Saturday, December 15, 2018

Advent 2018 | The Incarnation is the Paradigm-Shattering Event of History




The Incarnation is the universe-sundering, history-altering, life-transforming, paradigm-shattering event of history. + Timothy Keller, Hidden Christmas



Matthew quotes from Isaiah 7:14, "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel," which means "God with us." For centuries Jewish religious leaders and scholars had known that prophecy, but they had not thought it should be taken literally. They believed it was predicting the coming of some great leader through whose work, figuratively speaking, God would be present with his people.

But Matthew is saying this promise is greater than anyone imagined. It came true not figuratively but literally. Jesus Christ is "God with us" because the human life growing in the womb of Mary was a miracle performed by God himself. This child is literally God.

Matthew was a Jew and would have been deeply conversant with the Hebrew Scriptures. That makes this statement even more startling. The Jews' distinctive view of God made them the people on earth least open to the idea that a human being could be God. Eastern religions believed God was an impersonal force permeating all things, so it wasn't incongruous for them to say that some human beings are particularly great manifestations of the divine. Western religion at the time believed in multiple nonomnipotent personal deities. And sometimes they would disguise themselves as human beings for their own purposes. So to Greeks and Romans there was no reason that a given personage could not be Hermes or Zeus, come to us incognito.

Jews, however, believed in a God who was both personal and infinite, who was not a being within the universe but was instead the ground of its existence and infinitely transcendent above it. Everything in the Hebrew worldview militated against the idea that a human being could be God. Jews would not even pronounce the name "Yahweh" nor spell it. And yet Jesus Christ  by his life, by his claims, and by his resurrection – convinced his closest Jewish followers that he was not just a prophet telling them how to find God, but God himself come to find us.

Matthew is not the only biblical author to teach this. John the apostles says Jesus Christ is "the Word," who was never created, who existed with the Father from the beginning, through whom everything was made, and the Word was God (John 1:1-3). Paul, a Jew and a Pharisee, says that all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Jesus bodily (Colossians 2:9) – not just a third or a half or part of it but all of the divine substance. The apostle Peter, another Jewish man, writes, "Through the righteousness of our Go and Savior Jesus Christ ... " (2 Peter 1:1). Jesus Christ is "our God."

The opinion of these authors would not mean much, however, if Jesus had shown no consciousness of his divine identity. But he did. All through the Gospels Jesus is constantly forgiving sin, which only God can do. He also claims, in various places,  "I am going to come back to judge the earth," and only God can do that. He claims to have mutual, equal knowledge with God the Father (Matthew 11:27-28). At one point Jesus actually says, "Before Abraham was born, I am!"  (John 8:58). He takes the divine name upon himself (cf. Exodus 3:13-14). At many times and in many ways Jesus Christ, a Jewish man, said, "I am God," and thousands believed him and came to worship him (Acts 2:41).

Some have argued that the supreme miracle of Christianity is not the resurrection of Christ from the dead but the incarnation. The beginningless, omnipotent Creator of the universe took on a human nature without the loss of his deity, so that Jesus, the son of Joseph of Nazareth, was both fully divine and fully human. Of all things that Christianity proclaims, this is the most staggering. J.I. Packer puts it starkly: "God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. ... The babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation."

Packer goes on to make an intriguing point. Many people say, "I can't believe in miracles." They can't believe Jesus could walk on water or raise the dead. They may also find that the atonement – that one man's death could wipe out the sins of billions of people – seems impossible to them. However, Parker argues, "It is from misbelief, or at least inadequate belief, about the Incarnation that difficulties at other points in the gospel story usually spring. But once the Incarnation is grasped as a reality, these other difficulties dissolve." If there is a God, and he has become human, why would you find it incredible that he would do miracles, pay for the sins of the world, or rise from the dead?

The claim that Jesus is God gives us the greatest possible hope. This means that our world is not all there is, that there is life and love after death, and that evil and suffering will one day end. And it means not just hope for the world, despite all its unending problems, but hope for you and me, despite all our unending failings. A God who was only holy would not have come down to us in Jesus Christ. He would have simply demanded that we pull ourselves together, that we be moral and holy enough to merit a relationship with him. A deity that is an "all-accepting God of love" would not have need to come to Earth either. This God of the modern imagination would have just overlooked sin and evil and embraced us. Neither the God of moralism nor the God of relativism would have bothered with Advent. The biblical God, however, is infinitely holy, so our sin could not be shrugged off. It had to be dealt with. He is also infinitely loving. He knows we could never climb up to him, so he has come down to us. God had to come himself and do what we couldn't do.

"Immanuel" means the ideal has become real, the absolute has become a particular, and the invisible has become visible! The Incarnation is the universe-sundering, history-altering, life-transforming, paradigm-shattering event of history.

The Incarnation means that God suffered, and that Jesus triumphed through suffering. That means, as Hebrews 2:17-18 said, that Jesus now has an infinite power to comfort. Advent shows you a God unlike the god of any other faith. Have you been betrayed? Have you been lonely? Have you been destitute? Have you faced death? So has he! Some say, "You don't understand. I have prayed to God for things, and God ignored my prayer." In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus cried out, "Father ... may this cup be taken from me" (Matthew 26:39) and he was turned down. Jesus knows the pain of unanswered prayer. Some say, "I feel like God has abandoned me." What do you think Jesus was saying on the cross when he said, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me" (Matthew 27:46)?

Christianity says God has been all the places you have been; he has been in the darkness you are in now, and more. And, therefore, you can trust him; you can rely on him, because he knows and has the power to comfort, strengthen, and bring you through.

When God showed up in Jesus Christ, he was not a pillar of fire, nor a tornado, but a baby. There is nothing like a baby. Even young children have their own agenda and can run from you. But the little babies can be picked up, hugged, kissed, and they're open to it, they cling to you. Why would God come this time in the form of a baby, rather than a firestorm or whirlwind? Because this time he has come not to bring judgment but to bear it, to pay the penalty for our sins, to take away the barrier between humanity and God, so we can be together. Jesus is God with us.

+ "Jesus is God with Us" excerpt from Timothy Kellers's Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ

Scriptures: Matthew 1:18-23


Other Advent Readings:

Next post: Advent Reading | Wise Men Still Worship Him with Gifts of Faith by Bishop J.C. Ryle and James Montgomery Boice

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike “Sully” Sullivan

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