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The Significance of the Incarnation

Updated: Dec 1, 2022

Human Representation:

Ethnic representation is and continues to be a hot topic within the broader landscape of Western society, and rightly so. There is significance in having the ability to find representation across a vast array of opportunities afforded to free people grounded within a free society. As a second-generation immigrant, this importance is not only built upon the notion of opportunity, but is coupled with the responsibility to catapult others of similar descent toward visions of achievement.[1] In the same way, God does not merely demand perfection from His image bearers, but rather enters into their quarters in order to truly represent and fulfill the standard marked out for human flourishing—His covenantal Word (Matt. 5:17). Jesus, in turn, takes on the pedigree of human nature in order to represent God’s creaturely intent and exemplify the covenantal role devastated by the first patriarch himself, Adam.


The nativity story, then, is not merely a Hallmark, Lifetime Original movie designed to pull at the heartstrings of our therapeutic age. Rather, the incarnation of Christ points to the Father’s redemptive aim in restoring a broken world back to Himself. In addition, the holiday season is meant to speak of God’s redemptive love in pursuing His covenantal creatures—humanity. Not only to display His zeal in magnifying His glorious Name, but to portray His covenantal faithfulness by entering the tapestry of creation and taking upon Himself the debt of sin. To this end, the Christmas narrative captures the climatical high point of God’s redemptive aim in the work and Person of Christ Jesus Himself.


The Image of True Humanity in Christ:


Thus, the commercialization of Christmas has made anemic the Western church’s posture toward biblical mystery and salvific amazement. The incarnation, as such, is Jesus—the second Person of the Godhead—taking on flesh; that is, God taking the form of humanity (cf. Phil. 2:7). This beautiful truth must not be surpassed by sheer human ingenuity nor commercial advertisement. This truth, in turn, must be the foundation by which the Christmas season is to be celebrated. As Donald Macleod asserts, “Through His body the Lord is linked to the whole of the physical creation and in particular to the whole of suffering humanity.”[2] Consequently, it is through the incarnation we find Christ truly representing and substituting Himself on our behalf; it is through the incarnation that God is with us—Immanuel (cf. Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23; 28:20; Rom. 3:21).


The Better Adam. When Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:20; Lk. 1:35) and birthed into a humble manger (Lk. 2:1-21), it displayed his representative nature in taking on creaturely form in order to truly exemplify the ones to whom He would redeem. His birth not only signified God taking on flesh but incorporated in His humanity a lineage of Adamic origins (Lk. 3:23-38; cf. Gal. 4:4). Meaning, Jesus’ humble subjection to the lineage of Adam was in conjunction with He redemptive aim to restore broken sons of Adam. He put Himself in harm’s way by taking on the likeness of sinful flesh in order to condemn sin in the flesh upon the bloody cross (Rom. 8:3). As Brandon D. Crowe affirms, “As a representative and Adamic figure, Jesus’ obedience can be counted vicariously for others.”[3] That is, as the representative son of Adam, Jesus’s obedience counteracts the debt of sin induced by Adam’s transgression and disobedience (Rom. 5:12-21). To this end, the incarnation is not merely a “neat” caveat to the story of Christmas, but rather the centerpiece in the redemptive aim of God.


The Great High Priest. Secondly, the incarnation not only brings a descendent from the lineage of Adam (cf. Gen. 3:15), but it provides a priestly mediator who will intercede on behalf of His brothers (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 1 Jn. 2:1). As the Hebrews (2:17) author contends, “Therefore He had to be made like His brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” That is, Jesus’ earthly (and human) obedience satisfies the righteous requirement of the law and appeases covenantal relationship with a holy and just Judge—the Creator God Himself. This, in turn, is the grounds and basis for which Christ continues to intercede on behalf of His church. He, like the priests of the old covenant, represents His people and speaks on behalf of the whole congregation. Similarly, the incarnation of Christ in the new covenant provides sin-ridden people with a righteous mediator whose office is not subject to corruption nor culpable to change (moral and physical) like the Levitical priesthood (cf. Heb. 7). The incarnation, as such, provides mediatorial representation through Christ Jesus Himself.


Fulfilling Humanity’s Purpose:


Though Jesus’ salvific aim is to pay the penalty of sin upon the wooden cross, it is coupled with His vicarious obedience through His earthly ministry which He accomplishes as true humanity. John Webster rightly contends, then, that the representation of Christ can never be other than “the incomparably comprehensive context of all creaturely being, knowing and acting, because in and as Him God is with humankind in free, creative, and saving love.”[4] That is, Jesus’s incarnation is paramount to seeing and savoring God through our humanity which accords with God’s created design. Without the incarnation the debt of sin for salvation could not have been satisfied; without the incarnation humanity’s need for federal representation could not have been accomplished. To this end, Christmas cannot merely be reduced to a capitalistic ploy. Christmas must be saturated upon biblical amazement which has the coeternal Son humbling Himself to take on flesh and die a sinner’s death for the salvation of God’s people. It is to this end that we have a Merry Christmas and hope for the world. Soli Deo Gloria!

 

***footnotes***

[1] I have experienced this on a personal level. When I was privileged to become a Professor of Theology at Crown College, I found it difficult to find people of similar descent to encourage and spur me on amid a context that was dominated by others who did not share my ethnic descent. Though the institution was extremely pleasant and kind, a shared culture was lost and produced an inner discouragement. [2] Donald Macleod, The Person of Christ, CCT (Downers Grove, IL; IVP, 1998), 163. [3] Brandon D. Crowe, The Last Adam: A Theology of the Obedient Life of Jesus in the Gospels (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 74. [4] Quoted from John C. Clark and Marcus Peter Johnson, The Incarnation of God: The Mystery of the Gospel as the Foundation of Evangelical Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 19.

 

McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, SBTS; ThM, MBTS) is the husband to Debbie and father to McCayden (14), McCoy (13), McColsen (10), and DeYoung (7). He is a Pastor of Preaching/Teaching at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN. Along with his ministerial duties, he is a homeschool dad. In addition, McYoung is continuing his doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. His ambition is to use his training as a means to serve the local church in living life through the Gospel lens.



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