Posts Tagged ‘Incarnation’

The Two Beautiful Names Behind ‘Merry Christmas’

December 25, 2011

Christmas – and the meaning of Christianity itself – can be summed up in two names.

The first is “Immanuel,” which translates from Hebrew to “God with us.”  It comes from a prophecy written approximately 700BC about the future Messiah 

“Therefore 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.” — Isaiah 7:14

Of this same miraculously conceived child the same prophet writes about other things this same child would be called in addition to “Immanuel”:

“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.” — Isaiah 9:6

I often marvel over the bickering of unbelief over whether the Hebrew word in Isaiah 7:14 should really be translated “virgin” given what is said about this same child in Isaiah 9:6.  How ELSE would one expect this child, this son who would be born, who would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace to be conceived other than by miraculous supernatural means?  Seriously?

What does “God with us” mean?

It means that this child – rightly called “Immanuel” in Isaiah 7:14 and “Mighty God” in Isaiah 9:6, would literally be God come to be with mankind in some powerful way.

It is a beautiful reference to the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the unique, One-and-Only Son of the Living God.  Isaiah prophesied that some day in the future, God would somehow take a human nature and be born as a child, as a son.  It was a prophecy of the coming birth of One who would one day call Himself “the Son of Man” (e.g. Mark 10:45).

The other name that completes the meaning of Christmas and Christianity is “Jesus.”  It comes from the Hebrew name “Yeshua” (or “Joshua”) which means, “Jehovah is Savior.”

Two things emerge from this name: the first is that God Himself would one day come to personally save and deliver mankind from the bondage and death sentence of sin; the second is that One particular bearer of that name would be Himself God on earth.

The same Book of Isaiah that we have been discussing amply attests of our Lord Jesus Christ taking upon Himself the name both of “Jehovah” and “Savior.”

Isaiah 43:11 makes it most clear:

“I, even I, am the LORD [i.e., Jehovah], and apart from Me there is no Savior.” — Isaiah 43:11

See also Isaiah 45:21 to see that this is no fluke description from the prophet who described the coming of “Immanuel” who would be “Mighty God”:

Declare what is to be, present it–let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the LORD [i.e., Jehovah]? And there is no God apart from Me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but Me.” — Isaiah 45:21

But as we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate the birth of the One of whom the angel proclaimed:

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.”

The mystery of Jesus, of this Savior who would be born in spite of the fact that only JEHOVAH could be called “Savior,” is given a little clarity in the first words of the Book of John as it identifies Jesus Christ as “the Word”:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being which has come into being.” — John 1:1-3

When St. John says, “In the beginning was the Word,” it is a direct reference of Genesis 1:1, which begins, “In the beginning God…”

When St. John says, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” he is pointing out that while the Word, Jesus, is divine (i.e., is God), He is not God in the logically exclusive sense that the Father and the Spirit are not also God.  Jesus is God (the Son), and Jesus was also with God (the Father and the Spirit).

When St. John tells us, “He was in the beginning with God,” we know that Jesus was NOT a created being.  He could not have in any way, shape or form been created, because in fact He always existed; He was with God the Father from the very beginning.

If this wasn’t clear enough already, St. John further elaborates on the eternality of Jesus Christ when he says, “All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being which has come into being.”  All things came into being by Jesus Christ.  God the Son was the Creator Moses describes in Genesis 1:1 (“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”).  Not only that, but “apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”  Which is to say that this Son of God, the Word – who would one day become Incarnate under the name of Jesus who was born of a virgin in fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 – created every single thing which has EVER been created or come into existence.  It is a logical impossibility that the One who created ALL things could Himself have been in any way created.

A short poem sums it up more simply and more concisely that I ever could:

“He came to die on a cross of wood, yet made the hill on which it stood.”

He was truly God.

But He was truly God become man.

How?  Why?

God the Son added to Himself – added to His eternal divine nature – a human nature in the Incarnation.  God became man.  And 700 years before it happened, He revealed it to His prophet Isaiah.

