Most Christians know that the incarnation of Jesus is a big deal…for some reason. Most know that he came to show us how to love others. Most know that he came to die for our sins. But our understanding of the significance of Jesus’ life and ministry tends to fade out quickly beyond his compassion & crucifixion and our corresponding forgiveness.
But biblically speaking, Jesus didn’t step out of heaven just to get himself crucified so we could all go back to heaven. During his earthly ministry, Jesus proclaimed and manifested good news that went far beyond “Be forgiven. Be good. Be with me when you’re dead.”
As you might guess based on the amount of Scripture before and after the gospels, Jesus became human to enter into a story that began long before his incarnation. Much had already transpired. Much needed to be done. Much was in store for humanity and all of creation. So when the time was just right…
the Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.
John 1:14 (MSG)
To understand the significance of the incarnation, let’s go back a few years…
The Beginning. Beyond the evolution debate and Sunday school lessons for the kiddos, there is a tendency in church life to move past Genesis 1-2 without much thought. But what if we slowed down and actually paid attention to what was happening in Creation? What was God setting in motion? What were God’s original intentions for humanity? And most pointedly:
If Jesus is the REDEEMER, what scenario is he redeeming?
God’s Purposes for Humanity. According to Genesis 1-2, God’s creative intentions for human life included three intertwined elements:
- The blessing of God. On the heels of their creation, God’s first act was to bless humanity (Gen. 1:28). He intended humanity to live as a blessed people before him. This blessing defined God’s original context for humanity.
- The knowledge of God. Humanity was also created to live in the knowledge of God. The fullness of this divine intention does not emerge in the creation narrative until near its end. Genesis 3:8-10 reveals that people knew God in a manner hard for us to imagine: Adam and Eve recognized the sound of God walking in the garden with them and (it seems) audibly heard God calling to them. God’s intention was never to be separated from his people. His plan was to dwell with humanity amidst a whole creation without the veil that now lies between the heavenly and earthly realms of creation.
- The reign of God. God chose to reign over his creation through his governors – men & women. As his image-bearers, they would reflect his character and beauty throughout creation as they governed it on his behalf (Genesis 1:26-27). Through this divine-human cooperative effort, all creation was to continue to grow and develop in a state of God’s blessing (Genesis 1:28-30).
The Fall. When humanity rebelled against God’s order and purposes for creation, the fallout was catastrophic. We colluded in the dominion of evil. All creation became subject to the consequences of our selfishness & rebellion. God’s blessed creation was marred by the curse of sin and evil. The knowledge of God faded. A veil came to separate the heavenly and earthly realms of creation. And people forgot what it was like to walk with God.
The Son of Man. It was into this dark scene that Jesus came. Into God’s story. Into the midst of fallen humanity. Into the midst of a broken creation. The Redeemer came. The Son of Man moved into the neighborhood.
For God’s story to get back on track, humanity needed redemption. We rebelled. We failed. But Jesus didn’t. In him, we (humanity) were faithful to God’s creative intentions. As the Son of Man, Jesus stepped into God’s story to REPRESENT and REDEEM humanity:
- The blessing of God. Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, all creation has been blessed and presses forward on a trajectory toward complete restoration and renewal.
- The knowledge of God. In Jesus, God was revealed and made known (John 14:9 & Colossians 1:19).
- The reign of God. Jesus submitted himself to the purposes and reign of the Father – and became the King of kings and Lord of lords (Philippians 2:5-11).
Jesus’ humanity was not lost on the New Testament authors. They were highly aware of God’s story and Jesus’ place within it. For example, notice how the following passages renew the human story in and through Jesus:
- Temptation (Matthew 4 & Luke 4). The ministry of Jesus is inaugurated in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) by Jesus’ baptism and subsequent temptation. But unlike Adam and Eve, who succumbed to temptation, Jesus remained faithfully submitted to God. The human story was renewed.
- The Garden (John 18-20). Near the end of his gospel, John carefully echoes the Creation narrative just as God’s story turned from disaster to the dawning of the New Creation. The ultimate culmination of sin and evil at the cross began as Jesus and his disciples entered THE GARDEN (John 18:1). Then, as the New Creation dawned in Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus was mistaken to be the GARDENER (John 20:15). So, John subtly reminds us – Creation fell at the hands of humanity in the garden. And in another garden, it was redeemed.
- “like God” (Philippians 2:5-11). Where Adam rebelled and grasped at the possibility to be like God, Jesus faithfully submitted himself and laid down his life.
- Adam (Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22). In two of the most direct Jesus/Adam comparisons, Paul explicitly names Jesus as a “new” Adam. Whereas Adam set humanity on a trajectory of sin and death, through Jesus came righteousness, resurrection, and renewal.
Humanity was created with a central role in Creation. After the fall, we needed redeemed if God’s story was to get back on track. So the Redeemer came as the Son of Man. As a man, Jesus faithfully represented humanity. Through him, God’s people look forward to the fullness of our own redemption when Jesus returns and we take our places under him: sharing God’s blessing and likeness everywhere, living in the unabated knowledge of God, and reigning over the New Creation.
(Excerpt from Reimagining Discipleship)