Incarnation: Not Just For Christmasby Ed de la Cour on December 22, 2015
December 20, 2015
Philippians 2: 5 - 13
“INCARNATION – NOT JUST FOR CHRISTMAS”
There are good reasons why it’s important for us to receive the counsel of the Lord in Zechariah 4: 4, “Do not despise the day of small beginnings.” Because I have been part of this church for so many years, I have come to believe that God particularly enjoys using small things to accomplish great purposes. Just before the Flood, God chose to save Noah and his small family of eight. In response to Abraham’s prayer, when judgment was about to fall upon Sodom, God spared only Lot and his small family. He used Gideon’s small army of just 300 men, which had been greatly reduced from a strong force of well over 22,000 to defeat the nation of Midian. God used the fledgling Church in the book of Acts to turn “the world upside down.” God loves to find ways to use His remnant.
As you may know, a remnant is a small, leftover portion of seemingly unusable and useless material. The remnant of God is a small in number. We may be viewed by the world as unusable and useless, but in God’s eyes, we are a group of men and women who are high in anointing that are empowered by God to do wonderful and otherwise impossible things. God is always pleased to use the people who, despite their weaknesses and inadequacies, are willing to obey God, are willing to follow Him, and therefore receive their inheritance.
Those of us who call ourselves Christians often marvel at how good our God is. We are amazed how faithful and how loving He is to us. We wonder why some people decline the invitation to be joined with Christ. Why isn’t everyone a Christian? The fact is that Jesus is not for everyone. It’s not because God’s invitation to be saved is withdrawn from some people, but because they perceive the price they must pay to be too high. We usually only think of the price as being that which God paid, that the price was His price alone to pay, and that we are blessedly released from the penalty of sin and future judgment. As far as it goes, that is true, but the whole truth is much more than that. The message today is about the price God has invited us to pay.
When we read the Christmas story in Luke, when we consider Mary and Joseph and the compelling narrative that described the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, we are seeing the unfolding revelation of the Incarnation. In Jesus, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” In the womb of Mary, the immense power and deeply personal love of God came together in the birth of Jesus. This is the God who spoke and solar systems were created. Stars and galaxies appeared at His command. Life in all its many and varied forms sprang into glorious existence at the sound of His Word. No wonder David sang in Psalm 19: 1, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.” Somehow this magnificent Creator God implanted the seed of His life into the womb of this young virgin. The infinite and mighty God came into this world as the first-born Son of a soon-to-be married fiancé of a poor carpenter. Joseph and Mary were away from home to register in the emperor’s census, so when her baby came to term, this little family was essentially homeless.
It was not just for a religious exercise that Jesus came into this world, but to make peace between Holy God and wicked men – people like you and me. The point of the Incarnation is reconciliation, when God acted to bring to an end the war between sinful man and righteous God. Man cannot have peace with Holy God. Man’s heart is wicked and his morals are corrupted, and as a result, he is at war with God. To accomplish God’s purpose of reconciliation, the peace process required Jesus to die as a criminal on a Roman cross. His death was the perfect sacrifice because He was unsullied with any imperfection or sin. He died there as our Substitute. He died in my place. The death of Jesus, separated from the Father was the high price for peace, a price far too high for me ever to pay. 2 Corinthians 5: 19 says, “God was on Christ reconciling the world to Himself.”
The message of Christmas is about God becoming a man. That is what the Incarnation means. God took on flesh and blood and bone. He lowered Himself out of highest heaven and He did for us what only God could do. How did He do that?
The text says here in Philippians, that God humbled Himself. He went from the greatest Somebody in the universe to the lowest nobody on the planet. He became a lowly servant.
Paul’s interest in this passage is to encourage us to develop the same attitude of life that Jesus possessed. There’s the price that is hard to pay – humility. In the Good News, God calls us to a way of living our lives that will match the attitude that characterized Jesus. This preaches far easier than it lives. We have discovered humility is not for the weak. Because we are not merely interested in discussing religious philosophy, we want to ask the question, how am I supposed to be able to live like Jesus? How can Jesus live His life through me?
Even though we are first-born sons and daughters of God, even though we are children of the Most High King and are highly favored, we are not to grasp that status and run headlong into heaven. We would probably want to bask in the sunshine of our identity as children of God, but God has called us to live this life of Christ right here in the muddy confines of the real world. God wants us to be seen in public as struggling to live righteous lives, as fighting for justice in this world, and at the same time, having the same kind of attitude about life that Jesus exhibited.
Being a Christian is not just praying the sinner’s prayer, going to Bible studies and church, and then getting into heaven when you die. You’ll know you’re a Christian when your devotion to Jesus leads you to enter into the struggle of emptying yourself of selfish pride and self-rule, all the while publicly declaring your allegiance to serve Jesus as your Lord and King. Do you want to be known as a Christian? Surrender to your life God and learn humility. Allow God to start making all the changes that are necessary in the way you think so you can find great personal satisfaction in being nothing of significance as far as this world is concerned. Make a conscious choice to give up your plans for living in luxury. Give up your hope of one day rolling in piles of money. Surrender your affection for all the escapist dreams you see in commercials. That is when we find surrendering to Jesus is not as easy as we thought.
