Part of what it means to be a Christian is to believe the unbelievable: that the historical human person, Jesus, who was born in a stable in a backwater village outside of Jerusalem some two thousand years ago, was actually God in the flesh. This inconceivable proposition, the incarnation,1means that, beginning at his birth, the human baby named Jesus was “fully God and fully man in one person, and will be so forever.”2God became man—forever. That infant in the cradle was Immanuel, God with us!
Paul expressed the incarnation in this way: “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9). Think of that! Jesus wasn’t just some special appearance of God, a theophany. Nor was he merely a misunderstood teacher of love who ended up getting crucified. He was God in the flesh—immortal; invisible spirit clothed with human hair, skin and blood; and supported by muscle and bone. In his humiliation, God had to breathe, eat, drink, and sleep. When cut he bled. He longed for companionship and truly suffered when his friends deserted him. He is one of our kind, and as we “share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things” (Heb. 2:14).
To this day he remains one of us. This truth is the “foundation for all our comfort” forever.3The incarnation brings unceasing hope and an end to our exile, wandering, and despair. There is great comfort for our souls in the truth that he is just like us. Here’s why: the incarnation tells us that even though we sin, we are not alone; even though we’re weak and finite, he knows what weakness and mortality are because he was weak and mortal just like us; and even though we continually fail he has committed himself to be part of a race of failures—and he has done so forever. He does not use our flesh merely as an impersonal dwelling place, like some seedy motel room he can’t wait to vacate; rather, he assumes our nature completely and will be the God-man forever, throughout eternity!
He Is One of Us
The incarnation sets Christianity apart from every other religion. The thought that God would become man is simply without parallel in any other faith. In no other religion does a god do anything more than tell his subjects what to do to become like him, earn his favor, or give instruction on how, if they’re lucky, they might avoid ticking him off. In no other religion does a creator god become weak and an indistinguishable part of his creation.
In the incarnation, God became so completely one of us that the people who lived with him didn’t notice anything special about him; Jesus’s deity was perfectly veiled in human flesh. In fact, when he went to his own village, Nazareth, “the people who had known him for many years did not receive him.”4“Is not this the carpenter’s son?” they asked. “Is not his mother called Mary?” (Matt. 13:55). Even his own family didn’t know he was the incarnate one. Think of this: “Not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7:5).
What did Jesus look like? A regular Joe. His form was just like ours. Put this book down for a moment and look across the room at someone. That’s how ordinary he looked. Or, better yet, look at yourself in a mirror. He looked just like you! He had eyes, pores, hair, and teeth. If you’d seen him, you wouldn’t have thought he was anything special. He didn’t have any sort of magnetism that would make you take a second look. He looked like any twenty- or thirty-something carpenter on any construction job.
His complete identification with us shouldn’t have taken his contemporaries by surprise, because seven hundred years before his birth the prophet Isaiah spoke of how normal the Messiah would appear: “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isa. 53:2). He willingly took a servant’s form and was born in the likeness of men. He was fully human (Phil. 2:7–8).
What was baby Jesus like? Did he have some sort of radioactive glow about him? Maybe a little halo or cherubs floating around his head? No. He looked like any Middle Eastern infant, wrapped in rags and nursing at his mother’s breast. And contrary to the sweet carol “Away in the Manger,” he did cry when awakened by the cattle’s lowing. He cried just like us.
Unlike ancient mythological gods, Jesus was no naughty demigod stripped of his superpowers and banished to earth as punishment. Jesus isn’t Thor. No, God the Son freely volunteered to become one of us and to forever take to his person all that it meant to be human. “Though he was rich, yet for your sake he [voluntarily] became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). The incarnation isn’t a punishment on the Son; it is an act of his love, a “voluntary humiliation.”5He gladly “made himself nothing” (Phil. 2:7 NIV). He who had everything, who was Lord of all, God Most High, creator, became a poor servant—your servant—out of love for you, his beloved. He came to serve you and win you with his love. He became one of our own so that we could be his own.