I Am Thankful the Church Is Incarnational

Last week, I explained what I am doing. This is the second of two weeks of Thanksgiving. Last week, I talked about how I am thankful that the church is a family. We talked about what it means and how we should live because of it. If you were not able to be here, I encourage you to go back and watch or listen to it.
During that sermon I also briefly mentioned how, growing up, all of our holidays were separate from each other. For Resurrection Sunday, we celebrated the resurrection. For Thanksgiving, we celebrated Thanksgiving. For Christmas, we celebrated Christmas. Never would any of the touch.
I have departed from that tradition. I celebrate all of the holidays all of the time. Drives my family nuts.
But, now you know, this thanksgiving sermon, is going to have a festive mix of Christmas with it. Please forgive me.
Last week, I talked about how I am thankful that the church is a family.
This week, I am thankful that the church is incarnational.

1. Theology of the Incarnation

Let’s talk about Incarnation.
During Advent season, when we celebrate Christ coming, we are celebrating the incarnation.
Incarnation literally means “taking on flesh”. It is pulled from the Latin translation of John 1:14.
John 1:14 NIV
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
The Word, Jesus, incarnated. He took on flesh.
But, the word incarnation has more meaning than just its literal definition.
The Holman Bible Dictionary expands the definition of incarnation even more:
Just beware, what I am about to read has a bunch of words to it that probably didn’t need to be there.
The incarnation refers to the affirmation that God, in one of the modes of His existence as Trinity and without in any way ceasing to be the one God, has revealed Himself to humanity for its salvation by becoming human. Jesus, the Man from Nazareth, is the incarnate Word or Son of God, the focus of the God-human encounter. As the God-Man, He mediates God to humans; as the Man-God, He represents humans to God. By faith-union with Him, men and women, as adopted children of God, participate in His filial relation to God as Father.
That’s a mouthful! Let’s say it more simply:
“the pre-existent Son of God became man in Jesus.”
We might say that fact simply, or complexly, but do we understand it.
Before Jesus was Jesus, as we know him, before he took on flesh and dwelt among us, he was the eternally existent Son of God, part of the Triune God, dwelling in heaven, abiding in the throne room of God.
Scripture makes clear what that state was like. We know that in God’s presence there is no sickness, no decay, no death, no sin, no depravity, no weakness, no change.
We know that God is all good, all love, all justice, all righteousness. We know that he has all power and knows all things. We know that he is all sufficient and lacks nothing.
When the eternal Son of God dwelt in that state, it is almost to simple to call it “living in perfection.”
We read different accounts of prophets seeing visions of throne room where the Son of God abided. But, these accounts do not give a just description, because the prophets can only describe what they see and understand. These descriptions are less than the actual thing.
Consider what Ezekiel wrote:
Ezekiel 1:22–28 NIV
Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked something like a vault, sparkling like crystal, and awesome. Under the vault their wings were stretched out one toward the other, and each had two wings covering its body. When the creatures moved, I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army. When they stood still, they lowered their wings. Then there came a voice from above the vault over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.
John in Revelation gives a similar description.
Can you imagine what it is like? That was Jesus’ environment before he put on flesh. He left all of it and came to earth. We have a hard enough time leaving home to go to Sunday morning service.
Jesus put on flesh and all that comes with it. He left the glories of heaven to live in our muck and mire. He experienced sickness. He experienced death of loved ones. He experienced temptation of sin. He experienced heartache, weakness, decay, beatings, sweat, tears, pain.
Can you see the contrast of the incarnation? He left it all to live among us.
Paul writes of this in Phil 2
Philippians 2:5–8 NIV
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
Again Paul says in
2 Corinthians 8:9 NIV
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
This is the Gospel. Christ left heaven and came to us so that we might have a relationship with him forever in paradise.
Why would he do this? He did it out of love.
John Perkins writes:
