The Purpose of the Incarnation
December 17th, 1978 @ 8:15 AM
THE PURPOSE OF THE INCARNATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-17-78 8:15 a.m.
And again welcome to the thousands of you who are sharing this service on our two radio stations. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Purpose of the Incarnation. And the sermon arises out of a juxtaposition of two things. One, the passage in the Book of Acts that is before me; in preaching through this history written by Doctor Luke, I am in the middle of the twentieth chapter. And the beloved physician quotes Paul as addressing the pastors of the church at Ephesus, saying, “Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock . . . to shepherd the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood” [Acts 20:28].
Just looking at that text, “the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood,” the blood of God [Acts 20:28]. Then by the side of that, sensitive to this season of the year, all of the things that portray the Christmas season, the decorations, the Christmas trees and the Christmas toys, Santa Claus, poinsettias, all of these lights, the gifts, the songs, all of those things that announce to us the remembrance of the birthday of our Lord; so just looking at these two things, my text here in the Bible, the page from which I am preaching, “the blood of God, purchasing the church” [Acts 20:28], and all of these beautiful things that celebrate the nativity of our Lord; and they seem so opposite, almost contradictory; this glorious season and the blood of God.
But when you begin to think of it and to read the Bible, there is a story back of the coming of our Lord into the world that has given rise to this text. How beautiful did the angels sing [Luke 2:13-14], and how precious the worship of the shepherds [Luke 2:15-20] and the wise men [Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11], and how incomparably glorious the coming of the promised King Messiah into the world [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 2:1-7, 10-16]. And then, how tragic the end of His life, executed on a Roman cross like a felon, like a criminal [Matthew 27:32-38]; but that brings to us the profound meaning that lies back of Christmas, back of the coming of the Christ Child into the world; and that is our message this morning.
For the Lord God came into the world, incarnate, in order that He might suffer and die for our sins. This is announced in the beginning of the Gospel. The first chapter of Matthew, which is the First Gospel, says, “The birth of Jesus was on this wise”. . .and then describing Mary espoused to Joseph, “being found with child of the Holy Spirit” [Matthew 1:18]. And Joseph, being a good man, thinking to put her away privately and not make her a public example, as he was thinking about how to do it, an angel of the Lord appeared unto him, saying,
Joseph, son of David, do not hesitate to take unto yourself Mary for your wife: for the Child that she has conceived is of the Holy Spirit. And she shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name Iesous, Joshua, Jehovah is our salvation; His name shall be called Savior: for He shall save His people from their sins.
That is the way the story begins. And the angels, in the second chapter of Luke, did not deviate from that announcement. They say to the shepherds, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, in Bethlehem, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” [Luke 2:11].
When we teach that little book I have written on joining the church to our children, the first chapter is “What it Means to be Saved.” And the first question is, “If Jesus is a Savior, He would necessarily have to save us from something. What does He save us from?” And the answer is from our sins [Mark 2:1-11; Matthew 26:28; 1 John 1:7]. What is sin? Disobedience; breaking the law of God [1 John 3:4]. Who has sinned? All of us [Romans 3:10, 23]. And what is the penalty of our sins? Eternal death [Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 6:23]; my body dies because I sin, and my soul dies, is separated from God, because of my sin. And who can save us from that sin? Jesus [Acts 16:30-31]. Dad and mother cannot, they’re dying too. The pastor cannot; he’s dying too. The church cannot; it is a terrestrial organization. Only Jesus can save us from our sins [Acts 4:12], and that is the purpose of His coming into the world [Matthew 1:21].
And how did God do it? God did that with an incarnation, a sacrifice, paying the penalty of our sins [Hebrews 10:5]. And that is the passage that you read just now. In the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, the author writes, “It is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” [Hebrews 10:4]; all of those sacrifices of the old covenant were but pictures and types of what God purposed to do in making atonement for our sins. Blood of bulls and goats can’t take away sins. For the Lord had said, “Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldst not” [Hebrews 10:5]. Then he describes a scene sometime, somewhere, before the foundation of the world: the Lord God of heaven, the Prince of Glory, volunteered to make atonement, to make sacrifice for our sins, to die in our stead. “But a body hast Thou prepared for Me . . . Then said I, Lo, I come; in the roll of the book it is written of Me to do Thy will, O God . . . By which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” [Hebrews 10:5-10]. The blood of bulls and goats could not take away our sins, the sacrifice of a spirit into which we cannot enter cannot take away our sins; it has to be a body, a sacrificial victim [Hebrews 10:4-5]. So, the Prince of Glory in heaven, Revelation 13 describes Him as “the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world” [Revelation 13:8]; somewhere, sometime in the eternity of the ages past, the Lord of glory, the Son of God, volunteered to make atonement for our sins, and a body was prepared for Him [Hebrews 10:4-14]. And He was incarnate in that body [Matthew 1:20-23; John 1:1, 11]. And in that body, He made atonement for our sins [1 Peter 2:24]. That’s why His coming into the world.
