Several weeks ago now, we made it to the New Testament in our six-week study on Bible Basics. The plan that night was to talk about the coming and ministry of Jesus. Ahh, the best-laid plans…
We began by taking note that Christmas is not only (and not even mainly) the birthday of a special baby. See this little blog post by a friend about this subject! Christmas is the day when we celebrate the incarnation of the Son of God. Incarnation for Christians is simply a helpful word that says God became one of us.
The New Testament accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry (the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) present Jesus’ coming as the fulfillment of the Scriptures: God’s promises to deliver his people (Lesson 2), to bless the nations through Abraham’s family (Lesson 2), to come and be the good and just king (Lesson 3). As well, in Jesus’ life we see the perfect embodiment of obedience toward and trust in God (Lesson 1 and 3) as well as ultimate love toward others (Lesson 2 – the summary of the Ten Commandments: Love God and love your neighbour).
Everything has been pointing toward this, but no one would have guessed it would look like this! God becoming a person? How can that be? But remember (Lesson 1), people were made in the image of God—it is actually perfectly fitting that God take up residence in his world as one of us: he made this world to dwell in himself.
Several New Testament passages take up the theme of the incarnation (it’s everywhere, actually: see John 1:1-14, 2 Corinthians 8:9, Galatians 4:4-5, Philippians 2:6-11, just for starters!). However, when it comes to telling the story of the Son of God’s entry into the world as a baby, we turn to two of the gospel writers, Matthew and Luke.
Matthew and Luke are both concerned to tie the story of Jesus’ birth to the promises of the Old Testament. Again and again, Matthew will quote Scripture to show how the early days of Jesus’ life fulfilled God’s promises in his Word. Luke, for his part, tends to allow us to hear this fulfillment through the voices of people in the story. See, for instance, the song of Mary in Luke 1:46-55. There, it says,
“[God] has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
A chapter later, we meet an old man in the temple, Simeon, who has been “looking forward to the consolation of Israel” (2:25). He sees Jesus and thanks God, convinced that he can now die in peace because God has fulfilled his promises in the birth of this child:
“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.” (2:29-32)
According to these (and other) passages, Jesus didn’t come as someone unconnected to the past. He came at just the right time as the fulfillment of everything that had been hoped for but in a way that no one had ever dreamed of. Here, in the incarnation, God himself stepped onto the stage of history—a history he had always been involved in—to do what could not be done by any other. Here, in the incarnation, God came to rescue his people Israel, and through them, all who would believe.
Next up: the ministry of Jesus, his miracles and his teaching…