The Mystery of the Incarnation
13When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"
14They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
15"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"
Jesus’ question to His disciples is the same question asked of us—and how we answer has eternal consequences. At the heart of Christianity is the claim that Jesus is God in the flesh. As Paul says, “in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9). Mohammed was just a prophet, and Moses and Confucius were mere mortals. But if what Christians believe is true, than isn’t it a travesty to say that Jesus is equal to others?
With Christmas approaching, we ought to spend a few moments considering the mystery of the Incarnation. That God became flesh, and revealed Himself in the person of Christ is central to our faith. Though His conception was a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, He was conceived in the womb of a flesh-and-blood Jewish woman (Matt. 1:18-20; Luke 1:35). Luke also indicates that as a boy Jesus had normal human development. After amazing the teachers at the temple, we read, “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). So He increased intellectually, physically, socially, and religiously. The author of Hebrews also wrote, “He learned obedience by the things He suffered” (Heb. 5:8). Though Jesus never sinned, and could not do so, He grew to shoulder more responsibility. As a young man, He continued to grow into maturity.
It is also evident from the Scripture that Jesus had real, human, physical limitations. Jesus hungered (Matt. 4:2), thirsted (John 19:28), and became physically tired (Mark 4:38). Additionally, Jesus had real human emotions. At various points, Jesus is described as troubled (John 12:27), sorrowful (Matt. 26:38), and compassionate (Mark 1:41).
Jesus was also tempted in a very real way. As the Second Adam, Jesus had to face and overcome the temptations and machinations of Satan (Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). The author of Hebrews also says that, “we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Jesus had to face and conquer temptation on behalf of His people as a man, to win victory where Adam had fallen.
Jesus is also called a man by John the Baptist (John 1:30) and referred to Himself as a man (John 8:40). But nothing more dramatically demonstrates Jesus’ humanity then the fact that He died on the cross (Mark 1:41). His death was witnessed (and recorded) by John (John 19:25-27), a group of women followers and a mocking crowd (Luke 23:48-49), as well as Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus (John 19:38-41).
Why was it necessary for Jesus to be fully human? There are several reasons. First, Jesus was our representative in obedience. Just as Adam’s sin allowed sin into the world, so the obedience of Christ, Paul tells us in Romans 5, “leads to acquittal and life for all men.”
Second, we needed a substitute sacrifice. Jesus had to be a man, and not an angel, for instance, because God was concerned with saving men. Thus, the writer of Hebrews says, “he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God.” (Heb. 2:16-17).
Third, man needed a Mediator between man and God (I Tim. 2:5), but in order to fill that role, Jesus had to be both God and man.
Finally, He had to be a man to serve as an example to us. Scripture says that we are “being changed into his likeness” and being “conformed to the image of the Son.” Likewise, Peter tells us that with regard to suffering, Christ is our example—“Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (I Peter 2:21).
God showed compassion and love by sending His Son to die for us. Martin Luther tells this story:
There was a no-good lout who was sitting in the congregation and heard again and again, "God became man for you." He heard the sermon, the singing, the recitation of the creed, and he remained unmoved. An angel came to him and struck him such a blow so as to render the man almost senseless. "You ungrateful wretch—here you hear that God became man for you and you sit here like a stick or a stone. If I had heard that God had become an angel for me, I would have fallen down and wept for gratitude. But here you sit, senseless and dull, while the whole universe marvels at Christ's love." (Works, vol. 22, on John 1:14)
May we take time from the shopping, travel, and gift-giving of the season to reflect on the wonder and power of God’s grace, and may it stimulate us to faith and repentance.
And may you all have a Merry Christmas!