Incarnation

The True Message of Christmas

Nativity - Andrea Sabbatini (16th century)

Every year it becomes sadly apparent that fewer and fewer Americans understand what Christmas really means.

Christmas is an international celebration of a moment in history on planet Earth when God’s eternal Son, whom we know as the Lord Jesus Christ, became a genuine and permanent member of mankind in order to die for our sins upon a cross.

The key word is love—not our love, but God’s love. In spite of our profound selfishness, pride and indifference to the claims of a holy and loving God, He—not willing that any should perish—provided the perfect sacrifice, the Lamb of God, to die in our place—as our substitute, our divine and sinless representative—and to rise from the dead.

Christ (the Messiah) was born in Bethlehem of Judea and raised in Nazareth of Galilee 2,000 years ago. He was sent into the world by God the Father because of His love for human beings.

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Nazareth and the Royal Line

Although the Christmas tree has pagan origins, Christians have embraced its beauty for centuries as an important centerpiece of Christmas décor. I suggest that the Christmas tree branch should stir us most. Why is that?

Although we associate Christmas with Bethlehem, our Lord was conceived and reared in the small village of Nazareth in Israel’s northern province, Galilee. This is where Mary and Joseph grew up and lived. This is where an angel appeared to Mary and announced that she would mother the Messiah. This is where Joseph received a vision in a dream, assuring him that Mary truly had conceived while yet a virgin. The espoused couple travelled to the original city of David, Bethlehem, leaving what might be called the new village of David’s heirs, Nazareth.

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Samson, Samuel, John and the Birth of Jesus

Veneto's John the Baptist

John the Baptist by Bartolomeo Veneto, 16th Century

My favorite Christmas joke is a short one. He wanted a new car for Christmas; she wanted a fur coat. They compromised: they bought the coat, but kept it in the garage.

Christmas time is obviously more than gifts, but most of us do enjoy the celebration. Even from the biblical perspective, the birth of Jesus and his resultant work is far broader than the single night on which the Savior was born. There were countless events that prepared for or foreshadowed the Messiah. Today I would like to suggest that even John—the one who prepared the way for Jesus—was foreshadowed.

Jesus commented on John the Baptist in Matthew 11:11, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

We often associate John the Baptist with Elijah (as Jesus did in Matthew 11:14), because he came in the power and spirit of Elijah (Luke 1:17). When John was questioned as to whether he was Elijah (John 1:21), he answered, “I am not.” Even John is himself a foreshadowing of Elijah who will return “before the great and terrible day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5).

Many modern scholars believe John was part of the Dead Sea Scroll community (the Essenes), but I am skeptical about that. The Essenes promoted isolation and joining their commune. John taught people to bloom where they were planted (Luke 3:10-14).

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The Purposes of the Incarnation

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CHAPTER 3: THE PURPOSES OF THE INCARNATION.

BY REV. G. CAMPBELL MORGAN, D. D., PASTOR OF WESTMINSTER CHAPEL, LONDON, ENGLAND.

FOREWORD.

The title of this meditation marks its limitation, and indicates its scope.

Here is no attempt at defense of the statement of the New Testament that “the Word was made flesh.” That is taken for granted as true.

Moreover, here is no attempt to explain the method of the Holy Mystery. That is recognized as Mystery: a fact revealed which is yet beyond human comprehension or explanation.

The scope is that of considering in broad outline the plain teaching of the New Testament as to the purposes of the Incarnation.

Its final limitation is that of its brevity. If, however, it serve to arouse a deeper sense of the wonder of the great central fact of our common Faith, and thus to inspire further meditation, its object will be gained.

THE INCARNATION.

The whole teaching of Holy Scripture places the Incarnation at the center of the methods of God with a sinning race.

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The Incarnation in Hebrews, Part Four

NickImageRead Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Both Offerer and Offering

One of the primary concerns of the writer to the Hebrews is the priesthood of Christ. The duty of a priest is to represent humans before God. In order to fulfill this responsibility effectively, the priest must be human himself. The priest must also be sinless. The only priest who has ever met these requirements is Jesus Christ, and He has met them perfectly.

