To call the incarnation "relevant" almost sounds patronizing. But we need to recognize the intimate connection between this important doctrine and personal piety.
It Opens Up Scripture
Until we grasp that Christ is God-in-flesh, the Old Testament will remain a collection of stories about how men and women struggled with the call to faith. The incarnation helps us to see that the Old Testament sets the stage for God to once again live with man as He did in Eden. On every Old Testament page, God promises a human deliverer who is also stronger than Satan (Gen. 3:15); both a suffering servant and an anointed king.
The reality of God-with-us is explained and applied throughout the rest of Scripture starting with Matthew. The New Testament is not simply a collection of ethical instruction, or even a commentary on the life of a certain Nazarene. It is the real-life story of what happened when God came to men that they might belong to Him. The New Testament is the answer to the Old Testament anticipation of a redeemer. Only in the incarnate Christ, are all of the promises answered with a resounding "yes!" (2 Cor. 1:20).
Near the story's last chapter, John heard these words from heaven: "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with then, and they shall be his people. God himself will be with them, and be their God" (Rev. 21:3).
It Makes God Accessible
In the Old Testament, God was accessible only through the mediation of prophets, priests, tabernacle, and temple. No Israelite could properly see God (John 1:18). John Calvin said the revelation of God prior to Christ was like a pencil sketch.
In Christ, God became accessible to us in a most familiar form. Six times in the opening of His first letter, John says, "We saw him!" (1 John 1:1-4). During Jesus' earthly ministry, the majestic God of heaven and earth cried out to the crowds, "Come to me!" (Matt. 11:28). If you want to know what God is like, study Christ. As Richard Phillips has written, Jesus' earthly posture, tone of voice, attitude, and reaction to events were those of God. "God is Christ-like."
It Reveals Our Only Mediator
At Mount Sinai Israel needed mediation; they were justly terrified by God's thunderings. "If we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, we shall die." (Deut 5:25). God gave Moses as a temporary mediator (Deut. 5:27) who admonished the people to look for a better one! (Deut 18:15). Of the man Jesus, Paul later wrote, "There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men…" (1 Tim. 2:5). In His humanity Christ suffered our judgment for sin. In His divinity He endured that judgment to the very end.
It Reveals God's Humility and Glory
Christ prostrated Himself to the earth because we needed rescue–that's humbling. God lowered Himself to gather to Himself His rebellious children. Even the earthly body of Christ was lowly. It was as crude as the tabernacle in the desert compared with the pyramids of Egypt or the ziggurats of Babylon. Christ willingly compromised His reputation by becoming a man (Phil. 2:7). Paradoxically, in Christ's humility, God also reveals His other-worldly glory. Phillips explains: "Jesus saw the event of His greatest earthly humiliation–the apex of His servant obedience–as His true glorification on earth. 'The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified' (John 12:23)." Calvin boldly states that the richness of God's glory "is invisible until it shines forth in Christ…the majesty of the Father is hidden until it shews itself impressed" on Christ's image."
It Compels Us to Godly Living
"For the love of Christ compels us…those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for him who died for them and rose again" (2 Cor. 5:14-15). True godliness is lived out in a mutually loving experience with God. With biblical warrant, we usually think of the cross as the greatest manifestation of God's love. But if on the cross, Christ's descent reached the pit of hell, the incarnation was His first step in that agonizing descent. We need to know Christ as He truly is, God and man in one beautiful, glorious person. Knowing Christ ensures being changed by Him.
- The Incarnation: The Athanasian Creed
- The Incarnation: Its Relevance
Rev. William Boekestein is pastor of Covenant Reformed Church in Carbondale, Pa. He is co-author of Why Christ Came.