May 9, 2014 Broadcast

Incarnation

A Message by R.C. Sproul

We often think of the work of Christ as something that began during His earthly ministry, and concluded when He ascended into heaven. The truth is, the work of Christ began in eternity past and has important implications for us today. In this lesson, Dr. Sproul explains how Christ's humiliation, incarnation, crucifixion and exaltation are grounded in the eternal covenant among the Persons of the Trinity.

From the series: What Did Jesus Do?: Understanding the Work of Christ

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. article

    His Glory Is Our Story

  2. article

    Born of the Virgin Mary

  3. devotional

    The Incarnation

His Glory Is Our Story

John Sartelle

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). I love being on a high mountain, on a tall building, or in a plane looking down on where I act out my daily routine, looking dow n on my house, neighborhood, and city. Such a panorama gives me a new perspective on my existence. Remember the first time you saw a view of the earth from a satellite, one of those marvelous pictures taken from space? Before the twentieth century, no human could see his location from that distance and angle. The apostle John, in his gospel, gives us a new position from which we can view the life of Jesus. Matthew and Luke begin their stories of Jesus with His conception and birth in Nazareth and Bethlehem. John begins his narrative with the Son of God in eternity before the universe was created. Before He took on flesh, the Son of God lived with the Father and the Holy Spirit in glory. The Son of God was the Word who became flesh (John 1:14). In the beginning, the Son of God was with God and was God (v. 1).

The life of Jesus as man began when He was conceived in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit. However, the Son of God has no beginning. He is from eternity. How Jesus can be true God and true man is a mystery. We cannot get our minds around it. We can know for certain that before the Son of God took on flesh, He was the eternal Son with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Louis Berkhof, the brilliant Dutch theologian, wrote, “It is not possible to speak of the incarnation of one who had no previous existence.” He explained that Jesus did not acquire deity; rather, the eternal Son of God took on humanity — two natures, one person.

Focusing our attention on the Son of God in eternity before creation may seem unrelated to our everyday lives as Christians. Yet His life in eternity before the incarnation speaks to us about vital relationships, purpose in this world, and our future glory.

The Son of God lived in glorious oneness with the Father and the Holy Spirit. In the incarnation, He came to draw us into that intimate and fulfilling relationship: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (v. 12). The Son came that we might know and enjoy a close relationship with God as our Father.

What was the Son doing before the incarnation? He was dwelling in communion with the Father and the Spirit, and executed, in time and space, His will in creation. For “all things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (vv. 3–4). Go out on a dark night and look at the Pleiades, the Big Dipper, Mars, and Jupiter — these are the works of His omnipotent hands.

In the incarnation, the creating Son came to redeem and restore His creation. His miracles were designed to prove His divine identity. With each miracle He was declaring, “So that you may know I am the eternal Son.” He made the blind to see, the paralyzed to walk, and the dead to live. His miracles also demonstrated His purpose to redeem and restore His creation. Everywhere the creator Son saw the effects of the fall on His creation, and He repaired the wounds and injuries, and pushed back the darkness.

The Son has called us to be a part of the redemption of His creation. He has called us to take the light of the gospel to the dark world. He has commanded us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and bring relief to the poor. Just as the Son called us into intimate fellowship with God, He has called us to follow Him in redeeming His creation.

From eternity, the Son had shared in the majestic glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus yearned to return to that glory: “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (17:4–5).

Through the incarnation, we were drawn into that glory. Remember what the Father said of the Son when He was transfigured before the disciples: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 17:5). The Father’s commendation was glory to Jesus. Just so, Jesus will confess us before all of earth and heaven: “They are with Me. They are Mine.” He will commend us before the Father, before the angels, before the archangels — that will be the greatest glory we have ever known. Sometimes we speak of the glory of the Rocky Mountains or the glorious sunset at the seashore. God shall call all of heaven to look at the beauty of His redeemed. We will be dressed in the righteousness of Jesus: “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2). Such will be our glory.

Every part of our lives as His disciples is an extension of the life of the pre-existent Son. The Son calls us into His eternity, to live in harmonious union with Him, to participate in the redemption of creation, and to be a part of His glory.

Born of the Virgin Mary

R.C. Sproul

Along with the great theologian and philosopher Anselm of Canterbury we ask the question, Cur deus homo? Why the God-man? When we look at the biblical answer to that question, we see that the purpose behind the incarnation of Christ is to fulfill His work as God’s appointed Mediator. It is said in 1 Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself ….” Now, the Bible speaks of many mediators with a small or lower case “m.” A mediator is an agent who stands between two parties who are estranged and in need of reconciliation. But when Paul writes to Timothy of a solitary Mediator, a single Mediator, with a capital “M,” he’s referring to that Mediator who is the supreme Intercessor between God and fallen humanity. This Mediator, Jesus Christ, is indeed the God-man.

