Understanding the Incarnation
“I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. 2Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.’ 4And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.” Isaiah 6:1-4 The high and lofty One of Isaiah 6 is the Lord, it is God pre-incarnate. Jesus is the express representation of the Father because He is God. He is Yahweh. He is the One whom the angels since the moment they were created have cried “Holy.” He is the One who stood beside His Father as a master craftsmen. He is the One whose robe fills the temple. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Shepherd of Israel. “Then I was beside Him, as a master workman; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him,” Proverbs 8:30
When approaching the Gospels it is important to see Jesus in His divinity. This not some mere man, an angel or some lesser deity, but this is Yahweh. We risk grave error if not first coming to grips with the reality of the truth that, Jesus is Yahweh. He is the one who dwelt between the cherubim in the Holy of Holies, who stood beside the Father as a master craftsmen, who burned in a bush, He is the Great I AM the very Shepherd of Israel. One cannot merely seek to understand the importance of the Word becoming flesh unless they know who the Word was and is. This is why it is important that we become students of the Old Testament and not just the New Testament as it all points to who Jesus is. “Beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” Luke 24:27
II. Understanding Who God is
When we go to understand the divinity of Christ we must ask the question of how the disciples went from following their rabbi to worshiping their Lord, creator and God. In seeking to understand the divinity of Christ we must look to see how the Bible defines divinity and God. This comes down to the question: “How does Scripture define the uniqueness of God?” or in a simpler way “What makes Him God?”
The typical answer to this question is usually drawn upon by Greek philosophical categories, which theologians call incommunicable attributes (which are often indicated by the prefixes “omni”, “im” or “in”). The inspiration behind bringing definition to God in this way is the philosophical assumption that the divine “nature” or “essence” is entirely different to the “nature” or “essence” of all created things. This is a thoroughly Platonic idea and entirely foreign to Biblical thought. The result of defining God’s uniqueness in this manner for the last 1500 years has often brought a very abstract, distant, vague, ethereal conception in our mind when asked to imagine Him.
The Hebrew mindset from the Old Testament viewed God with reverence along with simple, tangible, concrete ways. He is holy, involved and near. He is YHWH- the One who Is, the living God: who stands as the ruler over all things, made a covenant with Abraham, delivered His people from Egypt. He alone is the One who is worthy of all worship for by His word all things exist. 15Hezekiah prayed before the LORD and said, “O LORD, the God of Israel, who are enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 16Incline Your ear, O LORD, and hear; open Your eyes, O LORD, and see; and listen to the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to reproach the living God. 17Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have devastated the nations and their lands 18and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. So they have destroyed them. 19Now, O LORD our God, I pray, deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, O LORD, are God.” 20Then Isaiah…sent to Hezekiah saying, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Because you have prayed to Me about Sennacherib king of Assyria, I have heard you.’ 21This is the word that the LORD has spoken against him…” 2 Kings 19:15-21
III. Understanding the Divinity of Jesus
Now that we have defined Divinity through the Old Testament let us then look for a moment at how the New Testament relates to this. Though most of us think and read in a profoundly ‘Greek’ manner, we must consciously shift our thinking to that of a Jewish mindset. We must keep in mind that much of the New Testament was written by Jewish men thus they would have a Jewish mindset and would not be thinking in Greek philosophical ideas. It would not have been hard for the disciple to understand God having a form as on more than one occasion in the Old Testament we see God having a form. This was not something hard for a Jewish mindset to grasp however to take on flesh and die was the hard part. “Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree; 5and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves; after that you may go on, since you have visited your servant.” And they said, “So do, as you have said.” Genesis 18:4-5 “Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the doorway of the tent…” Numbers 12:5 Thus when Peter and John realized that Jesus is God, they would be thinking this is the God of Genesis 1 and Isaiah 6 and not some Greek philosophical idea that makes God detached from reality. John makes it quite clear as to who Jesus was in his opening chapter of the Gospel of John. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…14And 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.” John 1:1-5,14
In John chapter one, we see the New Testament mindset of Jesus being God and that He was in the beginning with His Father and created all things. John not only makes the point of Jesus’ divinity but also makes the point that God became a man. This is more than God just having a form because He clearly already had one in times past, but this means that God became human. He now carried the restrictions of human flesh, meaning: He would get tired, hungry, sweaty, have to go to the bathroom, etc.
The reality that the high and lofty God would go so low and take on flesh was truly inconceivable to the Jewish mindset.
IV. Understanding the Incarnation
“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.” Philippians 2:5-9 Paul in his letter to the church of Philippi breaks down the incarnation in this manner: Christ existed in the form of God, did not consider being equal to God something to cling to, humbled Himself, became a servant to God, became a man, and became obedient to the point of dying on a cross. First off this does not mean at the point of emptying Himself that He ceased to be God but rather He laid aside His privileges of being God: meaning He would now experience what it meant to be human and need food, sleep, air to breathe, etc. Paul makes is clear that Jesus existed in the form of God prior to taking on flesh. This means He was not limited to the limitations of humanity. Jesus did not consider His equality with God (the Father) as something to cling to. He did not see His divine form as something to cling to or hold on to, but rather was willing to give it up. Thus Christ emptied Himself and became a man. He took on flesh and became a bond-servant to the Father, His Father. In His humility in becoming limited by flesh was not enough, Jesus became obedient in His humility to the point of death. God could not redeem humanity by just coming in His divine form, thus He had to take on flesh and this was still not enough but He had to die and shed His blood. Though in the midst of all of this He still remained fully God even after He laid aside His divine form. This is what it meant that God became a man.
Paul in his second letter the church of Corinth said that the Second Person of the Trinity was rich and became poor for our sake. Christ in divine form and nature became poor or rather took on flesh that we would become rich. “…though He was rich yet for your sake He became poor so that you through His poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9 The Second person of the Trinity laid it all aside and became poor that we may be made rich. The high and lofty God took on flesh became a baby to a poor family that we might gain it all. He became poor on His own volition for the sake of love. This is why Jesus had both the right and the ability to tell the Rich Young Ruler to go sell all and give to the poor because He had already done so. Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. Mark 10:21-22
When we look upon the Gospels and see the incarnate God we see the ultimate example of humility. God who both dwelt before time began and spoke creation into being has chosen to walk among and become like His creation by binding Himself to flesh. My prayer is that the Gospels would never be a collection of stories of our Savior, but would be the story of God in love with humanity. Oh, that which amazed and astonished the disciples when they saw Jesus turn water to wine, walking on water or healing the sick and raising the dead never cease to amaze us. I pray that even more than these moments, that the love God had for humanity that drove Him to plunge Himself forever into our story by binding Himself to flesh forever never cease to amaze us. That we would never stop marveling at the fact that God, the Great I AM willingly went to the cross and died for creation.