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INCARNATION, EFFECTED, CONTESTED, ATTESTED
Grand in Conception, Glorious in Performance
MARK 1 to 4
In our last Chapter, there was occasion to dwell a little on the incarnation of God Himself, the One who being love and trinity, could not only regard the beauty of love, but show it within His very own Being; who therefore, so far from NEEDING human company or fellowship, spread out the capacity for it from Himself to our race, being bountiful. Yet He was also realistic, even He who created our dependent, delimited and designated reality. Indeed, He made us as His own creation, so that born or leaving this life on earth, we first are set up, then set out and then find a return to God who made us (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
Love flourishes in its due environment. For love you need not only its sublime source as base, but liberty to differentiate it from duty, or responsibility, or programmed piety, realised in mere rigour. Love fades as an orphan, when denied its parent depth in the Lord, and tends towards tarnish under the pitiless sun of human culture. It gives sometimes aroma, but has lost its original freshness, holiness and sanctity.
Love needs rigour, for it has responsibility; but it is not chiefly that, for that illustrates it, but does not constitute it. Love requires liberty, for without it, it is the work of another, in the scale of dominion, direction or insistence, by law, or program or duty, which having their possible virtues, are not the same, any more than paint is beauty, or digital dexterity is a painting.
When it has liberty, then its disposition can deal in its own terms, for the centre of love is response; and for that, there has to be the capacity for this. It is response from what could have done otherwise, an intrinsic perception, moving from within to without, from assessment to actuality, not by blind forces but by the light of aware cognition. Indeed, love, light and liberty are a threesome, to want to select, to be able to select and finally to select personally.
With liberty goes opportunity to misrule, for misconduct, for breach of what one's very being has for its constitution, for breach with its Maker, for overreaching in terms of one's estimate of oneself, for envy at one's Maker in having been that, and magnificently eternal, leading to pathological desire for self-importance, self-will and self-serving. This severance can lead to a mix of wrong appetite, indeed to unwise surging which is like that of a flood for what it will smash and then ruin. It does not have happen tempestuously; but it may directly or indirectly so choose. Whatever the mode, the result of disjunction, divorce, indifference to God is to erode, leaving a scoured remnant, perhaps proud of itself, as it abides in the stricken sea of culture, its own or that of its choice.
With misrule, misconception, warped will, there go results. These can either tamper with liberty, by spoiling understanding back of what resolves, or remove it in any given sphere, by mixing masters, like joint drivers jumbling the steering in a car, moving it diversely. Indeed, desire can strangle spirit's liberty as does a drug the body.
Who will deliver from this warped and crimped resultant of liberty misused, love become mere passion, or drafted by another source, for another director, soon to be repented of! The only One capable of restoring liberty as distinct from pride in one's imagined capacity to reconstruct oneself, or the simple doldrum of defeat, is the Maker. The way He does this is His own. Love is like that: it selects what it will do in ways often quite beyond the imagination. That is one of its most appealing features. For its object, it does not disdain sacrifice, or even harm to itself, to secure benefit to the other.
Nothing can change God, but to pay for the sins of man, He took the form which COULD be changed, even that of man, consigned to death, and so paid for sin by bearing its most robust consequence, and most horrid result (Matthew 20:28, Isaiah 53). Immortality took the form of mortality, that it might explode itspower, and replace this with His own.
In so doing, He had a straight if grievous course, because of His incarnation which, with His death and resurrection, is thus central to His plan for man's salvation. Not that all are to be saved; for love is also like that. It is not regimented. Many prefer to continue warped, in darkness, without the correction of the Maker (John 3:19), indeed His regeneration by His Spirit. It is that, however, which is opened up by His procurement of pardon in the work to His own deliberate exposure to death (Acts 2:23-24). This was that of God the sent (Isaiah 48:16), in His own Person providing for the mauling and murder as Jesus the Christ, the anointed One for the sublime purpose of deliverance. He, known to the Father in eternity, who of time before our own could simply say, "I am," equal with God the expressor, is the expressed (John 8:58, Hebrews 1). What is expressed is firstly the reality of God, whose living word He is and always has been, secondly this, that God SO loved the world that He took this course, sending His only begotten Son into, through and for mankind, as sacrifice in splendour, wrought in infamy.
Incarnation was the vehicle, death the direction, resurrection the accomplishment for life. He could not be held down, for God who made the creation and the consequence of sin, being free of it, having born the impact, set it aside as one may a fly with a fly-swat. In His own domain, He is master, and having entered personally into ours, He satisfied its conditions, and having done so, breached its worse, for us to share (I John 3, II Corinthians 5:17-21).
