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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:The First Step of Humiliation: The Incarnation
Text:LD 14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The Incarnation
 
Added:2022-12-27
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Philippians 2:1-11

Lesson: Lord’s Day 14

 

THE FIRST STEP OF HUMILIATION: THE INCARNATION

  1. What He Gave Up

  2. What He Gave Us

 

  1. Psalm 89: 1, 2, 10

  2. Hymn 23: 1-2

  3. Psalm 2:1-4

  4. Hymn 1

  5. Hymn 23: 3-4

  6. Hymn 23: 5-6

 

Words to Listen For: bullet, wagon, cloud, respect, foolish

 

Questions For Understanding:

  1. What kind of Saviour do we want?  What kind of Saviour did people 2000 years ago want?

  2. Who was Arius?  Was he right about anything?  Was he wrong about anything?

  3. What is the BUT GOD of the incarnation?

  4. What are the steps of descent?

  5. Was Jesus our Saviour in the manger?  Why or why not?

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


Beloved in Jesus Christ our Saviour,

Look out at the world.

What do you see?

Immediately around us, we see economic turmoil.  Prices are through the roof on most goods and services.  Shelves are looking emptier, products are looking worse, and prices are climbing ever skyward.

Just recently there was a shortage on baby aspirin.  A little longer ago there was a shortage of baby formula.

And then we look a little further out, and we see a parliamentary committee hoping to expand what they call MAID - Medical Assistance In Dying.  Really, this is an expansion of the murder of the elderly, the disabled, the sick, and the sad.  And they are hoping to expand it to children.

Let me continue, though I wish I didn’t have to.

Infants in the womb continue to be slaughtered through the evils of abortion.

Young children are being confused with lies and manipulation about sexual identity.

Then we look even further out.  There are wars all across this world, the most popularized one being the war between Russia and Ukraine, but this is not the only war that is going on.  The church is being persecuted all over the world.  Slavery still exists in the East, various other kinds of slavery too horrible to speak of still exists here in the West.

We see this and we either ignore it, or we cry out for deliverance.

And who is going to deliver us?

Maybe a politician, we think!  If only the conservatives were in power in Canada.  If only the Liberals got the boot.

Or in the most powerful and influential country in the world - if only President Joe Biden was replaced with a Republican.  Maybe Trump could solve the corruption, drain the swamp.  Or, if not Trump, then DeSantis.

But is this true?  Are these people really our only hope of salvation?  You all know where this is going, we’ve read the Lord’s Day together…you know we have to answer “no” but do we WANT to answer “yes?”

This is life in 2022.

But what about life 2022 years ago?  What was life like then?

Well, Caesar Augustus was in charge.  As far as Caesars went, he was pretty good - maybe even the best - and yet, even as the best of the pack, he would take joy in regularly torturing and humiliating his slaves and soldiers in his army, forcing many to commit suicide when they displeased him.  He would regularly have affairs with the wives of his rivals, for the purpose of humiliation, punishment, and espionage - attempting to learn of their plots against him.

But even with a halfways decent emperor, the Roman Empire was brutal, importing slaves from all over the world, perfecting a torturous death in crucifixion, sometimes crucifying up to 3000 criminals in a single day.  Rome ruled through slavery, torture, and death.

And the Pharisees and Saduccees, all the Jewish leaders, political and religious, were so fearful of Rome, that they would not provide any relief from the tyranny of the empire.  They were fearful, and they were prideful in themselves, adding undue spiritual burdens on those already suffering.

This is what life was like.  Who would deliver them?

It would have to be a mighty superhero of a Messiah.  One with bulletproof skin, faster than a speeding bullet, leaping over tall buildings in a single bound!

For us and for believers 2000 years ago, we have an image in our mind of who and what we need to help us.

Someone mighty.

Someone who will take down corruption and rot from the root

Someone who will establish an earthly kingdom

A King who is a fearsome warrior, utterly annihilating all those who oppose him.