One verse from the first chapter of the first Book of the Bible becomes significant in understanding this:

“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” — Genesis 1:27

In Genesis the Son of God, the Word, created man in His divine image; in the Incarnation, that same Son of God assumed the image He had created.  Which is to say that God made man in such a way that He could one day become man Himself.

In the most remarkable act of other-centered love in the history of the universe, Christ the Son of God did the following as recorded in Philippians 2:5-11:

“You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.  Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.  Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.  Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” — Philippians 2:5-11, (NLT)

In verse 7 of that marvellous passage in the original Greek language we have the word “kenosis” occur.  It means, “emptied”:  “He emptied Himself.”

In becoming a man, God had to temporarily let go of attributes of deity that belonged to Him by very right of His divine nature.  He entered into time, which means He had to divest Himself of His eternality while on earth so He could age and grow and die.  He set aside His omniscience so He would experience living as a man, depending on faith just like any other man before or after Him.  He laid aside His omnipotence, such that He could experience the helplessness and fatigue that all men feel.  And so on.

Jesus was completely dependent upon His Father and upon the Spirit for all things, because He had made Himself weak in the Incarnation in order to fully experience human frailty.  He had to walk by faith and live by the power of faith, just as we do.

We can imagine the One who created the Cosmos – and in whom all things literally hold together (Colossians 1:17) – emerge from Mary’s womb that first Christmas as a tiny, helpless baby, struggling just to open His eyes.  He grew in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52) because He had made Himself a man in every way that it was essential to be a man.

It makes me weep to think about what Jesus laid aside so He could come to live with mankind as a man.  Think of the choice of God to do that!  We all want to become great and mighty and awesome and have all the status that accompanies our greatness; Jesus radically went the other way and took a plunge from all the glorious majesty of heaven to a trough that farm animals ate out of.

And the obvious question is, why did He do this?

He did it to take the blame that rightly belonged to me, to live and then die in my place.

He did it to be my Savior, because He as God knew that I, a miserable sinner, desperately needed saving.

In the Incarnation, Jesus lived a perfect life in our place because we could never hope to live such lives.  And then, as the perfect God-Man, He gave His life to take the death sentence earned by OUR sins upon Himself, so that we would not have to experience eternal death the way that all sinners apart from His grace will one day experience.

This mighty act of salvation was God-sized; no mere man could even attain his own salvation, let alone that of the entire human race. And yet just as sin entered the world through a man, only a man acting as a true representative of man could deliver us from that sin.

Enter the God-Man.  Enter Jesus.

Jesus explained His mission to a Jewish Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin named Nicodemus in the most beautiful and powerful words ever spoken:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life.” — John 3:16

Isaiah 64:6 says,

“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”

Isaiah 53:6 says,

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” — Isaiah 53:6

On Christmas morning, a little over 2,000 years ago, in the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4), God came to save me from that from which I most needed saving: from myself; and from my sins which separated me from my Creator, my King and my God.

God is holy and righteous and perfect and sinless: He can not tolerate sin in His presence; nor can any sinner survive His presence.  As a sinner, I deserved hell.  And apart from the grace of God, hell is precisely where I would have gone.

Only there is a God who loved me, and gave Himself for me (see Galatians 2:2o; Ephesians 5:2; Titus 2:14) so that I could be alive in Him and share eternity with Him in His glorious presence forever and ever.

Thank you, Jesus.  I bow down before You and thank You with all of my soul that You alone had the power to save.  I desperately needed a Savior, and You came to save me.

I pray that you, too, bow down before Jesus your King and thank Him from the bottom of a saved, delivered soul this Christmas day.

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In Easter We Can Know That God Loves Us With His Life

April 4, 2010

What is the message of Easter?  It is that Jesus of Nazareth conquered death.  It is that “He is risen, just as He said” (Matthew 28:6).  And in rising bodily from the grave, it is that Jesus was vindicated in everything He said about Himself.  The One who said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25) put to the lie the Pharisee’s mockery that “He saved others, but He can’t save Himself” (Matthew 27:42).  In rising from the dead, Jesus demonstrated that He is indeed “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

Over the centuries, Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike have provided many arguments for the existence of God.  But the Bible never makes any such attempt.  God’s existence is as much assumed as is our existence; and to question one’s existence would be as silly as to question one’s own existence.  Thus, the first words of the Bible are, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).  We are told, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God'” (Psalm 14:1).  Paul says in Romans:

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:18-20).

