Awhile back, I asked several Christians what the term Incarnation meant, but nobody could define the word. I know Incarnation sounds technical, but it is important for Christians to understand its meaning. That’s because it’s one of the preeminent concepts of Christianity. When that happened, I realized pastors were part of the misunderstanding because we utter theological concepts without properly defining them.
(Definition) The word Incarnation describes “a clothing or state of being clothed with flesh.” As it pertains to Christ it means, “As Almighty God, He fully assumed man’s nature. He was physically, psychologically, and spiritually man, and yet somehow God.” The Incarnation means “The omnipotent God that formed the universe; the One creating angels without number, stars without limit, and galaxies uncountable; came to earth and humbled Himself in fleshly form. He lived as a man among us.”
That’s the greatest news ever! God came to acquaint Himself with difficulty, fight Satan, face temptation, contend with storms, ache with hunger, bear our burdens, and feel our pain. The wonderful aspect of the incarnation assures us that we don’t have to face life alone. God stepped out of eternity into time and now He’s approachable. God, through Christ, is with us! That’s the incarnation.
(Transition) I want to discuss three aspects of the incarnation. One, its controversy, two, it’s magnificence, and three, it’s love. First let’s discuss, The Controversy of the Incarnation.
There’s no question the Doctrine of the Incarnation is controversial. Christ’s dual nature as the God-man has been religion’s chief dispute. Most people don’t believe Christ was all God and all man. But Jesus knew this would create controversy. That’s why He addressed the issue in Matthew 16 when He asked His disciples, “Who do people say the son of man is?”
1. During Christ’s ministry some thought He was merely “the carpenter’s son.” Others believed the prevailing superstition that Jesus was a resurrected prophet—perhaps Elijah, John the Baptist, or Jeremiah.
2. After the Resurrection, New Testament Christians took up the argument, but in an odd way. Here were thousands of Believers that had witnessed Christ’s miracles. Hundreds testified to His Resurrection. And with the image of a miracle-working, death-defying Lord, they emphasized His divinity, not His humanity. They concluded Jesus only “seemed” human. This fallacy is called Docetism. It said, “Christ only appeared to be human, [but] . . . His inner spirit was divine . . . [and even] His body was not a truly human body.” (Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Merrill Tenny, Zondervan Pub., 1976, Volume III, page 272.) The Apostle refuted that error in I and II John.)
3. Then, for three centuries following the Resurrection, Christians continued to debate Christ’s dualistic nature. They couldn’t conclude whether He was all God and none man, or all man and none God. But it didn’t end there:
4. The Incarnation so divided the Fourth Century Church that a special conference, known as the Council of Nicea, convened to settle the issue. But by this time, many argued He was merely human. Fortunately, the conference resolved that Christ was “substance of the Father, God of God and Light of Light, very God of very God.”
I know the Incarnation is difficult to decipher. But there’s only one conclusion when you examine the Scriptures. Jesus of Nazareth was 100% God and 100% man. Scripture doesn’t explain how these two natures coexisted, it just unequivocally declares it, and then challenges us to believe it. And that’s how it is with everything in the Bible. God states the facts and then expects a faith-filled response. And isn’t this how secular life operates?
(Example) Think about your proposal to your wife. Did she accept the terms of matrimony based on you showing a bank statement that could supply finances until “death do you part”? Did you show her the deed to a luxury home and promise a new car every two years? No! If nothing else in life is a faith-venture marriage is!
And there’s nothing that reveals our fleshly frailty more than the bonds of matrimony. It reveals that you aren’t Superman and she isn’t Wonder Woman! (It’s more like Fred and Wilma Flintstone.) And yet the pre-marital dating game is filled with the histrionics of overstating ourselves!
But the fact remains: God’s eternal Son wrapped Himself in the lowly form of flesh, presented Himself to the masses, surrounded Himself with seventy disciples to scrutinize His actions, appointed twelve more for yet a closer look, reduced that number to the inner-circle of Peter, James, and John and then proved Himself beyond their grandest expectations.
