The Purpose of the Incarnation
December 12th, 1965 @ 8:15 AM
THE PURPOSE OF THE INCARNATION
DR. W. A. CRISWELL
12-12-65 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message. Now, you are going to get to the place where you think when the preacher announces a subject, that is a sure sign he is not going to preach on it. The last several times, when time has come to deliver the message, it has been in a thousand different worlds away. Well, I intend to preach on what is announced; but as time goes on, my heart turns to something else, and I am impressed with something else.
So the message this morning, as we enter and are in this Christmas season, and as we share all of the things that pertain to this Nativity program, I wanted to say something about the reason that lies back of it. And why I would feel that way is very apparent. I do not object to Santa Claus; I do not object to the Christmas tree; I do not object to the decorations, and all of the things that go with Christmas. I do not object to it at all; I love it. It is the enthronement of our small children; and into its spirit my heart can enter with great feeling and gladness.
But there is a reason that lies back of it, and I suspect that most of us could hardly enter into those profound purposes that do lie in the incarnation. We don’t think about them. They are so far over and beyond the sleigh bells that ring, and the reindeer that prance, and the decorations that so glitter, until they are lost upon us. So the message this morning will be concerning the purpose, or the purposes, that lie back of the descent of the Crown Prince of heaven, to be made in the likeness of men.
Now, if I could give the outline of the sermon, in order that you might follow it; because we are treading where angels do not go, we are probing the heart and the mysteries of God. And one sure sign of the presence of God is mystery; the signature of God is mystery. If God has done it, no man can adequately explain it. You can’t explain anything; you just see what God does.
So as we enter into this mystery, we are walking into the Holy of Holies, into the very sanctuary of the Almighty. And the purposes of the incarnation: one, and I shall read the passage here; one; the purpose of the incarnation was for identification with us in suffering and in death [Hebrews 2:9-10]. Second: the purpose of the incarnation, the Babe born in Bethlehem, God in the flesh, was for atonement, for reconciliation, for the expiation of sin [Hebrews 2:16-17]. And third: the purpose of the incarnation, the coming down of God out of heaven to walk among men, was for understanding and sympathy [Hebrews 2:18]. Now you will see this in the expounding of the passage in the second chapter of the Book of Hebrews:
Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for the suffering of death, that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man.
For it became Him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings . . .
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil;
And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to death.
For verily He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took on Him the seed of Abraham.
Wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation, expiation, atonement, for the sins of the people.
For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succor them that are tempted.
[Hebrews 2:9-10, 14-18]
Now this, on the part of the author, is an explanation of why God became flesh, and why the Lord of glory was born a babe in Bethlehem. And he says first, that the Lord came down to be made a man, that He might identify Himself with us, calling us brethren; and that He might suffer death with us who have to die. The passage says:
Jesus was made lower than the angels for the suffering of death, that He might by the grace of God taste death for every man.
Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, subject unto death, He Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death.
[Hebrews 2:9, 14]
Could I say it in language like this? The Lord God in heaven, looked down upon this earth, upon the children of men, made out of flesh and blood, living a life of suffering and finally death, and the Lord, in His mercy, and in His goodness, and in His grace, the Lord came down in compassion and pity upon us, made out of flesh and blood, that He might Himself experience our sorrows and our suffering, and in death destroy him who had the power of death over us.
Here we enter into a mystery that I cannot understand. Why does not God by fiat, by sentence, by mandate, by word, by command, why does not God destroy suffering, and God destroy death? There are mysteries of iniquity [2 Thessalonians 2:7] into which I cannot enter. I just know the Scriptures say that the only way for us to be delivered from the power of death was for the Lord God of heaven to become flesh and blood with us [Hebrews 2:14]. And in that dark sepulcher, to wrestle with him who had the power of death and to destroy him forever; and the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death [1 Corinthians 15:26]. So the Lord comes down from heaven in compassion and pity for us who are made out of flesh and blood, and who are subject to death [Hebrews 2:14].
