Incarnation of Christ

Good News of Great Joy

Every Christmas we are reminded of the message that the angel of the Lord proclaimed to a group of lowly shepherds who were out in the field watching over their flock at night (v.8). In Luke 2:10-12 it is written,

“And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (ESV)

What was so “good” about this news? What was so joyful about the announcement of this baby’s birth?

First, the good news of Christmas is that the baby who was born that day was the “Savior” (v.11). And this Savior was not just born, but born “unto you” (v.11). In other words, He was born for our sakes. It is the same language that is found in the Messianic prophecy found in Isaiah 9:6-7, where we read:

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” (King James Version, emphasis mine)

Second, the birth of Jesus was not only the birth of the Savior, but also the birth of One who was and is “Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). As God spoke through the prophet Isaiah hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, the child who was born “unto us,” and the son who was given “unto us” was none other than “the Lord,” the “mighty God.”

Only someone who is truly God and truly man in one person could accomplish our redemption from sin. Our debt of sin is infinite because every sin is committed against an infinitely holy God. And yet only someone who is also truly a man could die in the place of men. It is only in the person of Jesus Christ that such a Savior is to be found! As the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:5,

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (ESV)

And so the manger of Christmas presupposes the cross of Good Friday. The purpose of the incarnation was that Jesus might die to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21) and rise from the dead on the third day for their justification (Romans 4:25).

Do you know the true joy of Christmas? It is only by faith in Jesus that the fear of judgment is replaced by the “great joy” of salvation from sin, and eternal life in Him.

J.C. Ryle on the Wonder of the Incarnation of Christ

expository-thoughts-setThe 7-volume set of J.C. Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospels is a virtual treasure trove of insight into the Gospels.

In vol. 1 of his thoughts on the Gospel According to Luke, he has this to say about the circumstances of the incarnation of Jesus Christ:

“We see here the grace and condescension of Christ. Had he come to save mankind with royal majesty, surrounded by his Father’s angels, it would have been an act of undeserved mercy. Had he chosen to dwell in a palace, with power and great authority, we should have reason enough to wonder. But to become poor as the very poorest of mankind, and lowly as the lowliest, – this is a love that passeth knowledge. It is unspeakable and unsearchable. Never let us forget that through this humiliation Jesus has purchased for us a title to glory. Through his life of suffering, as well as his death, he has obtained eternal redemption for us. All through his life he was poor for our sakes, from the hour of his birth to the hour of his death. And through his poverty we are made rich (2 Cor. 8:9). (p.41)

Such loving condescension and grace really are “unspeakable and unsearchable.” Words fail us in trying to do justice to the mercy of God in Christ. Our deepest meditations on this subject barely scratch the surface of the infinite depths of the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

No wonder that at the birth of Jesus Christ a multitude of the heavenly host burst forth in praise to God, saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14, ESV). Amen.

B.B. Warfield on the Importance of the Incarnation of Christ

BB Warfield 2It has been said that justification by faith alone is the doctrine by which the church stands or falls. Likewise in his Institutes of the Christian Religion John Calvin similarly wrote that justification is “the main hinge on which religion turns” (Ford Lewis Battles translation, p.726). In other words, the doctrine of justification by faith alone is in some way the central doctrine of true Christianity.

Benjamin B. Warfield said something similar about another central Christian doctine – the doctrine of the two natures (God and man) in the one person of Christ. He writes,

“[T]he doctrine of the two natures is only another way of stating the doctrine of the Incarnation; and the doctrine of the Incarnation is the hinge on which the Christian system turns. No Two Natures, no Incarnation; no Incarnation, no Christianity in any distinctive sense.” (The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol. III, p.259)

Warfield calls the doctrine of the incarnation of Christ “the hinge on which the Christian system turns.” Why? Because without it there really is no Redeemer, and so no gospel as well. Without the truth of the incarnation of Christ, you may still have a system of doctrine that goes by the name “Christian,” but it will not be truly Christian (to use Warfield’s phrase) “in any distinctive sense.”

In other words, it would be “Christian” in name only, and would then be essentially no different at its core from any other religion known to man, all of which (except for the biblical gospel alone) basically boil down to one form or another of salvation by works. You can either hold to a salvation by works (by self!), or a salvation by a Redeemer. And the only Redeemer (in order to actually be the Redeemer of sinners) must be both God and man in one person.

