Sunday, December 4, 2016

Incarnation

We’re in the midst of Advent. And that gives us another opportunity to take some time to consider Jesus’ coming and what it means for us. Today, we’re going to take a look at a verse that you’ve heard lots of sermons on, especially at this time of year. But I hope that before I finish that there will be something worth your time to consider and to be encouraged by.

In his Gospel John wrote,

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us... John 1.14

Incarnation. God, the Son, became a man. He took on flesh. But He took on more than just flesh. He also took on human nature. God, the Son, was born as the man, Jesus. He was fully God and fully man. Not a new idea to any of you.


But let’s explore it a bit. Why did He do this? There can be lots of good answers to why questions. One answer that John gives goes like this.

No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. John 1.18

The Son came to explain what it means to be God. And it’s really important that the Son has done that. But there is the companion truth that we also need to remember. The Son also came to explain what it means to be man. Jesus shows us true humanity, whole humanity, real humanity.

And that’s why John could also write,

whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 1 John 2:6

Do you see what John was getting at? Jesus is our model, our example. We are to imitate Him. We are to live just as He lived.

Jesus was making the same point when He said,

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me… Matthew 11:29

We are to learn how to live from Jesus. All of this is included in that familiar verse about the Word becoming flesh.

Now, how do we do this? How do we learn how to live like Jesus? We do that by watching Him. We watch as He goes about dealing with people. And, as we watch Him, what do we see? We read from the Gospels each Sunday. I’m sure that there are things about Jesus that have stood out to you. Here’s one thing that I have noticed. Jesus is very wise. Haven’t you been impressed with how Jesus interacted with people? He knew how to respond to those Pharisees who were continually after Him. He had the right words to say to the Twelve. He treated the many needy in just the right way.

Recently, in our Bible studies, we have been looking at how Jesus presented the Gospel to different people. He did it one way with the Samaritan woman and a very different way with Nicodemus. In these and other cases, He understood who He was talking to, and He knew what they needed to hear. Very impressive. Watching Jesus in action is watching someone who is very wise.

Now, we blunt the force of this discovery. And do you know how we do that? We tell ourselves, ‘Of course He knew what to say. Of course, He understood the people who were around Him. Of course He was wise. After all, He was God.’ So much for the Incarnation.

But listen again to something from Luke.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. Luke 2:52

Jesus increased in wisdom. Does God increase in wisdom? No. God cannot increase in wisdom. He is the all-wise God. But man can. When you see Jesus acting wisely in His dealings with people, don’t think, ‘Okay, that’s God being wise’. No, it’s a man being wise. We believe in the Incarnation. The things that Jesus did, He did as a man.

So, let me repeat what I said earlier. The Son came to explain what it means to be man. Jesus shows us true humanity, whole humanity, real humanity.

Now, here’s where this gets interesting. All of this means that you can be wise. You can increase in wisdom. You can be wise, just like Jesus was wise. This is a blessing of God’s grace.

Let me remind you of the definition of wisdom that I have offered in the past. Wisdom is understanding God, understanding other people and understanding yourself so that you can understand your situation. Jesus was wise in that sense, which is why He could respond to situations in the way that He did. Because of the Gospel, you can do the same. You can become wise and live like Jesus.

This is really good, especially when you consider the alternatives. How should we describe people who lack wisdom? The book of Proverbs helps us here. There are three kinds of people. There are the wise. And that shows in how they live. There are also the simple. This is just another way of talking about the naive. They really don’t understand life. Practical ignorance reigns. And that shows in how they live. And then, there are the fools. This isn’t just another word for stupid. If anything, it’s another word for rebellious. Fools refuse to follow God’s Law. And that shows in how they live.

Everybody fits into one of those three categories. And it shows in how they live.

So, doesn’t it just make sense to become wise? Jesus has come so that you can do exactly that. Jesus has come so that you can become wise. And that will show in how you live. I want you all to be very encouraged by this. It is a blessing of the Gospel that you can enjoy.

