By Neil Earle
If God became man we could expect certain things as a matter of course.
Actually, as Trinitarian theologians would put it, such a situation would be more like God taking into himself our humanity rather than a presto-chango from spirit to flesh.
As Gerrit Scott Dawson says, “He came to get us…[He] became what we are, fully entering into our lost and forsaken condition, taking up into himself our very humanity. God crossed the gap between us and himself” (Jesus Ascended, pages 5-6).
But for our purposes today, let us move from heavy – but important – theologizing over the Incarnation to what Christian apologist Josh McDowell describes as “The Great Proposition.” An “apologist” (from Greek “apologia” = rational defense) is one who tries to offer a logical defense of the Gospel. In his latest book, Evidence for Christianity, Josh frames a good question for us all to think about: “If God became a man, what would he become like?” What might we expect? Here are five telltale earmarks of God’s making the human scene.
If God became human we would expect him to have an utterly different entrance into our history. Moses, Muhammed, Confucius, Buddha, the Dali Lama – powerful religious leaders one and all, yet none of their followers has made the claim for them that Christians have consistently made of Jesus Christ: a miraculous conception through the power of the Holy Spirit.
This alone makes us pause. Why have Christians made such a bold and controversial claim about their founder, Jesus? It generates buckets full of ink in scholarly debates even today. But it is all so remarkably simple at its essence: Jesus came in fulfillment of the age-old expectation that the seed of the woman would triumph over the serpent (Genesis 3:15) and also to fulfill the verse in Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign, Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son…”
Seen, then, in its Biblical context the expectation of what is known as the Virgin Birth is perhaps to be expected in the course of events. God’s promise to the Israelites that they would bring forth the Redeemer of the world came to focus in this contentious passage in Isaiah 7. Here the prophet gives a pre-announced sign to a cowardly king. In the Jewish text of Scriptures, the Hebrew word used for virgin is “almah” and a minority of skeptics and scholars across history have made hay over the fact that the word simply means ”young woman,” not necessarily a virgin.
The fact is, however, that all seven times the word is used in the Old Testament, the reference seems unmistakably to denote a virgin. This first appearance of “almah” is in Genesis 24:43 where Abraham’s servant is looking for a young bride for his master’s son. The energetic vivacious “almah” named Rebekah shows up just in the nick of time. Rebekah was clearly not one of the girls working the red lamp district but the apple of her father’s eye – “no man had known her” (Genesis 24:16). Check out the other references in Exodus 2:8, Psalm 68:25, Proverbs 30:19, Songs 1:3 and 6:8. It’s hard to see what all the fuss is about, especially when the Greek translation of the Old Testament – used by the early Church – clearly translates the word “parthenos” in Isaiah 7:14 which means “virgin.”
As Josh McDowell says, the nature of the sign is clearly a reference to something supernatural happening. “A miracle is required and the virgin birth is that miracle.” Luke’s Gospel takes great care in differentiating how the angle Gabriel visited both Mary in Nazareth and her cousin Elizabeth in Mount Ephraim. Elizabeth’s child, John the baptizer, “will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth,” while Mary’s child Jesus will be conceived through the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1).
As controversial as this first proposition is, the church has stuck with it from its earliest days. Ignatius, the disciple of the apostle John, refuted heretics in his day by showing “a summary of the chief facts about Jesus.” One of them was the virgin birth of Jesus as “a mystery to be shouted about.
Skeptics today attack the Virgin Birth on the basis of the demigod stories from the ancient world. The Greek hero at Troy, Achilles, was supposed to be descended from the union of Zeus and an innocent maiden. Xenia the Warrior Princess from the 1990s TV show was a demigod as well. But the Bible writers take great pains in showing that not only was Mary’s beau Joseph not Jesus’ real father but that he had to be convince by the startling appearance of an angel to make sure he did not misjudge his intended, Mary (Matthew 1:18-25).
Christianity gets off to this challenging start from its beginnings and an even more startling fact is that we have this person named Jesus of Nazareth claiming that he was himself sinless (John 8:46; 1 Peter 2:22). This is an easy point to overlook in the Gospels, that Jesus sees himself in that light. Church historian Kenneth Latourette puts it very well: “It is highly significant that in one as sensitive morally as was Jesus and who taught his followers to ask for the forgiveness of their sins, there is no hint of any need of forgiveness for himself, no asking of pardon, wither from those about him or of God” (McDowell, Page 412).
As John Stott added, there was about Jesus this “never-fading incandescent glow of selflessness.” Jesus was sinless because he was selfless, something even Pontius Pilate admitted: “What evil has he done (Luke 23:32)?”
Two more things: If God made the human scene we would expect him to do miracles and we would expect him to utter the greatest words ever spoken. These two propositions move Jesus Christ to the front of the queue in any list of those claiming to be God.
Even the Koran (Table v 110) speaks of Jesus and his healing powers and his ability to raise the dead. Not only did Jesus work so many miracles but they were of such diverse kinds. Josh McDowell lists them as “power over nature, power over disease, power over demons, powers of creation and power over death (page 417). What also impresses is the character of the miracles. They were not done for ostentation or for show or to build up Jesus’ ego for indeed there was no ego noticeable. What gives them their air of reality, of naturalness and ease is the fact that they grew out of the human situation, they are done to meet a deep-seated human cry for help and otherwise fit in with the local scene. Jesus was walking to raise a little girl who had died when a woman with a blood issue touches him. He is hemmed in by crowds and a blind beggar cries out with fervor, “Son of David, help me!” and Jesus does. He cleanses ten lepers as they set out running on their way to the local priest and only one returns to thank him. How true to life.
Practical. Human. A God who is with us. A God on the side of the underdog. The miracles strongly advance Jesus’ claim to have been God making the human scene. “They were performed before the public,” says Bernard Ramm, "and therefore were open to scrutiny and investigation by anyone, including skeptics.”
We could say, They were just the kind of miracles we would expect if God was on the side of the less, the least and the lost. Who cannot love a God like that?
The mighty deeds were signs that the future Kingdom was breaking in already. The miracles authenticated the mighty words. These truly were the greatest words ever spoken and here, in the teaching of Jesus, we have an embarrassment of riches. Where do we start? A personal favorite: “I am the resurrection and the life,” he tells the grieving Martha, almost mad with grief over her brother’s death, “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and breathes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).
Wow! What a claim. Whoever speaks thus had better be God for if not he is almost certainly a liar or a lunatic, as the great thinker C.S. Lewis put it. Christians believe he is God, the Lord of all, as Paul said: “For in Christ, all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” His words, he told us, would never fade away (Matthew 24:35). And they haven’t.
Surely, if God became man we would expect him to have left a lasting influence and with Jesus Christ that is exactly what has happened. Let’s close by quoting a famous essay, “One Solitary Life:”
“Here is a man who as born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman…he worked in a carpenter shop until he was thirty, and then after three years he was an itinerant preacher. He never owned a home. He never wrote a book, He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college…He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness…While still a young man the tide of popular opinion tuned against him. His friends ran away. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves…When he was dead he was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
Nineteen long centuries have gone and today he is the centerpiece of the human race and the leader of the column of progress. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched and all the kings that ever reigned put together have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as that one solitary life.”
Solitary? Yes, but then Jesus was never alone. The Father who dwelled with him and in him ensured that all those who study the evidence with an open mind would conclude: This is what God would be like were he to become a human being.