The Incarnation as Revelation

by Sam Parkison May 23, 2019

No, it’s not Christmas time, but I think we should go ahead and consider the incarnation of Christ anyway. Specifically, I want to point out what the incarnation means for revelation. This mighty, infinite Creator God actually put on flesh and stepped into the time and space he created. He wrote himself into the story he authored. He makes himself known, not only with words and propositions, but with skin and fingernails, and I think that merits our attention in the heat of summer just as much as during mid-December. Consider how the incarnation is revelation in these four ways:

Jesus Reveals Who God Is

Before the incarnation, God revealed himself as the Creator God. This much is established all throughout the Old Testament, long before Mary ever received that visit from the Angel. God is Creator. But in the incarnation, God deepens the story and expands our knowledge of his creatorship. In the incarnation, we learn that this Creator God is Triune. In this passage, we learn that the Lord of all Creation is none other than Christ Jesus, the eternal Son of the Father, who is one with the Father and Spirit eternally. He is the exact imprint of the Father’s nature—meaning, when you see him, you see the Father’s nature: you see what the Father is. When you see Jesus, you see God.

We read in Genesis how God spoke the universe into being out of nothing, but then we learn from the incarnation that this creative agency is, in fact, a divine person. That was the Son bringing all of that everything out of nothing! How do we know this? How do we know that the Creator God is a Triune God, who exists in the three persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit? How do we know that the creative power of the Father is a personal Word? We find all this out when that personal Word puts flesh on and walks among us. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Jesus Reveals What God Does

In the incarnation, Jesus reveals to us who God is by revealing to us what God does in the work of redemption. This is what the incarnation is: the Trinity setting into motion a divine rescue mission. A Triune conspiracy of deliverance. At no point in this mission do the persons of Trinity separate or act independently of one another.

The Father sends the Son by the power of the Spirit to redeem his flock—to purchase a people for himself. He does this by living a perfect life on their behalf, dying as a sacrifice for the penalty of their sin, rising from the dead as a guarantee that his perfect life and sacrificial death are acceptable to the Father, ascending back to the right hand of the Father to intercede for his flock with his blood and to send the Holy Spirit to supernaturally apply all this work of redemption to his flock. All this is why the Son became incarnate. This is why the Word became flesh: to complete the Trinity’s mission of redemption. “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). Why did he sit down? Because he was done. He had done with a single offering—the offering of himself—what the endless sacrifices of the Old Testament priests could never do: he made actual purification for sins. 

Jesus Reveals Our Need

Notice the layered nature of God’s revelation in the incarnation. God reveals things to us not simply in the fact of the incarnation, but indeed, he reveals much to us in the manner of the incarnation. Christ came to us in humility. He came low, so low, in fact, that you would have to stoop to receive him. 

The entire event of the incarnation—from the beginning of his life to his death on the cross—is marked by one example of degradation after another. The Son of God degrades himself. He, the God-man, is born to a young virgin in a small hick town—his birth is the occasion for a lifetime of slander for Mary—the unmarried, teen mom (however primitive you insist first century Palestine was, you must remember that they knew virgins don’t get pregnant). His first cradle is an animal’s slop bucket—that’s where the eternal Son of God sleeps for the first time in his human nature. Then, all of heaven came to announce the most important event in human history to men from one of the most despised classes in society: shepherds, people who no one would listen to. Heaven designated the most obscure and insignificant people to serve as hype men for the Messiah.

But the humiliation doesn’t stop there! In his life, God the Son chose country bumpkins and mobsters and hookers to be his followers during his earthly ministry. He then defeats Satan, sin, and death by finally saying, “Enough is enough! No more Mr. Nice-Guy! Here comes the thunder!”

Nope. He defeats Satan, and, and death by dying on a cross, naked and shamed like a common criminal. He’s a conqueror who conquered by being conquered. And, to top it off, the first witnesses of the resurrection are women, whose testimony in those days were seen as useless, even in the court of law.

Now, why do I focus on the counterintuitive meekness of the gospel? Simply this: the incarnation reveals that our situation is much direr than we realize. In his infinite wisdom, God contrived a gospel message that none of us could rightly embrace with a haughty attitude. We have to stoop down from our prideful self-sufficiency to lay all of our hopes on a Savior who was weak and fragile. The incarnation says to all of us: that’s how needy you are. 

Jesus Reveals Our Provision

In the incarnation, Christ reveals the severity of our lack by filling it with his sufficiency. He shows us how needy we are by meeting our needs. He is our Mediator, who stands between us and God. His role as Mediator works on several levels. In addition to his mediating our knowledge of God, Jesus mediates peace with God (1 Timothy 2:5-7).

This is his priestly work, whereby he stands as a representative of man before God, offering on our behalf his blood sacrifice to atone for our sins, and also the perfect worship and obedience we could never offer ourselves. He also stands as a representative of God before man, communicating exactly what the Father communicates. He stands between us and God and secures reconciliation. His body, in other words, becomes the bridge that covers the chasm of our sin and God’s wrath (Hebrews 7:26-27).

But it gets even better. Not only does Jesus meet our need by mediating peace with God, he also meets our need by mediating our worship. Church father Athanasius says this brilliantly:

For since human beings, having rejected the contemplation of God and as though sunk in an abyss with their eyes held downwards, seeking God in creation and things perceptible, setting up for themselves mortal humans and demons as gods, for this reason the lover of human beings and the common Savior of all, takes to himself a body and dwells as human among humans and draws to himself the perceptible senses of all human beings, so that those who think that God is in things corporeal might, from what the Lord wrought through the actions of the body, know the truth and through him might consider the Father.[1]

What’s he saying? He’s saying that God, recognizing our inability to lift our gaze up from the created order to heaven, came down from heaven to the created order to stand at our eye level. He’s saying, “Since human beings couldn’t seem to stop worshiping creation instead of the Creator, the Creator became a creature to accommodate our limitations!” That’s what God does for us in the incarnation: he stoops and makes himself available. In this way, he becomes intelligible enough for to worship him. We can identify this human being—Jesus Christ, the most beautiful human being ever to exist—as the central object of our worship and offer all of our praise to him without the fear of dishonoring God precisely because he is no mere human: he himself is God. He has become man in order to accommodate our limitations in worship. We couldn’t reach up on the top shelf to get God, so God places himself on the bottom shelf—right within our reach—in the person of Jesus Christ, the carpenter from Nazareth.

Shameless (God-) Man Worship

This is why you should feel absolutely no embarrassment or shame in reading through the gospels while worshiping Jesus Christ, the man—son of Mary, brother to James, cousin to John, eater of fish, drinker of wine. The man who said things and felt things and did things with his hands. You should feel absolutely no embarrassment about longing to hug his resurrected body with your resurrected body—and you should feel no embarrassment about longing for the day when you can look into his human eyes and say “thank you,” and to watch his human lips curl into a human smile. In case you’ve forgotten, the incarnation is an ongoing reality. The Second person of the Trinity is and will forever be the God-man, Jesus Christ, because we will always and forever be in need of that kind of accommodation! In the incarnation, God has provided for our needs.

Notes

  1. ^ Athanasius, On the Incarnation, ch. 15.