Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “incarnation

From The Cradle To The Cross

The incarnation leads to God’s presence

On December 25 we remember the birth of Jesus Christ. This central event in history divided the calendar into BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini, Latin for “in the year of our Lord”). He was born to die, His name meaning “He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21 NIV). In this article we will look at four similarities between Christ’s birth and His death.

Foretold
Approximately 700 BC Isaiah wrote, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” And “the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel” (Isa. 9:6; 7:14). In the same time period, Micah predicted, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Mic. 5:2).

In about 530 BC Daniel wrote, “After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing” (Dan. 9:26). This is a reference to the sudden death of the Messiah. Christ’s suffering was described beforehand by Isaiah: “His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and His form marred beyond human likeness … He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteem Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed … He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open his mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away. And who can speak of His descendants? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people He was stricken” (Isa. 52:13-53:12). So the Old Testament prophets foretold the circumstances of the Messiah’s birth and death.

Where No One Had Ever Been Laid
When Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem for the census, the only accommodation they could find was in the stable of an inn: “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Lk. 2:6-7). So the cattle trough became the cradle for the Messiah! What an unusual place for a baby – the manger would not have been used for this purpose before! This was God’s plan as it was announced to the shepherds. It also shows that He was born a pauper (2 Cor. 8:9).

After the Lord’s death, Joseph of Arimathea placed the body “in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock” (Mt. 27:60). It was a place where “no one had ever been laid” (Lk. 23:53; Jn. 19:41). This was the fulfillment of the prediction that “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death” (Isa. 53:9). Although the Lord was crucified as a criminal, He was buried in a rich man’s tomb, Joseph being a prominent member of the Jewish Council (Mk. 15:43). As H. A. Berg’s hymn says:

None had been laid in that manger
And none had been laid in that grave
But Jesus the heavenly stranger
Who came wayward sinners to save

Opposition
After King Herod heard about the birth of the King of the Jews “he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him” (Mt. 2:3). So he asked the wise men to search for the child and report back to him. When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the astrologers, “he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under” (Mt. 2:8,16). What a drastic measure to take against a potential rival! In the meantime, Jesus and His family escaped to Egypt until Herod died.

The authorities felt threatened and responded with hatred and opposition that continued during the Lord’s ministry until He was condemned to death by the Chief Priests, the Jewish elders, Pilate and Herod. They even persuaded the crowd to ask for the release of the murderer Barabbas and Christ’s crucifixion even though He was innocent (Mt. 27:16-23; Mk. 15:6-14). The title on His cross was “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” but the Chief Priests protested that the sign should read, “this man claimed to be king of the Jews” (Jn. 19:21).

Signs In The Sky
The astrologers (or Magi, a sacred caste of the religion of the Medes and Persians) traveled to Jerusalem in search of the Christ-child, because they “saw His star in the East.” When they saw the star, they were overjoyed because it stopped over the place where the child was (Mt. 2:2,10). God used a special star to guide these men to a particular house.

We can learn much from their behavior recorded in Matthew 2:2-12. They came to worship Him. This was a genuine desire, not a selfish one like Herod’s. They came with joy and “bowed down and worshiped Him.” They brought gifts of gold (symbolic of a king), incense (a perfume symbolizing the Lord’s sinless life) and myrrh (a bitter herb symbolizing the Lord’s suffering). Do we bring gifts to the Lord for Him to use for His purposes?

When the Lord was on the cross there was darkness “over all the land” for three hours after noon (Mt. 27:45). This would have been incredible – like an extended total solar eclipse1. During this time He bore God’s judgment of the sins of mankind. After this, He chose to die by dismissing His spirit. “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split” (Mt. 27:50-51). So there was an earthquake, and the heavy curtain inside the temple – the door to the Holiest place where God dwelt – was torn in two. This would have been a catastrophe for the Jewish religious leaders because it exposed the most sacred place where only the High Priest was allowed to enter once each year on the Day of Atonement. This was God’s doing, as it was torn from top to bottom, not bottom to top.

The symbolism of this event is explained in Hebrews 10:19-22 this way: “Since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” The curtain represented Christ’s body and through His death all believers can enter God’s presence in prayer and praise at any time. It was God’s way of opening the door to a relationship with Him (Rev. 3:20).

Hymn writer Gerrit Gustafson put it this way:
Only by grace can we enter
Only by grace can we stand
Not by our human endeavor
But by the blood of the Lamb

Into Your presence You call us

You call us to come
Into Your presence You draw us
And now by Your grace we come

Now by Your grace we come.

