The God Who Became Dust
Why the Incarnation matters much more than you think.
Jesus had to come in the flesh so he could die on the cross. He also needed the experience of walking in our shoes, to be tempted, to be tried, so that he could be our advocate.
But we treat the Incarnation as if it were one of the previews shown before a movie. Something you could take or leave, and certainly necessary for the economics of movie-making to make sense, but not relevant to the main show. At the same time, the Incarnation doesn’t make as much intuitive sense as the crucifixion and the Resurrection. Like looking directly at the sun, we avert our gaze before we comprehend too many details.
This double whammy of indifference and intimidation pushes the Incarnation to the back of our minds. We give mental assent to its existence, but there are more important things to worry about. More fruitful things to focus on.
Yet the Incarnation is a wonder and a miracle that will always remain veiled in some semblance of mystery. That in the man named Jesus, the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. That God took on the likeness of sinful flesh.
While we will never understand everything about it on this side of heaven, we can understand some things about it. And when we do, we’ll discover that the Incarnation still has relevance, meaning, and important implications for life on this earth.
Dusting off Some Analogies
When talking about the Incarnation, many analogies are brought forth. It was like a prince who gave up his throne to become a common servant for his people. Maybe a prince who even died for his people. But that’s not really doing justice to His transcendence.
Let’s try to get a little closer.
Someone has put it this way. Let’s say you’re walking along, and some kid is shining a magnifying glass at an anthill, burning ants as they come out with a focused flash of brilliance.
This bothers you. In fact, it shakes you to your very soul. And so you decide to become an ant, so you can tell the other ants to stop coming out of the hill until the beam of death stops its reign of terror. In the process, you yourself are burned and die. You give your life for this anthill.
Would you ever think about doing something like that? Could you ever love ants that much? It seems insane.
But even that doesn’t do the truth justice. The gulf of separation between us and God is so much greater than the difference between us and an ant.
Let’s try another one.
Imagine you are a master artist who works in clay. You have made and crafted all sorts of pots and bowls of varying sizes and detail—some for honorable use, some for not-so-honorable use. Everyone adores you for your work and artistry.
But one by one, they start to crack. For some reason, the only way to stop this from happening is to become a clay pot yourself and then be shattered. Would you give up your humanity and die for these inanimate pots made of dirt and ashes? You could always just make more of them, right?
But then this, too, fails to do the truth justice. God is so much higher than us, his creations, than we are to our own sub-creations. When it comes down to it, we are simply dust, with a close affinity to the clay pot.
The Triune God is eternal, the alpha and omega, the great I AM, He who always has been, and always will be, everlasting and never changing, the very source of the fabric of reality as we know it.
A God who spoke the worlds into existence, laid the foundations of the earth, and placed the barriers of the sea. A God who knows the number of hairs on your head, and everyone’s head, who knows when every sparrow falls from the sky, when every blade of grass withers. A God who sustains us through every breath and with every heartbeat, who holds together every atom that makes up your body, your skin, your blood, your mind, with nothing but His words.
This God stepped down into history, into time, and became dust.
This God, who is the rock and anchor of all time and reality, became a vapor. This unchanging God was born of a woman and began to grow older. This God outside of time, to whom one day is a thousand years, and a thousand years like a day, was born on earth and felt. Every. Crawling. Second. This everlasting God was born into a body that was pierced and torn.
This eternal God who...died.
How do you come up with an analogy for that? How do you truly fathom the weight of the significance?
The Surprise of Humanity
And just as Jesus was fully God, he was also fully man. When he was a baby, he soiled his diaper. God in the flesh, his backside being wiped by his mother because he couldn’t control his bowels. Just like all babies that age.
When he got older, I don’t doubt that he stubbed his toe or whacked his thumb with a hammer. We see hints of these human moments in Mark 6:48-50:
And he (Jesus) saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
Did you catch that? Jesus intended to pass by the boat unnoticed, but he failed in what he intended to do.
In the middle of walking on water, displaying total control of the elements, a glimpse of the divine, Jesus has a very human moment. The God who formed the very waves He walked on couldn’t sneak past his friends in the night. And then, in Matthew 8:10, the God who knows all things is taken by surprise when confronted with the centurion's faith, a faith that had not been found in all of Israel.
This humanity of God, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, has always been controversial, both during the times of the early church and beyond, and even into the modern-day. People seem to have a natural aversion to spiritual things being put in earthen vessels or holy things being put in common containers. Gnosticism was a problem then, and it is still a problem now.
The modern world does not want a god in the flesh because the modern world claims to be god over the flesh, declaring from their cathedral that man is woman and woman is man.
