The Purpose of the Incarnation
December 12th, 1965 @ 10:50 AM
THE PURPOSE OF THE INCARNATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-12-65 10:50 a.m.
The Purpose of the Incarnation of God: why did God come down from glory, and live in human flesh, incarnate, became a man in Bethlehem? So the sermon today is the answer to that question. Now I do not ever remember doing this before, but I am going to give the outline of the message. The message is an exposition of the last half of the second chapter of the Book of Hebrews. And there are three reasons named here why God came down, why the Lord was made flesh and dwelt among us [John 1:14].
And the first reason was, as you will see it here in the text, He came down for identification with us in our suffering and in our death. He was incarnate that He might share with us our sufferings and experience our death [Hebrews 2:9-10]. And in death destroy him who had the power of death: "The last enemy," says the Word of God, "that shall be destroyed is death" [1 Corinthians 15:26]. The second reason that you will read in the text why God was incarnate: He came to be an atonement, an expiation for our sins. He came for reconciliation [Hebrews 2:16-17]. And the third reason in the passage why God came down to assume the form of a man, born of a woman: that He might be to us Someone who sympathizes and who understands in all of our infirmities [Hebrews 2:18].
Now we shall read the text. "Jesus," beginning at verse 9:
Jesus was made lower than the angels, that 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.
Now verse 14 –
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part in the same;
that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death –
that is Satan, diabolos, the devil –
And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
For verily He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took upon 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 for the sins of the people.
For in that He Himself hath suffered being tried, He is able to succor them that are tried.
Now the first: why God came down, why the incarnation, why Jesus was born in Bethlehem [Matthew 1:20-2:1]. He came down that He might identify Himself with us in our sufferings and in our death. "Jesus, made lower than the angels, for the suffering of death; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man [Hebrews 2:9]. For the children," the sons of men, "for the children are partakers of flesh and blood; and He Himself also took part in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death" [Hebrews 2:14].
The eloquent author of the Hebrews is saying that as God looked down upon the children of men, made out of flesh and blood, they were subject to all of the sufferings that baffled human life, and finally stand in the presence of death. And the Lord in His grace, and in His mercy, and in His goodness, and in His love for us, came down from glory to share our human nature [Hebrews 2:9]. "For since we are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same" [Hebrews 2:14]. God coming down, and down, and down, in glory; to be identified with us, with us who are flesh and blood [Hebrews 2:9, 14].
Somewhat of that you will find in the life of Moses. God said to the great law-giver, "You stand aside. You stand aside and let My wrath burn against this people, and I will destroy them from the face of the earth. And out of thy loins will I raise Me up a people who shall do My will" [Exodus 32:10]. And Moses stood long before the Lord and interceded for his brethren. And Moses cried and prayed saying, "O Lord God, if Thou wilt forgive their sin," then a great, long, black hyphen. He never finished the word. "And if not, I pray Thee, blot my name out of the book which Thou hast written" [Exodus 32:32]. "If my brethren cannot live, I do not live. If my brethren are judged, let me be judged with them. And if they die, let me die with my people."
In a lesser degree, the same kind of a thing; our children read in history books in the life of Robert E. Lee. The beautiful home in which Robert E. Lee lived; the Custis Mansion overlooks Arlington National Cemetery, and overlooks the city of Washington. He was born of noble forbears, an illustrious graduate of our military West Point Academy. And when the war broke out between the states, the president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, asked the distinguished General Robert E. Lee to take command of the forces of the North. It precipitated a course of battle in the heart of the noble Virginian. And finally he declared, "I cannot war against my brethren. I cannot take arms against my native Virginia. And if they battle, I shall battle by their sides. And if they fight, I shall fight with them. And if they die, I shall die among them." And Robert E. Lee came to be the leader of the forces of the South; out of love, and out of sympathy, sharing with his brethren.
It is something like that but we cannot enter in to it. It is something like that, that moved the heart of God when He looked down from heaven and saw the children of men, flesh and blood, subject unto suffering, and unto death. The descent of our Lord from glory is one of the great themes of the Word of God. There is not a passage in all literature, nor one in theology, nor one in the Bible that can excel this glorious description of the descent of our Lord in the second chapter of the Philippian letter. "Jesus, who being the morphē of God," whatever the morphē of God is, whatever form God has:
Jesus, being in the form God, thought it not a thing to be grasped, 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, and was made in the likeness of man.