When He fasted he grew hungry, as a man. But when He saw the famished multitudes He fed them, as God.
When He traveled He grew weary and rested, as a man. But when He faced storms He tamed them, as God.
When He lost a friend in death He wept, as a man. But when He stood at the gravesite He raised Lazarus from the dead, as God.
When He was gouged, pierced, and crucified He suffered and stopped breathing, as a man. But three days later He broke the chains of death, as God.
The incarnation says Jesus was fully divine and fully human. Think about it. If Christ were not 100% man then His sacrifice didn’t fulfill the Old Testament’s criteria as our fleshly substitute for our sins. And then, if He weren’t 100% God our worship is idolatrous, for God doesn’t not permit us to worship mere flesh. But Jesus is more than a man. He’s the God-man. He is the perfect sacrifice and the One worthy of worship.
(Transition) That’s the controversy of the incarnation, but second, let’s discuss, The Magnificence of the Incarnation.
Reading the Gospel accounts from Matthew and Luke are beautiful. They furnish the script for the nativity story. They portray animals at the manger; they broadcast the angelic hosts calling the shepherds; they video the wise men trekking after the star and presenting the babe with gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
But John’s production of the Christmas story takes another view. He telecasts from an infinitely higher venue. John makes no mention of Christ’s natural lineage. Joseph and Mary are ignored. He doesn’t allude to stars, wise men, or shepherds. He says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (1:1,14). Think about those words:
“In the beginning” expresses Christ’s eternity.
The utterance, “the word was with God” identifies His equality with God.
The expression, “the Word was God” teaches His deity.
The declaration, “The same was in the beginning with God” explains His preexistence.
And the phrase, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” declares His incarnation, God is with us!
I want us to really understand this about the incarnation. The incarnation reveals God among men, not just a great man among humanity!
(Illustration) Some years ago, a group of Christians toured the Citadel of Saladin in Egypt. A young Moslem guide pointed out the mosques where supplicants prayed to Allah and honored Islam’s premier prophet Mohammed. As he explained Islamic worship the guide said, “We all seek the same God. You Christians call Him God, but we call him Allah. You follow His prophet Jesus, we follow his prophet Mohammed. Doesn’t it all come to the same end?” But one Christian couldn’t remain silent. “Sir, you’ve misunderstood us Christians. We believe God Himself came down! We believe God came to this earth as a man among men. He lived, he died, he rose again—and Jesus of Nazareth is His Name!” (Told by R.G. Lee in sermon, What He was Made.)
Here’s why God had to become flesh. The first man, Adam, brought a pervading curse upon Creation when he sinned. That meant nothing from this sin-infected world could atone for our sinfulness. Everything from our soul to the soil to the stars was defiled. It would take something perfectly holy to redeem man. And that required heavenly intervention. That’s what happened in the Incarnation. God “became flesh and dwelt among us” and He accomplished what nothing earthly could accomplish. He provided redemption for men and restored Adam’s losses.
I want to talk about Adam’s losses for a moment. What do you suppose they were? First, Adam’s sin forfeited Man’s moral purity and innocence. He no longer stood in right standing with God. Secondly, Adam’s sin incurred the sentence of death. Thirdly, Adam lost unobstructed fellowship with God. And fourthly Adam lost Paradise. Who could restore innocence, life, fellowship, and Paradise? Only something from another world—Jesus Christ!
(Application) Do you know what people need today? They need to recover their losses. Satan’s work has always involved stealing from God’s people. That’s why an integral part of Christ’s redemptive work has involved recovering believer’s losses. The covenant of redemption says we’re empowered to recover our:
Relationship with God and fellow man.
It says we’re empowered to recover our purpose and direction in life.
The covenant of redemption includes recovering our hope of living in peace, fellowship and union with God.
