The Necessity of the Incarnation

It is surely a good thing, in this Christmas season when our thoughts should be directed to the Wonder of Bethlehem, to dwell a few moments upon the subject we have selected for this article. To dwell upon the necessity of the incarnation is difficult in itself, even apart from the element of sin. The truths of the Word of God are profound because they involve the living God, and the truth of the incarnation is surely a truth that involves the living God. However, to meditate upon the truth of Christ’s coming into our flesh and blood is also and particularly difficult because of the element of sin. Our Christmas seasons certainly do not lend themselves to spiritual study and meditation. Everywhere everything is so grossly commercialized. The devil does all within his power to have us forget the Christ-Child of Bethlehem, forget Him as He is according to the Scriptures. Indeed, in this season we see Him and hear of Him everywhere. But He Whom we see and of Whom we hear is not He Who came to seek and to save that which was lost. Let us in this article strive to see the Mystery of Bethlehem. 

Why is it so difficult, in this season, to concentrate upon this Mystery of Bethlehem? Does it not seem that all the things about us today lend themselves to this concentration and meditation? Do we not see the Babe of Bethlehem everywhere about us? Does not the Christmas music we hear everywhere remind us of Him? I repeat: everywhere we see Him and hear of Him. But, do we? It is so extremely difficult even to think of Him! Why? After all, we too must go to Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass,Luke 2:15. We must see “this thing.” We must not merely see a babe. Wicked modernism sees only a babe. But we must see this thing, this divine wonder, which is come to pass, which the Lord revealed, made known to us. However, this “thing” lies in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes. There is nothing here of the earth. It is exactly this wondrous Babe that is denied today everywhere around us. And if we today are to see this “thing” we must cut through all the earthy of our present Christmas season to see it. We must see a Babe in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. It is the earthy that characterizes every Christmas season. And it is exactly this earthy that is so completely absent here when the Mystery of Bethlehem occurs. 

Besides, who is this Babe of Bethlehem? We read in II Corinthians 8:9: “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor.” Literally we read here of our Lord Jesus Christ that, being rich, He became poor. He remained rich when He became poor. The same truth is expressed in Philippians 2:6: “Who, being in the form of God. . .made Himself of no reputation,” that is emptied Himself. Notice: being in the form, essentially, of God. Hence, while emptying Himself, He remained God. And this we also read in our Heidelberg Catechism, in Answer 35: “That God’s eternal Son, Who is and continueth true and eternal. God.” So, the Babe of Bethlehem is God, the eternal Son of God, rich as God is rich. And, mind you, He became poor. We read in II Corinthians 8:9, “for our sakes,” because of our sin. Our sin and poverty necessitated His coming into our flesh and blood. This explains the difficulty of concentrating upon the Mystery of Bethlehem. Fact is, this Babe of Bethlehem has no form or comeliness that we should desire Him. He has no attraction for the natural man. Everything about Him is repulsive to the sinner. He saves from sin, and we love sin and cannot have any desire to be delivered from it. He alone can pay the debt of sin and no sinner is able to do this. He comes to do His Father’s will, to satisfy all the righteousness of God; and that God maintains and justifies Himself is so repulsive to the sinner. The sinner hates the idea that God is just when condemning all men to eternal damnation and that this Babe appears as the Servant of that Jehovah. He Who is and remains rich became poor for our sakes. His coming speaks of our sin and guilt and the absolute hopelessness of the sinner, of a salvation which we hate and despise because of our hatred of the alone living God. 

We speak of the necessity of the incarnation. The Holland word vleeschwording means “become flesh,” and it means that God, Who is and remains God, became flesh. The English word incarnation means “in the flesh.” The meaning is the same. Holy Writ very plainly and emphatically teaches us this truth of the incarnation, also called the truth of the virgin birth. We are all familiar with the Word of God of Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” It is true that the word translated “virgin” may also be translated “a young married woman.” However, it may also be translated “virgin.” And this is, of course, the meaning here. Where would the sign be if merely a young married woman conceived? Besides, His name is Immanuel, which means “with us God.” And then there is also the passage in the Word of God of Matthew 1:19-25. Mary and Joseph were engaged to be married. Mary, however, was with child. And Joseph was minded to put her away privily, break the engagement, because he believed, understandably, that Mary had been unfaithful. And now the Holy Spirit reveals to him that that which had been conceived in her was of the Holy Ghost. Clearly, therefore, this passage teaches the virgin birth, that Mary had conceived without the will of man. The truth of the incarnation, the virgin birth, is clearly Scriptural. 

