The Birth of Jesus - The Incarnation of God
by A.C. Dixon
|"But when the fulness of the
time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the
law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the
adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the
Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore
thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of
God through Christ." (Galatians 4:4-7)
This Scripture gives, first of all, the fact of the incarnation. "God sent forth his Son." Jesus speaks of the Son of Man as "he that came down from heaven." He was preexistent to His birth. "They shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us" (Matt. 1:23). "A child shall be born, a son shall be given, and He shall be called the Wonderful, the Counseller, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace." The birth of Jesus, was, therefore, the incarnation of Deity.
Let us consider:
- The Preparation for the Incarnation;
- The Process of the Incarnation;
- The Purpose of the Incarnation.
"When the fulness of time was come." (1) There was a political preparation. Rome did not care about religious opinions. She simply wanted her revenue, and there was, therefore, religious liberty in a large measure all over the world. War had ceased. The temple of Janus was closed. (2) There was a linguistic preparation. The Greek language, in process of formation for centuries, had reached the very perfection of language, that the Gospel might be written and preached over the world through this perfect medium. (3) There was a religious preparation. The Jews were scattered to the four winds and had carried with them the Old Testament Scriptures and the traditions of their fathers. (4) There was also a demonstrative preparation. The world had grown bad. You have only to look at the ruins of Pompeii to see a picture that Paul drew of the heathen world. The world of painting, the world of literature, the world of music, the world of culture had become putrified, and it had been demonstrated that culture, artistic refinement, military power and civil government did not make people morally better
"Made of a woman [not of man], made under the law." There was in Jesus Christ the union of the human and the divine-just as divine as if He were not human, and just as human as if He were not divine.
We have accounts of the deification of men in pagan mythology. But I do not remember any account of a god becoming a man, to help man. Whoever heard of Jupiter or Mars or Minerva coming down and attempting to bear the burdens of men? The gods were willing enough to receive the gifts of men, but Christianity is unique in the fact that our God became a man with human infirmity and emptied Himself of the glory of heaven, in order that He might take upon Himself the sins, diseases and weakness of our humanity. Thus it is that God made Himself thinkable as well as lovable to us. The highest form of our thought is perfect man, and I confess that I am not quite capable of thinking pure spirit. When I try, it assumes at least a ghostly, phantom form. So that God Who is spirit, in order to make Himself thinkable to us, puts Himself into the shape of our highest thought: perfect, sinless man. If you try to think something higher than the human form, you make it a monster. When we think of God, we are apt to think of Him in human form. In the Epiphanies of the Old Testament God revealed Himself to Joshua and others in human form. He puts Himself within the compass of our highest conception, in order that He may make Himself real to us in His love and sympathy and power.
The purpose of the Incarnation was "to redeem them that were under the law," and in the phrase "under the law," there is at least an intimation of the answer to our question. By his sin, man has come under the law of condemnation. The righteous law of God has found him guilty and holds him for punishment. The death of Christ satisfies the demands of the law, and thus buys him back to liberty. Without this satisfaction of justice God cannot be merciful; for mercy excludes justice, and justice excludes mercy. The moment a judge begins to be merciful he ceases to be just, and the moment he begins to be just he ceases to be merciful. The Incarnation through the death of Christ makes it possible for God to be "just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus." If God should be merciful without the satisfaction of justice, He would cease to be a God of justice and would thus forfeit His throne of righteousness. In a word, He would cease to be God.
In many a prison of Europe is the record opposite the name of a poor debtor or criminal: "Debt paid by John Howard"; "Fine paid by John Howard." And when the law was satisfied because justice had been vindicated through the kindness of another, the court of justice could be merciful and release the prisoner. For the court to do so without the satisfaction of justice would be to discredit the law and forfeit all claim as a court of justice. It would be the destruction of the court. And for God to be merciful without the satisfaction of justice would be the destruction of God.
