SEVERAL YEARS AGO a friend sent me a life-changing Christmas card. On the front was this simple statement, “Many Men Have Claimed To Be God.”
Underneath appeared pictures of famous men like Ghenkis Khan, Augustus Caesar, Pharaoh, Alexander the Great, and important Hindu Gurus like Maharishi Mahesh Yogi—all men with substantial egos and great ambitions for worldly prominence. As I thought of the outlandish claims of these long-forgotten mortals, their claims to deity seemed absurd.
Then I opened the card. In stark black print on glossy-white card stock this single phrase appeared.
“But Only One God Has Claimed To Be Man!”
It was an austere, hypeless, message—simple, yet profound. Here it was: the real God expressed his greatness by descending, by becoming less. He emptied himself of the perks and prerogatives of deity. By contrast, we humans seek greatness by ascending, lifting ourselves up, pretending we are something that we are really not, promoting self, and in the process expressing what the Bible calls sin.
A great chasm separates these two mindsets. It is the wasteland between Heaven and Hell. It’s the difference between life with God at the center, or life without Him; life in the church of the living God, or life lived in a selfish, fallen world.
Over the years I find myself thinking more and more about the Christmas card, for the implications are staggering. God magnifies his greatness by descending. God gets greater by becoming smaller. God rules by serving. In his humanity Jesus became stronger by becoming weak, small, and frail.
By contrast, we are masters of self-promotion. We become great by seizing it. We become great by using others. We become great by exalting ourselves at the expense of others.
Saturating our minds in how God becomes great, and falling in love with it, is the solution to many of life’s thorniest problems. It is the solution to marital discord. It is the solution to war, it means the end of betrayal, and the cure for restlessness.
Christians celebrate the Incarnation. It is central to our faith. The English word, Incarnation, is a derivation of the Latin word, Carno—flesh. The old TV add for Chile Con Carne helps me remember this word. Literally, Chile Con Carne means, “Chili with flesh.” The word incarnation speaks of this truth. God joined himself with flesh! Deity has become like one of us. God has descended an infinite distance to wrap Himself in human flesh. This does not astound many Christians, and that is a problem. The fact that it doesn’t shock us speaks of our great poverty. We lack illumination. Our vision is small. We are ignorant of eternal realities.
Properly understood, the incarnation deeply humbles us. It exposes our great need. It lays bare our personal bankruptcy. It reveals the mind of Christ, before which our fallen minds tremble and rejoice. The Incarnation is about infinity becoming finite, the Creator joining his creation, and Omnipotence embracing weakness.
The Infinite Became Finite
The Incarnation will only be meaningful to the degree that we understand the incredible privileges and rights that Christ voluntarily gave up. Many good people have given up rights to something for a higher cause, but Christ gave up the right to infinite status. He gave up the privileges and perks of deity. I use the word “infinite” deliberately. The distance between something infinite and something finite is infinite.
This presents us with a problem, for infinity is beyond our comprehension. Something infinite goes on forever and never stops. What I am saying is that Jesus put behind him the rights of divinity—infinite pleasure, infinite power, infinite status, and infinite glory.
I cannot reduce myself infinitely. It will always be finite. It will always be measurable. I could be become an electron, and although this would be a great reduction, my descent would still be measurable. But Christ’s descent was immeasurable. It was infinite.
This should amaze us because for God his infinity is a big deal. It is so important that he commanded the Jews to never represent him with anything physical…a statue, picture, or painting. Why? Because physical representations imply finiteness, but God is infinite.
The Creator Joined his Creation
We often imagine that the Father created the universe while Christ, in some inferior status, sat by and watched. But Col. 1:16 reads, “For by him [Christ] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” Therefore, when Genesis 1:3 reads, “And God said, “Let there be light, and there was light,” it was Christ speaking creation into existence.
My point is this: Jesus spoke everything into existence then volunteered to join himself to what he had created—forever. Today, he still retains a human, glorified body in heaven.
This explains why the incarnation was such an immense humbling. The infinite Creator-Christ joined the divine nature to a finite human nature.
Omnipotence Became Weak
Christ was omnipotent in his pre-incarnate state. Omnipotence means unlimited power. God’s power is in his word. He speaks and it happens.
