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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

Incarnation

Matthew 1:1-17, Luke 1, John 1:1-18

Lesson audio

It is as C. S. Lewis put it: the Incarnation is the supreme miracle. There is no meaning to atonement if there is no incarnation; even resurrection requires it. In this series we shall examine the life of Christ – and begin at the beginning.

Matthew – the Jewish View

It is important to remember that Matthew wrote for the Jews. As a result, he begins with the family tree. It is a carefully constructed table, ending with this comment:

Mat 1:17 NIV Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.[2]

It’s clear that Matthew expected his readers to understand why he would start this way; it’s not so clear to us. But he has his reasons:

  • First, he establishes the fact that the birth of Jesus contains descent from King David – which is prophesied of the Messiah. Matthew gives us descent through the legal line, which means Joseph. (Did you know that Joseph had to be of the house of David?)
  • Second, by this genealogy he establishes that Jesus is fully human – he did not step off the flying saucer fully grown.
  • Note, though, that he is careful not to allow the idea that Joseph is his biological father – in accord with the full divinity of Christ.

In short, we know where the kid came from. We know his family history. It includes some unusual people:

·         It includes the kings of Judah – great names, such as David, Hezekiah and Josiah. It also includes the names of kings like Manasseh, who gave Judah fifty five years of idolatry and misery, yet repented at the end.

·         It includes ordinary people – Rahab, the prostitute who hid the spies; Tamar, who prostituted herself with Judah and Ruth, so renowned for her faithfulness. Many of the names in the genealogy are just that: names. Ordinary people living ordinary lives.

This section includes fulfillment of various prophecies. The tribe of Judah is specified in Genesis 49:10; His family (David) in Isaiah 11:1 and the virgin birth is given in Isaiah 7:14.

Matthew introduces the theme of his work: Jesus is to save his people from their sins. In short, the atonement was planned from “day one.”

Luke – The Gentile View

Matthew’s account, however satisfying to his first readers, tends to deter the modern reader. Luke, however, wrote for the Gentiles. We can learn about the writer and his purposes from the first four verses of his Gospel:

Luk 1:1-4 NIV

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled[1] among us, (2) just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. (3) Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, (4) so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

We may note:

  • Luke’s intention is to be thorough. He tells us that “many” have tried to document Christ before he did. Evidently those accounts were in some way deficient, so Luke has gone back to the original sources to interview them. This most certainly included Mary, the mother of Jesus.
  • Luke is a doctor, of the medical variety. We know from the writings of such men that they are thorough and detailed. Luke is the researcher of today.
  • Luke was Paul’s traveling companion. As such, he no doubt had the opportunity to speak to all the living apostles.

Luke writes with a particular purpose in mind. He addresses the work to “most excellent Theophilus.” This may have been a real person – the name is not unknown – or it may have been generic, for Theophilus means “lover of God.” Either way, it is Luke’s intention that Theophilus be solidly grounded in the faith, knowing the certainty of the things he has been taught.

This deals with a couple of problems:

  • It gives the lie to the idea that faith must be blind. If God requires you to believe on no evidence at all, why was this Gospel written? It is given to you so that you may also be certain of what you believe.
  • It is written in terms that the average person would understand; you don’t need to be an expert in Jewish custom, tradition and law.

If you read on in Luke’s account (more next week) you will see that he has particular information concerning Mary, the mother of Jesus. The common Roman Catholic worship of Mary (I call ‘em as I see ‘em, folks) is conspicuously absent from the Gospel of Luke. But Luke must have talked with Mary, as we have her Magnificat and the song of Zacharias in this chapter. This contributes to one of the characteristics of Luke: he is not afraid to use a little more ink. His orderly research and attention to detail cause most expositors to use his order of events.

So we have now expanded scope from “just the Jews” to that of the celebrated man in the streets. But neither of these explanations deal with “why.” We have the earthly viewpoints; what about the celestial ones?

John – the Philosopher’s view

It is worth reading John’s opening in its entirety:

Joh 1:1-18 NIV

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (2) He was with God in the beginning. (3) Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (4) In him was life, and that life was the light of men. (5) The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood[1] it. (6) There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. (7) He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. (8) He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (9) The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.[2] (10) He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. (11) He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. (12) Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-- (13) children born not of natural descent,[3] nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. (14) The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only,[4] who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (15) John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' " (16) From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. (17) For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (18) No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only,[5][6]who is at the Father's side, has made him known.

If you will look at the footnotes (not reprinted in this quote from the NIV) you can see that even the translators have exceptional difficulty with this passage. It introduces us to the concept of the Trinity, in particular the divinity of Christ. How, we must ask, can God come in the flesh? How can God be more than one person – when we know that “the Lord your God is one?”

We can but state the difficulty and say that our understanding is incomplete. We have two facts:

  • God, the eternal, unchanging one, is One.
  • God is also three persons; one of those persons is Jesus of Nazareth, who arrived on this planet as a baby – just like the rest of us.

There are many explanations; we shall leave it as fact, and move on.

The roles of Christ

John gives us three roles which he attributes to Christ – and are clearly divine:

  • He is the creator of all things – the “agent of creation” as the philosophers might put it. Everything in the universe was created by Him.
  • He is the life of all things – the word used means biological life. The idea of living is taken from Him.[1]
  • He is the Light – without Him, no one sees clearly. We take this in the metaphorical sense; without Him, no one can know the truth. Truth, in all its fullness, is in Him.

There is much, much more. But I hope you can see the inherent marvel of these three writers:

  • Matthew describes the promised Messiah, in the right genealogy. He is the fulfillment of prophecy given to the Jews – a local thing.
  • Luke expands that to a global thing – in factual terms, invoking no mysticism.
  • John then declares to us that this Jesus of Nazareth, born like the rest of us, is in fact the one and only God – in the flesh.
Word become flesh

It is astonishing. It is also the source of no end of heresy, as people seek some other explanation. How can this be? How is it that the God of the Old Testament would do this? That He can do it, there can be no doubt. But why?

  • What we are really saying here is that God is too high, too holy to mingle with the likes of us. But turn that around: what are the limits of divine humility? If our own humility allows us to descend to the level of changing diapers, how can we limit God’s humility? Indeed, would it not be perfect humility, as God is perfect? It would take perfect humility to do this.
  • We are also saying that there is insufficient motive for God to do this. But again: God is love. It would take perfect love for the sinless God to come down among a sinful people; a perfect love.

Do you see it? When people say “God couldn’t/wouldn’t do that” they are placing human limits upon the attributes of God. Is He love? He is perfect love. Is He peace? Then perfect peace.

What, then, was the objective in doing this? He became like man so that we might become like God. His purpose in coming was to be the atonement for our sins; even as the Baby slept that silent night the Cross was already in view.


[1] The evolutionist may note that we are describing the source, not the method.

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