Posts Tagged ‘Incarnation’

I recently read a post from a pastor who I respect enormously.  Unfortunately, I found myself disagreeing with him!  Much like Calvin used to do when he disagreed with Luther, I will decline to name this pastor.  Rather than draw attention to the man, I will draw attention to his words for on this point they fall short of the mark.

He writes:

During this time of year, it may be easy to forget that the bigger purpose behind Bethlehem was Calvary. But the purpose of the manger was realized in the horrors of the cross. The purpose of his birth was his death.

I must admit that I am sympathetic with this statement.  I’ve attended too many Christmas Eve worship services where the pastor made warm fuzzies of the babe born in the manger while neglecting the larger purpose of redemption.  Make no mistake about it, Jesus is born in the shadow of the cross.  He is a child whose fate is sealed.  He is a babe of destiny.

And if I were being honest, I would say that it is the crucifixion and not the incarnation which is the focal point of New Testament thought.  The cross is the thing that the New Testament authors continually return to.  Even John’s Gospel, which is the Gospel with the most mature articulation of the incarnation,  makes clear that the reason Jesus came was to suffer and die on the cross (John 12.27).

And while the cross must be given its due honor so must the manger.  The miracle in Bethlehem is not simply a stepping stone to Golgotha.  I am much more comfortable saying that Bethlehem and Golgotha are two sides of the same coin.  Each in its own special way reveals the glory of God.  Let us follow the argument of the Apostle Paul:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:5-7 ESV)

In this passage, the Holy Spirit through Paul gives us a backstage pass to the person of Christ.  In this passage we get to know his mind, how he thinks.  Now to fully illustrate this it would be worth reflecting on our mind.  Most of the people who will read this post today are what we might call small fish in a big pond.  But this is not how most of us consider ourselves.  Most of us consider ourselves to be big fish and we feel entitled to all the benefits that big fish are entitled to.  But this is not the mind of Christ.  He is a big fish.  He was in the form of God.  But he doesn’t have the mind of a big fish.  He has the mind of a small fish.  He “made himself nothing.”  He takes on the form of a servant.  Even though he’s God, he becomes a human.

Now I know a few college grads who have been looking for work for years.  They could get a job in the service industry but they won’t.  “I’m a college grad,” they say which is just another way of saying “I’m too good for that kind of work.”  All of us on some level have this operating in our hearts.  “I’m too good for that.”  Imagine a Doctor who willingly leaves his practice to become a garbage man.  Imagine this and you will not have even begun to plumb the depths of Bethlehem.  Imagine a King who willingly becomes a worm and you might be getting closer.  God willingly made himself nothing and became a man.

Paul does not view God making himself a man as merely a stepping stone to the cross.  Rather he sees this as part of larger project to reveal the mind of Christ.  Paul goes on to say:

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8 ESV)

Now what is Paul drawing attention to here?  The cross?  Not so fast.  Rather it is the humbling and condescension of Christ that Paul is drawing attention to here.  Christ humbled himself by becoming obedient to death.  Mark the astounding nature of this.  God became a man.  More than that he became a man who would die.  More than that!  He became a man who would die on a device designed to shame and torture those who hung upon it!  All this to say, mark the humility of the Son of God!

Paul concludes this section of Philippians by saying:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11 ESV)

Now why has God highly exalted him?  It is tempting to say “because of the cross!”  But this would be to miss the thrust of this passage.  The exaltation of Christ is not a Medal of Honor.  By this I mean, the exaltation of Christ is not a reward for one brave action.  Rather the exaltation of Christ is more like a lifetime (an eternity!)  achievement award.  God exalts Christ because of his character, his mind and how his mind is made manifest throughout eternity.  And what is his mind?  His mind is that even though he is the creator, if necessary he would take on the form of a created thing.  Even though he had a home in heaven, he would be born in a stable.  Even though he is Lord of all, he would become a servant.  Even though he is immortal, he would submit himself to death.  And even though he is sinless, he would die for sinner’s sake.  That is who he is.  That is the character of the God we worship.

