The Incarnation: Miracle, Majesty, and Mission

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  John 1:14

I want to briefly look at the incarnation from a slightly different perspective this Christmas and I hope that it is a benefit to you, particularly in the way you understand and live out the missio Dei. It will help if you understand one of the central presuppositions to my theological method. In his work, According to Plan, Graeme Goldsworthy, commenting on Genesis 1, explains, “There is no suggestion of a self-evident standard of goodness and harmony outside of God . . . God, who is the source of both, must define them by setting forth an arrangement that is the expression of his goodness and harmony” (93). When God declares the creation to be good He is in fact declaring its conformity to and expression of His intrinsic goodness. As such I would understand all theological study, from hamartiology to ecclesiology, to be a study of the attributes of God, as He has seen fit to reveal them. For example, by studying soteriology we can see the sovereignty and gracious disposition of God. With that said my primary concern here is to briefly examine what the incarnation reveals about the character of God, particularly as it pertains to the missio Dei.

The incarnation demonstrates the unmatched sovereignty of God as He brings His plans to fruition and His purposes to pass (Genesis 3:15; Micah 5:2; Acts 4:24-28).

The incarnation demonstrates the humility of God (Philippians 2:5-11) lest we read this verse and think that humility is merely a character trait of Christ and not the entire Trinitarian community it is important to note the definitive other centeredness of God; God the Father has given Christ “a name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9), God the Son glorified God the Father (John 17:1-5), and it is through God the Spirit that we worship God the Father and the Son (Philippians 3:3).

The incarnation demonstrates the immeasurable and lavish grace of God (Ephesians 1:4-15). Concomitant with grace is God’s longsuffering patience (I Timothy 1:15-16).

The incarnation demonstrates that God is a relational being; this is seen in both Christ’s numerous prayers to the Father (Mark 1:35; 6:46; 14:32ff.) and in His relationship with His disciples, family, and friends (John 2:2, 11, 12; 11:1-44).

The incarnation defines the missio Dei as Christ declares, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21; see also Luke 19:10; John 13:31-32; 17:1-5). This is a profound statement and one that has not received due consideration at that. Just as God the Father has sent Christ so He also sends His Church. This is a clarion call for the modern church to rethink both its theology and methodology. Indeed, it is a call to not only an incarnational Christology but an incarnational ecclesiology/missiology as well!

There are those who would argue against such an incarnational ecclesiology claiming that it diminishes the theological significance of the incarnation of Christ. Would we say the same thing of Paul? Would we argue that II Corinthians 5:18-21 diminishes reconciliation? Not in the least. Rather, we would rejoice that just as “in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself” now, as ambassadors, as representatives, as mediators sent on behalf of Christ, God is “making his appeal through us.” Do you grasp the significance of the incarnation and an incarnational ecclesiology as it pertains to our ministry of reconciliation? Christ who, “in his body of flesh by his death” reconciled us to God (Romans 5:10; Colossians 1:21-22) now sends the church so that through her God may make His appeal. In the same way the church incarnates, gives flesh to, the sufferings of Christ as Paul both exclaims (Colossians 1:24-29) and promises (Romans 8:17; II Corinthians 1:5; Philippians 1:29-30) and the author of Hebrews exhorts (Hebrews 13:11-14). In the same way we see that Epaphroditus gives flesh to the service and love of the church at Philippi (Philippians 2:25-30).

So let us rejoice at the incarnation and rejoice even more that God has not left the world without a physical witness but that He continues to make His appeal and reveal Christ’s sufferings through His church, whom He has sent just as He sent His Son.

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