Why the Incarnation? (Part 1)

Q. 39. Why was it requisite that the mediator should be man?
A. It was requisite that the mediator should be man, that he might advance our nature, perform obedience to the law, suffer and make intercession for us in our nature, have a fellow-feeling of our infirmities; that we might receive the adoption of sons, and have comfort and access with boldness unto the throne of grace.

There are a lot of good biblical answers to the question, ‘Why did the Son of God become man?’ In fact, there are some fairly basic, yet profound answers to the question. The Son of God became man, because it pleased God to do this. Nothing forced God to send his Son; he freely and graciously did this, by his own choice so we would have a redeemer (Joh. 3:16; 2 Cor. 8:9). God’s fundamental motivation was his own gracious character!  Another reason for the incarnation is that God had promised long ago that he would do this. In the incarnation, God was showing himself faithful to his word (Rom. 3:20; 2 Cor. 1:20; cf. Gen. 3:15; Isa. 9:6-7). These are simple answers, but quite powerful when we reflect upon them.

I think Larger Catechism 39 assumes these kinds of answers, but digs a little deeper. It looks at the incarnation in view of the work that Christ would do as true man, and the spiritual blessings that flow to us from that incarnate work. Without the incarnation such redeeming work would not have been accomplished and such wonderful blessings could not be ours. I count six reasons for the incarnation listed by Larger Catechism 39:

1) that he might advance our nature
2) perform obedience to the law
3) suffer and make intercession for us in our own nature
4) have a fellow-feeling of our infirmities
5) that we might receive the adoption of sons
6) and have comfort and access with boldness unto the throne of grace

Each one of these answers gives us a lot to think about. I believe that each one implies something distressing about humanity’s condition apart from Christ. If the Son of God needed to become man to do these things for us, then it must mean that we are lacking in these areas apart from him. Apart from the God-man, we are in bondage to sin (1), we are lacking in obedience to God’s law (2), we stand in need of priestly intercession because of our guilt, lowliness, and lack of safe access to holy God (3, 4, 6), and we are alienated from fellowship with God (5). Each answer implies the bad news of sin and the fallen-ness humanity.

But each answer explicitly shows us the good news of the Gospel. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, has provided for us the very things that we as fallen human beings lack. Christ is the one who redeems a people to God (1), he is their righteousness (2), his sacrifices cleanses them of all sin (3), he is their priest who atones for their sins, sympathetically intercedes for them, and gives them safe access to God’s throne (3,4, 6), and he is their elder brother through whom they become members of God’s kingdom family (5). Each of these six answers brings out an element of the rich redeeming work of our Savior. And without the incarnation of Christ, without the Son of God condescending to our level to be conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Ghost, none of them would be available to us. How important the incarnation is for us!

Another element could be added to this discussion, as well. To the extent that our own view of things (whether our view of ourselves, the world, or God) does not line up with these truths about the bad news of sin and the good news of the Gospel, these answers challenge our view of things and critique us. Of course, the catechism’s ‘critique’ of us doesn’t matter much in itself; it is a document composed by uninspired men. But we believe that the catechism faithfully summarizes the word of God. It accurately teaches what Scripture says on these issues, and so its critique is actually the Bible’s critique. In summary, the Biblical truths that we are dealing with in Larger Catechism 39 have the potential to reveal our own errant understanding of God, ourselves, and the world.  

I invite you to join with me in considering these reasons for the incarnation over the next few blog posts. May they be useful to lead us to Christ as our all-sufficient Savior who came into this world “for us and our salvation” (cf. Nicene Creed).