Summary: what does the incarnation mean


There have been some one hit wonders in the pop world. One was Joan Osborne’s song What if God was one of us? Some of the lyrics go as follows:

If God had a name, what would it be?

And would you call it to his face,

If you were faced with him in all his glory?

What would you ask if you had just one question?

It was a one hit wonder song, but it asks some of the most profound questions ever penned by a human hand and mind. What if God was one of us? What is his name? What would I ask him if I could talk to him as I am talking to you now? Joan Osborne gave no answers to her questions in the remaining lyrics of her song. But turn with me to John chapter 1. This is surely some of the most beautiful and the most profound words ever written by a human hand.

Read John 1 v1-14. Now I want this evening to concentrate on verse 4 because it actually tells us God did become one of us. At one point in time, in space and in history God became man. At one point in the history of this universe God entered time space as a baby and became part of the human race. But before we come to that I want to read you a love story.

Read Soren Kierkegaard’s parable about the king and the maiden.

The king loved that humble maiden, dressed in all her rags, her lack of education and etiquette – despite all of this he loved her. He set aside, gave up the palace, his royal pleasures and privileges and lived as a peasant in order to prove his love for her and to win her hand. He became as ragged as the one he loved, so that she could be united with him forever. It was the only way. His raggedness became the very signature of his presence.

‘ And this shall be sign to unto you: ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’

Read Philippians 2 v5-8. This is the God who took of his majesty, emptied himself, wrapped a towel around his waist and washed his disciples feet. This is the one of whom Isaiah said ‘He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.’

Now listen to what John says in chapter 1 verse 14. READ.

Let us look a little more closely at this verse. We read it very quickly, too quickly. We think we understand that Jesus came to earth, that he was and is the Son of God. we speak of the Incarnation as if it were a mere fact and not the greatest event, wonder, miracle that this world has ever seen. We pass over it glibly and we as Christians do it a great disservice when we dare to claim incarnational ministry for ourselves. The incarnation does not, never has, and never will apply to us. I want to repeat that – the incarnation does not, never has, and never shall apply to us.

So come with me and let us look again at what John, and the other gospel writers, meant when they spoke of the Incarnation.

The Word – who is this Word? Who is this that John speaks of? Look at verse 1 – this Word is the creative, sustaining, directing and guiding force, one, power behind all that is in this universe. In fact The Word is not mentioned from verse 1 till verse 14. A description of all that he is and does is compacted into 13 verses but then with startling, almost vulgar terms John states ‘the Word became flesh.’

We have lost the sense of wonder, amazement, horror and blasphemy this statement would have engendered amongst those who heard the gospel for the first time. John says the Word (Jesus) became flesh – he deliberately used the Greek word for ‘flesh’ (sarx) and not the word for man or person. He uses the word sarx which speaks of ‘the flesh’ – it is the same word which the apostle Paul uses to describe man in all his weakness and in all his liability to sin. john uses sarx because it is the Greek word which stands of the whole person. He deliberately bypasses the word for ‘man’ or ‘a body’ to use sarx, ‘in the flesh.’ John wants his hearers, and us, to understand that when the Word became flesh he took on human existence in all its frailty and vulnerability yet without sin. So John says the Word which in verse 1 is one with the Father in divinity is in v 14 one with us in humanity. That is an astounding statement. In fact in John’s day to the Jews it was a blasphemous statement and to the Greeks it was a foolish statement. Yet John deliberately chooses to state ‘The Word became flesh.’

He goes on to state further ‘and made his dwelling amongst us.’ Literally translated John says ‘he tabernacled, or pitched his tent amongst us.’ What he was saying was this – the Word, who is God, came down in flesh, as man, and lived amongst us. Listen to how the writer to the Hebrews states it – READ Hebrews 1 v1-2. the Word became flesh, God’s self-expression, self-revelation lived amongst us. That is what John says here. Again it is no random choice of words but a deliberate choice so that the minds and memory of his Jewish listeners would be turned back to the OT, to the time of the wilderness wanderings and the Tent of Meeting, the Tabernacle, when God lived amongst his people. John says to them, and to us, there was a time when the Word existed only outside of time and space, in eternity. There was a time when he choose to live amongst you in that his presence was attested to by the Tent of meeting, but now he has come in the flesh. He has chosen to enter time and space, to be born of a young virgin women, to grow up in obscurity, to work at the carpenters bench, to have a public ministry and to die on the cross. God has chosen to reveal himself – the Word became flesh and lived amongst us. When the Word became flesh God became man. This is the supreme revelation of God.

