The Incarnation of God and the People of the Incarnation

The celebration of Christmas focuses our attention on the greatest of God’s miraculous acts—the incarnation. John captured this event in the prologue of his Gospel. He wrote, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 CSB).

Without a doubt, the coming of Jesus is the greatest story ever told. It is a story about what God has done to offer us salvation and a story about being called by God to participate in his mission—to make himself known among the nations.

“The coming of Jesus is a story about what God has done to offer us salvation and a story about being called by God to participate in his mission—to make himself known among the nations.”

The Incarnation of God

As we read through Scripture, we are made aware of God’s mission from the very beginning.

Of the many theological themes in the Bible, sin and salvation are central. Sin entered God’s good creation and corrupted all humanity. But God immediately promised to redeem humanity and make all things right through one man in Genesis 3:15. The Old Testament traces the Promised Seed’s lineage through the son God promised to Abraham, who would also be the firstborn of a new nation.

When God established the nation of Israel, he created a people for himself. He called them to love, serve, and obey him. He also chose them in order to demonstrate his love for all peoples of the earth. God set Israel apart from other nations so he could reveal himself to all the nations, and they too would know and worship him.

The story of Israel’s obedience and devotion to God is tragically spotty. But God remained true to his plan. God preserved the line of Abraham through Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and King David to a righteous King for all nations, who would rule eternally and lead his people in righteousness.

In the New Testament, we find out that Jesus is this redeemer, the seed of Abraham, and the promised king. Jesus is the only begotten Son from God, the Father, and he came to fulfill the promises God made to his people. He embodied Israel’s mission in his obedient life and in his willingness to offer salvation to the Gentiles.

He demonstrated the power and character of God’s kingdom in miraculous deeds and compassion toward hurting people. Jesus sought and saved the lost, redeeming them from their sins by laying down his own life as an atoning sacrifice to defeat sin and death.

A People of the Incarnation

After his resurrection, Jesus established the church to carry out the Great Commission through the power of his Holy Spirit. The church is his body, sent into the world to make him known. We are called to proclaim the message of the gospel offered to all peoples through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The incarnation of the Son of God is not only central to the biblical narrative, it also determines, informs, and provides the basis for the church’s mission.

The incarnation determines the purpose of missions.

God’s mission is to make himself known as Lord over all the earth. God sent Jesus to accomplish that mission—to display his loving goodness and sovereign power. When we come to know Jesus, the creator of life and giver of eternal life, he transforms our lives. And just as Jesus was sent out on mission by the Father, he sends us.

“Just as Jesus was sent out on mission by the Father, he sends us.”

Jesus sent us to make God known by proclaiming his redeeming works known to the world and by living lives that have been transformed by him. It is a mission presented in Matthew 28:18–20 and again in Acts 1:8. We are to make disciples and teach them to obey all that Christ has commanded. We are his witnesses to the ends of the earth.

The incarnation informs our method of missions.

The Scriptures instruct us to follow the example of our Savior. The incarnate life of Jesus teaches us how to deny ourselves for the sake of others. Following his example in mission requires us to display selfless love. We surrender our rights and privileges in order to serve and identify with others for the sake of the gospel.

For some, this means moving their lives and families overseas for the sake of the gospel. For others, this means generous financial giving to mission efforts. For all, it means making daily sacrifices to serve others the way Christ served us.

The incarnation provides the basis for an unwavering commitment to missions.

The Bible describes life without God as death (Eph. 2:1). But Jesus, in taking on flesh, made it possible for the walking dead to become alive again. The incarnation ensures that we have access to God, our eternal source and power, for true spiritual and physical life in Christ.

The hope we have in Jesus enables us to abandon sin and dedicate ourselves to God’s mission. Jesus’s disciples are willing to die for him because the resurrection shows them that physical death cannot defeat those who live in the presence and power of God. This is the good news we take to the world. It empowers us to carry out the Great Commission without fear.

Christmas celebrates the incarnation, the ultimate picture of God’s missional love for us. In his incarnation, Jesus exemplified the lifestyle we are meant to emulate, defeated the enemies that kept us immobile, and gave us access to the power of God so that we could live on mission. Let’s remember this Christmas that as the Father sent Jesus, so now are we sent by Jesus.

Keith Whitfield is dean of graduate studies and vice president for academic administration at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he also serves as assistant professor of Christian theology.