(2) The second part of His purpose was "that we might receive the adoption of sons"-not that we might recognize that we are sons already, but "that we might receive the adoption of sons." And the word "adoption" means more than taking up a waif child of the street and by a process of law treating it as if it were your son, to receive your inheritance. It means really producing the condition and experience of a son. Jesus came to redeem us from sin, that we might become really sons of God, with the very nature of God, "born from above," "partakers of the divine nature" by regeneration.
(3) The third part of the purpose is that we should recognize and express the fact that we are sons of God. "Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba Father." You become sons through faith in Jesus Christ and then enter into the spirit of the son that becomes familiar with the father. Abba is the child's prattling word for father. When we have accepted Jesus Christ, we have become akin to the Father; having become real children of God, we then have the spirit of sonship by which we can come into His presence and make known our wants in a familiar way.
(4) The fourth part of the purpose is that we should be "heirs of God through Christ...... Thou art no longer a servant but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ." Righteousness, as defined in the letter to the Romans, is primarily right relation. We must get right with God before we can do right before God. Until we get right with God, all our doing right is "filthy rags" in His sight. "I beseech you in Christ's stead," pleaded Paul, "be ye reconciled to God." In other words, get right and then do right. And you cannot get right by doing right. Through the death of Christ on the cross making atonement for sin, we get a perfect standing before God. That is justification, and it puts us, in God's sight, back in Eden before sin entered. God looks upon us and treats us as if we had never sinned.
Heirship is a matter of relation. If your name is in the will, you get what is left to you regardless of your age, color or condition in life. A cartoon in a daily paper, a few days after Mr. Carnegie's death, pictured a ragged tramp standing on the street corner and weeping as if his heart were broken. A policeman asked, "What is the matter?" "Mr. Carnegie is dead," blubbered the tramp. "Well, what of that?" continued the policeman. "Was he a relative of yours?" "No, no," said the tramp. "That is what I am crying about. If I were a relative of his, I would be a rich man." The cartoonist, in this grotesque way, announced the great fact that heirship depends upon relation. And yet Mr. Carnegie might have disinherited his own son by leaving him a merely nominal amount. But if his will had said, "All my children shall inherit my fortune," the heirship would then have depended upon the sonship, and, as sonship is an unchangeable relation, not one of them could have been disinherited. Once a son means forever a son. You cannot "un-son" a man. And God makes my heirship depend upon this unchangeable relation of sonship. "If a son, then an heir of God through Christ."
This brings us to the proposition which a life-time of searching for the truth had confirmed:
Jesus Christ was not a product of
the age in which he lived,
but of another world, who came to this world for a purpose. Three things prove
(1) His claims;
(2) His character;
(3) His works.
First, what He said about Himself; second, what He was in Himself; and third, what he did, being Himself.
Jesus Christ certainly claimed four things:
(1) That He was the Son of man; not a son of man, but the Son of man. Fredrick W. Robertson says: "There is something exceedingly emphatic in that expression, Son of man. Our Master is not called the Son of Mary, but, as if the blood of the whole race were in His veins, He calls Himself the Son of Man. There is a universality in the character of Christ which you find in no other man. Translate the words of Christ into what country's language you will, He might have been the offspring of that country. Date them by what century of the world you will, they belong to that century as much as to any other. There is nothing of nationality about Christ. There is nothing of that personal peculiarity which we call idiosyncrasy. There is nothing peculiar to any particular age of the world. He was not 'the Asiatic.' He was not 'the European.' He was not 'the Jew.' He was not the type of that century, stamped with its peculiarities. He was not the mechanic. He was not the aristocrat. But he was the man. He was the child of every age and nation. His was a life world-wide. His was a heart pulsating with the blood of the human race. He reckoned for His ancestry the collective myriads of mankind. Emphatically, He was the 'Son of Man."' Now, was there anything in the environment of Christ to make out of Him such a world-wide Son of Man? Just the contrary. He was raised in a mountain village, and village life tends to make men narrow. Travel may correct this tendency, but Jesus did not travel out of Palestine. Born of the tribe of Judah and having a legal right to the throne of David, we should naturally expect Him to share the narrow, bitter feelings of His Jewish kindred, and, like them, chafe under the loss of national glory. On the other hand, He shares none of their narrow feelings. He teaches them a lesson in brotherly love by condemning their priest and Levite for passing by on the other side, while He praises the hated Samaritan who stops and helps the wounded man. All through His life there was a conflict between His universal sympathy and the narrow bigotry of His people. When Demosthenes thanked the gods that he was a man and not a beast, a man and not a woman, a Greek and not a Barbarian, he expressed the sentiments of all mankind till Jesus came with the thought of universal humanity. Jesus was not Jew enough for the Jew, nor Roman enough for the Roman, nor Greek enough for the Greek. They all rejected Him because He belonged to all alike and refused to belong to either exclusively. The forces at work in the world at that time did not produce such a man.
