I was blessed with the opportunity to give the devotional at the college group for the Christmas party. I truly relish the opportunity to dedicate myself to studying a single subject or a central passage. The topic for the evening was the incarnation because it relates well to the Christmas story and the holiday season. I decided to be topical because I wanted the time to be more of a reminder rather than a time of expository teaching (Not that I know anything about that anyway), especially with the time constraints.
Here is my unabridged transcript with some additional tweaking. It’s not word for word, but the ideas are the same. The preparation for this was very beneficial and greatly increased my biblical scope pertaining to the birth of Christ. This is partially why I did not attend CCM retreat.
The subject for today’s encouragement is going to focus on one word derived from the prophecy in Isaiah fulfilled in the New testament, more specifically one title given to Christ, which is “Immanuel”. The title simply means, “God with us”. I pray that this will serve as an encouragement and as a reminder in this time of year as we look a little bit closer at the subject known as the incarnation. When we think of Christmas, we must consider with wonder the miracle of the incarnation, for it is foundational to understanding the Gospel.
Before we begin anything, let’s first define what the incarnation is, for it is a doctrine representative of the term “God with us.” The incarnation is the doctrine that Jesus was conceived in a womb and is fully man and fully God. John 1:1, 14 clearly communicate this truth, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
This may be a bit redundant to some of you because I know Pastor Joe recently spoke a great deal on the incarnation in his series through Philippians, going over verses one through eight. I benefited greatly from the series, and hope to clearly tie it in with the Christmas story. Peter in his second epistle said this after a brief exhortation in the first chapter: “Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder…” Peter hoped to remind people of what they already knew so that they could call it to mind long after he had left or died. I hope to draw your eyes to the incarnation, to our Lord Jesus Christ.
Before we begin, I want us to see what a privilege it is for us to have a chance to study and reflect on this great doctrinal truth. That privilege is reflected in the Old Testament by men who pondered the unimaginable, that God would dwell on this earth, and by men who yearned unto death to see the Messianic prophecies fulfilled. We have been given much light when compared to these men. The word light pertaining to truth, as we are on this side of the cross and have the complete word of God as well as a chance to reflect and study the living Word, Christ Himself.
Example of Privilege #1
Let us first turn to 1 Kings 8:22-30, where we find King Solomon giving a prayer of dedication for the temple of God. This temple is the first of its kind, for the Jews had previously always worshipped in the tabernacle. If we read the preceding chapters, we find the construction of an incredible building. The foundation was imbedded with precious stones. Gold and silver line and cover much of the structure. 1 Chronicles 22:14 says, “Now behold, with great pains I have prepared for the house of the Lord 100,000 talents of gold and 1,000,000 talents of silver…” That is a ton of gold, around 70 million pounds. That’s almost as much gold the United States of America has in Fort Knox! No wonder David laments about the great difficulty he went through to find all of this. This building was simply beautiful and yet Solomon had one question on his mind. Let’s read the passage.
22Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven.23He said, “O LORD, the God of Israel, there is no God like You in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing lovingkindness to Your servants who walk before You with all their heart,
24who have kept with Your servant, my father David, that which You have promised him; indeed, You have spoken with Your mouth and have fulfilled it with Your hand as it is this day.
25“Now therefore, O LORD, the God of Israel, keep with Your servant David my father that which You have promised him, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your sons take heed to their way to walk before Me as you have walked.’
26“Now therefore, O God of Israel, let Your word, I pray, be confirmed which You have spoken to Your servant, my father David.
27“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built!
We find in the prayer of Solomon, a troubling question posed. Let us not forget that Solomon is the wisest man to walk this Earth. If anyone had the head knowledge to how great and uncontainable God was, it was him. Even in such a glorious building, how could God whom there is none like in heaven above or Earth beneath, take residence in that 20x20x20 room, much less live among men as Christ does? If Solomon had the knowledge of the ministry of Christ, no doubt would he be in disbelief, for he could not comprehend God taking residence on Earth. To study this is a privilege, for this was not granted to the wisest of men.
Example of Privilege #2
The second passage that states what a privilege it is for us to reflect and understand the incarnation of Christ is found in 1 Peter 1:10-12. Peter has just finished speaking of the glories of our heavenly inheritance in verses three to seven and reminds us that men much godlier and more faithful than ourselves longed to hear and see their prophecies come to pass. They longed to see how the incarnation would come to pass and the results of the God-man’s life. Kings and scholars carefully searched the skies for a sign of the Messiah that would be born, suffer, and then be exalted above all according to the prophecies.
10As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries,
11seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.
12It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven–things into which angels long to look.