In the early centuries of the church, with the office of mediator and the ministry of reconciliation in view, the church had to deal with heretical movements that would disturb the balance of this mediating character of Christ. Our one Mediator, who stands as an agent to reconcile God and man, is the One who participates both in deity and in humanity. In the gospel of John, we read that it was the eternal Logos, the Word, who became flesh and dwelt among us. It was the second person of the Trinity who took upon Himself a human nature to work out our redemption. In the fifth century at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the church had to fight against a sinister teaching called the Monophysite heresy. The term monophysite is derived from the prefix mono, which means “one,” and from the root phusis, which means “nature” or “essence.” The heretic Eutyches taught that Christ, in the incarnation, had a single nature, which he called a “theanthropic nature.” This theanthropic nature (which combines the word theos, meaning “God,” and anthropos, meaning “man”) gives us a Savior who is a hybrid, but under close scrutiny would be seen to be one who was neither God nor man. The Monophysite heresy obscured the distinction between God and man, giving us either a deified human or a humanized deity. It was against the backdrop of this heresy that the Chalcedonian Creed insisted Christ possesses two distinct natures, divine and human. He is vere homo (truly human) and vere Deus (truly divine, or truly God). These two natures are united in the mystery of the incarnation, but it is important according to Christian orthodoxy that we understand the divine nature of Christ is fully God and the human nature is fully human. So this one person who had two natures, divine and human, was perfectly suited to be our Mediator between God and men. An earlier church council, the Council of Nicea in 325, had declared that Christ came “for us men, and for our salvation.” That is, His mission was to reconcile the estrangement that existed between God and humanity.

It is important to note that for Christ to be our perfect Mediator, the incarnation was not a union between God and an angel, or between God and a brutish creature such as an elephant or a chimpanzee. The reconciliation that was needed was between God and human beings. In His role as Mediator and the God-man, Jesus assumed the office of the second Adam, or what the Bible calls the last Adam. He entered into a corporate solidarity with our humanity, being a representative like unto Adam in his representation. Paul, for example, in his letter to the Romans gives the contrast between the original Adam and Jesus as the second Adam. In Romans 5, verse 15, he says, “For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.” Here we observe the contrast between the calamity that came upon the human race because of the disobedience of the original Adam and the glory that comes to believers because of Christ’s obedience. Paul goes on to say in verse 19: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” Adam functioned in the role of a mediator, and he failed miserably in his task. That failure was rectified by the perfect success of Christ, the God-man. We read later in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians these words: “And so it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man” (1 Cor. 15:45).

We see then the purpose of the first advent of Christ. The Logos took upon Himself a human nature, the Word became flesh to effect our redemption by fulfilling the role of the perfect Mediator between God and man. The new Adam is our champion, our representative, who satisfies the demands of God’s law for us and wins for us the blessing that God promised to His creatures if we would obey His law. Like Adam, we failed to obey the Law, but the new Adam, our Mediator, has fulfilled the Law perfectly for us and won for us the crown of redemption. That is the foundation for the joy of Christmas.

The Incarnation

Justification by faith alone via the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer and the non-imputation of sin to those who rest only on Jesus for salvation is the focus of Paul’s attention in Romans 3:21–5:21. Before we move on to Romans 5 and its focus on Jesus as the last Adam and the manner in which God constitutes a righteous status for us in Christ, it will be helpful for us to look at the work of our Savior in more detail since it is His perfect obedience that is imputed to us. Dr. R.C. Sproul will assist us in this study as we base the next week of devotionals on his teaching series What Did Jesus Do?

The obedience that Jesus offered to His Father makes up what we refer to in systematic theology as the work of Christ. However, this work was done by a person, namely, the Son of God, so we cannot separate the person of Christ from what He did. Thus, we should briefly consider Jesus’ identity as the incarnate God-man, the one who is truly God and truly human. When we speak of the incarnation, we are speaking of an event that took place in time. At a particular point in history, God the Son—the second person of the Holy Trinity— took on a human nature without subtracting from Himself any of His divine attributes (John 1:1–14). In Him the whole fullness of deity is pleased to dwell, and this will be so for all eternity (Col. 1:19–20; Heb. 13:8). Yet while the incarnation took place in time, it has its foundation in eternity past in what we call the covenant of redemption, that commitment by the members of the Godhead to one another to send the Son to bear the divine wrath in order to effect reconciliation in the Spirit between the Father and His elect people (John 17).

Paul gives us some of the most profound reflections on the incarnation in the entire New Testament. Philippians 2:5–11 tells us that the Son of God did not consider His equality with God as something to be used solely for His own advantage at the expense of others; instead, He voluntarily condescended and took the form of a servant and became “obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross” (v. 8). In this condescension, our Savior did not surrender any divine attributes such as omniscience or omnipotence, though He did veil His glory. Without giving up His glory, He chose not to fully manifest it to all who saw Him as He walked the earth. But this veiling was only temporary. On account of His work, God exalted the God-man Christ Jesus, rewarding Him for His obedience and revealing Him as the source of eternal salvation for all who believe (vv. 9–11).

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