May we avail ourselves of this privilege of entering the open door of God’s presence as we celebrate His birth during this Christmas season.

Published: December 2002

See the other article in this series:
From the Cross to the Crown


When God Lived On Earth

An illustration of the incarnation

At Christmas, we remember the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. Although He was born into an ordinary family in an ordinary town in Israel, He was not an ordinary person – His life and death were unique. It has been said that the opening verses of John’s gospel are the words of an early Christian hymn. Let’s look at the final verse of this so-called hymn as written by the apostle John: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14 NIV).

John was a disciple who spent much time with Jesus Christ; they may have been cousins (Mt. 27:56; Mk. 15:40; Jn. 19:25). He was one of the three apostles closest to Jesus, the other two being Peter and James.

God lived among us
The first sentence of John 1:14 says that God chose to come into the world in a human body and for a while lived among us. John said that He “tabernacled” among us. John witnessed that Jesus was a real human being and not a myth or an illusion, because he saw, touched and listened to Him (1 Jn. 1:1-3).

This illustration reminds us of how God dwelt among His people during the Old Testament period in the tabernacle and the temple. As the tabernacle was a tent, this is the equivalent of saying that Christ “pitched His tent” among us. Of course a tent is the temporary dwelling of a traveller or nomad, which is used in Scripture to illustrate the mortal human body (2 Cor. 5:1,4; 2 Pet. 1:13). Jesus lived in the tent of His body for 33 years, so it was not a short appearance of God on earth.

Pitching a tent in a wilderness can be an adventure, as you may face danger and all types of weather. Some years ago I went on a four-day hike in a National Park and we carried our tent with us. This was easy compared to Christ’s 33 year journey through a sinful world.

Jesus was unique
In the second sentence of John 1:14, John summarizes the key attributes of Jesus Christ. He is described as the “One and Only” or the “only begotten” – which means that He was the sole representative of God. As God’s unique Son, Christ is equal to God. In fact John wrote his account so that we would realize that Jesus is truly God (Jn. 20:30-31).

His glory was evident. During the three years that John followed the Lord he witnessed the perfect life and character of Jesus, the sinless one. Jesus Christ was the only person to have lived on earth who did not sin. Because of His miraculous conception, Jesus did not inherit a sinful nature from Adam (Mt. 1:18-21). His is the only instance of a birth without a father – the pregnancy was a miracle of the Holy Spirit. To sin is to fall short of the glory of God. As everyone else has sinned, no other person has shown this glory (Rom. 3:23).

John also saw the bright shining light, which was seen when God was present, as he watched when Christ’s “face shone like the sun and His clothes became as white as the light” (Mt. 17:1-9; 2 Pet. 1:16-18). This was a visible demonstration of His deity, similar to the glory cloud in the Old Testament which symbolized the presence of God.

He was divine. John wrote that Christ “came from the Father” and he heard God say, “This is my Son, whom I love” – indicating that Christ was the divine Son of God.

The name Jesus Christ indicates His humanity and His deity: “Jesus” was the name given at His birth, and “Christ” means God’s anointed one, the Messiah. He was indeed “God with us” – not only as a baby, but throughout His time on earth (Mt. 1:23).

He was “full of grace and truth.” John also testified of Christ’s kindness to others, His honesty and the absence of any sin or evil in His life. Christ’s greatest act of kindness was His unjust death for our sinfulness. Furthermore, all who believe on the Lord Jesus receive abundant blessings (Jn. 1:16).

Although He loved sinners, He did not love their sin. He realized that the wages of sin is death and so He died to pay the penalty of death that we deserved in order to save our souls and give us a home in heaven.

Why God lived on earth
Jesus was sent to save, for eternal life, all those who believe in Him – He was “the Savior of the world” (Jn. 3:16; 4:42; 6:40). Do you agree with John’s assessment of Jesus Christ? Do you realize that God lived among us for a while so that we in turn can live with Him in future (Jn. 14:3)? But His coming to earth can also help us today.

Many people long for God’s presence at Christmas. They should remember that the God who pitched His tent with us on the very first Christmas promises to take up permanent residence with all those who turn and put their trust in Him (Jn. 14:15-26). This means that if you have already put your trust in God, you need look no further for God’s powerful presence. He lives in you in the person of His Spirit and will remain with you. Nothing can separate you from His love and care.

Published: December 2001