And when we are glorified with Christ in heaven the claims of redemption will have recover all of Adam’s losses.
God spoke to the prophet Jeremiah about Israel recovering its losses. When Israel was on the verge of Babylonian Captivity, God assured Jeremiah three times with the phrase, “I will restore their fortunes” (32:44; 33:11, 26). That describes the wonder of God’s grace. Whenever the Bible shows God judging His people for their sin, it always included restoration. God’s goodness appears after judgment to restore what was lost through sin.
In other words, Jesus came to suffer so that we could recover. Isaiah 53 says: “by his wounds [stripes] we are healed.” Vine’s Dictionary defines that word heal as, “restoring to normal.”
“By his stripes” He restores your fellowship with God and man.
“By his stripes” He restores your purpose and direction.
“By his stripes” He restores your hope.
“By his stripes” He restores all of Adam’s losses.
You may interject, “But you don’t know the shambles of my life. It’s wrecked and ruined. I don’t deserve for God to restore anything to me. But grace wouldn’t be grace if you deserved God restoring something to you. And yet you may continue to object, I don’t see how God could ever restore certain things to me. But do you have more faith in Satan’s ability to steal than God’s power to restore?
I want you to consider what Jesus said He would do for the last day generation of believers. Jesus said in Matthew 17:11, “Elijah [will] come and will restore all things.” And Peter said in Acts 3:21 that Christ’s return would “restore everything.”
Jesus said the wonder of His end-time work toward believers would involve restoration! When Jesus returns to call believers of every age to stand before His throne His grace and mercy will restore every loss incurred from Adam’s fall. Restoration is a redemptive guarantee!
(Transition) That’s the magnificence of the incarnation. Third, let’s consider, The Love of the Incarnation.
There was no greater way God could express His love toward man than sending His only begotten Son to live and die in man’s depraved world.
(Example) What loving parent would purposely send their child into an infectious, disease‑riddled area? Would you send your only child on a relief mission to a region infected from a nuclear spill or from chemical warfare? Would you send your only child to minister to a colony of patients dying from a highly infectious disease? Yet, our Heavenly Father sent His only begotten Son into this sin-infested world to minister to our contagion. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Parents know what the Bible means when it says “children are a reward from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Normal parents have an indescribable love for their children. They couldn’t conceive of sentencing their children to a world that would curse, reject, scorn, and then murder them. But our Father’s incomparable heavenly love did that to His Son!
(Definition) Do you realize Jesus was God’s only begotten Son—the only Son He would ever beget from His very nature? The word begotten means, “to procreate as a father.” Jesus was the only Son the Father would ever procreate, and because of His love for humanity He sent Him here to die for us. What love!
(Illustration) Years ago, a missionary’s son was thousands of miles removed from his father during the Christmas season. The boy’s principal was a friend of the missionary so he called the youngster into his office. The principal asked what the boy wanted most for Christmas. He looked at the picture of his dad on the principal’s desk and then quietly said, “I want my father to step out of that frame.”
That’s the cry of humanity. Men want God to step out of the frame. And He did, He stepped out of eternity into time. He stepped out of mystery into certainty. He stepped out of the distant beyond into the here and now. And today, if you don’t know Him as Savior, He offers to step from Heaven’s throne into your heart.
For centuries, God’s love has pleaded with men to accept His offer of salvation. And there’s been nothing secretive about His appeal. The Holy Spirit’s convicting presence envelops the earth. The Church has sent thousands of missionaries into the world. The Gospel resounds through radio, television, and literature. This message you hear is yet one more appeal God is making for you to come to Him.
But one day the appeals will cease and the pronouncements will be silenced forever. Not even a still, small voice will tug at your heart. The Holy Spirit’s beckon will be hauntingly silent in hell. But He’s calling today, announcing that Christ is all Scripture declares Him to be—God’s Incarnate Son—your divine, magnificent, and loving Savior!
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