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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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 reubenbredenhof.com
 
Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:The Miracle and the Meaning of the Incarnation
Text:LD 14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The Incarnation
 
Preached:2021
Added:2021-11-21
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 71:1,3                                                                                

Hy 1

Reading – Job 25; Psalm 51; Romans 5:12-21

Ps 51:1,3,4

Sermon – Lord’s Day 14

Hy 19:1,3,4

Hy 3:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Brothers and sisters, when you first look at a newborn child, it’s hard not to think, “What a miracle!” For nine months in the mother’s womb there has grown this living human being. Beginning as something invisible to the human eye, a baby slowly develops: cells dividing and re-dividing, organs appearing, little limbs becoming visible, a heart beating and a brain working.

Only by God’s mighty hand does a baby develop, in every single one of a million different ways, until she is ready to be born. It’s the miracle of life. Yet we easily lapse into thinking that it’s a human choice and a human deed. As with so many good things God gives us, we get very used to the idea of new life. But then we listen again to the powerful prayer of Psalm 139, “O LORD, you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (v 13). Conception and birth are always the works of the LORD God.

We need this reminder when we look at our own children. We also need it when we look at the child who was once born to Mary. For we’re also very used to the idea of the virgin birth. We’ve sung it in our creed countless times. We remember it at Christmas every year: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son” (Matt 1:23). It seems kind of obvious: of course the virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus! What else would she do?

Yet how great a miracle this is! Looking at this event simply on a physical level, we should stand amazed: a woman who never before had sexual relations, who hasn’t had any contribution from a male—she conceives a child. That just doesn’t happen. And then there’s the theological level to this event, even more mind-boggling. It means heaven came down to earth. God Most High took on lowly human flesh. And through this marvel, God brought about salvation for sinful mankind. I preach God’s Word as summarized in LD 14,

The Miracle and the Meaning of the Incarnation:

  1. our birth and our guilt
  2. Jesus’s birth and his innocence
  3. Jesus’s birth and our new birth

 

1) our birth and our guilt: Newborn infants are very cute, without question. Babies a few months old are generally still quite cute. Toddlers a year old are often cute, though not always. Because as kids get older, you start to see it more and more. Every child born to human parents stands in the line of Adam, our very first father, and the first sinner.

Paul writes in Romans 5, “Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (v 12). All people, from the darling newborn to the declining senior, share in Adam’s guilt. Like Paul says again, “By one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (v 19).

That’s our family tree, the genetic material of our hearts. The Form for Infant Baptism puts it sharply; speaking of our covenant children, the form says, “They share without their knowledge in the condemnation of Adam.” Without knowing about it, without choosing to be a limb on this family tree, every child is included in Adam’s line.

And this sin goes down deep. It affects us all the way to the root. For this reason, David says in Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” David says that even before he had thoughts and desires, even before he first saw the light of day, he was sinful. He’s always been guilty in the sight of God.

Now, some commentators tell us not to take David’s words in Psalm 51 too literally. He’s clearly very upset, they say, distraught over the whole Bathsheba incident. In his guilt, he’s being hard on himself, saying over-drastic things that he doesn’t mean. Because of course a preborn infant cannot be considered guilty before the Lord! They haven’t even done anything yet!

But we can’t dismiss David’s words. It’s true that he is agonizing because of his sin and pouring out his soul before God. And in this confession, he wants to leave nothing unsaid. As he lays his entire life before God, he wants to speak of his total sinfulness: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”

David here teaches us something about how to confess our sins. He knows that if we don’t try to make a full confession, God has good reason to doubt our sincerity. It’s too easy for us to be superficial about this. Confessing sin, we wipe off a few surface spots, while we ignore the real pollution churning inside.

Instead, we need to make a full disclosure of our sins, and be honest with God about them, as far as we can be. ‘God, I have failed you for a long time. I haven’t lived close to you, and I’ve so often forgotten you. When I think about the years when I didn’t really seek you, the many days when I ignored you, I’m ashamed.’ And when we’re humbled like this, we can count on the rich mercy of God. So David reaches way back. He confesses even his sinful beginning, back when he first received life: ‘he was brought forth in iniquity.’

The book of Job too, talks about our birth and our guilt. Listen to what Job asks in 14:4, “Who can bring what is pure from the impure?” And he answers: “No one!” (v 4). If the father and mother are not pure, how can the children they conceive together be pure? They cannot.

Still in Job, this time chapter 25, on the lips of Job’s friend Bildad, we find a similar question: “How then can man be righteous before God? Or how can he be pure who is born of a woman?” (v 4). It’s true that an infant might seem almost perfect to his adoring parents. Sometimes even a young child can seem innocent of any wrong. But in the eyes of God who sees the heart, there is no pure, sinless human being—not at any age!

Listen to what Bildad asks in the following verse, “If even the moon does not shine, and the stars are not pure in his sight, how much less man, who is a maggot, and a son of man, who is a worm?” (vv 5-6). Sounds pretty harsh. And sometimes it’s tricky to read Job, to know how much of it to take as gospel truth. Not all of Job’s friends had good theology. But what Bildad says is something we find in many places in Scripture. We already looked at Psalm 51.

