If belief in the incarnation is the most difficult aspect of Christianity for unbelievers to accept, that is one thing [see previous post, “The Greatest Difficulty”]. But J.I. Packer* looks at the event of the incarnation from another angle. How difficult was it for God to become man?
It was difficult…
First of all, in the process of becoming man, God took on all the qualities of humanity. [Packer devotes three pages to the theory of kenosis, that Jesus gave up some of His divinity, but our focus will not be on that theory]. Our focus is that God did not give up anything; He added human elements to His divine nature.
One of the most troubling aspects of His new life is the fact that now He has to deal with the angel who became the devil. As a human, He had to deal with temptation. Think about it; in Jesus we have a divine Man who is able to lead a perfect life. Let’s turn to Hebrews to see what the Bible has to say about this: “He had to be made like his brothers in every way….Because He suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted….For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
For me the key word in Hebrews is the word suffered, just like I suffer when I am tempted. Jesus did not take His temptation to the next steps, acting on His temptation and then experiencing shame and guilt. He was strong enough or powerful enough to stop the devil; therefore setting a standard that we can aspire to in our lives on this earth. However, His standard is so high that we have to admit we all fail [we don’t have divine powers in our makeup]. We turn to Him for grace; He gives it to us because He understands our human weakness and He also understands our aspiration for a better life. Jesus encourages that with his role model.
Jesus adds humility and obedience to his existence. Paul writes “Jesus did not cling to His privileges as God’s equal, but stripped Himself of every advantage by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born a man. And plainly seen as a human being, He humbled Himself by living a life of utter obedience to the point of death, and the death He died was the death of a common criminal [Philippians 2: 6-8].
He became the “second” person of the Trinity, and totally submitted to the pleasure of His God the Father. Packer says He is coequal with His Father in eternity, power and glory; as a man it is natural for Him to find joy in doing His Father’s will. It goes even further than that. “In heaven, so on earth, the Son was utterly dependent upon the Father’s will” [Packer, 62].
Could Jesus have acted independently of God? He obviously had supernatural powers, not ascribed to normal man [e.g. knowing the Samaritan woman’s shady past, multiplying fishes, raising Lazarus from the dead etc.] but He was a man on a mission, a mission that God has ascribed for Him. Like His ability to conquer temptation, His obedience sends a clear message to manhood. He willingly did not know when He would return to His father although He could have. God kept that information from Him and when He asked for a different fate toward the end of His life, He thought that He would have a chance to get that request. God said no and Jesus accepted “the cup.” “He fell with His face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will’” [Matthew 26: 39].
Key phrase in this Scripture for me is “not as I will, but as You will.”
The last aspect of humanity that Jesus added to His divinity is poverty. Packer writes He had “a voluntary restraint of power, an acceptance of hardship, isolation, ill-treatment, malice and misunderstanding; finally, a death that involved such agony—spiritual even more than physical—that His mind nearly broke under the prospect of it [Packer, 63].
His acceptance of poverty sends a clear message that we are to love “to the uttermost….unlovely human beings.” He provides hope for a ruined humanity—hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory—because of the Father’s will Jesus Christ became poor and was born in a stable [Packer, 63]. Many of us miss this point; that our life could [should?] be a life of love, for the downtrodden, the less fortunate in life. Truly one does not have to look far to see dire human needs all around us. Packer provides a stinging rebuke when he comments that most Christians spend their lives trying to build nice middle-class Christian homes, with nice middle-class Christian friends, hoping to raise nice middle-class Christian children.
Jesus spent His life accepting the cloak of poverty so He could enrich the lives of the poor. He gave them time. He took on their troubles. He had care and concern for the less fortunate.
This is an aspect of the life of Christ that so many of us just can’t seem to adopt. He intends for us to, but we prefer our comfort. We don’t want to sacrifice to help others. We just don’t accept the admonition of 2nd Corinthians 8:9 “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”
Why would anyone have a chance to be born a man and add deficits to His existence? All powerful becomes tempted. Divine becomes humble and obedient. Omnipotence becomes poor.
To send a message.
“I am human and understand what is like to be a human; but I don’t want humanity to focus on its humanity. I want humanity to try to be more…”
Psalms 119:32 “I will run the way of thy commandments, when though shalt enlarge my heart.”
From his book Knowing God