I preached this message on December 20:
Believe it or not but today is Dec. 20th - that means only 5 days until Christmas.
For most people, even non-Christians, Christmas is a time of fond memories, the observance of family traditions, ugly sweater parties, favorite foods and decorations. For some it includes extra church activities, dramas, children's programs, Christmas carols, etc.
For many, however, there will be tears of sadness. Parents mourning the child lost. A husband grieving, wife missing her husband. Children and grandchildren saddened by loss of a parent or grandparent.
For others it’s a time of cynicism and melancholy. Nothing has changed. The world is the same, things aren't any better than they were LAST Christmas. All is not calm. We don't see peace on earth coming any time soon.
For Christians, Christmas is a time of joy, reflection, celebration, and wonder. It is this last thing - wonder - I want to address this morning.
I love to reflect upon the incarnation and by sharing with you some of what I have been reflecting on this past week I hope to reinvigorate in all of us the wonder of Christmas.
I will begin by way of definition and I am going to warn you that I am going to go deep. There are some things that are so complex and mysterious that any attempt to simplify them does more harm than good. When we define things or categorize things we tend to lose the wonder of it. So I am going to go deep because I want every one of us to be in awe and wonder at the mystery of the incarnation. I will start simple but then I will add as I go and I hope and pray that God will use it to cause us to ponder and exalt in the majestic power and wonder of God Almighty.
Of course the word "incarnation" is never found in the Bible. It is derived from the Latin and simply means "clothed in flesh" or "the act of assuming flesh." When we speak of the incarnation we are talking about when the Son of God assumed a human body. So briefly stated, the incarnation is that the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, became a man or as John 1:14 so eloquently puts it, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." Of course John 1:14 cannot be appreciated apart from John 1:1-3, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made."
Another significant passage is Galatians 4:4, "But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law." Since a son shares the nature of his father, so Jesus shares the Godhead coequally with his Father. So, God sent his Son." God did not send one who became his Son but he sent one who through all eternity, was his son. Centuries before Christ was born, the Prophet Isaiah wrote, "For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given." The son was given in eternity past before we knew him.
Another significant passage is Philippians 2:5-10, "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and uner the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
So before Jesus assumed flesh he was "being in very nature God" (v. 6). From the beginning Jesus had the nature of God, he existed as God. "He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped" meaning equality with God was not something He retained by force or unlawfully but possessed it in eternity past. And yet, amazingly, Jesus "made himself nothing." This does not mean Jesus lost his deity for God is unchanging. It with a voluntary act of amazing grace the Almighty Sovereign of the Universe stooped, condescended, to become earth's lowly servant. As it says, "being found in appearance as man." This means He assumed the full reality of humanity. He had flesh and blood like us.
Thus we speak of Jesus as the God-man. Jesus was fully God and fully man in one person, and will be so forever. Remaining what he was, he became what he was not. In other words, while Jesus continued "remaining" fully divine he also became what he previously had not been, fully human. Jesus has two inseparably united yet wholly distinct natures, human and divine. His divine nature is exactly the same as that of God the Father. His human nature is exactly the same as ours, yet without sin. Jesus is and will remain forever the God-man, fully God and fully man, two distinct natures in one Person forever.
Are you starting to get a sense of the wonder of it?
The method by which God the Son became man was the miraculous conception in the womb of a virgin. Luke 1:35, "The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one o be born will be called the Son of God." Please note that the virgin birth is not synonymous with the incarnation. The virgin birth is an important step in the whole incarnation undertaking. It is how Jesus takes on flesh and it is how Jesus is born sinless but the incarnation refers to the whole of the life of the Son of God from the virgin birth on to eternity to come.
The origin of the Messiah who appears in Bethlehem is from eternity. Therefore, the mystery of the birth of Jesus is not merely that he was born of a virgin. That miracle was intended by God to witness to an even greater one—namely, that the child born at Christmas was a person who existed "from of old, from ancient days." He was not merely born, as John 18:37 says; he came into the world. Listen to how Jesus puts it in John 8:56–59.
You see, Jesus incarnation was not temporary. He is still fully God and fully man. Jesus is the forever God-man. It wasn't a costume. He forever joined his divinity to our humanity. How do we know this? Remember the words of the angel to the disciples when Jesus ascended? "This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven" (Acts 1:9-11). Jesus went up with a human body. He sits now in God's presence in his humanity. And he will return in his humanity.
Behold the wonder and mystery of the incarnation! It is by far the most amazing miracle in the Bible! The fact that the infinite, omnipotent eternal Son of God could become man and join himself to a human nature forever, so that infinite God became one person with finite man, one person with two natures, will remain for eternity the most profound miracle and the most profound mystery in all the universe.
The incarnation is without question the greatest of all miracles, the wonder of all wonders, the greatest event to occur in the history of the universe or as Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3:16, "Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory."