A God who comes down to wallow in filth with the rest of us destroys such pretensions of modern man. It is not a private act. It makes a statement that echoes throughout all of history and continues, unabated, into the future.
A god who only exists in someone’s head is no god at all. But a God who leaves literal footprints in the sands of a desert is a God who can’t be ignored. You can try to kill him (which is what happened).
But you can’t ignore him.
This is one reason why attacks on the historical Jesus have always been in vogue, in one form or another. Even the enemies of the cross understand that the Incarnation is important. It is not the Gospel itself, but it is the foundation. Without it, our hope could never be built on the rock of Jesus of Nazareth.
The Foundation of Hope
Laying a foundation requires the builder to keep in mind what is coming. If you wanted to build a quaint little cottage, it wouldn’t do any good to lay the foundation for a gas station. It is important work that requires care, attention, and planning. It is a big deal. In some cases, laying the foundation changes the entire landscape and provides a sign of what is coming.
And this is certainly the case with the Incarnation. It was a big deal.
Even taken by itself, it changed the structure of the cosmos forever. Because of this, it should be no surprise that it fulfilled one of the chief hopes of Israel and one of the chief desires of God himself.
After the consecration of Aaron and his sons and the establishment of the priesthood that would minister at the tabernacle, we get a summary of the reason all of this is going on. In Exodus 29:45-46, the LORD says:
I will dwell among the sons of Israel and will be their God. They shall know that I am the LORD their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I might dwell among them; I am the LORD their God.
In Ezekiel 37, we get the magnificent vision of the Valley of Dry bones, where bone connects to bone, flesh regrows, and the breath of life is breathed anew onto the congregation. This is a vivid picture of Israel’s return from exile and the future Resurrection. The chapter continues talking about the reunification of Judah and Israel and the re-establishment of the Davidic kingship over one, united nation.
And in 37:26-28, we get the grand climax, the whole reason for these things taking place:
I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. And the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever.
Leviticus 26 outlines blessings for obedience to the Law: abundant harvest, safe and secure dwelling, military victory, and more.
And then, in 26:11-12, the prime blessing is stated. The blessing that should be desired above all else. The blessing around which all other blessings orbit. The LORD says:
I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.
God has always desired to dwell with his people. To walk with his people. He was there in the beginning walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and not just walking but actively calling out to Adam and Eve, “Where are you?”
He has never stopped calling His people to Himself.
One of the whole points of the tabernacle and the temple was to create an environment where a holy God could again come down and dwell among His people (albeit behind a thick veil and clouds of darkness.)
This was the hope of Israel. This was the desire of God. Both hope and desire combine in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In John 1:14:
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
The word for “dwelt” literally means “tabernacled.” The Word become flesh and tabernacled among us. The very thing Israel wanted and it finally, truly happened. They could behold the glory of God with unveiled face, in the cool of the day or the heat of the night.
Worship and rejoicing are the only two proper responses. Which is exactly what happened when both the shepherds and the magi saw the newborn king.
A Man on the Throne
The Incarnation also has consequences that reach into eternity. When combined with the Resurrection, the nature of reality has been forever changed, for a man now sits at the right hand of God, reigning on high. It is not simply a new weaving with warp and woof spun from fabric never discovered before. The whole loom has been destroyed and remade into something we can’t yet comprehend, weaving impossible threads that stretch into a distance we can’t yet see.
But we get hints.
Hebrews 1:1-14 goes through a mini-survey of the Old Testament to begin providing a shape of this new reality. Verse 3-4 gives us the current state of things.
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
Verse 14 is a stout one. What are angels? Now that Jesus is on his throne, what are those monstrous, powerful creatures that caused fear and dread in whoever beheld them? What are we supposed to make of these creatures that are so strong and beyond our comprehension that just one could kill 100,000 men in the blink of an eye?
Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?
Going into the first few verses of Chapter 2, the Hebrew author says therefore or for this reason and continues on. The general flow is:
If the word of angels was inalterable and had power to convict, how much more so the word of the Son?
Jesus is over the angels, and so his testimony is greater.
But the whole argument is telling us the new hierarchy of the cosmos, ending by telling us that angels now serve us. A man now sits on the throne in heaven, ruling with all authority, even over the angels.
This inverts the old order of creation. We used to rely on the word of angels, but now we rely on something else. The author of Hebrews continues this logic through chapter 2 by quoting Psalm 8. Verses 6-9:
What is man, that You are mindful of him?
Or the son of man, that You are concerned about him?
You have made him for a little while lower than the angels;
You have crowned him with glory and honor,
And have appointed him over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things in subjection under his feet.
