In a radio interview, CNN’s Larry King was once asked who he would most want to interview if he could pick one figure from history. “Jesus Christ”, he said. When asked what he would most like to ask him, King replied, “I would like to ask him if he was indeed virgin-born. The answer to that question would define history for me.”1
It is fascinating that a secular Jew like King would recognize the unequalled significance of Jesus’ divine birth. If, as the angel told Mary, Jesus really was “the Son of God”, it truly would define history. After all, if God really did come in the flesh it means that all of his Creation throughout time must respond to the question: “Well, why would he do that?”
Of course Jesus answered this question loud and clear when he permitted himself to be executed upon a Roman cross. Prior to his death he tried explaining it to his disciples, saying: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
This is Jesus’ gospel message; that in willing obedience to God the Father, God the Son died on our behalf. As such, the miracle of Jesus’ incarnation was essential, and here are some reasons why.
A “God Sized” Debt:
The apostle John wrote: “He [Jesus] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2) John isn’t teaching universalism here (the idea that all people will ultimately be saved regardless of their attitude toward Jesus) since he elsewhere makes very clear that faith in Jesus is necessary for salvation (cf. John 3:16ff). However, what he clearly means is that Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient to save not just a small selection of people, but all manner of people from all over the world through all time.
But how could the death of one mere man satisfy the wrath of God against the sins of the world? The answer is, “it couldn’t”. Only God could supply a sufficient sacrifice to cover so great a debt. And in love this is precisely what God did by sending his Son to become that perfect, sinless sacrifice.
“For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”
The writer of Hebrews makes it abundantly clear. No earthly sacrifice could have covered over man’s sin. Only the sacrifice supplied by God in Jesus could do the job.
A “Man Made” Problem and God’s Justice:
“So why did God have to sacrifice his own Son? If God is a God of love, why didn’t he just forgive us?” I’ve heard this objection many times, as if God’s love should allow him to just “forgive and forget”. Unfortunately such statements betray a rather one dimensional understanding of God’s love, as if it only means God’s capacity for positive feelings towards people. What we must remember though is that God’s love is rooted in his righteousness (i.e. his perfect love for what is good). This necessarily binds God’s love to his justice.
Imagine, after all, if all humanity stood before God one day to give account for our sins and among us was one Adolf Hitler. When it came to his turn, all of his horrific crimes were recounted before God, and when it was all over God said: “Well, since I’m such a loving God I’m just going to forget about all that Adolf. Welcome into my heaven!” Wouldn’t the rest of humanity seeing this all say the same thing? “That’s not fair…we want justice!”
When we see the crimes or offences of others, we have no problem seeing the need for justice. “It’s not fair” is our cry until payment is made for crimes; especially crimes against us. What is harder to see however, is that we have all offended both God and others. We have all sinned, and that sin demands a just penalty. (Romans 6:23) Our sins demand God’s justice.
But what could supply a sufficient payment for mankind’s’ sin? What penalty could be exacted that would be appropriate to the crime? Only a human sacrifice could supply a just payment for human sin. Hence the writer of Hebrews said:
“For this reason he [Jesus] had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement (i.e. payment) for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews. 2:17)
Our human sin required a human payment. Jesus’ incarnation was the only solution.
Marrying Grace and Justice:
One last point is worth mentioning. There are some in the world who want to maintain that Jesus was divine, but somehow less than God. The Jehovah’s Witness for example believe Jesus’ sacrifice paid for our sins, but that Jesus was a created being; a ‘god’, but not God. Aside from being unscriptural, a big problem with this view of Jesus is that it robs God of both his grace and justice, and ultimately of his love.
If God created Jesus at some point, even to be his “divine Son” (whatever that means), it would be a gross miscarriage of God’s justice to make Jesus then take the punishment for man’s sin. Even if Jesus did so voluntarily, how would it be just for God to punish another for our sins if they were innocent? It also could not be called an act of God’s grace, since doing so would not ultimately bear any personal cost to God himself.
The great truth of the gospel however is that because Jesus was himself God the Son, his sacrifice was in essence God taking the penalty for man’s sin upon himself. The burden of pain brought by man’s sin was laid upon God’s shoulders. The payment exacted for our sin was made by God himself. And the infinite love that exists between the Father and the Son in their mysterious unity within God means that the burden he bore for us cost him everything.
Only God could be sufficient to supply the payment needed for the sins of the world. Only a man could supply the appropriate payment required for mankind’s sin. Only Jesus incarnation as God and Man allowed him to become that perfect sacrifice that forever secures our peace with God through faith in His blood. The miracle of the incarnation supplies the only foundation for the gospel of God’s love which inspired Charles Wesley to pen those cherished words:
“Amazing love! How can it be, That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”
I hope that you can slow down amidst the rush of the Christmas season to reflect upon and worship God for the great miracle of Jesus’ incarnation. This IS Christmas; that mysterious moment in history when God became a man, so that as man he might become our loving saviour.
Merry Christmas indeed!
1. Quoted by Ravi Zacharias, on Just Thinking, RZIM, Winter 1998.