It is wrong for us to say that we know Jesus was God, so He could live in poverty easily because He could always make a loaf of bread out of stone. That was the devil’s lie in the wilderness, and we are the ones who fall for that deception. When Jesus was hungry or thirsty or tempted, the enemy of His soul poured every possible kind of opposition and every conceivable weapon into his fight to destroy Jesus.
Jesus appeared to His many detractors as weak and powerless. Not many people thought He was great. His success in life was never assured. Every temptation He faced could easily have been the one that beat Him. So, if we are going to allow the world’s standards to be our guide to living life, then we are sure to fail at being a Christian. If we put our trust in money, or in public opinion, then following Jesus with any amount of integrity is out of the question. Were you and I to spend the next few years meditating on this one passage alone, and were we to allow God to mold us after His image, the Church of Jesus would start becoming all that God intends it to be.
There’s a very good reason why God chose to use a teenage virgin girl who was engaged to a poor carpenter to bear His only Son. If you read Luke 1, you will realize why a lot of proud and individualistic Protestants think so poorly of Mary. She was a woman of great faith, but she was also a woman of simple godliness and humility. When God has spoken to you and when He has made clear His will for your life, you know if there is even a smidgeon of humility in your heart if your reply is similar to Mary’s: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”
Have you made a decision to be the Lord’s servant? Incarnation happens when, in the context of smallness, weakness and powerlessness, the influence of God can enter your life, fill you with all the possibilities that God can bring, and you begin to live your life for Him. That is when the world around you will begin to see Jesus in you.
All that sounds great and it surely preaches well, but most of us Christians do not find ourselves living for Jesus very successfully. Our lives are fraught with failure and we certainly qualify as being small, powerless and weak, but there is one fact that needs to convict us all. God did not move powerfully and supernaturally to incarnate, take on flesh, and move into the neighborhood, to become one of us just so we could go to church on Sundays and then go home to live empty and powerless lives. We are far too accustomed to living life on our own terms. On our terms means we will follow Jesus when it is convenient. We will follow Jesus when we possess the inner strength to do so. We will claim we are disciples of Jesus, but we will employ only the power that already resides within us to do whatever needs to be done. That is not Christian discipleship, and it is fundamentally frustrating to the development of the life of faith.
What we can learn from this Word from God today? I think the first thing we could learn is that Jesus really did become one of us. The Incarnation means that Jesus was not just vaguely familiar, but He took on human likeness, flesh and blood and bone – just like you and me. If the Spirit of the same Living God who lived in Jesus also lives in us, then we are given hope that living for Jesus is not out of reach. On Christmas Day we celebrate Jesus’ birth, but really and in truth, the day of His birth is our birthday, too. Because Jesus was born, I am alive. Because Jesus died and rose again, I am really alive!
How do we come to have the same attitude as Jesus? Frankly, humility requires practice and lots of it, and that’s why it is a price too high for many. When there is something important and right we don’t want to do but we do it anyway, we are practicing humility. We may not want to speak up for Jesus, but when we do, we are placing ourselves second and Jesus first. We may not want to play second fiddle at work or at home or on some committee, but when we do, we are placing ourselves second and Jesus first. The verse says, “He made Himself nothing.” The willingness to make yourself nothing doesn’t come naturally, and it’s a price that many are unwilling to pay.
Just as we practice obedience because obedience is not natural, so we need to practice being a servant and practice surrendering our right to be served, because being a servant surely is not natural.
All of us would much rather be promoted to glory right now. We’d like to go to straight to the “Therefore God exalted Him” part of life, rather than have to live through sickness and hardship here on earth. It is so much easier to think of Jesus being high and lifted up and to talk about Him being exalted to that place that is above every name and title. But before He received the throne, there was the “obedient unto death – even death on a cross.” Before there can be resurrection, there has to be death. Before there is final victory, there are many battles to be fought, and yes, there are even some defeats. Before we can be promoted, there is a lifetime of living the life of Christ everyday right here and right now.
In this church, we want to be about the reality of living for Jesus, not just singing religious songs. We want to be about living real life as the children of God. Because we are His children, we have made our decision. We are making the conscious decision to choose Jesus over what this world says is important. The world has made Christmas all about spending money that we don’t have to give to people we don’t like. It’s all about getting more and more and more. But God says Christmas is all about Incarnation. Christmas is about God living fully in Jesus and Jesus living fully in us. It’s all about you and me developing and then being able to live our lives with the same attitudes that Jesus had. It’s about working out the implications of our salvation, figuring out what does it mean to have a relationship with the Living God.
“O holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend on us we pray; Cast out our sin and enter in, Be born in us today.”
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