The Purpose of the Incarnation
December 21st, 1969 @ 8:15 AM
THE PURPOSE OF THE INCARNATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-21-69 8:15 a.m.
Now the sermon this morning is going to be a surprise to you. I thought long and earnestly about preaching it. What made me think about it is our service Christmas Eve. By the way, when I was a boy and started out pastoring my little country churches, I always preached, then had a baptismal service, usually I would stand out in the middle of a river or in the middle of a tank and preach, give an invitation, walk up on the bank, give an invitation, then have the baptismal service.
Here in Dallas in these new fangled urban ways, why, we have our baptismal service first, and then we have our preaching service. But I want to turn it around Wednesday night and do as I did long time ago. We are going to have our service first—at 7:30 o’clock—come to the auditorium, all of you. Then after the delivery of the message, I am going to have our baptismal service.
Now what made me think of this was—being a baptismal service on Christmas Eve—I am going to preach that night, this coming Wednesday night, on The Cradle, The Cross, and The Crown. And as I began thinking about those things, baptism on a Christmas Eve, I could not escape an extended passage in the Book of Hebrews regarding the incarnation. And the reason I hesitated to preach—to prepare the sermon like it is prepared and deliver it—is it is sort of out of keeping with the tinsel and the tinfoil and big fat Santa Claus. Not that I am unsympathetic with tinsel and tinfoil and rotund Santa Claus; we have a Christmas tree, and we decorate it, buy all of those glittering things at the dime store to make it shine; and I’ve been through several parties of our church group this year, and I love to see the ho, ho, ho man come in and his rotund little belly shake his head, “Ha, ha, ha, ho, ho, ho”; I do not mind. But the Bible, God’s Word, in the incarnation of Christ is such a different thing; and I thought, “Should I do this or not?” But as I said, because I was so much thinking about baptism on Christmas Eve and what it means that I just decided to; I persuaded myself that we were mature enough for us to come to church and listen to an exposition of the Word of God on the profound, theological, everlasting, eternal meaning of God born in the flesh [Philippians 2:6-8], so let’s start.
The message is an exposition of the second half of the second chapter of the Book of Hebrews:
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death—
in order to suffer and die—
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.
For both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one—
God incarnate and we in Christ, we have a common denominator—
For which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren,
Saying, I will declare Thy name unto My brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto Thee.
And again, I will put My trust in Him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given Me.
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 that had the power of death, that is, the devil;
And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
For verily He took not upon Him the nature of angels; but He took upon Him the seed of Abraham—
the seed of a man—
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 expiation for the sins of the people.
For in that He Himself hath suffered being tried, He is able to succor them that are tempted, that are tried.
This is an inspired account of the incarnation. This is a discussion of the purpose of God coming down in human flesh. And there are three tremendous avowals that He makes regarding the purpose of Bethlehem, of God coming down in the form of a man. First: that we might be delivered from the bondage and despair of death:
Jesus, made a little lower than the angels—
that is, coming down into the form of a man—
that He might suffer death; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man . . .
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood—
we are human and mortal—
He also likewise took part of the same—
He became human and mortal—
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 bondage.
He came down and became mortal, flesh such as we are, that He might enter all of the black domain of despair and mortality, and that He might deliver us from the bondage of the fear of death [Hebrews 2:14-15]. Oh, what a tremendous thing! Just to suggest it, that death might be turned from its horrible visage of corruption and decay and despair into the glorious joy, and gladness, and freedom, and victory of the children of God. Christ did that for us; He came down and became one of us, and He entered the dark domain of death, and He wrestled there with the powers of decay and destruction; and He won [1 Corinthians 15:53-57].
And death now to us; we haven’t time to speak of these things. As this author of Hebrews says, “Through the veil of His flesh, through the suffering and the tearing of His own body, we have an entree into heaven” [Hebrews 2:9-15, 10:19-20], an entrance into glory. And death now for us is nothing but a translation; it is a triumph! When the trumpets sound on the other side of the river and one of God’s children goes home, it’s a great day and a great hour! It’s our finest day and our finest hour. That’s what Christ did for us, coming down in the flesh to win for us that incomparable victory [Hebrews 10:4-14].
Many of our people are not able to attend the service on Wednesday night, so may I describe this last Wednesday night? There was a man here by the name of Haralan Popov; and for thirteen years, he was tortured because he was a Baptist preacher. He was tortured by the communists in Russia. And in describing one of those horrible hours of torment, he was marched to the end of a dark corridor and the light turned out, and he felt the cold steel of a pistol, of a handgun, thrust against the base of his skull. And the communist guard said, “I shall slowly count to five, and at the end of five, if you do not confess that you are an imperialist spy, I shall pull this trigger.” And the guard began to count, “One, and two,” and that man, Wednesday night, said that, when he counted to three, there came a flood of joy and glory over his soul that was indescribable, “For,” he said, “in two more seconds, I shall see Jesus. In two more seconds, I shall be in heaven, in glory with God.” And when he counted to five, he said, “Lord, here I come.” And he said, “I have never felt the closeness and dearness and preciousness of God in my life as I did with that gun at the base of my skull.”