Bethlehem does not acquire our redemption.  But make no mistake about it, the same character that moved the Son of God to be born in a stable is the same character that moved him to die on the cross.  Understood this way, both Bethlehem and Golgotha are stepping stones.  But stepping stones to what?  Stepping stones to see the glory of God in his loving mercy, his sacrificial kindness, and his unbelievable humility.

What do we learn from Bethlehem and Golgotha?  We learn a little something about ourselves.  If it took so much from God to recover us, we must have fallen very far from him.  The more serious the treatment the more serious the disease.  How terrible must have been the disease that necessitated Bethlehem and Golgotha!   But the good news is that the character of the Son of God is such that there is no place too low, no shame too shameful, no sin too sinful, no pain too painful, to keep the Son of God away from pursuing those he loves.  That’s just who he is.  That just might be the best news of all.

Why It Was Necessary That Jesus Christ Be True Man
It was necessary that the Mediator of this covenant and this reconciliation be true man, but without any stain of original sin or any other, for the following reasons:

Firstly, since God is very righteous and man is the object of His wrath, because of natural corruption (1 Tim 2:5; John 1:14; Rom 1:3; Gal 4:4; Rom 8:2-4; 1 Cor. 1:30), it was necessary in order to reconcile men with God, that there be a true man in whom the ruins caused by this corruption would be totally repaired.

Secondly, man is compelled to fulfil all the righteousness which God demands from him in order to be glorified (Matt 3:15; Rom 5:18; 2 Cor. 5:21). It was therefore necessary that there be a man who would perfectly fulfil all righteousness in order to please God.

Thirdly, all men are covered with an infinite number of sins, as much internal as external; that is why they are liable to the curse of God (Rom 3:23-26; Is 53: 11, etc). It was therefore necessary that there be a man who would fully satisfy the justice of God in order to pacify Him.

Finally, no corrupt man would have been able, in any way, to even begin to fulfil the least of these actions. He would first of all have had need of a Redeemer for himself (Rom 8:2; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 2:22; 3:18; 1 John 2:1-2). So much was necessary for himself before he could buy back the others, or could do anything pleasing or satisfying to God (Rom 14:23; Heb 11:6). It was therefore necessary that the Mediator and Redeemer of men be true man in his body and in his soul, and that he be, nevertheless, entirely pure and free from all sin. (more…)

nativityThis is not only a clever bit of Christology, but it is also a powerful argument for the orthodox claim that salvation is found exclusively in knowing Christ. Note for Augustine, it is in the knowing that we are saved because only Christ does man  (Jesus) mark a trail for men to follow.  Only Christ as God can mark a trail to our salvation.  Thus, it is only in knowing the God-Man, Jesus Christ, that we can come to salvation.

It is a great and very rare thing for a man, after he has contemplated the whole creation, corporeal and incorporeal, and has discerned its mutability, to pass beyond it, and, by the continued soaring of his mind, to attain to the unchangeable substance of God, and, in that height of contemplation, to learn from God Himself that none but He has made all that is not of the divine essence.  For God speaks with a man not by means of some audible creature dinning in his ears, so that atmospheric vibrations connect Him that makes with him that hears the sound, nor even by means of a spiritual being with the semblance of a body, such as we see in dreams or similar states; for even in this case He speaks as if to the ears of the body, because it is by means of the semblance of a body He speaks, and with the appearance of a real interval of space,—for visions are exact representations of bodily objects.  Not by these, then, does God speak, but by the truth itself, if any one is prepared to hear with the mind rather than with the body.  For He speaks to that part of man which is better than all else that is in him, and than which God Himself alone is better.  For since man is most properly understood (or, if that cannot be, then, at least, believed) to be made in God’s image, no doubt it is that part of him by which he rises above those lower parts he has in common with the beasts, which brings him nearer to the Supreme.  But since the mind itself, though naturally capable of reason and intelligence is disabled by besotting and inveterate vices not merely from delighting and abiding in, but even from tolerating His unchangeable light, until it has been gradually healed, and renewed, and made capable of such felicity, it had, in the first place, to be impregnated with faith, and so purified.  And that in this faith it might advance the more confidently towards the truth, the truth itself, God, God’s Son, assuming humanity without destroying His divinity, Homine assumto, non Deo consumto. established and founded this faith, that there might be a way for man to man’s God through a God-man.  For this is the Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.  For it is as man that He is the Mediator and the Way.  Since, if the way lieth between him who goes, and the place whither he goes, there is hope of his reaching it; but if there be no way, or if he know not where it is, what boots it to know whither he should go?  Now the only way that is infallibly secured against all mistakes, is when the very same person is at once God and man, God our end, man our way.   Quo itur Deus, qua itur homo.

