At the Corner of Man and God - The Incarnation
Topic: Christmas Passage: Isaiah 9:1–9:7
At the Corner of Man and God: The Incarnation
I have always found the subject of black holes to be fascinating. There’s something about the power and size and dark and mysterious nature of a black hole that kind of lights up the imagination. Astronomers believe that a black hole is created when a massive star (far larger than our sun) collapses in on itself until it becomes so compact that its gravitational pull is too powerful for anything, even light, to escape. They also theorize that at its center the black hole reaches infinite density, which means that Einstein’s theory of relativity breaks down and no one knows what happens under those conditions. The outer boundary of a black hole is measured by what’s called the “event horizon” which is basically the point of no return: anything that crosses the event horizon will be swallowed up by the gravitational pull of the black star. Black holes grow by swallowing gases, planets, and other stars in its gravitational pull. And black holes can grow very, very large. The largest black hole discovered so far is at the center of the Messier 87 Galaxy and is thought to have the mass of 3 billion of our suns, contained in a space about the size of our solar system.
Now we read something like that and move on, but think about that with me for a minute. Our sun is a relatively small star, but its mass accounts for over 98% of the mass in our solar system. Now consider the mass of 3 billion suns squashed into an area that could maybe comfortably hold 3 thousand suns. Just to help us wrap our brains around those numbers, consider a church sanctuary that is zoned to hold 3000 people. That’s a pretty good size church, but I think most of us have been in a room that size. Now open the doors and fill that building with the entire population – every man, woman, and child – in the United States. Pretty crowded. But you’re not there yet. So let’s invite the entire population of India to the service. You’re beginning to get the idea, but there’s still room for a few more. To get the full effect we need to invite the entire population of China to the service. Now you’re getting close.
Of course, with a black star it’s all on a scale that is far beyond our ability to even begin to wrap our brains around. But this much we understand: a black hole is something massively, massively large that is compacted into something very, very small. At Christmastime, we celebrate an event in history that is far beyond our ability to comprehend, something that dwarfs the size and scope of the largest black hole. Because on that first Christmas morning, something infinitely larger than 3 billion stars became something far smaller than a solar system. We celebrate the incarnation. God becoming a man.
This month we are wrapping up our series At the Corner of Life and God, and for the next two weeks we are going to consider the incarnation of Christ in a message I’ve titled At the Corner of Man and God: the Incarnation. The incarnation may seem like a familiar concept to many of us, but the truth is that if we devoted a lifetime to the study of it, we could never even begin to comprehend the mystery or the miracle of the incarnation. Theologian Wayne Grudem writes this about the incarnation:
It is by far the most amazing miracle of the entire Bible – far more amazing than the resurrection and more amazing even than the creation of the universe. The fact that the infinite, omnipotent, eternal Son of God could become man and join himself to a human nature forever…will remain for eternity the most profound miracle and the most profound mystery in all the universe.
For the next two weeks, let’s meet at the corner of man and God, the incarnation, and to keep it simple,
let’s break the message into two points: when God became a man, and why God became a man. This morning we’ll try to just touch the edges of this amazing event so that our hearts and minds can be filled with wonder at the incarnation, when God became a man. Next week we’ll ponder why God became a man. Why did He do it? Why did He have to do it to save us?
I. When God became a Man
Isaiah opens this chapter by saying that good news is coming: gloom will be broken by light. Joy and gladness will be multiplied. Oppression will be broken. War will be ended. How is this all to be accomplished? Through the birth of a baby: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.
He goes on to say this child will be called names that go way beyond anything a great man could ever rightfully be called: wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, everlasting Father, prince of peace. In chapter 7 Isaiah says he will be born of a virgin and will be called Immanuel, God with us.
Jesus isn’t a man who was filled with God, Jesus was, and is, and will forever be, God. Specifically, the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity. Col. 2:9 says For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form (NIV). Now that is another one of those sentences that we can read and move quickly past without giving it much thought. But what does it mean that God became a man, that in Christ all the fullness of the Deity (God) lives in bodily form? First of all, consider what the fullness of God is.
