by Bob Wheeler


If Jesus was God, then why would He have to become man? Why would He have to come into the world, be born of a virgin, and then suffer and die on a cross? At Christmas we celebrate the incarnation. But why did Christ have to become incarnate?

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews goes on to discuss this point. “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings” (Heb. 2:10; NASV). By “author” he means the one who began or originated our salvation. And it is said of the author that God “perfects” Him. Jesus was, of course, morally perfect. But simply as the Son of God He could not have functioned as our Savior. Something more was needed. He needed to become man as well as God, so that He could serve as our representative in making an atonement for sin.

Christ, in effect, had to become “one of us.” “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). There is a sense in which our experience is utterly unlike God’s. We have to cope with all the physical limitations of life on this planet. We experience hunger and thirst, and physical exhaustion; not to mention sickness, disease and injury. There is the emotional pain and suffering we endure in this world of human conflict and turmoil. Then there is the inner temptation to do what we know is morally wrong, with the guilt and shame that brings.   And finally there is the stark reality of death. We live with the fact that we will all eventually die. As full of life and health and vitality as we may be now, eventually we will become cold corpses lying in the ground. And to a great extent that fear of death controls our thinking and behavior now; “. . . who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (v. 15). Our behavior is controlled by our circumstances because we dread the final end, and seek to postpone it by any measure at our disposal. And this sometimes results on ethical compromises on our part. When threatened with extinction we cave in.

But how would the Son of God know any of that? In a theoretical sort of way, of course, He would – as God He is omniscient. But He would never have experienced any of this firsthand. “Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in thing pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (v. 17). Jesus came to fulfill the role of a priest. To “propitiate” means to placate the anger of an offended God.   In Old Testament time the high priest would offer up sacrifices on behalf of the people. In effect the priest was acting as the people’s representative before God. Thus in order to Christ to perform that role, He had to become our representative, and He could only do that if He is in some measure like us. Then He can be “merciful,” i.e. feel pity and compassion for us; and “faithful,” – trustworthy and reliable. And thus Christ had to become man. “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” But in order for that to happen the Son of God had to become man. And that is exactly what happened that day in Bethlehem.

Later on in the epistle the author draws the practical application from all of this: “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15,16). The blessed truth is that we have a Savior, a Savior who has made atonement for sin and now makes intercession in heaven for those who are His by faith. Thus, for us who believe, life should not be a hopeless struggle for survival followed by the grave. Because of what Christ has done we can find salvation in Him. And once having found salvation we can go directly before God in prayer and receive a genuinely sympathetic hearing. And it all began in Bethlehem.