Just one more example, in Ephesians 2:3. There Paul says we are “by nature objects of wrath.” He literally says, “we are by nature children of wrath.” What is a child of wrath? A person whose natural inheritance is God’s anger. We’re born guilty, so we’re under his just condemnation.

And it’s not only our nature that is sinful, our interior makeup. This internal sinfulness also comes out in real life. You might compare it to how every baby is formed according to a unique genetic code: some from Dad, some from Mum, and billions of combinations thereof. But sometimes there are flaws in these genes, like when there’s an extra chromosome, or one missing. It’s an invisible genetic blueprint, yet it begins to show itself out as a child grows, and then you see a disability or deformity. Like that, our unseen nature—inherited from Adam—soon begins to be evident in our sinful actions.

Actual sin starts pretty early. Just ask those new parents! It starts, and it continues, and it gets worse. Especially about their first child, parents can wonder where on earth little Johnny learned such bad behaviour. But Jesus tells us. He says, “If the heart is bad, the life will be bad, too.” Because our heart is naturally selfish and corrupt, this comes out in many ways: angry words, bad choices, proud attitudes. God speaks of this in Genesis 8:21, “The imagination of a person’s heart is evil from his youth.”

Sometimes we put a good mask on our sinfulness. We hide the ugliest parts, keep a lid on our most vile desires. But the things that live in our imaginations, the kind of thoughts we sometimes think, this is disturbing. We’d never want anyone to know it, to see it. There is evil, deep within, structural evil. Time then, for the opposite picture. It’s the picture of Jesus and what He was like when He arrived and when He walked on earth.

           

2) Jesus’ birth and his innocence: After a forest fire, it’s incredible how quickly you see the green shoots of new growth—a flower here, new leaves there. That is what God’s promise of salvation is like. In the immediate aftermath of the fall into sin, on the very same day that our nature was corrupted and our guilt begun, God announced the gospel. Out of the ashes, green shoots appeared.

For God promised our first parents that redemption was going to come. He said that it would even come through the woman. That’s right, the Saviour was going to arrive through the same family that needed saving, through the same line so hampered by its own weakness!

So how could the chain of sin could be broken? How could the deadly hereditary disease be interrupted, and a holy Saviour be born? The LORD needed to change the way that a child is conceived. God need to bring the Christ into the world in another way. It would still be by a woman, because that’s what God promised. But there would be no earthly father.

When God first told Mary about this back in Luke 1, she had just one question. It went straight to the point: “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” (Luke 1:34). Mary knew the glorious promises. She’d heard the ancient prophecies and put her hope in them. But how could a child be conceived in her, a virgin?

The angel answered her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you” (v 35). In the virgin’s womb, through the most powerful force in the universe, a living child would be conceived: Christ Jesus, God the Son. Fatherless on earth, but not Fatherless in heaven!

As the Catechism describes: “True and eternal God took upon himself true human nature from the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary” (Q&A 35). It was an incredible wonder, and totally unfeasible, biologically speaking—but that didn’t matter to the LORD. The angel’s word was absolute: “With God nothing will be impossible” (v 37).

And this conception was going to have a certain result. The angel announces what kind of child is coming: “The holy one who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (v 35). Underline that word: Mary’s child will be holy. He would be set apart from every stain of sin. He would be unburdened of all the baggage of his family history.

Remember how Job had once asked, “Who can bring what is pure from the impure?” But Job didn’t understand just how great God is—he didn’t understand, in more ways than one—didn’t see how unstoppable is the LORD’s purpose. When the living God is involved, nothing is impossible. God can bring the pure from the impure, a sinless child from a sinful mother, a Saviour from the very same people who need saving!

So Jesus grew for about nine months in the womb of the mother. Beginning as something invisible to the human eye, He slowly developed: cells dividing and re-dividing, basic organs appearing, little limbs becoming visible, a heart beating and a brain working. Only by God’s mighty hand did He develop properly, in every single one of a billion different ways, until He was ready to be born.

Then came that holy night in Bethlehem. That night you can well imagine Joseph and Mary exclaiming “What a miracle!” as they held their newborn child. They admired his fingers and eyes, touched his hair and skin, and surely marveled that this little body was whole. What a miracle, especially as they pondered that through this small child, God would save his people.

In the ancient words of Isaiah: “To us a child is born, to us a son is given.” Christ was a child who would become a man. He would grow up to stand beside his brothers and sisters, being “like his brothers in every respect, yet without sin” (Q&A 35).

From beginning to end, Jesus was sinless and holy through the power of the Holy Spirit. For it was the Spirit who began his spotless life in Mary’s womb. And it was the Spirit who remained at work in the life of our Saviour.

