Incarnation Topical Study

Preaching and Worship Resources about Incarnation

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Incarnation is the profound miracle of the Son of God taking on human nature. Literally, the word refers to becoming "enfleshed," to taking on flesh, blood, and bone, DNA, cells, and membranes. When the Holy Spirit enabled the virgin girl Mary to conceive a child, the Son of God received from Mary a true human nature that was then joined to — but not mixed with or into — the divine nature that, as the second person of the Trinity, the Son had possessed from all eternity. Note: Although the precise term incarnation does not occur in most Bible translations, the concept of God's Son becoming a flesh-and-blood human being with a real body is contained in the above-quoted (and other) passages from which the doctrine (and the precise term) were derived.

In Scripture

Immanuel "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel" (Isa. 7:14).

Birth of Jesus "Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, `Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins'" (Matt. 1:18-21).

How Can This Be? "Mary said to the angel, `How can this be, since I am a virgin?' The angel said to her, `The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God'" (Luke 1:34, 35).

Startled and Terrified "They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, `Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.' And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, `Have you anything here to eat?' They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence" (Luke 24:37-43).

The Word "And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).

Freedom "Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death" (Heb. 2:14-15).

Points to Ponder

A Real Human Nature: The humanity of Jesus was genuine. The person named Jesus did not merely look human, nor was his flesh a disguise or a costume that covered over a singularly divine nature. Instead, the child born to Mary became a true human being who is exactly like every other person in history, except that he did not have the sinful nature the rest of humanity inherited from Adam, nor did he commit sins. But by becoming truly human, Jesus was positioned to stand in for all of us who need to be saved on account of sin. He was one of us in every sense and so took guilty humanity's place in order to set things right and create the possibility of a redeemed and new humanity. The heresy of Docetism claims that Jesus was only divine in that he took on the appearance of a human being. Orthodox Christianity affirms with the Nicene and Athanasian creeds that although Jesus was of "one essence" with the Father, he did take on a truly human nature that remained attached to — but distinct from — his truly divine nature.

An Abiding Humanity: Christians have long affirmed that when Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning, this grand miracle involved a real body coming out of the tomb. This was not a spiritual resurrection but a physical one. True, the body of Jesus was transformed into a resurrection mode of existence, even as all our bodies will be transformed at the final resurrection on the last day, but Jesus nevertheless still possessed a real body. What Christians sometimes forget, however, is that at no point has Jesus shucked off that body and the true human nature he gained in the incarnation. Once Jesus became human in the womb of Mary, he gained a nature that he will retain forever. As many teachings on the meaning of the Ascension assert, one of the great comforts Christians gain from now worshiping Jesus at the right hand of the Father is that his bodily presence in "heaven" is an assurance that when we, too, receive new bodies one day, those bodies will be as compatible with dwelling in the presence of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as Jesus' resurrected body is already proving to be.

Pain, Temptation, and Death: Among the myriad implications of the incarnation is the fact that Jesus was able to experience pain, temptation, and finally sin's worst scourge: death. The New Testament (in places like Hebrews 2) makes clear that disciples of Christ Jesus can draw great comfort from Christ's ability to empathize with us in our human weakness, in the pains we experience, and finally in facing physical death. We have a very knowing Savior. But because through his pain, suffering, and death Jesus won a victory over all of that by leading a perfect life and yet receiving our just punishment for sin and evil, we know that our frailties now and ultimately also our physical deaths will not have the last word. The victorious and risen incarnate Savior Jesus has the final word now, and his word to all who believe is "life everlasting."

From Frederick Buechner: "`The Word became flesh,' wrote John, `and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth' (John 1:14). That is what incarnation means. It is untheological. It is unsophisticated. It is undignified. But according to Christianity, it is the way things are. . . . If we are saved anywhere, we are saved here. And what is saved is not some diaphanous distillation of our bodies and our earth but our bodies and our earth themselves. . . . One of the blunders religious people are particularly fond of making is the attempt to be more spiritual than God."

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.