God is holy and just. He is life. He is light. He is love. When we try to understand people’s actions, whether at a crime scene or just in everyday life, the most important thing to look for is their motivation. John 3:16 tells us that because God so loved the world He sent His only Son to save us. Love is what brought God down from heaven and generated the incarnation. Love was always God’s motivation, which is why it must be ours also.
The apostle John writes:
1 John 4:7–11 NIV
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
Jesus loved us so much to leave the glories of heaven and join our muck. The amazingness of this love is that we didn’t love him. The Bible refers to us as enemies, running in the opposite direction, wanting nothing to do with him.
John writes:
John 1:9–13 NIV
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
He came to those who didn’t want him, who wouldn’t receive him.
This is the Gospel.
A.W. Tozer writes:
What brought Jesus Christ to die? “Thou visitest him,” The Scriptures record. Why did he visit us? Was it that he might carry out the eternal purpose? Yes, but that is not the way to look at it. He visited us because we were a fixture in his mind. He came for us as a mother wakes in the morning and runs into the room to see if the baby is all right. It was love that brought him down to die. God’s anxious, restless love was incarnated in human flesh. This accounts for the character of Christ and for his attitude toward people and his tireless labor for them. This ultimately accounts for his dying for them at last….
Our Lord’s greatest pain for us compelled him to come down to earth. Calvary was a pain…. The nails were painful. And the hanging there, perspiring in the hot sun with the flies, must have been a painful, awful experience. But one pain was bigger than the other. It was the bigger pain that drove him to endure the little pain. And the smaller pain was his pain of dying. The greater pain was his pain of loving… To love and not be loved in return is one of the most exquisite pains in the entire repertoire of painfulness. So He came, He lived, He loved, and He died and death could not destroy that love. It is still a fixture in His mind.”
The Gospel. The incarnation. Jesus left his home and dwelt in the muck of those who hated him, because he loved them.
But, that is not the last word on the incarnation. After Jesus died and rose again, he appeared to the disciples and said:
John 20:21 NIV
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Jesus had an incarnational ministry. We are to have one as well. We get to take part in the redemptive work.
We are called to leave our comfort zone, our building on a hill, and enter the community, loving those around us, so that the Gospel can be shared. Not just loving, but loving as Jesus loved, those who are our enemies, who want nothing to do with us, who are living in muck, in sinfulness and depravity. We are called to go to them.
We are to love our neighbor, as Jesus taught in the parable of the Good Samaritan. A Jew was beaten one day and ignored by the wealthy, the leaders, and the religious. Finally, a Samaritan, the enemy of the Jew, had pity and loved the beaten up man. Jesus said, that in the same way, we are to love our neighbors.
We are to reach out to “those who are hurting, who’ve been beaten up, stripped, and left all alone. Our neighbors are not necessarily those who live close by to us. They are “those who’ve been ignored by upstanding citizens and faithful churchgoers. They are those who have been made to feel as if their lives don’t matter.”
We are to have incarnational ministry.
John Perkins, a leader in conservative racial reconciliation, writes:
As I’ve continued in my Christian walk, I’ve come to understand something else about being a witness for Christ: It’s not just about telling the story. If we are going to help others understand who Jesus is, our own lives must reflect His character and love. Our lives should bear witness—not primarily to how much we love God but to how much he loves us and how our hearts have been turned because of his deep love for us. Our lives should show that His deep love for us brings us great joy, even in the midst of tribulation. That he would reach down and pick up somebody like me (or like you) and show His love for me and then give me the privilege of sharing that love with others—That’s God’s miracle. That’s incarnation. Jesus was incarnated so we could experience God’s love; now we are called to live and minister incarnationally so that others can experience it as well.
We get to share in the pain and suffering of those around us, and in doing that, we get to show Christ.
The theology of incarnation.
What does that look like today?

