A couple of years ago, the President of Ursiline College made headlines when she decided to move into the women’s dorm. So many college professors and administrators are accused of living in their “ivory towers” of academia, removed from what is really going on in the lives of the students. So she decided to do something about it – and moved right in with them! She said at the time that it would either be the best thing she’s ever done, or the most foolish, but at least it would help her to understand her students.
That college president can’t be accused of “staying in an ivory tower” – and neither can our God. God the Son, Jesus Christ, did not stay in His “ivory tower” in heaven; He came to the earth to live with us as a man. That is what Christmas is all about: Jesus is “Emmanuel”– “God with us” as Matthew 1 says. God became a man, and came to save us. As we continue our study “The Christ of Christmas”, from John 1, we saw last week that the baby who was born in that manger, Jesus Christ, was and is God. But John goes on to say that this 100% God became 100% man. Verse 14 of John 1 says, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” Jesus Christ, perfect God, came “in the flesh” that Christmas and, without giving up His deity, became a man.
I. THE DOCTRINE OF THE INCARNATION OF JESUS:
John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” Last week we saw that “the Word”, God the Son, “was in the beginning with God, and WAS God” from eternity past. He was and is 100% God. But here John says this Word, “became flesh”. The One who was 100% God, took on human flesh and became 100% man as well. This is what we call the doctrine of the “Incarnation.” The Latin word “carne” means “flesh” so the “Incarnation” literally means, “in-flesh-ment”. So the doctrine of the Incarnation is the doctrine of the “in-flesh-ment” of God — that God became Man in the person of Jesus Christ, as we see clearly taught here in John 1:14.
In the early years of Christianity, there were some who denied that Jesus really came in the flesh. The Docetic heresy taught that Jesus was a ghost who appeared to be a man, but that He didn’t really have human flesh & blood. Docetists believed that all flesh was evil, so God couldn’t possibly come in flesh and be a real man.
But the Bible makes it very clear that Jesus DID take on a human body:
— This passage we are looking at today is very clear: “The Word became FLESH.”
— To counter false teaching like the Docetic heresy, the Apostle John wrote in I John 4:2-3 that “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and that every spirit that does not confess Jesus is NOT from God.” Those are pretty strong words — emphasizing the vital importance of the doctrine of the Incarnation.
— And this is not just something that the Apostles made up, either. After He appeared to His disciples after His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Himself said in Luke 24:39 “a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see that I have.” Here Jesus made it clear – He was NOT a vision, or apparition, or just “seem” to be a man; He truly came “in the flesh” — a real man (100% God, and 100% man!)
II. EXAMPLES OF THE INCARNATION OF JESUS:
Now, to show you just how much “in the flesh” Jesus really was, let’s look at some specific examples of what the New Testament teaches us about the Incarnation of Jesus. We will clearly see that when He came to be with us, He really came to be “one of us”, as a 100% real, flesh & blood man:
— First of all, the Bible tells us that like all real human beings, Jesus was BORN. Luke 2:7 in the famous Christmas story says that Mary: “… gave birth to her first son, and wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger.” So Jesus was born, like a real man.
— Luke 2:21, 39 says He was circumcised on the 8th day! (THAT is REAL life!)
–Jesus’ childhood is summarized in Luke 2:52, and that verse is packed with evidences of His humanity: “And Jesus GREW in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Like all human beings, Jesus had to grow. And the Bible indicates that He grew in several ways:
–He had to GROW PHYSICALLY. It says He grew “in stature.” Just like us, Jesus did not come down to this earth fully developed. He had to grow physically. He had to learn to walk; He had to learn how to handle things, like any child, He had growing pains, and raging hormones! He had to grow physically just like we do.
–He also had to grow MENTALLY. He had to study, and memorize the things He had to learn in school, just like we do. He didn’t come with all those Bible verses automatically implanted in His brain; He had to read and study and memorize them just like we do.
