Why did God become a man?

Nativity / Correggio

Adoration (a.k.a. La Notte) / Correggio, ca. 1528-1530

According to an old praise chorus, “Love was when God became a man.” That’s why we celebrate Christmas. Most people who have heard the story, even in the church, have a hard time wrapping their minds around it.

In the popular imagination, God is some distant and perpetually angry deity. He demands everyone do things his way or he will punish them by sending them to everlasting torment. Somehow we have to jump through all the right hoops if we want to get on his good side.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

God who gets his hands dirty

In the creation account in Genesis, God spoke all things into existence, with one exception. He said, “Light! Be!” and there was light. Similarly, he commanded the sky, the seas and dry land, the sun and other heavenly bodies, and all manner of plants and animals.

Not so with us. The story shows him bending down to the ground and fashioning a man out of it and breathing his own life into the man. Then he planted a garden and invited the man not only to watch it take shape, but participate in creation by naming its creatures. Then he took a part of the man in his hands and made a woman.

He gave the man and woman everything in the garden except for the fruit of one tree, which he reserved for himself. The serpent (not one of the creatures the man named, by the way) fooled them into focusing attention on the one thing they couldn’t have and told them to take it.

Temptation of Adam and Eve / by Titian

Temptation of Adam and Eve / by Titian

They chose to obey the serpent (Satan) instead of God, and all he wanted was to steal, kill, and destroy. God had given the man and woman rulership over the earth under his authority. In obeying the serpent, they placed themselves under his authority instead.

The man and woman were immediately ashamed of their disobedience. Did God destroy them in wrath and start over?


He expelled them from the garden for their own protection, informed them of what their new god would do to them, and cursed the serpent. By the same power God used to create the universe, he doomed Satan’s rebellion.

Then he got his hands dirty again and killed animals to make clothing for the man and woman to cover their shame.

What God wants from us

God created us so he could have fellowship with us—enjoy our company. He showed that desire when he came looking for the man and woman in the garden and when he made clothing so they wouldn’t hide from him.

From the first time God looked for the man and the woman after they chose to reject him and follow the serpent, he promised that he himself would take it upon himself to rescue them.

He told the serpent,

Because you have done this, cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals. You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike at his heel. Genesis 3:14-15

The Resurrection of Christ / Noel Coypel, 1700

The Resurrection of Christ / Noel Coypel, 1700

Throughout the Old Testament, “seed” is used to describe the man’s part in human reproduction. Already, before any of those references, God promised a man born to a woman in which no man would play a role – a virgin birth.

He has made seven covenants with humans, five of which require nothing of us in return.

He chose Abraham’s family out of all others to make a nation to whom he could reveal himself and gave the law to Moses to show that nation two things: what they could do in order to demonstrate righteousness, and that with the best will in the world, none of them could live up to it on their own.

God made the last covenant, so far, with the risen Jesus. Before Jesus could be raised, he had to die. Before he could die he had to be born.

Between birth and death, he had to live a life without sin, that is, live his entire earthly life without ever falling short of perfection. The atoning death of a sinless man to redeem us from sin is the only significance of Christmas.

God returns to get his hands dirty

Jesus said in one of his parables,

I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep.  John 10:1-2

The only legitimate way to become an inhabitant of Earth is to be born here. The gate to Earth is through a woman’s womb. Satan climbed into the garden by some other way and corrupted the entire human race. As a result, no one born in the usual way could ever live a perfect life. The inability of anyone to live up to the Mosaic covenant amply proves it.

So God, who formed Adam from the dust of the ground, formed a body to inhabit not descended from Adam and placed it in the womb of a willing virgin surrogate mother. From this supernatural conception, Jesus’ birth, life, and death played out in the usual way.

Visitation / Master MS, 1506

Visitation / Master MS, 1506

The Lord of the universe became a fetus. Then he became a helpless baby who had to learn to control his bladder and bowels.

He learned a trade and worked with his hands until it was time for him to begin his ministry.

Afterward we have stories of him writing in the dust on one occasion and spitting on the ground to make clay to perform a healing on another.

His life raised the ire of wicked men who had attempted to reduce the Mosaic law to a formula of prohibitions, and he died by judicial murder. And then rose from the dead.

Like the Mosaic covenant, the New Covenant requires something of us, but it’s not a list of things to do and not to do. It requires us to believe one thing: Jesus’ death and resurrection satisfies the just penalty for sin and allows us to attain by grace a righteousness no one could ever earn.

And that angry God?

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “but the righteous man shall live by faith.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. — Romans 1:16-19

Unrighteousness means nothing other than the choice to obey Satan instead of God. That choice both destroys the fellowship God craves and causes all the suffering in the world from mass murders and terrorism to natural disasters. What kind of love could look at unrighteous and its aftermath without wrath? God became a man to destroy the works of the evil one (1 John 3:8).

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images are public domain

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