Wicked modernism would have us believe that Jesus could have been born the way He was born, that is, as Immanuel, God with us, through the will of an earthly father. Why could Jesus not be born in the ordinary way, in the way all men are born, and still be Immanuel, God with us? Are not all things possible with the Lord? Could not the almighty God, had it pleased Him, be born as all men are born? Imagine, however, if Jesus had had an earthly father! Even now, when the Scriptures so clearly teach that Jesus was born without the will of man, that He was born of a virgin, that that which was conceived in her was by the Holy Ghost (do not the Scriptures “go all out” to set this forth so very clearly?), wicked modernism continues to deny the virgin birth, insists that our Savior had an earthly father. What would that wicked world say if the Scriptures would actually teach that Jesus had an earthly father as well as an earthly mother? Would it say that with God all things are possible, that Immanuel could be born even as having an earthly father, and that the Babe of Bethlehem is the eternal Son of God, Immanuel, God with us! Indeed, the world would surely deny the divine origin of this Mystery of Bethlehem. 

We speak of the necessity of the incarnation. We mean that sin necessitated the coming of the eternal Son of God into our flesh and blood. This, we understand, is the viewpoint of our Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 14, Questions and Answers 35 and 36. And this, of course, is surely true. However, although it is true that Jesus came for sin’s sake, it is also true that sin came for Jesus’ sake. When we say that sin necessitated the coming of Christ this does not and cannot mean that the Lord is ever determined by circumstances outside of Himself. This is the Arminian presentation which teaches a divine election and reprobation as based upon foreseen faith and unbelief. God, however, is the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth. He is never determined by things outside of Himself. He is the divine Potter and we are always the clay. He forms the light and creates the darkness; He makes peace and creates evil; He, the Lord, does all these things— Isaiah 45:7. He declares the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure,” Isaiah 46:10. He willed sin and darkness, sovereignly, for the glory of His Name. Of course! The Lord does all things to glorify Himself. He alone is the absolute, living God. And, yet, we understand that sin surely necessitated the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sin necessitated the incarnation. Sin necessitated the virgin birth because it is only the eternal Son of God united with our flesh and blood Who could destroy this power of sin and merit for us everlasting life and glory. Our Savior must be born without the will of man because He must be the eternal Son of God in our flesh and blood. Our Savior must be the Person of the Son of God as He enters into our sin and guilt. Guilt is imputed to the person. That we are all guilty is because we are all personally in Adam. The sin of Adam is, therefore, imputed to the whole human race. If Jesus were a human person He would Himself be guilty and then it would be necessary for Him to pay for His own sin and guilt. The Babe of Bethlehem, however, did not inherit our guilt. He was not guilty because He was personally in Adam. He took it upon Himself. He entered into our human race, through the wonder of the virgin birth, voluntarily assumed responsibility for all the sins of His elect own, having Himself no sin and guilt. This explains the necessity of the incarnation and of the virgin birth. This is the Mystery of Bethlehem. And it is only because this Babe of Bethlehem is the eternal Son of God that He is able to bear the infinite and eternal wrath of God, and that His amazing passion and death have an eternal value. The humiliation of the Son of God, that, being rich as the eternal Son of God, He became poor for our sakes, demanded an exaltation of similar degree, into the highest heavens. This explains the mystery of why our Savior must be born without the will of man, born of a virgin, conceived by the Holy Spirit. And to this truth the church of God has clung throughout the ages. All the powers of hell have not been able to overthrow it. 

“And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” Are we able to do as these shepherds did, to go to Bethlehem and see this thing which-has come to pass? Are we able to separate ourselves from all the activity of our present Christmas season, from all the business and materialism of our present day and age, to go to the manger, to see this thing and actually appropriate it unto ourselves? Do we understand this “thing” that has come to pass? And are we doing what the shepherds did? This we can and will do provided that we understand personally the necessity of the incarnation. We must understand, spiritually and personally, His coming into our flesh and blood. We must see in that manger the divine Wonder of grace. We must see and experience our own sin and guilt and our own utter hopelessness. We must desire and long for the fellowship of the living God, see our damnableness, and know that our only hope lies in Him Who, being rich, became poor for our sakes. Then the Mystery of Bethlehem will speak to us. Then we will see that He, with His perfect innocence, covers all our sin and guilt. And then we will return from Bethlehem, glorifying and praising God for all the things which we have heard and seen. This is really what it is all about in this season. May we ever understand the necessity of the incarnation.