Incarnation literally means ‘becoming flesh’.1 The word is not used in the Bible, but the truth of it is there and the evidence of it is clear. The incarnation of the Son means that the Son of God became a man; a real man of flesh and blood like ourselves as expressed, for example, in Hebrews chapter 2 verse 14, ‘He likewise partook of the same’, and in John chapter 1 verse 14, ‘The Word became flesh’ NKJV, JND.
In His great love, God would send His Son into the world to become our Saviour and Redeemer. To make propitiation for us, He would have to die to endure sin’s penalty. But how could the eternal Son of God die? He would have to become a man. But how?
Isaiah had said, ‘A virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel’, Isa. 7. 14. Immanuel, or Emmanuel, means ‘God with us’, Matt. 1. 23. Galatians chapter 4 verse 4 states that, ‘when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law’. And so one night, on a quiet hillside near Bethlehem, startled shepherds heard the good tidings of great joy from heaven, ‘Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord’, Luke 2. 10, 11. Mary’s child, born and laid in a manger, was God’s Son given from highest heaven to become our Saviour, fulfilling both parts of the prophetic word, ‘Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given’, Isa. 9. 6.
We have two unique and miraculous things to consider:
God is a Spirit, John 4. 24, without flesh and bones, Luke 24. 39, eternal, immortal, and invisible, 1 Tim. 1. 17. No one could look upon Him and live. The few passing glimpses of His glory given to some privileged individuals in Old Testament times had left them awestruck and dumbstruck – think of Moses, Job and a few others. Remember the so-called fleeting theophanies, few and far between.2 When angels appeared to people, that was daunting to say the least. So how could God the Son, infinitely greater than angels, come among men in such a way as not to terrify us but rather reveal God to us?
It would require something unprecedented and unique. He would have to become a man Himself. He would become God incarnate. He would be One who though existing ‘from the beginning’ would be heard by human ears, seen with human eyes, handled by human hands. That eternal life which was with the Father would be manifest to men, 1 John 1. 1, 2.
Him whom ‘the heaven of heavens could not contain’, 1 Kgs. 8. 27, would come to earth and dwell in a body of human flesh, a body which would grow from infancy to boyhood to manhood, would have the limitations of time and space in order to do the will of God and accomplish the work of redemption. ‘What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh’, Rom. 8. 3. Stennet put it this way,
‘Thou wouldst like sinful man be made In everything but sin’.
The One who was in the form of God, co-equal with God, would be made in the likeness of men, would humble Himself and become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, Phil. 2. 6-8. He would not cease to be God, as He had always been and always will be, but He would take on Himself humanity and retain that forever – the ‘God of glory’ is even now the ‘Man in the glory’, Son of God and Son of Man. Deity and humanity are inseparably linked in this blessed person.
In more ways than one, how true is the word ‘mystery’ in the often quoted verse, ‘Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh’, 1 Tim. 3. 16. It is, indeed, a precious truth revealed to us, yet also an unfathomable mystery and wonder to us, incomprehensible but totally believable. Charles Wesley’s hymn says it well:
‘Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see
Hail, the incarnate deity.
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus our Immanuel’.
So how would all this happen? It was no after-thought. The plan of redemption had been in place ‘before the foundation of the world’, 1 Pet. 1. 20. Thus, while the Son of God would say, ‘Lo, I come to do thy will, O God’, He also said with confidence, ‘A body hast thou prepared me’, Heb. 10. 5, 7. The eternal God who ‘dwelleth not in temples made with hands’, Acts 7. 48, lived on earth for a short space of time in a ‘temple made without hands’, Mark 14. 58, for thus He had spoken of ‘the temple of his body’, John 2. 21.
This preparation of a body for our Lord Jesus would involve a unique operation of the Holy Spirit in the body of a young woman called Mary. By the power of the Highest she, a virgin, would ‘conceive … and bring forth a son, and call his name Jesus’. He would be called the Son of God, Luke 1. 31, 35.
The birth of Jesus was normal and similar to other births, although unattended by any midwife. But His conception was extraordinary, unique, miraculous and divine, 1. 31, 35. He had no human father. Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit, God’s power overshadowed her, and nine months later, when the time came, Mary gave Him birth, 2. 6, 7. She wrapped Him in baby clothes and laid Him in a manger, nursed Him at her breast and cared for Him, Ps. 22. 9; Luke 11. 27, watching over him as He grew up while keeping certain special things in her heart, 2. 51.
This truth of the virgin birth of our Lord is very important. Sceptics have said that it is impossible for a virgin to bear a child. Some have said that the child Jesus was conceived in some sinful liaison of Mary with a man, possibly Joseph. The Pharisees actually inferred this at one time, John 8. 41. But they were wrong – such a thing is unthinkable. As is clear in the personal account in Matthew chapter 1 verses 18 to 25, Mary remained a virgin while betrothed to Joseph. As for the ‘impossibility’, we know that ‘the things which are impossible with men are possible with God’, Luke 18. 27. Mary herself was told this by the angel Gabriel, ‘With God nothing shall be impossible’, 1. 37. It was a very special divine miracle for a very special purpose.
The virgin birth of our Lord Jesus ensured that He did not inherit any of Adam’s sinful nature as we all do. He was the promised ‘seed of the woman’, Gen. 3. 15, not the seed of any man. Mary who brought Him into the world was herself a sinner who needed a Saviour, Luke 1. 47, but His holiness was preserved in the womb of Mary and never diminished. At His conception He was called ‘that holy thing’ who would be born, 1. 35. It laid the foundation for a perfect life and a sacrificial death. He was totally perfect and sinless, pure and holy.
The man who was known as Jesus of Nazareth was much more than a man. He was the Son of God who had come into the world. Everything about Him was special and unique – what He said, what He did, how He lived, how He died, how He rose from the dead and went back to heaven. It is, therefore, not at all surprising that He came into the world in a special and unique way. His birth of a virgin is in keeping with everything else we know about Him.
For Him to leave the glory of heaven and come into the world was an amazing act of divine love and grace. For Him to be born a tiny, helpless baby is more amazing still, and not born into rich luxury but laid in a manger for feeding animals somewhere outside. His earthly home was that of a poor family which lived in a despised town called Nazareth, John 1. 46. We marvel at ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich’, 2 Cor. 8. 9.