Cover artwork by Abigail Jeyaraj (@handsxpens)
Written By Jose Philip, Singapore
Jose is currently serving as an Evangelist and Apologist with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (Asia-Pacific). He also lectures on Apologetics, Christian Ethics, and Gospel & Culture in Seminaries and Bible Schools in Singapore and Malaysia.
Jesus is easily the most influential person to have ever lived. He is also, possibly, the most enigmatic figure in human history. Talk to anyone and you will find that the vast majority actually do have something to say about Jesus, with a sizeable number choosing to believe the sensational (or the stereotypical) and not necessarily the truth. Hardly anyone in human history has attracted such controversy concerning his or her identity as Jesus has, and continues to.
What is also certain is that no one has bridged the chasms that divide humanity as Jesus has, and yet He had a very humble beginning. Luke 2:8 records that His mother “wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn”.
But, is that really where the story begins?
Jesus is the Word Enfleshed
According to John, one of Jesus’ first followers, the story of Jesus predates time (John 1:1-3, John 1:14)! Jesus’ story did not begin in an inn in Bethlehem; Jesus was with God “in the beginning” (John 1:2)—before the world was created and time existed—and “Through him all things were made” (John 1:3).
John goes on to say that, through His incarnation, God entered the world in the person of Jesus Christ, and He dwelt among us so that we might “behold [God’s] glory”. In other words, in knowing Jesus, we can know the God of all eternity. John spoke of Jesus’ incarnation as God “tabernacling” (living) with us (John 1:14).
Luke tells us how. In his letter to Theophilus, he wrote that an angel had appeared to the virgin Mary, to announce that she had found favor with God and that she would “conceive in [her] womb and bear a son, and [she] shall call his name Jesus”. This supernatural conception would be of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:26-35).
Much could be said about why God had to become human, three of which are central. First, the incarnation enables us to see God. Second, Jesus became human that we may receive grace in its fullness; and third, that we may live out our true identity.
That we might see [the invisible] God
“Why must I see God?” you may ask. There are many good reasons why. The simplest, and most crucial, is that ignorance fuels irreverence. When we don’t know the truth about who God is, we either end up dismissing God as a figment of human imagination, or make God up as we imagine Him to be. Only when we see (know) God for who He truly is, will we be able to respond to Him as we must.
On one occasion, Jesus explained to His disciples that He was going to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house, and would then come and take them to be with Him. Upon hearing this, the disciples had some pointed questions for their Master. Thomas wanted to know where He was going. Philip wanted to see the Father!
In response to Philip’s request to show him the Father, Jesus asked him a question (John 14:9-11). But in asking Philip “How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”, Jesus was not exposing Philip’s audacity in demanding to see the Father—but his inability to grasp what was already being made known. When you see me (for who I really am), Jesus said to Philip, you will see the Father in me.
In Jesus, the disciples were accorded a great privilege—they were allowed to see the invisible God in the face of Jesus. As Paul says in Colossians 2:9, “. . . in him (Jesus), the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily”. While we can only behold the fullness of our Maker when we cross over from this life into eternity, for now, we too, can see God and know Him more through Jesus Christ.
That we may receive grace in its fullness
Not only does Jesus reveal God for who He truly is, He shows us what it means to be truly human—and that’s only possible because God became human. God created humans in love and for love, something we see fully demonstrated in Jesus. His whole life was love.
By contrast, we love to be loved, but we don’t always love, and often times are not even aware of the depths of our own lovelessness! And this is a huge problem. When creatures created in love and for love withhold love, the consequence is dire: destruction. But what can we do when we don’t even realize that we have a problem?
Only the God of the Bible intervenes on behalf of His people—unaided by human praise or petition. Grace is the gift of God’s favorable disposition towards us who not only are undeserving of His favor, but fully deserving of His wrath. It is in this sense that divine grace is uniquely biblical. In the Old Testament we saw shadows of this grace, and it was made fully manifest in the person of Jesus (John 1:16-17).
But this does not mean there is no place for the Law of God; rather the Law is an expression of the grace of God as well. Think of what it would be like if we were expected to live lives that God approved of, yet had no idea how He wanted us to live? The Law is grace revealing to us what God requires of us.
The law, however, is powerless to help us live well. But what the law cannot do, Jesus can.
Through His incarnation, Jesus is able to help us attain a righteousness that we will never have on our own. In Hebrews we read:
Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:17–18)
In living by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4), Jesus demonstrates how to live as we were created to, and invites us to do the same (Matthew 11:28). When we learn to live our lives as Jesus instructs us to, we receive the grace we need to become the kind of people we were created to be.
That we may live out our true identity
The Word became flesh not only to help us know (see) God and receive grace, Jesus became human to redeem and restore us to who we were created to be—sons and daughters of the Living God. This truth is writ large in the New Testament:
For the son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost. (Luke 19:10; cf. Matthew 9:13; Mark 10:45).
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)
It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. (1 Timothy 1:15; cf. 1 John 4:10)
The incarnation of Jesus Christ and the salvation of the entire world are inseparably intertwined. Here’s why. In Romans 5:17-18, we read:
For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.
To appreciate Paul’s assertion in Romans 5 that the righteousness of one man, Jesus Christ, is able to save many, we need a better grasp of human creation.
In Genesis, we read that God created humans in his image, and they were created to exercise dominion over all of creation (Genesis 1:26-27). Human actions have cosmic consequences. This is why the corruption of all things necessarily follows human rebellion (Genesis 3:9-24; Romans 8:20-22). This is what the Bible calls, death. It makes perfect sense, then, to say, “because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man” (Romans 5:17).
Our rebellion against God has disrupted everything for everyone for all time. Only the Creator could fix the mess we had gotten ourselves into, and He did—the Word became flesh. In His human form, Jesus was tested in every way, persecuted without a cause, and He suffered beyond measure. Yet He was without sin and he invites us to live as He did.
Because of our sin, Jesus was killed in the most gruesome way possible—death by crucifixion. But death was not the last word. Christianity is built on the unshakable foundation that the tomb of Jesus Christ was found empty three days later. Jesus Christ is alive—and that’s why we can live too.
No one loves us as much as Jesus does. No one sacrificed for us as much as He did. No one desires for us to be the person you were designed to be, as He does. Finally, no one cares enough to step into our world for our sake at great cost to Himself as He did. When we come to Jesus, we begin to see God for who He really is, and we will then appreciate and find the help we need to become who we are created to be.
Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a four-part series on who Jesus is. Read the first article, “Why Do We Even Need A Savior?” here, and look out for the last two articles, “How Was Jesus Both God and Man?” and “What Difference Does Jesus Make?”.