To know God in His incarnation is to talk about knowing Him as God who came down as man and lived among us. John writes about the Word becoming flesh and adds, “…we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
The question that needs to be asked is what is the glory they saw? A careful study of the New testament leads us to understand that ‘they saw His glory’ at three levels.
1. They saw the glory of God as Man. We all understand this truth and celebrate it every year during the month of December. But we have sentimentalised His birth and death so much that the essential lesson of incarnation is lost. In fact the redemptive purpose of incarnation and the subsequent evangelism and missions have taken away our focus from the broader purpose of incarnation. And of course the commercialising of it as a festival is another aspect of it that saps it of its true significance. This is to our own loss.
J.I. Packer writes, “God became a man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed, and changed and taught to talk like any other child. And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think of it the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is as fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation”
But what is the truth of the incarnation? And what are its implications for us apart from redemption through the atoning death of Christ upon the cross? What is the glory of God as revealed in His incarnation?
They saw the glory of God as man, The divine as human. The Infinite God as finite man. The Great one as simple. God who is Spirit has now come in a body. The One who is immortal has now come into that which is mortal. The rich One has come as poor. The invincible One made himself vulnerable. The One who is Almighty has made himself weak.
Does it not sound incredulous? Can we wrap our minds around those staggering thoughts? Truly ‘nothing in fiction is as fantastic’. Even the angels long to look into what God is up to with becoming man.
Oh, I wish I could marshal the hosts of heaven to sing,“O Lord, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth, You have set Your glory above the heavens!” Or let Apostle Paul use his pen to describe in his own cryptic way, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh…”
The truth is that this is the essential message of incarnation. In a world where everyone one wants to go higher, grow bigger, get richer, become larger, incarnation teaches us that small is beautiful, to be weak is to be strong, and to be poor is to be rich. While the world chooses the upward trajectory of living, Christ in His incarnation preferred the downward trajectory. Frankly, the Bible does not promote smallness or weakness or poverty as virtues in themselves. But that the small, the weak and the poor find it easier to trust in God. And therefore they are greater, bigger, stronger and richer in the Kingdom of God.
Is it any wonder that God chooses the weak and the foolish and the last shall be first and the first last in His Kingdom?
Friends, the desire and the drive to get richer, bigger and greater is from Babel and Babylon, not from Bethlehem! This is the meaning of knowing God in his incarnation. And this is the only way we can counter modernity and the lifestyles it fosters.
You cannot adopt lifestyles whose roots are in capitalism and claim to be the child of God! The call, therefore is to be imitators of God as His children.
2. They saw the glory of man as Man, in Christ.
I do not tire to say that according to the Bible, no man ever lived as man was meant to live. Christ is the only one to ever live as man was meant to live. ‘All have sinned and have fallen short of God’s glory’, says the Bible. Therefore the true glory of man can be seen in Christ alone. He was the only one who pleased God totally.
Jesus teaches us what it means to love God alone and to live by trusting and obeying Him always. He said that he can do nothing of himself, except what he sees the Father do. He affirmed that his food was to do the will of the Father. He claimed that he always pleased his Father and that the Father never left him alone. No man who ever graced this earth said such words. The Father was so pleased with Jesus that He opened the heavens and affirmed him. And Jesus lived in quietness and confidence in the shadow of the Father’s assurance and approval. He did not need any man or angel to affirm him. Nor did he seek anybody’s testimony of him. He did not seek the identities of the world nor did he do or work to find his security in anything of this world.
The scribes, Pharisees and the teachers of the law were left dumbfounded on several occasions by not only the depth of his understanding of the law, of life and righteousness but the ease with which he talked and lived suggested that it was his natural habitat. Many times both the people and the leaders marvelled at his sense of authority and confidence when he spoke and taught about God and the law. You do not find in Jesus any sense of insecurity either with regard to his physical needs or about life even when he stood before Pilate. He suffered no crisis of identity when he moved with the socially unacceptable nor when he bent down to wash the feet of his disciples. He had no throne, no crown no armies yet he ruled in life as a true king.
In the demonstration of His love, compassion and service there are few peers in the history of man. He was as involved with life as he was detached from its cares and pleasures. He was as engaged with the needs, the pains and sorrows of others as he was disengaged from their opinions and pursuits. Jesus was hardly concerned about His image or His looks. Isaiah in His prophecy probably gives us a glimpse into His physical appearance, “He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.”(Isaiah 53:2).
