A Study of the Incarnation

Of all events in Jesus’ life, three stand out as most significant and most celebrated: his birth, death and resurrection. These are doctrinally significant. His birth illustrates his humanity; his death purchased our salvation; his resurrection illustrates his glory and guarantees our future resurrection to glory.

A Savior is certainly someone worth celebrating. Christians have been celebrating Christ for almost 2,000 years. To commemorate and celebrate the Savior, most Christians have observed annual memorials of various events in the life of Jesus Christ. Some celebrate his birth, baptism, transfiguration, triumphal entry, Last Supper, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. Scripture tells us when some of these events happened; others are commemorated with dates that have become traditional.

This worship calendar was useful for the needs of the Christian church. Since many early Christians were unable to read the Scriptures, the yearly cycle of worship days helped people remember the biblical stories about Jesus.

In this study we focus on the importance of his incarnation—the fact that he was a human, with human flesh. In order to save us, it was necessary for Jesus to be born and to die as a human.

 

1. What was one of the specific heresies that John warns us about? 2 John 7. What is the true teaching about Jesus? 1 John 4:1-3. How does John phrase it in his Gospel? John 1:14.

John begins the story of Jesus by talking about “the Word”— who was both with God and who was God (verse 1). The Word was the Creator (verse 3), and he had both light and life (verse 4). The Word came into the world, but the world did not accept him (verses 9-11). But some people did accept him, and the Word enabled believers to be born as children of God (verses 12-13).

The Word, who had life within himself, became flesh. The immortal became mortal. The Creator became as one of the created. These concepts contradicted everything Jews and Greeks had thought about God, and many people could not accept these ideas. They could not believe that God had become human.

Some people tried to resolve the logical problem by saying that Jesus was not God. Others taught that Jesus wasn’t really human. But the apostle John tells us boldly that the Word became flesh. This concept is so important, he says, that anyone who teaches otherwise is an antichrist. This doctrine is one that the New Testament says is essential to the faith.

John is saying that God became fleshly. This is the basis of the doctrine of the Incarnation, the teaching that God the Word was made flesh. Jesus was not only God, but also a flesh-and-blood human—God in the flesh. The Word became flesh— “and made his dwelling among us,” John tells us. A literal translation says that “he pitched his tent among us”—the Greek original uses the word for tent or tabernacle. The Word had a temporary dwelling, a mortal body (Paul also compares our body to a tent in 2 Corinthians 5:1-9).

We have seen the evidence, John says. We have touched him and talked with him (1 John 1:1). We have seen both his humanity and his divine glory.

 

2. In what ways did Jesus have human weaknesses and limitations? Matthew 4:2; John 4:6; 19:28. What emotions did he have? John 11:33-35; 12:27; 13:21; Matthew 8:10; 26:38; Mark 3:5; 6:6; 10:14; Luke 10:21; Hebrews 5:7. In how many ways did he grow? Luke 2:52; Hebrews 5:8. Did he have to grow in intelligence?

Jesus began life as a fetus, helpless. He lived as a baby, crying when hungry, fussing when uncomfortable. As a child, he had to learn to crawl, and then walk and run. He learned to talk just as other children do. He had to learn words and grammar of Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek. He had to learn about the physical world around him, farming, weather and the history of his own people. He was human physically, intellectually and emotionally.

In the process of learning, Jesus would have made mistakes. He would fall down when learning to walk, make grammatical errors when learning to talk, make measurement mistakes when learning to be a carpenter. Making mistakes with facts such as these is not a sin, and we have no biblical or theological reason to think that Jesus never made such mistakes. This is part of life in the flesh.

In contrast to factual mistakes, Jesus never made moral mistakes. He never committed a sin. This is a reflection of his divine nature. Although Jesus did not know everything (Mark 13:32), he knew his limitations, and he did not teach errors. He was full of truth; he is the truth (John 1:14; 14:6).

 

3. Did Jesus sin? 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15. Is he called God? John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; 2 Peter 1:1. Is he our Creator? John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2. Does he reveal to us what God is really like? John 14:9; Colossians 2:9. Is he worthy of our worship? Philippians 2:10-11; Revelation 5:12-14.