Peter has made it a point to remind his hearers of the joy and privilege they have in the clearest revelation of God Himself, Jesus Christ. We know that the Magi in the Gospel accounts were men who went to Herod on account of seeing the Star of David over Bethlehem. They asked, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” These men were the lucky ones, for there were 400 years of silence when men would constantly search for signs of this “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, and Prince of Peace.” Men and women spent their whole lives carefully searching only to die with the hope that the Messiah would someday come. They knew that a special child was born when certain signs arose, but not all men were blessed to see much less understand these things. The passage speaks of men who, though they longed to see these things for themselves, had to be content with prophesying about them. Even angels long to understand the nature of our inheritance. To be able to study the Gospel, much less the incarnation is a privilege.
The Obvious Response
So as we briefly look at what “God with us” truly means by looking at the incarnation, we must not forget the most basic truth pertaining to the title of Immanuel. What we must never forget that the title is representative of good news of great joy which will be for all people, as the angels declared. The fact that Christ was born as 100% God and 100% man, has incredible theological implications for all of us which will be elaborated on later. The bottom line is that “God with us” is stated when the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph saying, “…She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” The good news of great joy is that if you have faith in Christ, you are saved from your sins. How could our response not be spontaneous like the angels when they burst out in song praising God saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” God’s peace is a gracious gift to those who are objects of His pleasure, whom are all those washed by the blood of Christ and clothed in His righteousness.
The Issue of Presence
The reason why presence is so important is because Christ literally walked on this Earth, yet people’s reaction to His presence was not the same as when God appeared to people in the Bible. There is a proper response to divine presence. Moses could not directly look at the face of God for it would have killed Him. The Israelites were too afraid to ascend the mountain where God chose to reveal Himself to Moses. When Moses descended from the mountain, his face shone with God’s glory so the people were afraid to get near him. Even in the presence of angels, people fall and tremble in awe of the being and they are servants of God. One only needs to look at stories such as Balaam and Zacharias to see that confirmed. Moses declared in Exodus 15:11, “Who is like you among the gods, O Lord, who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders?”
Yet when we look at the coming of Jesus on Earth, we do not see people falling over left and right. The inn-keeper had no sense of fear. The word that became flesh and dwelt among us only inspired worship from three wise men and a bunch of shepherds. We know that throughout the entirety of Christ’s ministry, He divided people rather than attracted them. The Pharisees feared their own position as religious leaders rather than the presence of God. Yet we know that Jesus was fully God and fully man, yet it seems like He was only fully man.
The Difference in Nature
In the incarnation of Christ is reconciled two seemingly opposite natures. I could explain this myself, but I’d like to read a quote from Jonathan Edwards sermon titled, “The Admirable Conjunction of Diverse Excellencies in Christ Jesus” where he brilliantly describes the contrast in natures. I remember reading this sermon a few months ago and this section has always stood out to me.
There do meet in Jesus Christ infinite highness and infinite condescension. Christ, as he is God, is infinitely great and high above all. He is higher than the kings of the earth; for he is King of kings, and Lord of lords. He is higher than the heavens, and higher than the highest angels of heaven. So great is he, that all men, all kings and princes, are as worms of the dust before him; all nations are as the drop of the bucket, and the light dust of the balance; yea, and angels themselves are as nothing before him. He is so high, that he is infinitely above any need of us; above our reach, that we cannot be profitable to him; and above our conceptions, that we cannot comprehend him. Prov. 30:4 “What is his name, and what is his Son’s name, if thou canst tell?” Our understandings, if we stretch them never so far, cannot reach up to his divine glory. Job 11:8 “It is high as heaven, what canst thou do?” Christ is the Creator and great Possessor of heaven and earth. He is sovereign Lord of all. He rules over the whole universe, and doth whatsoever pleaseth him. His knowledge is without bound. His wisdom is perfect, and what none can circumvent. His power is infinite, and none can resist Him. His riches are immense and inexhaustible. His majesty is infinitely awful.
And yet he is one of infinite condescension. None are so low or inferior, but Christ’s condescension is sufficient to take a gracious notice of them. He condescends not only to the angels, humbling himself to behold the things that are done in heaven, but he also condescends to such poor creatures as men; and that not only so as to take notice of princes and great men, but of those that are of meanest rank and degree, “the poor of the world,” James 2:5. Such as are commonly despised by their fellow creatures, Christ does not despise. I Cor. 1:28 “Base things of the world, and things that are despised, hath God chosen.” Christ condescends to take notice of beggars Luke 16:22 and people of the most despised nations. In Christ Jesus is neither “Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free” (Col. 3:11). He that is thus high condescends to take a gracious notice of little children Matt. 19:14. “Suffer little children to come unto me.” Yea, which is more, his condescension is sufficient to take a gracious notice of the most unworthy, sinful creatures, those that have no good deservings, and those that have infinite ill deservings.
