The Resurrection of Christ is the central miracle of Christianity and the Bible. But there would be no need for the Resurrection were Jesus not incarnate as a man capable of death, and the God-Man had to enter the world in a miraculous way to in fact be the God-Man and thus be the acceptable Substitute and Savior for His people. Thus, as the shining bookends which mark off the life and Person of Christ as the most glorious and most majestic in all of human history, the virgin birth and the resurrection open and close this “one perfect life.” At Christmas, we focus on the miraculous conception of Christ, knowing of course that the cross was the whole point of the manger.
This Lord’s day, five men in our congregation gave short meditations on five aspects of the incarnation. I would like to take these same themes and expound upon them for my readers, though I will not have the space to reproduce or highlight every point made by each speaker.
A. The Eternality of Christ (John 1:1-3)
John 1:1-3 is one of the clearest statements in Scripture on the eternality and deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. For this reason, it is one of the most attacked by various cults of Christianity to ensure that it does not mean what it so clearly says. Oneness Pentecostals—who affirm that Jesus is eternal God but deny the distinct Persons within the Godhead, and thus deny the eternality and pre-existence of Jesus Christ—teach that the “Word” is the thought or plan of God that became actualized through the incarnation of Christ (Jesus is the Father incarnate; the Holy Spirit is Jesus in His current ministries to the church; they are not separate Persons but different manifestations of Jesus, who is Father, Son, and Spirit). Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the Word is a lesser divine being, created, and subordinate to the Father, who then became incarnate in Christ. Mormons teach the Word is a created spirit being, produced by Elohim (their name for God the Father) through spiritual sex with one of his polygamous sprit wives, and who became incarnate in Jesus through actual sex between God and Mary. All of these are blasphemous twisting of Scripture, and all can be refuted by a proper understanding of the Old Testament background with which John was intimate.
One example is the appearance of Yahweh to Abram in Genesis 15. In verse 1, “the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying” (emphasis mine). Then, verse 5, referring to the word, says “And He took him outside and said…” (cf. v. 7). Here, the word was not merely audible revelation from Yahweh. That is came in a vision and is referred to with personal pronouns implies the Word is (a) a person and (b) is God Himself. First Samuel 3 contains similar language. The audible voice of God is present, speaking to Samuel (vv. 4, 6, 8). Verse 10 indicates God Himself was present, in spiritual form, even saying He “stood” by Samuel. But the final verse indicates that the Lord “appeared” because He “revealed Himself…by the word of the LORD” (v. 21, emphasis mine). Now, is the word only a Person of the Godhead, and not actual revelatory speech from Him? No. But a very intimate relationship exists between the spoken/written revelation of God, God, and a Person within the Godhead called the Word. (How this should change how we read our precious Bibles!) It is this tightly woven OT background, along with other hints of a plurality within the Godhead such as the myriad references to the “Angel of Yahweh,” to which John refers in chapter 1 of his gospel. By this point, the notion of only one God, yet with multiple “persons” or “whos,” distinct from one another yet unified in essence and interpenetration, has been revealed enough that the full revelation of the Trinity can be made plain in the pages of the NT. Other passages, like Hosea 1:7 (where God says He will deliver Israel “by the LORD their God”), Zechariah 2:8-11 (where Yahweh says Yahweh will send Him to deliver Israel and rule there), and Isaiah 48 are likely in John’s thinking as well. God was expressing Himself in Christ, so fully and completely that this One is eternally and fully God, yet distinct from Him. God the Father eternally spoke, and eternally produced a second Person who perfectly images Him and His full essence in every way. And it is this One whom the Father sent to reveal His mind and heart for men and to deliver them from sin.
B. The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)
Understanding dear Mary’s song of praise to her Savior would be incomplete without noting Elizabeth’s words to her in verse 45: Mary is blessed by God because of her faith in His Word. It is Mary’s faith—her posture of trust in, and surrender to, the words spoken to her by her God—which unleashes the hymn on her lips. This is a woman (girl!) who has made it a habit to trust God. She loves, knows, and believes His Word. Mary’s song is the expression of a heart that is both amazed that she sees, with her own eyes, the promises of God come to pass, and utterly humbled and awed that this fulfillment would involve her in such a radically personal way. Certainly, as a godly Jewish girl Mary expected to be a recipient of Messianic blessing in the earthly kingdom. She did not expect to be the human means whereby her king and lord would be brought into the world! While Mary believed God, there is a lovely sense of wonderment in her words, almost as though she did not expect to be alive when these promises were fulfilled. She does not doubt them or the character of her God, yet there is an excitement and awe that she is in fact living when these things are fully present. There is no sense of dryness here; no stiff-necked “it isn’t good enough” foolishness that characterized those who would encounter her Son’s ministry. She is grateful, humbled, and in absolute fervor that God really did it. He made good on His Word. It happened. And she carries deep within her a tangible manifestation of the divine promise. Would that God give all of us the relationship with Him and His Word that He graciously cultivated within the earthly mother of His beloved Son!
