We have—for the benefit of the Muslim neighbor, who does not understand the Christian faith—been explaining the great wonder of the Incarnation.
We have noted that (1) The one who became incarnate is the Son of God; (2) His becoming the Son of God did not mean that He ceased to be fully divine; (3) In becoming incarnate, the Son of God took to Himself a real, complete human nature of body and soul; and (4) The human (nature) and divine (nature) in Christ (the eternal Son of God) are distinct.
This wonder took place in the virgin conception and birth. The Qur’an teaches the virgin birth, that is, it teaches that Mary give birth to Jesus (Isa) when she had not known a man sexually (Surah 3:47; 19:19-22). However, the virgin birth in Islam does not really serve any purpose; it is simply given to be a sign (Surah 19:21)—a sign of what, we might wonder.
The Bible gives very great importance to the virgin conception and birth, for in this very way the Son of God became a real human being, or “the Word was made flesh” (John 1:14). (Incidentally, the Bible does not accord such importance to the virgin birth in order to honor Mary, who is but an instrument in God’s hand. We honor Christ by confessing His incarnation through the virgin birth).
Listen to the following exchange between the angel Gabriel and Mary in Luke 1:31-35
And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
The goal or purpose of the virgin birth is not merely to be a sign—it is a sign, but it is more than a sign. The virgin birth is the vehicle of the incarnation. It is the way in which the Son of God becomes human. Notice that Gabriel identifies the son that Mary shall bear as (1) the Son of the Highest; (2) holy; and (3) the Son of God. Notice, too, that the wonderworker of this miracle will be the Holy Ghost (or the Holy Spirit).
Something deeply mysterious and wonderful took place in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Who can fathom it? The Holy Spirit took part of the flesh of Mary, part of her human nature. This was necessary so that Jesus might be related to the human race and a true descendant of King David. Then without the use of any flesh from a man (such as Joseph, Mary’s espoused husband, who is entirely excluded from this miracle), the Holy Spirit formed a real, complete human nature. That human nature consists of body and soul. Who can fathom the coming together of a body and soul when we are formed in our mother’s wombs? How much greater is that wonder by which a real human body (a human embryo at this point) and soul were formed in Mary’s womb for the Son of God! To that real human nature the person of the Son of God united Himself by the power of the Holy Spirit. The result is that the eternal Son of God, without ceasing to be God, became true man.
Jesus from the very moment of His conception was fully and true God, and fully and true man. When He was born, Jesus was fully and true God and fully and true man. Throughout His earthly life, Jesus was fully and true God and fully and true man. And in His death, Jesus was fully and true God and fully and true man.
Another sublime passage on the Incarnation is Philippians 2:5-8:
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Consider briefly these words. First, Jesus is “in the form of God” and “equal with God.” Those two expressions mean that He is God. Second, Jesus “was made in the likeness of men” and “being found in fashion as a man.” Those expressions mean that He is truly human. Third, Jesus “made himself of no reputation,” “took upon himself the form of a servant,” “humbled himself” and “became obedient.” Those expressions speak of His voluntary submission or humiliation. And the whole passage is designed to illustrate the virtue of humility.
Another passage in this connection is Romans 8:3:
For 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.
Notice the precision of language. God sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. God did not send His own Son in the likeness of flesh. That would be a denial of the reality of Christ’s human nature. God did not send His own Son in sinful flesh. That would be a denial of the reality of Christ’s sinless purity. God sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. That perfectly encapsulates the truth of the Incarnation.
One final passage that speaks powerfully about the Incarnation is Galatians 4:4-5:
But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
The important expressions here are “made of a woman” (a reference to the Incarnation—Jesus was not merely made “in” but “of” [out of] a woman) and “made under the law” (a reference to His humiliation, for Jesus voluntarily placed Himself under the law in order to obey it, and in order to deliver us from the penalty of the law).
All of this makes Jesus Christ altogether unique. He is the only one who has ever lived who is both God and man. He is the eternal Son of God, and He is a true human being. That is the meaning of the Incarnation, which is so important for our salvation.
One final matter in this connection is the vital relationship between the human and divine in Jesus. If this is not understood, Jesus becomes inexplicable. It is exactly because the Muslim does not understand this that the Incarnation is such a stumbling block to him. It is exactly because of these misunderstandings that the Muslim will bring objections such as these:
“If Jesus is God, who was ruling the universe when He was in the grave?”
These questions might seem foolish to the Christian, but to the Muslim they are genuinely perplexing issues. (Incidentally, you will hear similar objections from cultists such as the so-called Jehovah’s Witnesses). Some may ask the questions in a mocking, sneering tone, but we should not respond in kind: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (I Peter 3:15).
To those questions we turn next time, DV.
This post was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland.