The year draws to a close, and Christmas time is right around the corner. The smell of pine hangs in the air, and the glow of Christmas décor lights up living rooms and neighborhoods alike. The radio station blasts some of our favorite Christmas tunes. Gifts will be exchanged, and (spiked) eggnog will be consumed. Every year, our calendars are marked by this wonderful familiarity. But for Christians worldwide, Christmas is so much more than a holiday. Although we certainly have reason to celebrate our Savior all the year long, Christmas reminds us that we have more to be thankful for than Christmas sweaters and fruitcake. Christmas takes on special significance for Christians because, on Christmas, we remember that our Savior was born.
But this doesn’t blow us away as it should. It has become too familiar to some of us. From time to time, it helps to go back to basics. The letter to the Philippians is a wonderful place to start. The Apostle Paul captures the beauty of the birth of Jesus when he writes,
though [Christ Jesus] was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men (Phil. 2:6-7).
There are two important things that Paul tells us about Jesus Christ: 1) Jesus Christ is God; and 2) Jesus Christ became man. The wonder behind this verse lay not simply in the fact that Jesus Christ was God, but the intriguing statement that God became man. This is like a fully-grown adult putting on baby clothes—there is something humiliating and undignified about it. So, to imagine God, who is “infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection,” become man, is almost unthinkable. Jesus Christ fully put on humanity at his birth. We call this the Incarnation.
It was a lowly thing for the God of the universe, the Creator of all, to do. The Son of God lowered himself in an unthinkable way (speaking in human terms). But his willingness to condescend to the level of his people reminds us that great love is demonstrated by great actions. He did this with his people in mind. The Son of God took on flesh in order to “save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Paul continues,
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:8).
Jesus putting on flesh was key part in his rescue mission. As a man, Jesus was perfectly obedient to the Father’s will and he took on the sin-bearing death on the cross in place of sinners. In short, Jesus Christ was born to die.
But was it so necessary for the Savior to become man? Wouldn’t God as fully divine have been enough? Or did the Savior even need to be God himself? Wouldn’t it have been enough for the Savior to be fully human and not divine? And why did these two distinct natures have to be found in the one person of Christ? Wouldn’t it have been sufficient with two distinct persons and not just the one? Even for the most churched among us, the answers to these questions may not readily come to mind. Below, we will consider three question.
Why did Jesus have to be God?
The sentence upon man was an infinite sentence. And so, the one to bear that sentence would have to bear an infinite sentence. Only Jesus, who is fully divine, could exhaust the full wrath of God. And as fully divine, only Jesus could keep the human nature from “sinking under the infinite wrath of God and the power of death” (WLC 38). Furthermore, as fully divine, Jesus gives significant and makes his obedience, suffering, and intercession for his people effective. As fully divine, only Christ was able to earn the favor of God the Father; only Christ was able to purchase a people for God; only Christ could send the Holy Spirit to his people; only Christ conquered “all his and our enemies” (WSC 26). Only Christ, as fully divine, was able to bring unto sinners everlasting salvation.
Why did Jesus have to be man?
But Jesus also had to be fully man. Since it was man who brought sin into the world, it would have to be man that atones for sin. And humanity has been heaping up sins against God. Human history is one of law-breaking. As fully human, Jesus was perfectly obedient to the law of God for us. As fully human, he suffered and makes intercession for us in our nature (Heb. 2:17). As fully human, Jesus identifies himself with sinners, and he knows what we experience. He knows what it is to be tempted, yet without sin. Therefore, he is able to intercede for us all the more and help us when we are tempted. Not only did we need to pay the penalty for our sins, we needed a positive righteousness credited to us. Jesus Christ came in the flesh to provide these things for his people.
Why did Jesus have to be God and man in one person?
Many often wonder if it would have been possible to have two Saviors, one fully divine and one fully human. But, to put it shortly, the Savior had to be both fully God and fully man in one person. It had to be this way in order for the works of each nature to be accepted by God on our behalf. In Jesus, the one person possesses two distinct natures. These natures don’t ever mix or bleed into the other; Jesus remains fully God and fully man. It could be no other way. J. Gresham Machen highlights the gravity of confusing the two:
Such errors deprive us of our Saviour. If Jesus be not true man, God has not come close to us. Others have accepted the humanity of Jesus, and denied his divinity. But it is an incomprehensible humanity that they portray. Jesus as a mere man is full of contradictions (J. Gresham Machen, The New Testament, p. 231).
Therefor, We must be careful to maintain the Christ of Scripture, for it is the Christ of Scripture alone that saves. It had to be one person with two distinct natures because God had foreordained that it be one Mediator, one Head, one representative, one Messiah, one Savior. We rely upon the works of one person, the whole person. Only Jesus, as the God-man, could so wonderfully provide for us everything we could want, everything we certainly need. I have never received a gift for celebrating someone else’s birthday, but this is exactly what is so amazing about the birth of Christ. We never stop receiving from our gracious God. He was born for us. He lived for us. He died for us. He was raised again on the third day for us. He is ascended for us. And he will come back for us. So let us heartily celebrate the incarnation of our Lord and Savior, not just on one day, but all our days. As we remember all the things our Savior did, let all of God’s people wonder and worship.