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The scandal of the Incarnation


The scandal of the Incarnation
Posted on January 2, 2022  - By Garrett Haley

If we had to name the most provocative—or scandalous—verse in the Bible, we would be smart to place this one near the top of the list: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). 

The Word became flesh. The divine became carnal. Creator became created. Incarnation—what a concept! It is like a multi-faceted diamond; you could spend many lifetimes pondering over its depth and beauty and meaning.

The reality of the Incarnation

As a start, let us just think about the etymology of the word: Incarnation (In + carn + ation). The word stems from the Latin root carn, which means flesh (e.g. carnivore, carnal, carnage…). God—He became flesh. That’s what the word means.

Sure, the word has a seasonal feel to it today. But pause a moment and think about how central a doctrine it is. Without the Incarnation, there would be no gospel. No hope for humanity. No invitation to freely come to God through His Son.

Without the Incarnation, there would be no gospel

Unsurprisingly, the Incarnation was extremely controversial in the Church’s early years. Back then (and we still see this today), people thought anything physical was inherently bad. Immoral. Corrupt. So how could a perfect God possibly enter the sinful human bloodline!

Over and over again, the early Church had to push back against false teachings—like Gnosticism—that claimed Jesus wasn’t actually fully God and fully human. That’s why we see so many mentions of the Incarnation—“manifested in the flesh,” “born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,” etc.— in early Christian creeds and hymns.

The gravity of the Incarnation

And of course, we see the centrality of the Incarnation throughout the New Testament and in many of the well-loved hymns we sing. For example:

  • “[He] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7).
  • “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things… Therefore He had to be made like His brothers in every respect” (Hebrews 2:14-17).
  • “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (1 John 4:2).
  • “Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning; Jesus, to thee be glory given! Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing! O come, let us adore Him…” (O Come, All Ye Faithful).
  • “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail th’ incarnate Deity! Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel” (Hark! The Herald Angels Sing).

Have you noticed that, even after the Crucifixion and Resurrection, Christ was still carnal? He still had a physical body. When He ascended back to heaven, He was still human! “‘See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Touch Me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet (Luke 24:39-40).

I love how Charles Spurgeon put it: “Infinite, and an infant. Eternal, and yet born of a woman. Almighty, and yet hanging on a woman’s breast. Supporting a universe, and yet needing to be carried in a mother’s arms.” The Incarnation is—no matter how you look at it—beautiful. Shocking. And, sublime.

The Incarnation reminds us that this world is not doomed

The Incarnation reminds us that this world is not doomed. The future of our bodies and the physical creation itself is not destruction and despair, but redemption. Restoration. Resurrection. Contrary to what first-century Greeks and even many people today believe, the Incarnation reminds us that our bodies are not filthy garbage, destined for the trash heap. No, they’re ultimately God’s handiwork—temples—intended to be living sacrifices, designed for the Lord, bound for redemption.

Consider just a few of the Incarnation’s life-changing implications. Because Christ became human, we can be like Him (1 John 3:2). Because Christ became human, we can be adopted into His family (Galatians 4:4-7). Because Christ became human, we can approach Him as a merciful, emphatic Saviour (Hebrews 2:17). Isn’t that wonderful! Isn’t He wonderful!

Don’t just ponder the wonder of the Incarnation during December or Christmastime! Throughout the year, may we be inspired and awed by the miraculous truth of Jesus and His permanent clothing of Himself in humanity; may we worship the incarnate Word who became flesh and ever intercedes for us.

Garrett Haley

About Garrett Haley

Garrett Haley is a native Texan and serves as a deacon at his local assembly in Lubbock, TX. He enjoys reading, writing blog posts, leading church discussion groups, and pondering life’s deep questions. Preaching on occasion and organising church get-togethers are a couple of his other favourite areas of service.



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