For a little while, man was lower than the angels. Even Jesus, by virtue of being a man, was made lower than the angels. But he has now been exalted. A man, Jesus of Nazareth, has been exalted above the angels.
And because Christians are united with this King through baptism and by the Spirit, we are part of his body. In a very real way, Christians share in this man’s rule and exaltation.
This changes everything.
It sets to rights something that was broken but then repairs it in a form that is more glorious and beautiful than the original.
Man was always meant to rule God’s creation but he forfeited his position when he sinned and fell. Adam was placed in the Garden to keep and guard it and instead, he ends up being kicked out. This tragedy of exile had an additional twist of the knife delivered in the form of a literal dancing sword wielded by the Garden’s new protector.
An angel had to take over the job that Adam had failed to do and now man was a potential invader.
We also get hints of the position of angels in the old creation at the beginning of Job. After learning that Job is a blameless and upright man, fearing God and shunning evil, we are presented with the heavenly court, where the Sons of God come to present themselves.
Given what we have just learned about Job, we might expect him to be among them, to be able to come before God’s presence. But no. Instead, we see Satan. We see the enemy among the Sons of God.
A fallen angel has more access to God than a righteous man. Job, no matter his character, is not considered one of the Sons of God. Man is still fallen. The hierarchy of creation had not been remade. Man, even a man as righteous as Job, remains in exile and any glimpses he had would be through a dark, colluded window.
Job is still a potential invader. He does not belong. But God had already begun to brew the elixir that would heal and remake the world.
With the tabernacle and the temple, God gave man back some of his guardian responsibilities, entering into the presence of God. But there were heavy restrictions and stipulations, lots of hoops (some of them on fire) to jump through, and constant reminders about the holiness of God and the sinfulness of Man.
Even then, man still felt like an invader. And even then, the glory eventually departed. But God had planned something new and better than the temple.
Now, because of Jesus, things have changed. Jesus has been granted full access to the true, heavenly tabernacle (Heb. 9:11-12). We no longer need angels as tutors. We no longer need them as mediators of His word. God now speaks through the man Jesus. Man had been relegated to peeking around the corner to catch a glimpse, to hear a mere whisper, of what was going on at the adult table.
Now, a man rules over that same table.
The Royal Household
The Hebrew author continues to convince us further of how things have changed for the better. After Psalm 8 is quoted, he writes in Hebrews 2:10-12:
For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying,
“I will proclaim Your name to My brethren,
In the midst of the congregation I will sing Your praise.”
Quoting Psalm 22, Jesus calls us brethren. He shares our flesh and blood. Those who are in Christ are from the same Father as Christ.
This answers a potential question from earlier. Why do we now have angels ministering on our behalf?
Because we are now adopted into the royal household. We now have the full rights of sonship, which includes the use of the household servants, who used to rule over us as guardians and managers.
Galatians 4 follows similar thinking.
And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
Heirs of what? Eternal life, surely, but even more than that.
In 1 Corinthians 3:21-23, we are told what belongs to us, because of our elder brother Jesus.
So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.
Heirs of what? Well, heirs of everything.
Forever and ever, amen
But the Hebrew author isn’t done explaining this new hierarchy of creation yet. The Incarnation doesn’t just allow Jesus to be our elder brother, but it also qualifies him to be our High Priest. Hebrews 2:17:
Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
And quoting Psalm 110, Hebrews 5:6:
“You are a priest forever,
after the order of Melchizedek.”
Forever a priest. Forever a brother. Forever a man.
The Incarnation was not a time when God the Son put on a new uniform and then took it off after the game was over. His humanity wasn’t a suit he put on just for a special occasion. He was, and is, fully a man. Jesus serves as our High Priest before the Father, as our advocate before the Father.
If he is not a man, there is no way he could be our representative. If he is not a man, there is no way he could be our High Priest forever. If he is not a man, he could no longer call us his brethren. And if he cannot call us his brethren, we do not stand to inherit as fellow sons of the household of God.
Without the Incarnation, we would still be slaves. In Acts chapter 1, Jesus ascended into heaven and the angels told the apostles that he would return in like manner. He ascended in glory as the Son of Man. He will return in glory as the Son of Man.
Jesus is still referred to, present tense, as a man in Acts 17:31:
because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.
None of this is incidental. None of this is part of the sideshow of the glories of God. It is something to be thankful for every single day.
And like all truths about God, the Incarnation should not just bring stoic mental assent, a nod in affirmation as a gentleman nods in approval to a job well done. The Incarnation should be a spur for our own gratitude to be incarnated and spilled out of our fingertips.
Beyond Theological Castlebuilding
So why is the Incarnation important?