And being found in fashion of a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.
From glory, down, and down, and down, and down, did He descend [Ephesians 4:9]. Our highest imagination cannot enter in to the heights of His glory nor can our minds imagine the descent to which He fell [Philippians 2:6-8]. Made out of flesh and blood, born a child in a manger [Luke 1:26-35, 2:1-16], living the life of a slave and of a servant [Philippians 2:7], and finally dying like a malefactor, raised between the earth and the sky, as though He were rejected by man, and scorned by heaven [Matthew 27:38-50]. These, these are the things our eloquent author portrays when He speaks of Jesus incarnate. Made like a man, flesh and blood, born of a virgin, in Bethlehem, that He might be one with us His brethren [Romans 8:29].
The second great reason, delineated here: He took upon Him the fashion and the form of a man [Philippians 2:7-8], that He might make reconciliation for the sins of the people – hilaskomai – "to make reconciliation" [Hebrews 2:16-17], it is translated here. When I see that word, there passes before my mind all of the sacrifices and all the ritual of the Old Testament. For the word hilasmos is the Greek word for "atonement," for "expiation," for "bearing away our sins." And the word hilaskomai used here is the word for "to expiate sins, to make atonement, to make reconciliation, to make it possible for a man who is a sinner to stand in the presence of God and live, to make wide open an entrance into heaven." He was incarnate [Matthew 1:20-2:1]. He was made flesh [John 1:14]. There was shaped for Him a body, that He might offer that body a sacrifice, an atonement, an expiation for our sins [Hebrews 10:4-14].
It is that subject that is so eloquently presented here in the tenth chapter of the same eloquent letter.
For it is not possible –
says the author –
that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
Wherefore when Christ cometh down, and down, and down into the world, He saith, Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldst not, but a body, hast Thou prepared for Me:
In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast no pleasure.
Then said I –
then said the Lord God, Jesus, the Prince of glory –
Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of Me) –
in the Old Testament Scriptures it is spoken –
to do Thy will, O God.
"A body hast thou prepared for Me" [Hebrews 10:5]. Why? Because God says, "The blood and the sacrifice of bulls, and of goats, and of calves, and of bullocks, could never suffice to wash away sin" [Hebrews 10:4]. That is the cry of King David, after he had bathed his hands in blood guiltiness; he cried, "For Thou desirest not sacrifice: else would I give it: Thou delightest not in burnt offerings" [Psalm 51:16]; "If I could wash the blood off of my hands, and the stain of sin out of my soul, by calves and bullocks, I would offer them endlessly," says the king, but these cannot suffice to wash sin away. The blood of a dumb animal cannot suffice to make atonement for a man’s sin [Hebrews 10:4], neither can the offering of the sacrifice of human blood make atonement for our sins [Micah 6:6-7].
The eloquent prophet Micah, in the sixth chapter of his prophecy, and beginning at the sixth verse said, and listen to him:
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, and with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Then finally, shall I give my first-born for my transgression; the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
Could human sacrifice and the spilling of human blood, could even the pouring out of my own children offered on an altar suffice to wash my sins away?
I am sure some of you, as Cameron Townsend here, have seen those pyramids of the Aztecs in Central America and especially outside Mexico City. I made my way laboriously. I climbed to the top of the biggest and the highest of them. And as I stood there on that platform, I thought of the uncounted numbers of human lives that had been sacrificed in that place to appease the wrath and the judgment of Almighty God for human sin. The high priest of the Aztec, raising high his knife and plunging it into the body of a young brave, or of a young maiden, and while the warm blood flowed and while the heart organ yet beat, to take it out and offer it to God as an expiation, as an atonement for human sin; that was the cry of the prophet Micah, "Shall I offer my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? Or shall I come before God with a thousand rams, and ten thousands of rivers of oil?" [Micah 6:7].
The eloquent author of the Hebrews says, "For the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins" nor could the sacrifice of human life expiate for our sins [Micah 6:6-7]. Then he paused to say why there. Why cannot life, the sacrifice of life wash our sins away?
In the third chapter of the prophet Zechariah, he says, "And I saw Joshua in a vision, and I saw Joshua the high priest, standing before the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him" [Zechariah 3:1]. Then the vision continues, "And Joshua was clothed with filthy garments" [Zechariah 3:3]; their noble, and sanctified, and consecrated high priest, the noble Joshua standing before God representing the people, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him; his filthy garments representing the sin in his own life. "I cannot die for somebody else, I must die for myself." No human life could be offered for our sins because that human life is also spotted and stained [1 Peter 1:18-19].
At the end of the appeal at the early hour, one of our finest men came and knelt there at our altar and said, "Pastor, I feel so deeply that I have fallen short of the glory of God, and I want to confess my sins, and I want to ask God to forgive me, and I want to give my life anew to the Lord." All of us are like that. I cannot die for another. I have to die for myself. The sin, and the stain, and the wrong, and the iniquity, and the dereliction, and the wickedness that has infested all of mankind, the same black drop is in our veins. No atonement could be made by us. That is why, that is why the dear Lord in glory came down to bring with Him our salvation, and our atonement, and our expiation [Hebrews 10:5-14]. And when the Lord God in heaven, when Jesus the Prince of glory, when Christ our Savior offered Himself, "Lo I come to do Thy will O God" [Hebrews 10:7], He could not come in spirit, the morphē of God [John 4:24].
I cannot enter into the morphē of God. I just know this: a morphē of God could not be nailed to a tree, could not spill human blood. And without blood there is no atonement for sin [Hebrews 9:22]. There was made a body for Him and when God came down to offer expiation for human sin, there was made for Him a morphē; the form, the body, the house, the tabernacle of a man [Hebrews 10:5]. And that morphē was contrived by the Holy Spirit of God in the womb of a virgin girl [Luke 1:26-35]. And the house, the body of flesh and blood, the body that was to be offered for our atonement, for the expiation of our sins [Hebrews 2:16-17], that body was framed and shaped by the Holy Spirit of God [Matthew 1:20-2:1], to be offered as a sacrifice for our sins. And that’s why the Babe was born in Bethlehem, to make atonement for our souls [Hebrews 2:16-17; 1 Peter 2:24].
"For," says this eloquent author – we could speak on it forever – "For," says this eloquent author, "in those sacrifices that they offer year after year, there is remembrance of sins every year" [Hebrews 10:3]. Every morning they offered a lamb to God, and then in the afternoon they offered another one [Numbers 28:3-4].
And on the great annual Day of Atonement, they spilled the blood before God [Leviticus 16:1-34]. And the next year at the same time they had to slay another lamb and spill its blood again. For in those sacrifices there is a remembrance of sin, over, and over, and over again [Hebrews 10:3]. For it is not possible that human sacrifice could ever expiate for our sins [Micah 6:6-7]. But, He who comes down from heaven, He whose body was fashioned to offer a sacrifice for us [Philippians 2:8], without spot, without blemish [1 Peter 1:18-19], stainless, and pure, He made this offering once for sins, forever [Hebrews 10:12]. For by one offering, He hath perfected forever, them that are sanctified [Hebrews 10:14].
In the body of Christ, there is expiation for all of the sins of the earth [1 John 2:2]. So abounding and overflowing is the grace of God in Christ Jesus, for where sin did abound, grace did much more abound [Romans 5:20]. There is efficacy, there is power in the blood of Christ to cover, to make atonement, to cover all of the sins of the world [1 John 2:2]. And for that purpose was He incarnate, did He come down in the form of a man [Hebrews 2:16-17], made a body in the womb of the virgin Mary [Matthew 1:20-25], born a child, live our life, suffer our sufferings [Hebrews 4:14-15], die our death [Romans 3:23, 5:12, 6:10].
