FOR US AND OUR SALVATION
Hypothetically let’s say you love ‘Ants’, but your ants are in great danger! How do you help them? Do you try to instruct the ants by calling out to them saying, “Don’t build your ant hill near the foot path!”, but the reality is that you don’t speak ‘Ant’ language, and when you try and talk to them they scurry away in fear of you. You now think to yourself, “What must I do in order to get across to these ants that if they build near the foot path they will die?”.
BECOME LIKE AN ANT
Billy Graham often would use variations of this illustration in his preaching to communicate and link to the importance of the ‘Incarnation of Jesus’ and that as humanity we needed ‘God with skin on’ to identify with and to save us. It has been said that he once told a crusade rally in Nairobi that he once stepped on an anthill by mistake and it crumbled, he felt bad about the damage and wanted to help them rebuild. But Billy realized that the only way he could help and communicate with them was if he physically became an ant. Billy Graham would need to become like an Ant to save them.
TRULY MAN AND TRULY GOD
In a similar way God’s plan was for Jesus to take on flesh and redeem people from their sin, but to do this He had to take “… the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7, ESV). Jesus was fashioned in the likeness of man, but at the same time He was still God, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,” (Colossians 2:9, ESV). This is what is known as the hypostatic union, which is defined to mean the union of the Divine and human natures in the One Person (‘Hypostasis’) of Jesus Christ (Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church). The simpler version is to know that Jesus is both ‘truly man and truly God’. It’s critical, because in order for God to achieve salvation for His people, He had to be a ‘human atonement’ while also being and remaining God. John Piper gets to implications of this union by aptly saying, “Without abandoning any of what it means to be God, Jesus took on all that it means to be human.”
INCARNATION AND SALVATION
Keeping this understanding intact means that we keep the nature of Christ’s atonement intact, for Jesus had to be truly God to have the power and victory over sin on the cross, but He had to truly be a man to die in our place. As the ‘New Adam’ He could represent us and restore what the ‘Old Adam’ failed to do (1 Cor. 15:21-22). Jesus had to live the life we should have (perfectly and righteously, which only God can do) and He had to die the death we should have (only a man of flesh and blood could do). The author of Hebrews writes about this saying, “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, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:14–17, ESV) Jesus, who was made like us in flesh and blood, partook of this life and destroyed the power of death on the cross, absorbing the wrath of God; He did it as a merciful and faithful Priest by making and being the sacrifice on our behalf. Jesus is for us and our salvation!
CHRISTMAS AND EASTER
It’s critical that we celebrate the coming of Christ at Christmas and that we do so because of the redemption of Easter. John MacArthur helps us keep these truths in focus at Christmas, when he comments, “It’s appropriate to commemorate the birth of Christ. But don’t make the mistake of leaving Him as a baby in a manger. Keep in mind that His birth was just the first step in God’s glorious plan of redemption. Remember that it’s the triumph of Christ’s sacrificial death that gives meaning to His humble birth. You can’t truly celebrate one without the other.”
FOR US AND OUR SALVATION
When we celebrate the incarnation our gospel purity is at stake, and we must have a robust Christology that affirms the truth of the Nicene Creed. The creed declares, “For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human. For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate; He suffered death and was buried. On the third day He rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end.”
JESUS BECAME WHAT WE ARE TO MAKE US WHAT HE IS
Athanasius of Alexandria who contributed to the Nicene Creed developed and defended the teaching of the ‘hypostatic union’ of Christ. Athanasius said, “If Jesus Christ the incarnate Son is not true God from true God, then we are not saved, for it is only God who can save; but if Jesus Christ is not truly man, then salvation does not touch our human existence and condition”. If you declare or decide that Jesus is just a mere man, or less than God, then the incarnation becomes useless, and salvation is impotent and a farce. Jesus must be truly divine for “… the deity of the incarnate Son of God is essential for the truth and validity of the gospel of our salvation. There is no salvation if Jesus Christ is not God” (John Piper).
CAME TO EARTH TO SAVE SINNERS
We should be thankful for the tenacity for truth that Athanasius had, and the particular heritage of faithfulness to keep Jesus’ deity intact, for by so doing we benefit and can understand the integral ‘gospel importance’ of both the incarnation and salvation working together. The Apostle Paul sums it up best: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15, ESV) This Christmas let’s celebrate the incarnation of God who took on flesh for us and our salvation. Amen.