I was sitting locked in sermon preparation the other day when my computer pinged with an incoming message. It was from Tim Kerr–a Canadian pastor, ministry coach, and old friend. Tim was circulating a piece of Christmas treasure he stumbled upon from JI Packer’s Incarnation chapter (Ch. 5) in Knowing God. No matter the holiday or theological issue prompting his insights, Packer never disappoints. Check it out. I hope it stirs your soul in the same way it did mine. Thanks Tim!
It is no wonder that thoughtful people find the gospel of Jesus Christ hard to believe, for the realities with which it deals pass our understanding. But it is sad that so many make faith harder than it need be, by finding difficulties in the wrong places.
Take the atonement, for instance. Many feel difficulty there. How, they ask, can we believe that the death of Jesus of Nazareth—one man, expiring on a Roman gibbet—put away a world’s sins? How can that death have any bearing on God’s forgiveness of our sins today?
Or take the resurrection, which seems to many a stumbling block. How, they ask, can we believe that Jesus rose physically from the dead?
Take the Gospel miracles; many find a source of difficulty here. how can one believe that he walked on the water, or fed the five thousand, or raised the dead?
Stories like that are surely quite incredible. With these and similar problems many minds on the fringes of faith are deeply perplexed today.
But in fact the real difficulty, the supreme mystery with which the gospel confronts us, does not lie here at all: It lies not in the Good Friday message of atonement, nor in the Easter message of resurrection, but in the Christmas message of Incarnation.
It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the profoundest and most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. “The Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14); God became man, the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child.
This is the real stumbling block in Christianity. It is here that Jews, Muslims, Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and many of those who feel the difficulties concerning the virgin birth, the miracles, the atonement, and the resurrection have come to grief.
It is from misbelief, or at least inadequate belief, about the Incarnation that difficulties at other points in the gospel story usually spring. But once the Incarnation is grasped as a reality, these other difficulties dissolve.
If Jesus had been no more than a very remarkable, godly man, the difficulties in believing what the New Testament tells us about his life and work would be truly mountainous.
But if Jesus was the same person as the eternal Word, the Father’s agent in creation, “through whom also he made the worlds” (Heb 1:2 RV), it is no wonder if fresh acts of creative power marked his coming into this world, and his life in it, and his exit from it. It is not strange that he, the Author of life, should rise from the dead. If he was truly God the Son, it is much more startling that he should die than that he should rise again.
-From J.I. Packer in Knowing God