The Incarnation: God Bridges the Gap

January 8, 2013

The next essential tenet, affirmed by all Christians, is the Incarnation: the act by which God became a human being in order to position himself to redeem humanity.

For Jews of Jesus’ day, “Our God is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4) was the banner cry of faith. For the Greco-Roman culture, many gods populated the heavens and earth, as illustrated by Paul’s observation of their monuments in Athens (Acts 17). So you can imagine how Jesus’ claims recorded in the gospel of John would be controversial: “Before Abraham was, I Am” (John 8:58) “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30); and “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by Me” (John 14:6). In one breath, Jesus identifies himself as YHWH (“I am”) and the only way to God. And yet, was he not Mary’s son born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth? How could this one who taught us, ate with us, and died on the cross, be God? Unthinkable! But after his resurrection, what other conclusion could we come to? And then, Jesus promised the Father would send the Spirit, in Christ’s name (John 14:26, 15:26).

Thus the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth, Immanuel, God with us, prompted the beginnings of a Trinitarian understanding of God. Before the miracle of the Incarnation (another word, like Trinity, that does not appear in the Bible), humanity could not grasp the idea at all that God was three-in-one and one-in three. So we turn now from discussion of the Trinity to the particulars of the Second Person of the Godhead, who begged the question of God’s very nature. This is the one who relinquished the perquisites of glory and descended into our world, was conceived by the Holy Spirit within God’s faithful servant Mary, to be born, live a full human life, teach and announce the Kingdom, and then die on the Cross, only to rise again from the tomb, and ascend into heaven to reign forever. Wow. What just happened here?

 C. S. Lewis, in his book Miracles, describes the dynamic of Christ’s coming this way:

The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this… every particular Christian miracle manifests at a particular place and moment the character and significance of the Incarnation.

In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity…But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him. One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great, complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders. . . .

Christians are not claiming that simply ‘God’ was incarnate in Jesus. They are claiming that the one true God is He whom the Jews worshipped as Jahweh, and that it is He who has descended.    
                                                 —C. S. Lewis, Miracles, chapter 14

This image of descending into our world and ascending to the right hand of the Father gives us a helpful picture for understanding the Incarnation. Jesus’ travel from one world to another and back again shows us that a gap, a chasm, exists between God and us. We acknowledge this sad state of affairs was introduced as a consequence of the fall. But Jesus, sent by God, pierced through that gap to become the mediator between God and his alienated creation. Fully God, Jesus reliably represents the Father to us and demonstrates God’s kingdom through his life and ministry. We could not get ourselves into close enough proximity to God to see him, because of the veil that went up between us after Eve and Adam’s sin. But God has always wanted to be known, seen, and believed; and so he took it upon himself to come our way and dwell within the confines of human experience in order to restore us to fellowship.

Fully representing God, Jesus also took on full humanity in order to “bring the whole ruined world up with Him.” As a real human being, acquainted with all our temptations without falling into any of them, Jesus embodied complete humanity perfectly responsive to God. He in fact represents the human race to God, the very best God’s creation can offer. We need his representation desperately for reasons that will unfold in the next tenet.

In the meantime, we are invited to grasp as fully as we can the drama, the sacrifice, the patience, and the love of God fully expressed in God-come-in-the-flesh, Jesus! His entry into our world is as close and real as a guest on our doorstep, seeking admission into our lives and hearts. Once within, he invites us to rearrange even our corporate church life around the reality that the Savior dwells in our midst and deserves to be the center of our attention. Our life together finds order as every activity and every thought, every strategy and every plan, revolves around Jesus Christ. And Jesus here present with us reigns as Lord of all and Head of the Church and redeems us for God. We Presbyterians, along with all Christians, confidently affirm the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus Christ revealed in the Incarnation.

 

 

 

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