There are many core Christian beliefs that the rest of the world finds incredible or impossible. Not least among these is the incarnation: the doctrine that almighty God took on human flesh and was born into this natural world in Palestine some two thousand years ago in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. On the surface it does seem rather improbable. Why would God do that? Might he not be better served by manifesting himself as, say, a levitating ball of light? It may be worth noting that no matter how God should manifest himself the debates would rage on just as they do now as to whether it was really God or an elaborate hoax. But the questions are important, and the answers in scripture tie straight back to the book of Genesis.
In the beginning, human beings were created in the image of God. So it should come as no great surprise then that when God chose to take on the nature of a created being that he should become incarnate as a man. Colossians 2:9 tells us that in Jesus “all the fullness of the deity dwells in bodily form.” In other words, Jesus Christ is the highest and fullest expression of God to be found in the natural realm. In fact there was nothing of the divine essence that was not manifest in Jesus, for all the fullness of God dwelt in him. If we can say it this way, God was comfortable in Jesus’ flesh and bones, for the dwelling suited him. This should put to an end any dualistic notion that “natural” things are intrinsically evil. A holy God would not dwell in an inherently evil edifice. This should tell us something about what it means to be human. The old adage, “to err is human,” it turns out, is not completely accurate, for Jesus is the sole exception: Jesus was completely human and yet without sin. (Heb 4:15) If the intrinsic nature of our flesh were unfit it would prove an inhospitable place for the dwelling of God, but it was not. Think about it. God became a man—not a lamb or a lion or an eagle but a man. What must that mean for our capacity for fellowship with God if he would actually become one of us? What must it mean for our future if there is a man in commanding rule of history? I’m convinced that the implications of our Father’s desirefor intimate fellowship with men and women have scarcely dawned upon us. May God help us know his heart.
The incarnation tells us about humanity, but it also tells us about God. Consider Paul’s words in Philippians 2:6-8:
…although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
God became a man. There is no satisfactory reason for it other than that it was God’s good pleasure to do so; but by his tremendous grace and covenant love, he did do it. Paul says of Jesus that all things were created by him, for him, and through him. (Col 1:6) As John says, “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” (John 1:3) And yet this God who created all things laid aside his celestial glory to take on human flesh. He was miraculously conceived in the womb of a virgin, and was carried by a young Hebrew girl until she gave birth in, of all places, a stable. God ordained no stately entrance for this boy, irrespective of the accompanying chorus of angels. (Luke 1:1-20) And God spared him no pain, notwithstanding the power of his resurrection. (Luke 23-24). The almighty God of all glory and power had become a man and, in human flesh and blood “we beheld his glory.” (John 1:14) Our wonder at this event will never cease. Fully God and fully man, Jesus took up our cause, showing by his life how we are to live with God and granting by his death the pardon from our sins. May God be forever praised for his undeserved mercy and grace, and his kindness toward such feeble creatures as we are. To behold a God like this is to be drawn into worship with a simple sincerity of faith and a grateful heart.
Jesus Christ. Was he God? Was he man? On the authority of scripture both questions merit a resounding “Yes and amen!” How could that be? We will never know the answer completely, but the things we learn along the way make the quest worthwhile.
For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Tim 2:5-6)
By Jeff Crooks
Jeff Crooks (MATS, Covenant Theological Seminary, 2002) is a member of New Covenant Church, he is married to Chrysanthy and they have two children, Michala and Demetri.