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Morning Sermon: Why The Incarnation?, 2 Corinthians 8:9 

Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 9:2–7

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9:2–7, ESV)

New Testament Reading: 2 Corinthians 8:9

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9, ESV)

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Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.

Introduction

This morning I wish to address the question, why the incarnation?

The word incarnation comes from a Latin word meaning “to make flesh”. When we speak of the incarnation we are speaking of this marvelous and mysterious truth, that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God who took on flesh. More precisely, we confess that our Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the second person of the Triune God, who is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth. And that in time, the Son of God, took to himself a human nature, and so he was and continues to be God and man, in two distinct natures and one person, forever.

In our culture, it is tradition to remember the birth of Jesus Christ on this day, December 25th. Sadly, many celebrate this day while completely forgetting that it is about Jesus. And from among those who do remember that this day is about Jesus, I would guess that few have contemplated the mystery of the incarnation. 

This doctrine is mysterious. And by that, I mean it is beyond our ability to fully comprehend. How can it be that the eternal Son of God, who is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, took to himself human nature, a true body, and a reasonable soul? How can it be that these two natures are united in one person forever without any alteration being made to either the human nature or the divine? When I say that this doctrine is mysterious I do not mean to suggest that it is not clearly taught in Scripture, for it is. Instead, I mean that it is difficult four our minds to fully comprehend. 

This morning we will be contemplating the incarnation. I’m reminded of what is said about Mary, the Mother of our Lord, in Luke 2:19. After all she had experienced leading up to the birth of Jesus, and after the birth itself, we are told that she “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19, ESV). Brothers and sisters, we ought to do the same with the doctrine of the incarnation. We ought to treasure this doctrine and ponder it often and deeply, for in this way the Lord has redeemed and reconciled us. 

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The Incarnation Considered In Four Ways

I suppose we may approach the doctrine of the incarnation in four different ways.

One, we could speak of the fact of the incarnation. If we were to take this approach we would go to those scripture texts in the Old Testament and the New which clearly state that Jesus the Messiah is both fully God and fully man. 

That the Messiah would be the God-man is taught in the Old Testament. Those who believed the Scriptures prior to the birth of Christ knew that the Messiah would be human. He would be the son of Adam and Eve, the son of Abraham, and the Son of David. He would be the great Prophet, Priest, and King of God’s people.

That the Messiah would be human was clear to all. But there were also indicators that he would be more than a mere man – he would be divine. Consider, for example, Isaiah 9:6–7 which speaks of the coming Messiah in this way: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:6–7, ESV). And do not forget Isaiah 7:14, which says,  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14, ESV), which means, God will us. Other passages could be mentioned too. I mention these as examples so that you might see that the doctrine of the incarnation is not a New Testament doctrine only. No, the Old Testament hinted at it. Not all within Old Covenant Israel saw this doctrine. All did not believe. But some did. Some were expecting this Messiah when he was born into the world. 

The doctrine of the incarnation is taught subtly in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, it is explicit. Jesus Christ is the eternal work of God come in the flesh (John 1:1,14). He was truly human. He was born of Mary, he grew in stature and wisdom. He experienced hunger and thirst, pain and sorrow. He made the will of the Father his will and always did what was pleaseing to him. But clearly, he was no ordinary man. No, he was (and is) Immanuel, God with us. Before Abraham was, he existed. He and the Father are one. Those who saw him saw the Father. His claims were almost unbelievable. But he preformed miracles. He calmed the stormy seas, fed great multitudes with only a few loaves of bread and a few fish, healed the sick, made the lame walk, gave sight to the blind, and even raised the dead. These miracles were performed consistently and out in the open for all to see. These were signs, or proofs, that he was no mere man, but the Messiah of Israel, the God-man. Even his adversaries could not deny these miracles. They understood that he claimed to be God’s eternal Son. They understood that he made himself to be equal with God. And being pressed to choose whcih side they would take, and being so darkened in the mind and heart, they chose to kill rather that acknowlede him to be the Holy One of God.  

