The How and Why of the Incarnation (Luke 1:35; Matthew 1:20-21)


Sermon by Rev. Daniel L. Sonnenberg | December 24, 2014 | Christmas Eve

Recording not available.


Sermon Texts:

 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God. (Lk. 1:35)

“Christ the Son of God became human by taking a true body and a reasoning soul. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary out of her substance and was born of her, but he was sinless.” (Westminster Larger Catechism Q.37)

“That which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt. 1:20-21).

“The mediator, who was to reconcile God and humanity, had to be himself both God and human and in one person to make the works appropriate to each nature acceptable to God on our behalf and counted on by us as the works of the whole person.” (Westminster Larger Catechism Q.40)

How Christ, the Son of God, became human

How did the infinite, eternal Son of God take on a human nature? To state it as simply as possible, it was by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit essentially worked two bona fide miracles to bring about the incarnation.

The first miracle was to conceive the child in Mary’s virgin womb. We find this in the first phrase of Luke 1:35 when the angel said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you…” Since Mary had no sexual relations with Joseph her betrothed until after Jesus was born, the child Jesus had no human father. He was miraculously conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of his mother Mary. Thus the Holy Spirit’s power accomplished a supernatural work, and Jesus, contrary to the laws of nature, was born of a virgin, without a human father. And because he was born of Mary, the eternal Son of God now had taken on a true human body made of material substance like ours and a rational, thinking and reasoning soul like ours.

By the power of the Spirit at conception and his subsequent birth of Mary, he became a human being.Yet he was not a human person. He was and is one divine person with two natures – a divine nature which he has possessed from all eternity – and a human nature, both body and soul, which he took on himself at the incarnation. The first miracle was the conception of Jesus’ in Mary’s womb.

The second miracle accomplished by the Holy Spirit was to cause Jesus to be born with a sinless human nature. We find this in the second phrase of Luke 1:35, “and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy– the Son of God.” The word “overshadow” implies the sanctifying work of the Spirit in Mary’s womb to protect the child from the stain of original sin. And the result was that he would be born holy or sinless, without the corruption of original sin.

Unlike Jesus, we are born in trespasses and sins with a sinful heart and unable not to commit actual sins. But Jesus was born, by the miracle-working power of the Holy Spirit, with a sinless human nature, and thus throughout his life, though he was tempted like we are, never committed any actual sins. We might wonder, since Mary the mother of Jesus was a sinner like other people, how could Jesus, her Son, be born with a sinless human nature? This was a miracle accomplished by the power of God. There’s no doubt that Mary was sinful. Though she was saved by God’s grace, by nature she would have had a sinful heart, as we all do. Only by the supernatural power of God could her child Jesus be born with a perfectly sinless heart and nature.

So he was and is both God and man, with two natures in one divine person. He is unique in the history of the world. No other person has been so conceived without a human father and born without sin among all mankind. That’s how Christ became human.

Why the mediator had to be God and human in one person

But why was it necessary that the child Jesus be both God and man in one person? It was necessary for two reasons.

The first reason was so that Christ’s works as our redeemer would be acceptable to God on our behalf. God’s purpose in the incarnation is stated in Mat. 1:21, the angel said to Joseph, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The name Jesus means “Jehovah saves.” The purpose of Jesus’ incarnation was to eventually save his people from the penalty and power of sin in a way that was acceptable to God. To save in a manner acceptable to God, it was necessary for him to accomplish some of his works according to his human nature, and some according to his divine nature.

For example, it was necessary for him to possess a human nature in order to obey the law perfectly on our behalf and to know what human frailties feel like.  And it was necessary for him to possess a divine nature in order to make his suffering and death of real value and effect and to satisfy God’s justice through his substitutionary death on our behalf.

The second reason that the redeemer had to be both God and man was so that we could place our faith in the one redeemer who saved us in both his human and divine natures. As Peter wrote quoting Is. 28:17, and Ps. 118:22 “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be disappointed” (1 Pet. 2:6). There is one precious chosen cornerstone in God’s house who is Christ. All who place their trust in him for salvation will not be disappointed, they will surely be saved.

It necessary that the child Jesus be both God and man in one person because his redemptive works as both God and man are acceptable to God, so we can unreservedly place our faith in him alone for salvation.

The bottom line

What’s the bottom line at Christmas? What is God’s message to us?

His message is that salvation is from God alone.

Salvation was accomplished only by the divinely provided redeemer who is the God-man, Jesus Christ. It’s not something we can do ourselves. We can’t save ourselves or others from the penalty and power of sin. We can’t light the darkness inside of us, or the darkness around us. Only Jesus, the light of the world can do so. His message is also that our redeemer actually saves his people from their sins – he does all that is necessary to guarantee that they will finally be saved. He doesn’t merely “foresee that they are going to believe, or “give them a chance to believe” or “make salvation possible” to them if they believe. He accomplished it for them and us, and he applies it to them and us at his appointed time by the Holy Spirit.

And his message is an invitation. The Spirit seeks to do other miraculous works in our day – in us.

He seeks to enable some of us to begin the Christian life. In the third stanza of “O Holy Night” we sing the words, “Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother.” Are you trying to break the chains that bind you in your own strength or ingenuity? These chains are not easily broken, as the Scripture says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). We can’t win that fight on our own. God alone saves. We need to call for help from the God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone has conquered all our enemies. Trust in his saving power. “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

He seeks also to empower us to finish the Christian life. Do you sometimes wonder if you’re going to make it to the finish line? Are you afraid that though you trusted in Christ, because of your many sins God will finally cast you off as a worthless servant? The truth is that if you have placed your faith in him, Jesus the God-man has done all that is necessary to guarantee that you will finally be saved in spite of the many ups and downs of your life. He is using those to make you more like himself, to enable you bear the trials of this world and to prepare you for eternal life in the new heavens and new earth. Hear once again and believe these words of assurance, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 1:24-25)

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