God is infinite – which means that there is no measuring God. He has no fringes, no edges, no end. No aspect or quality of God has an edge or a limit. He has always existed, He always will exist. He is infinite (no edge, no end) in His power, wisdom, glory, purity, goodness, love, justice, and every other attribute He has. He is all knowing (there is no end or limit to His knowledge) and He is omnipresent – everywhere at once. All of God, not just a part of God, is everywhere at once. To understand the biblical teaching about the infiniteness of God is to understand why 3 billion stars or 500 million light years away or any other aspect of the universe is not big to God. Because where the universe ends – God is and is infinitely beyond. Those stars that seem to be infinite in number to us? Psalm 147:7 says God has named them all: He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. The same is true of time: when time began, God had existed infinitely before that point. That’s why the angels in Rev. 4:8 cry out: “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’who was, and is, and is to come.”
When Paul says that in Christ the fullness of God lives in bodily form, it means much more than Jesus had some of God in him. It meant that all that God is, is in Christ. How can a man – bodily form – contain all the fullness of God? To contain all of God in one man is infinitely more than 3 billion stars crammed into our solar system.
That is the miracle and mystery of the incarnation. Jesus was fully God (not partial God, not half God) and fully man (not partial man, not half man). And because of the incarnation, Jesus will always and forever be fully God and fully man. As a man, Jesus was born with all the limitations of a man (except the sin nature). He was born a real baby with real baby needs and limitations. He got cold, hungry, and sleepy. He needed his parents to care for him. He had a baby mind that thought baby thoughts – he wasn’t lying there in the manger critiquing Fermat’s Last Theorem or answering the question of how the infinite density at the center of a black hole affects Einstein’s theory of relativity. God the Son was born a real baby.
In the gospels we continue to see these limitations at work in Jesus: he needed to grow in knowledge and wisdom, he got hungry, he grew tired, at points he was physically weakened. Jesus was tempted by sin in every way as we are tempted – yet without sin. He died on the cross. Jesus was fully man.
And yet, at the same time, Jesus was fully God. All powerful, all knowing, everywhere at once. John says that Jesus knew what was in the heart of man and who believed and didn’t believe (John 2:25; 6:64). When Jesus did miracles, such as multiplying the loaves and fish, changing the water into wine, or calming the winds and seas with a word, the disciples didn’t say, “Look what God is doing through him”, they said, what sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey him? Jesus also had the quality of immortality – the inability to die. He tells the Jews “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19) He didn’t say, “God will raise it up”, he said “I will raise it up.” In John 10:17-18 Jesus told his disciples that he had the power to lay down his life and he had the power to take it up again. It’s true that Jesus died and God the Father raised him up –but it’s not the full truth. It’s also true that Jesus died and Jesus raised himself up from the dead. He died, and he could never die.
How can the two coincide at once? How can both be true at the same time? It’s not a contradiction, but it’s a major paradox and a mystery that goes way beyond what we could ever understand, but we can touch the edges. We need to get a little theological here so hang tough with me.
Jesus was one person with two distinct natures
The solution to the paradox of how Jesus could be omnipotent and weak, all-knowing and not knowing some things, omnipresent and only in one place at a time is that Jesus had two natures: the divine nature and the human nature. The Chalcedonian Definition makes the assertion that Christ is to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably, the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God, the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ…
This is why there can be what seems to be contradictory statements about Christ. He ascended to heaven and is no longer in the world. And yet he is with us always, even to the end of the age. And where two or more are gathered in his name, he is in the midst of them. And Jesus says in John 14: 23 “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (John 14:23 ESV) Jesus is no longer in the world, and he is here with us.
We see this contrast between his limited human nature and infinite divine nature in Matt. 8 Jesus is so exhausted that he sleeps soundly in the stern of the boat as a storm threatens to sink the ship. But then he awakens and with a word calms the wind and waves. Jesus’ weak human nature hid his omnipotence until the omnipotence of the Lord of heaven and earth broke forth when he commanded nature with a word and it had to obey him!
This also explains such paradoxes as how Jesus as a real human baby could also be “holding all things together” as Col. 1:17 says he does. Or how Jesus could not know when he will return to earth, and yet God knows everything. It helps us get a handle on how Jesus could be tempted, when God cannot be tempted. Or how Jesus could really die, when God cannot die.
We’ll talk more about the participation of Christ’s human nature and divine nature on the cross next week when we look at why God became a man, but we’ve considered the edges of some pretty massive concepts. I don’t want us to leave without having some sense of what do we do with this? What affect does this have on our lives? Here are three ways this can and should affect us:
1. It helps us get a glimpse of how massively glorious Jesus is
God has put it in our hearts to love and enjoy and be in awe of massively glorious things simply because they are massively glorious! When we see an amazing sunset or stand at the edge of the ocean; when we see a powerful storm or read about the vastness of the universe or the mystery of black holes, something about their power and beauty and bigness stirs our souls. It is good for our souls to be stirred with the infinite power and glory of our Savior, just for the sake of having our souls stirred!
When Jesus the Son of God became a man, he laid aside his glory and took the form of a servant. There was nothing about his appearance that called attention to him. So it was possible for some to despise and reject and even plot how to kill him. Because his power and glory was veiled. But there are moments in the gospels when the veil of his humanity was pulled back and we see a glimpse – just a small glimpse – of his power and glory and beauty. It is good for our souls to take the time to consider what that glimpse means, to see past the veil of humanity and remember that there is an eternal kingdom that is so much bigger and greater in scope and glory and power to anything in this world that you might as well compare the universe to a grain of sand, and that when Jesus ascended to heaven and entered that kingdom, he did so as its King. That powerful, glorious angels bowed in loving submission and welcomed their King home. One day we will all see his majesty and glory with our own eyes. That is the day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. But until that day, it is good for our souls to get a glimpse – a whisper, an echo, of how massively glorious Jesus the Son of God, the Son of Man, really is. Considering the incarnation helps us to get that glimpse.
2. It helps us see how small we really are
One of the unexpected benefits to contemplating the deity of Jesus is that it helps remind us of how small we really are. Now at first that might sound like a negative but in reality it’s a great positive. It’s actually very good for us to remember how small we are, in fact there is an odd inverse ratio to how big we think we are to how big we really are. We become smaller people when we try to puff ourselves up. And when we think less of ourselves and more of others, our lives are actually enlarged – and the effect of our lives is expanded. In other words, we live empty, small lives when we put ourselves at the center and think much of ourselves, but we live large when we keep our smallness in view. I think this is just one way that Jesus’ teaching that those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted works out in real time. It’s good for our souls to get our eyes off ourselves and onto something far bigger than ourselves. As Mary was hearing all these amazing reports about who baby Jesus was, Luke writes that she treasured up all these things in her heart. “All these things” were all the staggeringly massive things being spoken about her baby. It’s good for us to ponder and treasure all these staggeringly massive things about Jesus in our hearts too.
3. It helps us see how important we are to God
The incarnation does remind us of how small we are, but small doesn’t mean unimportant. The incarnation also tells us how important we are to God. Jesus came to save us, and we see how much God was willing to do to save us. How great a sacrifice, how high a price, what costly lengths He was willing to go to save us.
The message of Christmas is that God loves us beyond what we could ever imagine. The love of God isn’t contingent on how great we are. His love isn’t based on how influential we are, how successful we are, or how much our lives are impacting history. In fact, we see in Jesus’ ministry that it was the down and outers, the outcasts, the ones that society had rejected as worthless that Jesus reached out to most. And in fact, that’s one of the crazy contrasts of the incarnation: the Lord of glory became a baby and grew up, not a king, but a servant, who would die a criminal’s death.
Christmastime can look very different for all of us. For some here, it’s a joyful time of baking and cooking and preparing for family gatherings and buying presents. And for others, it can be a lonely time, a time that painfully highlights a recent loss or grief. It can be a time of deep questioning: where am I going in life? What is my purpose, what is my direction? What am I living for? Christmas can be a time of great joy for some and a time of great sadness for others. But for all of us, God wants the center of our Christmas to be the love of God expressed in Christ. What’s your purpose? Christ. What’s the meaning of it all? The love of God for you and me. That’s the center and the joy of Christmas – God loves us and cherishes us enough to come to earth as a man. Christmas gives us a reminder to find our joy in His love, and our meaning in sharing that love with others.
As we prepare for Christmas, may our hearts be filled with the knowledge of God’s immeasurable love for us, demonstrated through His Son becoming a man. No matter what we may be walking through, what trial we may be facing, what loss we may be experiencing, may our hearts be assured that God is in control and that God loves us ferociously because we are that important to Him. And if you’re not a Christian, I invite you to consider the audacious claims of Christ for yourself. He claimed to be the Son of God and the only way to be saved, the only way to get to God the Father. As we pray, won’t you ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior? If that’s your desire, silently pray this prayer with me.