–He had to grow in RELATIONSHIPS. It says He “grew … in favor with God and man”. So He had to learn how to relate to people. Luke 2:51 says “And He continued His subjection to them”. He had to submit to the authority of His parents, even when He was spiritually superior to them! He had to grow in every way, just like we do.
— The Bible tells us that Jesus was so human that He got tired. John 4:6 says: “So Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well …”. Jesus got “wearied.” Many of us here at Pleasant Ridge got weary last week from all the setup and rehearsals and performances of “The Grinch”. Well, the Bible says that Jesus knows about that — He got “weary” too. He wasn’t a “superman”; when He walked a long distance, He got tired! He was a real man.
— The Bible also says that as a real flesh-and-blood man, Jesus ate. We see several instances of this in the Gospels. (ALSO, Just for the record, I don’t know if you have ever seen those billboards that proclaim: “Jesus was a vegetarian”!? Well according to scripture that is totally false. Luke 24:42-43 says, “They gave Him a piece of broiled fish; and He took it and ate it before them.” Jesus was NOT a vegetarian! Don’t believe everything somebody puts up on a billboard — or Facebook or internet for that matter — check it out with the word of God! And the word of God tells us that Jesus ate.
— And He also had to drink. In John 19:28, as He was hanging on the cross, Jesus said: “I am thirsty.” This was a real man on that cross, who was calling out for water.
— Matthew 27:28-31 describes some of the sufferings of Jesus: “They stripped Him, and put a scarlet robe on Him. And after twisting a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and began to mock Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. After they had mocked Him, they … led Him away to crucify Him.” Jesus knew what it was like to be humiliated, to be falsely accused, to be injured, to be beaten up, to be made fun of; and to be tortured. He was a real man.
— And then, significantly, as a real man, He also DIED: all 4 Gospels record it. John 19:34-35 goes into detail: “One of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.” Then John adds: “And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, that you may believe.” Why did John say all that about that verse? Because, as physicians tell us, the water & blood was a sign of certain death. John was saying, He really died; I saw it myself. This was no “mirage”; this was no “near death”; Jesus really died, and the water and blood went out of His side to prove it. Jesus was a real man, who really died, and whose death was certain.
Jesus was a real man, flesh and bone and blood, who went through everything we go through as human beings. Not only physically, but in other ways as well. Think about some of the other things we know about Jesus from scripture:
–Jesus was born in a POOR family. Luke 2:24 says that after Jesus was born, Mary & Joseph offered the sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves” for their Son. The significance of that is that Lev. 12:8 says a mother shall offer turtledoves for her child “if she cannot afford a lamb.” So Jesus’ family was poor. Now, when we say that Jesus was “poor”, we don’t mean “poor” in 20th-century America, either, where we have all kinds of social programs & help, and where so-called “poor” people drive cars and have satellite tv! No, Jesus was poor in one of the poorest eras of history. He knew what it was like to be poor.
–Bible students also note how there is NO mention of Joseph later in the Gospels, after Jesus trip to Jerusalem when He was 12. He seems to have lost His father somewhere in his teens or early adult life.
So ALL of these things, taken together, demonstrate that when the Bible says that Jesus came “in the flesh”, that He really did. He came as a 100%, real man, experiencing all the problems and difficulties that we do in the flesh. God did not stay in His “ivory tower” in heaven. He has been through everything that we have been through – and more!
III. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE INCARNATION OF JESUS
Well, if the “in-flesh-ment” of Jesus is so — and the Bible very clearly teaches that it is so — then why is it so important? Why would the Bible go to such extremes to describe it, and why would John say that someone who denied this doctrine not from God, and is of the spirit of the Antichrist?
A. First of all, the Incarnation means that Jesus can really identify with us as human beings.
–Hebrews 2:18 says “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.”
–Hebrews 4:15 adds, “We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”
Jesus can totally identify with what we are going through, physically, mentally, emotionally, in our trials, our sufferings — because He has been there!
Several years ago, there was a pastor in Oklahoma who lost his son. He later shared the testimony that after that happened, SO many people came to him for help, who had lost children. Why did they do that? Because they knew when they came to Gary that he would not just “sympathize” with them, but he could “empathize” with them – he had BEEN there! He had lost a child, just like they had, and he knew what it was like.
Well it is the same with the Lord Jesus. When you call on Him in prayer with a problem that you have, He knows where you are. He hasn’t stayed up in His “ivory tower” in heaven. He came to earth that first Christmas, his bed was a feeding trough — a 100% man who can “empathize” with you, because He has been where you are. And because He has been where you are, He will help you through it – even through the Valley of the Shadow of Death – He has been there, and He will help you through even that as well.
B. And that’s the MOST important reason for the Incarnation — not just so that Jesus could “empathize” with us, but so that He could SAVE us! The doctrine of the Incarnation is vital for our salvation, as Hebrews 2 makes very clear:
:14 says “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.”
:17 “Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”
This passage makes it very clear: if God wanted to save us, He could not stay up in heaven and do it; He had to come and become one of us to save us.
One of my favorite Christmas stories regarding the Incarnation of Jesus is the story Paul Harvey read, of “The Man & The Birds”:
“The man to whom I’m going to introduce you was not a scrooge, he was a kind decent, mostly good man. Generous to his family, upright in his dealings with other men. But he just didn’t believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas Time. It just didn’t make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus Story, about God coming to Earth as a man.
“I’m truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, “but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas Eve.” He said he’d feel like a hypocrite. That he’d much rather just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. And so he stayed and they went to the midnight service.
Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound…Then another, and then another. Sort of a thump or a thud…At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They’d been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window.
Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it.
Quickly he put on a coat, galoshes, tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in. So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the stable. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them…He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms…Instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn.
And then, he realized that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me…That I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led or shooed because they feared him.
“If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand.” At that moment the church bells began to ring … And he sank to his knees in the snow.”
The reason that man “sank to his knees in the snow” is that he suddenly realized, through that episode with the birds, that that was exactly what God did for us in the Incarnation of Jesus: He became one of us, so that He could save us.
For centuries, the Jewish people had offered sacrifices, but as Hebrews says, “The blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins.” A bull or a goat could not die as a substitute for a man. It had to be a Man who would take our place, dying as our Substitute. But there WAS no perfect man who could do that. The Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” There was no one whose death would save us – until, as Isaiah 59:16 says, that God looked and saw that there was no one to save – so He Himself brought salvation. He Himself came, and brought salvation the only way it could come – through a Perfect Man, who was Himself God. He HAD to be made like us – to make propitiation for the sins of the people – so that He could save us.
And that is exactly what He did. God left heaven to come to earth as a man to save us. Now Muslims and some others have criticized the Christian doctrine of Jesus Incarnation, and His death on the cross, saying that if God died on the cross, everything would have gone out of existence! But this is where the doctrine of the Trinity is so important. Because God exists eternally in 3 Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, God the Son could leave heaven, come to earth, and die on the cross for our sins – but God the Father could still be on the throne, ruling the universe. So the doctrine of the Trinity is not some small thing; it is absolutely necessary for our salvation. But the doctrine of the Incarnation is also vital if we were to be saved. God could not stay in heaven and save us. He had to become a man — and that is exactly what He did, through the Incarnation of Jesus.
IV. IMITATING THE INCARNATION OF JESUS:
I Peter 2:21 says: “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” Remember that God’s ultimate purpose for each of our lives is for us to become like Jesus. So the doctrine of the Incarnation has some very great implications for us: WE are to do what He did. What did Jesus do? He left His comfort zone. He left His glory in heaven, and came to earth, to suffer hardship, and live among us, in order to save us, and to minister to us. That is His incarnation. We are to imitate that. WE are called to follow Him, by leaving our comfort zones, and going to places we are not used to, to live, and serve, to lead people to Christ. This is what missions and evangelism is: God’s people following Jesus by imitating His incarnation.
— If you think about it, this is what missionaries do. They follow the steps of Jesus by leaving their homes, like Jesus left heaven, to go to where lost people are, in order to lead them to Christ. God may be calling some of us here today to become “incarnational missionaries” somewhere in the world.
— But imitating Jesus’ example doesn’t just mean going overseas, it can be done here where we are as well. Several years ago, it came to my attention that the town of Grand Lake, about 30 minutes south of our church in the Lake Charles, Louisiana area, was growing due to people moving in after the hurricane, but it had no Baptist church at all. So that year we began to pray about starting a new church there — and I asked some of our people to do something: to consider leaving our home church where they were comfortable, and going down to Grand Lake to be a part of starting a new church there. And we had several folks who did just that. For some months, or a year or two, they met with the new church until it was established and strong. Today, Grand Lake Community Church is a thriving church (they are working on their 3rd building!) but it got started as some people got out of their “comfort zones” to go out on mission — and do to reach others, what Jesus did to reach us!
— People who are effective in ministry in the church are “incarnational” too. You can’t just stay in the church facilities and minister to people. You have to get involved in their lives to minister to them. Our student pastor, Keith Burkhart, is good at that: going to the schools, going to ball games, having kids in his home, taking them with him to places, spending time with them. He has an incarnational ministry. But that’s not just for full-time ministers, it’s for ALL of us: Sunday School teachers, ministry leaders, church members. We are ALL called to “follow in (Jesus) steps” and leave our comfort zones in order to reach people for Christ.
The question you need to ask yourself today, Christian person, is: How am I imitating the incarnation of Jesus? Who might you have to leave your comfort zone to reach: at school, on the job, in your neighborhood, on a mission field? You may need to leave your little “comfort zone” of friends at school and try to bring somebody else in. You may need to leave your little “comfort zone” at work, and cross the hallway and build a relationship with someone you can reach for Christ — or cross the street and meet your neighbors to do the same thing.
THE THING IS: YOU CAN’T STAY WHERE YOU ARE AND SAVE SOMEBODY: YOU HAVE TO GET IN WHERE THEY ARE TO DO IT.
A couple of years ago, right before Christmas Eve, a woman was drowning in the ice-cold waters of Boston Harbor. There was one man there who had a life preserver, and who was willing to throw it in — but a police officer there saw the woman drowning, and immediately jumped in. He held the woman in that freezing water, and kept her from drowning until rescuers got there and pulled them both out. The thing is, he couldn’t have saved that woman from where he was on the dock. If she was going to be saved, someone was going to have to go in there — and that is what that brave officer did.
That’s what the Incarnation was: Jesus couldn’t stay where He was in heaven and save us. He had to “jump in” to this earth and become a man, and die on the cross for our sins. And now having saved us, He asks us to show our gratitude by following His example, and “jumping in” to save others as well. There are people who will never come to this church building — we have to “jump in” where they are, and get involved in their lives if they are going to be saved. It’s not easy — it’s easier to stay where we are. But thank God that Jesus didn’t stay where He was. He left His “comfort zone” in heaven to save you, in His Incarnation. He knows how hard it is; He DID it. And now He calls YOU, this Christmas season, to follow “in His steps”, the God who left heaven and became a man in the Incarnation, to save you!
— Christian person, in what area of your life are you imitating the Incarnation of Jesus? Where are you “jumping in” to try to reach people for Him? Is He calling you to reach a group at your school, your job, your neighborhood — or even in another state or country as an incarnational missionary?
— And have you ever personally received what Jesus did for you in Incarnation? Jesus left His throne in heaven for ONE reason: to “jump in here” as a man, and die on the cross for our sins, so that we could be saved. He knew there was no other way — and that means if you don’t receive what He did, there is no other way for you to be saved. Would you ask Him to do that today …