The Purpose of the Incarnation
December 21st, 1969 @ 10:50 AM
THE PURPOSE OF THE INCARNATION
DR. W.A. CRISWELL
12-21-69 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television, you are sharing the triumphant, glorious, God-praising Christmas services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Today is dedicated especially to missions. Every Christmas we do that.
And when we have our White Christmas program, which is, as you see, is to be presented tonight, we bring packages wrapped in white. There will be white paper in Coleman Hall. Get anything that a poor family could use. Wrap it up in white and bring it here to church tonight. We have six chapels, six missions, and, through the cold winter months that lie ahead, used clothing, staple groceries, anything, will be a blessing to those poor people.
May I also remind you that it is to your advantage to give to the work of our Lord in this tax year. It will work better for you tax-wise, if you make the gift this year. Do it before the end of the year.
Now, the sermon this morning, a Christmas message, will be in an altogether different world from what you might have thought for, for Christmas is so identified with tinsel and tinfoil and, a "Ho, ho, ho!" Santa Claus, that we almost forget its great, deep, theological context. I thought long and hard before delivering, preparing for delivery the sermon this morning. It is in a different world. It is nothing congruous with what you see, and mostly what you hear, this Christmastide.
But I began thinking about it because of the service Wednesday night. Christmas Eve, Wednesday night, we are going to have a service here in this great auditorium, and I am going to go back to the days as I was when I was a boy, seventeen years old and eighteen, and began pastoring my little churches. I always preached, then a baptismal service. I would stand out in the middle of the river, and I would preach, then walk up to the bank and give an invitation, then have the baptismal service.
We have turned it around in this urban culture that we now share in. We have our service of baptism first, then I preach each Sunday night. We are going to turn it around Wednesday night, and I am going to speak first, then have our service of baptism. And I am going to preach on the cradle and the cross and the crown, a baptismal service Christmas Eve. Well, think about that.
These tremendous, theological, doctrinal, heavenly, meaningful revelations in God’s Book of the coming of His Son into the world laid a burden of ministry and preaching on my soul. So, I just decided, even though it will be in a different world than what you usually think of as Christmas, I was going to do my best to present it. The title of the message could be, The Purpose of the Incarnation, why Jesus came down to be born as a man and to walk among us and to die for us and to ascend back into heaven as our intercessor and mediator. And the message is an exposition of the latter 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 purpose of 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.
For both He that sanctifieth, our Lord, and they that are sanctified, we, are all one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call us 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, we are mortal, He became mortal to be like us, that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;
And deliver them who were through fear of death 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, a man, the seed of Abraham.
Wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be, in order that He might be, a faithful and merciful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation, to make expiation, to make reconciliation, to make atonement, for the sins of the people.
For in that He Himself hath suffered being tried, He is able to succour them that are tried. [Hebrews 2:9-18]
Now, there are three things that the author of this letter to the little Hebrew congregation, there are three things that he says in this passage of the why of the incarnation, the purpose of God in coming down and clothing Himself with human flesh. And the first one is that He might deliver us from the bondage of death, the fear of the grave. God made Him
a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death,that He, by the grace of God should taste death for every man.
For as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, we are mortal. He also Himself likewise took part of the same that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death,.
And deliver them who through the fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
The great first purpose of the incarnation, this inspired writer says, is that He might destroy death and He might deliver us from the bondage of death. And the way God did it was He came down to be one of us, made like us, subject to death Himself, for He was flesh and blood. And in the tearing of His body, the author of the Hebrews says, In the tearing of the veil, in the rending of the veil, and that veil is His flesh, in the rending of the veil, in the tearing of the body of Christ, we have an avenue into glory.
And, now, death for the children of God is not corruption or decay or bondage or indescribable dread and fear. It is not blackness and darkness and despair. But now, to us in Christ, death is but a translation, an avenue, a glory, an introduction, our presence, our gathering before our heavenly Father. The trumpets sound on the other side of the river each time one of God’s saints is called home and it is a victory. It is our finest and greatest hour. That is what Christ did for us in His incarnation and in His suffering and in His death.
I was so moved last Wednesday night, so many of us are not able to come to the midweek service on Wednesday night, so I describe it to you. Last Wednesday night, there was a man here, a Baptist preacher from behind the Iron Curtain and his name is Haralan Popov. For thirteen years, he endured unspeakable hardships in a Communist prison camp at the hands of the Russians. And, in one of those horrible hours of torture and suffering, he was finally taken to the end of a dark, dank corridor. "There is a light bulb there," he said, "and the communist guard put it out, turned it off."
And then he felt the cold steel of a gun placed at the base of his skull, and the communist guard said, "I will count slowly to five, and at the end of that counting to five, if you do not confess that you are an imperialist spy, I will pull this trigger." And the guard began to count, "One and two and three,."