But that’s not the Saviour we received.  That’s not what needed in this situation.  AT this time.

So who did we receive instead?

The most unlikely Saviour imaginable.  A baby was born, in a tiny town, in a backwoods province.  The son, so it was said, of a carpenter.  He grew up and was gentle and lowly.  Humble and kind.  He was a man who got tired, was hungry.  A man who was sad and cried.  A man who was opposed, arrested, tried, and executed.

Hardly the Saviour we had in mind.  But the exact Saviour we needed.  His coming to this earth was not one of glory, or power or might, but rather, it was began as a humbling, and it only got worse from there.

Let’s examine together 

 

THE FIRST STEP OF HUMILIATION of our Saviour: THE INCARNATION.  We will see

  1. What He Gave Up, and 

  2. What He Gave Us

 

THE FIRST STEP OF HUMILIATION: THE INCARNATION: What He Gave Up

The last time we heard from the catechism, it was Lord’s Day 13.  A sermon on the glory of Jesus Christ.  God’s only-begotten Son, our Lord.

As the only-begotten Son, Jesus is equal to God the Father.  Jesus was not merely a man.  Jesus was not a created being, but rather co-eternal, co-equal with the Father and the Spirit.

And as our Lord…He is not only our Saviour, but He is our King.  He is our master.  We must obey Him in all things.

And a heretic known as ARIUS was mentioned.  Do you remember this?

The catechism students should all know Arius.  We spend a lot of time trying to clarify the heresy of Arius from the heresy of Arminius.

Arius said that it was beneath God's dignity and honour to become a human being.  It would be dishonoring to God to call Jesus a god as well.

And, congregation, here’s something scandalous…for those who are taking notes, take note of this, BUT ALSO WRITE DOWN THE EXPLANATION afterwards.  Because at first…I will sound like a heretic.

Arius said that it was beneath God's dignity and honour to become a human being.  It would be dishonoring to God to call Jesus a god as well…and so He didn’t.  It was beneath God’s dignity and honour to be incarnated, and so He didn’t.  And…Arius has a point here.

Arius has a point.  Or, more accurately, what Arius has is HALF A POINT.

Let’s examine this together.

 

Because this statement from Arius is half right and half wrong.  He starts in a really good place and then goes completely off the rails.

To borrow a popular phrase: “They had us in the first half, not going to lie.”  I was with him, right up until the end.

 

So what’s right about this statement?

It was beneath God's dignity and honour to become a human being.

This is absolutely, one hundred percent, unquestionably TRUE.

Our God is so great, so glorious, so mighty, so powerful, eternal incomprehensible, invisible, immutable, infinite, perfectly wise, just, good and the overflowing fountain of all good…for Him to take on human flesh, for Him to exist within the womb of one of His sinful creations, for Him to be born into obscurity, for Him to live among sinful men, to be rebuked by sinful parents, mocked, condemned to death and executed by sinful men…this is absolutely beneath His dignity and honour.

Our reading in Philippians says that He HUMBLED HIMSELF.

And so Arius is absolutely right here.  I could hitch my theological wagon to his horse…if he would have stopped there.

But he didn’t, and instead, he concludes with heresy and blasphemy.

It was beneath God’s dignity and honour to become a human being, and so He didn’t.

Oh.  Arius.  You were SO CLOSE.  But then you got it EXACTLY WRONG.

It was beneath God’s dignity and honour…BUT HE DID!

It was beneath God’s dignity and honour to become a human being, BUT GOD THE SON did not count equality with GOD THE FATHER a thing to be grasped, but He emptied Himself.  Philippians 2 again.

And this is a bit of a mystery.  Even some of the Church Fathers who we have not labelled as heretics have struggled with this.

Listen to what the Church Father Anselm says in a book written to defend the incarnation.