Already as child, Luke tells us that Jesus was filled with the Spirit, as He grew in wisdom and favour. Then when He began his ministry, the Spirit descended on him to anoint him for service. Then through the Holy Spirit’s power, Jesus could refuse Satan’s temptations in the wilderness, and resist every selfish desire, and fulfill God’s laws. Through the Spirit’s power, He could keep walking to the cross. From beginning to end, He was innocent—and innocent with a purpose: so He might save the guilty!

As a person like us, Jesus can accept our guilt. And as God himself, Jesus can bear our punishment. From the womb to the cradle, from the toddler years to adolescence, from the teenaged years and well beyond, the Son of God was a lowly man, like we are lowly men. He was born and lived in innocence and holiness, so that He might fully restore us.

 

3) Jesus’ birth and our new birth: Time for one of the Catechism’s practical questions. It’s always keen to apply the teachings of Scripture, so it asks us, “What benefit do you receive from the holy conception and birth of Christ?” (Q&A 36). Why should we know all this? How does the conception and birth of Jesus affect the conception and birth of our children today, or that of any baby, past and present, including you and me?

The Catechism begins its answer simply. About the holy infant from Bethlehem it says, “He is our Mediator” (Q&A 36). That little child was born to bridge the chasm between us and God. That was his purpose, even from the moment Jesus first received life.

“He is our Mediator, and with his innocence and perfect holiness [He] covers, in the sight of God, my sin, in which I was conceived and born” (Q&A 36). Jesus was born so that He could say to the Father, “Take me as their substitute. Let me suffer for them, and die for them, and be cursed for them.” And He did. He has covered our sin in the sight of God!

We are guilty, through and through. It means that we cannot hope to pay the infinite cost of our infinite sin. But Jesus can. He is fully qualified, fully able, fully willing. If you have repented—and if you are repenting every day—know that you are forgiven through the holy sacrifice of Christ.

Listen to what Paul writes, “As through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men” (Rom 5:18). Through that one man, innocent and holy, God gives extravagant grace.

And through that one man, God creates a new family. We are included, by adoption, for the sake of Jesus Christ. That’s one of the beautiful promises God makes to our children at baptism. Remember that line from before? “They share without their knowledge in the condemnation of Adam.” Yes, our own dear children ought to be condemned, and we with them. Yet just as they share in that impending judgment, “so are they, without their knowledge, received into grace in Christ!”

With good reason we’re very happy when a child is born. But our joy is even deeper because we know this little child, too, is already being joined to her Saviour and God. Before a covenant child can think or speak, before a covenant child can make a conscious decision, before a covenant child is even born, God has granted the promise of his grace in Christ. To our children He vows the cleansing of our impurities, promises a washing in the pure blood of Christ. They are forgiven, and they are his.

Parents still expect that their children will sin. We are realistic about that. But parents have a wondrous reason to teach their children a completely different way of life. For now they are part of God’s holy household, God’s own sons and daughters, and precious in his sight. And so the children of believers, more than anything, must learn to love and obey their new Father. Teach them to trust in his goodness. Teach them to follow in his ways.

Such a new beginning for them and for us is only possible through the Spirit—even the same Spirit who came upon Mary and her holy Son. This is what God promises: his mighty Spirit. The Spirit who once worked something wonderful in the virgin, the Spirit who caused Jesus to grow in wisdom and favour—He is sent to us.

Remember what David prays in Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (v 11). David knew the ugly depths of his own sin, he knew how perverse his imagination could be, how deep his spirit of rebellion sank into him. If we’re honest, we know a little of that for ourselves.

So we need a new beginning. We need a fresh start if we are ever going to walk in the holy ways of God. “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” And that’s what God will grant his children. He’ll give the Spirit to work a new truth in our inner parts. He’ll give the Spirit to renovate the heart and make something new. He’ll give the Spirit to make us sinners into children who are holy and pure. It is the miracle of life! It’s the miracle of new life through the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Words about a new beginning or a new birth can sometimes seem hard for us to accept. What about when you’ve been enslaved by a sin for a long time? We’re fighting constantly against our fits of rage, and our terrible pride, and our bitterness—we’re fighting without any apparent progress, and so we’ve almost given up.

Or what about someone who seems hardened against the Lord? Can the Spirit still move? Or when a child of God never seems to mature in faith, and seems to slide backwards? Or we pray and pray for ourselves that we would have more faith in God, but we always seem to doubt and to worry even more. Is the Spirit really at work?

But let us not doubt that through Christ and his Spirit there is always hope. For the Holy Spirit can still work in us amazing new life. He can still revive our lifeless hearts. Coming upon us, He can enlighten our minds. Deep within us, He creates something new: faith, and holiness, and a steadfast spirit! It is well within his power.

The headline truth of Lord’s Day 14 is that “Nothing is impossible with God!” For in the miracle of that little child Jesus is the miracle of our salvation, in him is the miracle of new life. In him we see that the Holy Spirit can work wonders, that He can change any human heart. He can even change our own. So ask God for the continual gift of the Holy Spirit in your life. And praise God for his great power and amazing grace!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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