Article 18 - The Incarnation of the Son of God
THE INCARNATION OF THE SON OF GOD
We confess, therefore, that God has fulfilled the promise He made to the fathers by the mouth of His holy prophets when, at the time appointed by Him, He sent into the world His own only-begotten and eternal Son, who took the form of a servant and was born in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:7). He truly assumed a real human nature with all its infirmities, without sin, for He was conceived in the womb of the blessed virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit and not by the act of a man. He not only assumed human nature as to the body, but also a true human soul, in order that He might be a real man. For since the soul was lost as well as the body, it was necessary that He should assume both to save both.
Contrary to the heresy of the Anabaptists, who deny that Christ assumed human flesh of His mother, we therefore confess that Christ partook of the flesh and blood of the children (Hebrews 2:14). He is a fruit of the loins of David (Acts 2:30); born of the seed of David according to the flesh (Romans 1:3); a fruit of the womb of the virgin Mary (Luke 1:42); born of woman (Galatians 4:4); a branch of David (Jeremiah 33:15); a shoot from the stump of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1); sprung from the tribe of Judah (Hebrews 7:14); descended from the Jews according to the flesh (Romans 9:5); of the seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:16), since the Son was concerned with the descendants of Abraham. Therefore He had to be made like His brethren in every respect, yet without sin (Hebrews 2:16,17; Hebrews 4:15).
In this way He is in truth our Immanuel, that is, God with us (Matthew 1:23).
AT GOD’S APPOINTED TIME
Article 17 confesses how God came to seek out fallen man, came with the Gospel of the promise of the seed of the woman who would bruise the head of Satan (Genesis 3:15). Article 18 continues this confession by stating that God sent the seed of the woman at a very specific point in time. Says our article, “... at the time appointed by Him, (God) sent His one and only eternal Son into the world.” That this in fact echoes God’s revelation in Scripture is clear from passages as Galatians 4:3-5, where the Holy Spirit has Paul write, “... we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law.” Here ‘bondage’ is a reference to man being on Satan’s side after the fall into sin. At the time God judged to be right, He sent His only Son from heaven to earth.
GOD GAVE UP HIS SON and CHRIST GAVE UP HIS GLORY
From eternity God had one only Son. This Son was God’s dearly beloved (Luke 3:22). Together they enjoyed eternal glory, and ever since the creation of the world in the beginning the angels sang up the glory of the Father and the Son. Jesus describes the splendor to which He was accustomed when He prayed in His high-priestly prayer, “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5).
At a given moment God in heaven instructed His beloved Son to leave heaven’s splendor. That’s the implication of Jesus’ words in John 5:24, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life.” Sending His only Son out of His glorious presence in heaven involved self-emptying on the part of the Father, for He gave away what was dearest to Him. When Jesus describes the gospel He words it like this: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).
From this heavenly glory the eternal Son of God moved to the squalor of an animal shed. His bed was a feeding trough, His blankets swaddling cloths, His company animals – and sinners. We scarcely give the marvel of Christmas a second thought, but we do well to stop and consider what Christmas really involved, consider what self-sacrifice there was on the part of the Father and the Son. What glorious display of what love is all about!
In itself, there was nothing dishonorable about the Son of God becoming man, for man was created in that most exalted of positions as image of God (see Article 14). The Son of God, though, did not become a man as the human race was before the fall into sin; the Son of God instead became one of us as we became with the fall. So Jesus too could be sick, could suffer pain, could experience hunger and toothache and sleeplessness and every other effect of our fall – though without sin. The apostle Paul called this humiliation. Said he in Philippians 2:5-8, “...Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” One could find no better example of self-denial than for the Son to leave His heavenly glory to join fallen man and die on the cross for their sake. God gave everything, even His own Son; and the Son willingly went. This is a gospel that cannot leave one cold. That in the crib of Bethlehem should lay the Son of God: words cannot capture the depth of that marvel!
THE MOTIVE FOR THE INCARNATION
Why did the Son leave the splendor of heaven and come to earth? He came for the benefit of lost sinners. The angel explained the motive to Joseph, “And (Mary) will bring forth a son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Jesus repeated the thought in His words to Zaccheus: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). The Nicene Creed echoes this sentiment of Scripture with the confession that the Son of God “for us men and our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man” (Book of Praise, p. 437). I had deserted God, joined Satan, broken the covenant with God. Yet God did not leave me in my predicament, but sent His only Son to earth to save me. God, who does not change, did in Bethlehem what He had promised to do so many years earlier in Genesis 3. To me, in my particular circumstances and with my particular strengths and weaknesses, He has given Christ so that I might be brought back from Satan’s side to God’s side. It is this knowledge that makes Christmas so indescribably rich for me – so much so that I accept nothing in the Christmas season that would distract my attention from that gospel. This glorious Gospel I carry with me in all the highs and lows of life, for all is well if God in fact loves me this much!
This self-emptying on the part of the Son exposes the love that must characterize all Christians. Paul writes to the Philippians of Christ’s self-emptying in order to correct a selfish attitude prevalent in that congregation. The Christians of Philippi, Paul says, were busy with self, each seeking to build up his own reputation and kingdom (Philippians 2:2-4). Paul condemned that self-centeredness, and insisted that the Christians of Philippi follow the example of Jesus Christ – who did not insist on the glory of heaven, did not stand on any divine rights He might have, but emptied Himself to serve the unworthy. Paul insists that Christ’s example at Christmas is one all Christians must reflect. This is radical instruction to people perennially busy with Self, always by nature seeking to further Self. It is radical instruction also for people who naturally gravitate to tit-for-tat conduct and revenge behavior. Though we rejected God in Paradise and offended Him greatly, He did not respond in kind or seek revenge upon us; He instead gave the gift of His only Son and so smothered the unworthy with love. The more that Christians live that lifestyle (in family, work and community nearby and far away), the more a revengeful world will see how unique and glorious the living God actually is.
ANABAPTIST HERESY CONCERNING CHRIST’S INCARNATION
DeBres had to defend the incarnation of Christ over against the heresy of the Anabaptists. The Anabaptists did not deny that Christ was born of Mary, but they compared Mary to a funnel, in that Christ merely passed through her and hence did not take on human nature. According to the Anabaptists Christ was not true man but only true God. Yet deBres confessed, in agreement with Scripture, that it was imperative for Christ to be true man in order to be able to save man. The curse had fallen upon man, and therefore the curse had to be paid by man. Christ, true God and true man, was the only man able to pay for sin (Lord’s Day 6).
Points for Discussion:
- Why is Christmas so marvelous?
- Was there humility in the Son of God coming as a baby in a manger (cf 2 Corinthians 8:9; Philippians 2:3-8)? What was it? Consider what sort of impact Jesus’ example at Christmas was to have amongst the Christians of Philippi.
- Does it make any difference to your salvation whether or not Christmas really happened? Explain.