And that Baptist preacher said, "When he came to three, there was an indescribable flood of joy and glory that covered my soul, for," he said, "in two more seconds, I will be with Jesus." And, he said, "When he counted to five, he cried, "Lord, I am coming home." The guard, instead of pulling the trigger, took the butt end of his gun and hit him till he lost consciousness. And we have not time to follow the thirteen years of torture that followed. But, oh, dear, as I listened to him, I thought what God in Christ has done for us. Death no longer is a dread or a despair or a horror or a nightmare, but is a triumph. It is a victory!
He was made partaker of our mortality. God was incarnate in Bethlehem, that being a man, He might, through death, destroy him that had the power of death; and deliver us, who, through bondage in death, all our lifetime dread it and fear it, but not anymore. It is our day of victory and glory.
This, the author says, is the first purpose of the incarnation.
The second purpose, he says, is that He might make for us expiation of our sins, atonement, reconciliation to God.
For verily He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took on 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, and the King James Version has it translated reconciliation, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.
The word that the author uses is hilaskomai, hilaskomai. And hilastērion is the word for the mercy seat, the lid of the Ark of the Covenant in the sanctuary of sanctuaries, in the Holy of Holies. The lid was called the hilastērion, the mercy seat.
You remember the cherubim, one on each side, looked full upon the mercy seat, and their wings touched one another. Now, on the day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, as they observe it and call it today, on the Day of Atonement, once a year, the high priest alone took the blood of expiation, of atonement, of reconciliation, and He entered beyond the veil into the Holy of Holies, and He sprinkled the blood of atonement on the mercy seat.
And that is the word that he uses here. He uses the verbal form, hilaskomai, to make atonement, to make expiation of the sins of the people. Now, so much of the Book of Hebrews is a presentation of that, and I take one part of it.
The author says that in those sacrifices and in that temple ritual, all of which were adumbrations of the coming of our Lord and His sacrifice for our sins, he says that those sacrifices were brought to remembrance every year, reminding us constantly of our continual sin, every year, every year. For he said it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sin. So, they were offered again and again and again because those sacrifices of blood, of animals, were not sufficient. They were not able to wash the stain of sin out of our souls.
And so much of the Old Testament is a cry like that. Do you remember the famous passage in Micah 6:6-8?
Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and how shall I bow down before the high God? shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with sacrifices, with calves of a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? Shall I offer my own son, my firstborn as an expiation for my sin?
And that is what the author is speaking of here. In those sacrifices there was the remembrance of sin every year, for the blood of bulls and of goats could not take away sin.
Then, as he continues up there in glory sometime, somewhere; in other passages it says it was before the foundation of the earth, before God flung these orbits out into space, up there God said, ",a body hast Thou prepared for Me. Then said I, Christ speaking, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of Me,) to do Thy will, O God." [Hebrews 10:5, 7] And Christ came in that prepared body, prepared by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary. And He offered Himself, once for all, a sacrifice for our sins. "By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."[Hebrews 10:10] There is no more sacrifice and there is no remembrance of sin.
That is why sometimes, oh, I wonder at myself, and I wonder at the people who come and talk to me in my study here at the church. Back yonder in youth and back yonder in the days passed, those dark transgressions and the weight and the burden of sin that remains in us all through the years that follow after. And we come before the Lord, and we repeat to Him all of those sins that stay with us like heavy weights that drag us down. Like traps on our feet, they hold us to the earth.
And when we come before the Lord and review, the Lord says, "Why, I do not know what you are talking about. I do not know what you are referring to. I know nothing about it."
And we say, "Why, Lord, You are bound to know. Do You not remember back there? Do You not remember that day and that hour? Lord, do You not remember?"
And the Lord says, "No. I do not remember."
Why does God not remember? Because He says that the sacrifice of Christ for our sins is not every year. It is not every day. It is once for all, and in Him God has forever washed our sins away. He remembers them, He says, no more. It is as though we had never sinned. And that, says the author, is the purpose of the incarnation. In Bethlehem, God came down and assumed human form and flesh, a body, that He might offer a sacrifice for our sins once and for all.
Now, the third purpose of the incarnation. The third purpose the author says in this passage is that He might understand and sympathize and encourage us who live in this pilgrimage. "For in that He Himself hath suffered, being," and the word is "tried," we have it translated here "tempted," but the word is "tried," that God has tried Him. Satan tried Him. All of the afflictions of life that we have endured, He endured, peirazō, "trial," "For in that He Himself hath suffered being tried, He is able to succour them that are tried."
In the next, 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, and there is that peirazō again, but He was tried in all points like as we are, though He without sin.
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. [Hebrews 4:15-16]
The third reason for the incarnation He says is that He might be to us a merciful and faithful and sympathetic and understanding high priest. For, in that He Himself hath suffered, being tried, He knows all about the sufferings and the trials of our lives.
