God put on flesh
The incarnation stands as one of the most awe-inspiring narratives in Scripture: God clothed in humanity, born as a man, and dwelling among us. The infinite now tangible, the invisible now seen, and Jesus, the God of all the universe, dwelt among men.
One of the most important questions that is often not asked by Gospel-professing Christians is the question of why the incarnation of Christ was necessary for our salvation. Could God not have simply forgiven our sins without His descent, dwelling among us, His sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection? Why did the salvation of the world require the death of God’s only begotten Son? Now, this question isn’t without merit, especially when you consider the fact that the destruction of the wicked is carried out by God himself. The cross wasn’t God’s desperate attempt to save us from the clutches of Satan’s judgment, but his own. To comprehend this, we must grasp the truth about what exactly we are being rescued from.
What are we saved from?
As a child growing up, I always assumed that Satan was dragging me into his kingdom (hell) and that Jesus had to come down to put a stop to it. But the more I matured in my understanding of Scripture, I began to realise that hell is not Satan’s kingdom and he is not the king of that kingdom.
Satan is not ruling in hell, he is subject to torment there day and night forever and ever alongside all the wicked men of this world who do not believe in Christ. The Bible talks about hell as a place of perpetual punishment, and the angels of God are the ones who cast the wicked upon this lake of fire and brimstone.
But this torment and punishment is not carried about by Satan or his minions. They are not the governors of hell. It was a paradigm shift in my theological understanding when I realised that hell is not Satan’s domain, it is God’s domain and that the one carrying out the judgment and destruction in the fires of hell is God himself.
It is God who destroys the wicked in hell, both soul and body. As Paul Washer summarised in one of his sermons, God is the ruler of hell, for hell is the eternal wrath and justice of God met upon a wicked people (the best paraphrase of the quote I could think of).
Notice two things here. One, hell is described as the wine of God’s wrath poured full strength into the cup of his anger. Two, the smoke of their torment in hell rises up in the presence of the Lamb. The reference here is to Christ who is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This is a direct reference then to the Gospel. In other words, the Gospel that saves is also the Gospel that condemns.
If believing the Gospel message results in eternal life, then not believing it results in death. So, the Gospel that saves the believing is the same standard by which the unbelieving perish in hell. Christ the Saviour of mankind is also its destroyer.
In essence, God saves us from his own wrath. We are saved by God from God. This amplifies the potency of the earlier question I posed. Why did our salvation require the death of his Son if our salvation is from him in the first place? Couldn’t God have just forgiven us and called it a day? Why the tragic and painful theatrics of such a sacrifice?
The demand of God’s Justice
Scripture affirms that,
God’s character embodies justice without deceit. By His perfect standard, justice mandates the punishment of the wicked. This quality typifies a good judge—a refusal to let the guilty go unpunished. God is by nature, just. It is one of his attributes, or perfections, or as J.C Ryle would have put it, his excellencies. He punishes the guilty for their sin, and all of humanity is guilty.
And the punishment for sin is death. If God spared us without consequence, he would be compromising his essential character and consequently, there would be no righteous basis or meaning to justice. It’s essential to clarify: this doesn’t imply an external standard God must meet to be divine. Rather, God Himself embodies justice, serving as our standard. God is just, and everything he does is just, affirming that the wicked face consequences for their crimes rather than being set free.
God sent his Son
In sending His Son, Jesus arrived as God’s atonement for our sins. Our transgressions against the eternal deity warrant eternal punishment – the flames of hell. Christ, joyfully heeding His Father’s call, arrived to make amends on our behalf. It was the eternal God paying the eternal price. Jesus’ purpose in coming to die was to appease God’s just wrath. Apart from such a sacrifice, there is no other salvation for mankind.
Therefore, the incarnation of Christ stands as humanity’s sole hope, making the advent season a time to celebrate and rejoice in this hope.