The Wonder of the Incarnation
As the good news of Jesus Christ was being prophesied in the Old Testament, His deity and His humanity were both being proclaimed. In the book of Isaiah, which many call the fifth gospel, we see both natures of Jesus—His human and divine—emphasized. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:6 ESV).
This is the wonder of the incarnation—a child was born, a son was given. But who was this child? Who was this son? It was the Mighty God—the Everlasting Father. Think about that truth for a moment. A child was just born, and His title is everlasting. That title can only make sense if that baby is the eternal Son of God.
When we read a phrase about the incarnation like “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14), we could get caught up trying to answer the question, “How?” How could this happen? How could this little baby fresh out of His mother’s womb be the eternal, pre-existent God? How was this possible? But I don’t think our response to this truth should be “how”; instead, it should be “why?” Why would the eternal, pre-existent God become this baby cradled in the arms of a peasant woman?
Let me suggest 3 reasons why Jesus needed to be born as a man.
1. If Jesus did not become a man, He could not be tempted.
In Matthew chapter 4, Jesus was led out in the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil. One of the reasons His three-fold temptation is recorded for us is so we could understand the truth of: (Heb 4:14-15 ESV) “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
Without a human nature, Jesus could not have experienced the temptation. So the incarnation has provided for us an advocate before the Father’s throne who knows exactly what we are going through and exactly how it feels.
Temptation is grave and serious. When we are flirting with sin, let us run swiftly to Jesus. Who better to help us and to protect us than Jesus Christ? God who became man so that He could sympathize with our weakness, and so that He could assure us that victory over sin and temptation is possible through His strength.
2. If Jesus did not become a man, He could not be an example.
(1Pet 2:20-21 ESV) “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”
Do you remember when WWJD was all the rage? Bracelets, t-shirts, bumper stickers, pretty much every trinket you could think of was being sold with those 4 letters. Those letters, of course, stood for What Would Jesus Do. Maybe, like me, after a little while you got a little annoyed with the WWJD craze, but the thought behind it is biblical. We should ask what Jesus would do. Because Jesus became a man, we can know how He would respond.
Peter writes that the death of Christ is an example for us—an example which shows us how to deal with unjust suffering and persecution. In John chapter 13, we studied how Jesus got up from dinner, put on the garments of a servant, and then washed the feet of His disciples. Why did He do this? Here are His words, “I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:15). We do not have to guess what it means to suffer for righteousness or to humbly serve others; we just need to look at the example of Jesus.
I wonder if we as disciples are following Christ’s example? A servant is not greater than his master, and our Master stooped to wash the feet of His servants. His example of humility—both in washing the feet of the disciples and in leaving heaven’s throne to become a man—sets the example for our service to each other. When we see what Jesus did, we should be startled by the great lengths—the inconveniences, the suffering, the selflessness—He went through to serve.
What inconveniences have you endured to serve one of your brothers or sisters at your church? Has your relationship with others in the body been marked by selflessness or selfishness? What have you considered doing to serve someone else, and then stopped because it was below you? O, that we would be marked, as a body, by an attitude of selfless, humble service that reflects Christ’s service of us.
3. If Jesus did not become a man, He could not die.
We should never look at Bethlehem without seeing Calvary. We should never contemplate the incarnation, without our thoughts drifting to the crucifixion. J. I. Packer, in his classic book Knowing God reminds us: "The crucial significance of the cradle at Bethlehem lies in its place in the sequence of steps down that led the Son of God to the cross of Calvary, and we do not understand it till we see it in this context.The key text in the New Testament for interpreting the Incarnation is…2 Corinthians 8:9, “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.” Here is stated not the fact of the Incarnation only, but its meaning; the taking of manhood by the Son is set before us in a way which shows us how we should ever view it—not simply as a marvel of nature, but rather as a wonder of grace."
This is why the incarnation is amazing—not because God became man, but why God became man. He became flesh, so that He could die for our sin. He renounced the glory due Him, becoming poor, so that through His poverty, we might become rich.
We read of this voluntary choice to become poor for our sakes in Philippians 2:5-8: “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
As believers, when we consider Bethlehem apart from Calvary, we begin to trivialize that which is utterly significant. When we sing songs about the miracle of the incarnation, but focus all of our attention on crass materialism and fleeting, empty amusements, we, with our lives, declare that God becoming flesh is meaningless. When the coming of Christ is nothing more than an excuse to spend time with family or take a vacation—when we lose sight of the cross—we rob the incarnation of its meaning. Let us never lose sight of why Christ came!
God’s good news was that He would come in human form to save us from our sins. Jesus Christ is the Gospel embodied.