And James tells us, “You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that – and shudder” (James 2:19).

There is clearly a great deal more to the Christian faith than merely believing in the existence of God.

On my view, in agreement with St. Paul above, I believe that the existence of God has been made plain.  It is no amazing thing to believe in God; and as Alvin Plantinga has pointed out, such belief is properly basic.

Believing in God is not the “hard part” about being a Christian.  You want to know what is?  Believing that God – the creator of space and time, energy and matter – loves me and cares about meTHAT’S the hard part.

And that’s exactly the part that Easter morning speaks to.

Take a look at Eli Weisel’s Night, written from the vantage point of a Holocaust death camp survivor:

The first night in camp turned Elie’s life completely. It was the first time he learned how people could be so cruel to the others, it was the night that turned his dream to dust, and it was the night he lost the faith in God. From that day on, although many people believed the concentration camp is where the God tests them, judges their characters, and proves that God loved them, Elie doubted the God’s absolute justice. As time went by, Elie became accustomed to all the horrors he had experienced. Unlike the beginning of the book, which he take care the neighbors with all he can do for them, now he cared only the food but no one else. He was numb to the burning body, to the beating and to the hard works. But one day, the last hope was torn away from Elie when he had to witness the hanging of a small boy. “For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes.” (62) A man behind Elie asked, “Where is God? Where is He?….Where is God now?”  A voice inside Elie answered, “Where is He? Here He is-He is hanging here on this gallows…” (62) At this moment, Elie’s world was collapsed, and the God was murdered.

In this account, God hanging on the gallows represents the death of God, in the sense of extinction.  But there is another side to this story.  Because God Himself – in the form of the Son of God who had assumed a human nature so that He could live a perfect human life and die a substitutionary death for the sins of mankind – actually DID hang on a cross.

Our suffering certainly doesn’t prove the death of God when God Himself has entered into our suffering.  Rather, God suffered so that He could ultimately put an end to suffering.

God is not dead.  He did die for us.  But death could not keep Him down.  He rose from the grave.  He conquered death.  And He is now gloriously alive forevermore as the first fruits of resurrection life that one day every believer will experience.

Easter assures us that God did not create planet earth to serve as His fishbowl.  He is not looking dispassionately down at earth.  In the Incarnation of the Son of God, God demonstrated that He not only cared about His creation, but was willing to go to the farthest possible lengths to save His wayward creation and win it back to Himself.

The Incarnation of God is the greatest love story ever told.  The Son of God – God Himself in every way – chose to temporarily set aside key attributes of deity and assume a human nature.  God created man in His own image (Genesis 1:26-27) so that one day He could become a man.

And so God came into the world, born of a humble virgin into a carpenter’s family.  Perfect God became a perfect man; Jesus obeyed His Father perfectly, and never sinned even once, so that He could be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  Jesus said of His own purpose, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Jesus said, “No one can take my life from me.  I sacrifice it voluntarily.  For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded” (John 10:18, NLT).  And Jesus allowed His life to become a sacrifice in such a terrible, humiliating, painful manner that no decent human being could have been able to even look upon His death, let alone endured it.  He allowed men who were literally filled with demons to unleash their rabid hatred upon Him.  And He demonstrated His compassion, love, and mercy even for those who were torturing Him when He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Before He was crucified, Jesus was flogged in a manner that literally stripped Him to the bone, and ripped out chunks of flesh and muscle.  His body was very likely already dying.  A jagged crown of thorns was shoved onto His head as a form of further mockery.  And then He was forced to carry His own instrument of execution as He stumbled agonizingly along the Via Dolorosa (Latin for “the way of grief”) while jeering crowds mocked Him.

“And they crucified Him” (Mark 15:24).