Who is it that came into the world? Who is it incarnate in that little town in Bethlehem? Who is it conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary, without a human father? Who is that Someone who came? We are told, without any hestitancy at all, in this beginning of the Gospel, that He is God. “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bring forth a Son; and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which literally means “God is with us” [Matthew 1:23]. That’s who came. And that is the bold word of the apostle Paul: this is the blood of God, who purchased our salvation [1 Corinthians 6:19-20] and gave birth to the church [Acts 20:28].
It is a staggering conception! When you look before it, you can’t help but bow in amazement at the love and condescension of the great God of heaven. And this gave rise to a long dead and buried heresy. In the West, it was called patripassionism. In the East it was called Sabellianism. What happened back there in those early Christian centuries, first and second centuries, when they entered into those long Christological controversies, discussions over who Jesus is? Today we emphasize His humanity. And I’d say practically all of modern Christendom hardly believes in the deity of Christ. They make of Him a wonderful gracious good man, but still just a man. But in the first centuries of the Christian faith, they looked upon the Lord Jesus as just a manifestation of God, without His humanity. And patripassionism was one of those heresies. That is this Jesus is just God the Father; and it was God the Father who was nailed to the cross. So the name, patri, “father,” passionism, “suffering”; the suffering of the Father. Sabellianism was of the same stripe, same kind. God is just manifested in three ways. And they illustrated it. Sabellius illustrated it with the sun; the sun, the substance, the light, the heat, but just the sun. So God: these are modal manifestations, called the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but the suffering was God.
Now the error that lay in those heresies is a half-truth. The error is they make Jesus not human, not a distinct separate personality; they identify Him with God the Father. But as with every heresy, there is a half-truth in it; otherwise it could not commend itself to the mind of man, no one would believe it if it were all error. The half-truth, of course, is, Jesus is God. And that is the bold, daring word of the apostle Paul: the blood of God, which He hath purchased; God, whose blood purchased the church; it is the blood of God [Acts 20:28]. Paul is daring when he says that. And that’s the half-truth that lies in patripassionism and Sabellianism. And yet, He is distinct from the Father; He is a human being. He has personality and identity. And as we read the Bible, and as we study its revelation of God and of Christ, it becomes—that is, to me—very apparent who it was that made the atonement for our sins [Romans 5:11], and who suffered for our justification [Romans 4:25, 5:9].
And it is like this: the physical sacrifice was the Lord Jesus [Hebrews 7:27, 10:10], but the sacrifice was also suffered in heaven [Hebrews 9:12]. The visible cross was on Golgotha [Matthew 27:32-35], but there was an invisible cross in heaven. The visible suffering was in the body of our Lord [Matthew 27:32-50], but the invisible suffering was in heart of God in heaven. The visible sword, the visible spear that pierced the heart of Christ was on Calvary [John 19:34], but an invisible sword, an invisible spear, pierced the heart of God in heaven. I believe that, because there has been revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures that all of this that we see in the life of our Lord, His birth, His suffering, His death, all of this is according to the plan and purpose of God. The author of John 3:16 also is the author of 1 John 3:16. Listen to him: “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us.” And I turn the page, 1 John 4:10, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and gave His Son to be the propitiation, to offer satisfaction, atonement, for our sins.” Or take again this tremendous passage of the apostle Paul in Romans 5: “When we were without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly . . . for God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” [Romans 5:6-8]. “God commendeth His love toward us” [Romans 3:8]. God did it. God sent His Son. All of this is a part of the purpose and plan and love of God. He did it. The origination of it all is in His heart, with the consequence of, the Lord God our Father in heaven was in Christ, and in His love He also hurt and suffered for us.