It is well to ponder this topic of incarnation, and all that went with it, the whole constituting the greatest information in the world. Following our double exposition on that topic in Chs. 1 and 3 above, we find here the kernel of all communication, the acme of all information, the vehicle beyond all comparison to present it, God Himself! (as in Isaiah 40:1-8, Psalm 45, 72, Micah 5:1-3). God has not left us without information, crucial to our case, but granted with direct action beyond all DNA, contrivance or conduit, with Himself direct! It has come with selective opportunity, through ultimate liberty, to receive it; and though there are those who differentially determine to reject it, its embracive purity (Colossians 1:19ff.) and divine protection leaves no room for error. All who may be saved will be; and none will be lost who could have been saved, without distortion of love into a convenience store.
God is the opposite to self-satisfaction, and hates it in man (cf. Ezekiel 27-28, esp. 28:17). His runners carry His word, His anguish has made it noble, His desire declares its purity, His power enables its performance (Psalm 68:11)
That information is exhibited in some of its beauty in Isaiah 52.
"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who proclaims peace,
Who brings glad tiding of good thingsd,
Who proclaims salvation,
Who says to Zion,
'Your God reigns"'
Your watchmen shall lift up their voices ..."
Let us consider three major aspect of the incarnation, once only, of the only God, revealed in the only authorised written word given to men, in terms of the only name given under heaven for man's salvation, to which repentance is moved, faith is drawn and from which alone, by the triune God, eternal life is granted.
Incarnation without Army, Secretary or Embassy
Long ago, before our time was even in existence, in the annals of eternity, God was sure that He would do it, for how otherwise could Christians be those chosen before time was! (Ephesians 1:4). The plan of salvation with its ravages by spiritual savagery and deliverance by spiritual sagacity was already clear so that near His first work as Messiah, you had John the Baptist declaring,
"Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,"
as in John 1:29.
Man had slain many sacrificial lambs, the lambs of men; but now here is the Lamb of God, not an Isaac for Abraham vainly to slay, but lamb of God; and not some one lamb of God, but THE Lamb of God, not slain to take away selectively some sins, but with the amplitude of national sacrifices as in Israel, but here for the entire WORLD.
Such was the scope, but man's differentials of liberty led to differences of love, and some loving darkness, have all their desire met to the full (John 3:19). That is the difference, the differential determinant. As to the love of God Himself, it is purer than the ocean.
Christ did not come from a regally endowed hospital for His birth; but as "a root out of a dry ground" (Isaiah 53:2), He came. His Staff ? He came without military, secretarial or diplomatic support. If He was to come as man for man, then as man it would be (Hebrews 2), without privilege, except for that which being integral, His deity, nothing could remove. Even in extreme trial, in the 40 days of fasting, He thrice rejected the blandishments of the devil, seeking to play on bodily need, spiritual ambition or means of dramatic declaration, as to just who had come! (Matthew 4). Of such things as these, Mark 1 informs us, as indeed of the leper who approached Him, saying "If You are willing, You can make me clean."
With gracious simplicity Christ replied, "I am willing: be cleansed." With the simplicity of power, the majesty of assurance, lordly before life or death, sanctioning without grandeur, so did God as man, make His might and His right, His pity and His authority apparent. It was like an atomic bomb, bent on help not hindrance, healing not destruction, grace not death, kindness not killing, and the explosions of goodness did not cease. No advertisement was needed, but as in Mark 1:42ff., there was need not to amplify the news, since the fame spread amid crowds. Like dew He had come not from the heavens, but from heaven (John 17:1-3), but there was no coolness about the babe's reception.
No troops moved to counter King Herod's paranoid pretensions as he routinely massacred the boys under 2, to cover what he gathered from the wise men from the East. Instead, the baby Christ's parents were warned in a dream to go to another country temporarily, which they did (Matthew 2:13-15). So does God move in His all-encompassing way to get His work done, and this above all, His salvation effective. Expect action in His service then, in following the Great Commission, as applicable as ever to this day (Matthew 28:18-20).
