The Purpose of the Incarnation
December 17th, 1978 @ 10:50 AM
THE PURPOSE OF THE INCARNATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-17-78 10:50 a.m.
And God bless all of you who are in the presence of the Holy Spirit of praise and adoration this day. And God bless the throngs of you who on radio and on television are sharing this hour with us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Purpose of the Incarnation. The message arises out of a juxtaposition of the text in which I am now involved, in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts [Acts 20] and the Christmas season, of which all of us are poignantly aware.
In preaching through the Book of Acts, I am in the middle of chapter 20. And the text, Paul’s address to the pastors of the church at Ephesus in which he says, “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]; an amazing avowal of the apostle “. . . the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood,” the blood of God.
That is such a remarkable word, such a daring statement, that many ancient manuscripts tried to change it. They changed it to “the church of the Lord, which He hath purchased with His own blood” [Acts 20:28]. But the Textus Receptus is correct. This is what Paul wrote: “the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood” [Acts 20:28]. The blood of the cross is the blood of God, the sacrifice of the cross is the sacrifice of God, the suffering of the cross is the suffering of God: now that is the text.
Alongside of it is this season, in which all of us joyfully share: this is Christmas. We are celebrating the nativity of our Lord, the incarnation of our Lord, the coming of Christ into the world [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:26-35, 2:1-16]. And as such, we decorate the church house; we decorate our homes: we have in it trees, and tinsel, and tinfoil, and toys, and gifts, and packages. And we are singing songs, and we are cooking dinners, and we are exchanging presents, and we are looking at a thousand different Santa Clauses; and we are just in a festive mood because this is Christmas!
And studying, they are both together in my text: the suffering of God, the blood of God, and in our festive season; singing praises to the Lord for the coming of the Christ Child into the world. So the message arises out of those two: the text that speaks of the suffering, the blood of God, and the festive season in which all of us now share—which brings the title of the message, The Purpose of the Coming of Christ into the World, the origination of the birth of the Christ, the reason for the incarnation.
Now the Bible is very explicit, the gospel message begins with an avowal of the reason for the birth in Bethlehem, the coming of Christ. In the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, which is the First Gospel, we are introduced with these words:
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was like this, it was on this wise: Mary was found with child of the Holy Spirit.
And when Joseph her espoused husband sought to put her away clandestinely—
rather than to make a public example of her.
An angel appeared to him saying, Joseph, son of David, do not hesitate to take unto yourself Mary, your promised espoused wife: for the Child that she bears has been conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Now, you look—
And she shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name lesous—
Joshua, Jehovah is our salvation—
thou shalt call His name Savior, Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins.
In the little book I have written, Joining the Church—that every child must carefully study before the youngster is presented to you for baptism, the first chapter is entitled, “What It Means To Be Saved.” And after the discussion, the first question is, “If Jesus is the Savior, He would necessarily have to save us from something. From what does Jesus save us?” And the answer of the child as he is taught is this, “He saves us from our sins” [Mark 2:1-11; Matthew 26:28; 1 John 1:7]. That is the purpose of the coming of Christ into the world. “Thou shalt call His name Savior,” Joshua, Iesous, Jehovah is our salvation, God is our salvation, “for He shall save His people from their sins” [Matthew 1:21].
A like presentation is made in the other Gospel that presents the birth of our Lord. The Gospel of Luke gives the beautiful story of the angelic announcement of the birth of Christ. And it is done in these words, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” [Luke 2:11]. And that wonderful announcement was preceded by a scene in eternity, in the ages of the ages before the world was made. That’s why I had you read that unusual passage in the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews [Hebrews 10:4-14].
Our Lord is referred to in the thirteenth chapter of the Apocalypse as “the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world” [Revelation 13:8]. In order for there to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins, there had to be an incarnation [Hebrews 10:5]. A body had to be prepared for offering, for sacrifice [Hebrews 10:5-10]. So, somewhere in the age of the ages before the creation, a volunteer was sought in heaven. And that One who replied, who responded [Hebrews 10:7-10], was the only one who could save us from our sins [Acts 4:12], the Prince of Glory, the only begotten and eternal Son of God [John 3:16-17].
