Using biblical language, Joel R. Beeke and William Boekestein present 31 biblical reasons for the incarnation. Here is their list.
- To do the will of the father
- To save sinners
- To bring light to a dark world
- To be made like his people
- To bear witness to the truth
- To destroy the devil and his works
- To give eternal life
- To receive worship
- To bring you great joy
- To demonstrate true humility
- To preach the gospel
- To bring judgment
- To give his life a ransom for many
- To fulfill the law and prophets
- To reveal God’s love for sinners
- To call sinners to repentance
- To die
- To seek and save the lost
- To serve
- To bring peace
- To bring a sword
- To bind up the broken hearts
- To give us a spirit of adoption
- To make us partakers of the divine nature
- To reign as king
- To restore human nature to holiness
- To be a merciful and faithful high priest
- To be the second and greater Adam
- To satisfy our deepest thirst
- To be loved by God’s children
- To reveal God’s glory
Each chapter of their small works takes up a biblical explanation of each point. It is a wonderful read, whether or not it’s the Christmas season.
See Joel R. Beeke and William Boekestein, Why Christ Came: 31 Meditations on the Incarnation (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2013).
At Christmastime we celebrate the great gift from God: His word become flesh. When we speak this way we are talking about the incarnation (the in-flesh-ment of God). In order to better facilitate understanding, I have summarized the doctrines of the incarnation and the hypostatic union (the teaching that Jesus is both full divine and fully and perfectly human) in terms of the acronym JESUS .
- John’s Prologue: Before his birth in Bethlehem, the man, Jesus of Nazareth, eternally existed as the Word of God, the second person of the Trinity – equal with God the Father in both power and glory. John 1:1-14
- Emptied: In the incarnation, the divine Word took on/assumed/added a human nature to his own divine nature without ceasing to be God. Phil. 2:5-7
- Somatic: The human nature taken on by the Son is fully human (subject to all natural human frailties such as fatigue, hunger, thirst, and ignorance), yet without the inward temptation, inclination, or desire to sin.
- Unified: Jesus Christ—the eternal Word incarnate—is a single, unified person mysteriously possessing two natures (both fully human and fully divine) in such a fashion that neither is compromised (whether through confusion, mixture, or separation).
- Savior: This union of natures is absolutely essential for the reconciliation between God and man, and for the consummation of God’s purposes for creation. The human nature of Jesus is essential for the fulfillment of God’s kingdom purposes through humanity, while the divine nature is essential because the radical and pervasive effects of sin upon creation made it impossible that any mere human could successfully overturn them.
Here’s a great article by Peter Leithart: “How N.T. Wright Stole Christmas“. Leithart highlights some of the problems with our traditional ways of thinking and singing about Christmas, and how the work of N. T. Wright can help to “re-Israelize” (yes, I just coined a term) our grasp of this holiday. Here’s how Leithart sets us his proposal:
Several years ago, when The Passion of the Christ was making headlines, I realized that N. T. Wright has spoiled every Jesus film. Once you’ve read Wright, you realize that none of the movies get Jesus right. Pharisees and scribes are reduced stock villains with caricatured Jewish features. Pilate has to make an appearance, and Herod, but we are given no sense that first-century Israel was the powder keg that it actually was.
No film ever gives us what Wright says we should be looking for: a “crucifiable” Jesus, a Jesus who does something so provocative to make the Jews murderously hostile. In the movies, Jesus is a hippy peace-child, a delicate flower of a man, a dew-eyed first-century Jewish Gandhi. Why would anyone want to hurt Him? Maybe because He’s so annoyingly precious; but that’s not the story of the gospels.
Just this year, I had another realization. N. T. Wright has spoiled Christmas too.
Leithart closes with a provocative suggestion:
I suggest a moratorium on new Christmas hymns, until we all learn the Magnificat and the Benedictus and the Nunc Dimittis so much by heart that they seep out our fingers at the keyboard, until we instinctively sing of Jesus’ birth like Mary, like Zecharias, like Simeon.