He accepted and affirmed the human, but he was not humanistic. He accepted and affirmed the material but he was not materialistic. He accepted and affirmed the physical and the temporal yet he was not secular. He overcame the physical often with the spiritual. He did not let the physical constrain or control him.
He did not treat the people around him with condescending disdain. He did not use power language nor power demeanour to show his superiority. He did not try to dominate or control people by word or by actions. If ever there was a human who could do it, it was him. Yet he did not. We miss all this when we read the gospels because we romanticised his life and look only at the sentimental aspects of it.
At the end he gave himself to the Father for us, willingly, totally and unhesitatingly.
Friends this is how man was meant to live. This is how you and I are meant to live. This is the glory of man! Oh, I wish I had a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise! You know, actually I will, when I see Him in His glory.
In fact we do not need a thousand tongues to sing his praise nor a thousand lives but just one life to live as he lived.
If you wish to know what it means to live agape lifestyle, look at Jesus. He is the prototype of it. We can only be his imitators. Come let us follow him and live as he lived. This is the best way we honour or worship him. The call, therefore is to be imitators of God, as His dear children.
3. John was also talking about seeing the continuing glory of God in the Church, His Body.
What is the Church? If our answer is, it is the body of Christ. Then the next question we must answer is, how should the church be? The simplest answer is, the church must be as Christ was when he was in the body. Period.
But down through centuries the answer to that question has taken so many forms and shapes that today church is a grotesque deformity. When I think of it my heart is filled with extreme grief and at the same time utmost anger at what we have done to and with the church. How sad, how blind, how deaf and how foolish we are?
We are the body of Christ when we live the way Christ lived, in the human body while on earth. Instead we tend to think that church is a system or a service or a programme or a meeting or a gathering. And then we began to call ourselves with different tags, often hilarious – Anglican, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Charismatic or Brethren. Or names taken from Old testament as Hebron, Zion, Carmel or from the New Testament as Grace Church, Hope Church, Agape church and some very ingenious ones from the Bible as Burning bush church or Pillar of Fire church, so on and so forth.
When places, or programmes or people who founded it take precedence over the Person of Christ then you can be sure my friend, that the Holy Spirit of God is no where near such groups. God has not given us a programme to conduct nor an order of service to follow. Neither Christ nor Paul taught any of it. If anyone thinks that their pattern is the right one then they know nothing about the body of Christ nor the New Testament. It doesn’t matter how great a man of God the founder was or how big or large the building or the gathering went on to become, if they have not taught or teach people how to live as Christ lived then I am afraid, they have failed.
But since we began to focus on gathering therefore, we began to focus on the programme or the service that is conducted when we gather. And since we need a place to gather we began to spend millions on buildings. Then we spend millions on maintaining them. We then spend millions more on court cases to guard them. Instead, if the same drive and effort were put into living and teaching people to live as Christ lived, today we would be a ‘city set upon a hill’.
If you do not wish to accept what I say and wish to wait until you hear ‘I do not know you. Depart from me’, I cannot help it, my friend! I will only cry unto God that He will open our eyes to see.
In fact, church does meet and gathers but let it be firmly fixed in our brains that we do not represent Christ as his body by gathering or meeting. We represent him as his body by living as he lived. In this, Christ is our pattern for living. There is no other. Only then we are his body and only then we shall have the glory and the fullness of God dwell among us. Only then does the gospel become the gospel to the world. Only then we shall be his true witnesses. And only then, ‘the manifold wisdom of God will be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord’
But the irony is, none of us is worthy or able to live as Christ lived. It is he who wishes to live in us and reproduce himself in and through us by his Spirit who dwells in us. As we yield to his working in our lives to subdue all things in us to himself then we shall see God ‘able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us’ in transforming us to live as Christ lived.
“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh…” God wills to manifest himself in the flesh again through us. Hence Christ says, “…a body have you prepared for me”… a body in which he reveals his glory by living in and through them! When the church, which is the body of Christ lets him live through them, then the ‘earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.’
The call therefore, is to be imitators of God. Come, let us follow him. Let us let him work in us with his power to subdue us, to fill us and to reproduce himself in us. And then, “… to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”