(2) Jesus taught that He was the Son of God. The High Priest said to Him on His trial, "I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God." Jesus said unto Him, "Thou hast said" (Matt. 26:64). The High Priest understood His answer as affirmative, for he at once rent his clothes, exclaiming, "He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses?" When Pilate wanted to let Him go, the Jews cried out, "We have a law, and by our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God" (John 19:7). One of the charges flung into His face on the cross was that He said, "I am the Son of God" (Matt. 27:43). Thus the enemies of Jesus testify that He claimed to be the Son of God. And His friends who were closest to Him and best knew His mind admit the claim. "I saw, and bare record" says John, "that this is the Son of God" (John 1:34). Paul "preached Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God" (Acts 9:20). When the centurion, beholding the wonders of the crucifixion said, "Truly this was the Son of God," he simply echoed the claim of Christ's friends and the charge of His enemies.
(3) Jesus taught that He was God in such a way as to compel others to admit the claim. It is evident that His friends and enemies understood Him as claiming that in being the Son of God He was God. Listen to these words: "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9). Again: "He that seeth Me seeth Him that sent Me" (John 12:45). Many men, before and after Christ, have tried to demonstrate the existence of God. Jesus made no such attempt. His mission was to manifest God in His own person. His claim confirms the message of the angel, "They shall call His name Emmanuel, God with us," and Paul showed that he had caught His true meaning when he wrote "God was manifest in the flesh" (1 Tim. 3:16). Jesus taught the impossibility of knowing God the Father except through Himself: "Neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him" (Matt. 11:27). He claims identity of divine nature with the Father in the words, "I and my Father are one" (John 10:30). He calmly claims attributes which none but God can possess. He declares that He is eternal. To the cavilling Pharisees He said, "Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58). As a man He prays, but in one of His prayers we see a flash of His deity: "And now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was" (John 17:5). And, with this eternity of nature, He declares that He has equal honor with the Father. The Father "hath committed all judgment unto the Son: that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent Him" (John 5:22, 23). He claims to be omnipresent as to place and time: "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20). "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Matt. 28:20). He claimed that He had power to forgive sins (Matt. 9:5, 6). And His enemies were right in their question, "Who can forgive sins save God only?" He claimed to be able to work miracles even to the raising of the dead: "For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom He will" (John 5:21). To an unprejudiced mind there can be no shadow of doubt as to the fact that Jesus taught that He was God and gave to those near Him such proof of it that they were compelled to admit the fact. John crowns Him Creator of the Universe: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God .... All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made" (John 1:1, 3). He calmly wrote, "We are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life" (I John 5:20). After Jesus had stilled the storm on the sea of Galilee, "they that were in the ship came and worshipped Him, saying, Of a truth Thou art the Son of God" (Matt. 14:33). His receiving their worship proves that He claimed to be God; their giving worship proves that they gladly admitted His claim. Paul's Christ, "Who is over all, God blessed for ever" (Rom. 9:5), is the true Christ.
