Wonder of Wonders, Marvel of Marvels (John 1:6–18)

 “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.

…For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

—John 1:14, 16

The incarnation of our Lord is the wonder of all wonders. It is, as C.S. Lewis wrote, “the central miracle” or “the grand miracle” of our faith. “The incarnation is God’s greatest wonder,” writes Mark Jones, “one that no creature could ever have imagined. God himself could not perform a more difficult and glorious work. It has justly been called the miracle of all miracles.” The crucifixion of our Lord is the marvel of grace, but the incarnation of our Lord is the wonder of nature. It is no wonder that our Lord, who has life in Himself, having been crucified and buried, would rise from the grave. The wonder is that He could ever have taken on flesh so that He could be crucified.

If you are not stunned by the enfleshment of the Son, perhaps you have forgotten that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Herman Bavinck doesn’t miss the glorious juxtaposition of verse one with verse fourteen.

“It is completely incomprehensible to us how God can reveal himself and to some extent make himself known in created beings: eternity in time, immensity in space, infinity in the finite, immutability in change, being in becoming, the all, as it were, in that which is nothing. This mystery cannot be comprehended; it can only be gratefully acknowledged. But mystery and self-contradiction are not synonymous.”

Neither does John Murray.

“He came by becoming man, by taking human nature into union with his divine person. The result was that he was both God and man, God in uncurtailed Godhood, in the fulness of divine being and attributes, and man in the integrity of human nature with all its sinless infirmities and limitations, uniting in one person infinitude and finitude, the uncreated and the created. This is the great mystery of history. And since Christianity is the central and commanding fact of history, it is the mystery of Christianity.”

Remaining what He was, He became what He was not. The incarnation is a wonder of addition; not subtraction. His divinity was not humanized. Neither is His humanity divinized. He is truly God and truly man in one person. And thus it is that when He tabernacled among us, we behold in His person, the very glory of the only begotten of the Father. In one sense, the incarnation veils His glory, in another, it reveals it. The incarnation of our Lord doesn’t compromise the divine glory of His person; it communicates it. The two natures remain distinct, yet the human nature serves to manifest to us the divine person.

After Moses plead to see the glory of Yahweh, God explained that no man could see him and live. Even so, God would allow Moses to see a passing by of His glory as He pronounced His name. “The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” (Exodus 34:6–7a). And the Word is that very Word, that Name, become flesh. “Jesus” is the Father’s clearest annunciation of who our Triune God is to us. He is Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious. His name Jesus, Yeshua, means “Yahweh saves.”

The glory that we may now see in the face of the Word incarnate, is the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. So while the incarnation is indeed the grand miracle of nature, surely J.I. Packer is right to insist, “Here is stated not the fact of the Incarnation only, but also its meaning; the taking of manhood by the Son is set before us in a way which shows us how we should ever view it—not simply as a marvel of nature, but rather as a wonder of grace.” It is the marvel of marvels that the Word became flesh. It is the wonder of wonders why the Word became flesh. Why? So that heavenly waves of grace might crash on our earthly shores. Why? So that heavenly Light might pierce our dark world. Why? To modify a line from Lewis, “The Son of God became a man to [make] men to become sons of God.”

But to do so, the Son would not only need to be born like a man. He must die like one. He must be born to live for their righteousness. He must die to pay for their sins. The brilliant French mathematician Blaise Pascal said, “The Incarnation shows man the greatness of his wretchedness through the greatness of the remedy required.” For our healing, not only must the Word take on flesh, that flesh must be rent. He is the tabernacle. For us to behold the glory, the curtain must be torn. Because His flesh was torn, we may now boldly approach the throne of the Father, knowing that from the rent flesh of Christ flows grace upon grace upon grace.

The Don: Humble Science

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‘But he [Joseph] came to believe in the Virgin Birth afterwards, didn’t he?’

‘Quite. But he didn’t do so because he was under any illusion as to where babies came from in the ordinary course of nature. He believed in the Virgin Birth as something super-natural. He knew nature works in fixed, regular ways: but he also believed that there existed something beyond nature which could interfere with her workings—from outside, so to speak.’

‘But modern science has shown there’s no such thing. ‘

‘Really,’ said I. ‘Which of the sciences?’

