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. John 1:14 (ESV)
Since my regularly scheduled article happens to fall on Christmas Day, it seems too obvious not to post this one on the incarnation. This article is a resumption of the occasional series that traces the storyline of the Bible. In order not to switch back and forth too much, we will finish this series before resuming the summaries of each consecutive Bible book.
So far in this series, we have covered the topics of the creation, the fall, and the law and their connections to the idea of living for God through Christ. Now we come to the incarnation.
The Meaning of "Incarnation"
What do we mean by the incarnation? We mean, as the text says, that the Word, that is, God himself, became a human being. This is none other than Christ Jesus, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Yet unlike every other baby conceived in the history of the world, Jesus's existence did not begin at his conception, but preceded it. Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God and the second Person of the Trinity. Nevertheless, at the incarnation, the Word, that is, the divine Logos, the eternal principle of power and reason, became flesh.
This is what the word "incarnation" means. Anyone familiar with Spanish language food such as carne asada can have an idea of what the incarnation means. "Incarnation" could be translated as something like "enfleshing". It refers to the idea of a preexisting being taking on human flesh, bone, and blood. The Christ thought, desired, and acted before he had a brain, a heart, or a body. And now, because of the incarnation, he has all three.
The phrase "God became man" is one of the most astounding phrases imaginable. It implies the creator becoming creation, the infinite taking on finitude, the transcendent made immanent, and the eternal adopting limits. These do not cancel out or detract from the Son's creator-ship, infinitude, transcendence, or eternality, but are added to him. In becoming man, Jesus is not de-godded. Instead, as was hashed out in the first several hundred years after his ascension, in the incarnation the Son takes on human nature without mixing or detracting from his divine nature. So now, we have a Trinity, who is God in three Persons, and in which the second Person has two natures. This is intelligible without being comprehensible. No wonder we consider the incarnation to be the pivot point of history. And we have yet to see what the purpose of the incarnation is! Even without discussing the mission of the incarnation, the mere event should be understood as one of if not the most momentous in history. It is a true alien invasion of a sort whose implications are beyond the wildest dreams of UFO hunters.
Some Implications of the Incarnation
One of the incredible implications of the incarnation is that it is permanent. The incarnation means that Jesus is a man even now. Personally, I have often subtly thought of the incarnatio as a temporary state the Son took on, and on the completion of his mission on earth he returned to his pre-incarnation state. But that is not true, and I simply had not thought about it. The Son was born a man, lived as a man, died as a man, rose as a man, ascended as a man, is exalted as a man, and will return as a man. The worship of our lord and savior Jesus Christ is the worship of a human being. Of course, Jesus is not a mere human being. He is God incarnate. He is the God-Man.
I believe this train of thought helps to make sense of the exclusivity of Jesus's claim to the way of salvation. He is the only way to the Father because he quite literally spans the gap between Creator and creation by being both at the same time. In his divine nature, he is eternal God. And in his human nature, he is a man born of a woman in space and time. Who else could bring us to God apart from Jesus?
The incarnation helps bring home the impossibility of forging our own path to God by good works, contemplation, or any other method. When we consider the gap that the Son bridged in becoming a man, we ought to be staggered at God's achievement before we ever arrive at the cross. The fact that the incarnation was required for man to be made right with God shows us just how far from God we are. We could never approach in our own power what the Son did in his.
The incarnation also gives us a model of humanity which far surpasses any other in history. Jesus Christ shows the true measure of humanity, and we find upon comparison that we are lightyears from measuring up to our original design. This is not due to Jesus's divinity giving him an unfair advantage. Jesus's divinity explains the ability to perform miraculous works like multiplying bread, teleporting, and walking on water. But with regard to Jesus's humility, wisdom, kindness, clarity of thought, speech, conduct, meekness, self-control, virtue, steadfastness, respect, honor, righteousness, mercy, and godliness, these can all be attributed to his humanity and serve to show us a standard which puts the godliest person to shame.
Of course, shaming us is not the point. Saving us is. Jesus's example is not first intended to show us how to find the way to God as much as it is a further demonstration of the impossibility of that endeavor. So, as we consider the connection between the incarnation and living for God through Christ, we find that Jesus is so much more than a model to be followed. While it is true that we should imitate Jesus's example and teaching as he shows us what true fulfillment of the law looks like, we should not first see Jesus as a person to imitate. We should first see Jesus as a person to worship.
Yes, in living for God through Christ, we remember that the Christ is a man like us, and yet is the Word become flesh. And in doing so, we hold in tension two incredible truths about our God which arrests our hearts in worship and guides the course of our lives by his Spirit through his word. In that spirit, and remembering that Jesus the God-Man even now is on his throne preparing to return, may you all have a very merry Christmas!