(The Incarnation: Part One)
© C. O. Bishop 2013 THCF 8/17/13 Revised 2021
John 1:14 “And 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.”
If we consider the question, “What we are to offer to the world around us?” our first answer might be, “The Gospel!” And that is completely correct. But what sort of things are we presenting as part of the Good News of Christ? If people know nothing about who God is, or why we needed a Savior, then why would the death and burial and resurrection of Jesus be good news at all? I would like to present a series of messages regarding the message itself.
The theme today is the Incarnation. Without the incarnation (that is, the real God becoming a real Man, fully human, and living a physically limiting, sometimes painful and often demeaning life on planet Earth) we would have no savior. All the attributes of God become meaningless to us if that God did not also become human, taking on the nature of a servant, and sacrificing Himself in the place of the condemned human race.
The Concept of the Incarnation: Back to Genesis
We can trace the concept of the incarnation back to Genesis, though it is not spelled out there, as such. It is there, but illuminated under a rather dim light, if you will. Genesis 3:8 gives us a tiny glimpse of something unique in the living God: He walked in the Garden in the cool of the day. And, He spoke as he walked, evidently calling to Adam and Eve, the intelligent representatives of His earthly creation. As it is phrased, it seems that His presence there was a normal thing…the guilty couple were not afraid because He was doing something new…it was because they had done something new. They had sinned.
God’s presence in the Garden was normal. His speaking was normal. Sin is NOT normal. And yet, the sin they committed was no surprise. I don’t have to guess about this…I can say it with absolute certainty, because far away in the other end of the Bible, Revelation 13:8 states that Jesus was the “Lamb slain from the Foundation of the Earth”—not “from the Fall of Man”. He knew exactly what they would do, before they did it, and had already moved to correct the damage. The promise of a Savior is first made in Genesis 3:15, concerning a person called “The Seed of Woman.” And Jesus is the only one who could fulfill this as He was the only one who only possessed a human mother…His Father was God.
In Genesis 7:1, which is part of the account of the worldwide flood, a small point is raised that when God instructed Noah and his family to embark, he specifically called them to “come” into the Ark. Not “go”, but “come” (the Hebrew word is “bo” and this is its first use in scripture, though it is used hundreds of times in later passages, and it is usually translated “come.”) The implication was that God was already aboard. In physical form? No… I don’t think so. But He was there.
In Genesis 14:18-20 an interesting character appears: Melchizedek. He was at least a picture of the Christ, and I think there is ample scriptural evidence to hint that he may have actually been the pre-incarnate Christ, already acting as the mediator between God and man…the Priest of the Most High God. (See Psalm 110 and Hebrews 7 for more information.) Most commentators would probably disagree with me on that point. That is OK. I could be wrong, and I would be happy to discover that I am wrong from the scripture, but, in the meantime, I have to preach it the way I see it.
In Genesis 18 God appears to Abram, at Mamre. Initially, Abram did not recognize him as Deity, but thought that he (Abram) was simply exercising hospitality toward a fellow man. He was corrected when God made the promise of a child, a son, to be born the following year. From that point forward, Abram approached Him in a different way, though still with remarkable boldness, as he “dickered” for the life of Lot, trying to dissuade God from destroying Sodom, where his nephew Lot still lived. An interesting point is that Abram addressed Him as “the Judge of all the Earth.” John 5:22 tells me that had to be Jesus.
In these instances, and others, the Lord appeared in either human form or at least a physical form such that no one questioned his presence. He wrestled with Jacob, as we mentioned a few weeks ago; he confronted Balaam, the wayward prophet, and threatened to kill him because of disobedience. In Daniel’s account, He joined Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, thus shielding them from the deadly flames; and he was seen there by Nebuchadnezzar, and many others.
The Fact of the Incarnation: The Word Became Flesh
So, if God has been appearing on planet Earth since the beginning… what is so different about the incarnation? The answer is simple: He had to be able to die. Hebrews 10:1-10 (read it).
This is primarily a quote from Psalm 40:6, 7 (read it) —with a minor change thrown in. Remember that God is the author of both, and He has inserted a parenthetical remark (“a body thou hast prepared me”) into his earlier statement, thus making it clear what was meant. David was inspired to write Psalm 40. Probably Paul was the human agent used to write the book of Hebrews. But Psalm 40 mentioned nothing about the body prepared for the sacrifice. It only stated that the sacrifices of the animals did not solve anything…those covered by that blood were still possessed of their sins, though the sins were covered. The speaker recognized that the animal sacrifices could not remove sin, and in contrast stated, “Lo, I come! In the volume of the book it is written of me”. It was absolutely not talking about David, or any other son of Adam: it could only refer to “the Seed of Woman”…The promised Messiah…The Promise of the Ages.
The only way that particular promise could be fulfilled was for the Messiah to become a complete human…Gestation and childbirth, physical mortality and all: Flesh and blood. Hebrews 10:9 reiterates the contrast, and states the divine upgrade from figure to reality.
The countless animals throughout the ages that have been sacrificed as substitutes for fallen Man, while their deaths were not “in vain,” were woefully inadequate to complete the job of salvation. The animals only fulfilled a portion of the “law of the substitute;” the law of the Kinsman-Redeemer. They were innocent, all right, but were unrelated to the sinners, and certainly did not voluntarily substitute themselves for the guilty party.
