The day is winding down and you're exhausted; there are dishes to wash and wrapping paper to clear from around the tree. You'll conserve what little energy remains in order to take advantage of all the "After Christmas" sales around town. Before you have a quiet moment to really absorb what Christmas is all about, the decorations will be gone.
Don't let this happen to you again this season! Determine to take quality time to embrace the miracle of the Incarnation as a living reality inside of you that will sustain you beyond December 25th and its external signs.
"Emmanuel, God with us!" was heralded to the inhabitants of the world when Jesus was born.
He lived among us and then died on the Cross; He was Resurrected and ascended to the right hand of the Father. He was the exact representation of God and we were able to see, hear, touch and fellowship with Him as He shared in our humanity.
Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied."
"Jesus replied, "...Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:8, 9 NLT)
After returning to Heaven, Jesus sent His Spirit to make the finished work of redemption a reality in the hearts and lives of those on earth who would receive Him by faith. Each surrendered heart invites the Lord back to earth, so to speak, to continue His message and ministry through them.
Modern day Philips are asking more than ever, "Show us Jesus!"
What is our response? Is Jesus still available for humanity to see, hear and touch?
"So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father's one and only Son." (John 1:14 NLT)
Is the glory of the Lord visible on earth today? The "glory" is not a spooky mist or goosebumps, but unfailing love and faithfulness; in other words, manifested glory is the character of Jesus, the fruit of a Holy Spirit empowered life.
"Man fully alive is the glory of God!" (St. Irenaeus)
You see, the Incarnation didn't end at Christmas! The Church in the earth until our Lord's return is the ongoing, visible manifestation of Christ!
"When John heard in prison of the works of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to him with this question, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?" (Matthew 11:2, 3)
People today ask, "Is your Jesus the One..or should we look elsewhere?"
For too long, we've left them and all the Philips unsatisfied with our answers and disgusted with our hypocrisy. Jesus didn't respond to John's disciples with "Of course I am"! He replied, "Go tell him what you see me doing as proof!"
Are our lives proof enough?
"But we have this wealth in vessels of earth, so that it may be seen that the power comes not from us but from God" (2 Corinthians 4:7)
If we Christians ever grasp the truth of the Treasure we carry, people will no longer have to ask for proof of Christ's existence.
"...As He is, so are we in this world" (1 John 4:17) Do you believe this? Really?
We hear many sermons about being the "light of the world" and the "salt of the earth", but do we realize that the light is not generated by our will power nor do we produce the salt that savors the world?
It is Christ within that shines THROUGH us and flows OUT of us...despite our imperfections! Jesus was the perfect reflection of God; at best, we refract that light through our humanness; yet, that is exactly what produces vivid colors--bent light!
So what is the key to being a "Christ bearer" in the earth? The same heart attitude of the first one.
"And Mary said, Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her." (Luke 1:38)
Rather than an immaculate conception, I am convinced that what made Mary's womb a suitable dwelling for God, the Son was not her sinlessness, but surrender! Is it not the same for us today?
In the early Church (and still in the Orthodox), Mary was called the Theotokos--Greek for "God Bearer". To address heresies, the church fathers made it very clear that from the moment of conception, Mary carried God in her womb--not a man that would become divine nor part divinity/part man--but fully God and fully man.
Being born again is also an overshadowing of the Holy Spirit to bring divine life to that which is barren deep within. Our "yes" to God regenerates us by grace into what we could not be by nature--a child of God, making a temple in which God is pleased to dwell.
Here is the Scripture passage that gives us insight into Incarnational living:
"Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant and coming in the likeness of men.
"And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death on the Cross." (Philippians 2:5-8)
In most post-modern churches today, you rarely hear a sermon on the Incarnation of Christ--even at Christmas--that proclaims the deity AND humanity of Christ as perfect, complete, and eternal.
Chances are even less that you will hear a sermon on how to personally walk out the reality of The Incarnation because the road leads to some convicting truths that we don't like to hear in our comfortable pews.
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus...
(We are commanded from the beginning to "take on" the mind of Christ, but how?)
...who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation...
Christ left the highest position in Heaven for the role of a servant on earth. He did this to fulfill the will of the Father (Heb. 10:5-7).
The Revised King James Version says, "He emptied Himself."
This translation has caused some to think that when He came to earth, God the Son set aside His divinity. It means, however, that still fully God, Christ chose "to empty" Himself of self-interest.
He did not attempt to hold on to His previous exalted estate which was rightfully His. He still possessed all the divine attributes, though He operated in self-restricted use of them.
When God the Father has a plan for your life that requires a "self-emptying"--perhaps of your status, your honor, your plans or your riches--what is your response?
Can you take on, not just the form of a "servant", but the lowliest of servants, called a "bondservant" (slave)?
Paul and Timothy considered themselves bondservants of Christ (Phil 1:1) even though the Scriptures clearly tell us we are no longer "slaves" but "sons" (Gal. 4:7).
Subordinationism was a heresy that arose in the early Church from another incorrect understanding of our Philippian text. The belief stated that the Son was eternal and divine, but inferior to or "subordinate" in being or attributes to God the Father.
In the economy of the Trinity, there is at times a subordination of persons; thus, God the Son becomes the suffering Servant (Isa. 53) who gives His life, in obedience to the Father, as a ransom for many.
This subordination of God the Son is a subordination of action, not of being. He is of one substance, nature, and being with the Father and the Spirit.
Although we are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus and have been given "all things that pertain to life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3)...
