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The Coming of Christ the Savior: God With Us

Mary with baby Jesus surrounded by shepherds shows the incarnation

THE COMING OF CHRIST THE SAVIOR: GOD WITH US

 

 

The coming of Jesus Christ into the world was the most significant event in human history. And the life of Christ was the most significant life of anyone ever born into humanity. Through the coming of Christ the Savior, God came to earth to dwell with us in human flesh.  He was the long awaited Savior, the Messiah— “God with us.”

 

The Messiah: God with us

 

From ancient times, God had promised his coming. More than any other Old Testament prophet, Isaiah (eight century B.C.) prophesied about the coming of Christ, the Messiah.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.  (Isaiah 7:14)

The name Immanuel means “God with us.” The Jewish people at that time thought the Messiah was to be their king and deliverer, but not God himself. Later in Chapter Nine the Prophet declares:

…but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned (Isaiah 9:1-2)

The Messiah, the King, was to bring light to a dark world. He was to bring hope to a hopeless nation looking for deliverance. But how could the Messiah actually bring God into human society? Was this just an allegory?

The Messiah—both man and God

 

Continuing in Chapter Nine, the prophet is even more direct:

For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

The Messiah was to be born as a child. But even though he was to be human in every sense, he was also to be God. This seems an impossibility to the human mind. It was certainly a stumbling block to many Jews as well as Gentiles. But it was God’s promise to the Jewish people, and to all humanity.

Christ was born in the small town of Nazareth about 4 B.C.. Only a small number of people witnessed his birth. To write their accounts of the life of Jesus, the gospel writers interviewed these people, who knew the details. Matthew, Luke, and John each wrote their accounts using simple and basic terms so that average people could understand. And each added important information to the story, using wording and terminology specific to their own account. Let’s review these accounts, paying close attention to the words that each author uses.

 

Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus

 

The gospel of Matthew tells the story of the coming of Christ the Savior from a human view point. It is believed that much of this information originally came from Joseph, the husband of Mary. While they were engaged to be married, Mary was “found to be with child through the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18). Joseph was about to quietly divorce Mary when the Lord’s angel spoke to him in a dream and said,

“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  (Matthew 1:20-21)

The angel confirmed that it was the life of God himself—the Holy Spirit—that produced the Child within Mary. This comforted Joseph and helped him follow through on their plans for marriage. Matthew then adds his own commentary:

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).  (Matthew 1:22-23)

Matthew confirms the most important fact about the coming of Christ the Savior. This Child was “God with us,” fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy, God coming to earth to live with us.

 

Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus

 

Luke also records the story from a human vantage point, but with greater detail. It is thought that these details came from Mary herself. In the first chapter, Luke records how God sent the angel Gabriel to Mary.

The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:30-33)

The angel Gabriel announced to Mary that the Savior will be born—and she was to be his mother!  Her son will be the long-awaited Messiah, the King that was to rule over Israel. In fact, his kingdom will be so great that he will rule over not just Israel, but all of humanity—the eternal kingdom of God. But the announcement obviously presented a problem for Mary, and she didn’t hesitate from asking for an explanation.

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:34-35)

Christ’s identity revealed

The angel’s answer to Mary’s question was: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you… So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” This gives the most basic explanation of why Jesus is God in human flesh. The Holy Spirit (who is God) was the source of the Child within her. As God’s Spirit came upon Mary, the baby was conceived, revealing a person who was God in human flesh.

So, Jesus was both fully God and fully human. That seems like an inherent contradiction, and something very difficult for human reason to embrace. But as the angel later told Mary, “… nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)

 

The simplicity of the gospel

Luke’s told his account using these terms to convey the simple truth that Jesus was born of both God and Mary. There is no complex theology here and this is as basic as the gospel writer could get. Jesus the Messiah was born from God his Father and Mary his mother. As Mary became aware that she was pregnant, there was no doubt in her mind what this meant.

So, the term Son of God in the gospel of Luke is descriptive of Jesus’ true relationship with God the Father, and not just a theological title. Based on the angel’s declaration, “Son of God” does not refer to Christ’s Deity alone, nor just to his humanity, but to the merging of Deity with humanity in one person.

 

John’s account of Christ’s coming

 

The Apostle John was very philosophical. In Chapter One of his gospel he tells the story of the coming of Christ from a very other-worldly point of view. We could almost say he told the story from God’s viewpoint, since he starts with the very beginning.

In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.     (John 1:1)

In the beginning here refers to before, not at the beginning of creation. Christ was not created at the beginning. He was God and was the source of all creation from the beginning, in other words, from all eternity past. Only God could be “with God in the beginning,” so Christ was and always has been God in every sense.

The speech of a person is the expression of his inner being. In the same way, the speech of God expresses his innermost thoughts. Christ, who was the Word of God, was the speech of God. He was the full and innermost expression of the creative mind of God. Being the exact image of God, he was with God and was God from before creation. And when God spoke his Word (who was Christ), the universe came into existence.

