The Incarnation: Looking Ahead to Christmas
By: Frank G. Tunstall
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:5).
“He became what we are that He might make us what He is.” Saint Athanasius
What people could not do for themselves in their efforts to reach up to God, Jehovah God did by extending His arm down. Jesus moved from eternity into time, taking into His loving hand the latch to man’s heart. He came into the world knowing what it would cost Him, willing from eternity to bear man’s sins in His own body on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24.) He who knew no sin became a “leper” like us (Matt. 8:2–3; 2 Cor. 5:21.)
“My Fellow Lepers”
Joseph Damien was a nineteenth-century missionary who ministered to lepers on the island of Molokai, Hawaii. The suffering lepers grew to love him, and revered the sacrificial life he lived before them.
One morning before Damien was to lead daily worship, he was pouring some hot water into a cup when the water swirled out and fell on his bare foot. It took him a moment to realize that he had not felt any sensation. It was a telltale sign he had contracted leprosy, a disease of the nerve endings, and it had no coure in his day. Gripped by the sudden fear of what this could mean, he poured more hot water on the same spot. No feeling whatsoever.
Damien immediately knew. He walked tearfully to deliver his sermon. No one at first noticed the difference in his opening line. He normally began every sermon with, “My fellow believers.”
That morning he began with “My fellow lepers.”
According to God’s timeless strategy, His supreme effort to connect with humanity was the birth of a special baby in an incarnation [God taking human form]. It happened during the reign of Caesar Augustus. The Roman Empire was at its apex.
Christmas is right around the corner. With this in mind, the goal of this study is to enncourage pastors and teachers to begin to prepare by looking at seven of the many elements of rich meaning the gospel message of Jesus’ incarnation holds for us all. Each of them shows why Jesus reigns as “the fairest among ten thousand.” Saint Athanasius (296-373) got it right when he penned some eighteen centuries ago: “He became what we are that He might make us what He is.” Without question, our attitude should be just like the Lord’s.
The Incarnation—Planned in Eternity
David understood that God desires worshipers with changed hearts. This was so true the great king penned, “Sacrifice and offering [God] did not desire,” neither did he want “burnt offerings and sin offerings” (Ps. 40:6). The writer of Hebrews quoted from the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament and applied Psalm 40:6 to the Messiah. In doing so, he summarized God’s agenda for His Son in a single sentence: “A body you prepared for me” (Heb. 10:5).
“[Jesus] is the lamb who was known long ago before the world existed” (1 Pet. 1:20, gw). God’s Son volunteered in eternity to become the incarnate Messiah (John 17:24; Eph. 1:4; and 1 Pet. 1:19–21.) He was looking for people who would worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23–24). The Holy Spirit inspired David to pen in Psalm 40 how the Son expressed Himself in that long-ago summit of the Godhead: “Then I said, ‘Here I am, I have come—it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O God'” (Ps. 40:7–8; see also Heb. 10:7–10). This very special infant’s eternal home had been the ivory palaces of glory, yet He condescended to “the company of ordinary people” (Ps. 45:8; Rom. 12:16, nlt).
The Trinity and the Incarnation
The Gospel writers present the incarnation in the Trinitarian terms of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about,” wrote Matthew. After Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they were married, “she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18). God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth to make the announcement to Mary that her baby would be called “the Son of God” (Luke 1:26–28, 32, 35). The Virgin Mary miraculously conceived the child by the creative power of the Holy Spirit, without a sexual union. This Trinitarian focus foreshadows the Father and the Holy Spirit would be His primary support system while growing up and throughout His earthly ministry (Acts 10:38).
The Incarnation: Announced by Angels
The angel Gabriel declared to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive a child, and in that conversation gave Him the name Jesus, meaning “savior” (Luke 1:26–33). His assignment was to “save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).
When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law…that we might receive the full rights of sons” (Galatians 4:4–5).
Jesus of Nazareth is God become flesh. “He made His dwelling among us” as the promised Messiah, the anointed one (John 1:1, 14, 41). This “rose of Sharon,” who sets our hearts to pounding, is indeed “radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand” (Song of Sol. 2:1; 5:4, 10).
A Sinless Incarnation
The holy birth of Jesus explains why the church has always taught He was born without an inherited sin nature. The Babe of Bethlehem’s manger was fully human, like all other infants. He was also unlike any other in that Gabriel said He would be “the Holy One” and “the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). The very fact of His sinless birth to the virgin laid the foundation for Him to be the last Adam, the perfect sacrifice for sin, and the author of the New Covenant (1 Cor. 15:45; Heb. 9:15; 10:12; John 8:46).
God spoke, and Mary conceived the Son of God (Gen. 1:1–3; John 1:1–3, 14). Isaiah prophesied His virgin birth would be one of the clearest indicators the baby really was the Messiah: “The Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will be with child, and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23). The Hebrew term Immanuel means “God with us;” hence, Isaiah prophesied both Jesus’ virgin birth and His deity. The evidence is incontrovertible, yet no fact of the Christian message has been assailed by critics quite like the Biblical teaching of the Virgin Birth: that Jesus Christ became actual flesh and blood, spotlessly conceived by the Virgin Mary.
The Mystery of the Incarnation
While the story of God becoming truly human defies rational explanation, this divine miracle is without question the revelation of Holy Scripture. Jesus’ redemptive achievement made Him the first fruits of the new covenant that redeems the sons of Adam and makes them “like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24).
The Incarnation: a Revelation of God as Father
The portrait of God as a Father is implicit in the Old Testament, but the Incarnation of Jesus makes it explicit (Ps. 2:7; Luke 1:32, 35; John 3:16; 1 John 3:1). The Father’s love for His only begotten Son is deep, so as to be unfathomable; in fact, He is the ultimate model for all fathers. At the same time, the heavenly Father yearns to pick up and hold in His strong arms each of His fallen children (John 3:16). The Father’s Son and our Savior came to the earth to become His Father’s arms extended to lost humanity. This is such a fact of the gospel that Jesus told Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
As heavenly Father, He is loving and benevolent, as well as tough and determined. But He is not arbitrary or whimsical, nor is He vindictive. Jesus taught that the Father loves everyone and maintains such a continuing knowledge about His own that He is aware of what they need before they ask Him (Matt. 6:8). All may become God’s children through Christ (John 3:3–5; Matt. 5:45; John 1:12). He delights to give good things to His offspring, including declaring them sons of God and co-heirs with Christ (Matt. 7:11; Rom. 8:17; 1 John 3:2; Psa. 84:11). The incarnation of Jesus unveiled a portrait that shows love is the essence of His Father and assures that all humanity can rely on His love (1 John 4:16).
The Incarnation and Postmodern Strategy
The virgin birth of Jesus Christ boldly confronts contemporary postmodern thinking. Postmodernism rejects the evidence and denies the existence of God as well as objective truth. Instead, it asserts all religious ideas are constructs of an individual’s fertile imagination. Everything spiritual, in fact, is said to be shaped by the cultural context of a particular time, place, and community. Since God does not exist, neither does objective right or wrong.
Yet, one needs go no further than the Virgin Birth to establish the Fatherhood of God, the Sonship of Jesus Christ, the reality of objective truth, and the certainty of both right and wrong. The message of the incarnate Messiah to all people everywhere is clearly this: as a historical event, “God became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
Christmas will be here before we know it. Oh! to tell Jesus’ story again this year with loving passion — the full and complete story. When we do, the Holy Spirit will anoint the message about God’s Son. The result will be that everywhere it is told people will find it the life changing “power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16; Philippians 2:5).