incarnation is miraculous.
John tells us in John 1:14,
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
Paul told the believers at Colosse,
…in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2:9).
Many questions arise when one considers the Incarnation.
Biologically, is this even possible? Can a virgin conceive?
If so, could a mere human truly contain the God of all creation in her womb?
Furthermore, how could “all the fulness of the Godhead” dwell in a bodily form? Would this not be akin to trying to contain all the power of the sun into a flashlight?
Spiritually, other questions arise. How could the One who is eternal subject Himself to a temporal body?
How could He be Lord of the universe, while being subject to the wrath of man, all at the same time?
Considered in this light, is it any wonder that three of the four Gospels begin by recording this miraculous event?
C.S. Lewis called the Incarnation “the Grand Miracle.” In his book, Miracles, he wrote:
“The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation…Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this…It was the central event in the history of the Earth — the very thing that the whole story has been about.”
Wayne Grudem expresses it this way:
“The fact that the infinite, omnipotent, eternal Son of God could become man and join himself to a human nature forever, so that infinite God became one person with finite man, will remain for eternity the most profound miracle and the most profound mystery in all the universe”
The “how” of the Incarnation can only be explained by the powerful and miraculous hand of Almighty God.
Consider the Mediation Resulting from the Incarnation
For [there is] one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; (1 Timothy 2:5)
Did you catch what Paul told young Timothy there?
The mediator between God and men is “the man,” Christ Jesus.
As Matthew Henry points out, “A mediator supposes a controversy. Sin had made a quarrel between us and God; Jesus Christ is a Mediator who undertakes to make peace… .”
What’s interesting is that the only way that mediation could take place was for Christ to become a man. In order to mediate for man, He had to be a man.
The writer of Hebrews tells us “…we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as [we are, yet] without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Prior to Christ, under the old covenant, one could only approach God through the office of a priest – and even then, the mediatory efforts were only temporal, as “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4).
Though temporal, however, it was God’s gracious method of passing over sin, in His foreknowledge of knowing a better day was coming, a day when Christ would atone for all man’s sins.
Forever, Christ did away with the insufficiency of the human priesthood, providing a way for all believers to now “…come boldly before the throne of grace…” (Hebrews 4:16).
Human priests die, and thus, must continue by succession. Christ, our ultimate High Priest, “hath an unchangeable priesthood,” (Hebrews 7:24), one that never ends. Thus, “…He ever liveth to make intercession for…” us (Hebrews 7:25).
Praise God that Christ mediates on our behalf because no man can.
Consider the Marvel of the Incarnation
Do you marvel when you consider God becoming man for us? We should!
I often wonder, why would Christ endure what He did for a sinner like me?
Matthew Henry pointed out that through the Incarnation, Christ “subjected himself to the miseries and calamities of the human nature.”
Why would He do that? Why would Christ subject Himself to the physical conditions we experience as mankind? Why would He leave a place of perfection, knowing He would have to deal with the frailties of the human condition such as hunger, thirst, pain, fatigue, and more?
Why would He leave perfection to subject Himself to the emotional toll of sorrow, grief, and anger?
St. Augustine eloquently put it this way:
“Man’s maker was made man that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast; that the Bread might hunger, the Fountain thirst, the Light sleep, the Way be tired on its journey; that Truth might be accused of false witnesses, the Teacher be beaten with whips, the Foundation be suspended on wood; that Strength might grow weak; that the Healer might be wounded; that Life might die.”
I can’t answer the how, but I can, at least to some degree, answer the why.
Paul told the believers at Galatia,
But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons (Galatians 4:4-5).
God never intended for the Law to save man. The Law was a means by which man’s earthly lives were governed and sin was made evident.
Ultimately, the Law was to serve, as Paul pointed out in Galatians 3:24, as “our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”
We also read in Galatians 2:16, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, … for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”
But for mankind to be out from under the weight and just penalty of the Law, the Law had to be fulfilled. That is exactly what Christ did on our behalf (Matthew 5:17).
In order to fulfill the Law on behalf of man, Christ had to be a man, thus “when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth His Son.”
Christ came, and under the Law, lived the sinless life we could not live, to secure for us an eternal hope we do not deserve.
Paul put it this way to the believers at Philippi:
… Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:5-8).
To the church at Corinth, Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For he hath made him [to be] sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
C.S. Lewis said,
“Non-Christians seem to think that the Incarnation implies some particular merit or excellence in humanity. But of course, it implies just the reverse: a particular demerit and depravity. No creature that deserved Redemption would need to be redeemed. They that are whole need not the physician. Christ died for men precisely because men are not worth dying for; to make them worth it.”
Said simply, being worthy of redemption would negate the need for redemption, but being unworthy is precisely why it was necessary.
May we enjoy the Christmas season and all that comes with it, but may we never neglect to marvel at the miracle of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.