We believe the divine nature is undoubtedly incapable of suffering and cannot be brought low from its exalted standing.  If Jesus is true God and true man, we still cannot say that God is suffering some humiliation or weakness of His non-suffering nature, but in terms of the weakness of the human substance which He was taking upon Himself.  Therefore, in the incarnation of God it is understood that no humiliation of God came about: rather it is believed that human nature was exalted

Out of a desire to protect the dignity and majesty of God, Anselm, just like Arius, has it wrong.

  • Arius said it DIDN’T HAPPEN

  • Anselm said it did happen, but in a mysterious way that contradicts Philippians 2.

One of you might say, “Surely you are not suggesting that the divine second person of the Trinity was humbled…that He was humiliated!”

But no…I REALLY AM SUGGESTING THIS.  In fact, I can speak in terms a little stronger than that…this has nothing to do with ME, what I THINK, what I SUGGEST, but rather, this is what Scripture not only SUGGESTS, but TEACHES.  With all the divine authority of God Himself.

For it is no humiliation, it is no humbling for the HUMAN NATURE to be born as human.  But for the divine second person of the Godhead to enter into the womb of one of His creations…THIS IS HUMBLING.

And He did it…for YOU.

We see a shift here, between Lord’s Day 13 and 14.  Lord’s Day 13 is about the exalted position of Jesus Christ.  The Only-Begotten.  Our Lord.  This is an honour He HAD, and an honour He REGAINED - look at Lord’s Day 17, 18, and 19.  But this is an honour that He emptied Himself of during His incarnation.

We see, in the Apostles’ Creed, and so our catechism too, what have been called the steps of humiliation.  The steps of descent, culminating in being rejected by God on the cross.

I believe in Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son, our Lord - the most dignified, the most glorified position imaginable.

He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary - humbling.  Humiliating.  Taking on human nature, entering a human womb, born as a human baby.

Suffered under Pontius Pilate - the great judge and ruler of the universe, sitting under the corrupt judgement of one of His creations

Was crucified - the most brutal death

Dead - The God of life DIED

And buried - Not only did He die…He stayed dead for quite some time.  His body laid in a tomb.

And in all of this, we can say, He descended into Hell.

 

Beginning in Heaven, each one of these humiliations, a descent.  A descent away from Heaven.  A descent towards Hell, experiencing that full hellishness of hell - abandonment, forsakenness by God.  God forsaken by God, we don’t understand it, but we confess it.

 

Philippians 2 puts it so well.  So wonderfully. So poetically - this is an early Christian hymn, one that we still sing today.  Hymn 23.

Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,

but emptied himself,

by taking the form of a servant,

being born in the likeness of men

And being found in human form,

he humbled himself

by becoming obedient to the point of death,

even death on a cross.

What did our Saviour GIVE UP in His incarnation?

It wasn’t any of His divine attributes - He did not lose any of His divinity, but rather it was His glory!  It was the recognition and worship He received from the angelic hosts since the beginning of time.

He gave up being recognized as being equal to God.  He emptied Himself, we read, BY TAKING THE FORM OF A SERVANT.  He emptied Himself by concealing His divinity for a time.

Just as the sun’s brightness is suppressed when a cloud comes in front of it, suppressed momentarily, but not darkened, so too the Son of God, who was, in eternity past, who was during His incarnation, who still is to this day, ETERNAL GOD.

His incarnation, the taking on of human nature from the Virgin Mary, did not remove His divinity, but it did remove His dignity for a time.  He was not accepted as God, but was rejected by men.  A man of sorrows and acquainted with suffering.  The LORD became a SERVANT.

Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,

but emptied himself,

by taking the form of a servant,

being born in the likeness of men.

And being found in human form,

he humbled himself

by becoming obedient to the point of death,

even death on a cross.

And why?  Why did he do all of this?  Why was He willing to go through all of this?  For the simplest reason.  The oldest reason.  The best reason - love.  Our second point.

The catechism puts the question like this: What benefit do you receive from the holy conception and birth of Christ?

