Knowing and Loving God Through the Incarnation

A Christmas sermon by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 12/19/04

What do you celebrate at Christmas?

Indeed, the song that includes the “Jack Frost” line, modestly entitled “The Christmas Song”, is a good example of all these:

But “The Christmas Song” makes not one mention of Jesus Christ.

Celebrating family, tradition, gift-giving, and winter are not bad in and of themselves. But Christmas should not be primarily about any of these. At Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ should be our primary celebration.

Shawn’s birthday is May 18. Shawn, imagine if it were your birthday, and many people were celebrating different things: Celebrating their families, celebrating the springtime, celebrating birthday traditions in general – even using the occasion to give gifts to others – but they completely ignore you! How would you feel? Would that be right?

That’s what many do with Christmas – Jesus becomes at most a minor part of the Christmas celebration.

What should we be celebrating at Christmas? One of the most important truths in the entire Bible: God became man. Eternal deity became human. We should celebrate the incarnation.

Last week we began a series on The Great Commandment: Loving God with All Your Heart, All Your Mind, All Your Soul, and All Your Strength. In the next few weeks we’ll be continuing with these topics:  

Today our topic is: Knowing and loving God through the incarnation. We’ll examine this under three hreadings:

What is the incarnation?

Why did God become man?

How should we respond to the incarnation?

What is the Incarnation

Jesus is Truly Human
Consider Luke 2:7

7  And [Mary] gave birth to her first-born son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (NASB)

Look at verse 7: “She gave birth.” Mary, a young girl, a virgin, a woman who had never had sexual relations with a man, gave birth. The conception was a miracle – but there is nothing here in the text to indicate that the birth was anything other than the normal process of labor. Mary gave birth just as many of the women here this morning gave birth: her water broke, she began to have contractions, she felt overwhelmed by the process going on inside her body; her back hurt, there was pain and effort and sweat and pushing and stretching and burning – and then, finally, amazingly, this new little creature came forth from her body; a new creature covered with mucous and amniotic fluid and blood and vernix – hair (if any) plastered to his head, that head possibly misshapen from hours of pushing, his skin bluish in color until the first breath, and first cry. Mary gave birth – and the baby, Jesus, came into this world just as you and I, through His mother’s strong efforts, bloody, slippery – and yet beautiful.

The point of all this? Jesus was a baby – a normal baby, born in the normal way.

Jesus was really human. Jesus was a baby who soiled himself, spit up, cried when He was hungry; He was completely dependent upon his parents for meeting His every need. He could do nothing for himself. With His little hands, he grasped fingers held out to Him. He couldn’t communicate at first except by crying. He took months to learn to crawl, and more months to learn to walk, and to speak. Jesus was a normal, human baby with normal human needs.

Jesus continued to exhibit normal human needs and problems throughout his life.

Indeed, the book of Hebrews tells us he was “like his brothers in every respect” (2:17).

Jesus was a real baby. Jesus was a real man. That’s what the incarnation means.

Jesus is Truly God

Jesus also is truly God. How do we know this? Three ways:

1) While on earth, He claimed to be God

a) Jesus said, “I and the Father are One” (John 10:30-31). His audience clearly understood him to claim deity – for they picked up stones to kill him for blasphemy! Now, there are many people, called pantheists, who would say something similar: “All things are God – All things are one – I am one with the universe.” But that’s not what Jesus meant. The Bible never confuses God with His creation. Indeed, the very first sentence in the Bible makes a clear distinction between God and the created order. Jesus is not saying, “I and the Father are One – You and the Father are One – we’re all One!” He is saying, “I am unique. I am God.”

b) Jesus said, “Before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58-59). Here Jesus clearly claims to have existed prior to Abraham. But He is claiming even more than that. Why does Jesus say, “Before Abraham was born, I am” instead of “Before Abraham was born, I was”? Remember God’s revelation of Himself to Moses at the burning bush? There God answers Moses’ request to tell him His name by saying,

"I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" Exodus 3:14 

So when Jesus says, “Before Abraham was born, I am”, He is echoing the name of God. He is claiming equality with God. Once again, His listeners understand this and consider such a statement blasphemous.

c) Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 15:24). This is an audacious claim. “Look at me and you will see what God is like.” Only the God-man can say that.

