Series: Great Doctrines

These services at eight-thirty o’clock each Lord’s Day morning are dedicated to a great doctrine, a teaching.  And this morning, as you would know, the sermon is The Doctrine of the Incarnation: God made flesh, dwelling among men, walking in our earth, living our life, experiencing all of the temptations to which we are subject, and suffering our death [Philippians 2:6-8].  Now the reading from the Book, the basis for the message, is the first chapter of John and the first eighteen verses; and the text is the eighteenth verse:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The same was in the beginning with God.

All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made.

In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness overwhelmed it not.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through Him might believe.

He was not that Light, but he was sent to bear witness of the Light.

That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.

He came unto his own, and His own received him not.

But as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become the children of God, even to them that trust in His name:

Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

John bare witness of Him, and cried, saying, “This was He of whom I spake, ‘He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for He was before me,’” –

pre-existent –

And of His fullness have all we received, and grace on top of grace –

and grace added to grace, grace and super abounding grace, and grace for grace –

For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him –

He hath manifested Him, He hath revealed Him. [John 1:1-18]

This is God.

In the twelfth verse of the first chapter of First Peter, the apostle says the angels desire to look into this infinite mystery of the glorious coming of God among men.  And so many of these pictures that I see of the Nativity, of the coming of God down to earth, the artist will draw angels, and almost always they look upon the Holy Child or upon the coming of the Lord in adoration, in awe, in deepest humility and worship.

We’re that way also.  There is a mystery in the coming of God in the flesh that is as great as the mystery that lies back of the creation of this world itself[Ephesians 3:8-10].  God among men.  That mystery is one that overwhelms us.  It is something that the prophets themselves could not quite comprehend as they enworded in language, gave harbinger of that glorious and incomparable day [1 Peter 1:10-12].  For it has always been in the heart of a man to want to see God.  We’re that way.

Sometimes in a sermon of memorial, I will say – and I think it’s true of all of us – that to see the face of God and live is the vision beatific itself:  to know what God is like, to see Him.

Back yonder, long, long time ago, Moses said to the Lord God, “Oh that I might see Thee and Thy glory” [Exodus 33:18].  And the Lord said to Moses, “Moses you stand here on this great rock, and I’ll put you in a cleft of the rock and cover you there with My hand; and I will pass by in all My glory.  Then I’ll remove My hand, and you can see My back, but My face you cannot see” [Exodus 33:21-23].

So the Lord placed Moses in the cleft of the rock and covered him there with His hand, and the Lord passed by in all of His glory.  Then when He had passed, He removed his hand, and Moses looked upon the back of God.  But no man hath seen the face of God at any time.  And as God said to Moses, “No man could see My face and live” [Exodus 33:20].  The glorious vision of the incomparable God would be beyond what any man could look upon and still live.

That same thing has been in the hearts of man all through these years – to look upon God.  [Phillip] said to Jesus, “Shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us” [John 14:8].

And Jesus said, “[Phillip], have I been so long time with you and yet dost thou not know Me?  He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” [John 14:9].

The great purpose that lies back of the incarnation is this: that we might see God, that we might know Him – what is He like, and what does He do, and what does He say, and how does He act.  The incarnation is the answer to that: man’s longing to know and to see God.  So we look upon it.  And this is the way God did it.

First of all, God revealed Himself to the world by being born a baby [Matthew 1:23].  That used to frighten me what the cynic said about that that God would come down to this infinitesimal little planet in all of the multitude of God’s vast universe and be born a baby.  For you see, almost all of us in our lives, especially as students, go through those days of philosophical perplexities.  These cynics and these infidels and these intellectuals, falsely so-called, with all manner of arguments against the truth of the revealed Word of God, they say things; and when you’re young, they greatly bother you.

Now, I was greatly bothered by what the cynic had to say about the Lord God who created all of this vast infinite universe:  if there is such a God that He would pick out this little, tiny, inconsequential corner of the vast universe, and in that inconsequential corner, He’d pick out one of the smallest planets, and that He’d be born on that little, tiny, infinitesimal planet.  Why, they said the thought is ludicrous.  It is intellectually unacceptable.  It couldn’t be.  It violates a man’s reason.  Well, those things bothered me when I was a boy.

I can see now so much better than I could then when I was a lad.  For one thing, space:  space isn’t what you think it is, and bigness isn’t what you think it is.  I found out as I continued to study, I found out that the world is just as little that way as it is big this way.  What is bigness and littleness?  Why they tell us these atomic worlds are as big in their universes whirling around their nuclei with those electrons and neutrons.  They tell us that those universes are as big in their little way as this vast infinite universe is as big in its infinite way.  Bigness is something that is relative.  It means nothing at all.

