Why the Incarnation?

morning star“He himself likewise shared in the same [flesh and blood]…” (Hebrews 2:14)

But why? Why would he, the eternal Son of God, the heir of all things, the Creator of all, the brightness of God’s glory, do this? Why would he take on our nature for all eternity? Why was he “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary”? Jesus did not do this simply for the sake of a shared experience; he was not a divine cultural tourist. His incarnation was and is an active, willing, pursuit of a multifaceted goal. Hebrews 2 gives at least nine reasons why the Son of God has identified with His people by His incarnation:

(1) “He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying: I will declare Your name to My brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.” (Hebrews 2:12) He did it to proclaim God to his adopted brothers – to display God to us in tangible, human terms. The Son of God has in love stooped down to our creaturely level, to teach us, to display God himself to us: we who by nature are strangers and rebels to God!

(2) “I will put my trust in Him.” (Hebrews 2:13) He did it to show us true faith in God, and to shepherd us in that faith. Have you ever realized that in His humanity the Son of God, Jesus, also had to live by faith!? He actively put His trust in the Father – He has pioneered the way of faith for us. He knows what faith is, what it is to trust.

(3) “Here am I and the children whom God has given Me.” (Hebrews 2:13) He did it for the salvation of the children God has given Him – Jesus, the Son of God, pursued taking on and living our humanity, our flesh and blood with particular intent to save, knowing each one of his children, to bring many sons to glory. As he says in John 6:37, “all that the Father gives to Me will come to Me, and he that comes to Me I will certainly not cast out”.

(4) “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood he himself likewise partook of the same things that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” (Hebrews 2:14) In what sense does the devil have the power of death? Ultimately God alone has this prerogative – the wages of sin are death. Yet in every human death the devil has ‘a victory’ over Adam and his descendants in humanity. By choosing Satan’s deceit over God’s truth, Adam chose sin, following Satan’s lead, he and humanity came under the power of sin, and its ultimate end: death. Jesus, as the second Adam (I Corinthians 15) took our humanity, living God’s precepts in perfect holiness, fulfilling all righteousness, bearing the full weight of God’s just wrath and curse against sin by shedding his justice satisfying blood, to and through death itself. John Owen says “the first and principle end of the Lord Christ’s assuming human nature was not to reign in it, but to suffer and die in it!” Through this, Jesus won the victory over Satan, sin and death. He made Satan, sin, and death ultimately powerless and ineffective against the accomplishment and application of redemption to God’s children.

(5) “…that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death…and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” (Hebrews 2:14-15) He also did it to deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. In the latter part of WWII, General Eisenhower led the final push up into Germany, temporarily delivering the death camp inmates in Western Europe from the fear and power of death by destroying the German SS and military units that held those living in the fear of death. Jesus has gained a far greater victory over death itself. His intent is to free you and me not only from death, but also from the fear of death.

The Heidelberg Catechism summarizes this stating that through Jesus’ victory, our death as Christians is now “not a payment for sin, but an entrance into Life.” If it were not for his death and resurrection, God’s promises sealed in the suffering and death, and resurrection of His own Son, it would be hard to be sure it was possible to live beyond the grave, to be raised from the dead in our bodies. But our LORD has gone through this. He is resurrected, glorified, ascended bodily. How comforting it is to remember that our Savior is a human being, a person of our flesh and blood, and that as a human being he died, his body was buried, and as a human being he rose from the dead, as the first fruits of the resurrection. Our fully God, fully man Savior leads and brings us through death to glory. And so Paul could proclaim “O death where is your sting, O grave where is your victory?!”

Why else did Jesus identify with us?

(6) “For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.” (Hebrews 2:16) He did it to help, to rescue fallen men, and not fallen angels. Mystery of his love and grace: we don’t deserve it any more than those who fail to receive it, whether fallen men or angels who will receive the justice of God’s eternal hell. What a mystery, what a wonder of sovereign grace the love of God to man is! John Owen states “as to the angels, ‘he spared them not’ 2 Peter 2:4; He spared not them, and ‘spared not His Son’ for us, Rom. 8:32.”

(7) “Therefore in all these things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God…” (Hebrews 2:17) He did it to become our merciful and faithful High Priest, to become the perfect, eternal Mediator, the go-between, the uniting person, between us and the Triune God, bringing God to us – Immanuel, God With Us, and bringing us to God. The OT taught over and over that we need a high priest, we need someone to mediate to God on our behalf; we as sinners can’t just approach the God who is “holy, holy, holy” the God of infinite perfection, glory, majesty and splendor, before whom perfect angels shield themselves, cover themselves as Isaiah tells us. Yet, the OT high priests themselves were sinners, failures, not perfect, not always faithful, not always merciful: they themselves in their own need for sacrifice showed that this whole OT sacrificial system was simply pointing ahead: a massive illustration of what was needed. We, you and I, need a go-between, someone to intervene for us with God. Jesus became man so that He could. He is the merciful and faithful High Priest.

(8) “…to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:17) He also did it to make the payment, the blood atonement required for our sin. Matthew Henry comments, “There is a great breech and quarrel between God and man, by reason of sin; but Christ by becoming man and dying, has taken up the quarrel, and made reconciliation through himself, so that God is ready to receive into favor and friendship those who come to him through Christ.” “Now there is hope for the chief of sinners in and through Christ. Here is a price paid sufficient for all, and suitable to all, for it was paid in our nature.” Where man had broken the law, Christ the perfect man kept it; where man’s law breaking demands the penalty of it, Christ’s blood, of infinite value, satisfied divine justice for his children.

(9) “For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18) He did it to understand us, sympathize with us, to experience the battle for holiness, through temptation, which he did victoriously without sin, while facing the full weight of being tempted in every way we are: He did it to be able to help those who are being tempted. In the novel To Kill A Mockingbird the character Atticus Finch says “you never really understand a person… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Jesus has, he is identified with us, as God Incarnate He understands us – fully, far better than we do ourselves.

“Oh, sing to the LORD a new song! For He has done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory. The Lord has made known His salvation; His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations. He has remembered His mercy and His faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.” (Psalm 98:1-3)

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