It is the foundation for all of the promises of God and the foundation for the gospel itself. It is something that changed, fundamentally, the state of reality itself. A man has been exalted to sit at the right hand of God and to serve in the true tabernacle, as both King and Priest.
The first man, the first Adam, failed, and as a result, mankind was cursed. But the Last Adam succeeded, and as a result, mankind has been blessed. Man to man, Adam to Adam.
While meditating on these things is profitable and good, it seems like so much theological castlebuilding. What’s the point? Looking up and pointing at the stars is also good but eventually, you need to bring your eyes back to the road and the rubber you intend to put on that road.
We don’t want to build a theological castle so we can sit inside and bask at ourselves in the giant mirror we hung in the dining hall. That type of castle is more flimsy than a house of straw. No, we want a castle from which we can set out and conquer.
The Incarnation changed reality itself. Since it did that, how should it change our lives? Lives that are sometimes more stubborn than the fabric of reality?
It is not a coincidence that a chapter and a half later (4:16) the Hebrew writer tells us to approach the throne in boldness and confidence. A man rules from heaven, and so we, as men, have direct access to the throne room. It is a great privilege, a privilege that required the blood of Jesus to regain and secure and we need to take full advantage of it.
A Christian without an active prayer life is like someone who, given a gift by their parents, immediately turns around and tosses it in the trash, making sure the parents are watching. A Christian without an active prayer life is like someone dying of thirst in the desert while he is bent over from the weight of the water in his backpack.
God listens to his people. He acts on behalf of his people. To not take advantage of that shows a spectacular mistrust and disregard for the Father. It shows wanton disbelief in His power.
So act like Jesus is sitting on his throne. Act like God welcomes men into the throne room. Pray. Pray what’s in your heart. Pray when you are thankful. Pray when you are depressed and weak. Pray the psalms. Pray for our rulers. Pray for our families. Pray for your church. Just...pray.
Have the Right Attitude Toward Your Inheritence
God did not spare his only Son. Will He now hold back from us?
Have we thought through the implications of that? What have we actually gained?
We have been invited into the foundational relationship of reality itself, the eternal fellowship that has always been, and always will be: God in Three Persons. Before anything existed, the Triune God was and is and ever will be. One member of that fellowship became flesh and is now a man, and he reigns in Heaven at the right hand of the Father.
When baptized, Christians are said to put on Christ or be in Christ. And in Ephesians 2:4-6:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
Because the Son is now a man, because a member of the Holy Trinity is now a man, we can have fellowship with God in a way that wasn’t possible before. We are partakers of all that Jesus experiences.
But there’s more, because those in the household of God also have the gift of the Spirit, another member of the Holy Trinity. We have the Spirit as a downpayment of our inheritance (Eph. 1:13-14).
2 Corinthians 6:16 applies this to the whole church.
What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.”
Not only are Christians in Christ and seated with him, but the Spirit dwells in us. The Christian church on earth is the new temple.
This is a double-fulfillment of God’s promise to dwell with His people. He not only comes down, but He also lifts us up. Right now, Christians are getting a taste of the eternal love He has had for us. And as Paul says in Romans 8:32, will He not also graciously give us all things? He will complete the work He started in us. We should have no doubts about that.
When He fulfills his promises, he doesn't do it half-heartedly. He goes completely overboard. He doesn’t leave us hanging on by the skin of our fingernails but lifts us up, clothes us like royalty, and feeds us like princes.
So walk as if you are a sibling to the King, a sibling who is valued and loved and set to inherit everything the first-born son is set to inherit.
The Double Portion
God has already given Christians a double portion of Himself (Son and Spirit) as a guarantee of our place in the household. In this, He has treated us as firstborn sons.
Because God has always desired to dwell with his people. It was so in the very beginning, and it is no different today. It was so in the times of Israel, and it is so in the times of the new Israel.
But now, it has been made permanent.
He loved us so much that He became one of us. He who was eternal came to die so that we might live. The glory will never again depart because Jesus, the Son of Man, whose very name is “God with us,” sits on the throne. And God will always be well-pleased with His son.
Old Israel was blessed by having God dwell in their midst but at the same time, they got burned by the heat. The closeness of God also brought potential curses when the people presumed too much (1 Sam. 6:19-20).
We of the double portion should also not presume upon the grace of God.
For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?
And Hebrews 12:25:
See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.
The New Covenant brings greater blessings, but it also brings greater responsibilities and greater curses. Those who dwell near God should always take heed lest they fall. And in the days since the Incarnation, no one on earth has ever dwelled closer to God than the younger siblings of the King of Kings.
To whom much is given, much will be required.
With the Incarnation, we have been given everything.
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