So yes, this would be one way to contemplate the incarnation. We could consider the fact of the incarnation from the Scriptures. 

Two, we could consider the incarnation by asking the question how?  How did the eternal Son of God become incarnate? If we were to take this approach I suppose we would need to fix our attention on the story of the virgin birth. As I have said, the Old Testament hints at this. In fact, Isaiah 7:14 is quite clear when it says, “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel”. But Matthew, and especially Luke, tell the story of the virgin birth in their gospels. In Luke we find the words that were spoken to Mark by the angel after she asked the question, how?, given that she had never been with a man. “[T]he angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:35–38, ESV). How did the Son of God become incarnate? Through the womb of the blessed virgin Mary, by the working of God’s Holy Spirit. Christ was conceived, not in the ordinary manner, but in a most extraordinary way. The human body of Jesus, and the human soul, with the mind, will, and affections, were brought into existence by the power of the Most High, and at the moment of this immaculate conception, the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Triune God, did assume, or take to himself, humanity. There is great mystery here, of course. But this is the answer to the question, how? “Christ, the Son of God became man by taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul; being conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary and born of her, yet without sin” (Baptist Catechism, 25). 

Three, we could contemplate the incarnation in a theological way. And by theological, I mean that we could carefully consider all that the Scriptures have to say about the person of Jesus Christ and then ask, how should we talk about this mystery? What must we say, and what must we not say, in order to be true to the teachings of Holy Scripture? 

You know, some may object to this theological method. Some may say, we don’t need to do theology. We don’t need to come up with ways to talk about God and Christ. The only thing we need is Scripture! This is biblicism, and it must be avoided and countered. And really, it is not difficult to counter. If you ever converse with a biblicist, simply ask them to tell you what they believe about God and Christ. Ask them, who is God? Or better yet, What is he? Or ask them, who is Christ? Or better yet, What is he? And then see how far they make it by simply quoting scripture texts. See how long they avoid using theological (and non-biblical) terms like Trinity, nature, and person. 

We must contemplate Scripture in a theological way, brothers and sisters. And by this I mean we must so deeply value God’s Word that we study it in its entirety and with great care. We must bring together all of its truth and seek to understand what it teaches. Over time this will naturally result in the formulation of dogma. It’s funny how “dogma” has become a bad word in our post-modern age. You will even hear professing Christians speak against dogma. “We should not be dogmatic”, professing Christians will say. Really?! What should we do then? Would it be better to read and study the Scriptures for our whole lives but never come to firm conclusions about what the Scriptures teach? This anti-dogmatic spirit that pervades our culture and even the church today is silly and sad. Now, I will admit, there is a bad kind of dogma that must be avoided. Dogma is very bad when it does not agree with Holy Scripture. It is also bad when things that are not clearly taught in scripture (either directly or by way of necessary consequence) are dogmatically asserted. And of course, we must avoid the arrogant attitude that can so easily infect the dogmatician. But with these cautions in mind, we must confess that dogma is good, for it is the end result of our theological consideration of Scripture. 

So then, what should we dogmatically assert concerning the person of Christ after we carefully study all that the Scriptures have to say about him? We would do well to say what the Christians who have gone before us have said:

“We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end…”  (The Nicene Creed of AD 381) 

As you can see, there are many ways to contemplate the incarnation. We can consider the fact of the incarnation. We can ask the question, how did the eternal Son of God become incarnate? And we can also consider the incarnation in a theological way leading us to doctrinal formulations like the Nicene Creed. 

Four, we can also ask the question, why did the eternal Son of God become incarnate? Brothers and sisters, this is a very important question to ask. Why the incarnation? In my opinion, if we have the answer to this question, then the fact of the incarnation will not seem so strange. 

On Thursday night our family went to see a play with Lindsay’s side of the family. It was a very nice little play about the very thing we are considering now, the incarnation. Mary and Joseph were the central figures. Elizabeth and Zacheriah (the parents of John the Baptist)  were secondary. It was effective in highlighting the emotional struggle those two couples would have endured through this experience. Really, it was the story of the birth of Christ told from the gospel of Luke. It was good. A little hokey at times, but in a good way, if you know what I mean. 