And this is what God did. The tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews avows, “It is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats could take away sins” [Hebrews 10:4]. If that had been possible, you would never have had any need for the coming of Christ into the world. No Christmas needed; no incarnation expected; demanded. If the blood of bulls and goats could have taken away our sins, it would have been solved, washed away. We would have been cleansed in the rivers of blood shed on the altars of the ancient world. But blood of bulls and goats cannot wash away sins. Up there in heaven, before the world was made, God said, “Sacrifice and offering I wouldest not: so a body was prepared for the Son of God, and He replied, ‘Lo, I come: in the roll of the book it is written of Me to do Thy will, O God’” [Hebrews 10:5-7 ; Psalm 40:6-7]. “In which will, a sacrifice was made once for all, in the offering of the body of Jesus Christ on the cross” [Hebrews 10:10]. That was the purpose of the incarnation, that there might be a body prepared for our atonement, blood shed, a life poured out, the penalty of death paid in order that we might be free.
Now who is this that came down into this world from heaven into that little town of Bethlehem, conceived, shaped in the womb of the virgin Mary, whose name God said was to be called Jesus? [Matthew 1:20-21]. Who is that who came into the world, incarnate in Bethlehem? Here again, the Word of the Lord is very plain. In the introduction of the Christmas story, “Behold,” in the first chapter of the First Gospel, “behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name, ‘God is with us’” [Matthew 1:23]. “They shall call His name Immanu’el”—with us is God—“which being interpreted is, God with us” [Matthew 1:23]. Who is this that came into the world at Bethlehem? It is God incarnate, in the flesh, who was born that night in Bethlehem [Matthew 1:23-2:1]. And this also is the daring word of the apostle Paul: we are given birth, the church, in the blood of God [Ephesians 5:25]. We are redeemed by the blood of deity: “the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood” [Acts 20:28]. You can’t help but stagger at a revelation like that. It is higher than our minds can enter into; we are so finite and He is so infinite.
In attempting to explain these revelations that we find in the Bible, it brings to us a long-since-dead-and-buried heresy, in the West called patripassianism, in the East called Sabellianism. In the days of the Christological controversies in the church, in the first and second and third Christian centuries, there was an effort to explain the coming of Christ into the world. Who is He? Today the emphasis is altogether upon the humanity of Jesus. I would say that practically all of the liberal wing of Christianity today identifies Christ as just a man, good man, marvelous man—but just a man.
Strange thing: in the first Christian centuries, there was no emphasis upon His humanity at all; it was upon His deity. And in seeking to explain the deity of Christ, and the suffering of the Lord, in the West they said, “That is God the Father on the cross—patri, “father”; passian; “suffering”; –ism, “the doctrine of.” Patripassianism: “that is God the Father on the cross.” In the East they call that doctrine Sabellianism. Sabellius said, “These are just modal manifestations of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” The error of the heresy is that it took away the identity of the Son, of Christ; took away His personality, enmeshed Him in the tri-unity. But it had a half-truth, in it and the half-truth is the one so daringly written here by the apostle Paul. If a thing is wholly in error, it cannot seize the minds of men. There has to be a half-truth in error for it to have any viableness in the human mind; and this error, of patripassianism, of Sabellianism, the error is that it takes away the identity, the personality of Jesus Christ.
But the half-truth is what is expressed here by the apostle Paul so magnificently: He is deity, making atonement for our sins [Acts 20:28]. If the visible sacrifice is in the Son [Hebrews 10:12], the invisible sacrifice is in the Father. If the cross visibly is on Golgotha [Mark 15:22], the invisible cross is in heaven. If the visible sword, the spear that pierced the heart of the Son was on Calvary [John 19:34], the invisible spear that pierced the heart of God was in heaven. This is God suffering for our sins; it is the blood of God making atonement for our sins [Acts 20:28]. I am not weaving this out of my mind. I am but an echo avowing what I read in the Holy Scriptures.
Now the Scriptures are very plain as it presents the origin of Christ and why He came into the world. The whole story began in the pity, and the mercy, and the love of God for us fallen, dying, condemned creatures [Romans 5:10]. God could have let us all perish, but there was a moving love in the heart of God that prevented His allowing us to continue in our lost condition, and thus be forever judged and shut out from His presence. And the Lord in pity and in mercy did something that we might be saved; namely, He sent His only begotten Son into the world to make atonement for our sins [John 3:16]. And this began in Him. The purpose and the reason is found in the compassionate love and heart of God in heaven.
