Friday, December 22, 2023

Considering The Importance Of The Incarnation As We Get Ready To Celebrate December 25th



    Next to God's act of creation and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, no miracle is more central to the Christian faith than the incarnation of the Son of God. In today's post, we want to define, reflect, and gain appreciation for the doctrine of the incarnation of the Son of God.

A study on the word "incarnation".

    The term itself is composed of two Latin words: "in" and "carnos". To take the latter term first, "carnos" refers to "flesh". When I was in grade school, they would sometimes serve what was called "chilli con carne" (chili with meat). If we talk about the animal kingdom, we will refer to some animals as "carnivors" (literally "flesh eaters"). As for the prefix "in", much like our English preposition "in", refers to coming to be "in" something. 

    Therefore, whenever we talk about the miracle of the incarnation, it refers to the Son of God coming into the world to become "in-the-flesh" (older theologians would sometimes call the incarnation by another term, "the enmanning"of the Son of God). 

Unpacking the theological meaning of the incarnation.

    The Baptist Confession 1689, chapter 8, paragraph 2, gives the following explanation of the doctrine of the incarnation,

"The Son of God, the second person in the Holy Trinity, being very and eternal God, the brightness of the Father's glory, of one substance and equal with Him who made the world, who upholds and governs all things He has made, did, when the fullness of time was complete, take upon Him man's nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities of it, yet without sin."

   Benjamin Keach produced a catechism in 1693 that, through a series of questions and answers, taught foundational truths of the Christian faith. Keach rooted his catechism in the Baptist Confession of 1689 quoted above. In question #25 of his catechism, Keach noted about Christ's incarnation as follows,

Question: "How did Christ, being the Son of God become man?"

Answer: "Christ the Son of God became man by taking to himself a true body, and a reasonable soul; being conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin."

    In light of these two historic documents,we can offer the following summary: The Son, being truly God, joined to himself true humanity, with all its qualities, minus sin. 

Major Biblical passages that speak of the incarnation

Key Old Testament texts on the incarnation

    As I think on the various Biblical passages that lead to the doctrine of the incarnation, the place to begin is Genesis 3:15, 

"And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” 

Theologians refer to this text as the "protoevangelium" (the first mention of the Gospel). The ages-long battle between the two "seeds" is taken to refer strictly to Satan and Christ, and then more broadly to the battle of the ages between unbelievers swayed by this world and followers of Jesus who look forward to the world to come. The epic battle predicted in Genesis 3:15 would reach the point of Christ's defeat of Satan at the cross and empty tomb. In what will be the final battle of Armegeddon predicted in Revelation 13-19, Christ will slay Satan's man (thus the ultimate expression of "the seed of the serpent", "Anti-Christ", by the breath of His mouth at His second coming (see also 2 Thessalonians 2:8). 

    Whenever reference is made to "seed"', a close synonym is the term "descendant". So, even in the first mention of the Gospel, we already find a hint of God utilizing a human bloodline (hence in the phrase "her seed") to bring about salvation. 

    Another Old Testament text that predicted Christ's incarnation is Isaiah 7:14, 

"Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel." 

    Isaiah wrote these words over 700 years before Christ came onto the scene. In Matthew and Luke's infancy narratives concerning Jesus, they both cite Isaiah 7:14 to express how the Holy Spirit would miraculously bring about the humanity of Christ in the virgin's womb (see Matthew 1:20-23 and Luke 1:35). 

    Then a final Old Testament text worthy of mention is Micah 5:2-3 

But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity. 3 Therefore He will give them up until the time when she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of His brethren will return to the sons of Israel." 

    What makes Micah's prophecy so important is that we not only see the Messiah's place of birth (Bethlehem); but also He being truly God and truly man. 

Key New Testament texts on the incarnation

    Again, to remind ourselves of our summary definition of the incarnation,  "the Son, being truly God, joined to himself true humanity, with all its qualities, minus sin", we turn our attention to some New Testament examples. The above Old Testament texts affirm the promise of incarnation. What follows are New Testament texts which explain the fact of Christ's incarnation. 

    We begin by first considering the Gospel accounts. Matthew 1:20b-21, 

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 

Luke 1:35,

"The angel answered and said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.'" 

John 1:14,

"And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth."

    From these three passages,  we are told "that" the incarnation took place in time and in space. hat we're not told is "how exactly" the Holy Spirit miraculously joined the humanity of Christ to His Person (what theologians call "the hypostatic union", that is, the uniting of the Person of the Son to a human nature, who already was and still remained truly God by nature).  

    The remainder of the New Testament passages on the incarnation are found in the New Testament letters or "epistles".  Paul writes in Colossians 2:9,

"For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form." 

The same author pens the following words in Philippians 2:8, 

"Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." 

The same Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 3:16a 

“By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh.” 

Either Paul himself or one of his associates noted in Hebrews 10:5b, 

“Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, 'Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me.”' 

The Apostle Peter stated in 1 Peter 2:22,

“who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth.” 

    One more text is worthy of mention, since it connects back to Genesis 3:15, namely the words of the Apostle John in Revelation 12:5 

"And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne." 

    In striking brevity, John the Apostle records how Christ in His incarnation and virgin birth came the first time, ascended into Heaven, and is returning to set up His Kingdom here on earth. Note in the wider context of Revelation 12 how Satan battles to prevent the arrival of the Son of God into history - and fails. Note also how Satan will once again try to thwart the Son's return to set up His kingdom - and fail. 

Applying the importance of the incarnation as we prepare to celebrate December 25

    The incarnation of the Son of God is the focal point of this Christmas season. The truth of the incarnation, established by Scripture, has been confessed by Bible-believing churches throughout the ages, as seen in the following excerpt from the historic Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381 A.D.,

"I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man."

  Christ's coming into our world was necessary to provide salvation and the foundation for the Christian life. Followers of Jesus look forward to His soon return. 

    For unbelievers, the incarnation of Jesus Christ makes history and humanity accountable to repent and believe the Gospel message about Him. Truth by its very nature demands a response.  Author Kevin Zuber in his book, "The Essential Scriptures: A Handbook of Biblical Texts For Key Doctrines", notes this on page 132:

"The only reason to include such a doctrine so contrary to nature and experience is that this was the truth about His birth." 

    The reality of Christ's incarnation is what made possible two other historic events to which everyone is accountable to respond by faith - His crucifxion for our sins and His rising from the dead. To paraphrase one notable thinker: "if it is even possible that God exists, and if this God created all that we know out of nothing, then events such as the raising of a dead man to life" (and we could easily include the incarnation) "is mere child's play." Taking time to focus on the incarnation enables us to focus on the true meaning of the season. I close with a familiar Christmas carol,

"O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, Christ - The LORD."