 

Christ’s coming into the world

Here is John’s simple description of the coming of Christ the Savior into the world:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father,  full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

John’s account states that through Christ the Word, God created the entire universe, both physical and spiritual realms. After creation, at the right time, he “became flesh” (the incarnation) and made his abode with us on this earth, taking on a human body.  Before the incarnation, he was the eternal Word. Now he has become the Word made flesh, born of the union of the Holy Spirit and Mary, the chosen mother of Jesus.

John then adds his earthly perspective: “We have seen his glory.” The apostles had the privilege of experiencing the coming of the Messiah and witnessing his eternal glory when they were with him.

 

The One and Only

 

John uses the term “one and only” to describe Jesus, so what does it mean? Older Bible translations use the term “only begotten” of God, instead of “one and only.” Some might understand this to mean Jesus was the only one born of God. But this couldn’t be true; believers in Christ are also called sons of God and children of God.

The Greek word for “one and only” in John’s gospel is monogenes.  Elsewhere, it’s used to describe an only son (Luke 7:12 and Luke 9:38) or only daughter (Luke 8:42). Theologians have recently renewed discussion about the meaning of this word in the New Testament ¹. Many now believe that it has the connotation of unique son more than begotten son. This is reflected in the choice of the words “one and only” in some newer translations such as the New International Version and the New English Translation. In this view, Jesus was a unique Son in that he was the only one of his kind: born of both God and a human.

 

Abraham’s One and Only

God promised Abraham a son through whom he would become the father of many nations (Genesis 15:1-6). Abraham and Sarai attempted to produce an heir through Sarai’s maidservant Hagar but this effort failed (Genesis 16). Ishmael was born through human effort, and was not the promised son. Years later, after Abraham and Sarah were too old to have children, the fulfillment of the promise seemed hopeless. But God at last kept his word and gave them Isaac.

In the story found in Genesis 22:1-19, God had commanded Abraham to sacrifice his long awaited son Isaac, even though he was the promised son. In his commentary on this story, the writer of Hebrews used the term “one and only” (monogenes) for Isaac.

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son…  (Hebrews 11:17)

Isaac was technically not Abraham’s only son. But he was his “one and only” unique son, born through a miraculous birth—he was the son of God’s promise.

This story provides a beautiful picture and prophecy of God the Father offering his only Son Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins. Jesus was the “one and only” Son of the Father, the unique Son, having been born directly from the Father. He was also the Son of God’s promise—the promise given to Mary, to Israel, and the whole world—to provide a Savior.

 

The Only Incarnation of God

 

Later in John, the apostle declares:

No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.  (John 1:18)

Jesus is referred to in this passage as  “God the One and Only.” Using monogenes again, John means that he is the only “God in the flesh” who was the complete and full image and expression of God in human form. Jesus was the only true incarnation of God—there has never been any other. It was he who has made God known to us.

I have talked to Buddhists who claim that there have been many incarnations of God in history. But these people obviously had both a human father and a human mother. So it is impossible that they were incarnations of God. Jesus was the only human ever born directly from God the Father.

The apostles and writers of the New Testament also affirmed the truth of the incarnation in all their letters to the churches:

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.  (Colossians 2:9)

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.  (Hebrews 1:1-3)

 

Jesus the full of expression of the Father

God has spoken to the human race in many ways.  But now God has spoken to us through the coming of Christ the Savior, God with us. Jesus Christ portrayed God fully and completely in a form that people could see and hear: a living human being.

Through the coming of Christ the Savior, the unseen God came to earth and became visible to us. The personality, words, actions, feelings and emotions of Jesus all revealed who the Father is to the world. The words of Jesus were the very words of God, and the actions of Jesus were the very actions of God. He is the complete Word of God to us—there is no need to look for any other.

John Chapter Three states that God gave his “one and only Son,” fulfilling the prophesy given through the story of Abraham and Isaac, that he would provide a Savior:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  (John 3:16)

John now says that this Word who had become flesh, the One and Only, was given by God to us as a gift. Of course, God cannot die. But Jesus, the Son of God, God in the flesh, died a real death as a sacrifice for us. In doing so, he became our Savior. Those who place their faith in him will be given God’s eternal life as a gift. This is because the life of the Father is found in his Son, and those who have the Son have God’s life, the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Our Response

As a reader, you may be searching for spiritual truth. You may previously have seen Christ only as a great religious teacher or leader. But now you have read about his deity. My prayer is that you will come to see him not only as a great leader, but as the Savior, the Messiah, and God incarnate. If you place your faith in him, he will then be your Savior. You will not be disappointed.

 

 

Footnotes

¹ See  The Unseen Realm: Rediscovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, by M.S. Heiser

 

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