Several years ago, the President of Ursuline College made headlines when she decided to move into the women’s dorm at the college. So many college professors and administrators are accused of living in their academic “ivory towers,” far removed from what goes on in the lives of their students. So the president decided to do something about it – and moved right in with the students! She said at the time that it would either be the best thing she ever did, or the most foolish, but at least it would help her to understand her students better.
That college president couldn’t be accused of “staying in an ivory tower” and not connecting with her people – and neither can our God. He did not stay in His “ivory tower” in heaven; but God the Son, Jesus Christ, came to earth to live with us as a man. That is what Christmas is really all about: Jesus is “Emmanuel”: “God with us” as Matthew 1 says. God became a man, and came to save us. Let’s at the Humanity of “The Christ of Christmas.”
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 all eternity. 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 theologians call the doctrine of the “Incarnation.” The Latin word “carne” means “flesh” so the word “Incarnation” very literally means, “in-flesh-ment”. So the doctrine of the Incarnation is the teaching of the “in-flesh-ment” of God — that God became a “flesh & blood” Man in the person of Jesus Christ, as John 1:14 teaches here.
In the early years of Christianity, there were some who denied that Jesus really came in the flesh. Docetists believed that all flesh was evil, so they did not believe that God could possibly come in that “sinful flesh” and be a real man. So 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.
But the Bible makes it very clear that Jesus DID take on a human body:
— John 1:14 makes it very clear when it says: “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 (coming in the flesh, like he had just taught) is NOT from God.” Those are strong words — emphasizing the vital importance of the doctrine of the Incarnation.
— Jesus Himself taught His real humanity as well. Appearing to His disciples after His resurrection from the dead, Jesus 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 an apparition, or just “seem” to be a man; He said He had “flesh and bones.” So just as we saw last week that Jesus claimed to be God, He also taught that He was a real man as well. His “Incarnation” means that He came “in the flesh” as a real, 100% 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 the New Testament gives us about the Incarnation of Jesus. The Bible clearly teaches that when He came to be with us, Jesus came as a real, 100% 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 all real human beings are born. God Almighty became a little baby who couldn’t bring his own food to his mouth – it is incomprehensible – but it is exactly what the Bible teaches!
— Luke 2:21, 39 says He was circumcised on the 8th day! (Now THAT is REAL humanity, right there!)
–Jesus’ childhood is summarized in Luke 2:52, which 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, it says 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 growing pains, and raging hormones! He had to grow physically just like we do.
–He also had to grow MENTALLY. Jesus 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 (His parents)”. He had to submit to their authority, even when He knew that He was spiritually superior to them! Jesus had to grow in every way, just like we do.
— The Bible also 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 …”. All of us know what it is like to be “weary.” That’s part of what it means to be human. Well, the Bible says that Jesus got “weary” too. He wasn’t some “superman”; when He walked a long distance, He got tired! He was a real man.
— The Bible also says that Jesus ate. We see several instances of this in the Gospels. (ALSO, Just for the record, you may have 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 posts on Facebook or on the internet for that matter — compare everything with the word of God! And the word of God tells us that Jesus ate.
— John 19:28 tells us that as Jesus was hanging on the cross, He said: “I am thirsty.” That was a real man on that cross, whose body was dehydrated, and He needed to call out for water.
But Jesus also suffered like us in ALL of our life experiences:
–Jesus was born into 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 “Modern America poor” either. Here in the United States, supposedly “poor” people have food and clothes provided for them, and they drive cars and have cell phones and satellite tv! That’s not the kind of “poor” Jesus was; Jesus was poor in one of the poorest eras in all history. He knew what it was like to really be poor. As He said “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
–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. He knew what it was like to suffer the loss of those He loved, just like we do.
— Matthew 27:28-30 describes some of the sufferings of Jesus at the hands of the Romans soldiers. It says: “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.”
I actually thought about this passage last Sunday night, when I went with the choir to minister at the Clemens Unit prison. Not all of the prisoners get to go to the services; only the ones they think they can trust, get to go in. Those they do NOT trust, or who did not want to go, remain in the other areas. As we walked down the corridor towards the chapel, we were flanked on both sides by hundreds of prisoners behind bars and some kind of safety glass, and they stared at us and leered at us and made gestures towards us as we proceeded down that hallway. I couldn’t help thinking: “What would these men do to us, if those bars and that glass were not there to restrain them?” You know what they would do to us? They would do to us what the Roman soldiers did to Jesus — He DID experience that. Vicious, hardened, mocking Roman soldiers, unrestrained by bars or glass, humiliated, and beat, and spat on Jesus. He suffered humiliation and beating and torture as a real man.
— And then, 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. What John was saying in this passage, is that Jesus really died. He’s saying: “I saw this myself. I saw the blood and the water. I saw the signs of real death.” This was no “mirage”; this was no “near death”; Jesus truly died on the cross that day, and the water and blood gushed from His side to prove it. Jesus was a real man, who really died.
So ALL of these things, taken together, demonstrate that when the Bible says that Jesus came “in the flesh”, that He really did become like us. 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 came to earth in Jesus Christ, and endured everything that we ourselves go through – and more!
III. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE INCARNATION
Well, if Jesus indeed came “in the flesh” — and the Bible very clearly teaches that He did — 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 is not from God, and is of the spirit of the Antichrist? That is a strong statement about the importance of the Doctrine of the Incarnation! What’s so important about this doctrine?
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 go 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 that after that happened, SO many people who had lost children came to him to talk. Why did they do that? Because they knew that Gary would not just “sympathize” with them, but he could “empathize” with them – he had BEEN there! He too 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 what it is like to be where you are. He didn’t stay up in His “ivory tower” in heaven. He came to earth that first Christmas, his bed was a feeding trough — He is 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 walked through that Himself, and He will help you through even that valley as well.
B. But the MOST important reason for the Incarnation was 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.” By dying as a real flesh & blood man for our sins, Jesus took away the power of death from the devil. But He had to be a real man to do it.
— :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 leave heaven and 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 used to read, called “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 that what he wanted to do for those birds, was exactly what God did for us in the Incarnation of Jesus: He had to become one of us, so that He could save us.
For centuries, the Jewish people had offered sacrifices to pay for their sins, but as Hebrews 10:4 says, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” A bull or a goat can’t really 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 could save us – until, as Isaiah 59:16 says, 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 100% Man, who was Himself also Perfect 100% 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 die on the cross, and save us. Muslims and others have criticized the Christian doctrine of Jesus’ Incarnation, and His death on the cross, saying that if God died on the cross, then 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 remain the Sovereign of the Universe. So the doctrine of the Trinity is not trivial; it is absolutely necessary for our salvation. And the doctrine of the Incarnation is a vital part of that. God could not remain where He was in heaven and save us. He had to become a man in order to save us — 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 imitate what Jesus 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. And WE are called to follow Him in that, by leaving our comfort zones, to go to places we are not used to, to live, and serve, to lead people to Christ. This is what missions and evangelism is about: God’s people following Jesus by imitating His incarnation.
— This is what the missionaries we have been talking about this month do. My sister would love to spend Christmas here with her family. But imitating Christ, she left her family here in the States to go to Southeast Asia to reach people with the Gospel. Neal & Sommer left their sweet family, our friends, to go and live and minister in Rome. These folks have followed the steps of Jesus by leaving their homes, just like Jesus left heaven, in order to go to where lost people are, to lead them to Christ. That is what missions IS. And God may be calling some of us here today to become “incarnational missionaries” just like them, or to go on short-term mission trips. The third week of January (19th) we are going to have a church-wide Missions Conference, and we will have some SPECIFIC opportunities for every member to sign up to help on mission somewhere, from here in Brazoria County, to the ends of the earth. Be sure to circle Sunday, January 19th on your calendar and plan to be here.
— But we also need to be “incarnational” right here in our own church field too. We can’t just stay in our church facilities and reach people. If we think just building a new building is going to draw thousands of people here, we are mistaken! You have to get involved in people’s lives in order to minister to them. We have to get out of our offices, and out of our comfortable home and neighborhoods, and connect with people. It’s the only way we can reach them. Jesus has called us all as His people to imitate Him, and leave our comfort zones in order to reach people with the Gospel.
— This is what our choir did at the prison last Sunday night — and I am so proud of them. I don’t think ANY of us would say we felt “comfortable” going out there. When you hear that big metal gate “clang” ominously shut behind you. And you go through an uncomfortable search process, and pass those “walls” full of prisoners leering and shouting. There is nothing remotely “comfortable” about it. BUT WE HAVE TO REALIZE THAT GOD CALLS US TO FOLLOW IN THE STEPS OF JESUS BY LEAVING WHAT IS “COMFORTABLE” TO US, IN ORDER TO REACH PEOPLE FOR HIM.
The question you need to ask yourself today, Christian person, is: In what way(s) am I imitating the incarnation of Jesus? Who does God want you 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 THERE WHERE THEY ARE!
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 standing by there who had a life preserver, and he was willing to throw it in — but the woman was too far gone to grab it. A Boston police officer there saw the woman drowning, and he 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, that woman could not have been saved from the safety of the dock. If she was going to be saved, someone had to GO IN THERE — and that is exactly what that brave police officer did.
And folks, THAT is 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 having saved us, He now asks US to show our gratitude by following His example, and “jumping in” to save others too. There are people who will never come to this church building, unless we first “jump in” where they are, and get involved in their lives to see them saved. It’s not “easy” — it’s far “easier” to stay where we are. But thank God Jesus didn’t stay where He was. He left His “comfort zone” in heaven to save us, through His Incarnation. He knows how hard it is; He DID it. And now He calls US, Christians, to follow “in His steps”, and imitate what He did in the Incarnation, so that we might reach and save others.
— Christian person, is there any area of your life in which you are imitating the Incarnation of Jesus? How are you reaching out? Is there some place here in this town where you are “jumping in” to try to reach people for Him? Is He calling you today to try to reach a group at your school, or your job, or your neighborhood — or maybe even in another state or country as an incarnational missionary? (All of us need to circle Jan. 19th on our calendar, so we have hear about some specific opportunities to get connected with mission opportunities)
— But the biggest question is: 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” on earth as a man, and die on the cross for our sins, so that we could be saved. He did it because He knew there was no other way — and that means if you don’t receive what Jesus did, there is no other way for you to be saved. If you’ve never done it before, you need to ask Him to save you today!