The Greatest Mystery of All
The world is full of mysteries. In fact, several Web sites claim to list the top 10, which include “rare antimatter”; consciousness; how the world began and will end (no mystery to Bible-believing Christians); time; and black holes. No site, however, lists what is perhaps the greatest mystery of all: the Incarnation.
Christmas will soon be here; and though many view it as merely a time of gift-giving and good cheer, those of us who know the Lord will always see it as a celebration of something wondrous—when God the Son “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7).
He Emptied Himself
Jesus existed in the form of God, and yet He was God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. And the Word became flesh” (Jn. 1:1, 3, 14).
The Word is Jesus before He became Jesus. The Bible teaches that God the Son existed from eternity past. There is only one God, yet He is triune in nature, composed of three persons. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equally God, equally eternal, and existent in and of themselves.
Jesus existed “in the form of God” but “did not consider it robbery to be equal with God” (Phil. 2:6). He did not grab hold of His equality and refuse to relinquish it. Instead, He “made Himself of no reputation” (v. 7). The New American Standard Bible reads, He “emptied Himself.”
Some say Jesus emptied Himself of some of His divine attributes—that He laid aside His omniscience or omnipresence, for example. However, if He had laid aside any divine attributes, He would have become less than what He was before. The Bible is clear that such was not the case: “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9). In His Incarnation, Jesus was still fully God.
So what did He empty Himself of?He emptied Himself of God’s form—the outward manifestation of His deity.
The Hebrew Scriptures teach that Moses saw a bush “burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed” (Ex. 3:2). Then “God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses!…Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground’” (vv. 4–5).
Why was the bush not consumed? Because it was not really burning. The glory of God had filled it and made it appear on fire. The same was true with the Tabernacle in the wilderness: “The glory of the Lᴏʀᴅ filled the tabernacle….For the cloud of the Lᴏʀᴅ was above the tabernacle by day, and fire was over it by night” (40:34, 38). God’s glory caused the tent to glow at night as though a huge lantern were in it.
Jesus, however, looked like an ordinary man. He emptied Himself of the outward manifestation of His glory, which He had before the world began (Jn. 17:5). There was no blinking light on His forehead that said, “Son of God.” There was no neon sign. There was no halo around His head that made people around Him say, “Oh, you must be God.” There was nothing about Him externally that communicated deity; and yet He told His disciples, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (14:9).
He had emptied Himself of the form of God, took on “the form of a bondservant,” and came “in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7). The eternal Son of God took humanity upon Himself.
Foretold by the Prophets
The Jewish prophets Isaiah and Micah clearly foretold of the Messiah’s deity:
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting (Isa. 9:6; Mic. 5:2, emphasis added).
Yet Isaiah said the Messiah would be a servant of God here on Earth (Isa. 53:11), and nothing about Him physically (externally) would set Him apart (v. 2). He would look like an average person.
The Incarnation is the process of God becoming flesh. God the Son took humanity on Himself by means of the virgin birth. This One who dwelt with the form of God for all of eternity laid aside the outward manifestation of His glory, which would have destroyed people had they actually seen Him, and took on humanity in the womb of a Jewish virgin.
This is the greatest mystery of the universe. How can the One who is by definition “life” experience death? How can the One who never sleeps, sleep in a boat? Psalm 121 says the God “who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (v. 4). Yet Jesus slept in a boat. How can the One who never hungers, who is not dependent on anything or anyone, become hungry and thirsty?How can the One who is the eternal Word be born as a baby who cannot speak? How can the One who, according to Hebrews 1:3, “uphold[s] all things by the word of His power,” be unable to utter a word?
Furthermore, because of the Incarnation, Jesus will possess a body forever. When He was resurrected from the dead, He was a physical human being, as well as the second Person of the Trinity. He is the God-Man forever.
I have no clue how these things could happen. It is a mystery. But the Bible says God the Son became flesh. Though His name was Logos throughout all the ages past, at a moment in time in a manger in Bethlehem, He received the name Jesus the Messiah. And He did so because He loves you and me (Jn. 15:13; Rom. 5:8; Eph. 5:2). That’s what Christmas is all about.
We cannot explain these things. We must accept them by faith. Jesus humbled Himself to be born as a human being, then became obedient to death so that we could have forgiveness of sin and everlasting life through faith in Him.