Great is the mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh …God with us – Emmanuel – …unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.
This evening we are studying the theology underlying the event that we focus upon at this Christmas Season – The Virgin Birth of Jesus. This event is known as “The Incarnation”. The word simply means to take on human flesh and it refers to a deity or a spirit becoming clothed human flesh. The Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ involved The Logos; The Word; The Son of God becoming human. While we do not know when Jesus Christ was born there is no-one who had a birth like his; and therefore his birthday is the greatest celebration of all. The history of the Incarnation is a basic event in terms of our understanding of the Gospel. Liberal theologians have sought to deny this truth, not because there is a lack of scriptural evidence, but because they refuse to believe the miraculous. Denying the Virgin Birth is to deny the Bible, it is to undermine the foundations of the Gospel, it is to attack the person of Christ and it is to cast doubt the the person of God. These few words in John 1:14 provide the perfect basis to examine the theology of this most remarkable of all events.
1: The Subject of the Incarnation
While it true to say that the incarnation involved God becoming flesh it is more accurate to state that “The Word became flesh”. While “The Word” is God, not every person in the Trinity become man nor did the Trinity as a unit assume humanity. The subject is quite definitely, The Word, who is the eternal Son of God.
Only one who has a previous existence can be incarnated. As normal humans we were conceived and born not incarnated because our existence began at conception. Christ, however, pre-existed, therefore he was incarnated.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.
2nd Co 8:9
For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
2: The Necessity for the Incarnation
The Incarnation was absolutely necessary on account of the sin of humanity. The weight of Biblical evidence points to his entrance into the world fulfilling one great purpose; the redemption of mankind.
For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
1st John 3:8
He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
In becoming flesh The Word did not cease to be what he was before. His nature as the second triune person was unaltered. Louis Berkhof, in his Systematic Theology emphasises that Greek phrase “became flesh” means that “he acquired an additional form, without in anyway changing his original nature.” This in no way underestimates the transformation which occurred because The Logos did take on real humanity. Professor Berkhof also shows that Greek word sarx, meaning flesh denotes “human nature consisting of body and soul”.
The Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Standards summarizes this position succinctly and beautifully in the 22nd answer:
“The only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continueth to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person forever.”
In conception the Son of God became fused to humanity for ever; this was the remarkable change that took place.
1st Timothy 3:16
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.
4: The Miracle of the Incarnation
While the subject of the Incarnation was The Logos, the the other members of the Trinity were not passive. Both the Father and and the Spirit were active agents in effecting the conception of the man Jesus Christ.
The Father sent His Son into the world in the form of humanity:
But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law.
The Holy Ghost, however, was the immediate and principal agent to effecting the Incarnation, as Luke so beautifully records:
Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
The agency of the Holy Ghost precluded the necessity for any human involvement in the conception of Christ. Becoming man by the normal process of nature would have rendered Christ a recipient of Original Sin. This would have left Him unqualified to be our Redeemer. In short it would have been impossible for the Holy Son of God, to have become a sinner, therefore an incarnation by natural process was out of the question. The Supernatural was called for and the Spirit was the agent in that miraculous process. The Spirit of God also sanctified the human nature of Christ, therefore keeping it free from any pollution. Human nature, as we know it, is inherently sinful. Even when we do not sin outwardly in the eyes of others we are besieged by wicked desires and unlawful tendencies, which are corrupting in the extreme. Yet, Christ had a real humanity, with physical weakness, yet he was kept free from all sinful corruption. The influences of the Holy Ghost sanctifying Christ’s humanity did not end at his conception but continued with him throughout his earthly life:
For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.
How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
There is beyond , all doubt, the deepest and most profound mystery in the Incarnation; how God could fuse himself with human nature and for that humanity to remain sinless; completely and absolutely impeccable. What a remarkable person Jesus Christ is? (Remarkable being understatement of understatements).
“Christ, by highest heaven adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
Late in time behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb,
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see!
Hail the incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus our Immanuel.”
5: The Humiliation through the Incarnation
The Incarnation was the first step in the long and and degrading process of Christ’s humiliation, which ended with the ignominy of death and continuing over the power of death for a time.
Christ was humiliated in that he became a member of the human race:
Hebrews 2:14 -18
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.
This is such an important passage in relation to The Incarnation. It is evident that His humanity was the same as ours with the comparison being made between his childhood and ours. He is even described as our brother and as one who was tempted as we are tempted. The real humanity of Christ in life and in death is fact that is constantly stressed. Paul highlights that in becoming man he became our mediator, our High Priest. Representing God and Man makes him ideally qualified to represent our case in heaven’s courts. Christ was humiliated in that he took upon himself the likeness of sinful flesh. Paul words in Romans 8 are perhaps the most amazing of the New Testament statements regarding The Incarnation in that they utter something so solemn that only an inspired writer would have dared pen:
For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: While he was without sin he took on the likeness of sinful flesh.
To all intents and purposes he looked like other men and those men were without exception sinners. Christ was humiliated in that he became subject to the law, the law he himself had framed. This involved subjecting himself to the rite of circumcision, when 8 days old and eventually bearing the weight of it’s curse on Golgotha. Finally He was humiliated in becoming a weak man. The omnipotent one who had fashioned the heaven and the earth was made flesh. He took on all of the weaknesses of humanity, without sin. To see him in the arms of Mary depending upon her as any baby would is wondrous beyond words.
“And the Word was made flesh”