Incarnation Breaking all Barriers, Records and Resistance
When the time came, after the temptation, the child of the nativity became ready for His messiahship, and what records were then set. As you watch the events swarm from His hand, mouth, ways, you find in Mark 2, in view of His introductory performances, crowds gathering about the house where He was. As always, the power abundantly sufficed for any challenge. In searching faith some let down a paralytic, whose sins Christ forgave and making a test case amid detractors, asked which was easier, to have this paralytic take up his bed and walk, or say, Your sins are forgiven. There would be no Gospel if the man had NOT then, as commanded, taken up his bed and walked! But he did (Mark 2:1-12). So was it in the grand sweep of innumerable healings, as in Luke 4:40.
However exhausted He might feel, His work was exhaustive, as love is.
This done, Christ went by the sea (Mark 2:13), and a vast crowd followed, and these He then taught. Pursuing His way, he saw the one to become the apostle Matthew, called him to follow him, though he was at that point sitting at the tax office; and this he did. There was a plenitude, an abundance, an authority, a power and a visibility of healing without limit or failure amid words with a light that shone straight to the heart. Challenged about dining with tax-collectors and sinners, He reminded them that sick people needed physicians, not well ones! Challenged on His disciples not fasting, He pointed out that for them He was as a bride-groom, but one soon to be gone. THEN they could fast. So His intimate and ultimate references gathered like a storm, for the day when all being fulfilled, it would all be manifested to the watching mind for whom facts were not to be treated irreverently.
Again challenged about His disciples picking heads of grain, permitted, but this on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23ff.), He spoke of King David's use of symbols for reality in eating the showbread in a time of distress, and pursued the point: the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. This was by no means to revoke the law (cf. Matthew 5:17ff.), but to fulfil its meaning in depth. It is not a supine, superficial law, but one from the mouth of God, Himself, filled with understanding and so to be understood.
Now it is the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6). There a man with a withered hand is in view. Religious enemies watch, to see if breaking the Sabbath, He could be accused. Amid their guileful posturing, Christ asked this: "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil; to save life or to kill." Here He looked around with anger BECAUSE HE WAS GRIEVED at their hard-heartedness. It was not personal affront, but depersonalised indifference to need, which He loathed. This was no program of labour roaring into the day of rest, but meeting a need as it arose. With the vast categories of good and evil, He dealt, beyond assault He did good, and this with reason. Once again the law was not to harass but to heal, not to kill mercy but to provide wisdom for strength and moulding for wisdom.
Amid these multiplied challenges, opportunities and meetings, insistence on these glorious principles, He was not to falter, but instead withdrawing to the seaside, He had a "great multitude" following Him, from Galilee and Judea. The news of His staggering dealings attracted more and more, to the point that He had a boat put slightly off-shore, to enable Him to teach and speak without being crushed! (Mark 3:7ff.). So many did He heal, that those near pressed about Him, seeking just to touch Him (cf. Matthew 4:23-25, 12:15). To expand the tableau, unclean spirits actually cried out, declaring Him to be the Son of God, and received rebuke from Him, for He does not co-operate with devils.
The opposition tried to discount this, by saying He was in league with the devil, but with His customary unanswerable retort, He advised them that to dismiss devils, you need to bind the power source, and driving them out from their premises is no way to work with him! To characterise the work of God as from the devil puts you in a dangerous and indeed perilous plight, He indicated, for in that realm is the unpardonable sin. To say that HE has an unclean spirit is to insult the Spirit of grace and glory. Yet in the midst of these tests of His testimony, assault on His light as if to blow up the burner, He was moved to long prayer. Then, calling those whom He wanted, He appointed them what you could call ambassadors, those whom He could send with supernatural powers over evil, sicknesses, and to preach, to act without His own physical presence with them.
With such brilliant and vast works going on in several dimensions at the same time, His mother and brothers sought to speak to Him (Mark 3:31). Indeed it was His own people who had thought Him beside Himself (Mark 3:21), or "out of his mind". Even here, where He might have made special allowances for His own kind, He had instead appointed His ambassadors for despatch. God was available, indeed the everlasting results were inscribed, so that on their return from their call to preach and heal, He told the rejoicing and fulfilled disciples concerned, to rejoice rather in this, that their names were prized in heaven.
Incarnation Staggering to the Mind, but Marvellously Kind
Even the devils recognised Him; but the world held many who would come to profit from His power, to be impressed with His speech, to be overwhelmed by His sheer generosity and unworldliness.
