by WALT WALKER — The incarnation of God as man is as profound and (for some) as perplexing as any doctrine in the Bible. It’s also the essential belief of Christianity, for Jesus said, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world…. Unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:23-24).
Incarnation implies, even demands, that God is a trinity — Father, Son, and Spirit — the three in one. A triune God in heaven is not so hard to conceptualize because it doesn’t demand a lot of detailed explanations about earthly applications. However, when you begin talking about the Father sending the Son to be born as man and the Promise of the Holy Spirit being given to those who believe, difficulties begin. As long as God is far removed, way up in heaven, the relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit is mysterious and remarkable, but not something with which we are forced to struggle.
But then come the manger, the baptism, the ministry and message of Jesus of Nazareth — and after that, the resurrection, ascension, and outpouring of the Spirit. Now suddenly, we’re faced with an extraordinary conundrum. The great divide between God and His creations has been crossed. Someone has come over from the other side, and not just someone, the One who created and sustains this world. What are we to make of that?
Dr. Gordon Fee, a professor at Regent University in Vancouver, lectured about the birth of Christ and said (paraphrased),
“If you’ve never struggled with the idea of incarnation, it is probably because you’ve never been made aware of the difficulties that idea presents. And if you’ve never worked though the difficulties, you are very unlikely to appreciate the absolute wonder of it.”
The incarnation separates Christianity from all else. Every religion on earth could be lumped together based on common characteristics. Historic Christianity is the radical, wonderful, inconceivable other.
Like One of Us
The familiar passage in Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians is one of the clearest expressions of Jesus Christ as the incarnation of God.
5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Someone has come over from the other side, and not just someone, the One who created and sustains this world. What are we to make of that?
It’s one thing for God to enter the world He created, but an even greater wonder that the Son of God would come as a genuine, flesh-and-blood man. For some early critics, it was simply too difficult to imagine that God could be among us as an actual man. And so, they proposed that the One who had appeared among them was merely the apparition of a man — certainly not a real man. But the apostles boldly insisted that they had seen Him, touched Him, eaten with Him, and handled Him. Even after the resurrection, Jesus demanded that they touch Him to see that He was not an apparition, but a man with flesh and bone (Luke 24:39).
Jesus didn’t walk among us as a super hero, demonstrating His glory with lightening bolts flying from His fingers. He walked among us as a man who was saddled with all manner of human weakness. But in order to make Christ more appealing to the world, some people have attempted to change the revelation of Christ incarnate to something altogether different than that which is revealed in Scripture.
In order to make Christ more appealing to the world, some people have attempted to change the revelation of Christ incarnate to something altogether different than that which is revealed in Scripture.
They picture Jesus as a strikingly handsome man with long flowing hair and bulging muscles. The picture they paint would have made Jesus of Nazareth a top draft pick for the NFL or a celebrity wanted for the cover of GQ magazine. However, that’s not what fills us with awe, wonder, and worship of Jesus. It‘s the degree to which the Son of God humbled Himself. He didn’t just identify with us as a man, but the lowliest of men. The prophet Isaiah foretold about how He would appear when he wrote, “He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2-3).
It’s the greatest thing that could ever have been imagined. Astounding!