Death by crucifixion was the most extreme Roman penalty.  Crucifixion is without question the most painful and humiliating form of official death penalty ever devised.  The word “excruciating” was Latin, and means, “out of the cross.”  The victim was displayed naked, and his slow death by suffering available for all to see as a warning to any who would dare to threaten the supremacy of Rome.

Here is a medical account of the suffering inflicted by crucifixion:

Jesus is quickly thrown backward with His shoulders against the wood.  The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist.  He drives a heavy, square, wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood.  Quickly, he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flexibility and movement.  The patibulum is then lifted in place at the top of the stipes and the titulus reading “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” is nailed in place.

The left foot is pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees moderately flexed.  The victim is now crucified.  As He slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain – the nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves.  As He pushes Himself upward to avoid this wrenching torment, He places His full weight on the nail through His feet.  Again there is the searing agony of the the tearing through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of the feet.

At this point, another phenomenon occurs.  As the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain.  With these cramps comes the inability to push Himself upward.  Hanging by His arms, the pectoral muscles are paralyzed and the intercostal muscles are unable to act.  Air can be drawn into the lungs, but cannot be exhaled.  Jesus fights to raise Himself in order to get even one short breath.  Finally carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream and the cramps partially subside.  Spasmodically, He is able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen.

Jesus’ suffering was not merely physical.  His emotional and spiritual suffering were as unparalleled in human history as was his bodily suffering.  The Son of God had known eternal loving relationship with the Father.  But on the cross, Christ became a sin offering – And in His agony His Father was forced to turn away from Him.  Galatians 3:13 tells us, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”

Jesus suffered as no human being has ever suffered.  And yet Jesus wasn’t a helpless victim.  We have heard Jesus say prior to His crucifixion that He would sacrifice His life voluntarily (John 10:18).  As the soldiers, priests, and mob came to arrest Him at Gethsemane, Jesus said to His disciples who tried to protect Him, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:52).  A legion was 6,000, meaning 72,000 angels would have come to save the Son of God at His bidding.

For the record, ONE angel put one hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrian warriors to death in one night (2 Kings 19:35).

So why on earth would Jesus have allowed Himself to be so horribly tortured and killed when He could have stopped it?

Because of His love for me.  And for you.

We talk about love all the time.  But we can’t even begin to fathom the depths of Christ’s love for us.

The last recorded word from Jesus on the cross was “Tetelestai.”  It is usually translated, “It is finished.”  But there is so much that we can learn from how that word was used in Roman culture at the time of Christ.  “Tetelestai” was used to stamp “paid” upon a receipt, and it was also the stamp put on a criminal’s charges once he had completed his sentence.  Paid in full.

In His substitutionary death, Christ paid the price for our sins.  All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).  But Christ paid the price for us in full.

As I said earlier, “the hard part” of Christianity is believing the incredible concept that the Creator of the entire universe actually loves and cares about me.  There’s your real miracle.  It’s believing that no matter what my temporary situation might look like, I’m NOT alone and unloved; rather, I am loved by a God who literally loves Me with His life!  But there is more.  There is more than we could ever imagine.

What is the meaning of Easter?

It is summed up in Philippians 2:5-11:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

And because Christ was raised from the dead to glory, so also will those who love Him.

1 Corinthians 15: 50-57:

I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

What is the meaning of Easter?  On Easter morning, after loving humanity with His life, Christ was raised from the dead.  The Resurrection and the Life conquered death once and for all.  And He paid for our sins so that we could share eternal life in heaven with God. That’s good news indeed to anyone who wants to go to heaven rather than hell, but who isn’t as righteous and sinless and perfect as God.

Before He was taken away to be beaten, flogged and crucified, Christ assured His first followers:

“In my Father’s house are many rooms;
if it were not so, I would have told you.
I am going there to prepare a place for you.
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come back and take you to be with me
that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3).

And Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead is all I need to know to believe that a beautiful room in the very house of the Father awaits me.  What incomprehensible joy awaits those who love Christ!

Christ loved us with His life (past tense); He now loves us with eternal life in Him and with Him.

And so every Easter, Christians from all over the world joyfully greet one another and say, “He is risen!”  “He is risen indeed!”