Holy Spirit in the Incarnation
As the Israelite of old opened his tent in the early morning, he saw the manna, the promised bread from Heaven, lying on the desert. “When the dew…was gone up, behold. upon the face of the wilderness…a small round thing as small as the hoar frost on the ground” (Ex. 16: 13-14). The dew was thus the vehicle by which the manna was conveyed to earth and preserved from immediate contact with the earth. When the dew was gone, the manna was seen. So in bringing to a heart-hungry world the Bread of Life, the Holy Spirit was the sole agency in conveying the great Gift, and in preserving Him from any defiling contacts with the human instrument used by the Spirit.
While needful details about Christ’s birth are given, yet one is impressed by the dignity of the divine reticence. The wondrous event is traced to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, both for the reassurance of Joseph, and for the information of Mary. The natural conclusions of Joseph are not ignored, but the Angel of the Lord appears opportunely to withhold him from his design of putting away Mary, his espoused wife. All doubts and fears are swept away by the Angel’s message, “Joseph … fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 1:20-25). Then follows the inspired explanation of this unprecedented conception, “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, “Behold a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” Thus angelic and prophetic testimony declare that Mary’s child is none other than God made manifest in flesh.
The visit of the Angel, Gabriel, to Mary was of necessity one of explanation and cheer. Her problem too was solved, and her heart gladdened as the wonder and character of the predicted birth was disclosed. To her, His name, His greatness, His deity, and His kingship were announced, but it still remained to trace the origin of this unique and blessed happening. Mary herself was swift to sense this and her modest but honest inquiry elicited the Angel’s revealing message: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Lk. 1:27-35). This was undoubtedly supernatural; this was divine. Mary was to be God’s chosen vessel for the bringing of His Son into union with mankind. Heaven’s own interpretation of the event points to this child as unique in conception and character. “That holy thing” indicates the sinlessness of His nature, while “He shall be called the Son of God” marks Him as the eternal and only begotten Son of the Father. The inescapable logic of the passage is that the sovereign Spirit preserved the Holy Child from all taint of Mary’s sin.
Had this been a completely natural birth, Jesus would have been born out of wedlock, born in sin, possessed of a nature like Mary’s, capable of sin, incapable of being our Saviour, needing salvation Himself. How vitally important therefore is the information which Gabriel brought regarding the agency in this great event, the alternative to which is too blasphemous to be entertained for a moment by any true lover of the Lord Jesus Christ, or any spiritually intelligent reader of the Word of God.
The implications of this event are also important and precious. The incarnation was love’s only plan. To reach its objective, love had to come right where we were, lying broken and dying by reason of sin, on the highway of time. So, “when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). Identification with the human race by One qualified to atone for its guilt was the only answer to our tragic plight. No other scheme could have met man in his sin and raised him, cleansed and justified, to realms of glory. “A body hast Thou prepared Me” (Heb. 10:15) are the words with which He leaves the glory and we see the grand intention in the words of Hebrews 10:10 — “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all.” Here is the perfect Man Who at one and the same time can meet the sinner’s need and all the claims of God.
The incarnation was love’s revealing plan. What a display it was of all that lay in the heart of God! The magnificence of creation had revealed His arm, but only His Son could reveal all His heart. In the special language of love, the Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us (John 1:14). In the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s interpretation of Himself is complete. “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him” (John 1:18). All the qualities demanded in Deity are expressly seen in our Lord Jesus Christ: He is full of grace and truth; His wisdom is sublime; His purity, unsullied; His peace and equanimity, unbroken; His love and compassion, a depthless sea! He can and does claim that “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9).
The incarnation was love’s inclusive plan. Via Bethlehem and Calvary, it reaches the very throne of God. Love’s plan includes not only the miracle of His presence as the Son of Man, and the value of His presentation of His body as a sacrifice for sin, but also the abiding benefits of His session at the right hand of God. The life He laid down, He took up again, and in that same body in which he sojourned and sacrificed, He appeared to the disciples on the resurrection day. “Handle Me and see,” He said, “for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have” (Lk. 24:39). In that body, He returned to Heaven to be for them all that saved sinners need before God and man. The offices He fulfils are essentially His by virtue of the humanity He assumed when by the power of the Spirit He entered into union with the human race. It is this that makes His representation valid; His High Priestly work, intimate and sympathetic; His advocacy, effectual and real (Heb. 4: 14-15; 6:20; 1 John 2:1).
Tests of Christian reality appear in this connection in the New Testament, and in days of Christ-dishonouring rationalism, these need to be restated. No one can be a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ who has erroneous views about His tabernacling in the flesh. “Hereby know ye the spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God” (1 John 4:1-3). It is essential, therefore, to saving faith to accept first of all Christ’s miraculous assumption of humanity.
The second phase of the Spirit’s work in the incarnation was introduced at Christ’s baptism at Jordan. As He emerged from the baptismal plunge, the heavens were opened to Him and the Spirit of God descended and abode upon Him. The immediate accompaniments of this enduement became apparent. Objectively, John had indisputable evidence of His identity. He declared, “I saw and bare record that this is the Son of God” (John 1:31-34). Subjectively, the Saviour abandoned Himself to the sway and power of the Spirit. Thus Jesus took His place as Jehovah’s perfect Servant, (Isa. 42:1-4), and in the unction of the Spirit, set out upon that ministry which will culminate in the complete glorification of the Father. He was filled by the Spirit as He was led by the Spirit to be tempted of Satan. He met the enemy having no armoury but what is available to every Christian — faith in God, the Word of God, and the power of the Spirit of God. He returned from the temptations “in the power of the Spirit,” and thus victorious, as the Spirit-filled Man, Christ Jesus entered the synagogue of Capernaum and publicly appropriated the language and program of God’s Anointed One — the Christ. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor: He hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-21). As He concluded Isaiah’s portrait of Messiah’s mission, He said, “This day is this Scripture fulfilled in our ears.” All through that life of amazing miracle, of remarkable utterances, and of perfect obedience, we can trace the holy oil of Jordan. “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: Who went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38). This attitude of dependence upon, and co-operation with, the Spirit is discernible in Christ’s last great act of mediation for sinful man, for we read that He “through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God” (Heb. 9:14). In some undefined and mystical way, the Holy Spirit associates with the presentation to God of that eternally acceptable and efficacious sacrifice.
May the same Spirit of Christ so possess us as to reproduce in measure the walk of purity and obedience and the work of love with power which so adorned the life and labours of our Lord Jesus Christ.