So Jesus clearly claimed to be God. Now, over the centuries, a number of men have claimed to be God. Today, we put most such people in mental institutions. So making the claim does not establish the point. But these other claimants to deity have not done what only God can do.

2) While on earth, Jesus did things only God could do

Consider this last incident. Friends bring a paralyzed man to Jesus. They can’t get in the door, so they climb on top of the house, open a hole in the roof, and let the paralytic down through the hole. Jesus looks at him, and the first thing He says is, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” The scribes who are present think, rightly, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At that point, Jesus chooses to heal the man – to show that He had authority to forgive sins. He thus proves He is God by forgiving the man’s sins, and then showing that those sins are forgiven by the physical healing.

We could point to many more incidents, but these alone show that Jesus did what only God can do.

3) Other New Testament writers tell us that Jesus is God

Once again, we could point to any number of passages. We’ll look at only two:

Hebrews 1:3 [The Son] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

The second phrase is the easiest to understand: Jesus is the “exact imprint of [God’s] nature.” He is exactly like God. Since God is perfectly loving, Jesus is perfectly loving. Since God is perfectly just, Jesus is perfectly just. Since God is perfectly holy, Jesus is perfectly holy.

Use that phrase to help you understand the first: “The radiance of the glory of God.” Jesus is the glory of God shining forth! He displays God’s attributes in ways that no one else does, in ways that nothing else can.

Finally the last phrase: “He upholds the universe by the word of his power.” The entire creation is sustained by His might. He not only created all things, but without Him all things would cease to exist.

Clearly the author of Hebrews claims that Jesus is God.

For our second passage, consider four verses from John 1:

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 

Jesus preexisted the creation – but more than that, He was God from the beginning.

John 1:3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Jesus was the active agent of God in creation. Apart from Him, nothing has come into existence.

John 1:14 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.

Jesus is man, but Jesus is God also. His glory is the glory of God. He, like God, is full of grace and truth.

John 1:18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known

Look at this verse carefully. When John says, “the only God, who is at the Father’s side” who is he talking about? Jesus! It has to be Jesus. So he says, “No one has ever seen God the Father, but Jesus, who is God also, who is at the side of God the Father, has shown us what God is like. When we see Jesus, we see God the Father.”

There can be no question. These passages say that Jesus is God.

Put these thoughts together now. Meditate on what it means for Jesus to be both God and man:

Those same infant hands which grasped Mary’s finger were the hands that created the myriads of stars; that same voice that cried out moments after birth was the voice that named each of those stars. Let me tell you about one of those stars. The Pistol Star, near the center of our galaxy, emits in 6 seconds as much energy as our sun emits in a year. Its mass is more than 100 times that of our sun. Its diameter is about 200 million miles – in other words, if positioned at the center of our sun, the Pistol Star would more than fill our earth’s entire orbit. Those infant hands of Jesus fashioned and made the Pistol Star.

Do you see? Do you comprehend? Oh! I want you to see the tremendous truth of the incarnation! We get so used to the words “Immanuel, God with us, God incarnate, God in the flesh” they role off our lips and we don’t begin to fathom what they mean. Think, now think! The One who made the Pistol Star became infinitesimal compared to it. The One who had all glory and power and purity and praise became despised, poor, needy, helpless; the One who was before the world began became – a tiny, seemingly insignificant speck in that world.

Jesus is man, fully man. Jesus is God, fully God. 

Why the Incarnation?

Why did God become man? We’ll focus on one passage here: Hebrews 2:14-17:

14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

Three points here: Jesus is our representative, our high priest, and our propitiation.