Look: the same sainted apostle who wrote John 3:16 wrote this also in 1 John 3:16, “Hereby perceive we the love of God …” —what? How? “Because He laid down His life for us” [1 John 3:16]. That itself is an amazing avowal. This is the love of God that God laid down His life for us [1 John 3:16]. I turn the page. The same apostle writes in the fourth chapter of 1 John, verse 10: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation”—to make satisfaction—“for our sins” [1 John 4:10].
And this is the tremendous doctrine of the whole Bible, “When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” [Romans 5:6]. “For God—it is God—God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” [Romans 5:8]. It is God who did that—God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us [Romans 5:8]. That is, it isn’t because we were lovely; not because we were good, not because we are worthy—we are precious in the sight of God just because He loves us, that’s all! God took pity upon us and in mercy He gave His life for us [John 3:16, 15:13]. And that life of God is seen in the sacrifice, the suffering of Jesus Christ [Romans 5:8].
Now I have a persuasion that I may be incorrect in: I do not speak to myself as—or think of myself as one who is infallible. I suppose the theological world would say that God is incapable of suffering. He would not be God if He could suffer because, they say, suffering implies limitation. And God lives in absolute and perfect bliss, therefore, He could not suffer; now that is theology. But when I read that in these theological tomes, I think that would be an ideal description of Buddha. Buddha sits on his throne in a world of indescribable sorrow, and tears, and disease, and suffering, and poverty, and death. For however you think we may be poor, and forlorn, or forgotten, or in distress here where we live, all of us live like kings in a palace compared to the indescribable poverty of the Orient: India, China. And in the midst of that indescribable, immeasurable poverty and disease sits Buddha, untouched by the suffering around him. In perfect bliss with his hands folded over his fat, protruding belly. That is Buddha. And when I read these theological tomes, “God could not suffer; God could not be touched, else He is not God, for that implies limitation.” I cannot understand in my mind how God could send His Son incarnate in this world, and He suffer and die [John 3:16], and God look upon it and never be touched by it; never be moved by it; never suffer with His Son in it. I don’t understand that.
So I just keep my persuasions still, that God suffered when Jesus died. And the Lord was hurt when “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” [John 1:11]. And I think that is the explanation of the high noon darkness [Mark 15:33], when Jesus cried, “Eloi—My God—Eloi—My God—lama—why—sabacthani—hast Thou forsaken Me?” [Mark 15:34]. “God made Him to be sin for us, Him who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” [2 Corinthians 5:21]. And God is of purer eyes than to look upon iniquity [Habakuk1:13]; and when Jesus was made sin for us [2 Corinthians 5:21], God turned His face away [Matthew 27:46], and the light of the world went out [Matthew 27:45]. He suffered when Jesus died.
I think of illustrations of that world without end. I think of the wife of the lighthouse keeper on those rocky shores. The mountainous waves, and the boisterous storm, and the terrific winds dashed the boat. Some of the survivors were hanging to the debris and the lighthouse keeper manned his little boat and went to the rescue. And the lighthouse keeper’s wife, standing on the cliff, watched that little boat rise and fall in those mountainous seas. Her heart moved as her husband went to the rescue; she could not have been otherwise. And if that is we, how much more so is that God? This is a work of the Lord—the incarnation of the Son—the Babe in Bethlehem born for the atonement of our sins [Matthew 1:20-2:1; Luke 2:10-16].
So in the light of that, let us reread, let us look again, at the life of our Lord: human? Yes. That’s the modern day emphasis upon the life of Christ, human. And as human, it followed to its natural, and inevitable, and inexorable conclusion: He was executed by the hands of men [Matthew 27:32-50; Acts 2:22-23]. That is, any man, anywhere, at any stage of history, in any nation including our own, any man who stands up and opposes evil, he will find evil rabid against him. So the life of our Lord; it followed to its natural conclusion. The envy of the Pharisees, seeing the multitudes leave them in order to [hear] this new rabbi and His words. The hatred of the Sadducees: they had a hand in the till, selling all of those sacrifices—doves, and turtledoves, and pigeons, and bullocks, and goats, and calves in a sanctuary, in the temple area; they made money off of it. And when the Lord came and cleansed the temple, drove out those commercializers, they hated Him [Matthew 21:12-16]; perfectly understandable. The craftiness of Caiaphas[John 11:49-50], the high priest; the treachery of Judas [Matthew 26:14-16]; the political self-seeking of Pilate [Matthew 27:26]: why, it’s as modern as it can be, we understand that. So they executed Him, and nailed Him to a cross [Matthew 27:32-50].