The only true substitute had to be human. He had to be free from sin. He had to have a physical life to offer, and he had to be willing—intelligently willing— to take the place of the rest of the fallen world. Before the Incarnation, the God of the universe had proven himself willing, according to Revelation 13:8. He was certainly sin-free, but (a) he was not yet human, and (b) He had no body—no physical life—to offer. So, the last two pieces of the puzzle came together in the Incarnation. “A body thou hast prepared for me”…and “Lo! I come! In the volume of the book it is written of me!” The prophecies had been there for hundreds of years…some for thousands of years. Abel’s sacrifice was called a prophecy, according to Hebrews 11:4 (“…and by it, he yet speaks”). That was about 4000 years before Christ. All the prophecies of the Savior were fulfilled in the Incarnation of Christ.
The birth had to be there, and it had to be a virgin birth. There is only One person in history who is truly the “Seed of Woman”…all the rest of us have a human father. His birthplace, his poverty, his travels to Egypt, his growing up in Nazareth, his miracles, the outpouring of wisdom when He taught, the affliction of his soul because of the sins of the Human race, and, of course, his eventual crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection were ALL prophesied in detail, and all had to be fulfilled. The casting of lots for his undergarment was specified. The vinegar they offered him to drink, and the fact that he would die with the wicked, but be buried with the wealthy (now there’s a paradox!) all had to be fulfilled in the same man. You see, the wicked were usually disposed of like garbage: thrown into the city dump to be eaten by scavengers. The wealthy (even the wicked wealthy) were carefully entombed in rock. But crucifixion labelled him as accursed, and he would not usually have been buried at all, let alone in a brand-new hand-carved stone tomb.
“In the volume of the Book it is written of me!”
The Credentials of Christ were in the scriptures he was fulfilling. The Credentials of God and the Pedigree of the Messiah are the fulfilled prophecies of the Bible. Either they are completely true, or we have no hope! God presents the fulfillment of prophecy as being his primary credential, throughout the book of Isaiah. Look at some of the claims he makes: Isaiah 41:4, 46:5-10; 48:16, etc. “I am He who tells the end from the beginning. Who else is like me?”
This is a unique attribute of the God of the Bible. Others may claim 60% accuracy, or even 90%, but God said that His prophets had to be 100% accurate, or they were to be stoned as a false prophet. Ironically, virtually all the true prophets were ultimately killed by the people to whom they were sent, and the false ones were revered, as a rule. Why? Because God’s prophets brought an unpopular message (the truth) and the false prophets simply told people what they wanted to hear.
Jesus addressed this issue (John 3:19) “And this is the Judgment, that light has come into the world, and Men loved Darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil!” Many false prophets have claimed 100% accuracy, but history (immediately subsequent to their prophecies) has proven them liars, and hopelessly wrong. God’s prophets were accurate to the smallest details… and the Incarnation brought all the promises of God to a focal point. The Kingdom was actually offered to Israel while Jesus was on Earth; had they received Jesus as their Messiah, I have no idea how God would have worked out the rest of the fulfillment of prophecy. But there was no danger of that, as their rejection was also predicted. God knew exactly what they would do when offered the Kingdom. The offer was genuine and sincere. He mourned their rejection even back in Isaiah (Isaiah 48:18). So, the fulfilled Incarnation included the rejection by His people the Jews. It included the beatings, the scourging, the piercing of the hands and feet, and all that was involved in His death. It included the three days and three nights in Sheol—the place of the Dead. But what else did it include? The Incarnation also included the positive side of the story, of course:
It included the resurrection. It included the promise of Salvation by Faith alone. And included the full portrait of his character, his Grace and Mercy and Truth.
The Result of The Incarnation:
He…Dwelt among us… Full of Grace and Truth (John 1:14)
“…and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of Grace and Truth” Jesus’ life was full of Grace and Truth. We can still read the Bible and see how his life reflected the truth at all times and in every sense, and that Grace was the heartbeat of the incarnate God. But He didn’t do it off by Himself somewhere, or in a monastery, or a desert island. He dwelt among us. He had to live with the same sorts of smelly, rude, frustrating, self-centered, short-sighted idiots as we do (and are). He was with people who had no idea of him being anything special and treated him pretty disrespectfully. He was with those who had already broken his laws too many times to count…and/or those who were actively mistreating others. He lived in the presence of his friends and his enemies…and the friends were unreliable at best.
We can see His Grace extended to the Woman at the Well, a lost, sinful, half-breed Samaritan, seriously confused about God, and seriously soaked in sin, rejected even by her own people.
We can see His Grace extended to the Thief on the Cross, as He responded with encouragement and promise to someone who, a short time earlier, had joined with the crowd in reviling him, but who also, just a moment before, had sought his forgiveness and Mercy.
We can see His Grace, a few years later (I’m not sure of the time frame) on the road to Damascus, when a young man named Saul of Tarsus was recruited. Saul had been severely persecuting the church. If I had been a believer at that time, I am sure I would have been praying for God’s vengeance on Saul, and God’s protection for the believers.
But Jesus went a step further: He made Saul of Tarsus (later known as the apostle Paul) a child of God, and a powerful tool in His hand. Wasn’t that a better solution? Of course! But what about Paul’s sins; shouldn’t they be dealt with? They were! Those sins were purged at the same time as yours; at the Cross. That is one of the results of the incarnation. And we can rejoice in that result in our own lives and the lives of those around us.
Next week we will talk about the Resource that the Incarnation provides in our lives, as well as the Rebuke and the Exhortation, in the Incarnation of Christ.
Jesus, make us alive to you and remind us that we are dead to the world, both as a result of your ministry as God in the Flesh.