So in Mark 4, we learn that His concept was to use parables to breed alert awareness, to move quietly into the hearts and minds of those who, with shut eyes, might find from these realistic accounts in parables, a stirring, a stimulus, a knife to cut the bonds of blind will, that the eyes might be anointed with truth. There was no limit to His love, not a sloppy substitute for discipline and applied dynamic, but a seeking for deliverance, restoration and realism towards God, and grace towards one another, in man. Even what you hear, He declared (Mark 4:24), is to be a matter of care: that is, what you audit and even receive. One such thing, that some might receive, would be the condemnation of Christ by many, and those who said He had a devil.
Many are the slanderers not only of Christ but of others amid His servants today (cf. Matthew 5:10-11). Where their words cannot prevail, moral slanders spew from their lips, with no more concern for finding the truth than Mao had for taking life. Christ reminds them: With what judgment you judge, you will be judged. If you have His light, more will be given; if you proceed without it, your barrenness will be extended into more oppressive void.
We have tasted the overwhelming abundance of His might and wisdom, power and purpose, and this forces us, as we see Him fulfilling ALL He had to do, to identify Him with the prophetic tests provided, to open the mind to the incarnation. It is not some little nudge of nice feeling or some little book, red or otherwise, perhaps green now, about some philosophy founded on folly, taking no account of logic, concerned with details in the absence of substance. It is not some holy flash, some passing glimpse that is in view, relative to God, nor some ephemeral dream or idea or other. All that is mere wind on the water, without weight or meaning, blustering here and there.
The giving of a body for this, the Second Person of the Trinity, as in Isaiah 48:16, John 1, 5, and 8: it is the express determination of God way back in the days of King David (as revealed in the Messianic Psalm 40), and was in mind from the first (Genesis 3:15), and way before creation (as implied in Ephesians 1:4). It was a divine project, vast in meaning, enormous in preparation, detailed in duties, for the whole world in divine mercy; but it was to be received so that the image of God in man is not compromised (John 15:21-23), liberty is not defiled by force.
Thus the losers would be those who in the very face of this glorious light, would prefer darkness (John 3:19). That is the differential determinant from the lips of God, and woeful is the effort to implicate God. He has known from the first who were His, before sin defiled or could make men virtually immune to truth. But He is often on record as not deferring to mere preference on His part, but to the use of liberty in man from the foreknown heart, before it was defiled. Known to God are all His works from the foundation of the world! Love does not force, nor is it deceived; and God knows where it is received. Its results foreknown, are then duly predestinated (Romans 8:30).
How startling it is, and how worth pondering as yet another Christmas season approaches. God the Sender sent God the sent, as a man sends out His speech, but this His whole word, into a babe so that it might grow amid human kind, and bearing all the stress and troubles, yet exhibit the life of godliness without qualification and the truth without twist, to all, that He might take the twistiness, the follies of man on Himself as a sacrifice to satisfy justice, that love might relish the mercy that follows. What a glory that One should, having made man, become One to deliver some and offer to the uttermost, to all, just the same. You cannot get to there from here, goes the saying; and in this case, you cannot get to hell because of a shortage of love in God, for it knows no bounds; but only because of a particular departure, known to God, from the light supplied. It is blameworthy to blame God, or name God, for any omission of any from heaven, since He Himself has gone to infinite pains to provide enough for all, sufficient for any, with appeal and assurance (John 3:15-19, Colossians 1:19ff.).
If you trust God, trust Him here. If you do not trust Him who made you, how can you trust yourself, so made! Trust Him not as a philanderer, talking of love, but as one for whom humility was a lively option, not a mouthed cheat; for whom suffering was a choice, not a necessity; one who came to know men as being God as man, and to die for our race, as in the very body, yet without sin, which we ourselves inhabit.
The incarnation is shown simply in II Timothy 1:10: God "has now been revealed by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." ONLY GOD is Saviour (Isaiah 43:10-11), and there is no other name but that of Christ Jesus, given among men, even under heaven, but His for this purpose (Acts 4:12). The Father sends, the Son is sent, sin is spattered, life is shattered in sacrifice, but purity is published in the resurrection of this self-same Christ, with His very body buried, now arisen. Those who are His, as of mankind, are resurrected individually and personally as covered by His own act, to be restored as He was; and even then, as seen in the Gospels, He was not yet glorified.
Rejoice in His descent, dynamic, overflowing power, overwhelming testimony, that it is God whom you know, you Christians, and with eagerness await not just Christmas, symbol of His coming first, but the imminence of His return. If any does not know Christ, complete the circuit of love by rejecting rejection, and receiving the reject, the Redeemer, who could not have done more, and did what He did, surpassingly well, as only God can.