Thus in summary:
The Second Member of the Trinity, God very God, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father, the One by whom all things were created and the One in whom all things hold together, left the glories of heaven to become a man, being born in a primitive stable, so that He could grow up to die a criminal’s death in order to save hopeless sinners from the eternal consequences of their own foolish rebellion. Wonder of wonders! We so commonly talk about Jesus as God that we forget how earth-shaking this idea is. All the other miracles are in service to this central miracle - God became man!
In fact, so crucial is this doctrine that the Bible teaches it is a test of true Christianity/orthodoxy: 1 John 4:1-4; 5:1
This is a stumbling block to many for it is considered the heights of folly to believe that God became man. To which we answer it is a paradox:
These are mysteries that we cannot fully comprehend yet the Bible teaches and we are fully persuaded that while Jesus was asleep in the boat he was also continually carrying along all things by the power of His word (Heb. 1:3). While Jesus was a baby in a manger he was also holding all things together in the universe.
How so? Because he is the God-man! He is fully God and fully man in one person. Humanly speaking he got tired and weak and hungry but divinely speaking he was all powerful and all knowing and present everywhere.
Augustine: The Maker of man became man that He, Ruler of the stars, might be weaned as an infant; that He, the Bread, might be hungry; that He, the Fountain, might thirst; that He, the Light, might sleep; that He, the Way, might be wearied by the journey; that He, the Truth, might be accused by false witnesses; that He, the Judge of the living and the dead, might be brought to trial by a mortal judge; that He, Justice, might be condemned by the unjust; that He, Discipline, might be scourged with whips; that He, the Foundation, might be suspended upon a cross; . . . that He, the Life might die.
This is the clear and central teaching of the Bible and we dare not deny it. It is beyond comprehension but it is not impossible. Nothing is impossible for God.
As the Puritan Stephen Charnock so eloquently testified:
"What a wonder that two natures infinitely distant should be more intimately united than anything in the world...That the same person should have both a glory and a grief; an infinite joy in the Deity, and an inexpressible sorrow in the humanity! That a God upon a throne should be an infant in a cradle; the thundering Creator be a weeping babe and a suffering man; the incarnation astonishes men upon earth, and angels in heaven."
When we put our minds long to the idea of Jesus being one hundred percent God and simultaneously one hundred percent man, they naturally feel overwhelmed. The orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation is compelling, beautiful, biblically sensible, and necessary, but it is nevertheless utterly inscrutable. And that's okay. In the end, the Incarnation is not for analysis but for worship.
Oh, how I pray for a breaking forth of the Spirit of God upon me and upon you: for the Holy Spirit to break into my and your experience in a powerful way, to wake us up to the unimaginable glory and wonder and inscrutability of the incarnation! God forgive us for how dead and callous and indifferent we can be to this miracle and for how often we have however unintentionally made Christmas about something else. I think of all the hoopla about the new star wars movie. It has been all over the news, tv, internet. Movie theatres are packed out and people are saying it fulfills all the dreams of every star wars fan. And I think how amazing it is people can be filled with awe and wonder at a man made story and be bored or indifferent or only halfway interested in the greatest miracle ever in the universe! The incarnation is more crazy and weird and strange and eerie and wonderful than any science fiction or fairy tale or movie or whatever and best of all it is true!
The Co-equal, Pre-existent Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…
Jesus was born of a virgin.
Jesus is one person with two natures, fully God and fully man.
Jesus' distinctive birth is no myth.
It is logic-defying.
It is blatantly, wondrously, salvifically, miraculous.
And by saying that I don't mean worship him this one day of the week or this one season of the year.
No! That is far from inadequate.
Jesus didn't humble himself and take on flesh so you would come to church one Sunday out of the year.
No. He did it because you were totally, irreversibly, helplessly lost and dead in your sins. Knowing our fatal condition in love he sent his son to be born in a manger knowing that the manger was the first step toward the cross. Jesus died on the cross to set us free from sin that we might be free to obey Him and live for him.
So the only proper response is to worship and adore and obey God with all of your heart, all of your life!
So what will you do with Jesus Christ this Christmas season? Will you ignore Him? Will you dismiss Him? Will you ponder the incarnation and yawn? Will you sing the songs of Christmas without thinking about the very words you are singing?
Or will you submit to Him for who He truly is—no longer a little baby born in a stable in Bethlehem—but the risen and exalted Son of God who died for sin and rose again and now sits at the right hand of His Father in heaven. He Himself said, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
If you have not come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, having never been reconciled to God, let me extend to you the Bible’s invitation to embrace the true gift of Christmas. It is the gift God gave to the world — namely, His Son.
The Lord Jesus promises forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life to all who will come to Him: “All whom the Father gives Me will come to Me. And the one who comes to Me, I will certainly not cast out.” The gospel of John reiterates that promise, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
The Apostle Paul summed up the good news of salvation with these words: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
With these truths in mind, I love the words of Angels from the Realms of Glory. They serve as a fitting conclusion:
Sinners, wrung with true repentance,
Doomed for guilt to endless pains,
Justice now revokes the sentence,
Mercy calls you; break your chains.
Come and worship, come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King.