The short piece is worth reading in full.
One of the best Christmas sermons you’ll ever hear:
“We see, at the same time, what sort of beginning the life of the Son of God had, and in what cradle he was placed. Such was his condition at his birth, because he had taken upon him our flesh for this purpose, that he might “empty himself” (Phil 2:7) on our account. When he was thrown into a stable, and placed in a manger, and a lodging refused him among men, it was that heaven might be opened to us, not as a temporary lodging, but as our eternal country and inheritance, and that angels might receive us into their abode.”
– John Calvin, Harmony of the Evangelists, on Luke 2:1-7
Lastly, the fourth point:
4) In the Gospel of Christmas, God ushers in the great year of Jubilee.
The Old Testament describes the year of jubilee as the year of freedom and release from all slavery and captivity (Lev. 25, 27). Matthew’s ordering of Christ’s genealogy is in terms of jubilee years. In a nutshell, what he’s saying is that in the birth and arrival of Christ, God is now bringing His people back from exile, and back from the slavery to sin that ultimate lead them to suffer God’s righteous judgment in the first place.
Christ is God’s victory over the fallen condition of His creation. He who the Son sets free is free indeed. Have you been freed by God’s anointed? Have you experience the transforming power of the Christmas gospel? I have, and its implications, for lack of a better term, smack me in the face everyday. Thank God that I am not the King of Kings! Thank God that we do not have the responsibility of being that Lord and master of our little worlds. When we act as such, we fail. And such failure is what prompted God to display the riches of His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Thanks be to God, and Merry Christmas from Kingdomview!
For the last two entries in this series, we’ve seen that:
1) The Gospel is good news, not good advice
2) All the best stories are true
And now we’ll quick see how,
3) The Christmas gospel flips the values of the world on their head.
Genealogies are interesting things, and they say a lot about a person. In the ancient Near East, and in Jewish culture they serve as as identity badges. And in the case of royalty, they acts as your “papers,” proving that you’re of royal descent and pedigree. Anything weird, and you’re disqualified from the throne. The key is to always, always leave out those nasty bits that you’d prefer people didn’t know.
Now, let’s take a look at Christ’s genealogy as recorded in Matt. 1:
1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, 4 and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of David the king.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.
One thing to know about ancient Jewish genealogies is this: they rarely if ever include women. Jesus’ not only includes a woman (Mary), but it lists five! Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary, Christ’s mother. It’s one thing to include women, that’s distinct enough, but let’s think of who these women were, and what they’re known for.
First, let’s consider Tamar. She is remembered as the woman who tricked her father-in-law to sleep with her in order to continue the family line of her dead husband (Gen. 38). How did she do this? She concealed herself as a prostitute! Next, we have Rahab (Josh. 6), the woman who in the book of Joshua hid the Israelite spies. What was her line of employment? Also a prostitute! As for Ruth, she wasn’t even of “pure stock.” She was a Moabite (Ruth 1:4) who converted to the faith of Israel.
Fourth, we have Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11), who the genealogy explicitly calls the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Recall the story. David, on a night when she should have been attending to kingly matters, sees another man’s wife, lusts after her, and arranges to sleep with her. After he gets her pregnant, he then arranges to have Uriah sent to the front lines of a battle, guaranteeing his demise. By not naming Bathsheba, Matthew highlights King David’s moral failure, thus making the royal centerpiece of the entire genealogy eat humble pie.
In the Messiah’s genealogy we find that prostitutes are on an equal playing ground with kings. The high will be made low, and the lowly will be exalted. Those that were despised by men (and women) are included (and indeed play crucial parts) in God’s cosmic drama of redemption.
In our previous entry I made the first point about the gospel of Christmas: the story of Christmas isn’t good advice, it’s good news. Now for our second point.
