God Comes to Help Us

Colin S. Smith
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Imagine that you are living on a large and beautiful island, and that your home is on a sandy beach beside the ocean.[1]

The islanders are all descended from castaways who were washed up there after a great disaster many years ago. Many of the islanders know little or nothing about it. In fact, most modern islanders do not believe that anything exists beyond the horizon.

At the center of the island is a high mountain with what looks like a crater at the top. Some people say that it is a volcano. But the horrendous scenarios predicted by some have never happened, and most people have come to the conclusion that they never will.

Message in a Bottle

One morning, as you are strolling on the beach, you discover a green bottle that has been washed up on the shore. Inside there is a message: “Help is coming.”

Strange. What kind of help could you possibly need?

“The holiness of Jesus opens up a whole new world of hope for us.”

A few weeks later, you see another bottle with a similar message. “Help will arrive soon!”

The discoveries are strangely unnerving. After all, you are living on an idyllic island and are enjoying a very full and satisfying life. But the notes in the bottles keep suggesting that you are in some kind of danger.

You decide to tell your neighbor Bill.

“Bill, have you seen any green bottles on the beach?” “No. Why?”

“Well, a few days ago I found one with a note inside. I didn’t think much about it, but then I found another with the same message. Somebody is out there beyond the horizon. They are telling us that we are in some sort of danger, and they obviously have some kind of plan to help us.”

“Oh, that sounds rather fanciful to me,” says Bill. “The notes were probably written by kids farther round the island. If they threw the bottles out to sea, it’s quite possible that the tide washed them back in. You don’t want to worry about a few messages in a bottle!”

But somehow you can’t get the bottles and their message out of your mind. “Help is coming.”

Help Will Come

The story of the islanders can help us grasp the Bible’s message. After our first parents sinned, they were “cast away” from the presence of God, and we live in a world that, for all its beauty, has a curse hanging over it. The problem we face is not about finding fulfillment on the island; it is that the whole island will be destroyed.

But God has promised that help will come. That is why Jesus Christ came into the world. He came from the “mainland” of heaven. The Bible tells us how it happened.

God Takes the Initiative

God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. (Luke 1:26–27)

The angel announced that Mary would “be with child and give birth to a son” (v. 31). But Mary could not see how this could possibly be, given the fact that she was a virgin (v. 34).

The angel’s answer takes us to the heart of the greatest and most wonderful mystery in the whole Bible.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (V. 35)

The Bible contains other stories of miraculous births. The birth of Isaac, when Abraham and Sarah were both well past the age of conceiving children, was a miracle. But God worked through the union of a father and a mother. Both Abraham and Sarah were involved.

This was different. Mary was a virgin. Joseph had absolutely nothing to do with the child she bore. Not only did he have no union with her before the child was conceived, but he had no union with her until after the child was born (Matthew 1:25).

God was taking the initiative. Jesus did not arise from the human race. God sent His Son to the human race. God the Son became a man, taking flesh from the Virgin Mary.

The New Testament teaches three foundational truths about the identity of Jesus: (1) He is God; (2) He is man; and (3) He is holy.

The Incredible Journey

Your life began when you were conceived in your mother’s womb. Before that moment you did not exist. God used the union of your father and your mother to bring you into being. Before that, you were not, and without that, you would not have been.

“The Son of God took human flesh to Himself. He did not cease to be God, but He became a man.”

But with Christ, it is different. His life did not begin in the virgin’s womb. Before He was born in the stable, He shared the life of God.

The apostle Paul tell us that Christ was in very nature God, but He “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” Instead, He “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:6–7).

That’s why the angel told Mary that her child would be called the “Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32) and “the Son of God” (v. 35). He is “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

Does the Bible’s claim that Jesus is God with us matter?

Absolutely. It is of great importance, because only God can reconcile man to God. Salvation has to be from the top down. Suppose you are adrift in a dinghy and you need to be rescued. Someone who is secured to the helicopter is lowered on a winch. As you embrace him, you are lifted with him to the position from where he came. Salvation is from above. Only God can save.

Christ came on an incredible journey from heaven to earth, and in Him God reaches out to every person.

He’s Really One of Us

Once we have grasped that Jesus is God, it is every bit as important for us to grasp that He is a man. On several occasions in the Old Testament, God appeared in a visible form. But these appearances were only temporary. They could be compared to an actor dressing up or putting on a disguise.

But the birth of Jesus is entirely different. The Son of God took human flesh to Himself. He did not cease to be God, but He became a man.

Everything else in the New Testament revolves around this one miracle. If God became man in Jesus, we should not be surprised at His claims, His miracles, or His resurrection. In the words of Dr. James Packer, the Incarnation is, in itself, an unfathomable mystery, but it makes sense of everything else that the New Testament contains. Once you know who Jesus is, it all begins to fit.

As C. S. Lewis pointed out, “We believe that the sun is in the sky at midday in summer, not because we can clearly see the sun (in fact we cannot) but because we can see everything else.”[2]

Does the humanity of Jesus matter?

Absolutely. The fact that Jesus is a man is as important to our salvation as the fact that He is God. Only man can bear the punishment of man’s sin. The Son of God became one with us so that He could stand in our place under the judgment for our sins. This is why He was given the name Jesus, because He would save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

A New Kind of Humanity

The holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35; Emphasis Added)

Jesus Christ was like us in every respect except one. He is holy. This means that He did not at any time commit a single sin (Hebrews 4:15). But it means more than that. He is holy in His thoughts, in His intentions, and in His character. His nature is holy.

The holiness of Jesus opens up a whole new world of hope for us. We have become so used to fallen humanity, that it is difficult for us to imagine a human being who is not subject to sin and its consequence—death. “To err is human,” we say, as if erring were inseparable from being human.

But Jesus blazes the trail of a new humanity that will be holy—free from sin and no longer subject to death. This has always been the purpose of God.

That’s what Jesus was talking about when He said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). This is the life that He offers to you. He has come to lead us into a holy life. For those who believe, that journey begins now and it will be complete in heaven. When we see Him, we will be like Him (1 John 3:2).

[1] Adapted from a story in Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 139–44. Peterson adapted his story from an essay by Walker Percy, Message in a Bottle (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1975)

[2] C. S. Lewis, Miracles (Glasgow: Colins, 1947), 114.

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