The Incarnation (Part 2)

With a look at Jesus’ heritage, I hope you found something new to take away and see there’s more under the surface than just a list of names.   We probably have the tendency to just skip over those lists when we are reading the Bible, but remember this when you see names:  God knows your name, and He has purposed you into redemption history just like those people.  Keeping on with the story, picture the scene that begins in verse 18.

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

Mary and Joseph were engaged and one day Mary finds she is pregnant. In that culture an engagement was more legally binding than it is today or in our society. So separating would have been tantamount to divorce. Mary and Joseph had not been together intimately, so the only logical conclusion Joseph must have arrived to was that Mary had been with another man. Sometimes I think we are able to detach emotion from accounts like this, maybe because they happened so long ago or to people we don’t know. Or maybe we are even desensitized because this type of situation (on the surface) is so common in our society. But just think about this situation happening to you. Whether you are Mary who has unexplainably pregnant and probably considered a liar or Joseph who was certain he’d been cheated on. Not a good situation. Joseph must have been rich in compassion, though, because he opted to settle the matter quietly rather than shaming Mary publicly.

Then an angel came and clarified what was going on.

20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

It’s important to note that the angel addresses Joseph as “son of David”. Here again, it is being established that the baby, who Joseph is about to learn was conceived by the Holy Spirit, was coming from the line of David as promised. Matthew quoted Isaiah 7:14.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. -Isaiah 7:14

Immanuel would be a completely new concept to Israel. God dwelled in the Holy of Holies of the Temple and could only be accessed by the designated priest one day a year. Fair to say they saw Him as detached in many respects. To say “God is with us” was a game-changer. As confusing as all this probably was to Joseph, he obeyed God. He married Mary, never was intimate with her while she was pregnant, and named the baby Jesus.

So what do we know about Jesus to this point? He was physically born to Mary. Jesus is Mary’s son by birth. He is also Joseph’s son by adoption. Legally, Jesus is in every way Joseph’s as he is Mary’s. We know that adoption makes a child belong to a set of parents. Adoptive parents do not speak of an adopted child apart from any children they have by natural birth. All of them are their children. The children take on that family name and grow up in that family’s heritage. There is no differentiation. Therefore, Joseph’s lineage ties Jesus to King David as Jesus’ father. The angel also told Joseph that Jesus was coming to save people from their sins. So Jesus was very much born into a fallen world in need of salvation and ultimately, Jesus is God’s Son. Why was Jesus born of a virgin? To show us that salvation is in need of a divine solution; it cannot be accomplished by any means of man.

Jesus was born of human and came from God. He is both man and divine. Our minds are wired to think either/or but in God’s power, He is both/and. But 100% of both defies our logic. (There are several such mysteries in Scripture that we’ll likely never understand this side of heaven.) It’s not 50/50, mind you; it’s 100% of both. That’s why He was born a baby and also created the universe. That’s why He died and yet conquered death. This is a concept we may not fully understand but generally accept. In fact, we are probably used to the idea and don’t really give deeper consideration to it. But it is worth looking into what this really means.

Because Jesus is fully human, He possesses the full range of human characteristics. That means He had a physical body just like us. His body required sleep and food like ours. In fact, Matthew shows us that Jesus was hungry and tired at times. He also mentally developed like us. The gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus increased in wisdom as he grew up. It’s probably hard for us to separate the Jesus we know who began teaching such profound words with a baby who started out with a simple “mama” and “dada” just like we did. But it’s true! He experienced human emotion. We see joy, anger, and sadness throughout his life. Altogether, Jesus was like us outwardly, meaning his humanity was plain to see. In fact, people from his hometown had a hard time accepting what He had to say because they just knew him as the kid from Nazareth.

It is important for us to understand that Jesus is fully human because we can be assured that He can identify with us. He gets it. He knows what we go through. Isn’t it important for you to have that assurance when you go to someone for care, comfort, or support? You want to know they are empathetic with you. Otherwise, you don’t really make a connection and what they have to say probably won’t weigh that much with you.