Now for the practical question. So, what do you do so that you can become wise like Jesus? Well, first, let me just state something that I’ll have to develop more at some other time. When the Spirit blessed you with the life of eternity, when you were born again, you were given the abilities that you need to live well, to live wisely. Without that work of the Spirit there is nothing that you could do to become wise. But now that the Spirit has begun - and continues - His work in your life, you can become wise. So, becoming wise is all about the power of the Spirit. That’s the first and most important thing.

But that doesn’t mean that there is nothing that we need to do. Becoming wise, like any other Christian virtue, isn’t automatic.

So, what do we do? Well, let’s look at Jesus. What did He do so that Luke could write that He grew in wisdom? I think that this is where I’m supposed to say that you need to read your Bible every day since wisdom is found in its pages. Well, it’s true that wisdom is found in the pages of the Bible. Among other things, that’s where we get to see Jesus in action. And reading the Bible is a really good thing to do. But is that what Jesus did to grow in wisdom? Was it His habit to read His Bible every day? No, it wasn’t. Now, why do I say that? We are used to owning Bibles, lots of Bibles. I think the last time I counted I had something like two dozen Bibles. And that’s not counting the digital copies that I have on my electronic devices. And many of those I paid little or even nothing for. But in Jesus’ day, someone having a copy of the Bible would have been extraordinary. Back then, a Bible had to be copied by hand. And that means that a Bible would have been very expensive. Very expensive. Remember, Jesus was not born into a rich family. They were definitely working class. I’m guessing that there was one copy of the Bible in all of Nazareth, and it was in the synagogue. Jesus didn’t read His Bible every day. If He had owned one He would have read it every day. But He didn’t own one.

So, how did Jesus become wise? Two things. Here’s the first, and it comes from the description of the righteous man in Psalm 1.

…but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. Psalms 1:2

Jesus meditated on the Scriptures. He would hear it read at the synagogue each Sabbath, and during the rest of the week, while He sawed wood and pounded nails, He meditated on it. This was something that He did from His youth. We know this from that incident in Jerusalem when He was twelve.

After three days they [His parents] found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. Luke 2:46-47

Jesus meditated on the Bible. He thought about it. And out of that came wisdom, insight into the teachings of the Bible and, as a result, insight into how to live.

So, do you want to be wise? Imitate Jesus. Think over the things that you have heard and read in the Bible. Take it apart. Meditate.

Here is something from Proverbs that I have been mulling over recently to help me deal with my sins.

Like a city that is broken into and without walls
Is a man who has no control over his spirit. Proverbs 25.28 NASV

I have been considering the imagery here, the imagery of a city without walls. This was written in a time when an attack by marauders could happen at any time. What you would want is a very sturdy wall to protect you. Not having that is inviting disaster. And that’s what will happen to someone who has no control over his spirit. He’s inviting disaster. I’ve also thought about what control is and how to gain it. I’ve noticed that it’s not about merely controlling one’s words but controlling one’s spirit. Big difference. It’s dealing with the problem beneath the problem.

Doing this sort of pondering is what meditation is about. We need to meditate on what we find in the Bible.

And that, of course, leads to the second thing we need to do. We need to pray. The Gospels write about Jesus praying. Have you ever wondered what He discussed with His Father? Have you ever meditated on that? I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that one of the things that Jesus prayed about was how to deal with what was going on in His life. I’m guessing that He was asking for more wisdom. And, as Luke tells us, the Father granted that request. He grew in wisdom.

And isn’t that what James exhorts us to do?

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. James 1:5

It seems that we limit that to just requesting wisdom for some decision that confronts us. Why limit it to that? Why not understand it as asking to become wise like Jesus was wise so that we can live like He did? I actually think that’s what James was writing about.

Jesus meditated on the Scriptures and He prayed. And that’s what we need to do.

I think that it’s clear that the world needs more wise people. Not more smart people - we have plenty of those - but wise people, people who understand God, other people and themselves so that they can understand their situation. And the only way to become wise is bound up in Jesus. The Word became flesh to reveal to us what real humanity is like. And that includes being wise. Let’s imitate Jesus in this so that we can change the world.

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