In the current issue of the Reader’s Digest, it says in there that if you were to take all the space out of the atoms in this world, it’d be just a little ball.  If you were to take all of the space out of the atoms out of the biggest sun that shines in the sky, it’d be a relatively little thing.  That doesn’t scare us anymore.  Bigness is littleness; littleness is bigness; and all of it is relative, and it means nothing at all!  The fact that this little world of ours is little compared to a great sun up there, that’s nothing for littleness or bigness is just relative.

Then I found out one other thing, and that was this: heart and love.  Somehow, God has never connected on to bigness or to spaciousness or to quantity.  It’s like this: suppose you own a massive mansion out on, oh, one of those beautiful boulevards toward the northwestern part of Dallas.  And on the inside of that beautiful, beautiful home you had beautiful draperies, and glorious carpets, and marvelous furniture, and beautiful windows, and all kinds of precious things inside that house.  And you had a little baby – oh, weighs seven pounds or eight pounds, just a little bitty thing, hold it in your hand just like that.  And suppose upon a day, you and your wife were out visiting somewhere, eating dinner somewhere, and in the house, that beautiful mansion, you had a maid keeping that little baby.  And you received a telephone call, and the telephone call said, “Oh, a tragedy!  That beautiful mansion of yours is burning up!  It’s burning up.  It’s burning up!”

And I can imagine what you would say back:  “My beautiful mansion is burning up!  Oh, are my draperies safe?  How about my rich carpets?  How about my furniture?  You mean that glorious mansion is on fire?”  Would you?  Or would you say, “My baby! My baby’s in that house!  Is my baby safe?”  That is, if you had a heart you would.  If you loved, you would.

It all depends on what you think about God.  If God is just interested in His vast stars, and in His oceans, and in His continents, why then the infidel is right, and the cynic is right:  He wouldn’t pay any attention to us.  But if God has a heart, and if the Lord is moved by the spirit of love, His cry is, “What about my children?  Are they safe?  Are they saved?”

So I say that doesn’t bother me anymore.  This is a little planet, and it is tucked away in a little tiny part of God’s infinite universe.  But the reason the Lord cares for us is ’cause He loves us [John 3:16].  We’re His children [John 1:12].  We’re His babes.  And He came down to this little place seeking us, and He came in the form of a baby [Matthew 1:18-25].

Now there’s another thing about that.  He came born a baby [Luke 2:1-20].  That’s the common denominator for all humanity.  All of us come in the form of little babies, all of us.  Great big strong man: he was once in his mother’s arms a baby.  Fine, great leader – sometimes an army, sometimes a great nation, sometimes an intellectual giant – but he also was in his mother’s arms a little baby.  That’s the one common denominator of all humanity.  If He was going to be like us all, to be like us all, He’d have to be one time a baby.

I thought John Anderson’s little story yesterday, beginning his column there “Down to Earth,” was one of the finest stories that I had ever read.  Do you remember it?  Up in the northwestern Canadian woods, men were working up there far from their families, and upon a day, all of their families came to be with them.  And as a celebration, as a celebration, they had the band to play.

And one of the wives had a little baby in her arms.  And when the band struck the note, it startled the little child, and the little child began to cry.  And one of the big rough woodsmen stood up and said, “Stop the band!  Stop the band!  Let’s hear the baby cry.”

I like that.  I like that.  That’s the common denominator for all humanity: a baby in mother’s arms.  I had a lot of things to say about that this morning. I just point ’em out to you.  You read Bret Harte’s [1836-1902] “The Luck of Roaring Camp” [1868].  It starts off with a baby, and it ends with a baby.

I read this week, out there visiting my mother, I read Sholem Asch [1880-1957]The Apostle [1943] which is the sequence of his great book The Nazarene [1939].  And in that awful and trying hour when the Christians were being fed to the wild beasts in the gladiatorial combats in Rome and Nero is there and the crowds, bloodthirsty, are looking upon the destruction of the Christians, the one thing that gains the attention of that vast concourse of Roman holiday people is a man, and he is protecting with his own body a little baby that he holds next to his heart.  It’s the appeal to any race and to any tribe in any place, in any language, and in any tongue:  this little babe that a mother will hold in her arms.  He was born a babe [Luke 2:9-12].

