48. WHEN GOD BECAME A MAN

THE BIBLE DOES not tell us when Christ was born. In the last chapter we saw very briefly how December 25 came to be regarded by many people as the birthday of the Lord. Most of that story is recorded in ancient history — both secular and ecclesiastical. Scripture does speak strongly about the fact of Christ’s birth.

Both Matthew (which was written for the Jews) and Luke (which was intended for the Gentiles) begin their account of the gospel with circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus. John does not give details, but stresses the fact. He tells of the divine Word, who was in the beginning with God and was active in creation. This Logos “became flesh,” writes the apostle, “and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Jesus was God in the flesh. This fact is the basis of the New Testament and the very foundation of the Christian system.

John’s epistles emphasize the same point. The first opens with a reminder that the Life which was with the Father became flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth (I John 1:1-4). John warns of false teachers (such as the gnostics, whom we have noted already), who said that Jesus was not the Christ. “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father” (I John 2:22, 23).

The second epistle of John deals with the same matter. “Many deceivers, are entered into the world,” warns the beloved disciple, “who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him Godspeed; for he that biddeth him Godspeed is partaker of his evil deeds” (II John 7-11).

John again stresses that God came in the flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. He warns his readers not to leave this original teaching as some had done. He urges that apostates be given no encouragement, not even hospitality. For the fact which they denied, that God had come in the flesh, was the basic element of the Christian faith. The one who left this teaching left everything! The same point is still true today.

The First Century World

We will better appreciate the Incarnation if we understand what it meant to those who first heard the gospel. A world of ideas stood between the Jew and the Gentile.

The Jews had been God’s chosen people for many centuries. They had been given revelations from God. Other nations had not, except on rare occasions. The Old Testament told how man was a part of God’s creation. He depended on God for life. Man was mortal. He was “flesh” — basar, the Hebrew said. Yet the Hebrew did not despise his body, or mistreat it, for it had been created by God. And God had said of His creation that “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

The Greeks, or Gentiles, sought truth through human wisdom. But apart from divine revelation, human wisdom is very limited. The Greeks had many inaccurate ideas about man and his world. Some of them explained life in this way.

Life, or “Soul” (Psyche, they called it) is eternal. This “Soul” fills the entire universe. When a man is born, some of this eternal “Soul” comes to live in his body and give it life. It is trapped in his body until he dies. Then the “Soul” is free again, and can go back into the universe — just as it was before it was trapped in his body. The body, even at best, is a prison — according to this ancient Greek explanation.

Another common Gentile idea of the first century was the Persian doctrine called “dualism.” Dualism said there are two great and equal forces in the universe. One is good and the other is evil. The evil power created the world. This meant that all matter is bad. And since the body is composed of matter, it, too, must be basically evil. Because of these two faulty views, the Gentile religions paid little attention to the use of the body. If a man offered the right sacrifices, he could engage in anything he desired with his body and still be very religious. “Morals” and “religion” were not the same at all.

Some of these pagan errors crept into the church. The apostles warned young Christians that the body could not sin without the spirit also being harmed (I Corinthians 6:17,18). They taught them that the Holy Spirit lives in the Christian’s body, which was bought with the blood of Christ (I Corinthians 6:19, 20). The body was not to be given to sin (Colossians 3:5. 6). It was not to be neglected, or mistreated (Colossians 2:22, 23).

Two Lessons For Today

The apostles were very concerned with the fact that God came in the flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In a supreme manner, God had sanctified His creation. He not only created the material world, including the human body. He now had seen fit to live in a human body for a brief period of time. The humanity of Jesus is central in a number of New Testament doctrines.

The redemptive work of Christ depended on His being a man. His example is beneficial because He shared our humanity. He is a perfect High Priest because He has been both man and God. His blood and His death have meaning because Jesus was first a man who perfectly kept the will of God. As a representative of all men, Jesus was able to restore for mankind the state of glory for which he was originally created, but which had been lost through sin. The book of Hebrews deals with many of these themes.

But there are other important implications of the Incarnation. Let us notice two of them now. Both of these are particularly interesting against the background of the pagan Greek ideas which we noticed a while ago. Both of these Christian doctrines went against the grain of human philosophy in the first century. They are just as opposed to human thinking today.

FIRST: The fact that God lived in human flesh means that the body is not basically evil. The doctrine of dualism taught that matter was essentially wicked. Those gnostics who said that Jesus was not really God in the flesh were motivated in part by this false conception of the body. Some of our ancestors also had that false notion. But the body, with all its natural functions, is made by God. And it is sanctified by Him when it is properly used.

God has given us many capabilities for pleasure. He made the colorful flowers, the beautiful rainbow and the clear, blue heavens. He made the fierce storm, the quiet sunset, the majestic mountains and the mighty seas. And He gave us eyes to find pleasure in all these things. But eyes can be misused (II Peter 2:14). Some people would be better off if they could not see at all (Matthew 5:29). Not because sight is bad, or eyes are wicked — because they misuse this blessing.

God gave us ears to hear. He gave us the most beautiful symphony orchestra ever assembled, in the sounds of Nature. Man has reproduced many of these sounds. He enjoys them because God has given him ears and hearing. Senses of taste, touch and smell also give man pleasure.

Every bodily pleasure is good. God intends for man to find pleasure (Ecclesiastes 11:9, 10; I Peter 3:10). If one misuses the body, or uses it in an illegitimate way, he does wrong. Not because pleasure is wrong; because he has perverted its proper use or sphere. The Bible says that marital sex is honorable and right (Hebrews 13:4). But the same verse warns that the one who misuses this gift is guilty of sin and will be judged.

SECOND: Because God came in the flesh, we must view the flesh in relation to God. Jesus “declared” God to us (John 1:18). The word here translated “declare” gives us the word “exegesis.” Jesus gave an exegesis of God. But He did it by His life as a man, not by complicated sermons on the nature of God. Because God came in the flesh, we are to measure our lives by the life of Jesus Christ (Romans 14:7-9; II Corinthians 5:14-21).

Sometimes someone will say, “What I do with my body is nobody’s business but mine!” That is not so. It is GOD’S business. God created our bodies, and Christ has bought them with His blood. The Christian is to realize this, and glorify God in his body (I Corinthians 6:19,20).

GOD IN THE FLESH! Because God was in Christ we know two things: He gave His endorsement for us to enjoy life and the pleasures of the body. But at the same time He warned us, in unmistakeable terms, that we will give account to Him one day for the things done in the body. When one puts his trust in Jesus as God’s Son and is baptized into Christ, he makes a pledge to live the rest of his life in view of these truths.

We do not know when Christ was born. It really does not matter. We do know that He was born, and that in that event God came to this earth in a human body. That is the important point. Let us remember it — every day of the year.