If you pause to think about it, you may just come to agree with me: Nobody really has a problem with Jesus’ atoning death. Not at heart. Nobody really has a problem with Jesus’ resurrection. Not at the foundation. They don’t have a problem with his miracles or coming return. They actually have a problem with Jesus’ incarnation. The problem is not Good Friday or Easter, but Christmas. As J.I.Packer says, “Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the incarnation.” We could well say that nothing in theology is so fantastic either. This, God made man, is “the supreme mystery with which the gospel confronts us.” It’s a simple truth, this, but a very important one, for it confronts us with the heart of the unbeliever’s unbelief.
“The really staggering Christian claim,” he says in Knowing God, “is that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man — that the second person of the Godhead became the ‘second man’ (1 Cor. 15:47), determining human destiny, the second representative head of the race, and that he took humanity without loss of deity, so that Jesus of Nazareth was as truly and fully divine as he was human.” (Aside: Can anyone work the long, complex sentence as well as J.I. Packer?)
Here we have two great mysteries, two unfathomable truths: the existence of one God in three persons and the perfect union of God and man in the person of Jesus Christ.
This is the real stumbling-block in Christianity. It is here that Jews, Moslems, Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and many of those who feel the difficulties above-mentioned (about the virgin birth, the miracles, the atonement, and the resurrection), have come to grief. It is from misbelief, or at least inadequate belief, about the incarnation that difficulties at other points in the gospel usually spring. But once the incarnation is grasped as a reality, these other difficulties dissolve.
Once we allow that Jesus was God, it becomes unreasonable to find much difficulty in the other controversial details of his life and his death — that his birth should be prophesied, that his conception should be from the Spirit, that his life should be accompanied by great miracles, that his death should be representative, that his resurrection should be proven, that his return should be imminent. “The incarnation is itself an unfathomable mystery, but it makes sense of everything else that the New Testament contains.”
Here, then, is our first challenge: not to convince people of the miracle of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but first the miracles of his incarnation.
If you are reading Knowing God with me as part of Reading Classics Together, please read chapters 7 and 8 for next Thursday. If you are not yet doing so, why don’t you join us? We have only just begun, so you will not have a difficult time catching up.
The purpose of Reading Classics Together is to read these books together. This time around the bulk of the discussion is happening in a dedicated Facebook group. You can find it right here. Several hundred people are already interacting there and would be glad to have you join in or just read along.