Out of Oriental lore, I have taken this story. There was an Eastern, Oriental king, who, in his age, said that when he died his eldest son would inherit the throne. But they had never seen him. They had never seen that eldest son. But the king said, "You will know his reign by the graciousness of his rule."
So, when the aged king died, the eldest son ascended the throne, and there came out of the throne streams of grace and mercy and sympathy and understanding and help. And, upon a day, the citizens of the king came to the castle and said, "We would see thy face. You so understand us, and you so know us, and you so sympathize with us, and you so help us. We pray thee, let us see thy face."
And the king came forth and stood before his subjects, and the people looked at him in wonder and amazement. And one of them said, "Why, we know thee. Thou art that stranger who stood by our sides when our little child died. We know thee."
And another one said, "We know thee. In the hour of our greatest trial and necessity, thou art the stranger that stood by our sides. We know thee."
And another, "Why, we know thee. In the hour of our greatest need, you were help to us, bread to our hungry mouths. We know thee."
I would suppose that is a story about an Oriental king, but it is true about the Great King. He had lived incognito among His people, and He knew them and He loved them and He ministered to their needs.
This is the great purpose, the author says, of the incarnation of our Lord, that He might know us, that He might understand us, that He might sympathize with us, and, being one of us might be able to succor and to help us in the hour of our trial and need. Why, a minister would have to be made out of brass who could not praise God in the marvelous, unsearchable gift of the love of God in Christ Jesus, as it is presented here in this Holy Word. He is one of us. He understands us. He lived our lives. He knows what it is to labor. Why, for thirty-three years of His life, thirty of them, He knew dull, drab drudgery. He was a carpenter. When He presented Himself as the Messiah, they said, "Why, is it not the carpenter’s son; and, again, is this not the carpenter?"
Do you notice how He will speak like that, "Come unto Me all ye who labor and are heavy laden. Take My yoke upon you, and the legend says He made ox yokes, take My yoke upon you." [Matthew 11:28-29] He knew what it was to labor.
He knew what it was to be tried, though He without sin. He knew what it was to suffer necessity. He was poor. He had not where to lay His head. He was hungry. For 40 days, Satan tried Him in the wilderness. He knew what it was to thirst. The fifth saying from the cross is, "I thirst": raging, burning fever, the flame of thirst. He knew what it was to be weary. He knew what it was to carry a burden.
He understands us. When you go before the Lord with any trial or any sorrow or any burden, He understands. He has gone before you. He has lived that moment Himself and our death and the sorrow and tears that attend it. He was never at a funeral but that He understood, and tears burst from His own eyes. This word, "Jesus wept," in the eleventh chapter of John, literally, is, "And Jesus burst into tears." [Vs. 35]
How understanding and how sympathetic! He was tried in all points as we are, though He without sin. And He knows our suffering, and He has endured our death. O Master, when ye came down into the world, the Book says, "He came into His own, and His own received Him not." Those who should have adored Him despised Him. Those who should have received Him rejected Him. Those who should have worshiped Him forsook Him.
And in that sorrow and trial and suffering and death, He became that faithful and merciful high priest who is touched, who is move with the feeling, sometimes too deep for description, with the feeling of our infirmities.
That is Christmas. That is the purpose of the incarnation. And there is one song that seems to me somehow captures the feeling of that great purpose of God when Jesus came down as a little baby.
Sweet little Jesus boy,
Born in a manger.
Precious little holy child,
And we didn’t know who ye was.
Dan, sing it for us.
Sweet little Boy
They made you be born in 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 told us how, we is a tryin’!
Master, you done show’d us how,
Even when you dyin’.
Just seem like we can’t do right,
Look how we treated you.
But please, sir, forgive us, Lord
We didn’t know ’twas 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," by Robert MacGimsey, traditional African-American spiritual song]
I have no objection to the tinsel and the tinfoil and to a Santa Claus. We have a Christmas tree in our house, and we decorate it with all those glittering things. But I just wanted us to know that, back of this season is the profoundest theological significance to be discovered in the Word of God. It is right for us these two great seasons of the year to exalt, to adore, and to praise our Lord. One is at Easter time, and the other is at Christmas time. What God hath done for us in Christ Jesus!
And when God writes His Word, all through the Book, He always closes with an invitation, as in Isaiah, "Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come." As in the Revelation, "He which saith these, I come quickly. Amen. Even come, Lord Jesus." And so this, the high priest, who is moved with the feeling of our necessities and our infirmities, "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."
And that is our invitation to you this morning, accepting Christ as your Savior. Come, putting your life in the precious family of this church. Come, as God shall press the appeal to your heart. Come, make the decision now. And, in a moment, when we stand up to sing, stand up, coming. From the balcony round, on this lower floor, down to the front, "Here I am, Pastor. I am coming now." Do it while we stand and while we sing.