Point 2: All the best stories are true
Now, we’ll focus on the hope the Christmas story shows us, the hope that all the best stories are true. This statement needs some unpacking. Think of any number of stories you’re familiar with, Sleeping Beauty, The Lord of the Rings, ancient stories of dying and rising gods, etc. The underlying themes of these myths and legends are familiar to most of us: eternal love, a returning king, a seemingly defeated hero who comes back to defeat his evil foe, the final defeat of death, etc.
C.S. Lewis made the vital point that the gospel is the “true myth.” Skeptics dismiss the Gospel narratives as mere fables because of their similarities to these other stories. But this is to miss the real point of what’s happening, and the true relation of the Christmas story to these tales. The kernels of truth in these myths, fantasies, and fables are a memory trace of the “epic of Eden.” Deep down, we all long for an eternal beauty to love us forever, to free us from slavery from an evil power, and to take everything wrong with the world and “make it untrue.”
So, the Gospel narratives aren’t borrowing from these other pagan myths, but fulfill the truest themes found in all of them. When Christ came to us in the humble form of a helpless babe, it both affirmed our deepest hopes and rebukes all of our dependencies for salvation on anything other than God himself.
In a recent sermon for the Christmas season, based on the genealogy of Jesus found in Matthew chapter 1, Tim Keller made a number of helpful and instructive points about the “gospel of Christmas” that deserve to be shared. Here, and in the next few posts, I’ll touch on Keller’s points, and add some elaboration of my own.
Point 1: Christmas is about good news, not good advice
Notice how Matthew’s account of his gospel starts, “The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah…” This is truly radical. In contrast to the stuff of mythology and folklore, the story of Christmas claims to be rooted in real, space-time history. It doesn’t start with, “Once upon a time.” Tales that open in such a fashion to be stories that inspire us to be better people, to do great things. There is always some moralistic kernel aimed at stirring us up to “be better.” Now, compare this to the story of Christmas. How does it inspire us? It’s about a poor family, and a child born in a dirty stable. What does this story inspire us to be? What does it inspire us to do? I don’t have an answer to that.
This is because it not about instructing us to “be better.” It’s an announcement. It’s good news, not good advice. Matthew’s proclaims the faithfulness of God despite the unfaithfulness of humanity. It’s not a warm and fuzzy, world-affirming story about general “good will toward men.” Christmas challenges us at the deepest level. We’ve so drifted from God’s design, so lost is sin, that God had to come down to earth himself to address the problem.
Christmas also highlights the over-the-top, prodigal love of God toward rebels that deserve no mercy. Christmas speaks of God’s commitment to His fallen creation, and His original design to fill the earth with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.
Christmas is about God getting his hands dirty.
I’d like to take this moment to wish all my readers and happy, safe, and edifying Christmas. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to write a new blog for the season. Instead, here are two entries on the importance and meaning of Christmas, i.e. the incarnation.
Now let’s pick up where we left off, describing exactly what it meant for God to come in the flesh.
The Fulfillment of Prophecy. In the incarnation, God’s covenant promises find their fulfillment. The promise that God would be with His people is brought to pass with the coming of Immanuel (Matt. 1:22-23), “God with us.” Likewise, in Christ we find the “latter days” seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15) who brings all of the miraculous birth stories found In the Old Testament to their crescendo. Just think about it. In God’s mysterious working in history, a major mark of His work was providing “miracle” babies for women who could have no children (ex: Sarah and Rachel in Genesis, Samson’s mom in Judges, and Hannah in 1 Samuel). When we find that the Holy One of God was born from young Jewish bride-to-be who had never had sex we’re totally floored! This is the ultimate “miracle” baby! But a second reflection and we realize that this is God’s calling card: It had to be this way!
When Christ was in the womb of the Virgin Mary, He was filled with the Spirit, a foretaste of the Spirit poured out on all people in the New Covenant (cf. Jer. 36).