The incarnation of God contains so many paradoxes. It brings together two opposing natures. He is so mighty that all the rulers of this world are but worms and dust to Him and yet in Psalm 22 (the suffering servant Psalm), the cry of the Messiah groans, “I am a worm and not a man, a reproach of men and despised by the people.” He rules over the angels and yet Hebrews 2 tells us that he became lower than them for our sake. As Edwards puts it, Christ is the Creator and great Possessor and yet he had no place to lay his head and must borrow a barn. His riches are grand and yet for our sake he became poor. The ruler of all became the servant to all as seen in Philippians 2, even to the poor and diseased. There are so many more instances of seeming contradiction and yet, Christ became a man. He lived with men. This is the greatest of miracles.
Christ the Child? Christ the Man?
All of you have been around kids. Some of us go to Berean Community Church and there aren’t a lot of kids running around, at least ones that I know. Coming back to CGBC and seeing the children reminds me that to be human is a growing process. When I’m at Berean it’s easy for me to forget that they were once children because they just appear as collegians to me, but I have grown up with most of you. Between thanksgiving and Christmas break my parents moved all of my sister’s stuff into my room. I woke up to the smell of a poopy diaper and had to change it. It is easy for us to visualize a man dying on a cross, but it is also easy to forget that he was a child just like the children whom He called to Himself. For me personally, when I think and sing about God, I know that I can never fully understand His attributes. I love this line in C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, which is a book about the temptation of man where a senior demon gives instructions to a junior demon in charge of a soul. He says this, “For if he ever comes to make the distinction, if ever he consciously directs his prayers ‘Not to what I think thou art but what thou knowest thyself to be’, our situation is, for the moment, desperate.” Our view of God is inadequate, yet even God’s perfect view of Himself had to somehow be reconciled with that of a human. The incarnation is indeed a miracle. The idea of God dwelling on the Earth in such a way where man’s first inclination is to not fall down and bow is a theme that escaped the wisest man to ever walk this earth. When we look and reflect on the birth of Christ, let us remember that such a miracle is only possible by the wisdom of God. The incarnation is a demonstration of the greatest display of humility but we don’t have time to delve into that so listen to Pastor Joe’s series “The Supreme Servant”.
Born for a Reason
As we consider this season of the birth of Jesus, we should recognize the seeming absurdity that God would walk this earth. There’s one last thing I want to bring up regarding this issue regarding the incarnation. When we look to the scriptures, it is clear that with the birth of Christ came His purpose. There is a reason why he came.
Luke 2:11 says, “…for today in the city of David here has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Matthew 1:21; She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
Hebrews 2:9 says, “But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.”
From our very brief glance at Scripture, we can see that the humiliation of His birth is inextricably tied with His death, His subsequent resurrection, and His eventual ascension.These things are meant to be celebrated together. So often are we reminded of Calvary but so little are we reminded of the importance of the birth of Christ. Without the divine reconciliation of man and God there is no Gospel. We must remember that Christ was born with the expectation to die and to allow us to be adopted into his heavenly family (in addition to vidicating the righteousness of God, Romans 3:25 but now is not the time…). We forget why Christ had to become a man, for the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin. A perfectly righteous man must represent Adam and be offered up to appease the wrath of God and turn it away from its rightful recipents yet have the authority to defeat sin. As Jonah declares, “Salvation belongs to the Lord.” God must provide the perfect sacrifice. This is the atonement and the reason we can declare, “O Death where is your victory? O Death where is your sting?” We are called to remember our purification of sins in II Peter for it is essential to our growth and sanctification unto godly character. Let us celebrate Christmas everyday, for without a birth there is no death. Without a death there is no cleansing of sin. “But will God indeed dwell on this Earth?” The answer is yes, a resounding yes.
We have focused a lot on the Earthly ministry of Jesus today but I love this quote by Pastor Leonard Ravenhill because it reminds me of Christ’s current position. He says this, “Listen when you see Jesus you’re not going to go up and say, “Hey buddy, I’m glad you died for me.” When you see Jesus you will be almost paralyzed with fear unless you have a glorified body and a glorified mind.” Christ did not regard his equality with God a thing to be grasped so He left heaven to come be with us. He was born into humiliation yet He lived a perfect life. He would yield up His own life on the cross only to take it back up three days later. A few weeks later He ascended to majesty on High to sit at the right hand of God until the time when He returns. When He will return He will strike fear in all men yet be the hope of the redeemed. This is the mystery Christians call Immanuel, the baby born in a manger that we celebrate 2000 years later. This is our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us remember our privilege. Let us consider the wisdom of God in the incarnation. Let us consider the Gospel.