They put Him to death; but over, and beyond, and above, there is a great meaning, a great purpose, a heavenly, atoning sacrifice is being made for our sins [John 3:16-17; Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24]. And that is the preaching of the prophets. Isaiah 53, verse 10: “It pleased the Lord God to bruise Him; God shall make His soul an offering for sin” [Isaiah 53:10]. You know, I have thought for a half a century, what that verse means? And I still cannot enter into it, “God makes His soul an offering for sin” [Isaiah 53:10]. The unrecorded sufferings of our Lord, we don’t know what they are. In Gethsemane; praying, His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground [Luke 22:44]. And yet it pleased the Lord that He suffer [Isaiah 53:10]; it pleased the Lord to bruise Him [Isaiah 53:10]; pleased the Lord to drive those nails into His hands and feet [Matthew 27:32-50]; pleased the Lord that His heart be pierced by that iron spear [John 10:34], making His soul an offering for sin: that’s what the prophet said [Isaiah 53:10].
See what the apostles say: God did it. In the address of Simon Peter on that Pentecostal day says, “Christ, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” [Acts 2:23]. God did that; God did it. “By the determinant counsel and foreknowledge of God,” He was crucified and He was slain [Acts 2:23]. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:32, “God spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.” God did it, God did it. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “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. It is something that the Lord God in heaven did. And as such, Paul describes it as the blood of God [Acts 20:28], the suffering of the great, mighty, omnipotent Father in heaven.
You know, I don’t suppose there is a more poignant type of that Father-God and God-the-Son relationship than the twenty-second chapter of the Book of Genesis. And the Lord says to Abraham, “Abraham, take this son to the mount that I will show thee, and there offer him for a sacrifice” [Genesis 22:2]. And so Abraham and Isaac, on the third day, come to Mount Moriah [Genesis 22:4, 9]. And God says, “This is the place.” And as the Hebrews were taught—they were to build their altars out of unchiseled, uncut stones—he made an altar on Mount Moriah [Genesis 22:9]. He laid the wood of the sacrifice. He brought the fire in his hand. And the boy says, “Here is the sacrificial altar and the wood and the fire, but where is the sacrifice?” [Genesis 22:7]. And Abraham says, “God will provide the sacrifice” [Genesis 22:8]. And he binds his boy, and lays him on the altar, and raises his hand [Genesis 22:9-10]. There was a voice from heaven, the voice of an interdicting angel: “Abraham, Abraham.” And the knife fell from his hand, and the heart of the boy never knew the cold steel; God spared him [Genesis 22:11-13].
But not in the story of His only begotten Son. When the knife was raised, nobody called. For it was the purpose of God that He suffer in our stead; that the crimson of His life be poured out in atoning grace for us, that we might be saved [Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24]. That is the meaning of Christmas, and the coming of the Christ into the world.
Alas and did my Savior bleed and did my Sovereign die?
Did 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 can 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]
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 hath purchased with His own blood” [Acts 20:28]. And that is the meaning of Christmas. That is the purpose of the incarnation; that is the reason for His coming into this world: that we might be saved from our sins [Matthew 1:21, John 10:10].
Sweet people, it seems to be the most natural as well as the most sublime response in the world that a man say to Jesus, “Thank You, Lord. Thank You, thank You for coming into this world to save me [Luke 19:10]. Thank You, Lord, for dying in my stead [Corinthians 15:3]. Thank You for suffering for my sins [1 Corinthians 15:3]. Thank You, Lord, for saving my soul [Romans 10:13]. And Lord, if You will give me strength and lengthen days and life, I will serve Thee. I will bless Thee. I will praise Thee as long as God shall give me breath.” And our life thereafter is one of glory, and of happiness, and of gladness, and of praise, and of thanksgiving. Oh, blessed be the name of God who has wrought such wondrous salvation for me!
And that is the invitation we press to your heart this morning. “Pastor, today, today I thank God for saving my soul, and here I am.” “Pastor, today in obedience to His command, I want to confess my faith in the Lord and publically be baptized [Matthew 28:19]; avow that commitment.” Or, “Pastor, today I am bringing my wife and my children. We are all coming into the fellowship of this dear church” [Hebrews 10:24-25]. Make that decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand to sing, stand answering with your life, walking down one of these stairways, walking down one of these aisles. “Here I am, pastor. I have decided for God and I am on the way” [Romans 10:8-13]. Make it now. Do it now. Bless you as you come. Angels attend you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.