Remarkably, Christ was not only the priest who offered sacrifice, but also the sacrifice that was offered. Not surprisingly, once the author of Hebrews has discussed the priesthood of Christ, he turns his attention to Christ as the offering for sins. In Hebrews 10, he examines Christ as the sin offering, drawing out the meaning of Jesus’ sacrifice by contrasting the person and ministry of Christ with the Levitical sacrifices of the Old Testament.

He begins by observing that the Old Testament offerings were shadows and not ultimate realities, and then notes that those sacrifices could never make the offerers perfect (1). In other words, the Old Testament sacrifices could never actually remove the guilt of sin. If they could have, the need to offer additional sacrifices would have been eliminated (2). If one’s sins have been completely forgiven, then one does not need any further sacrifice. Yet the Levitical sacrifices on the Day of Atonement were made every year, year after year (3). The necessity of repeating the sacrifices should have proved that the blood of animal sacrifices could not remove sins (4).

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The Incarnation in Hebrews, Part Three

NickImageRead Part 1 and Part 2.

The Order of Melchizedek

The writer to the Hebrews was distressed by the spiritual immaturity of his readers. He wanted to discuss theology with them—specifically, the calling of Christ as a high priest after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:10-14). He made it clear that the Hebrews had been saved long enough (“when for the time”) that they ought to have mastered this topic (“ye ought to be teachers”). Instead, he had to rehearse certain elementary teachings of biblical doctrine (“the first principles of the oracles of God”).

The writer’s disappointment with the immaturity of the Hebrew believers was what fueled the warning passage of chapter 6. Not until chapter 7 did he return to the theme that Christ is a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. When he finally got back to it, however, he penned one of the most difficult and detailed arguments in all of Scripture. This argument is highly instructive concerning the nature of Christ’s high priesthood.

Nothing in Hebrews 7 is really new. Everything in the chapter is inferred from three sources. The first source is the Genesis account of Melchizedek, a three-verse snippet of narrative (Gen. 14:18-20). The second source is a single verse (Ps. 110:4) from a Messianic psalm. The third source is a general knowledge of the history and culture of Israel. From these short sources, the writer constructs an elaborate discussion of the high priesthood of Christ after the order of Melchizedek. So detailed is the discussion that only the outlines can be explored here.

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Christmas Marvel

VanHornthorst

Seven hundred years before Christ (i.e., Messiah) was born, the prophet Isaiah was told that He would be one person with two natures—divine and human.

At a time of great crisis for Israel, the house of David was given a great promise. “Then he said, ‘Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son [i.e., fully human], and shall call His name Immanuel [i.e., God with us, fully divine]’” (Isa. 7:13-14). In the very next chapter, the prophet is told that the God of Israel is “Immanuel” (Isa. 8:8; cf. 8:10).

But how could a virgin have a child? That was the urgent question that Mary asked Gabriel, the messenger-angel sent from God: “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” (Luke 1:34). The answer was astounding, and is recorded by Luke, “the beloved physician” (Col. 4:14): “And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit [i.e., the third person of the triune God] will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God…. For with God nothing will be impossible’ ” (Luke 1:35-37).

Please note here the ultimate marvel: the reason why her child would be “holy” (i.e., without a sin nature) is not because she was holy (for Mary confessed her need of a Savior—Luke 1:47; cf. 11:27, 28; 18:19), but because the Holy Spirit would “come upon” her and “overshadow” her. The stupendous miracle of the incarnation (i.e., a divine person adding a true human nature to His personhood without becoming two persons) was essential for our salvation. He was not just a man—not even a sinless man (like Adam before his fall)—but one person who was both God and man who was thus fully capable of paying for the sins of the whole world upon the cross. “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power” (Col. 2:9, 10).

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