A New Humanity. For Christ to serve as a substitute for His people, he could not bear the guilt and corruption of Adam (i.e. He could not be stained by Original Sin). One that Himself needs redemption cannot act as the sinless sacrifice for others. So, in the incarnation there is both continuity and discontinuity. There is continuity because (as mentioned earlier) he does not break the natural chain of motherhood, causing an ex nihilo new creation. God doesn’t hit the “reset button,” but instead works from within the already existing structures of the world He created (motherhood).
Yet, there is discontinuity because Christ does not have a natural father, and is conceived by the Holy Spirit. Because of His conception and empowerment by the Spirit, Christ is an obedient Son to the Father. He cannot sin because He lives to do the will of the Father, and in fact always does so. The trials and temptations that Adam (in Gen. 3) and Israel (in their wilderness wandering) underwent, Christ also passes through, but unlike them, He is successful and obedient where they failed (cf. Rom. 8:3, John 3:6a).
One the consequences of the incarnation (among others) is that Christ introduces into the fallen world a new way of being human, the Son way. Christ is the image of God par excellance, and the redeemed are to be conformed to His image. While we are children by adoption, and Christ is God’s eternal Son. We are to bear the image of the “man from Heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49). This filial bond between Jesus and the Father is extended to Christ’s brothers (Heb. 2).
In closing, unless Christ assumes a fully human nature, humanity cannot be saved. Just as sin entered the world through one man (Rom. 5), so the resurrection of the dead comes through a man…Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 15).
The subject of the next 2 blog entries is the Bible’s teaching on Christ and his Incarnation. Why is this even worth discussing? We’ll spend some time answering just that question.
The incarnation is central to the Christian gospel. Why? As noted by several of the Church Fathers, anything that God did not assume is not redeemed. In Christ, the Father has provided us with the perfect mediator, and the One who institutes the New Covenant.
Who is this baby? Before we continue to discuss the nature and consequences of the incarnation, an important clarification must be made. We shouldn’t assume we know Who was incarnated, so discussing that is helpful. We need to know Who Jesus is before we can talk of His coming to earth in the flesh. The One carried in Mary’s womb, the One wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger, is none other than the divine Second Person of the Holy Trinity, very God of very God, consubstantial (of the same substance) with the Father, begotten, not made, God the Son (cf. the Nicene Creed). Without a distinctively Trinitarian understanding of God the incarnation just doesn’t make sense at best, or, more likely, our explanations veer off into heresy. The Father sends the Son; the Son comes in the flesh to redeem creation, and the Son is conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit.
The God-Man. In the incarnation, the divine Son enters into his humiliation, and takes the form of a bondservant in order to fulfill the role of The Servant of the Lord (cf. Isa. 52-53, Phil. 2). This is accomplished not by the Son emptying Himself of His divine attributes (he did not cease to be God.), but by taking on a fragile human nature (again, see Phil. 2., also Jn. 1:14, Gal. 4:4), and by withholding the free exercise of His divine prerogatives. The Son is both fully God, and yet fully and perfectly human (theologians refers to this mysterious relationship between Christ’s two natures as the “hypostatic union”). Yet these natures are not confused, mixed, or altered in any way. Christ is always one person with two natures (contra early errors taught by guys like Nestorius, Apollinaris, and Eutyches.)
Likewise, the incarnation presents us with what might very well be the best example of God’s plan of redeeming the created order, rather than starting from scratch Christ’s human nature was not created ex nihilo (“from nothing”) as Adam’s was (well sort of, he was made from the dirt). He was born of a woman (Gal. 4:4), and had a mother just as all other humans do. Neither did He pass through Mary, like water does through a pipe. Adoptionism is ruled out, because the Father did not simply choose an existing man to indwell, but instead commissioned his Son to take the form of a human being, indwelt by the Spirit of God. This great plan, devised by God, implies the redemption of creation, not from creation.
Next we’ll continue and conclude our little exploration into the wonderful world of incarnational Christology.