Because Jesus is fully divine, He possesses the full range of divine characteristics. He has command over nature. In fact, creation was made through Jesus (Colossians 1:16). So if He made it, it shouldn’t be surprising that He has power over it. Case in point, there is an account of Jesus controlling a storm. He can walk on water because He created the water. He has power over disease. There are many stories about Jesus healing the blind, lame, and sick. Jesus has authority over sin. He is able to offer forgiveness. Jesus also has power over death. He raised people from the dead and ultimately, He raised Himself from the dead.

It is important for us to understand that Jesus is fully divine because we can be assured that He can identify with God. Jesus did not inherit humanity’s sinful nature nor the pronouncement of guilt that comes with sin. We don’t have to doubt the accounts that the gospels give us about the “strange” things Jesus did. He made them anyway! While His human and divine aspects are wholly distinct, they also work in perfect unity. Put together, Jesus’ birth ends up being the most extraordinary miracle in the entire Bible.

If He had come straight from God with no human parents—say, He just showed up out of nowhere one day—we would have a hard time believing He could really understand us. It would probably be even a more apprehensive relationship that led to obedience out of fear rather than love. I think about Greek mythology’s depiction of the people living to please the gods out of fear they will be struck down. (A lot of people, I’m sure, live this way toward God, too.) On the flip side, if Jesus had been born of two human parents by natural means, we probably wouldn’t credit Him His divinity. And therefore we wouldn’t give Him the obedience of our lives that He deserves. And indeed, this is an obstacle for many people today who view Him as a good teacher, but having no divine authority. (e.g. This is the major difference between Christianity and Islam.)

Jesus—fully human and fully divine—came to save people from their sins. He turns hurts into joy, suffering into satisfaction, rebellion into righteousness, and sin into salvation. In one man, Adam, all were condemned to death. In one man, Jesus, all would be made righteous who believed in Him and find life. Adam succumbed to sin; Jesus saves from sin. Where one man’s sin condemned all, another man’s obedience leads to grace greater than all our sins (Romans 5:20). Jesus is transcendent over us and He is also Immanuel—God with us.

Jesus is born in Bethlehem, and what follows is pretty standard knowledge to even those who do not accept Jesus as Savior. Or is it? We sing a lot of Christmas songs that depict a scene that isn’t exactly scriptural. And I think it is time for us to throw away the watered down versions of the Christmas story so deeply ingrained in our culture and see it for what God intends—the coming of our Savior who deserves our worship, praise, surrender, and sacrifice.

For starters, the night of Jesus’ birth was very unlikely a “silent night”. Anyone who has had a baby or kept a baby or even knows someone who has a baby knows that newborns result in many sleepless nights. Again, if Jesus is fully human, he was fully a newborn baby. And once a baby does finally sleep for a couple hours, what parents are going to be happy about “lowing” livestock making noise (Away in a Manger). Just because Jesus is our divine Savior does not mean we need to give Him some romanticized appearance of being any less human than He was. Jesus was a crying, sleeping, feeding, pooping baby just like any other.

We know from other gospel accounts (like Luke) that Mary and Joseph had traveled to Bethlehem to take part of a census. Joseph, being of the lineage of David, had to register there, the hometown of David. Because of the crowded conditions, they had to stay in a stable, where Mary gave birth to Jesus. An angel appeared to some nearby shepherds announcing the birth. There was a great chorus in heaven and the shepherds were intrigued enough—to say the least—to go see the baby. When they found the child exactly as told by the angel, they told others about Him and went back to their flocks rejoicing and worshipping God. The Savior had come. Is the shepherds’ reaction any less than what we should do?

Consider this question this week.  When we study the Bible, we don’t just want an emotional reaction–whether it be guilt or joy–we want change.  In my next post, we’ll continue the story and decide what our response should be.

Scripture quoted from the English Standard Version.  Commentary from “Christ-Centered Exposition, Exalting Jesus in Matthew” by B&H Publishing Group.

The Incarnation (Part 2)

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