C. The Prophecy (Luke 2:29-32)
The Jews of Jesus’ day were expecting their Messiah. What many did not realize is that the Messiah was not just for Israel but for the whole world. Simeon, however, understood that God’s heart was for the Gentiles as well, that God meant to call out—as would be said during the church age—“from among the Gentiles a people for His name” (Acts 15:14). Jesus was sent to the Jews first (Matthew 10:6, 15:24; cf. Rom. 1:16), but they rejected the Prophet like unto Moses (Deut. 18:15-19) and His apostles (e.g., Acts 13:46-47, 28:28). So the Lord began a new institution, founded by Jews but which would eventually become largely populated by Gentiles, not as a Plan B but as a new, previously-unrevealed phase of the earthly fulfillment of His eternal purpose (Eph. 3:8-12) and as the initial phase of the eschatological kingdom of God (Matt. 13, 16:16-19, 18:19, 21:43). Obviously, Simeon did not know of the church age, as it was not yet revealed. Still, we Gentile Christians are part of the fulfillment of this prophecy. In His preached Word Jesus has come to us, has spoken to us lovingly and decisively, and opened our blind eyes to see the God from whom we had far wandered in pagan unbelief. Simeon quotes from Isaiah 49:6; verses 8-10 describe the Messiah’s prayer and the Father’s response to it in a millennial prophecy of grace granted to sinners in an earthly environment. Paul takes the prayer and applies it to the salvation and sanctification of the Corinthian believers in AD 55 (2 Cor. 6:1-2). Jesus was not only praying for the future, but for right now. And the fleshly, often ungrateful, often spectacularly immature Corinthians were part of God’s answer. And so are we. Praise God for His grace!
D. The Love of God (John 3:14-18)
The best-known passage of the Bible lies in this section, which is an exaltation of the love and saving character of God from Jesus’ own lips. It is Jesus’ exegesis of the heart of His Father. Because God loved the mass of fallen humanity, He provided a way for that sinful lot to be saved. He did not have to, but He did. He could have allowed us to rot away in our filth and rebellion, but He chose to thunder “No!” through the heavens and stop some on their race towards Hell. While Arminians and squishy Calvinists think John 3:16 teaches unlimited atonement, a better interpretation sees it as saying: (1) Yes, God does love all people, but not the way He loves the elect; (2) God’s love for the whole world is the reason He provided Christ, who is the only Savior for all of humanity—there is no one else who can reconcile us to God; (3) The elect are among this mass of humanity and are the ones who will believe and for whom Jesus effectively atoned on the cross. God gave His Son to the whole world that those whom He sovereignly chose in that world might be effectually drawn to the loveliness of Christ. God’s love for His elect is effectual. It is decisive. It is active. He freely offers Christ to the world, and whosoever will may come; yet only the elect will come because only the elect are drawn. His love motivated Him to provide the means whereby the ones He completely and dynamically loved would be powerfully called out of their slavery to sin, out of their darkness, and into the light of holiness and truth. Praise God that He loves the world. But praise Him more that for some, His love perfectly achieves, by His grace, what He decreed from all eternity.
E. Applying the Incarnation (Philippians 2:1-8)
What does the incarnation mean for us today? Many things. It means we have a Savior. It means we are loved by God. It means we look forward to an earthly Kingdom where all wrongs will be made right. Yes, it means we have an Example of self0sacrificing love for the good of others. But it also means that Christ purchased our holiness on the tree. The old liberals used to like blaspheming penal substitution by overemphasizing the death of Christ as an example. And it is that, to an extent. But whence comes our power to live out what Christ has done. How can we live like Him? The answer is in the very doctrine liberals hate: In bearing our guilt by virtue of our indissoluble spiritual union with Him, Christ enabled the Father to justly be graciously and lovingly disposed to us in every way imaginable and by His blood purchased not merely our salvation but (to allude to John Piper), every good thing we will ever experience and every bad thing which God turns to good. Simply put, I do not face New Covenant exhortations to live, believe, be, and do things relying on my own abilities and good intentions. I have the indwelling Spirit who empowers my grace-filled discipline and effort, but rooted behind that is the fact that my obedience has been purchased with the blood of the God-Man. In being sprinkled with holy blood I was set apart for a personal covenant of obeying Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:2). Jesus bought my humility, my love, my devotion, and all other aspects of my sanctification. Shouldn’t this change how I view my pursuit of holiness? I will not be made practically holy without my effort, but behind my effort—behind my prayers and self-denial and brokenness and choices and faith and surrender—is a man on a Cross, writhing under the wrath of a holy God meant for me, appeasing Him, and at the price of His shed blood buying from God the right to enjoy every good thing God has for me, most of all the fellowship with Him that comes from a holy life.
Christmas is fundamentally about the glory of God in the cross of Christ. Jesus was born for one reason: to die under the wrath of God that He might win His bride, break the power of sin, render Satan powerless, and purchase the earth itself from the Curse that we might one day live with Him in glorious freedom in overflowing life.