Christianity is a faith rooted in history. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the birth of Christ. Born into our world of space and time, God showed Himself in history. The facts are well known. Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the Great, who was King of Judea from 37 – 4 BC, during the reign of the Roman Emperor, Augustus.
Also, God has shown us through the Incarnation (meaning God-in-flesh) that He is not a God “out there’ who is uninvolved in His world. He is deeply concerned about His creation. This concern moved Him to be born into the world and, apart from sin, experience the same joys and sorrows and the same pleasures and pains that we experience. Never again can humankind ask, “Where is God?” or “What is He like?” God has been seen and handled (1 John 1:1). The Son has made Him known (John 1:18).
Furthermore, every day of the life of the incarnate Son of God was a word about humanity. This is humanity as it was meant to be. Through the incarnation, God has sanctified our life on earth and shown that it is possible to be both holy and human.
At the same time, the Incarnation itself raises questions that cannot be adequately explained. Attempts to formulate tidy explanations have consistently failed, often ending in heresy and disaster. Man’s mind is unable to grasp fully the truth of God. The Incarnation is a mystery. How can the infinite God be contained in the finite form of a man? How can He become man and yet stay God? How can the feeble foetus in the womb of the virgin girl be the Mighty God or the Everlasting Father? The how we cannot grasp, but we must and do believe the facts revealed in the Word of God.
Our rightful response is that of faith. We believe, we accept and we bow before the sublime revelation of God in Christ. Leaving aside needless speculation we humble our hearts and, in worship and adoration, fall down before the One who humbled Himself to come as a man into our world.
On the other hand, we must take care not to fall into the trap of letting what we do not know spoil what we do. Although there remains much that we cannot understand, we are able to appreciate what God has made clear to us. The Scriptures have a lot to say about the Incarnation.
THE INCARNATION PREDICTED – OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECY
The coming of Christ did not happen suddenly and without preparation. As in everything, God was working to His timetable and saw to it that Christ came in the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4). For many centuries God was working through Israel and the events of world history until the climax broke at the coming of Christ. Part of the preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ involved the giving of numerous Old Testament prophecies which predicted the Incarnation in one form or another.
THE OFFSPRING OF THE WOMAN
The first of these was given in the midst of the surrounding gloom that was a result of the fall of man. In Genesis 3:15, God promises that the offspring of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. This is the first ray of hope beaming from God to man in his desperate condition.
A PROPHET LIKE MOSES
Another significant prediction is found in Deuteronomy 18:15. A prophet, whom God likens to Moses, was to come from among the nation of Israel. This was not fulfilled during Moses’ lifetime (see Deuteronomy 34 v 10-12), and by the time of Christ, the hope of this prediction was still held very firmly (see John 1:21 and John 6:14). It appears that in the minds of the first century Jews, there was some connection between this long-awaited prophet and the promised Messiah. In Acts 3: 22; Peter confirms that the coming of Jesus was in fulfilment of ancient prophecy.
BORN TO BE KING
“Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:1). This was the question put to Herod by those who came from the East in search of the new-born Christ child. Herod’s jealousy caused him to consult the chief priests and teachers of the law about the predicted birthplace of the Messiah. His aim was to seek out and destroy this potential rival to the throne.
The reply was unanimous, for the prophet Micah, over 500 years before, had accurately described the birthplace of the Messiah: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah . . . out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel’ (Micah 5:2 NIV and Matthew 2: 5 – 6).
The birth of Christ had brought to an end many centuries of waiting in expectation for the arrival of the promised King of Israel. A promise had been given in 2 Samuel 7, of one who would come as God’s appointed leader to govern His people. This King was to be known as the “Anointed One’ or “Messiah’.
A CHILD IS BORN
In Isaiah 9:6 there is a startling prediction that describes the coming of Christ in the familiar language of the Christmas story: “For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given.’ This verse is found in the middle of a description of the promised ruler governing in victory. His rule is said to be a rule of peace. It will be unlimited in its sphere of influence. Justice and righteousness will flow from this eternal rule (see Isaiah 9:1 – 7). This ruler is called “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (v 6)’. At the same time the prophecy describes how this One, whose shoulders will carry the very government of God, will come in the first place as a child!
Matthew quotes this prophecy showing how it is fulfilled in Jesus Christ (See Matthew 4 v 13 – 16).
IMMANUEL – GOD WITH US
In Isaiah 7 v 10 – 18, Isaiah the prophet promises Ahaz the king of Judah that the Lord would give him a sign that the alliance between Syria and Israel would fail. The sign was as follows: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel’ (Isaiah 7 v 14).
This was a prophecy which was given, in the first instance, for the historical situation of that day. Matthew in his gospel, however, shows how these words were literally fulfilled in the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:22 – 23).
BORN OF A VIRGIN
It is a deeply significant fact that Christ was born of a virgin girl. It highlights His uniqueness having been born in this unique way. The infant Jesus was not conceived through a human father but by the miraculous operation of the Holy Spirit (see Matthew 1:18 – 23). Luke agrees and records the words of the angel to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, so the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God’ (Luke 1:35). This was a clear testimony to the fact that the child was to be special. It was God’s attestation to the arrival of the Son of God into the world.
HOW JESUS CAME
THE WORD BECAME FLESH
In John 1 v 14 we read “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’. This is how Jesus came into the world. The Eternal Word became man. Although this description is short, it tells us a great deal. It emphasises the complete manhood of the Incarnate Christ. He who was fully God now became man in the fullest sense. The contrast between the two modes of existence is stark. The Word was now frail flesh. The Word “became’ emphasises the completeness of this act. It took place at a definite point in time. It does not mean that the Word changed into man, but that the Word took upon Himself the nature of humanity. Human nature was added to the already existing divine nature of the Word. The result was that the Creator of all things dwelt amongst His creatures. The Infinite God in the person of the divine Word lived, a Man among men.
HE MADE HIMSELF NOTHING
The act of the Incarnation is also described by the Apostle Paul. In Philippians 2:7, he writes that Christ “made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.’
The personal cost of the Incarnation is summed up in the statement “He made Himself nothing…’ In 2 Corinthians 8 v 9, Paul describes it like this: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich’. His Incarnation was an act in which He shed the outward display of His glory. Christ felt this loss keenly and looked forward to repossessing it after His crucifixion (see John 17:5).
The New Testament teaches that the Incarnation has become the new permanent mode of existence for the Son of God. This is a staggering thought. Christ died a man, was raised a man, and now lives forever as a man glorified at the Father’s right hand. In Colossians 2:9, Paul describes the present condition of Christ: “For in Christ, all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form’. The book of Hebrews emphasises the fact that Christ, as our heavenly High Priest is also man. “He is our Mediator – the Man Christ Jesus’ (1 Timothy 2: 5).
As a man, He is the Head of a new humanity, the Firstborn from among the dead (Colossians 1:18). He has been made like His brothers in every way (Hebrews 2:17). Therefore, God fulfils His purpose of bringing many sons to glory through Him, the great human pioneer of their salvation (Hebrews 2:10).
WHY JESUS CAME
The gospel shows why it was necessary for the Son of God to become man. He had to come in this way in order to fulfil His role as Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5 – 6). As the Incarnate Word, He revealed God to us in a clear and tangible form (John 1:14 & 18). Because He was human He could suffer and die for our sins (Colossians 1: 2; Hebrews 2:9 & 14; 1 Peter 2 v 24). As man He could be the last Adam, the Head of the new redeemed humanity (Romans 5:15 – 19; 1 Corinthians 15:22 & 45). Through His experiences as a man on earth He could become our Great High Priest in heaven. Because He has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet without sin, He is able to sympathise in our weakness and help us in our times of temptation (Hebrews 2:17 & 18; 4:15 – 16).
Because these things are so, to reject the Incarnation is to reject a cardinal truth or orthodox Christianity (1 John 4:2 – 3). Without it there could have been no cross and therefore, no salvation. Furthermore, the doctrine has its relevance for Christian conduct. For, to accept the Incarnation as taught in the New Testament is to find a key to living for God. The revelation of God Incarnate revives in all true believers a sense of wonder and marvel at divine grace and a desire to godly lives. After all, who can gaze for long at the “glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’, and not be dazzled at its brilliance? Or, who can meditate on “God manifested in the flesh’ and not soon himself be awakened to a life of godliness?