The Meaning and Significance of the Incarnation
The Meaning and Significance of the Incarnation
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The incarnation of Jesus Christ is perhaps one of the most, if not the most, amazing event that has happened in the history of mankind - The Meaning and Significance of the Incarnation introduction. In it is revealed many glorious attributes of the Triune God, particularly, His unconditional, condescending love and His abundance of mercy to an undeserving humanity. Despite this, however, many do not believe that this event really occurred. But for those who do believe, it has brought true joy and boundless blessings in this wicked and perverse world. A real understanding of what really took place, the hows and whys, and the great significance and importance of this event can radically change one’s view of God and man, and of things to come.
Meyers (n.p.), in his sermon on the Virgin Birth conveys to us that this doctrine is one that a person has to confess in order to partake of the grace of salvation. He defines a Christian to be one who believes and confesses the Christian faith, of which the incarnation is a vital part. This faith, he continues, consists of doctrines which are derived from the Word of God, the Scriptures. So to confess to be a Christian without confessing belief in the virgin birth is tantamount to unbelief. Although Christianity is much more than just assenting mentally to the Biblical teachings, the irreducible minimum that a Christian has to confess includes this vital doctrine of the incarnation.
The Meaning of the Incarnation
What is the incarnation? The incarnation is a historical event in which the Lord Jesus Christ, who, “being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continues to be, God and man, in two distinct natures, and one person forever.” (Vincent, 71).
Padgett (n.p.) defines it as an event in which Jesus unites in his person both true humanity and full deity. Scripture accounts tell us that he was born in time in a low condition, that is to say, he was not born from one who was of great earthly stature, a princess, perhaps, but of a mere lowly virgin. The circumstances of his birth reveal that because there was “no room in the inn,” he had to be delivered in a stable without even a cradle, but was laid in a manger. (Lk. 1:48; 2:7; Gal. 4:4). This was clearly a true act of humiliation and condescension on the part of the Son of God.
The incarnation was a voluntary act of God himself, taking the 2 essential parts of man, namely, body and soul (Lk 24:39; Isa 53:10; Matt. 26:38). It was not like the birth of other men for he was born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14). It was a miraculous conception by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary. (Lk. 1:34,35). Although he took upon himself the nature of man, yet he was perfectly free from sinful infirmities. (Heb. 4:15).
Gospel Accounts of the Incarnation
W. Tenney, in his New Testament Survey, gives us a brief analysis of how the gospel writers presented the incarnation of Jesus Christ. It is in the gospels of Matthew and Luke that the incarnation account is narrated in detail. In Matthew’s gospel we are given the background of the Messiah, the genealogy of whom stems from Abraham and David. Abraham was the initial recipient of God’s promises while David was the first in Judah’s royal house. We note in this gospel an oft repeated phrase, “that it might be
fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet.” Since this phrase was repeated at least about 5 times, Tenney (146) mentions that “the advent of Jesus is depicted as the completion of the divine purpose which was revealed in the Old Testament and which was partially worked out in the historical process which preceded his coming.”
Mark’s gospel treats the incarnation briefly and does not give any genealogy. Luke’s work clearly presents all the facts accurately. (Luke 1:3). His material is not mentioned in the other gospels and Luke’s genealogy is different from Matthew’s in that
it tells this from the viewpoint of Mary while Matthew’s tells the story from the viewpoint of Joseph. This genealogy also shows us that Jesus was a “real participant in the history of mankind who could be localized in time and space” (Tenney, 178) since it is traced form Adam.
John uses the term ‘logos’ (word) to introduce Christ. In this gospel, Jesus is seen as a “universal figure, the incarnation of the Eternal Reason who is God, came from God and who reveals God as a son reveals a father.” (Tenney, 193). In John 1:12 we learn that Jesus is to be apprehended only by those who receive him. Thus, Tenney (193) compares the conflict between those who receive him and those who do not, to the conflict between light and darkness.
Incarnation Fact or Myth
In the light of the preceding statement, it becomes less surprising that not everyone can accept the idea of a historical incarnation. In a book edited by John Hick entitled The Myth of God Incarnate, a compilation of works by several authors, the central message is that the incarnation is no longer believable today. In the same work it was mentioned that insistence on this doctrines makes “Christianity insufficiently adaptable; the doctrines obscures Jesus’ significance as a man with a special role in the divine purpose; and the doctrine interferes with Christians’ practical relations with people of other religions” (Willis, 221) To quote the authors themselves, “…Our hope is to release talk about God and about Jesus from confusions, thereby freeing people to serve God in the Christian faith with greater integrity.” (Hick, x). Another writer in this edition states that what makes its validity doubtful is that it was so culturally shaped. Willis
(222), however, feels that such an assumption needs to be challenged. In his critical analysis of this book he writes, “The cultural shaping of a particular doctrine and the multitude of cultural parallels are not a decisive argument against it. In fact, the way the gospel appropriated and transformed these cultural thought forms is a primary example of the truth and relevance of incarnation theology. Rather than impede the gospel, the doctrine of the incarnation was the major way of attesting to the unity behind the diversity of truth claims, since truth had been uniquely met in the eternal Word enfleshed as Jesus the Christ.”
The Significance of the Incarnation
We then answer the question, “what is the significance of the incarnation?” Why was it necessary for the Son of God to take the form of humanity?
The Fall. A thorough examination of this teaching would bring us back to the beginning of time with God Himself, the Creator, in the Garden of Eden where He had formed the first man and woman. In God’s words we understand that this original creation was perfect, very good. They were in a condition of sinlessness and God had put them in the garden to care for it. There was, however, one prohibition set by God – they must not eat of the fruit of the tree that was in the middle of the garden. But, they failed. Tempted by the serpent, the first man and woman disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit. This constituted the first sin- sin being defined as transgression of the law of God. (Gen. 2 & 3; 1 Jn 3:4)
In other parts of the Bible we learn that Adam was a representative of mankind. (Rom. 5:12) and thus his disobedience was not only for himself but for his posterity as well. So all mankind sinned and fell with him in his first transgression. This brought all humanity in a state of sin and misery. In this event, man lost his communion with God.
God, being truly holy, is infinitely pure and is perfectly free from all impurity and hates it wherever he sees it (Ps. 5:5; Heb. 12:14). God has also said in his word, that whoever breaks even just one of His commandments, is guilty of all (James 2:10). We see here the sorry state that mankind is in and the demands of God for the restoration of that broken relationship are totally unreachable by man. A perfectly holy God demands perfect obedience and a just God demands that the penalty of sin be meted out totally. Rom 6:23a states. “For the wages of sin is death…” physical death, spiritual death, eternal punishment in hell.
Hence, the two things God requires of man to be finally accepted in his presence:
(1) His holiness demands a perfect obedience to His laws and (2) His justice demands that every transgression of the law be punished. The reality is that on his own, man cannot attain to the standards of God. Perfect obedience is impossible and every act of disobedience deserves the penalty of death. To be finally accepted in God’s presence is an impossibility if man is to do it on his own.
The Provision. We now come to the glorious provision for our great need, from a God who is not only just and holy, but also infinitely merciful and compassionate to lost sinners such as we are. And what is that provision? It is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the incarnate Son of God.
Little do some people know that God had already prepared a provision to man’s problem which He presented right after their fall. In Gen. 3:15, the “seed of the woman” aptly refers to the Christ who shall bruise the head of the serpent. “Seed of the woman” is the earliest mention of the incarnation in the Bible.
By his own good pleasure, God, from eternity, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver man out of the state of sin and misery and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer, Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. He is called the Christ, the Anointed One, by the Father.
Thus, the necessity that the Christ should become man is seen in two areas, namely, that he might be capable of suffering death for man, which, as God, he was capable of and without which suffering of death there could have been no remission or salvation; and that he might be their high priest to reconcile them to God.
Studies in the Old Testament show that there are persons, events and things that foreshadow the person and work of Jesus Christ. This gives us an initial picture or a shadow of the things to come. It gives us a glimpse in the form of a type, what the ministry and work of the incarnate Christ would be. Walvoord (n.p.) in his Series in Christology notes that since Christ is the central theme of revelation, it is not strange that most types should speak expressly of him. This includes the priesthood, the sacrifices, the feasts and some other, all pointing to that great work of redemption that Jesus has accomplished by his earthly ministry.
We learn from Old Testament lessons that the only way that God’s people, the Israelites could enter into his presence is by means of an unblemished sacrificial lamb. This, though, could not truly cleanse them from the defilement of sin and thus it had to be done daily. But we learn in the Scriptures that the sacrifice of Jesus of Himself, was a once for all sacrifice for sin. He was the unblemished lamb, having committed no sin while he lived here on earth despite being tempted by the devil in all things. When he hung on the cross of Calvary, Christ was taking upon Himself the wrath of God for all the sins of man. Thus, when He finally uttered, “It is finished”, (Jn. 19:30) it marked the end of His work, the eternal justice of God has finally been satisfied and man, through faith in Christ, can come and be reconciled with God. This reconciliation that was brought about by his death is beautifully expressed in the gospel narrative when the temple veil or
curtain that separated the people from the presence of God was torn in half (Mt. 27:51).What a glorious sight!
The Incarnation and the Resurrection of Christ
To believe in the incarnation and not in the resurrection is to present an incomplete picture of the true purpose of Christ. Apart from the resurrection, the incarnation has no use. For if Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, he would still be buried somewhere on this earth which leaves those of the faith without hope of anything after this life. The resurrection enlivens our faith. It gives us a hope of what we would attain to after this life. The Apostle Paul discusses the importance of the resurrection thoroughly in his epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 15.
With many witnesses attesting to the historicity of the resurrection, we may establish the historicity of the incarnation itself. The resurrection proved to many that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, in the flesh.
Willis (223) insists that the doctrine of the incarnation is a necessary saving truth and is not disposable for the sake of a particular view of apologetics. Skarsaune also discusses in his book that the central claim of the Christian faith is still this – that God became man in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and that the early church’s Christology is rooted firmly in 1st century Judaism. This, he notes, had “definite implications for how Christians (Jews and Greeks) understood their experience of God in Christ.” (matt, n.p.)
These are fools who say “there is no God.” (Psalm 14:1) Though incarnation critics may not claim that they are unbelievers, yet their belief in Jesus is much like belief in a superhero. We adore superheroes and marvel at their powers despite knowing that they are just creations of the human imagination.
People who do not believe in a historical incarnation are those who have not come to grips with the reality of sin and its consequences before the Almighty One. And as such they do not find the need to answer the problem at hand. And rightly so, as Jesus himself says in His word, those who are not sick do not need a physician (Mt. 9:12). Those who do not see their true standing before God, as one condemned because of sin, will not run to the Saviour, who is a kinsman, a true human being yet at the same time, God, the only one who can redeem us and save us from the wrath to come.
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