To display the majesty and glory of His power, Christ spoke and a universe of unimaginable proportions sprung into existence.
Distances in the universe are so immense that we measure them in light years— the distance that light travels, moving at 186,000 miles per second, for an entire year. To put it in perspective, light will circle the earth 7.5 times in one second. Therefore, a light year is approximately 6 Trillion miles—a distance our finite fallen minds cannot begin to fathom, and this is only one light year. The nearest star is 4.3 light years. The nearest galaxy, Andromeda, is 750,000 light years away. At this writing, the furthest known galaxy is 1,000,000,000 (that’s right, 1 billion) light years away.
In addition, numerous galaxies exist outside our own Milky Way. Many are thousands of light years across and filled with millions of stars, many larger than our sun. From some galaxies our galaxy, the Milky Way, is not even visible, this despite the fact that, at the most recent estimates, it contains 100 billion stars.
Compared to this our solar system is unimaginably tiny, and our own earth even smaller. The sun is a good reference point. It is 866,000 miles in diameter, and there are stars 1,000 times larger than the sun, yet 1,250,000 earths will fit inside the sun. It lies 33,000 light years from the center of the Milky Way, of which it is a part, and at its current speed, would take 225 million years just to orbit the Milky Way.
If the earth were the size of a golf ball, the sun would be a quarter mile away. The nearest fixed star to us is over 40,000 miles away.”
I have labored these facts to make this point: Christ created all of this. At His mere word of command, it all appeared. He spoke the universe into existence. Moreover, this is an incomplete revelation of His infinite power because the Universe is finite, but God’s power is infinite. Now maybe we can understand why John, the apostle most intimate with Jesus in His humanity, when he saw Him in His glory on the Island of Patmos, fell before Him as though dead (Revelation. 1:17). It gives needed perspective on Philippians 2:6 “Who though he was in the form of God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself.”
This is the miracle and wonder of the incarnation. The baby in the manger was the infinite, eternal Word of God. He was infinitely omnipotent, omniscient, and glorious beyond imagination. This God lowered Himself, emptied himself, and descended an infinite distance to save us.
God wants us to understand this and love him.
God wants us to understand this and imitate him. He wants us to love each other as he has loved us.
God wants us to pursue greatness the same way he did, by emptying ourselves.
As the Christmas card so eloquently said, “Many men have claimed to be God, But only one God has claimed to be man.”
Jesus descended this way because “God is love” (1 John 4:16). We have a problem, and Christ came to solve it. We are sinners, and sin alienates us from God. People not reconciled to God will not go to Heaven. Instead, they will go to Hell forever. But, God does not want you to go to Hell.
God is angry with you, but he wants to be your friend. You cannot repair your relationship with God by trying harder or saying “I’m sorry!” Only God is big enough to repair your relationship with him, and that is why he sent Jesus on this infinite downer.
He loves you! He came to make peace with you at infinite personal expense to himself.
This remarkable self-emptying, this remarkable love, is what the Bible calls spiritual light. It is what the apostle John had in mind when he wrote, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5).
The “Life” to which John referred was this remarkable lowly, self-emptying love. Wherever God’s light shines, it exposes the opposite—our selfish penchant for self-promotion—what the Bible refers to as moral darkness. God’s light exposes the darkness of human pride, vanity, selfish-ambition, and self-importance.
Ultimately, only those born into God’s family through the miracle of New Birth can love this Light or adequately express this Light. Everyone else will hate God’s Light. Why? It threatens their selfishness. It threatens their agenda. It exposes their darkness. Here is Jesus warning.
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God (Jn 3:19-21).
How does one become a child of God, a Son of this glorious Light? You must be born again. You cannot earn New Birth. You cannot buy it. God gives it freely and ungrudgingly to those who humble themselves, confess their great need and believe the Good News. God gives New Birth to those who believe the Good News and turn from their sins.
Many men have claimed to be God, but only once has God claimed to be man. Who do you want to side with? Do you want to go on trying to assert your own deity? Or, would you like to be aligned with the God who is so good that he gave up the rights and privileges of deity in order to save you?
Those are the choices before us today.
 Wells, H.G., Outlines of History, Vol. I, pg 19 (New York, Garden City Books, 1949)