Well, the rest of the story, instead of shooting him, the communist took the butt of the gun and thought he had burst his head open. And he survived and lived through those years of torture that followed. But as he spoke, I could not help but think what a glory that a man in Christ could just face the horrible visage of death and do it with a flood of glory in his soul. That is the first reason, this author says, that Jesus came into the world: to take away from us the fear of the bondage of death [Hebrews 2:14-15].
Now, the second thing he avows: “Verily,” he says, “He took not upon Him the nature of angels; but He took upon Him the seed of a man, 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,” and the King James Version translates it, “to make reconciliation for the sins of the people” [Hebrews 2:16-17]. Hilaskomai, translated here, “to make reconciliation,” if we were to take the word, hilastērion is the word for the mercy seat, hilastērion; and hilaskomai means literally to make expiation of sins, to make reconciliation with God for our sins, to make atonement, at-one-ment, to make atonement for our sins. And that’s the word here; hilastērion, the mercy seat; hilaskomai, to make reconciliation, to make atonement to God for our sins [Hebrews 2:17].
And the author of Hebrews; oh! he discusses that so marvelously; just the use of the word brings a flood of Old Testament types and memories and rituals, all of which were foreshadows and harbingers and earnest of the great atonement of God for our sins in Christ Jesus. On the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, as the Jewish people observe it today, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest took blood, and the only time in the year he entered into the Holy of Holies, the sanctum sanctorum [Hebrews 9:7], and there sprinkled blood of expiation, of atonement, of reconciliation on the mercy seat, the golden seat, the covering of the ark [Leviticus 16:14-15, 33-34], where the archangels looked full upon it, their overspread wings touching above it [Exodus 25:17-20]. And the author of Hebrews discussing that said that in the sacrifices that were offered in the temple ritual, there was remembrance again made of sins every year, “For,” he said, “the blood of bulls and of goats could not take away sins” [Hebrews 10:3-4]. Therefore it was done every year; every year there was a remembrance of sins [Hebrews 10:3]. And the offering of blood shed by bulls and goats could not take away sins [Hebrews 10:4]. Remember in Micah in that famous passage in Micah 6:6-, the prophet, in despair almost, cries:
Wherewith shall I come before God, and bow myself before the Great Jehovah? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or ten thousands of rivers of oil? Yea, shall I give my firstborn for my transgressions, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
If I were to offer not a bullock or a ram or a lamb, but if I were to offer my own firstborn son, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul, would that wash sin away? Then the author continues:
It is not possible that in blood of bulls and of goats sin should be taken away; but in heaven it was decreed a body hast Thou prepared for Me. Then said I—
Lo, I come (in the volume of the book, in the volume of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O God.
Then follows the offering of Christ, by which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Christ once for all [Hebrews 10:10-14]; and there is no more remembrance of sin, gone forever [Hebrews 8:12, 10:17].
O Lord, that I could remember that and believe that. How many times do we bring before God a sin in days past? Sins of youth, sins of young manhood or young womanhood, and we still carry them and sometimes mention them before God, when God says, “In Christ, in His blood, I have forever and forever washed them away, I have forgotten them” [Hebrews 8:12, 10:17] When I come before the Lord in remembrance of them, the Lord says, “What sin? I do not even remember it. It is washed away once and for all.” That did God do for us in offering the body of Christ [1 Peter 2:24, 3:18]. The incarnation was the preparation of the atoning sacrifice [Matthew 1:20-25]. For Christ, primeval was spirit, but He became incarnate in a body that in that body He might make sacrifice, atonement, for our sins [Hebrews 10:5-14]. And in that offering, God washes away the stain out of our souls [Psalm 51:2, 7]; it is as though we had never sinned, we are without fault and without blemish in His presence [Ephesians 5:27]. That did God do for us in the incarnation; to make a body for God that He might make hilaskomai, atonement, reconciliation, expiation, washing away our sins [Hebrews 2:16-17].
Now, a third reason why the incarnation: “For in that He Himself hath suffered being peirazō—translated here, “tempted,” which is all right—actually the word means “tried,” being tried: “For in that He Himself hath suffered being tried, He is able to encourage them, to succor them, to sympathize and understand with them who are tried” [Hebrews 2:18].
In the last verses of the fourth chapter, he says it like this:
For we have not an High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was Himself in all points—
there’s that word peirazō again—
tried like as we are, though He without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace;
For He knows and He sympathizes and He understands, for He was a man; He walked in human flesh just as we are in human flesh.