‘Oh, well, that’s a matter of detail,’ said my friend. ‘I cant give you chapter and verse from memory.’

“But, don’t you see.’ said”I, ‘that science never could show anything of the sort?’

‘Why on earth not?’

Because science studies nature. And the question is whether anything besides nature exists—anything “outside”. How could you find that out by studying simply nature?’

——C.S. Lewis, “Religion and Science” in C.S. Lewis Essay Collection & Other Short Pieces (HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), pp. 143–144

The Don: The Story of One Grand Miracle

“One is very often asked as present whether we could not have a Christianity stripped, or, as people who ask it say, ‘freed’ from its miraculous elements, a Christianity with the miraculous elements suppressed. Now, it seems to me that precisely the one religion in the world, or at least the only one I know, with which you could not do that is Christianity. In a religion like Buddhism, if you took away the miracles attributed to Gautama Buddha in some very late sources, there would be no loss; in fact, the religion would get on very much better without them because in that case the miracles largely contradict the teaching. Or even in the case of a religion like Mohammedanism, nothing essential would be altered if you took away the miracles. You could have a great prophet preaching his dogmas without bringing in any miracles; they are only in the nature of a digression, or illuminated capitals. But you cannot possibly do that with Christianity, because the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, which is uncreated, eternal, came into Nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing Nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left. There may be many admirable human things which Christianity shares with all other systems in the world, but there would be nothing specifically Christian.” —C.S. Lewis, The Grand Miracle

The August Theologian: A Way for Man to Man’s God through a God-man

“For since man is most properly understood (or, if that cannot be, then, at least, believed) to be made in God’s image, no doubt it is that part of him by which he rises above those lower parts he has in common with the beasts, which brings him nearer to the Supreme. But since the mind, itself, though naturally capable of reason and intelligence, is disabled by besetting and inveterate vices not merely from delighting and abiding in, but even from tolerating His unchangeable light, until it has been gradually healed, and renewed, and made capable of such felicity, it had, in the first place, to be impregnated with faith, and so purified. And that in this faith it might advance the more confidently towards the truth, the truth itself, God, God’s Son, assuming humanity without destroying His divinity, established and founded this faith, that there might be a way for man to man’s God through a God-man.” —Augustine, The City of God

The Exegetical Systematician: The Incarnation

“The incarnation means that he who never began to be in his specific identity as Son of God, began to be what he eternally was not. We must appreciate the historic factuality and temporal occurrence of the incarnation and the sustained contrasts involved. The infinite became the finite, the eternal and supratemporal entered time and became subject to its conditions, the immutable became the mutable, the invisible became the visible, the Creator became the created, the sustainer of all became dependent, the Almighty infirm. All is summed up in the proposition, God became man. The title ‘God’ comprehends all that attributes that belong to God and the designation ‘man’ all the attributes that are essentially human.” —John Murray, “The Person of Christ”

Matthew 1:18-25 & The Necessity of the Incarnation for Salvation

In order for Jesus to be Jesus (meaning “Yahweh is salvation”) He has to be Immanuel (meaning “God with us”).

When the angel commands Joseph to name the child “Jesus”, he also gives him the reason why, “for He will save His people from their sins.”  This is an allusion to Psalm 130:8.  In this Psalm the “He” who redeems Israel from his iniquities is Yahweh.  Only God can forgive sins ultimately. It is His prerogative; He is the most offended party (Psalm 51:4).  You do not have the right to forgive a debt against someone else.  The scribes theology was sound when they questioned, “Who can forgive sins but God?” (Mark 2:1-11).

In the 11th century Anslem of Canterbury wrote an important book titled, Cur Deus Homo, loosely translated, Why the God-Man?  Why did Jesus have to be Immanuel to deal with sins?  Why must the second person of the Trinity take on human flesh?  His answer, in short, is that in sin we incur a debt that only man ought to pay and only God can pay. Thus, in order to pay this debt, a God-Man is needed.

In creation, the law, and our conscience we know God above us and against us.  Only in the gospel do we know God for us and with us—God incarnate, born of a virgin, truly man, truly God—with us.

Christ, by highest Heav’n adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.
Hark! the Herald Angels Sing by Charles Wesley