I would say it was the same kind of a thing as lived in the heart of Moses when God said, "You stand aside, Moses, and I will destroy this people. And out of thy loins I will raise Me up a nation who shall do My will" [Exodus 32:10]. And Moses interceded, for the love of his heart for his brethren, and Moses interceded and prayed, saying, "O Lord God, if Thou wilt forgive this people their sin," then a long, black hyphen, he never finished the sentence, but added, "if not, then blot my name, I pray Thee, out of the book which Thou hast written" [Exodus 32:31-32]. If my people cannot live, I do not want to live. If my people die, let me die with them." It is a compassionate grace, and mercy, and love like that, that brought our Lord from heaven down to earth [2 Corinthians 5:14].
Same kind of a thing, in a lesser degree, in the life of Robert E. Lee. Have you seen that beautiful mansion in which he lived, overlooking Arlington National Cemetery, overlooking the Potomac River and the city of Washington? Robert E. Lee came of a noble family. And when the conflict arose between the states, the president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, offered to General Lee the forces of the Union Army.
But when time came to choose, this illustrious graduate of our Military Academy at West Point could not; he found it impossible to lead armies against his Virginia and the people of the South. So Robert E. Lee turned aside from the command of the Union forces in order to identify himself with his brethren in Virginia and in the South. It is that kind of a thing, and these are such poor inferences into the heavenly compassion, but it is that kind of a thing that moved God to come down from heaven and to identify Himself with us who are flesh and blood.
That identification, that descent, is so often wondered at in the Word of God. There is not a more noble, a finer, a more meaningful, nor a deeper theological passage in the Word of God than this one in the second chapter of Philippians. Paul, speaking of our Lord, says of Him, "He was in the morphē of God," He was in the "form" of God. Whatever the morphē of God is, whatever form God has, Jesus was that, "in the form of God, thought it not a thing to be held onto to be equal with God: but poured Himself out, and took upon Him the morphē of a servant, of a man" [Philippians 2:6-7].
And I understand that, all of us understand that. We may not understand the morphē of God but we all understand the morphē of a man. For we live in that flesh and in that blood. "And being found in likeness of a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" [Philippians 2:8].
That’s what the author is speaking of here, the descent of Jesus [Hebrews 2:9-10, 14]. Down, and down, and down, and down, and down, our highest thoughts cannot enter into the glory from whence He came. Nor can our imaginations fully comprehend, or all the songs sing it, nor all the poetry portray it, nor all the sermons present it, nor can we enter into the depths of the descent to which He came, down, and down, and down in the form of a man, in the form of a slave, and subject unto death, even the death of the cross [Philippians 2:6-8].
And for that purpose He was shaped in the womb of the virgin Mary, and was born a child, in Bethlehem [Matthew 1:20-2:1; Luke 1:26-35, 2:1-16]. A child as our children, flesh and blood as our flesh and blood, a man full orbed as we are people. The purpose of the incarnation, first, was identification; that He might be a man, subject to death, even as we are [Hebrews 2:9-10].
Then the great author and preacher says that He took upon Him the form of a man; made lower than the angels [Hebrews 2:9]. Took upon Him, He became a partaker of flesh and blood, "that He might make reconciliation," atonement, expiation, "for the sins of the people" [Hebrews 2:16-17]. The word there is hilaskomai, hilaskomai, to make reconciliation, atonement, expiation. When I see that word hilaskomai, "to make atonement," the body of Christ was formed, was made to be offered as an atonement for our sins. The purpose of the incarnation at Bethlehem [Matthew 1:20-2:1], was for the Lord to have a body to offer as the Lamb of God in expiation, in atonement for our sins [Hebrews 10:4-14].
When I see that word hilaskomai, hilasmos, atonement, all of the ritual of the Old Testament comes before my mind. There is the Day of Atonement [Leviticus 16:1-34], and there is the daily sacrifice, the whole burnt offering of a lamb without spot or blemish [Numbers 28:3-4]; and there is the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah [Isaiah 53:1-12]: all of this passes before me. And later on the author discusses that. In the tenth chapter of this glorious letter to the Hebrews, he says,
It is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
Wherefore when the Lord came into the world, He saith, Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not, but a body hast Thou prepared for Me:
In burnt offerings and sacrifices for them, Thou hast no pleasure.
Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of Me,)
In the prophecies it spake of His coming, to do Thy will, O God.
So the Lord Jesus came down into this world in order that He might have a body to offer, to sacrifice, for the expiation and the atonement of our sins.
Why could not the blood of bulls and of goats wash away sin? [Hebrews 10:4]. In the fifty-first chapter of the Psalms, in the fifty-first Psalm, you have the cry of David, covered with bloodguiltiness [Psalm 51:14], and he says to the Lord, "Thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: Thou delightest not in burnt offering" [Psalm 51:16]. When a man sins, how does he wash the stain from his hands and the guilt from his soul? Sacrifice a bullock? Bring to God a calf?
These, says the great author of the Hebrews, do not suffice to wash sins away [Hebrews 10:4]. Well, maybe if we sacrificed human life, human blood, maybe the sacrifice of human life and blood would atone for our sins. Do you remember the cry of Micah in the sixth chapter of his prophecy, verses 6 through :
Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God? shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Then he goes further –
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
One day, in old Mexico, I labored to the top of one of those highest pyramids. And I stood there and I thought, on this place, of the countless, countless lives that had been sacrificed by the priest of the Aztec Indians, lifting up his knife, plunging it into the heart of a young brave or a young maiden, and taking out the heart while it was still beating, and warm blood dropped from that throbbing organ of life, some way to expiate sin and human guilt. That’s what Micah’s talking about. Well, why can there be no expiation and atonement in the sacrifice of our human life?
In the third chapter of Zechariah, Zechariah the prophet sees a vision, and Joshua the glorious high priest is standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him [Zechariah 3:1]. And when Zechariah the prophet looks upon their great high priest Joshua, Zechariah says, "And I looked, and behold, the high priest Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him" [Zechariah 3:3]. How can a man make atonement for the sins of somebody else, when he himself must be judged for his own derelictions, and his own iniquities, and his own sins?
Therefore the author of the Hebrews says, in the tenth chapter of his book, there came down from heaven the Prince of glory, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God. For a body hast Thou prepared for Me" [Hebrews 10:5, 7] For burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin cannot wash away our guilt [Hebrews 10:5-6; Revelation 1:5]. The Lamb offered must be without spot and without blemish, stainless and pure [1 Peter 1:19].
And in the womb of the virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit fashioned the body of our blessed Savior [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:26-35]. And the Lord came down, "incarnate," we call it. He came down to live in a tabernacle, in a house of flesh and blood [John 1:14]. And that shaping of the house in which the Lord was to live, the body that He was to offer for an atonement for our sins [Hebrews 10:5-14], is what happened in Bethlehem, when Christ was born [Matthew 1:20-2:1]. That was the second great reason for the incarnation; the shaping, the providing of a body to be offered on the tree, on the cross, to expiate our guilt [1 Peter 2:24].
And once again I fall into the unfathomable and inexplicable mysteries of God [1 Corinthians 4:1; Ephesians 3:4]. Why it took blood to wash sin away lies in the deepest heart of God. "But without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins" [Hebrews 9:22]. And the Lord came down [Hebrews 2:16-17], a spirit could not make atonement, and God is spirit. The Lord came down, and the body to be offered for atonement was shaped and fashioned by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary, born in Bethlehem [Luke 1:26-35].
Now the third thing the author says of the atonement I can somewhat understand. "For," says the author, "in that He Himself hath suffered being tried, He is able to succor them that are tried" [Hebrews 2:18]. As he says in the fourth chapter, "For we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tried like as we are, though without sin" [Hebrews 4:15].
Now I can enter into that. Our Lord became flesh and blood, and dwelt among us as a man, in order that He might be able to understand our sorrows and to sympathize with us in our need, and poverty, and want, to encourage us. I can understand that.
The old story of the Oriental monarch who, when he died, sent word to his people that his son, whose face they had never seen, that his son would succeed him to the throne; and though they did not know him, and though they had never seen his face, yet they would know of his gracious rule by the blessings that he would bring to the land. So, it was not long until the mediating, gracious influence of the new king was felt throughout the kingdom. Like the warm sun bathes the earth, so the grace, and goodness, and understanding, and justice, and mercy flowed to the ends of the realm from this son, the new king.