John then goes on to state ‘We have beheld his glory…’ Note will you the personal testimony – We. Again I refer you to Hebrews 1 v1-2. John says we have seen his glory – the ‘shekeniah’ – the visible manifestation of God’s presence. Again John wants to cast the mind of his hearers back to the OT, this time to Exodus 33 and 34. Come with me back to those two chapters and we will see what John wants to remind his hearers of and to teach them about Jesus. In chapter 33 and verse 18 Moses asks God to show him his glory. God agrees and look what he reveals – Exodus 33v19, 34 v5-7.

What does John now say – Word = ‘full of grace and truth?’ what did God reveal to Moses when he wanted to reveal his glory – his goodness, his name full of grace and truth. John uses the words ‘hesed’ and ‘emet’ to describe the glory of the Word made flesh – full of grace and truth. What was he saying? He was saying this:

The glory of the Word made flesh is not seen in pomp and circumstance, it is not seen in power and majesty, it is not seen in wealth and status. It is seen in steadfast, faithful, covenantal love and in truth. When God wanted to reveal his glory to Moses he revealed his name, the Lord, and his character which is summed up in faithful, steadfast, covenantal love and in truth. When the Word (God) became flesh he revealed the glory of God in grace and truth – in other words in steadfast, faithful, covenantal love and truth.

John goes on to further state that this ‘grace and truth’ is seen in the ‘One and only Son.’ Listen to me now because this is important. There is no other, there has been no other and there will be no other self-revelation of God. When the Word became flesh in Christ Jesus that was the complete, sufficient, once for all revelation of God in his glory, in his grace and in truth for all mankind and for all time. In John 14 v 6 we read this ‘I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the father but by me.’ There is no other Word become flesh – only Jesus. There is no other truth – only Jesus. There is no other means of grace – only Jesus. There is no other way to God the Father – only Jesus.

In closing let me spell out for you the implications of what John has stated in chapter 1 verse 14.

Salvation – Anselm’s conundrum of the 11th century – stated in Cur Deus Homo. ‘Since no one save God can make satisfaction for our sins, and no one save man ought to make it, it is necessary for a God-man to make it.’ What Anselm said basically is that in order for you and I to be saved from the eternal consequences of our sins, namely hell, we need the Word to become flesh, to live amongst us and to die in our place. Karl Barth says of verse 14 ‘God would rather share in the suffering of human wretchedness than to be the blesses God of unblessed creatures.’ The Word became flesh so that we might be saved. The babe in the manger makes no sense without the Cross of Calvary.

Affirmation – verse 14 affirms the value of our lives. It affirms the value of human existence, of every human existence, no matter how frail, how poor, how rich, how intelligent, how young. Verse 14 says every human life from conception on is of eternal value to God. as we sing in a Christmas carol ‘he abhors not eh virgin’s womb.’

Identification – verse 14 tells us that despite, in fact because, of our sin and fallenness – God identifies with us in our humanity. Hence he says in Matthew 11 verse 28 come to me all that travail and are heavy laden I will give you rest.

Adoration – the Incarnation drives us to our knees in adoration of the Word become flesh. How could we do anything else.

Remember Kierkegaard’s parable about the king who gave up all his majesty, power, position and status and became a humble peasant in order to win the love of the maiden. When the Word became flesh Christ Jesus set aside the glory of heaven in order to win you. He became poor that in him you might become rich.

READ verse 14.

We beheld his glory when the Lord of all voluntarily submitted to his earthly father and mother. We beheld his glory when the maker of heaven and earth used a saw and a hammer and nails to fashion chairs and benches. We beheld his glory when the Lord of hosts girded himself with a towel and washed his disciples feet. We beheld his glory when the Author of life died on a cross. We beheld his glory when death could not hold him, the tomb cold not imprison him.

We behold his glory still when he comes still to ordinary fallen sinful human beings. For the glory of God is not just in power and might and majesty. His glory is that he would come to this corner of the universe, to this insignificant planet, to a ragged people he could bring himself to discard. His glory is that one day he laid aside his majesty and bliss and came knocking at your door. One day, he came just for you.