And this is a very good question!  I recall, years ago in Winnipeg, when I was still finding my footing in the Reformed Church, there was a debate.  What was more important - Good Friday, or Easter Sunday?  Then, to make things more difficult, more complex, I proposed a third option: Good Friday, Easter Sunday, or Christmas Day?

Well, Christmas Day was immediately dismissed by the Young Peoples group, and we returned to the original debate.

But is that fair?

For our catechism expresses the vital importance of Christmas.

The Christmas season is not only exciting because of the secular aspect, the warm coziness of family being all together…but Christmas is exciting and important for theological reasons too!  The light in the darkness as we have been hearing about in our morning services.

What benefit do you receive from the holy conception and birth of Christ?

The fact that this question is not answered by the words: “None whatsoever” means that it should not have been dismissed out of hand in the debate.

So how does our catechism answer this question?  Does it say - we receive the benefit of knowing just how much God loves us?

No, it doesn’t say this, though it could.  The incarnation is God’s greatest compliment to mankind - see how He loved us!  And it is is also God’s greatest condemnation to mankind - see the awful depths of our depravity that God had to do THIS.

God looked down at this world, seeing the depravity.  He looked down, and saw the depravity in the days of Caesar Augustus, He looked down and saw the depravity in our day (for remember, our God is timeless), and He looked at us in grace.

Grace asks: What do you NEED?  Not: What do you DESERVE as we so often ask, but what do you NEED?

He asked, then He answered.  He perfectly provided us with what we NEED.

And our catechism expands on this.  It COULD simple say “love” but our catechism loves to have us bask in the specifics of that love.

What benefit do you receive from the holy conception and birth of Christ?

He is our Mediator,

and with His innocence and perfect holiness

covers, in the sight of God,

my sin, in which I was conceived and born.

This answer should draw our minds back to Lord’s Day 5 and 6.  Our deliverance.

God asked the grace question: What do you NEED?

What we DESERVE is death.

What we DESERVE is eternal condemnation.

But what we NEED is a Mediator.

 

And what kind of mediator and deliverer must we seek?

One who is a true and righteous man, and yet more powerful than all creatures; that is, one who is at the same time true God.

 

We couldn’t CLIMB UP to God,

We couldn’t pay for our own sins,

And so HE CAME DOWN.

 

As true man - He received human nature from the Virgin Mary.  He was her true and biological child.

As righteous man - He was like His brothers in every respect, yet without sin

As true God - He did not empty Himself of His divinity

 

This is the benefit we receive from the holy conception and birth of Christ.

____________

“But wait…there has to be more to this!” you might be saying.

Was He already mediator and deliverer in the womb?

    Then why was He born?

Was he already mediator and deliverer in the manger?

    Then why did He have to grow up and die?

Well, the answer is both a clear no, and a nuanced yes.

 

First of all, the answer is clearly no.

The life, ministry and death of Christ were not simply afterthoughts to the real salvation already accomplished by His conception and birth!

They were not an unnecessary addition to the “real salvation” of the womb.  To the “real salvation” of the manger.

There is a reason that it is the CROSS that is the symbol of Christianity, the world over, for the last 2000 years.

It is incomplete or even incorrect to say, as some do, that, “in that manger in Bethlehem there was a baby who sanctified all stages of life.”

The baby Jesus did not stay a baby.  In order for us to be redeemed, that baby needed to grow up.  He needed to suffer the wrath of God every day of His life.  You may notice that we are delving a bit into Lord’s Day 15 here, but it’s important.

During all the time He lived on earth,

But especially at the end,

Christ bore in body and soul

the wrath of God against the whole human race.

 

Thus by His suffering,

as the only atoning sacrifice

He has redeemed our body and soul

from everlasting damnation

and obtained for us

the grace of God, righteousness, and eternal life.

 

Return with me to the debate that night in Winnipeg.  Christmas…or Good Friday…or Easter Sunday?

If you were there, what would you have said?  What would you have argued?

