We are studying cornerstones of the Christian faith and one cornerstone is the miracle of the Incarnation — the Second Person of the Trinity was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary and born in human form. We celebrate this miracle every Christmas.
The Bible teaches that Jesus pre-existed His birth in human form. Before He was incarnate as the Son of Mary, He was the Son of God, second Person of the Trinity, sharing eternal fellowship with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. He shared in the work of creation and long before there was a world to redeem, He committed Himself to be our Redeemer.
I. Jesus, The Eternal God
The truth of the eternity of the Second Person of the Trinity is expressed in chapter one of John’s Gospel. John presents Jesus as the Word of God, the Logos of God. “In the beginning was the Word (the Logos) and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being … And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-3,14).
Logos is a Greek word which in a general sense is the expression or revelation of something. To the Greek mind, the logos was the impersonal principle that gave order and meaning to the universe. But John says that the Logos is an eternal, divine Person who shared in the work of creation and then, in the fulness of time, took human form. The Logos has a name — Jesus.
The writer to the Hebrews testifies, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:1-3).
God has expressed Himself in many ways across the centuries but in this last age of history has expressed Himself most truly through the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity in human form. Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). The Apostle Paul proclaims, “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15).
2. Jesus, The Eternal Creator
Jesus, as a member of the Trinity, shared with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the work of creation. As we have seen, this truth is expressed in chapter one of John’s Gospel: “All things came into being through Him and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (Jn. 1:3). All of creation — all physical and spiritual creation, the laws and forces that govern creation, all of time and eternity — all things came into being by God’s creative act through His Son.
The Apostle Paul adds, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things and in Him all things hold together (or consist)” (Colossians 1:16,17).
Jesus, The Eternal Redeemer
From the very beginning of creation, God understood that if He created morally free creatures, we would use our freedom to sin against Him. Because sin creates separation between God and sinner, and separation leads to disintegration and death, we would then either perish in our sin or require a Redeemer. Somewhere in the ancient councils of eternity, the members of the Trinity agreed and decreed that Jesus would be that Redeemer. This idea is expressed by the Apostle Peter, who reminds us that we were not redeemed with silver or gold, “But with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world,” (I Peter 1:19,20).
Foreknowledge, as used here, implies predetermination. God not only knew that humanity would fall and need a Redeemer; God determined to provide that Redeemer. Before humanity fell, indeed, before there was a created universe, our Lord Jesus Christ determined to be the atoning sacrifice who would take upon Himself our sin, our separation and our death. Just as a father and mother begin preparing for a little baby before the child is born, so our God began preparing our salvation before we existed, indeed, before the universe existed, as Paul reveals, “Just as He (God) chose us in Him (Christ) before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). Before there was a universe, God chose to set His saving grace upon us.
Since Christ’s redemptive sacrifice was determined before the creation of the world, it preceded anyone sinning or falling from grace. Jesus was our Redeemer before there was anything or anyone to redeem. This sheds new light on the verse, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). In fact, God loved us before we were sinners. His redeeming love is more ancient than creation itself.
If Adam had been in another part of the garden when his bride sinned, and had not shared in her sin, God might have come to him and said, “Son, your bride has sinned and in sinning, has separated herself from My life. Now she will die.” Then Adam might have prayed, “Father, let her sin and her death fall upon me and may she live.” Of course, Adam did not pray that prayer, he shared in the sin and fall and death of his bride. But long ago in eternity past, when God the Father determined to create a bride for His Son — men and women who would love Him forever — knowing that His bride would fall into sin and death, Jesus, the Second Adam prayed, “Father, let my Bride’s sin and death fall upon Me that she may live.”
All of time and history is the outworking of that prayer. In the fulness of time, Jesus was born in human form and took upon Himself anything that would ever separate His bride from Himself.
The Event of the Incarnation
How did the Son of God become incarnate as the Son of Mary? How did the eternal God fit Himself into time? How did the Creator of all life fit Himself into creaturehood?
The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and said, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David” (Luke 1:31,32). Son of El Elyon and yet descended from David — divine and human, the God / Man.
Mary wondered how this could be, since she did not have a husband. The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God” (1:35).
The Holy Spirit conceived in Mary the life of the Second Person of the Trinity — Perfect God became Perfect Man, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman” (Gal. 4:4). Son of God became Son of Mary, two natures united in one Person. True God became true Man without diminishing His Deity or His humanity, as Paul reveals, “For in Him (Christ) all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form,” (Col. 2:9).
Paul shares with us in Philippians 2:6 that from eternity Jesus “existed in the form of God.” Form — morphe, refers to the true essence and nature of something. Jesus is and was and always will be God. It is His unchanging nature. As God, He is co-equal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. They share the same attributes and essence of being.
But Paul also tells us in Philippians 2:7 that Jesus “was made in the likeness of men”. Likeness — homoioma — refers to the true reality of something that not only appears to be like something but is of the same reality. Jesus was truly, genuinely human, having all the attributes of a man. This was obviously true because most people did not recognize Him to be anything other than a man and rejected His claim to be the Son of God. And yet He is the Son of God incarnate as Son of Mary — the God / Man.
The Necessity of the Incarnation
But why was this necessary? Why did Son of God become Son of Mary?
“Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation (satisfaction) for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17).
Jesus had to be made like His brethren in all things. It was necessary that Jesus be born in human form in order to be our Redeemer. Made like His brethren in all things refers to the body, mind and emotions of a human being. Jesus was truly a man, though without sin.
Jesus was incarnate as a human being so He could take upon Himself the sins of humanity and the judgement of God which our sins incurred and thereby break the power of the one who had bound humanity (the devil). Only perfect God could make a perfectly holy sacrifice for the sins of the world; only perfect Man could offer Himself as the holy Substitute for sinful humanity. Therefore Jesus, as our great High Priest, offered Himself to God as the Lamb of God, the holy offering and sacrifice for our sins — the Lamb slain for the sins of the world.
Why was this cost necessary? It is because a holy, just God cannot forgive our sin merely by pretending we never sinned. God cannot overlook that which violates His character. Neither does a holy and merciful God desire that we perish beneath the crushing weight of our sin. The result of sin is separation from God resulting in death and eternal separation from God and God takes no pleasure in the death of anyone (Ezkl. 18:32).
Therefore, the infinite riches of a holy Christ were applied to our sin. The justice and mercy of God meet on the cross where the Just One took our injustice upon Himself, the Holy One bore our sin, took the Father’s judgment of our sin upon Himself and died our death while we, the guilty, when we place our faith in Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, are pardoned of all offenses and declared to be just. As Paul said, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).
The pre-existent, eternal Son of God entered time. God the mighty Creator became a humble creature to reveal to us the heart and mind of God. Jesus’ greatest act of revelation was His redeeming death on the cross. There the Father displayed His judgment of sin and His mercy to sinners. On the third day, the Father displayed His love for His Son by raising Him from the dead and forty days later, seating Him at the right hand of the majesty on high.
The eternal God was born into time
the infinite Creator of all life took on the limitations of flesh
the sinless holy One bore the sin of many
the Lord of life embraced our death
the slain Lamb rose from the dead
so that a hopelessly lost and broken world
could be redeemed from slavery to sin and death
Many centuries ago, holy bishops of the church formulated this cornerstone statement of faith:
“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God ... of one Being with the Father.
Through Him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit He became incarnate from
the Virgin Mary and was made Man.
For our sake He was crucified ... He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day He rose again.”
(Excerpts from the Nicene Creed, first formulated in 325 AD)
1. How did the Son of God become incarnate as the Son of Mary?
2. Why was this necessary?