Theology 101 (The Doctrine of the Incarnation)

In an earlier post I promised you some special resources. One of those special resources is a post from time to time called, Theology 101. I wanted the first post in this special series to be about theology in general and its importance for all believers. That post will have to wait awhile. This is the Christmas season and I want to talk about the doctrine of the Incarnation of God. This doctrine is at the heart of Christmas and, like all doctrines, it weds  theology and doxology, doctrine and praise.

The word incarnation means to embody or invest with human nature or form. Someone may be described as the incarnation of some virtue or evil quality. That means that the person embodies or examplifies in their life the quality described. But when we talk about the incarnation of God, we mean that God became a human person in Jesus Christ. God did not possess a human person, or seem to be a human person, but God becomes a human person. This is a great mystery and beyond our full comprehension, but we can grasp it to the level God has revealed it to us. Our lack of total understanding of this doctrine should not cause us to doubt or reject this great and precious truth. It is a truth that brings enlightenment and comfort.

Does the Bible actually teach the Doctrine of the Incarnation of God? We see the roots of this doctrine in the Old Testament and the full blossom in the New Testament. In the book of the prophet Isaiah we see two prophecies that point toward the Incarnation. First, in Isaiah 7:14 we find the startling statement, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and you shall call his name Immanuel.” The name Immanuel means God with us. This child born to the virgin would be God with us. Yes, this prophecy had a fulfillment in Isaiah’s day, but that did not exhaust the meaning of Isaiah’s words. In the New Testament Matthew claims that this ancient prophecy finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus, the child to be born to Mary the virgin (Matthew 1:22-23). We also see in Isaiah 9 that a child is to be born and his name shall be called, among other things, Mighty God and Everlasting Father. Other Old Testament passages indicate the amazing truth that the Messiah would be God himself.

In the New Testament we come face to face with the reality of the Old Testament shadows in the person of Jesus. The birth stories in Matthew and Luke show that the child Jesus was different from any other child born. The birth of a child is a wonderful and special thing, but the birth of Jesus was wonderful and special in a unique way. This child was like no other child and Mary and Joseph knew it. The passages in Matthew 1 and Luke 1 clearly state that Mary was a virgin and that the baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit. The beauty and wonder of the Incarnation is breath-taking.

But it doesn’t stop there. The New Testament continues the litany of voices that sing the praises of the God-man. Jesus himself in John 8:58 makes the unambiguous claim, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” The people around Jesus understood well his claim as they picked up stones to stone him. Jesus claimed to have existed before Abraham, but even more astonishing is his claim to be the great “I Am” the Lord God of the Old Testament. The way he said it was bad grammar but good theology. To the religious leaders of his day this statement was blasphemy, but Jesus, on another occasion, told them that they did not really know the scripture nor the power of God.

Jesus’ followers came to know and cherish this soul penetrating truth. His disciple, Thomas, after doubting that Jesus had raised from the dead, encountered the resurrected Jesus. When Thomas placed his fingers in Jesus’ side, he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus did not correct Thomas or reject his worship.

Likewise, the Apostle Paul wrote these beautiful words in Philippians chapter two, “Who (Jesus) though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of a man. And being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on the cross.” There was no doubt to any of his early followers that Jesus was God in human flesh. This was an amazing, life- changing realization for any Jewish person. Yet, they could not deny it.

The Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is beautiful, but is it necessary? Why did God come into the world in this way? There are a number of reasons that the Incarnation is necessary, but I want to think about three of them. First, it is through the Incarnation that we really come to know God in a way that we could not otherwise. God becoming a human person in Jesus shows us in a deeper way what God is like. Jesus is the unique and perfect revelation of God. In John chapter one Jesus is called the Word. The Word is the revelation of God, it reveals his will and character. The written word reveals something about the writer. The living Word reveals something about the creator. In verse 18 of that same chapter in John it says, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” Jesus’ disciple, Phillip, asked Jesus to show them the Father. Jesus replied that anyone who has seen him has seen the Father (John 14:8-9).

The second reason that the Incarnation is necessary is that salvation can come in no other way. Jesus, as the God-man is the perfect mediator between God and man. And as the God-man he is not corrupted by sin, thus is uniquely qualified to die for the sins of the world. We read in 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” Likewise, in 2 Corinthians 5:21, ” He who knew no sin, became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” The fact that Jesus was born to die is both tragic and beautiful. It is tragic, in that our sins required the death of the only truly and profoundly wonderful (one who produces wonder in another) person who ever lived. It is beautiful, in that the death of the perfect Son of God is the greatest act of self-sacrifice resulting in the greatest good for the world that has ever occurred.

And finally, the Incarnation is necessary because it is the supreme way that God brings himself glory and us good. Through the Incarnation we become the eternal body and bride of Christ. We who were far away are now brought near to God by our Savior Jesus. We are called into the eternal inter-Trinitarian love of the Father, the Son and the Spirit. What a tremendous blessing it is to share in this love. Ponder deeply the glory that is the Incarnation of God. Let the truth of this deep doctrine fill your hearts with awe and praises forever more!


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