Pastoral Perspectives

What If God Did Not Become Man?

Incarnation will always remain a mystery. That God became Man – how can our finite mind even begin to grasp this truth? The One who holds time in His hands has entered into our time and space; the One who sees the past, present and future all at once has broken into our midst. It is nothing short of a miracle! Yet can God the Son not come in flesh and still be able to bring about our salvation? What is the significance of His incarnation?

First and foremost, the virgin birth is a necessity, a birth that takes place not as a result of normal sexual relations between husband and wife. Otherwise, the child born will just be like any other child. Due to Original Sin, everyone is born sinful. ‘Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man (Adam), and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned’ (Romans 5.12). But the second Person of the Trinity is without sin because He is God and He is perfectly holy. If He chooses to enter into our world, it cannot be via the ‘normal way’. The virgin birth therefore makes a lot of sense. When Mary asked the angel how she would conceive since she was a virgin, the angel answered her: ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God’ (Luke 1.35). Jesus was born a man because Mary indeed carried Him in her womb. He was the woman’s offspring as prophesied in Genesis 3.15. At the same time, Jesus was born perfect, unlike all other babies, because He is God. His conception was not from the seed of man but by the power of the Holy Spirit.

If Jesus did not become a man, it is not at all meaningful to say that He came to die on our behalf or to pay the penalty of our sins. We are men (and women), so to be our substitute, he has to be one too! Yet he cannot be just another man because all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and a sinner cannot take the punishment of another sinner since he has his own fair share of sins to account for. Picture in our mind a very deep pit and all of us who have sinned are trapped in that pit. It is impossible that fellow sinners can help each other out. We need someone who has not sinned, likened to one who is outside the pit, to pull us out, and that person has to be God Himself because only God is perfect. No wonder John the Baptist said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1.29) Under the Old Testament Law, the lamb sacrificed for the atonement of sins must always be a lamb without defect, harkening to the perfect Lamb in the person of Jesus. We need someone sinless to stand in the place of sinners, and to bear God’s wrath on behalf of sinners.

If Jesus did not become a man, His death would be a hoax. But Jesus did die! The crucifixion was an unquestionable ordeal. Jesus suffered all the physical and mental torture that came along with that most inhumane kind of execution. The nails were sharp when they were driven into His hands and feet. The breathing was difficult as he hanged on that cruel tree, similar to the suffocation that comes from a collapsing lung. The death was slow; the death was excruciating; and He did breathe his last! Just to make doubly sure He was dead, one of the Roman soldier thrust a spear into Jesus’ side, causing water and blood to flow out. (John 19.34) Yes, Jesus died, he literally died, no doubt about it. Did not the apostle Paul say that Jesus was dead and buried? (1 Corinthians 15.3-4) The burial confirmed his death! Otherwise, His resurrection would be a joke. As a man, he died, but because He is also God, He could not remain dead. Resurrection is not just necessary, it is logical – His resurrection breaks the power of sin and death over us and guarantees our resurrection; His resurrection is also the best vindication that He is fully God.

If Jesus did not become a man, He will not be able to empathise with our struggles and weaknesses. In His humanity, He experienced sadness when He cried at Lazarus’ funeral; He experienced anger when His Father’s house of prayer was turned into a marketplace; He experienced tiredness and was found asleep in the stern of the boat during a storm; He knew what it was like to be tempted for He was tempted by the devil three times at the start of His ministry yet He was able to stand firm in the Word of God, using it to overcome the temptations. ‘For we do not have high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4.15). Jesus came and dwelt among us. He is not a God who lives in His ivory tower and knows nothing about what is happening in our world and in our lives. He was persecuted; He was misunderstood; He was betrayed even by those close to Him; He was murdered! When we go to Him in prayer, we can be fully assured that He understands.

If Jesus did not become a man, how is He able to set an example for us to follow? When Adam and Eve sinned, they became less than human. The whole human race after them has also become less than human. When Jesus came into the world, He showed us how to be the human being we were meant to be should Adam and Eve had not fallen. Through His life on earth, Jesus showed us how we ought to love God and love others. He is no hypocrite. He does not command us to do anything without first living it out for us to see. He told His disciples: ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’? (Mark 8.34) Did He not set for us the example when He denied Himself by not counting equality with God a thing to be grasped but literally took up His cross and even died on it? Did He not say: ‘If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love’? (John 15.10) Jesus inspires us to follow Him because He is the perfect model for us to emulate and as we  walk in His steps, we grow to become more and more like Him, more and more like the human being we are meant to be.

In this season of Advent as we remember Jesus’ coming into the world, let us stand in awe once again of the significance of His incarnation. One way to do so is to meditate on the question: ‘What if God did not become Man?’

Pastor Kien Seng

December 8, 2013