2. History of the Incarnation

Well, before we can look at today, we need to take a step back in time and look at what incarnational ministry looked like in the early church.
Tertullian: “It is our care for the helpless, our practice of lovingkindness, that brands us in the eyes of many. Of our opponents. ‘See’ they say ‘how they love one another.’”
Like that is a bad thing?
The early church lived in the community. They visited the sick, they cared for the needy, they adopted the unwanted.
They lived their faith in an active way among the community, so that their community would want to turn to Christ.
Ignatius urged Christians: “Keep on praying for others too, for there is a chance of their being converted and getting to God. Let them learn from you at least by your actions. Return their bad temper with gentleness; their boasts with humility; their abuse with prayer.”
The focus of evangelism was not bringing the lost to church, because that rarely happened. The focus was on bringing the church to the lost.
The History of Christianity records:
“During outbreaks of plague at Alexandria, Christians tended the sick and buried the dead when nearly everyone else had fled. In fact, the Christian life-style itself was a very powerful influence in evangelism. In a society where kindness, honesty, and personal purity were rare, Christians who lived out these virtues were sure to attract comment and often serious inquiry.”
Justin Martyr wrote letters to the emperor of why Christians shouldn’t be persecuted, because they were the only ones who truly helped all people in society. He dared the emperor to scrutinize the Christians to see if they were really evil people. He could present this dare to the emperor because the Christians were already in the community doing good in the sight of all.
Incarnational ministry. They were lights in the midst of darkness.
This model was used for most of the past 2000 years. However, in the late 1800s the focus started shifting to bringing people into the church to share the Gospel. We were in a religious society who wanted to come in. So Sunday schools and Bible clubs were formed to bring people into church. In the 1990s, churches became seeker-sensitive, creating an environment where the lost would want to come to church.
And that worked for a time.
However, Society has changed. While many people are spiritual, they are not religious. They are not concerned with wasting their valuable time by coming to church. There are too many other things that are pulling them away.
Goodness, if Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, who owe everything to him, won’t regularly attend church, why would a non-believer?
Many in America, as I said, are spiritual, but they are not religious, and they are not moral. What was written about the age of the Roman empire could be written about today: Kindness, honesty, and personal purity are rare, even in Neligh.
In the spiritual darkness around us, we have the privilege of being a light shining in a way that is similar to the early church. We get to show our community that we are the people who reflect the character of God. We are the people who have hope and love.
The culture doesn’t want to come in to our building. So, we get to imitate Christ and go out. Incarnational ministry. If we stay in the building and just do things in this building, the lost world will not see our light.

3. Practice of the Incarnation

So, how do we as Calvary Bible Church fulfill the call of God to have an incarnational ministry in our community?

A. Know the needs of the community

Where do you live? Where do you shop? Where do you worship? Where do you work? Where do you hang out? What are the needs in those communities? Do you know?
Jesus came to earth because we had a need. Humanity was lost and needed a savior. Whenever he entered a town, he saw the needs of those around him, emotional and physical, and he ministered to those needs, as he called them to follow God.
If we are going to follow the ministry Christ set out for us, we need to know the needs, emotionally and physically, around us.
What are some needs in your communities?

B. Go out

It is not enough to know the needs of those around us if we do not minister to those needs. Every Christian should find some way to serve with the community and help with practical needs.
If we just meet together on Sundays, in the safety of the church building, go to the store, do this or that, but never meet anyone, if we never intentionally interact in the community, meeting the needs of those around us as the hands and feet of Jesus, we will not be able to fulfill the command of Christ.
So, we help out with the Mobile Food pantry. During the winter, we shovel our neighbors driveway and sidewalk. We rake the leaves at the elderly person down the street. If we are elderly, we befriend our neighbors and bake them cookies, we learn their heartaches and pray for them, and bake them more cookies.
When we go out and meet needs, serving in the community, we cannot pick and choose who we serve with or whom we serve. Christ came to his enemies and showed them love, even when they did not want to receive it. In the same way, we show love to those we may not want to. We imitate Christ.
So, we know the needs of the community. We go out and serve.

C. Be distinctively Christian

Finally, we be distinctively Christian.
We have a choice how we act or speak when we are being incarnational in the community. In the early church, people were able to see a blatant difference between the non-Christians and the Christians, because of how they acted. They pursued holy living in public. We should do the same.
We have a choice in explaining why we do what we do. We could take the moral route and talk about how our actions are good for society, blah, blah, blah.
I was talking with some Muslim college students one day. They asked what I believed about Homosexuality. I told them what the Bible said. They told me that they wanted to hear what I believed apart from the Bible. I said that I cannot separate what I believe or what I think from the Bible. My faith defines what I do, what I act.
We need to be honest that we are living and acting and ministering this way because we are followers of Jesus Christ. He came to earth to minister to our needs. Therefore, we minister to others so that they can know him through us.
Incarnational ministry takes time. To have incarnational ministry as a church, we need to be able to balance our time, so that we can focus on being incarnational. When we as a church are together our time is for discipleship. Whenever we are not together, our time is for incarnational ministry.
How are we doing?
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