Let us come boldly unto Jesus, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
There’s a third reason for the incarnation; that God might understand and sympathize with us and that we might know of His understanding and His sympathy, He also endured all the pangs and arrows of an outrageous fortune [Hebrews 4:15-16].
Some of these Oriental stories out of Oriental lore are sometimes so poignantly revealing. Here’s one out of that ancient literature. There was an eastern Oriental monarch who said that when he died that his eldest son would assume the prerogatives of the throne; but they’d never seen his eldest son, and they did not know his eldest son. And so they asked the monarch, “Who is he? Let us see him.” And the monarch said, “You do not need to see his face, but you will know him by the benevolent rule and the graciousness of his reign.” The days passed, and the aged monarch died. And the eldest son came to the throne. They’d never seen him, they didn’t know him; and he hid his face from them. But out of the throne, there issued streams of kindness and mercy and love for all of the people; it was a glorious millennial day. And the people could bear it no more, and they came to the palace and said, “Never such grace, such understanding, such sympathy, such love, let us, we pray thee, see thy face. Who art thou?” And the king, the eldest son, the king came forth and stood before his people. And as they gazed upon him, one man said, “Why, I know thee, I know thee. When our child was sick and died, you came and stood by our side. I know thee.” And another said, “I know thee, in the valley of the shadow of a great trial, you were with us and walked with us.” And another said, “I know thee, when we were poor, you came to comfort and to sustain and to help us.” And another, “I know thee, I know thee. In the hour of great need, you were there to comfort and to sustain us.” What had happened was the eldest son and their king had walked among them in disguise, one like them who understood and who ministered and who sympathized.
I’m sure that’s just an Oriental story; it never happened, except one time, that happened in Jesus. He lived our life, He walked our ways, and He understands; He knows all about us and loves us and sympathizes with us. Our labors, He was a carpenter Himself [Mark 6:3], thirty years out of thirty-three He knew the drab drudgery of backbreaking toil. Do you notice so many things He will say will refer to that? “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden . . . take My yoke upon you.” He used to make yokes the legend says, “Take My yoke upon you; for it is easy and My burden is light” [Matthew 11:28-30]. He understands our trials, “though He without sin” [Hebrews 4:15]. He knows our sufferings and our necessities: He was poor, He was hungry [Matthew 4:2], He was thirsty [John 4:7]; the fifth saying from the cross, “I thirst” [John 19:28].
He was weary [John 4:6], He was burdened, and He knows our death [Hebrews 2:9]. And He knows our deep sorrows [Isaiah 53:3-4]. He knows all about us, touched with the feeling of our weaknesses and hurts and infirmities [Hebrews 4:15]. “He came into His own,” the Book says, “and His own received Him not” [John 1:11]. Those who ought to have claimed Him denied Him; those who ought to have adored Him despised Him; even those who ought to have loved Him forsook Him [Matthew 26:56]; He knows all about our trials, our temptations, our sorrows [Hebrews 4:15-16].
There is a song that in its feeling captures that side of Christmas: “Sweet Little Jesus Boy, they made Thee to be born in a manger. Precious little holy Child, and we didn’t know who You was . . .” And I’ve asked Dan Beam to sing it before I give the invitation in the name of our Lord. “Sweet Little Jesus Boy.”
Sweet little Jesus Boy,
they made You be born in a manger.
Sweet little Holy Child,
and we didn’t know who You was.
Didn’t know You’d come to save us, Lord,
to take our sins away.
Our eyes was blind, we couldn’t see,
we didn’t know who You was.
Long time ago, You was born.
Born in the manger low,
Sweet little Jesus Boy.
The world treat You mean, Lord;
treat me mean, too.
But that’s how things is down here,
we don’t know who You is.
You done showed us how,
we is a-tryin’.
‘Master, You done showed us how,
Even when You’s dyin’.
Just seem like we can’t do right,
look how we treated You.
But please, Sir, forgive us Lord,
We didn’t know it was You.
Sweet little Jesus Boy,
born long time ago.
Sweet little Holy Child,
and we didn’t know who You was.
[“Sweet Little Jesus Boy,” Robert MacGimsey, 1934]
I just wanted us, we here in our church, at least to remember that behind the tinsel and the tinfoil and the Santa Claus, God says that Christmas was His way of giving us an open door into glory.
And the invitation, and God always closes the revelation of His grace with an invitation, as in Isaiah, “Come, come, incline your ear . . . and hear, that your soul may live” [Isaiah 55:3]. And he closes it with an invitation: “Let us therefore come boldly, come boldly, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” [Hebrews 4:16]. That’s Christmas. That’s Bethlehem. That’s the incarnation [Matthew 1:23]. That’s God. Come, come. To give your heart to Jesus, to ask Him to forgive your sins and write your name in the Book of Life, to put your life in the family of this precious church: in a moment we’ll stand to sing, and while we sing the song, come. Make the decision now, and on the first note of the first stanza come, while we stand and while we sing.