My Dear Friends,
Every Christmas we face a great problem. We are so familiar with “the Christmas story”, that it is so easy for us to miss its staggering wonder and glory. Truth can become so familiar to us that it no longer grips our minds and quickens the pulse of our hearts. With this in mind, I would like to reflect with you on the familiar words: “And the Word became flesh...” It would be so easy for us to read these words and miss what John is telling us - the breath-taking, unimaginable truth that the eternal God, the Creator of all things, the Giver and Sustainer of all life (John 1:1-14), “became flesh”, became what he never was before, became a helpless, tiny, vulnerable baby!
Pause for a moment and try and take this in. We sing, “Lo within a manger lies, he who built the starry skies”; but do we really know what we are affirming when we sing these words? We are saying that the un-containable God, the everywhere present God, the God who created the infinities of space, that he became “flesh”, a baby needing to be breast fed, have his nappy changed, winded, rocked to sleep!
What is so staggering about what John writes here is the absence of any attempt to explain or justify this statement - for John it is simply a fact, a truth to be declared, an unfathomable wonder before which we should be content to adore. Here we come face to face with what Benjamin Warfield so rightly called “unembarrassed supernaturalism.” The good news of our Lord Jesus is not something we can put under a microscope, examine and make a judgement on. The coming of God’s Son into our world shatters the sinful limitations of our fallen minds and confronts us with God - and God cannot be put under any microscope!
“Unembarrassed supernaturalism” is at the heart of the Christian faith. It could not be otherwise, for Christianity is the coming of God to man and God becoming (unfathomably) man; the breaking into time and space of the Creator. The hymn writer put it memorably: “Our God contracted to a span, Incomprehensibly made man!” But the question we surely need to ask is: Why did God become flesh? What brought God’s eternal Word, his own and only Son, to leave heaven’s glory to become flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary? What brought the eternal King from the glory of his heavenly throne to the squalor of a stable outhouse and ultimately to die on a garbage heap outside Jerusalem 2000 years ago? Why?
First, to share our human condition. The incarnation brought something “new” to God - for the first time he could understand our human condition, not by observation from heaven, not by the perfect insight of omniscience - but by experience on earth! In becoming flesh, the eternal Son of God experienced what it meant to be one of us: He became poor! He became weak! He became homeless (a refugee)! He became lonely! He experienced disappointment, misunderstanding, rejection. He even exposed himself to temptation. Here is a Saviour who knows first hand the subtle and not so subtle assaults of the evil one! cf Hebrews 2:17a;18; 4:15-16. He knows! He feels! He understands! His help therefore, is not the help of naked omnipotence; it is not even the help of gracious omnipotence clothed with tender compassion, it is the help of the God-Man! At God’s right hand in heaven there is a Man, staggeringly! God has a human heart! He truly “knows our frame” and never forgets that we are dust, because he himself is dust (glorified dust, but still dust).
Second, to secure our eternal salvation. If God had not become flesh, we could never be saved from our sin, our eternal doom would have been sealed! cf Hebrews 2:16-17! God cannot deal with our sin either by ignoring it or dismissing it - “the wages of sin is death”! Before God, we are liable for our sin, but we are helpless to make atonement for our sin! We can no more make atonement for our sin than fly to the sun on wings of ice! We are helpless to provide ourselves with a righteousness that God can accept! Sin has fatally flawed us. And even if we could somehow make atonement for our sin, we would still be high and dry because “all our righteousness is as filthy rags” in God’s holy sight. We can no more live a perfect life of loving obedience to God than create something out of nothing!
“And the Word became flesh.” The incarnation was at heart a rescue mission. As the divinely-appointed Head of all who would ever believe in him, the Son of God came to do what we could never do and to do it “for us”, as our Substitute. In our flesh, he lived a life of sinless, loving obedience to his Father: he is “our righteousness”! In our flesh, he paid sin’s awful price - “for us”! As a man he “fulfilled all righteousness”, fulfilling from “our side” all the requirements of God’s holy law and doing so in loving, perfect obedience. He is God’s Shining White Knight who has come as our Covenant Head to take upon himself all our liabilities and give to us all his blessedness.
Why did God become man? Love! Love for sinners brought God’s Son from heaven’s glory to the stable outhouse in Bethlehem! “Love came down at Christmas...” There is much about the incarnation we are unable to fathom - but this we know:
"I am both weak and sinful,
But this I surely know,
The Lord came down to save me,
Because he loved me so."
Is this not the uniform testimony of the Bible? “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son...” This truly is “unembarrassed supernaturalism.” It must ever be proclaimed and affirmed. Scoffers will scoff, but to some, even many, it will be the sweetest music they ever heard.
Yours in the saving bonds of unembarrassed supernaturalism.