(4) Jesus claimed that He was Himself the antidote for all evil. Men have presented their plans and philosophies for the remedying of earth's ills, but Jesus stands alone in presenting not a system, but His own personality as capable of supplying the needs of the soul. To the hungry soul He says, "I am the bread of life." To men who stand perplexed about the way from earth to heaven He says, "I am the way." To Pilate's question: "What is truth?" which is but an echo to the question of all ages, He replies, "I am the truth." To the seeker after the secrets of life He boldly says, "I am the life." To those who are groping in the dark He says, "I am the light of the world; He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." To a world crushed beneath the burdens of guilt, superstition and ignorance He says, "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light." Instead of systems of philosophy or plans of relief, He presents Himself. This idea is not of earth. It was not man's way of doing before or since Jesus came. He stands alone as the One Who offers Himself as the remedy for all evil. There was nothing in the thought of His age to suggest this, nothing in His environment to foster it. The idea bears the superscription of another world.
There are but three positions we can hold with reference to Christ. Some said, "He is a good man: others said, Nay, but He deceiveth the people" (John 7:12). Jesus Christ was either deceived, a madman, a bad man or God. None but God, or a madman, or a deceiver, could have made the claims that He did. The whole trend of His life indicates the soundest mind, filled with the healthy enthusiasm which a great mission inspires, and He thinks too clearly to be deceived. The charge that He was a madman, no one is foolish enough to defend. Then we are driven to one of two other positions. He was either God or the worst of men. We have just seen that He claimed the attributes of deity. A good man cannot claim to be what he knows he is not. A good man cannot be a hypocrite. Now, does any one in this day contend that Jesus was a deceiver? I have yet to hear of such an one. A candid Jewish Rabbi admitted in a sermon some time ago that Jesus was a good man, whose object was to do good, and died a martyr to His mission. Such an admission puts a man who rejects the deity of Christ in an embarrassing position, for he must now prove that a good man can be a hypocrite, that a good man can at the same time be the worst of men. There is no middle ground. Jesus pressed this fact home upon the young man who came to Him saying, "Good master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" when He replied, "Why callest thou Me good? there is none good but one, that is, God" (Mark 10: 17, 18). "To say that I am good is equal to saying that I am God."
The question of Jesus, "Which of you convinceth Me of sin?" challenges not only His hearers, but all the ages; and their verdict has echoed the words of Pilate: "I find no fault in this man." Friends and foes who lived close to Him and inspected His words and actions confirm the claim that He is good. Peter says, "Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth" (I Peter 2:22). "Ye know," says John, "that He was manifested to take away our sins; and in Him is no sin." (I John 3:5). All admit that He was good; AND IF GOOD, HE IS GOD.
His work was to establish a kingdom not of this world (John 18:36). Such a thought was not of this world. The Jews were looking for a temporal king to deliver them from Roman rule. If Christ had taken hold of their idea and used it for His own advancement, He would have acted like a man, and His success could have been explained as the success of Napoleon and Washington can be explained.
On the contrary, He opposed the leaders of public opinion and began the establishment of a spiritual kingdom which lives today after the ancient kingdoms of Greece, Rome and Egypt have ceased to exist, except in memory. A young man, a poor mechanic, from a mountain village, with no rich, powerful allies, does this in three years! And He does it by the deliberate sacrifice of Himself. Men have died martyrs to their mission. But man has never yet planned martyrdom as a part of his mission. Jesus told His disciples that He would go to Jerusalem and be crucified and on the third day rise again (Matt. 16:21).
He provides before His death for a memorial of
Men do not build monuments to their defeats. But Jesus would have His
not the Mount of Transfiguration, but Calvary; not His glory, but His
shame. Indeed, He
makes His shame the test of discipleship. He tells His followers that
they must expect to
be hated, persecuted, killed. Men do not try to establish kingdoms in
this way. All these
things go to prove that Jesus was not native to this world. He was more
than man, and, as
I see Him standing out distinct from and above all others, I cannot
resist the impulse to
fall at His feet and say with Thomas, "My Lord and my God."