It was amazing how he understood their problems, and it was wonderful how the new king encouraged them and kept them. And they could not understand how he knew them so well. Upon a day, they came to the palace with a petition, and said, "O king, we cannot understand, you know us so well, and you encourage us so sweetly and beautifully. Please let us see thy face." So the king acquiesced, and he came forward, dressed in his royal robes.
And they looked upon him, and exclaimed, "We, we know thy face." And one said, "When our child died, you stood by the grave to comfort us." And another said, "We know thee. When we were hungry, thou didst bring us bread." And another, "We know thee. In the dark night of our discouragement and despair, you visited us and comforted us." What had happened was, the king, living among his people, walking among his people, unknown to them, was their friend and companion.
That is what God hath done in Christ Jesus. The goodness of God, and the mercy of God, and the understanding of God, and the sympathy of God, when finally we come to know what it is, it is Jesus, coming down from His throne in glory, living our life. And that is why the author says, "He knows what it is to suffer. He knows what it is to be tried; and He can be touched, moved, with the feeling of our infirmities" [Hebrews 4:15]; one of the purposes of the incarnation.
Anybody hungry? Anybody hungry? He knew what the agony and the gnawing pain of hunger is. After forty days he was peirazō, tried, tried, peirazō, translated "tempted," tempted, tried [Matthew 4:1-2]. And Satan sought to undo the incarnation, "Make bread out of these stones [Matthew 4:3]. Live like God. Why identify Yourself with flesh, and blood, and man, and suffer, and be hungry, and buffeted by all of the winds of fortune? Be the God that You are, and turn stones into bread. Undo the incarnation."
"No," said our Lord, "My people hunger, My brethren suffer, and I hunger and suffer with them." He was ministered to by the women of Galilee; else He would have not had bread to eat [Matthew 4:11]. Anybody thirst, ever? Anybody thirst? He asked water of a sinful Samaritan woman [John 4:5-7]; and the fifth saying from the cross, in the agony of a burning fever, "I thirst. I thirst" [John 19:28]. He became so weary that the violent wind and storm of the sea failed to awaken Him [Luke 8:22-24], and the sixth saying from the cross, "It is finished" [John 19:30], when He laid the weary burden down.
There are no trials that He does not understand. And there are no sorrows and sufferings into which He does not enter. And that was the purpose of the incarnation: that we might have a faithful high priest, who could understand the feeling of our infirmities [Hebrews 4:14-16].
I wish I could sing. I started to call you late last night. But I thought, well, we wouldn’t have time for it. But I started to call you last night, and say, "Lee Roy, I want you to sing for me:
Sweet little Jesus boy
They made You to be born in a manger,
Sweet little holy Child,
And we didn’t know who You was.
["Sweet Little Jesus Boy"; Robert MacGimsey, 1932]
I’m just trying to say, that back of the birth of the Christ Child in Bethlehem [Luke 2:10-16], back of it lies the profoundest mysteries of God: that the Lord should be made flesh [Colossians 2:9], to destroy Death [1 Corinthians 15:54-57], and to offer His body an atonement for our sins [Hebrews 10:4-14]; and that He might be able to understand and to sympathize with us in our infirmities.
And that led to the great preacher’s invitation, "Let us therefore come boldly, come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" [Hebrews 4:16]. Anybody can kneel in a stable. Anybody could be welcomed at a manger. Had He been born in a king’s palace, some of us might have hesitated, but born so lowly and so poor, the humblest among us can feel welcome. "Wherefore come boldly, come boldly, come." For the manger in Bethlehem cradles the King of glory [Luke 2:10-16]. Come boldly to receive help in time of need [Hebrews 4:16]; this is the meaning of Christmas.
Now we go over our time. On the first note of this stanza, somebody you, give himself to Jesus. Somebody you, put his life in the fellowship of the church. A family, a couple, on the first note of the first stanza, come, come, while we stand and while we sing.