As I was watching the play the thought occurred to me, this is such a strange doctrine. I’m familiar with the story, as are most of you, and so it does not seem strange to us. But I was thinking about it from the vantage point of a non-Christian, or of one unfamiliar with the storyline of scripture. Why in the world do these Christians insist that Jesus was and is the God-man? Why could he not simply be a good-man? Why must they insist that he is the God-man? Do you ever think like this, brothers and sisters? Do you ever try to get into the head of the skeptic to see the world through their eyes? I think there is some value to it. The non-believer must think that the doctrine of the immaculate conception, the virgin birth, and the incarnation is so very strange. But perhaps one reason for this is that when they are told about the fact of the incarnation, or the story of how the Son became incarnate, or when they consider our theological formulations concerning the deity of Christ, they are left in the dark concerning the reason for it. There is a disconnect, therefore. To them, the incarnation seems to be an unnecessary and unreasonable myth. 

But those who know the Scriptures, and those well trained in Biblical doctrine, will know better. The incarnation is neither unnecessary nor is it unreasonable. On the contrary, we can see clearly that without the incarnation there is no redemption for fallen sinners. The incarnation is in fact most necessary to accomplish and apply salvation to fallen sinners. And it is reasonable too! In order for our salvation to be accomplished, a man had to do it. And yet, no mere man could pay for the sins of others and be raised to glory. For one, men are finite. How could the blood of one man atone for the sins of many to make them acceptable before God? And two, all of the sons and daughters born under Adam are born in sin. In other words, all of Adam’s descended are in need of a Savior, and cannot themselves be the Savior. This is why Jesus was conceived in that miraculous way. Mary was his mother, but Joseph the son of Adam was not his Father. Jesus was the Son of God. Brothers and sisters, this work of redemption from sin, the power of Satan, and the fear of death, and this work of reconciliation to the Father, was a work that only the God-man could do. 

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The Purpose Of The Incarnation Asserted

Brothers and sisters, the Scriptures do not only tell us about the fact of the incarnation. And neither do they merely tell us the story of how the Son of God became incarnate. The scriptures do also express the reason for the incarnation. 

At the beginning of this sermon, I read 2 Corinthians 8:9. It’s a wonderful little verse. There Paul says,  “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9, ESV). 

Clearly, Paul is referring to the act of the incarnation when he says, “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor…” Here Paul is speaking of the incarnation of the eternal Son of God. He is saying something similar to what he says in Philippians 2:5-7: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5–7, ESV). The eternal Son of God did not hold on to his glory nor clinch tightly to his riches or rights as God, but set his rights to glory and riches to the side (if you will) by becoming incarnate. “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8, ESV)

We must be careful here. When we think of the Son “emptying himself”, or of the Son “becoming poor” for us, we must not think that this produced a change within the eternal Son of God. Rember, God is unchangeable. This the scriptures clearly teach (see James 1:17, for example). And so, when we hear the scripture talk about the Son “emptying” himself or “becoming poor” for us, we must ask, in what sense is this true? Well, I will tell you in what sense it cannot be true. This “becoming” cannot be interpreted as having brought about a change in God, for it is impossible for God to change. I can also tell you in what sense this is true, for the scriptures say it. Listen again to Philippians 2:5ff. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Paul tells us in what sense the eternal Son of God “emptied himself”. Not by laying aside his divinity, but by “taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Steven Wellum says it well. “The incarnation is not an act of subtraction; it’s an act of addition. In the incarnation, God the Son acts, from the Father and by the Spirit, to add to himself a human nature so that now and forevermore he subsists in two natures without loss of attributes in either nature. (Steven Wellum, The Person of Christ: An Introduction, 78). The very same thing may be said of our 2 Corinthians 8:9 text. In what sense did the Son of God, “though he was rich… became poor.” Not by ceasing to be fully divine, but by taking to himself a human nature. In other words, the eternal Son of God took to himself poverty, without ceasing to be infinitely and eternally rich – and here is the point of it all –  “so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

Here the purpose of the incarnation is asserted. Hear it again: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9, ESV, emphasis added). 

Hebrews 2:5-18 is also a very important text in answering the question, why the incarnation?  It’s a bit too complicated for me to walk through it with you in the limited time we have remaining. Let me simply read verses 14-18. I trust you’ll get the point. 

“Since therefore the children [that is to say, those Christ has come to redeem] share in flesh and blood [that is to say, because they are human], he himself [referring to Christ]  likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:14–17, ESV).

We could go on and on. I trust that you can see that the Scriptures do provide us with a reason for the incarnation. Why did the Son of God become incarnate? Why did the Son of God humbly assume a human nature, and in so doing,  become poor? He did it so that by his poverty we might become rich. He came to pay the penalty for human sin, to redeem humans from bondage to sin, and to reconcile humans to the Father. In his humiliation, he took to himself a  human nature so that in his exaltation he might bring many sons and daughters to glory.    

The passages that I have cited do clearly assert this. There are others too. But really what is needed is a solid grasp of the overarching story of the Bible. If you know the story that the Bible tells regarding God, his creation and covenant, of man’s fall into sin when Adam broke the covenant, and of God’s promise to save through the Messiah, the offspring of Eve, and the consummation of all things in him, then the purpose of the incarnation will not be such a mystery to you. 

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Why Did The Messiah Need To Be The God-Man?

I’d like to begin to move this sermon towards a conclusion now by exploring the question, Why did the Messiah need to be the God-man? just a little more deeply.

I will follow the teaching of a man named Francis Turretin here. I’ve found him to be most helpful. In volume two of his Institutes of Elenctic Theology (v.II, pgs. 302-303) he states the necessity of Jesus Christ as the God-man under three headings. 

First, Christ had to be the God-man to satisfy the justice of God. God’s justice “required sin to be punished in the same nature in which it had been committed” (Turretin, v.II, p. 303). In other words, to pay the penalty for human sin, a human would have to pay it. An angel could not do it. Neither could an animal. And in fact, here is something that God himself could not do. God could not pay for human sin, for the wages of sin is death, and God cannot die. But through the incarnation, that is to say, through the union of the divine nature with the human nature in the person of the Son, we may say that God died for us. God shed his blood for his people (see Acts 20:28). This was made possible through the incarnation. And why did the Christ need to be God as it pertains to the satisfaction of divine justice? Well, the divine nature did add “infinite value” to the sufferings of Christ (see Turriten, v. II, p. 303). When Christ suffered and died in the place of the elect of God according to his human nature, the divine nature, that is to say, the person of the Son, added infinite value to that so all of the sins of many were paid for in full thus removing the penalty of eternal damnation and securing for them the gift of everlasting life. No mere man could do this. Only the God-man, Christ the Lord, could.  

Secondly, Christ had to be the God-man to fulfill his office as Mediator between God and man. To effectively mediate between God and man, and thus to really and truly reconcile man to God, he had to be both. “As Prophet, he ought as man to be taken from his brethren that he might become familiar with men and we might approach freely to him. But as God, he ought to send his Spirit into our hearts and write the law upon our minds to make us taught of God” (Turretin, v.II, p. 303). Do you see Turretin’s point? Does Jesus fulfill the office of Prophet in his work of mediation? Yes, he does. But like no other, for he is the Christ, the God-man. He does not merely proclaim the word of God like the prophets of old did. No, he is the Word come in the flesh. He sends his Spirit. He writes his law on the hearts of his people. No ordinary prophet could do these things. Only the Christ, the God-man, could. Turretin has similar things to say about the priestly office of Christ. “As Priest, he should be man because every high priest is taken from among men (Heb. 5:1) as he who sanctifies and they who are sanctified are all one (Heb. 2:11)” (Turretin, v.II, p. 303). But Christ, the great and eternal High Priest, had to be God to “reconcile man to God, satisfy divine justice, abolish sin and bring in an everlasting righteousness, which no mortal could do. Also, the victim to be offered ought not to be angelic because it could not die, nor a brute, but rational and human; yea, more than human and celestial who should offer himself through the eternal Spirit and add an infinite weight and merit to the truth of his sufferings” (Turretin, v.II, p. 303). Lastly, Turretin mentions the kingly office of Christ. “As King, he ought to take humanity from us to become united to us; but this was to be united as divinity, by which he should exercise dominion, not over bodies only, but over souls; not for a time, but forever; not over one nation only, but over the whole world.” (Turretin, v.II, p. 303)