___________________

Now, the truth is, I don’t remember how that debate ended.

But the truth is, no matter how many good or bad arguments you bring forward in this debate…WE NEED ALL THREE.  God ORDAINED all three.  Nothing is accidental, nothing is coincidental, nothing is random in our salvation.

And so we come back to the question…was it our Mediator born there in Bethlehem?  Was it our Saviour who lay in the manger?

And here is where we must give a nuanced, a clarified YES.

Because Jesus Christ, true God, and true man, did not lay in that manger as a POTENTIAL SAVIOUR.  Maybe, one day, He will save His people.  No!  There’s no MAYBE about it!

And He did not lay in that manger as a Saviour WITH POTENTIAL.  The identity secure, but the actuality in question…NO!  There’s no question about it!

He was born as a FULL SAVIOUR.  FULLY REALIZED.  No potential, no maybe, no question.  OUR SAVIOUR.

He came as light in the darkness.  Even as a baby, as an infant, He was the light.

And there was a new beginning.  Salvation requires a new beginning.  The birth of a second Adam.

The beginning is just as important, just as vital, as the middle, or as the end.

Think of the famous 3 word saying of Julius Caesar: VENI VIDI VICI - I came, I saw, I conquered.

Which was most important?  The coming?  The seeing?  The conquering?  Each step builds on the one that came before.  For Caesar to conquer, he had to see.  For him to see, he had to come.

And this, the incarnation is the VENI, the COMING of our Saviour into the world.  He had to be born as one of us in order to save us.

He had to be born as a true man.

He had to be born as a righteous man.

He had to be born and remain fully divine.

 

If He was not OF US, then He could not be FOR US.  Let me say that again.  If He was not OF US, that is, human, then He could not be FOR US, that is, our Saviour.

 

And what does it mean that He was FOR US?

This is the gospel.  The gospel of salvation, already there at the beginning.  Already the shadow of the cross over the manger.

With His innocence and perfect holiness, He covers, in the sight of God, my sin, in which I was conceived and born.

You see, our Saviour lived a FULL LIFE.  From conception, to birth, growing into adulthood and dying, to cover over all the sins we commit.  

  • Our conception and birth

    • We are born and conceived in sin.  But He wasn’t.  He specifically was born and conceived PERFECTLY.  PURELY.  WITHOUT SIN.

  • Our youth

    • We commit various foolish sins in our youth.  But He didn’t.  He perfectly obeyed His Heavenly Father.  His earthly father and mother.  Those in authority over Him, PERFECTLY.  PURELY.  WITHOUT SIN.

  • Our adulthood

    • The more complex and nuanced sins of our adulthood.  Complex lies and lusts.  Half-truths and manipulations.  But He didn’t live that way.  He was honest even when it meant that He would be threatened and hated.  He was loving even when it meant sacrifice and mockery.  He lived and He loved PERFECTLY.  PURELY.  WITHOUT SIN.

  • Our death

    • We fear death.  Death is the final enemy.  And so we do whatever we can to avoid it.  But not Jesus.  Even in His terror and agony, He willingly submitted to a torturous death.  PERFECTLY.  PURELY.  WITHOUT SIN.

And so we see that Jesus is not the Saviour we asked for.  He is not the Saviour we wanted.  But grace doesn’t ask what we WANT…grace asks what we NEED.

And a humble, obscure, suffering servant, a man who would never lead an army, a man who would never inspire a rebellion, a man who would never hold political office, a man who would not reach the age of 40 or father any children…this is EXACTLY who God’s people 2000 years ago needed.

And He is the Saviour that we need, today.

So let the politicians squabble.  Let the kings band together, trying to throw off the shackles of God.  Throw off the shackles of truth and love and decency.  Let the nations rage.  For the humble babe born in Bethlehem is our Mediator.  He is our Saviour.  He is our Redeemer.  He is the One who is both God and Lord, and He will have the victory.

AMEN.




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

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