The mystery of the incarnation

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Sometimes in the rush of Christmas activity we can forget that even beyond the birth of a Baby in a manger, the most wondrous part of Christmas is the incarnation—the fact that in the person of Jesus Christ, God became flesh in order to save us from our sins.

The great mystery of the incarnation is the crux and the core of the Christian message. It is the mystery over which the rationalists stumble, by which the humanists are offended and by which the world is bewildered.

The natural mind is not equipped to grasp this truth. The Apostle Paul said, “Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16).

I would like you to consider three facts regarding the incarnation:

First, the incarnation is a scriptural fact. The recurring theme of the Bible is the incarnation of Jesus Christ. The prophets wrote of it, the psalmists sang of it, the apostles rejoiced and built their hopes on it and the Epistles are filled with it. Christ’s coming in the flesh–His invading the world, His identifying Himself with sinful men and women–is the most significant fact of history. All of humanity’s puny accomplishments pale into nothingness when compared to it.

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Isaiah said, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). Even the Savior’s entrance into the world was mysterious, beyond the grasp of the rational, natural person. But as God in the person of Jesus Christ walked and talked with people, they were conscious of the fact that God had manifested Himself in the flesh. Hearts that had been repelled by empty forms of religion ran to Him as starving men and women to a feast.

The distant heavens and the remote earth, the elusive God and the wayward human, were brought close to each other. The fact runs throughout the whole Bible: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19). “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4). We read in John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” And in Philippians 2:7, “But [Christ] made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.”

Men and women, fettered and bound, were incapable of coming to God, so God in love and mercy came down to earth to interact with humans. Wonder of wonders! God incarnate! God clothed in a human body in the person of Jesus Christ. The Scriptures unite in one voice to declare this.

But He did not come just to be identified with humans–that would inflate their pride all the more. He came not only for identification, but also for reconciliation. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19). “Who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). We exclaim with the songwriter, “Amazing love! How can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”

Second, the incarnation is a historical fact. Christianity has its roots in the deep, firm soil of history. The doctrine of the incarnation means that God came right down amid the sin and confusion of this world. It means that God was capable of participating in our pain, our suffering, our conflicts and our sorrows. It proves to us that His love was not just a vague theory sung in ancient sonnets or proclaimed by shepherd mystics of the backcountry. It was real, vibrant and realizable.

His incarnation–His being born in human flesh–was for the record. He came to the world, once and for all, that we might forever know that He has an absorbing interest in the way we live, the way we believe and the way we die. He came to demonstrate to us that God and mankind belong together. He came to mankind to mend the gap and fill the gulf that separated the creature from his Creator. And He accomplished what He came to do.

Every time He fed a hungry man, He was saying, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). Every time He healed a suffering person, He was saying, “It hurts me to see you hurt.” Every time He lifted a burden of sin, He was saying, “Your God is grieved when you remove yourself from His grace.” Every move He made, every miracle He performed, every word He spoke, was for the purpose of reconciling a lost world to a loving, compassionate God.

Once I was walking near my home, and I looked down and saw an anthill that had just been crushed. I saw that the carefully planned home was ruined and that several ants had been killed and many injured. I wished for a moment that I were an ant. I wanted to be one of them so I could explain that I wanted to help them. But I had no way of communicating with them, so I went on my way.

Christ not only lived in the flesh, but He can live in you. He can live in your heart.

But when God looked down and saw the world devastated by sin, He did not go away! “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). That is what the incarnation means. God did something about our plight.

Even though you may never have received Christ as your Savior, you have demonstrated the fact of the incarnation every day that you have lived. Whenever you date a letter, you are witnessing to the fact that 2,000 years ago God invaded human history to reconcile the world to Himself. The fact that Jesus came is written in history, it is written on the calendar, it is written in the Bible and it is written on your conscience. You cannot escape it!

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14)–and He knows that you know He came. Don’t you see that you are without excuse? God has done so much for your redemption; I ask you, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3).

Third, let us consider the experiential fact of the incarnation. The incarnation can be experienced. The greatest proof that Christ once lived in history is the fact that He lives today in people’s lives. Every born-again person can say with Paul, “Last of all He was seen by me” (1 Corinthians 15:8). He not only lived, but He still lives and will continue to live forever.

Every time a person receives Christ as Savior, God in the person of the Holy Spirit takes up residence in his or her heart.

The age-old issue, “Can a person save himself, or does he need God?” is raging across the world as furiously as ever. As long as the world goes on, people will build towers of Babel, fashion graven images and invent their own ideologies. Now, as in every period of history, people and nations think they can manage without God. They may manage economically, intellectually and socially. But underneath the surface of a rational person is a vacuum–a void that can be filled only through Jesus Christ.

From Paul on down through history, gifted and rational men and women have found Christ to be the answer to their spiritual and moral problems. Composers, writers, leaders of government, leaders from the entertainment world, engineers, business magnates, salespeople, grocery employees, tradespeople and common laborers–men and women from every walk of life–are able to say, “If anyone is in Christ, he [or she] is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). And what He did for them He can do for you.

Christ not only lived in the flesh, but He can live in you. He can live in your heart. It makes no difference who you are. Your life can be changed if you will humble yourself and let Christ take up residence in your heart. And you will be a “new creation!”