From Augustine’s The City of God, XI.2

the thought is expressed almost word for word in Chrysostom, but since I can’t remember the reference I must resort to what Calvin and Luther often do; “Chyrsostom somewhere says…”  Anybody know the reference? 

My talk from Sunday School, on Dec 14 “Three Spiritually Edifying Things About the Incarnation” began with the topic of “Recapitulation”.  I wrote on this subject sometime ago and you can find my original talk, that I based yesterday’s teaching on hereThe original talk was called “Jesus, Puberty, and the Mid-Life Crisis.”  Enjoy!

“And to begin with, He became obedient to Joseph and Mary in all things and at all times. At twelve years old He went down from His first Passover and was subject to them. And that was so because He humbled Himself to come under the law of a true and proper human childhood. Year after year, he lived under the fifth commandment of the Decalogue like any other dutiful son in the house of Israel. So much was this the case, that if you go back and enter Mary’s humble home you will see her first-born son making Himself subject to her, and to His brothers and sisters, in everything. He learned obedience by the things that He suffered every day at all their hands. And if you go back and enter Joseph’s toilsome workshop you will see Him who had made all things in heaven and on earth now making Himself obedient in cutting and planing wood, and in all joining and mortising work, like any other obedient apprentice in the workshops of Nazareth. “St Joseph was dead, and Jesus had succeeded to His foster-father’s modest business.” As Dr. Newman has it: “Our Divine Lord was found of no reputation in this world, whether on the score of rank or of education. It seems almost irreverent to speak of His temporal employment; but it is profitable to remind ourselves that the Son of God Himself was a sort of smith, and made ploughs and cattle yokes.”

Thomas Goodwin, “He Emptied Himself”

read it all here

new-crucifixionA stunning passage from Book III of Milton’s Paradise Lost, where God the Father, expressing his desire to have mercy on men, led into sin by “fraud”, must nevertheless have divine justice for the offense of sin. He asks for a volunteer to bear this wrath. The quote below begins with the Son breaking the stunned silence of the heavenly host…”

Happy for Man, so coming; he her aid
Can never seek, once dead in sins, and lost; Atonement for himself, or offering meet, Indebted and undone, hath none to bring; Behold me then: me for him, life for life I offer: on me let thine anger fall; Account me Man; I for his sake will leave Thy bosom, and this glory next to thee Freely put off, and for him lastly die Well pleased; on me let Death wreak all his rage.
Under his gloomy power I shall not long
Lie vanquished. Thou hast given me to possess
Life in myself for ever; by thee I live;
Though now to Death I yield, and am his due,
All that of me can die, yet, that debt paid,
thou wilt not leave me in the loathsome grave
His prey, nor suffer my unspotted soul
For ever with corruption there to dwell;
But I shall rise victorious, and subdue
My vanquisher, spoiled of his vaunted spoil.
Death his death’s wound shall then receive, and stoop
Inglorious, of his mortal sting disarmed;
I through the ample air in triumph high
Shall lead Hell captive maugre Hell, and show
The powers of darkness bound.