 

4. Even after his resurrection, did Jesus have flesh? Luke 24:39. How did he prove it? Verses 42-43; John 20:27. Did he rise into heaven with a body, and will he return in the same way? Acts 1:9-11. Is he even now called a man, a human? 1 Timothy 2:5.

Some scriptures tell us that Jesus is God; others tell us that he was and is human. He was God in the flesh—God made incarnate—a God-man.

Jesus shows us that God is not just an idea or a list of doctrines, but a living being — one who wants a relationship with humans. To make this relationship possible, the Son of God humbled himself to become a human. Jesus is the best example of God we can see in this life—so much so that if we reject Jesus, then we are also rejecting God.

If Jesus were not God, he could not save us. If he were not human, he could not die for all humanity. We may not understand exactly how he atoned for all our sins, but we recognize that our salvation depends on Jesus being both God and human. Let us see some reasons that his humanity is important.

 

5. Was it necessary for Jesus to be a human? Hebrews 2:17. Does his experience as a human enable him to help us? Verse 18. As both God and human, is he uniquely qualified to be a High Priest, a mediator between God and humans? Hebrews 4:15; 1 Timothy 2:5. Are we made righteous through the obedience of a human? Romans 5:18-19.

 

6. Does he set an example for us? 1 John 2:6; 1 Peter 2:21. Is he the pattern for our spiritual life? Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Galatians 4:19; Hebrews 12:2-3. Does his example even carry over into our future glory? 1 Corinthians 15:48-49; 1 John 3:2.

It was as a human that Jesus paid the penalty of human sin. Because he is saving humans, he had to be made like us in every way (Hebrews 2:17). As a perfectly righteous human, and as our Creator, he could atone for everyone’s sins through his one sacrifice.

Through his experiences as a human, through his lifelong struggles with temptations, he is able to serve as our High Priest. He was tempted in every way, and he suffered when he was tempted. We can therefore be confident that he understands us when we struggle with our temptations and look to him for the help and grace we need.

Being human, Jesus could not conquer temptation without a struggle, but being divine it was his nature to do his Father’s will (John 5:19, 30), and therefore to resist and fight temptation until he had overcome it. From Gethsemane we may infer that his struggles were sometimes more acute and agonizing that any we ever know. (J.I. Packer, Concise Theology, Tyndale, 1993, p. 110)

Jesus is the perfect role model for us. He shows us what it is to be fully human, fully in touch with God’s purpose for our lives. When God first made humans, he declared them “very good.” Jesus Christ proves that nothing is morally wrong with having flesh, with having weakness, with being mortal.

Jesus had human nature. The reason that all humans have sinned is not because there is anything wrong with the way God made us, but because humans have chosen to misuse what God made. Jesus has shown what human nature could and should be.

God intended that humans rule over creation, and through the human Jesus Christ, humans will indeed rule over creation (Hebrews 2:8). It is because of Jesus’ obedience as a human, as the Second Adam, that we are made righteous and therefore qualified to rule with him.

Two moments in Jesus’ life illustrate his humanity most clearly: his birth and his death. Let us look briefly at his birth. Although his human life began with his conception, it was at his birth that he became visible.

 

7. Was Jesus conceived in a miraculous way, in a virgin? Matthew 1:18-23. What was his significance? Verses 21, 23. How does Luke describe the events? Luke 1:26-35. Was Jesus born in a place of glory, or of humility? Luke 2:4-7. Did the angels sing praises for this event in God’s plan of salvation? Verse 14. Did angels sing for any other events?

Since the incarnation was essential for our salvation, we praise God for it. Indeed, at least one passage in Scripture appears to be a song in celebration of Jesus’ willingness to humble himself for our salvation (Philippians 2:6-11).

God became human—what a miracle!

It is by far the most amazing miracle of the entire Bible…. The fact that the infinite, omnipotent, eternal Son of God could become [a human] and join himself to a human nature…will remain for eternity the most profound miracle and the most profound mystery in all the universe. (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan, 1994, p. 563)

Michael Morrison

Michael Morrison
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