Then that leaves to the third reason the author gives here for the incarnation, the birth of our Lord. "For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, being tried, peirazō, tried; He is able to succor them who are also tried" [Hebrews 2:18]. Or, as He says in chapter 4, "For we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tried as we are, though He without sin" [Hebrews 4:15]. He came to be born [Hebrews 10:5-7]. He came incarnate. He came with flesh and blood down from above in Bethlehem [Matthew 1:23-2:1]. He came that He might be to us a great High Priest; a high, holy, and exalted Savior who could understand us and our infirmities, and our temptations, and our derelictions, and our trials and our sorrows; for in that He Himself hath suffered, He is able to encourage us who suffer [Hebrews 2:18]. Since He was also buffeted by all of the ill winds of fortune, He also can understand and be moved by the feeling of our infirmities [Hebrews 4:14-15].
I read an old-time story which illustrates the sympathy and understanding of Christ for us because He walked among us incarnate, was made a man, came down from heaven and clothed Himself with flesh and blood and lived our life [John 1:14]. I read a story of a long ago Oriental monarch who when he died, said to the people, sent word to the people that his son, whose face they had never seen, that his son would take over the kingdom and that they would know him by the gentleness and graciousness of his rule. And it came to pass that when the aged monarch died and the son whose face the people had never seen came to rule in the realm, it was like the sun bathing the earth; so gracious, so blessed, so precious. And the people could not understand, for grace flowed out of the capital in marvelous understanding, and help, and encouragement. And they could not understand how it was that the king so knew their problems, and so took care of them, and encouraged them.
And upon a day, they came to the palace with a petition and said, "O Sir, we would see thy face; who art thou, our gracious, good, benevolent king?" And the king acquiesced and came forth, dressed in his glorious, and royal, and kingly robes. And the people looked upon him, and they cried, "Why, why, we know thy face. We know thee, who thou art." One cried, "I know thee. I know thy face. When our child died, you stood by the open grave and wept with us. I know thee." And another cried, "I know thy face. When we were hungry, thou didst bring us bread to eat." And another, "I know thy face. In the day of our dark despair, you came to encourage us and to bless us." What had happened was, unknown to them, their king walked among his people; lived their life, suffered their sufferings, understood, and sympathized, and encouraged, and helped.
That in a small and feeble illustration, that is what God has done in Christ Jesus. When we seek the goodness, and the understanding, and the sympathy of Almighty God; behold, His name is Jesus. And when we see His face, it shall be the face of our sympathizing, and loving Lord, Christ Jesus [John 14:9]. In all points, tried as we are, that He might be a help and encouragement to us who are tried; a great High Priest who can be moved with the feeling of our infirmities [Hebrews 4:15]. For He knew and understands how it is to be encased and imprisoned in this house of death, with flesh and blood [Hebrews 2:18].
He shares with us in our labors. "Is not this the carpenter’s son?" said the villagers when they heard His glorious words of grace and wisdom. "Is not this the carpenter’s son?" [Matthew 13:55]. And He was known as the carpenter [Mark 6:3]. Do you ever remember out of thirty-three years, for thirty years, He knew back-breaking toil and the misery of drudgery? He was a laborer thirty of His thirty-three years. He shares with us in our toil. He shares with us in our trials. There is no trial or temptation that has ever come to a soul that He has not also faced. Could He have fallen? Could He have sinned? Yes, it would not have been a trial, it would not have been a temptation could He not have. But He was able not to sin and not to fall [Hebrews 4:15]. But there’s not any trial or temptation we endure but that He also endured it.
And He shares our sufferings. Oh, a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief! [Isaiah 53:3]. "In the volume of the book it is written of Me" [Hebrews 10:7]; sorrows and grief, poor; so poor He had no place to lay His head [Matthew 8:20], so poor the few cents of an annual tax He had to send Peter to take out of a fish’s mouth [Matthew 17:24, 27]. Hungry, hungry, He knew the gnawing pains of hunger [Matthew 4:2]. He was ministered to by the women of Galilee without whose help He would have had nothing to eat [Mark 15:41]. And in the first temptation by Satan, after He had hungered forty days [Matthew 4:2], Satan said to Him, "These stones, turn them into bread" [Matthew 4:3].
Could He have done it? We get a wrong understanding in the translation. For Satan does not say "if you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread." The Holy Spirit had just fallen upon Him at His baptism, and God the Father had said, "This is My Son in whom I am well pleased" [Matthew 3:16-17]. What Satan said was, "Since you are the Son of God, and all power and all dominion are in Your hands, since you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread" [Matthew 4:3]; which would have meant to undo the incarnation. For He came down, and down, and down, and down from glory to live like a man, to suffer our sufferings, to endure all of our temptations and trials [Hebrews 2:18].
