“Behold, the virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel”
In most evangelical circles, the miracle of the Incarnation -Christ’s birth as a man – is relegated to corporate and familial consideration once a year, around Christmastime. In fact, even Easter tends to lack a focus on the Incarnation. This is not to say that the Incarnation is totally ignored; it is, in fact, a presupposition of the entire Gospel, as we speak of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. All three of these Gospel elements would be impossible if not for God becoming flesh to dwell among us. Similarly, the Scriptural accounts offer constant reminders that Jesus, in coming to the earth, really did become a man.
But genuine, particular contemplation of this Incarnational reality is seldom a part of our devotional thoughts or corporate worship. We rarely worship God specifically for His wisdom in sending His Son to become flesh.
The Incarnation, however, is central to the Christian faith. Consider how Joseph first learned from the angel that Mary, his espoused wife, was pregnant with God’s own Son: “But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the One who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins’” (Matt. 1:20-21).
“Conceived by the Holy Spirit.” This is, without a doubt, one of the strangest, most fantastical, and most wonderful miracles imaginable. The virgin, Mary, conceived a child that was born of no human man. Rather, this child, Jesus, was conceived by the Holy Spirit. No other man, in all of human history and existence, can lay claim to such lofty origins. Jesus alone is the eternally begotten Son of God, sent to this earth to be born as a man. Even greater still, He was to be named Jesus for He would save His people from their sins. The salvation of sinners is utterly impossible apart from the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We are told in Matthew 1:22, that the birth of Jesus as a man was a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “Behold, the virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). What could be more miraculous than God taking a body of flesh to dwell with us? And, not merely coming to dwell with us, but actively working to save us from our sins, which we could never possibly hope to save ourselves from?
Surely, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ as a human being deserves our attention, contemplation, and admiration, for it is a genuine hinge of the Christian faith. Without it, the entire door leading to justification by faith alone, the promise of everlasting life with God, and divine adoption into God’s family would simply fall apart. In his book Miracles, C.S. Lewis wrote that:
“The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this. Just as every natural event is the manifestation at a particular place and moment of Nature’s total character, so every particular Christian miracle manifests at a particular place and moment the character and significance of the Incarnation. There is no question in Christianity of arbitrary interferences just scattered about. It relates not a series of disconnected raids on Nature but the various steps of a strategically coherent invasion—an invasion which intends complete conquest and “occupation.” The fitness, and therefore credibility, of the particular miracles depends on their relation to the Grand Miracle; all discussion of them in isolation from it is futile…”
Everything, in all of human history, finds its central loci in the fact of the Incarnation. Everything led to this divinely appointed moment when the Son became flesh and blood, and everything since has flown out from this most miraculous of moments.
This miracle so confounded many of the early church (and still confounds many today), that a Creed was deemed necessary to both explain the nature of the Incarnation of Jesus and to protect from heretical errors. Thus, the Chalcedonian Creed of 451 was prepared, which states:
“We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the virgin Mary, the mother of God, according to the manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.”
What’s important for our purposes here is the fact that this Jesus of Nazareth was truly God and truly man. He possessed the full aspects of deity without change yet became a human being. It was this great truth that led Paul to pen the worshipful words of Philippians 2:6-8, wherein we are told that Jesus, “although existing in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a slave, by being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” God knew that mere mortal men were incapable of fulfilling His Law perfectly or paying their sin debt in full. But He also knew that He, in His Godhood, was unable to die. So, He did what no mortal man could have ever imagined: He sent His Son, Jesus, born the God-man by conception of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin, that He might then grow to full adulthood to fulfill the Law perfectly on our behalf. This God-man would then die upon the Cross, experiencing the full wrath of God’s justice against sin, in order that our sin debt would be paid as well. He did this on behalf of the elect: all those whom the Father had promised to gift to Him (John 6:37).
Paul then continues, in Philippians 2:9-11, “Therefore, God also highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The Incarnation makes possible Christ’s atoning life, death, burial, and resurrection, thus leading directly to His eternal exaltation as the King of kings and Lord of lords.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism, in seeking to explain the necessity of the Incarnation in Question 21, states that “The only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continues to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, forever.” The esteemed Princeton Theologian, B.B. Warfield, seconds Lewis’s words from Miracles: “The doctrine of the two natures is only another way of stating the doctrine of the Incarnation; and the doctrine of the Incarnation is the hinge on which the Christian system turns. No Two Natures, no Incarnation; no Incarnation, no Christianity in any distinctive sense.”
Finally, we know that Jesus did not his humanity even when he rose from the grave and ascended into Heaven. Rather, the mystery of the Incarnation is now, in a sense, an eternal mystery. For Jesus will never shed or strip away the humanity that was made His at His conception in Mary’s womb. Just as He never stopped being God in the womb or the tomb, He will now never stop being human for all of eternity. Truly, “we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things like we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Even in His exalted state at the Father’s right hand, He retains His humanity. Even in His inevitable return and Second Coming, He will be both God and man. This ought to move us to both worship God and seek after righteousness in our own lives.
Contemplating upon the wonderful yet mysterious truths of the Incarnation ought not to be reserved for merely a few weeks of the year. The Incarnation of Jesus is important every day of the year. Contemplation of the Incarnation will lead us to deeper joys and a practical worship of Christ, for the Incarnation truly is a central hinge of the Christian faith.
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February 9, 2024
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