Alright, a second thing:  He was born poor, poor [Luke 2:21-24].  For however a few of us may be, almost all of us are poor, and we’ll always be poor.  Jesus said, “The poor you have with you always” [Matthew 26:11].  The great host, the great vast mass of humanity is poor.  They don’t have enough to eat.  They do not have enough to wear.  They don’t have a nice place to live.  Most of humanity is poor.  And most of us are poor.  And most of us were reared poor.  And Jesus was poor [2 Corinthians 8:9].

And I think there’s a divine and infinite reason for that, and it is this.  When the magi came from the east, they were kings themselves.  And they went up to Herod himself, and they asked, in the palace, “Where is He that is born a king?  Where is He, born King of the Jews?” [Matthew 2:1-2].

Well, that is natural.  Kingly people seeking for the birth of a king would go to a king’s palace.  But there are not many of us that would have the temerity to walk up to the king of a great nation, to Buckingham Palace, or even to the White House of the United States of America.  I don’t know why.  There’s just something about being poor that shuts you out from those beautiful mansions and those lordly estates and that glorious society that so sparkles with grandeur and luxury and riches.  You just don’t feel welcome.  You don’t feel at ease.  You’re not dressed right.  You’re not taught how to act.  You don’t know how to do.  And for the most part, I say, most poor people would never have the temerity to knock or to ask.

But I haven’t seen anybody yet, no matter how poor they were, that would stumble or hesitate at walking in a cattle stall, looking over into a manger, and seeing there one of their own: a poor, poor child, wrapped in swaddling clothes [Luke 2:712].  That is, the mother was not affluent enough to buy a little dress, to buy a little covering for the child.  So she took rags, and she wrapped them around the little baby – started with each one of his feet, and each one of his limbs, and wrapped the child in swaddling clothes.  They were very, very poor.  Anybody would feel welcome in a cattle stall.  Anybody would have the temerity to look over into a manger.  And that was the incarnation of God:  the door wide, wide open, anybody free and welcome to come.

Again, He was born to suffer, born in trial.  God incarnate.  Over here in the book of Hebrews, the author of Hebrews says of the Lord that:

Verily He took upon Him not the nature of angels; but He took upon Him the seed of Abraham –

a man –

And it behooved Him to be made like unto his brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest . . .

For in that He himself hath suffered, being tempted, He’s able to succor them that are tempted.  [Hebrews 2:16-18]

For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but in all points tempted like as we are, though without sin.

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. [Hebrews 4:15-16]

Out of His life came all of those sympathies and compassionate sharings that made Him a brother, as the author here says, with us [Hebrews 2:11].  Is there any burden?  Is there any trouble?  Are there any discouragements?  He knew them, and He suffered them, and He bore them.  And out of them came all of those sympathies by which God understands the things that we bear.  All the burdens that we share, God knows and God understands.

Those wonderful words of grace that fell from His lips [Luke 4:22], they came out of His life.  All of those sympathies that poured from His heart and His soul, they came out of the experiences of His life.  And that endless intercession by which God in Heaven upholds us and remembers us [Romans 8:34Hebrews 7:25], they come out of the experiences of His life that He knew in this world when He walked among men.  And the ultimate end will be the glorious triumph of our Lord and Savior when He comes to be the King – crowned, visible, open – when back again in this earth our Brother [Hebrews 2:11] is here to be our Lord and our visible Savior [2 Thessalonians 1:101 Peter 1:13].

There’s a song in the air!

There’s a star in the sky!

There’s a mother’s deep prayer

and a baby’s low cry!

And a star rains its fire

while the beautiful sing,

for the manger of Bethlehem

cradles a King!

There’s a tumult of joy for the wonderful . . .

[from “There’s a Song in the Air,” by Josiah G. Holland, 1872]

For more sermons by W.A Criswell, please visit www.wacriswell.com


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About The Author

W. A. Criswell was born December 19, 1909 in Eldorado, Oklahoma. He received his B.A. from Baylor University, and his Th.M. and Ph.D. degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He served for fifty years as senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, for many years the largest church in the Southern Baptist Convention. As founder and chancellor of the Criswell College, Dr. Criswell gave his later years to preparing young preachers to preach the Word of God. Dr. Criswell went to be with the Lord January 10, 2002. His ministry continues through the messages he preached and the lives he touched during his seventy-five years of pastoral service. Over 4000 of these messages with notes, outlines, audio and video are available through the Criswell Sermon Library at www.wacriswell.com. The Sermon Library is a ministry of the W.A. Criswell Foundation, Inc. to assist pastors and lay people in sermon preparation.

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