Why the manger?

Did it really matter that Christ was born in a shed and laid in a feeding trough? It’s not like being born in Bethlehem; that was to fulfil God’s promise in Micah 5:2. And it’s not like being a son of a descendant of King David; that was also to fulfil God’s promise (2Sam7). As far as a I know, there’s no promise that the Messiah needed to be born in a shed.

But there is Isaiah 53:2-3

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

When God said that his Messiah would have no beauty or majesty… when He said the Christ would be held in low esteem… maybe the manger is one of the things He meant?

And that means something wonderful for us. Well, particularly for those of us who are held in low esteem, who feel we have no beauty or majesty. God’s Son lowered himself to your level, even on the day of his birth.

The son of God associated himself with the lowly and the forgotten and the despised and the laughed-at — all from the word go.

Why the manger? So that no-one would ever be beneath him who is above all.

On the Incarnation (5) : What was Jesus?

(This is a short series of short posts on the incarnation as we lead up to Christmas)

In the last few posts, we’ve reminded ourselves WHO Jesus is… He is the eternal Son, who existed in eternity (without form) with the Father, and who took on human form at the incarnation. We’ve seen WHY the Son became Jesus… for us and for our salvation. But, rightly underlining these (as we’ve keep brushing up against) is the question of WHAT Jesus is. This was the question that the early church (100A.D.-400A.D.) did us a great service by answering.

The answer was most clearly put forward in something called the Creed of Chalcedon (451A.D.) with the sentence…

…Christ; acknowledged in Two Natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and (both) concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis; not as though He were parted or divided into Two Persons, but One and the Self-same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ

A couple of points on what this is saying…

  • Christ has two natures, he possesses two “kinds”. In the same way God made all the animals according to their kinds, and if you’re a human, you’re part of human-kind, the person of Jesus possesses human-kind AND eternal-God-kind.
  • The two natures of Christ are NOT confused, nor changed, nor divided nor diminished into a new kind of thing. Jesus is fully God and fully man, not some weird new “kind”.
  • There is only One Person behind these two natures. This is where the WHO question comes in… there is only one WHO. Even though there are two-natures, there is only one person… the eternal Son. The two “kinds” didn’t each bring a person into the mix; Jesus doesn’t have two minds at war within him, as though he has multiple-personality-disorder.

What does this all mean?

It means “there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (1Tim2).

The Jesus we meet was from eternity past, and while never giving up his eternal God-ness (because otherwise he could not reconcile us to God), he also took on eternal human-ness (because otherwise he would not be able to represent us and bear our condemnation on our behalf).

Fully God, fully man, fully sick.

On the Incarnation (3) : Permanent and yet God remains unchanging

(This is a short series of short posts on the incarnation as we lead up to Christmas)

Since the Eternal Son did not just pretend to be human but became flesh himself, he did it fully and completely for us. This means there is a permanence to His incarnation. The eternal Son will not one day just shrug-off his flesh, because to do so would be to shrug-off his saved ones. We will always be dependant on the Son’s union with creation – for we will always be created, and the moment the Son casts-off his createdness he would be casting-off us as well.

In other words, from the perspective of eternity, there are two “times”; The eternity-past when God was not united with his creation through his Word, and the eternity-future when God is united with his creation through Jesus; his Word-made-flesh.

This has many implications; but one is the question about God being “unchanging”. If God always remains the same and never changes, how can he change from being “not-united-with-creation” to “united-with-creation”?

The answer is that God remains the same in both times; before the incarnation he is the type of God who would join his creation to save them. He is the same God of love. His character is unchanging through both sides.

This has a very important implication about God’s affections for creation. We should avoid the idea that God somehow vindicated the goodness of creation at a certain point in time; like the resurrection (as some have suggested), or the incarnation (as others have suggested). God wasn’t waiting in some kind of ho-hum state, working out whether he thought creation was a good idea or not. And we were not in the dark about how God felt about creation before the Son was incarnate or before Jesus was resurrected.

God’s Word that created had always intended to also join his creation. His eternal intention is what makes creation (and us) valuable.

On the Incarnation (2) : Did the eternal Son need to become human?

(This is a short series of short posts on the incarnation as we lead up to Christmas)

So, if Jesus is the perfect expression of God the Father – why did he need to become human? Couldn’t he have remained not-incarnate? Couldn’t he have just appeared human; like pretended to be human, so we can understand him and learn from him? Was there any real need for the eternal Son to go the whole-hog and unite himself with creation so fully?

Yes – but only if you think the atonement is the centre of the gospel.

If the eternal Son only came to teach us things, then no – he didn’t need to become incarnate.

If the eternal Son only came to be a model and show us how God loves and how we should love – then no – he didn’t need to unite himself to creation.

But, if the eternal Son came to bear the full wrath of God in the place of humanity – then yes – he needed to become human.

If the incarnation isn’t real, then the atonement isn’t real.

Hebrews 2:14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

The eternal Son knitted himself into creation, as a human, not simply to teach them or guide them, but all so that he could die for them and save them from eternal death and hell.

Without the atonement, the incarnation is pointless and silly.

On the Incarnation (1) : What does “word made flesh” mean?

(This is a short series of short posts on the incarnation as we lead up to Christmas)

What do we mean when we say that Jesus is God’s Word in the flesh? It’s primarily from John 1…

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The word incarnation is a Latin rendering of “become flesh” (e.g. a carnivore is something that eats flesh).

So how should we explain this idea?

We need to start with the concept of Jesus before he was human – that’s what John does. Before Jesus was human, before he was “Jesus” – he still existed. He’s different to you and I… we didn’t exist before we were conceived (apart from being an idea in God’s mind) but the Son of God DID EXIST before he was conceived. In fact, the Son of God existed before the creation of the world. He existed WITH the father for eternity-past. There was NEVER a time when the Son of God did not exist.

What was the Son of God? He wasn’t a “thing”; he wasn’t made of atoms and creation-stuff. But he was something of God the Father – God the Son was the WORD of God the Father. So if you think about your relationship with your words, that’s analogous to the Father’s relationship with the Son in eternity. The Son was always the perfect expression of the Father; such that whatever the Father (or the Speaker) willed, it was expressed in the Son (the Words). Hence in creation we see God creating through speaking – the Father’s will and character expressed through the Son perfectly.

The incarnation is simply (haha!) a further step in this same direction. The Word that so perfectly expressed the Father’s will and character in creation now knits himself into that very creation – still perfectly expressing the will and the character of the Father. This is the idea in Hebrews 1…

2 But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

And John 14…

9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.

The Incarnation means that all of Jesus; his life, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension and session – they are all the prefect expression of the Father’s eternal character.

When God speaks to his creation it looks and sounds like Jesus – becoming one of us, living perfectly for us, dying in our place, rescuing us from wrath, taking us to his side, all for his Glory. That’s why Paul can say the very strange sentence…

8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

What is God like? Look at Jesus. He is God’s word in the flesh.