Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
When we ponder the incarnation we are confronted with numerous contrasts. These contrasts get to the heart of the miraculous work of God. In many ways, Paul’s brief “but God” (Eph. 2:4) summarizes these twin contrastive truths, which help us to understand the gravity and glory of the incarnation.
As you read these statements, please pause to read, ponder and pray through the Scripture texts. Use these texts of Scripture summarized in the theological summaries as an aid to worship of God in all his fullness, who is the one who, in the fullness of time, “sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).
Jesus experienced a human birth (Lk. 2:11), that through him we might have heavenly birth (Jn. 1:12).
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:11
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12
Jesus’ resting place was a lowly manger in a stable (Lk. 2:7), so that we might have heavenly mansions (Jn. 14:2-3).
“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7
“In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” John 14:2-3
Jesus became a member of the human family (Matt. 2:11), so that we might become members of the family of God (Gal. 3:26).
“And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” Matthew 2:11
“for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” Galatians 3:26
Jesus was made (made himself) subject to others, i.e., he obeyed them (Lk. 2:51), so that we, through the power of the Holy Spirit, might be made free (Gal. 5:1).
“And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.” Luke 2:51
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1
Jesus’ glory was concealed (Phil. 2:6-7; cf. Jn. 17:1-5), so that we might receive glory (1 Pet. 5:4).
“who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Philippians 2:6-7
“And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” 1 Peter 5:4
Jesus became poor (Matt. 8:20), so we might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9).
“And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’” Matthew 8:20
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9
Jesus’ birth was welcomed and celebrated by the lowly and despised shepherds (Lk. 2:8-9), while our new birth is welcomed and celebrated by angels (Lk. 15:10).
“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.” Luke 2:8-9
“Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10
Herod sought to destroy Jesus through death (Matt. 2:13), but Jesus destroyed Satan and death through his death (Heb. 2:14-15).
“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’” Matthew 2:13
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Hebrews 2:14-15
These eight contrastive truths are thoughts from Donald Grey Barnhouse, who served as a faithful minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ for many years at Tenth Presbyterian Church (1927-1960). James Montgomery Boice, who also served at Tenth Presbyterian Church (1968-2000), summarizes these great contrasts in the following way (The Christ of Christmas [Minneapolis: Grason, 1983], 59):
When we put these texts together we see a great pattern. We see that Jesus endured a human birth to give us a new spiritual birth. He occupied a stable that we might occupy a mansion. He had an earthly mother so that we might have a heavenly Father. He became subject that we might be free. He left his glory to give us glory. He was poor that we might become rich. He was welcomed by shepherds at his birth whereas we at our birth are welcomed by angels. He was hunted by Herod that we might be delivered from the grasp of Satan. That is the great paradox of the Christmas story. It is that which makes it irresistibly attractive. It is the reversal of roles at God’s cost for our benefit.
O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord!