Cur Deus Homo: Part 5
Christopher J Wiles
writer | speaker | servant
Cur Deus Homo? Why the God-man?
Thus far we have reflected on the nature of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. In this final post, we turn our attention to the life offered us by the child of the manger, a child who would later grow to a man who, in contrast to the religious hypocrites of his age, Christ came “that [we] may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
The incarnation is finally a life-giving act of God – both in the sense of giving new, spiritual life as well as showing us how this life is meant to be lived.
BORN AGAIN FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME
“No one can see the Kingdom of God,” says Jesus “unless he is born again.” The word here in John’s gospel is ambiguous – does Jesus mean born again or born from above? Given John’s tendency toward wordplay, it likely means both.
The incarnation offers us this new life. How does Christ taking flesh earn us this new life?
The answer is found in the term ransom.
Both Matthew and Mark record this term, from the Greek lutroo, that Christ did “not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, par.).
Ransom theory has been widely misunderstood, and therefore often ignored. Granted, we cannot press the metaphor so far as to suggest that there is someone to whom the ransom was paid (many early fathers, most prominently Origen, suggested that it was Satan). But we may nonetheless affirm the significance of this term.
Ransom is a pregnant word, one that gives birth to the related ideas of bondage and cost. Man indeed lives under a slavery all his own and the cost of deliverance, as Anselem articulated, is more than can be bought, bartered or paid for on his own.
Therefore it took the Son of God to step into human affairs, emptying Himself as a servant so that man might experience the liberation afforded by the payment of this price.
Him for us; this is central to the ransom idea of atonement.
Those who believe in what Christ has accomplished on the cross and in His physical resurrection can indeed count on their acceptance into God’s kingdom, and be grateful for one who took on human flesh so that He might pay the purchase price.
And so then the question becomes what to do with this transformed life. The answer can fill (and historically has filled) entire libraries. I suggest two key elements that the incarnation teaches us: community and mission.
(1) Community: “In my Father’s house are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). This passage has usually been wrongly interpreted as referring to Heaven. But in John’s gospel, “my Father’s house” refers to Christ’s body (cf. John 2). The incarnation, as we saw, made possible Christ’s physical death, and this death prepares a place for us within His body – a metaphor that Paul would use to refer to the church.
The incarnation uniquely provides us a place within a larger community, purchased with His blood. This is why at the Last Supper Luke’s gospel associates “the New Covenant” with the blood of Christ. Sacrifice has led us into a new relationship with God and our neighbor (cf. Eph 2), and grants us the privilege of being God’s children in His Kingdom program (cf. 1 John 3).
(2) Mission: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). N.T. Wright suggests that much of our spiritual lives should be spent in contemplation of the words “as” and “so.”
We may rightly incarnate God’s truth into our world in the same manner that Christ has so humbly demonstrated in His life. If you recall, this was why Paul situated the “kenosis” passage in the context of Christian humility (cf. Phil 2). Our lives are to take on an incarnational quality, representing Christ as His ambassadors to our communities, our workplaces and to the ends of the earth.
I pray that this series has been both informative and inspirational. There is, as I mentioned, a great deal more to say, and perhaps, if I’m still at this in a year, these themes will find fuller expression in yet another series.
Next week we will begin a slightly different series on the incarnation, this time as it has been communicated through the arts.
For now I wish you the best for this Advent season, and that you grow in your understanding of what it means to celebrate Immanuel, God with us. May He become more vividly real to you in all the days ahead.
Christopher J Wiles
writer | speaker | servant
Chris is a writer and speaker from the Charlottesville area. He regularly serves as a research writer for Docent Research Group in addition to doing some guest speaking.