The Incarnate Confrontation

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We've all given and received gifts this past year, and I imagine the majority of those gifts were probably intended to be used in some way, not just owned or placed on a shelf unopened. But it's likely you've had that awkward experience of giving a gift designed to be used, and somehow finding out that the recipient hasn't used it, and has no intention of using it, other than re-gifting it at next year's White Elephant party. In some cases you just did a bad job of picking out a gift for that person - but in other cases the realization that your gift isn't being used can be discouraging, even hurtful.

So consider this: God the Father has given you the gift of the incarnation of His Son. But He hasn't given this gift merely to be a truth you take out of a Rubbermaid each December, put up on the shelf to look at, and then put back in the Rubbermaid a few weeks later. He's given it so that you might use it, not just one day or one month, but every day of the year. We should use it as the Bible uses it (both explicitly and implicitly), as a spiritual multi-tool to confront the lacks that we so often see in our lives as we follow Jesus: a lack of self-denying love, a lack of sacrificial generosity, a lack of intentionality, a lack of presence, and a lack of assurance.

In Philippians 2:1ff., Paul uses the incarnation to confront our lack of self-denying love. Paul calls a prideful and selfish church to strive for like-mindedness, humility, and self-denying love. He grounds his commands in the self-emptying humiliation of the incarnation, reminding us that Jesus, who from eternity shared all the divinity, glory, dignity, privileges, and prerogatives of God the Father, did not regard equality with God something to be greedily clung to, but willingly and humbly gave up His rights. Without ceasing to be what He was, He became what He was not - a human in a low and servile condition, coming not to be served but to give Himself away. The mind of Christ is to be the mind of Christ's people. The incarnation confronts all our lovelessness and strife, calling us (in the words of Donald Macleod) to put our petty conflict in the light of this massive theology of the eternal Word become flesh, and to love as we have been loved.

In II Corinthians 8:9, Paul uses the incarnation to confront our lack of sacrificial generosity. He grounds his appeal for the Corinthians to participate in his collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem by pointing to the grace of Jesus, who though He was rich, became poor for their sake. Mundane stinginess is met head-on with the profound mystery of the pre-existent, wealthy Son of God divesting Himself of his riches in order to make His people rich in good works. The more we meditate upon Jesus' riches-to-rags story, the more we will realize that life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions (cf. Luke 12:15; I Timothy 6:17-19), and we will hold our goods with an open palm instead of a clinched fist, willing and ready to make ourselves less rich to enrich others.

The incarnation also confronts our lack of intentionality in ministry. In Galatians 4:4-5, Paul declares that God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, when the fullness of time had come, according to His intentional, purposeful plan. Not only was all of human history sovereignly orchestrated for the entrance of Jesus, but His incarnation fulfilled God's eternal purpose and all the promises revealed to His people. Beginning in Genesis 3:15, God promised a Savior would come on a mission to undo what Adam had done, and to bring redemption through the shedding of His blood. Now connect the dots: if God sent His Son with plan, intentionality, and mission, and if Jesus says in John 17:18 that He has sent us into the world even as the Father sent Him into the world, then it follows that we too have been sent to live our lives on purpose, with design and deliberateness. We are to take the initiative with others, seeking out the lost even as Jesus sought out Zacchaeus. We are not to resemble a leaf floating aimlessly with the current of life, but a downhill skier who proactively picks her line and aims for the bottom of the mountain with all diligence. The incarnation confronts our lack of intentionality with other people, reminding us to embrace our calling as God's witnesses in every sphere He has placed us.

The incarnation also confronts our lack of presence. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14) as Emmanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23). God didn't only send messengers and give us a book of sacred writings; He sent His Son in the flesh, to be with us and to reveal His glory, grace, and truth in human form. His ministry was one of presence with people, spending time with His disciples and with those who were not His disciples. Sometimes His presence was comforting, sometimes it was confrontational, always it was felt. The incarnation confronts us about our lack of "with-ness," our apathy toward dwelling among others for the sake of the gospel, so that we might create and discover opportunities to bring God's word to bear in the ordinary course of everyday life. It also encourages us by reminding us that our Lord understands the finitude of ministry in the body. He was tired and thirsty in John 4. When He spoke to the Samaritan women at the well, He wasn't in Jerusalem speaking to Nicodemus. His human body could only be in one place at time, just like ours. And so the incarnation comforts us by reminding us that we can't be everywhere all at once, and we can't do everything. So be present where you are, when you are there, and make sure in the course of your ministry to rest and spend time with your heavenly Father, even as Jesus did.