Thirdly, Christ had to be the God-man for our sake to redeem us. “In respect of us, he should be man that by right of relationship and as a brother… he might deliver the captives and slaves of Satan (Lk. 1:71, 74) and unite us… to himself in the covenant of grace by an eternal and indissoluble bond (Rom. 7:4; Eph. 5:25). Also he should be God that by right of ownership and dominion, he might redeem us and claim us for himself. We have need of like feeling… in the one dying and of sympathy… in the one living. He should be man to be able to endure all the punishment due to us as of like passions… He should be God to be able as a merciful Priest to sympathize in our sufferings and to [help] us when tempted. The evil by which we were pressed was such that none but man could endure it, no one but God could free us from it. And the good which was to be conferred on us (to wit, righteousness and life) was such that although man was to receive it, still none but God could put us in possession of it” (Turretin, v.II, p. 303).

I find Turretin’s explanation as to why the Christ had to be the God-man to be very illuminating and even moving. To state the matter simply, Christ had to be God because the work that he was sent to do was more than any mere man could possibly achieve. And Christ had to be human, for only a human could possibly redeem humans. A man would need to pay for the penalty of sin, namely death. And a man would need to live in obedience to God’s law to earn the beatific vision and to enter into glory, not only for himself, but for all he represented.  

In Christ, the eternal Son of God assumed a human nature in order to redeem humanity. He became poor so that in him we might be rich. He humbled himself to the point of death on the cross so that in him we might be lifted out of our hopelessness and despair and into glory.   

There is a famous saying uttered long ago by a man named Gregory of Nazianzus. He was at the center of those important Christological debates that raged in the 4th century AD. He insisted that we must confess that Christ is fully human. And he observed that it is our salvation that is at stake. He said, “What has not been assumed has not been healed” (Gregory of Nazianzus, To Cledonius the Priest against Apollinarius). I believe it was Athanasius of Alexandria who said something similar: “What has not been assumed has not been redeemed”. Both of these statements are true. They recognize the connection between the human nature of Christ and our salvation in him. Christ assumed a human nature to redeem and heal human beings. 

Brothers and sisters, the eternal Son of God took to himself a true human body to redeem and heal the bodies of all who have faith in him. It is because the eternal Son of God came in the flesh, died, and rose again bodily, that we have this hope that on that last day our bodies will be raised unto glory. 

And brothers and sisters, the eternal Son of God did also take to himself a true and reasonable soul. Jesus Christ was and is truly human in body and soul. He had a human mind, a human will, and human affections. As the God-man he did perfectly and perpetually honor and love the Lord with all the faculties of the soul. And for this reason, we know that Christ has the power to redeem and heal our souls. In Christ, we are a new creation. And we know that he is renewing our minds, our hearts, and wills to make us more and more able and willing to do that which is pleasing to him. In glory, we will be so thoroughly renewed, and all corruptions will be so completely removed from us, that we will freely do only that which is pleasing to him, to the praise of his glorious grace. 

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Conclusion

Friends, my prayer is that we would grow in our knowledge of Christ. May the Lord grant to us a deeper understanding of who he is, along with greater understanding of what he has accomplished for us. May God “grant [us] to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in [our] inner being, so that Christ may dwell in [our] hearts through faith—that [we], being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that [we] may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:16–21, ESV)

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