“‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’” (Luke 2:14).1 “‘I bring you good tidings of great joy. . . . For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord’” (vss. 10, 11).
We have heard these words a thousand times—old news from 2,000 years ago. Yes, we recall the incident every year at Christmas when we receive gifts, take a few days off from work, and visit relatives. But basically, the story has been told too many times to be relevant anymore.
But suppose the Son of God had not become the Son of man. What if the infinite God had not made the infinite sacrifice to become one with us? Imagine that Jesus had not entered this world as a baby to live as we must and to die on our behalf. What if He had not died in our place or been resurrected for us? Where would we be today? Even more important, who would we be today? What would be our self-concept if we had no knowledge of God, no hope of the resurrection, no certainty of the Second Coming, and no concept of life eternal in fellowship with God?
Instead of being stale history, the First Advent is, rather, the very lifeblood of our existence. It is the event of the ages that makes life worth living—that gives it meaning, purpose, and hope. The Christmas story portrays the mystery of mysteries and the wonder of wonders that the Son of God, the Creator of the universe, would leave heaven and the fellowship of His Father to become the Savior of the world.
Who was Jesus? Why has His life made such a difference for us? First of all, Jesus was fully God. “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9). Isaiah foretold that Jesus would be the mighty God, the everlasting Father (Isa. 9:6). In his Gospel, John emphasized that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:1-3). Because He was God, He had life inherently within Himself (vs. 4).
But Jesus was also fully human. Isaiah prophesied that He would not overwhelm the human race through physical attractiveness, power, or similar traits (Isa. 53:2). He entered our world through human birth. Made flesh, He dwelt among us. As a human being, He humbled Himself, not only to the level of a servant, but finally to the point of death (Phil. 2:7, 8).
Indeed, it is a great mystery that God should manifest Himself in human flesh. Christ did not “make believe” that He had human nature, but truly took it. “‘As the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same.’ He was the son of Mary; he was of the seed of David according to human descent.”2 “For our sake Jesus emptied himself of his glory; he clothed his divinity with humanity that he might touch humanity, that his personal presence might be among us, that we might know that he was acquainted with all our trials, and sympathized with our grief, that every son and daughter of Adam might understand that Jesus is the friend of sinners.”3
The first coming of Christ re-established the face-to-face communication with God that humanity had lost in Eden. As the God-man, Christ came as the revelation of the Father. “‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father’” (John 14:9). “Christ alone was able to represent the Deity. He who had been in the presence of the Father from the beginning, he who was the express image of the invisible God, was alone sufficient to accomplish this work. No verbal description could reveal God to the world. Through a life of purity, a life of perfect trust and submission to the will of God, a life of humiliation such as even the highest seraph in heaven would have shrunk from, God himself must be revealed to humanity. In order to do this, our Saviour clothed his divinity with humanity. He employed the human faculties, for only adopting these could he be comprehended by humanity. Only humanity could reach humanity. He lived out the character of God through the human body which God had prepared for him. He blessed the world by living out in human flesh the life of God, thus showing that he had the power to unite humanity to divinity.”4
The humanity of Christ meant that He faced the same temptations that all humanity struggles with. He can sympathize with us, for He was tempted in all points as we are (Heb. 4:15). Christ placed Himself in Adam’s position to gain victory where humanity had failed.
Some might argue that temptation could not truly have overcome Christ, that unlike us there was no possibility of His yielding to the tempter. But that would have made a mockery of His condescending to become one with us. Christ did not come to play a game, but truly to put human nature upon Himself. “[O]ur Saviour took humanity, with all its liabilities. He took the nature of man, with the possibility of yielding to temptation. We have nothing to bear which He has not endured.”5 “Could Satan in the least particular have tempted Christ to sin, he would have bruised the Saviour’s head. As it was, he could only touch His heel. Had the head of Christ been touched, the hope of the human race would have perished. Divine wrath would have come upon Christ as it came upon Adam. Christ and the church would have been without hope.”6
The temptation of Christ in the wilderness paralleled that of Adam and Eve in the garden. Satan approached Adam and Eve on their willingness to rely upon the word of God alone in their decision as to how to relate to the tree in the center of the garden. Unfortunately, they did not choose to let the God's word guide them. The fallen angel questioned what the Creator had already declared: “‘Has God indeed said. . . ?’” (Gen. 3:1).
We can imagine the serpent’s argument: “Is it really true that you will die if you eat of the fruit? Look at what your senses tell you. The serpent has eaten of the fruit and now has the ability to speak. If you perform the same scientific experiment, your powers will increase also—you will become as gods and will never die! Furthermore,” the tempter continued, “a God of love would not destroy a creature whom He has created. Philosophy tells us that would be contrary to reason. Therefore, it is all right to ignore the Word of God and to eat the fruit.”
“Christ, in the wilderness of temptation, stood in Adam’s place to bear the test he failed to endure.”7 The setting for Christ’s temptation was His baptism. The voice of God had spoken at the baptism, saying: “‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’” (Matt. 3:17). “When from the opening heavens [Satan] heard the voice of God addressing His Son, it was to him as the sound of a death knell. It told him that now God was about to unite man more closely to Himself, and give moral power to overcome temptation, and to escape from the entanglements of satanic devices. . . . He knew that everything which concerned his prosperity was depending upon his success or failure in overcoming Christ with his temptations; and he brought to bear on the Saviour every artifice at his command to allure Him from His integrity.”8
God permitted Satan that opportunity. Jesus went into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days. When Christ was weak and emaciated from hunger, the devil came to Him with the same temptation he had used in Eden, that of casting doubt on the Word of God. At Christ’s baptism God declared Jesus to be His Son. Now Satan challenged: “‘If You are the Son of God. . .’” (Matt. 4:3).
Christ had the same human options open to Him as had been available to Adam and Eve. He could have answered, “Why yes, I will give you scientific proof of My Sonship. I will turn these stones into bread.” Or He could have questioned His Sonship from a philosophical standpoint—“A God of love would not allow His Son to be alone in the wilderness without food and companionship, subject to the wild beasts of the desert.”
Instead, Christ firmly answered each of Satan’s three challenges: “‘It is written’” (vss. 4, 7, 10). The temptation Christ faced was to take Himself out of His Father’s hands, thus distrusting God’s goodness and disbelieving His word and authority. Satan sought to lure Him into living independently from His Father and to work a miracle on His own behalf. The devil tried to trick Christ into proving His divinity on His own. But Jesus triumphed through reliance upon the Word of God alone. A “thus said the Lord” was more powerful than any miracle or evidence appealing to the senses. It was above all human needs—“I don’t have to have bread, but I must live by the Word of God.”
NOTES AND REFERENCES
2. Ellen G. White, “The Word Made Flesh,” Review and Herald (Apr. 5, 1906), p. 8.
3. __________, “The Conditions of Fruit Bearing,” Signs of the Times (Apr. 18, 1892).
4. __________, “Even So Send I You,” Review and Herald (June 25, 1895).
5. The Desire of Ages, p. 117.
6. Selected Messages, Book 1, p. 256.
7. The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 1081.
8. Ibid., pp. 1078, 1079.
E. Edward Zinke