catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 1, Num 8 :: 2002.12.20 — 2003.01.02


Incarnation and the image of God

Part 1 of 4

Incarnation is not an instant breakfast

The mystery of the incarnation, of God becoming human for our salvation, often seems like a problem reserved for theologians and philosophers. The very idea that God strapped on a suit of human flesh is complex enough to increase the number of furrows on one’s brow two or threefold. But the incarnation is not just a difficulty to be left to the theologians and philosophers. It is an important element in the story of salvation for all Christian believers.


God’s people often need to be reminded of the themes running through the course of their salvation story. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John knew this. In their accounts of the birth of Jesus and the events surrounding his life, the Gospel writers frequently alluded to common themes in Jewish history to remind the Jews of God’s salvation promises. For instance, Matthew and Mark describe John the Baptizer as a man with a camel hair coat and leather belt around his waist. Such a description was meant to place John the Baptizer among the prophets of old, who wore the same kind of garb (II Kings 1:8) and urged Israel to repent before the coming of the Lord. Luke, on the other hand, evokes the Old Testament account of God granting childbirth to Abraham’s wife when he tells of God’s gift to the barren Elizabeth and then to the virgin Mary. And John goes all the way back to the familiar creation story to display the light and life-giving role of Christ Jesus, the divine Word of God.


It might seem as if these New Testament storytellers were merely trying to make Jesus more marketable to the Jews by alluding to Old Testament themes. But the consistency of the authors, accounts indicates that they all sincerely believed that the significance of Christ Jesus lies within the very context of the Jewish story itself. The authors did not add Old Testament references to make Jesus an easier pill to swallow. Rather, they believed the story of Jesus Christ must be told in reference to the entire story of God’s relationship with His people.

What better way to prepare the hearts of the Jewish people than to remind them of the themes of their story: of the prophets who proclaimed God’s promises, of Abraham who was assured a sky-sized offspring, of David who represented God’s impending victory over all nations, of the sacrificial lambs made necessary because of human sin, of David’s longing for victory over God’s enemies? By reminding the Jews of their own story, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John show that the age-old themes are not only still relevant, they take on new significance now that Christ has come.

Reviving old themes is what Christmas is all about. The birth of Jesus Christ, as told in the New Testament, gives new life to Old Testament themes. It is within this Christmas spirit, then, that we are reminded of one prominent theme helpful for comprehending the incarnation and its implications for our lives: the image of God. Examining this theme may help iron out those unwanted wrinkles on our foreheads when it comes to understanding the incarnation.

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