And had He come down and lived like a God, the God that He was, and turned stones into bread, He would have lost touch with us who have need and who suffer. There’s no one in this hungry world who has ever hungered, but Jesus understands. He was an hungered [Matthew 4:2] and He thirsted. He asked drink of a woman of Samaria who was a harlot [John 4:5-7]. No Jew would speak to one of the despised. No rabbi would be found talking to a woman, and no decent person with a harlot, but He did. He did. There was nothing superior in our Lord. Isn’t that amazing? The Prince of glory, and He fraternized with sinners, and He ate with harlots; He was known as the friend of publicans and sinners [Matthew 11:19]. And it was not beneath the dignity of the Son of glory to ask a favor of a promiscuous street-walker.
Amazing thing, what you find in the faith. And He knew what it was to be weary, to be weary. He was so tired one night that the storm and the wave of a fierce assailment on the Sea of Galilee did not awaken Him [Luke 8:22-24]. And the sixth saying from the cross, He bowed His head, and cried, "It is finished" [John 19:30], the weary burden He laid down. That’s why He was incarnate; that is why He became a man, that He might be a great High Priest who could be moved with the feeling of our infirmities [Hebrews 4:14-15]. And finally of course, to suffer death [Matthew 27:32-50]. "Behold, and see," cried Jeremiah in his Lamentation, "all you that pass by, behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow" [Lamentations 1:12]. Scorned by the people He came to save [Matthew 27:36-43], rejected by His own house and brethren [John 1:12], betrayed by those who professed to love Him [Matthew 26:14-16], and die forsaken, "Eli, eli, lama; My God, My God, why?" [Matthew 27:46].
I’m just trying to point out to our souls that back of this tinsel, and back of this tin foil, and back of the sleigh bells that ring, and back of this Santa Claus, and back of all of the things that go into the spirit of Christmas, that back of it lies the eternal, redemptive purpose of God that we might be saved [Hebrews 10:4-14]. It was a glorious condescension in little Bethlehem when God came down to be made in the fashion of a man [Luke 2:10-16; Philippians 2:8].
And that is why the invitation of the eloquent author of the Hebrews, "Having One who knows our life, and understands our infirmities, let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, come boldly, that we may obtain mercy, and find help in the time of need" [Hebrews 4:14-16]. I would suppose anybody could come to a manger, don’t you? Anybody could come to a stable, wouldn’t you think? Anybody. Had He been born in the household of the king, there are some of us who might have hesitated; protocol, the amenities, the graces of court life, so exalted and removed, so guarded and sheltered. I would think many of us might have hesitated to come, but anybody could come to a stable. The poorest of the poor could bow down at a manger.
So the eloquent author concludes his depiction of the condescension of Christ, and the glorious incarnation at Bethlehem with the appeal: "Wherefore let us come boldly, come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may find mercy, obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" [Hebrews 4:16]. This is the reason for Christmas. No wonder our people want to sing, and shout, and declare the glory of God, and decorate the earth, and call the family together, and friends and neighbors, and be glad, and rejoice. This is the sweetest season of the year, and one of the most preciously meaningful. And with it always, that glorious and incomparably meaningful invitation: come, come, come, come.
And that is the invitation we press to your heart and soul this morning. Somebody you, come, come. While we sing our song of appeal, "Pastor, today I want to take Jesus as my Savior. I also shall bow in His presence. I shall look up in faith to Him, and here I am. Here I come." A couple you, to put your life in the church; a family you, "These are our children. All of us are coming." One somebody you, as our people sing, as we prayerfully wait, there is a stairway at the front and the back, on either side of this great auditorium. If you’re in the balcony, make it today. "Here I am, pastor. Here I come." On this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, "Pastor, I give you my hand, I give my heart to God." As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your soul, answer, "Yes, yes, Lord, here I come, and here I am." Do it. Do it. Do it now. When you stand up in a moment, stand up coming. "Here I am, pastor, today, I make it now," while we stand and while we sing.