What is something shocking or remarkable that you have heard recently?
I’m a Clemson football fan, and as a Clemson fan I heard something shocking the other day about our quarterback, Trevor Lawrence. As a sophomore quarterback, he has now never trailed, through 28 games, as a college quarterback in the second half of a football game. Whether you’re a Tiger fan or not, that’s pretty shocking!
Or how about this one — According to Smithsonian, there are more pet tigers in the United States than there are wild tigers in the rest of the world!
Or how about one more — this one a bit more frightening. Apparently, the U.S. Military has permanently lost at least 8 nuclear weapons. Just gone. And no clue where they are.
As we think about God’s Word, there are certainly some shocking truths in Scripture, aren’t there? Just think about the Trinity — that there is one God in three Persons, each fully God but each distinct as a Person. Or how about prayer — that the sovereign God of the universe actually cares enough about each and every one of us that He hears us as we cry out to Him in prayer. Those are pretty shocking.
But I would submit to you that the words of John 1:14 takes the cake and ranks among the highest for shock-value for a first-century Jew — “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.“
The idea that Yahweh would become flesh was considered blasphemy. The incarnation is God’s greatest wonder — one that no creature could have ever imagined. Perhaps the Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck has best summed up the difficulty that lies before us as we think about God’s greatest wonder in the incarnation when he says:
“It is completely incomprehensible to know how God can reveal himself and to some extent make himself known in created beings: eternity in time, immensity in space, infinity in the finite, immutability in change, being in becoming, the all, as it were, in that which is nothing. This mystery cannot be comprehended; it can only be gratefully acknowledged.”Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, 49
The incarnation is that glorious truth that God the Son — the eternal second person of the Trinity — in the fullness of time took on human flesh, being born of the Virgin Mary, in order that He might become fully God and fully man in order to reconcile His people with the Father. What a glorious truth this is that we celebrate!! We are reminded in the incarnation that God is made accessible through His Son. We are reminded that this incarnate Jesus is the only mediator between God and man. We are reminded of God’s humility and glory through the incarnation. And we, as God’s people, are compelled to godly living as we consider this glorious truth of the incarnation.
As we remind ourselves this Christmas season of the glorious truth of the incarnation — that God the Son took on human flesh — and as we contemplate the humility, the love, and the grace involved and shown to us through the miracle of the incarnation, let us not forget that the incarnation itself was not enough. You see, the incarnation was for a purpose. Listen to how Donald MacLeod puts it:
“In reality, the incarnation was but the prelude to the atonement, an absolutely indispensable prelude because only this man, in our place, could expiate sin and propitiate God. But this enfleshment was not itself propitiation. He became flesh only in order to give his life as a ransom, and there could be no tetelestai [it is finished] till that life was given. He could make peace only by the blood of his cross.”Donald Macleod, Christ Crucified, 141-142
You see, Jesus took on human flesh in order that he might give his life as a ransom for many. And why was this necessary? Because you and I, as God’s created beings — men and women created to honor God and glorify Him — have done everything but that. We have rebelled against our Creator. We have turned to false gods. We have sought the pleasure of self over the pleasure of God. We have robbed God the glory due His name. And as such, on our own, each and every one of us stand as condemned sinners before the throne of God with no hope of forgiveness, with no hope of peace, with no hope of reconciliation with our Maker.
But God, in His infinite grace, love, and kindness chose in eternity past to send His Son at the appointed time in order that this perfect God-man, this incarnate Christ, would be born of a virgin, live a perfect life, die a substitutionary death, rise from the dead to defeat sin, death, and satan, and ascend to the right hand of God the Father — in his perfect, glorified fleshly state — where he now awaits to return and fully and finally save His people and judge the world.
You see, the incarnation is an indispensable, crucial, and pivotal doctrine and time in human history for us. But it is not enough. It was not an end in itself. Rather, it was but the beginning of the end, whereby this incarnate Christ would give His life as a ransom for His people.
Let us this Christmas season meditate on this truth, proclaim this truth, believe this truth, and cherish this truth. Let us not grow cold to this truth, but let us with fresh reminders behold the appearing of the grace of God in the incarnation.
As I finish writing this, let me share with you a quote from the Church Father Augustine that stirred my heart and warmed my affections for Christ this Christmas season. I pray that it will do the same for you.
“Man’s maker was made man,Augustine, Sermons 184-229, 191.1
that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast;
that the Bread might hunger,
the Fountain thirst,
the Light sleep,
the Way be tired on its journey;
that the Truth might be accused of false witness,
the Teacher be beaten with whips,
the Foundation be suspended on wood;
that Strength might grow weak;
that the Healer might be wounded;
that Life might die.”