Milton, Paradise Lost, Book III beginning at line 232
read book III here

griefBelow is one of the most moving accounts of the incarnation I have ever read.  The fathers taught “whatever was not assumed, could not be redeemed,” and this of course means even human emotions.  The essay forced me to consider Jesus, broken by grief at the grave of his friend, weeping in heaving shudders. What a gift this essay is. 

Meditate often upon the sensibility of Jesus––it will quicken, sanctfy, and soothe your own. If you are an artist––study it. If you are a poet––chant it. If you are an orator––extol it. If you are a divine––preach it. If you are a disciple––imitate it. If you are a mourner––bring to it your keenest, loneliest, deepest grief. “Jesus wept!” “Was there ever a more interesting portrait than what the evangelist has here drawn of the Son of God ? If the imagination were to be employed for ever in forming an interesting scene of the miseries of human nature, what could furnish so complete a picture as these words give of Christ at the sight of them––’Jesus wept!’ Here we have at once the evidence how much the miseries of our nature affected the heart of Jesus, and here we have the most convincing testimony, that He partook of all the sinless infirmities of our nature, and was truly and in all points man, as well as God. We are told by one of the ancient writers,(Chrysostom) that some weak and injudicious Christians, in his days, were so rash as to strike this verse out of their Bibles, from an idea that it was unsuitable and unbecoming in the Son of God to weep. But we have cause to bless the overruling providence of God, that though they struck it out of their Bibles, they did not from ours. And why those groans at the grave of Lazarus, if tears were improper? Precious Lord! how refreshing to my soul is the consideration that forasmuch as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, Thou likewise didst take part of the same; that in all things it behoved Thee to be made like to Thy brethren. Hence, when my poor heart is afflicted, when Satan storms, or the world frowns, or Thy waves and Thy billows go over me, oh, what relief is it to know that Jesus looks on and sympathises! Then do I say, ‘Will not Jesus, who wept at the grave of Lazarus, feel for me? Shall I look up to Him, and look in vain? Did Jesus, when upon earth, know what these exercises were, and was His precious soul made sensible of distress even to tears, and will He be regardless of what I feel, and the sorrows under which I groan? Oh no! The sigh that bursts in secret from my heart is not secret to Him; the tear that is my meat day and night, And drops unperceived And unknown, is known And remembered by Him. Though now exalted at the right hand of power, where He hath wiped away all tears from off all faces, yet He himself still retains the feelings and the character of the “Man of sorrows, and of one well acquainted with grief.” Help me, Lord, thus to look up to Thee, And thus to remember Thee’ “(Hawker). Precious And holy is the divine precept, illustrated and enforced by so divine an example-“Weep with them that weep.” Oh, it is the richest luxury on earth to share by sympathy the sorrow, to soothe by gentleness the grief, to wipe away by kindness the tears of another. This Christ did, and we are to prove our discipleship to Him by imitating His example. “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them “-sharing their chain; ” and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body”-exposed to like weaknesses and assaults, calamities and griefs. Oh, aspire, beloved ! to be a drier of human tears; to have a hand always ready to wipe them away! Who can estimate its worth? To have soothed one human sorrow, to have met one pressing want, to have unbound one crushing load, to have dried one tear of grief, to have shed one beam of light upon a dreary path, to have reclaimed one wanderer, to have made the widow’s heart to sing for joy, to have befriended and soothed an orphan, oh! It is a work to be measured in its importance and its blessedness only by a life. Again, we repeat, let your life be an out flowing sympathy with the distressed and the needy, the widow and the fatherless. Be Christ-like, “who went about doing good;” raise the fallen, strengthen the weak, comfort the feeble-minded; and if tears of compassion and sympathy will soothe and mitigate the tears of penitence and adversity, then be it your mission and your privilege to “weep with them that weep!”

read it all here