When the theologian says, “But God cannot suffer; He would be imperfect if He were capable of suffering. God is in holiness, God is in perfect bliss, and God is untouched and unmoved by human suffering. He is not God if He is capable of suffering. He lives in perfect and heavenly bliss”; I don’t know what to think about that definition of God. It sounds a whole lot like a definition of Buddha. Buddha sits there in the midst of unbelievable squalor and poverty and disease and hunger; he sits there with his hands folded over his fat belly, in perfect nirvana, untouched and unmoved by the vast illimitable seas of darkness, distress, disease, all around him. Is God like that? The definition of God being someone who is untouched and unmoved and lives in perfect bliss, and He is not God if He does not live in perfect bliss; those things stagger me when I read them in these theological tomes. How is it that God could send His only begotten Son, the Prince of Glory, into this earth, and watch Him suffer and die, and be absolutely unmoved, untouched?
I think of the lighthouse keeper’s wife. Out there dashed against the rocks a little boat, shattered; and the survivors clinging to the remains of that boat, now in the high, furious, mountainous waves of the sea. And the keeper of the lighthouse climbs in his little boat to go out there and to rescue those survivors. And the wife of the lighthouse keeper, standing on the cliff, watches the little boat of her husband as it rises and falls in those mountainous seas. Could she do that and be unmoved and uncaring?
I remember after the First World War, just a youngster in a home, and there was a large and moving, to me, picture of a young wife bowed over a table, her head, her face pillowed in her arms, weeping disconsolately. And there on the table; before her was an officer’s cap, and a sword, and a commission. And underneath the caption, “Who pays the price?” “Who pays the price?”
Isn’t that what happened on the cross when at high noon the Lord cried, “Eli, My God, Eli, My God, lama, why, lama, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” [Matthew 27:46]. God made Him to be sin for us [2 Corinthians 5:21]; and the Lord is of purer eyes than to look upon iniquity [Habakkuk 1:13], and He turned His face away from the suffering of our Lord [Matthew 27:46]. And when God turned His face away, the sun went out; the light ceased to shine [Matthew 27:45]; God, moved, suffering with His Son.
Well, that means—for a moment now, let us reread the life of our Lord. First, here is the way the world looks at it: there is a perfect human explanation for the life and death of the blessed Jesus. Any man, in any generation, in any time, in any country, in any language, in any culture, any man who stands up and opposes evil, evil will raven against him. There’s no exception to that; the envy of the Pharisees, the throngs that listened to this Rabbi from Nazareth, the hatred of the Sadducees. He touched their affluence when He cleansed the temple of those sacrificial offerings [Matthew 21:12-16]; they made money on it. The craftiness of Caiaphas the high priest [John 11:47-53, 12:10], the treachery of Judas [Matthew 26:14-16], and the political, self-seeking self preservation of Pilate [Matthew 27:24]—why, that’s the story in every generation. That’s the story today. I think that’s the story of Taiwan. This is a Christian people, and a Christian nation; thirty million of them. But it’s more advantageous for us, they say, to break our treaty with those Chinese of Taiwan than it is to confront the communist governments in Southeast Asia and in China. It’s politically expedient to do that.
So any man, anywhere, who stands against evil, will find his life like the life of our Lord. That’s the way it ends. Evil attacks and destroys, consumes. So Jesus, humanly speaking, His life follows that way. And He dies [Matthew 27:45-50], but there’s something more and over and beside in the life of our Lord. It isn’t just a human life, beautiful, perfect, precious, handed to us incarnate in that beautiful story in Bethlehem [Matthew 1:20-25, Luke 2:1-16], and then handed back to God on the point of a Roman spear [John 19:34]; it isn’t just that. Over and beyond in the life of our Lord is a purpose in the mind of God. Listen to it. The prophet says, Isaiah 53, “It pleased the Lord to bruise Him; Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin” [Isaiah 53:10]. That’s what the prophet said. What does the apostle say? “Jesus, delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, was taken by wicked hands, and crucified and slain” [Acts 2:23]. But over and beyond the human development of His life, “delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” [Acts 2:23], or as Romans 8:32 says, “God spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.” Or as 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made Him to be sin for us, Him who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” God did it. God made Him sin for us; and as such, paid for our sins on the cross [1 Corinthians 15:3]. God did it. Or as the apostle John writes in the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, “Pilate says, What, You do not speak to me? You do not answer me? Do You not know that I have the power to crucify Thee? Or I have the power to release Thee, do You not know that? Why do You not speak to me? Why do You not answer me?” [John 19:10]. And Jesus answered and said, “Thou couldst have no power at all against Me, except it were given thee from above [John 19:11]. What has happened is in the will of God, otherwise you would have no power over Me. You could not crucify Me. You could not condemn Me to death. This is something God did. This is something God does.” And we stand in awe, and in amazement, and in wonder, and in infinite gratitude for what God has done to make atonement for our sins [Romans 5:11].