Finally, we must use the incarnation to confront our lack of assurance of salvation. The author to the Hebrews beautifully speaks of Jesus being made like His brethren in every respect, sharing in our flesh and blood (Hebrews 2:14ff.). He took a human body and a reasonable soul, becoming like us in every way, sin excepted, not merely to be with us, but to die for us. By His death He has made propitiation for our sins. And because God's holy anger has been placated and His law has been fulfilled, Satan has been rendered powerless. By enduring the curse of the law against sin, Jesus has defanged the great serpent so that he can no longer use the law to accuse us. Death no longer holds us in its enslaving chains, but we have been freed from the fear of death. The incarnation confronts and calms our lack of assurance by reminding us that nothing remains to be paid, we are completely freed from our debts and have nothing to fear from God or our enemies because of the finished work of our incarnate Savior, and we have a Savior who can sympathize with our weaknesses and struggles against sin. Augustus Toplady puts it beautifully: "Complete atonement Thou hast made, and to the utmost farthing paid, whate'er Thy people owed. Nor can God's wrath on me take place when sheltered by Thy righteousness and covered by Thy blood. If Thou my pardon hast secured, and freely in my room endured the whole of wrath divine, payment God cannot twice demand, first from my bleeding surety's hand and then again from mine."

So here is your gift - the incarnation of Jesus! Will you use it every day, to spur yourself on to self-denying love, to sacrificial generosity, to intentional ministry, to a faithful presence, and to an assurance of salvation in the face of all your failures this new year?

We've all given and received gifts this past year, and I imagine the majority of those gifts were probably intended to be used in some way, not just owned or placed on a shelf unopened. But it's likely you've had that awkward experience of giving a gift designed to be used, and somehow finding out that the recipient hasn't used it, and has no intention of using it, other than re-gifting it at next year's White Elephant party. In some cases you just did a bad job of picking out a gift for that person - but in other cases the realization that your gift isn't being used can be discouraging, even hurtful.

So consider this: God the Father has given you the gift of the incarnation of His Son. But He hasn't given this gift merely to be a truth you take out of a Rubbermaid each December, put up on the shelf to look at, and then put back in the Rubbermaid a few weeks later. He's given it so that you might use it, not just one day or one month, but every day of the year. We should use it as the Bible uses it (both explicitly and implicitly), as a spiritual multi-tool to confront the lacks that we so often see in our lives as we follow Jesus: a lack of self-denying love, a lack of sacrificial generosity, a lack of intentionality, a lack of presence, and a lack of assurance.

In Philippians 2:1ff., Paul uses the incarnation to confront our lack of self-denying love. Paul calls a prideful and selfish church to strive for like-mindedness, humility, and self-denying love. He grounds his commands in the self-emptying humiliation of the incarnation, reminding us that Jesus, who from eternity shared all the divinity, glory, dignity, privileges, and prerogatives of God the Father, did not regard equality with God something to be greedily clung to, but willingly and humbly gave up His rights. Without ceasing to be what He was, He became what He was not - a human in a low and servile condition, coming not to be served but to give Himself away. The mind of Christ is to be the mind of Christ's people. The incarnation confronts all our lovelessness and strife, calling us (in the words of Donald Macleod) to put our petty conflict in the light of this massive theology of the eternal Word become flesh, and to love as we have been loved.