Several passages, including Genesis 3 and Romans 5, tell us that the first man, Adam, is representative for all mankind. When he sinned, we sinned and became guilty in him. As Romans 5:18 says, “One trespass led to condemnation for all men.”

Just so, Jesus becomes the representative for all those He will save through the incarnation. Everyone who is in Christ is united with Him, their brother, their fellow human. When God accepts Christ, He accepts all humanity that is in Christ, He accepts all humanity represented by Christ. This is what Hebrews 2:14 says: “He himself partook of [flesh and blood]” – why?  “That through [His] death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” So that for those in Christ, there is no more death. Satan has no more power over us.

Apart from the incarnation, Satan could always say, “You are sinful! God said Adam would die if he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil! Adam ate! And you were in Adam! And you add to that sin of Adam every day! You deserve hell! You deserve death!”

But through his incarnation and death, Jesus took away “the power of death” that Satan held. We see this in v17: Jesus was made like us in every way. Why?

 so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. Hebrews 2:17

Jesus as man and God becomes our high priest. He becomes the mediator between God and man. He intercedes on our behalf before God. He pleads our case before God’s justice, making sure that that justice is satisfied. So Jesus is our representative and our high priest.

Third, Jesus is our propitiation. Verse 17 says, “to make propitiation”. What does that mean? “Propitiation” is not a word we use often. But it is of central importance for understanding the Gospel. It means “the turning away of God’s wrath through a sacrifice.”

The idea is this: We sinned in Adam and on our own. Satan, thus, was right: We deserve God’s wrath, we deserve hell. But God sent Jesus Christ to become man so that as our representative He could die on the cross. He could be the propitiation. He could be the means of turning God’s wrath away from us. So now, when Satan accuses us, we can say: “Yes, I am in Adam. Yes, I sinned on my own. But I am also in Christ! He became man, He became my representative. And He has taken on all the wrath that I deserve. So you, Satan, have no power over me. My sins are paid for! I do not face death! My future is life eternally with God, in Christ!”

Jesus became man so that He could be our representative, bearing the wrath of God, thus freeing us from the condemnation for our sin.

How Should We Respond?

How should we respond to these truths?

We can’t just say, “Oh, that’s interesting. Hey, too bad the Panthers lost last night, isn’t it?”

Think of it this way. Let’s say you visit the Grand Canyon. Your first stop is the Visitor’s Center. You read about the canyon, learning that it’s a mile deep, so many miles wide, and so many miles long. You learn how those numbers compare to other canyons in the US. And then you leave the Visitor’s Center and walk to the canyon wall. You look out at the stark beauty in front of you, and think, “Yep. A mile deep. So many miles across. So many miles in length. The Visitor’s Center was right.”

Is that the proper response to the Grand Canyon? No! Unless we respond with wonder and amazement, we haven’t really seen the Grand Canyon. That natural wonder is so beautiful, so overwhelming, that we must respond – or we haven’t really seen it.

Just so with the incarnation. God became man. God came to be Immanuel, God with us. Jesus became man, fulfilling the very purpose of the creation of man: glorifying God in all His life. He then died as the propitiation for our sins. He destroyed our deepest enemy, Satan, through taking away his deepest threat, death. He invites us to be united with Him through faith in Him.

Meditate on these truths. And then do what Jesus said we must do at the beginning of His public ministry:

Mark 1:15 "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."

That’s the only proper response to the incarnation! Repent and believe!

What keeps you from doing that?

So this Christmas: Come to Christ of Christmas. Put away pride. Put away fear. Put away guilt. End your procrastination.

Repent and believe the gospel.

This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 12/19/04. Parts were taken from my sermon of 12/24/2000, I believe I first read the Pistol Star illustration in John Piper, The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God's Delight in Being God, Revised and Expanded Edition, (Multnomah, 2000).

Copyright © 2004, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it in written form, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.

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