Can we voluntarily offer ourselves to step into the role of a servant, suffering if need be, to fulfill our Father's plan for hurting humanity?
Can we acknowledge that the Christian life is not about our rights, but all about the Crown Rights of Jesus Christ, who is the King of kings and Lord of lords?
There are no inferior members of God's family. We are all eternal priests and kings (Rev. 1:6). We are all equal and one in Christ (Gal. 3:28-29), yet we are also commanded to prefer one another in honor (Romans 12:10).
In the world--in times, places, and roles chosen by the Father--we MUST "subordinate" our actions one to another for His higher purposes, not just living for our own reputations or interests!
Just as Christ is the exegesis of God to man and man to God, so now this exegesis continues through the Church, which is a living image of eternity within time. In other words, the Church, Christ's Body, is the extension and the "fullness" of the Holy Incarnation. Christianity from the very beginning existed as a corporate reality--a body indeed--a living organism, not an organization.
"And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all." (Ephesians 1:23)
"He (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:30)
Jesus humbled Himself. James 4:10 says that if we humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, He will lift us up, just as the Son was highly exalted (Phil.2:9-11). It is much easier to humble ourselves in obedience, than to Be humbled, isn't it?
HUMBLE: tapeino - "to depress"; meaning not just the action of "pressing", but the results of such action which causes something to go lower or become smaller
"...For you loved Me before the foundation of the world...
"And I have declared to them your Name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them." (John 17:24b, 26)
Jesus' self-humiliation and resulting obedience flowed from total submission. One can be obedient (going through the motions) without begin submissive.
Submission (hupotasso) looks at the attitude and the motive of the one performing the action, versus just the act of obedience (hupakoe-compliance). Obedience without a submissive heart cannot last long. Yet even through a Gethsemane experience Jesus cried:
"Nevertheless not My will, but Yours be done." (Luke 22:42)
True submission cannot be achieved outside of a genuine love - the Agape kind - found only in God, which was demonstrated by the Incarnate Christ and then given to us who believe.
Religious man seeks to please God through His performance in order to win Divine love, but God loved us first! Therefore, "We love Him because He first loved us." (1 John 4:19)
How do we love God?
"For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome." (1 John 5:3 )
Immersed and living in the extravagant love of God causes us to want to fulfill the desires of His heart-- wherever that may lead, whatever that may require.
Whenever I teach on obedience and submission, I hear from believers who have been abused by immature brethren who tried to enforce spiritual principles and demand compliance, or they are trapped in "performance Christianity" that strives grimly to please God. Consequently, these wounded individuals cannot get past their experience to truly hear in their hearts what I'm saying.
First, God is already pleased by the performance of Jesus Christ, which is credited fully to each of our accounts when we believe. We are as righteous now as we ever will be! However, displaying that right standing with God does take progressive, life-long yielding to the will of God. That is called sanctification...and that's what living the Incarnation is all about.
Was Jesus righteous? Yes. But look at this Scripture:
"Although Jesus was the Son [of God], he learned to be obedient through his sufferings." (Hebrews 5:8)
The Greek word for "learned" is more accurately translated "mastered". Did Jesus' divinity have to master obedience? NO. His humanity did--day in and day out. He faced the same choices we do in terms of the privileges, comforts, time, possessions, status, wealth, and reputations we'll lay down in order to accomplish the Father's will.
I found these words of wisdom in Andrew Murray's With Christ in the School of Obedience:
"Men connect obedience with the idea of absolute perfection. They put together all the commands of the Bible, they think of all the graces these commands point to in their highest possible measure, and they think of a man with all those graces, every moment in their full perfection, as an obedient man.
"How different is the demand of the Father in Heaven! He takes account of the different powers and attainments of each child of His. He asks of him only the obedience of each day, or rather, each hour at a time.
"He sees whether His child has indeed chosen and given himself up to the wholehearted performance of every known command. He sees whether His child is really longing and learning to know and do all His will. And when His child does this in simple faith and love, the obedience is acceptable."
The Church often sadly demands more from its members than God does!
"God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6)
This divine grace is called "sufficient" (2 Cor. 12:9) - arkeo, meaning "able to raise a barrier, ward off; avail". It also implies "satisfactory, enough." In this definition we see that grace carries the enabling force of the Holy Spirit...bearing down, into, and around our lives.
Even when following the Father results in some form of death to our dreams, plans, or relationships, the will of God can become "a joy set before us" just as it was to our elder Brother. (Heb. 12:2)
Jesus beckons, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let Him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." (Mark 8:34)
The Incarnation makes it possible for us to respond to the Father:
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthen me." (Phil 4:13)
"One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer--at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts.
"When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, "Look at us!"
"So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk."
"Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.
"When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
"While the beggar held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon's Colonnade. When Peter saw this, he said to them: "Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?
"The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.
"You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see." (Acts 3:1-16)
Look again at the various phrases I highlighted in the above Scriptures. Is this typical of what unbelievers see of the church today as we go about our daily lives in the marketplace and at the 'temple"?
Are we telling the world to "Look at us"...but they refuse because they see charlatans with empty promises? Are they running astonished to Christ or away from Him in disgust?
Who's holding onto you in gratitude for manifesting Christ in the face of their hopelessness?
"And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory!"(Colossians 1:27b NLT)
This completes the series. Here are the links If you missed earlier installments.
The Incarnation of Christ Part I: "Declaring God to Man"
The Incarnation of Christ Part II: "Declaring Man to God"
The Incarnation of Christ Part III: "Son of God AND Son of Man"