In II Corinthians 8:9, Paul uses the incarnation to confront our lack of sacrificial generosity. He grounds his appeal for the Corinthians to participate in his collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem by pointing to the grace of Jesus, who though He was rich, became poor for their sake. Mundane stinginess is met head-on with the profound mystery of the pre-existent, wealthy Son of God divesting Himself of his riches in order to make His people rich in good works. The more we meditate upon Jesus' riches-to-rags story, the more we will realize that life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions (cf. Luke 12:15; I Timothy 6:17-19), and we will hold our goods with an open palm instead of a clinched fist, willing and ready to make ourselves less rich to enrich others.

The incarnation also confronts our lack of intentionality in ministry. In Galatians 4:4-5, Paul declares that God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, when the fullness of time had come, according to His intentional, purposeful plan. Not only was all of human history sovereignly orchestrated for the entrance of Jesus, but His incarnation fulfilled God's eternal purpose and all the promises revealed to His people. Beginning in Genesis 3:15, God promised a Savior would come on a mission to undo what Adam had done, and to bring redemption through the shedding of His blood. Now connect the dots: if God sent His Son with plan, intentionality, and mission, and if Jesus says in John 17:18 that He has sent us into the world even as the Father sent Him into the world, then it follows that we too have been sent to live our lives on purpose, with design and deliberateness. We are to take the initiative with others, seeking out the lost even as Jesus sought out Zacchaeus. We are not to resemble a leaf floating aimlessly with the current of life, but a downhill skier who proactively picks her line and aims for the bottom of the mountain with all diligence. The incarnation confronts our lack of intentionality with other people, reminding us to embrace our calling as God's witnesses in every sphere He has placed us.

The incarnation also confronts our lack of presence. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14) as Emmanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23). God didn't only send messengers and give us a book of sacred writings; He sent His Son in the flesh, to be with us and to reveal His glory, grace, and truth in human form. His ministry was one of presence with people, spending time with His disciples and with those who were not His disciples. Sometimes His presence was comforting, sometimes it was confrontational, always it was felt. The incarnation confronts us about our lack of "with-ness," our apathy toward dwelling among others for the sake of the gospel, so that we might create and discover opportunities to bring God's word to bear in the ordinary course of everyday life. It also encourages us by reminding us that our Lord understands the finitude of ministry in the body. He was tired and thirsty in John 4. When He spoke to the Samaritan women at the well, He wasn't in Jerusalem speaking to Nicodemus. His human body could only be in one place at time, just like ours. And so the incarnation comforts us by reminding us that we can't be everywhere all at once, and we can't do everything. So be present where you are, when you are there, and make sure in the course of your ministry to rest and spend time with your heavenly Father, even as Jesus did.

Finally, we must use the incarnation to confront our lack of assurance of salvation. The author to the Hebrews beautifully speaks of Jesus being made like His brethren in every respect, sharing in our flesh and blood (Hebrews 2:14ff.). He took a human body and a reasonable soul, becoming like us in every way, sin excepted, not merely to be with us, but to die for us. By His death He has made propitiation for our sins. And because God's holy anger has been placated and His law has been fulfilled, Satan has been rendered powerless. By enduring the curse of the law against sin, Jesus has defanged the great serpent so that he can no longer use the law to accuse us. Death no longer holds us in its enslaving chains, but we have been freed from the fear of death. The incarnation confronts and calms our lack of assurance by reminding us that nothing remains to be paid, we are completely freed from our debts and have nothing to fear from God or our enemies because of the finished work of our incarnate Savior, and we have a Savior who can sympathize with our weaknesses and struggles against sin. Augustus Toplady puts it beautifully: "Complete atonement Thou hast made, and to the utmost farthing paid, whate'er Thy people owed. Nor can God's wrath on me take place when sheltered by Thy righteousness and covered by Thy blood. If Thou my pardon hast secured, and freely in my room endured the whole of wrath divine, payment God cannot twice demand, first from my bleeding surety's hand and then again from mine."

So here is your gift - the incarnation of Jesus! Will you use it every day, to spur yourself on to self-denying love, to sacrificial generosity, to intentional ministry, to a faithful presence, and to an assurance of salvation in the face of all your failures throughout this new year?


Caleb Cangelosi is the Associate Pastor of Pear Orchard PCA in Ridgeland, MS

Posted January 15, 2019 @ 10:10 AM by Caleb Cangelosi

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