Did God have to become man to save us?
by Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). No more sublime words have ever been written. God has become man in Christ! But why? “Why did God become man?” This question has echoed through the centuries in response to the Christian confession that “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). The faithful ask this question because its answer displays the mystery of our faith to the world. To know that God has become incarnate of the Virgin Mary is one thing; to know why is entirely another.
Everyone in Western culture knows the story of Christmas, right? Perhaps not. At least, people seldom know why Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Such knowledge is not faith. The incarnation invites our faith and confidence in God’s transcendent plan to save us poor sinners when God’s Son came among us as a human, a human entirely like us, except without sin (Heb. 4:15). The “why” is at least as important to us as the “what.” God does not send His Son into the world as a human born of Mary for any reason other than that by taking our flesh He might cleanse it from the effects of Adam’s fall.
God became man in Christ to set us free from fear and slavery to death. His incarnation makes Him subject to death that He might swallow down death into His indestructible life.
Why was it that He became man? Against every human expectation, Christ, God’s only Son, was made man by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:35). How is He who is from eternity made anything?
It was necessary for God to have undergone the incarnation. However, the necessity is not His. He had no internal need to become a man. As God, He cannot suffer compulsion. Who could compel Him? So, why was the incarnation necessary?
Simple: It is necessary for us. He was driven by the freedom of His love for us to take our flesh. It is for our sakes that He is born of the Virgin Mary, as we say in the Nicene Creed: “Who for us men and for our salvation . . .”
For us He is incarnate to take our place under the Law. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:45). Christ takes up the Law by placing Himself under the Law. He is the true Atlas who can shrug off the Law by fulfilling it in our place. “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19). The incarnation frees us from the tyranny of the Law because His righteousness becomes ours through His substitution for us.
He takes our flesh to suffer and die in our place. “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). He understands exactly what we suffer as humans because He experienced that fully, including the feeling of dereliction from God (Ps. 22:1). We can never say, “God, you cannot understand how I feel.” In prayer, when we assail His heart with our troubles, He knows and listens to our trouble as only another man could.
As the God-Man, He provides a perfect ransom for sins in our place. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Only the incarnate God offers service to humans rather than expecting the service of humans. His service to us is His glory.
He defeats the devil and overcame death for us. “Christ Jesus abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10). As a man, Christ has suffered death that life might be brought to us.
He suffers all the humiliation heaped upon Him by us. He trades His life for our death. He barters His birth unto life for our birth unto death. He swaps our wounds for His healing. He exchanges our blindness for His sight.
So, why did God become man? Why has He been clothed with our flesh? What for? The answer is thrilling, unbelievable and the mystery of our faith. He did it for us.
What has God done? He has become man of the Virgin. What has He done it for? Simple. For us.
> For more on the incarnation, go to www.cph.org to order the Rev. Dr. David P. Scaer’s book Christology.
About the author: The Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray is pastor of Memorial Lutheran Church, Houston, Texas, and the Synod’s Fifth Vice-President.