As the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q.21) puts it,

“The only Redeemer of God’s elect is 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.”

The doctrine of the incarnation of Christ, which we celebrate every Christmas, really is “is the hinge on which the Christian system turns.” Without it, there is no real Christianity.


The Prayer Life of Jesus

Knowing ChristMark 6:45-52 is the account of one of the most well-known miracles of the Lord Jesus Christ, His walking on water. But notice that the first thing that we see in that text is Jesus praying. In v.45-46 Mark writes,

“Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray.”

Now, it is easy to overlook this detail of the story, especially when it is found in such close proximity to such a jaw-dropping miracle as Jesus walking on water. But if you stop to really think about, the most amazing thing (in a sense) in this passage might not be so much that Jesus walked on water, but that He spent so much time in prayer.

Why did Jesus pray? If He is God, did He really need to pray? Or was it just for show, as an example for us? These can be perplexing questions for us at times. We sometimes struggle even as as Bible-believing, evangelical Christians, with how to properly understand and articulate what it means to say that Jesus is (in the words of Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.21), “God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, forever.” We also struggle at times to understand the implications of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. And that certainly holds true when it comes to the prayer life of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In his book, Knowing Christ, Mark Jones helpfully addresses it this way:

“Our apparent dilemma disappears when we remember that Jesus was not only divine, but also fully human. Even as the perfect man, he no doubt still needed to pray. A robust, reverential, dependent prayer life was suitable and necessary given the various trials and distresses that he faced as the suffering servant. The Scriptures certainly give the impression that his prayer life was as indispensable for him as it is for us. His prayer life described so vividly in the New Testament leaves us in awe. What a thought: the Son of God praying to God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit!” (p.93)

We must be careful to do justice, not only to the true divinity of Christ (that He is really and truly God almighty), but also to His true humanity. Theological liberals and cults very often fail to do justice to the former; we who are Bible-believing evangelicals at times fail to do justice to the latter. But we must be careful to affirm both the true divinity and true humanity of Jesus Christ. Without the truth both of those things, we would have no true Mediator between God and man. (See Westminster Larger Catechism Q.40.)

Now, as we examine our Lord praying in the above text, we also see that this was no hurried, perfunctory prayer. In fact, Mark strongly implies that this time of prayer lasted quite a while. In v.47 the next thing Mark tells us is that it was “when evening came” that Jesus saw the disciples straining at the oars due to the wind. So Jesus was praying well into the night! This is a pretty consistent theme in the Gospels. Our Lord Jesus often took time away from everything else to spend time with His Father in prayer. (See also Matthew 14:23; Luke 5:16; 6:12; 9:28.) Is it any wonder that the apostles asked the Lord Jesus to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1)?

After a long, tiring day of ministering to the crowds (after the feeding of the 5,000 – v.30-44, Jesus needed rest. So what did He do? He went away by Himself to spend time with His Father in prayer. Isn’t that often just about the last thing that we think to do when we are tired? I don’t know about you, but after a long day at work, especially work that is mentally-taxing, the last thing that comes to my mind is to stop and pray. Stop and eat? Sure. Stop and shut off my brain in front of the television? Yep. Waste time scrolling through social media sites on my “smart” phone? Guilty as charged. But what about prayer?

In his book, Expository Thoughts on Mark, J.C. Ryle writes,

“There are few things, it may be feared, in which Christians come so far short of Christ’s example, as they do in the matter of prayer. Our Master’s strong crying and tears, his continuing all night in prayer to God, his frequent withdrawal to private places to hold close communion with the Father – are things more talked of and admired than imitated. We live in an age of hurry, bustle, and so-called activity. Men are tempted continually to cut short their private devotions, and abridge their prayers. When this is the case, we need not wonder that the church of Christ does little in proportion to its machinery. The church must learn to copy its Head more closely. Its members must be more in their closets. ‘We have little,’ because little is asked (James 4:2).” (p.102, emphasis mine)

So let us look to God for help to pray. We have the intercession of both Christ Himself (Hebrews 7:25) and the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:27) to encourage us and to help us. Let us, with the help of the Holy Spirit, seek not just to admire, but to imitate the prayer life of our Head, so that as His church we might not ‘do so little in proportion to our machinery.’ If we want to see our Lord bless and use us as His church to reach our neighbors with the gospel, we simply must become a praying church.