And that’s why beyond those sleigh bells ringing, and that’s why beyond that little fat Santa Claus, and that’s why beyond all of these Christmas decorations, and that’s why beyond all of these gifts that they’re advertising on TV and on radio, and that’s why beyond all of the festiveness of this Christmas season, there lies the profoundest truth in God’s Word: He came to die for our sins [1 Timothy 1:15, Hebrews 10:4-14].
Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sov’reign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
Was it for crimes that I have done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! Grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!
But drops of grief could ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe:
Here, Lord, I give myself away
‘Tis all that I can do.
[“Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed,” Isaac Watts, 1707]
That is Christmas.
Lord God, thank Thee for sending Jesus to die for our sins [Romans 8:32]. Praise Thee Lord, for taking pity upon my lost estate. Bless the name of heaven, that in my certain judgment and death, God hath made provision that I might be saved.
That is the purpose of the incarnation [Matthew 1:21]. And that is the meaning of Christmas.
O Lord, how we praise Thee and thank Thee for the coming of Jesus into the world, otherwise, we would be hopelessly lost and forever. Now Lord, we are:
Saved by the blood of the Crucified One
All praise to the Father, all praise to the Son
All praise to the Spirit, the great Three-in-One
Saved by the blood of the Crucified One
[“Saved By the Blood,” S. J. Henderson]
“The church of God, which He purchased with His own blood [Acts 20:28].”
We must sing our song of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, one somebody you, accepting Jesus as Savior [Romans 10:9-13], or putting your life with us in this dear church, on the first note of that first stanza, walk down that stairway, walk down this aisle; “Here I am, pastor, I have made this decision in my heart; and I am coming now. Here I am. I give you my hand; I’ve given my heart to the Lord.” May God bless you as you come, may angels attend you in the way as you walk down that aisle; the whole family of you, or just one somebody you. In a moment when we stand to sing, that first step will be one of the most meaningful, one of the most precious, one of the most endearing, one of the most meaningful you’ll ever make in your life. And God will walk by your side down the way. Come, now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
THE PURPOSE OF THE INCARNATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. This daring text – “the blood of God”
1. Many ancient manuscripts tried to change it to “the Lord”
2. The suffering of the cross is the suffering of God
B. This season we celebrate the incarnation of our Lord
C. The reason for the incarnation
1. He came to save us from our sins (Matthew 1:18-21, Luke 2:8-12)
2. He volunteered in heaven (Revelation 13:8, Hebrews 10:4-10)
3. Who is it who came? – God incarnate(Matthew 1:22-23, Acts 20:28)
a. Opens a long dead, buried heresy – Patripassianism, Sabellianism
b. Error of this heresy is that it took away identity of the Son
c. Truth in it: if the visible sacrifice is in the Son, the invisible sacrifice is in the FatherII. The origin of the coming of our Lord
A. In the love and compassion of God(John 3:16, 1 John 3:16, 4:10, Romans 5:6, 8)
B. The suffering of the Son shared by the Father(John 1:11, Mark 15:34, 2 Corinthians 5:21)III. Re-reading the life of our Lord
A. Modern emphasis on His human life gives human explanation of His death
B. The Holy Scriptures reveal a heavenly purpose and meaning – the atonement for our sins(Isaiah 53:10, Luke 22:44, Acts 2:23, Romans 8:32, 2 Corinthians 5:21)
1. Poignant type of the Father-God and God-the-Son relationship found in life of Abraham(Genesis 22:1-14)
2. Hymn, “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed”