I had an epiphany two nights ago.
After arriving home from a revival late, I was doing my nightly (boring) fluoride routine before going to bed, and had turned on the television.
A local channel was running a program on “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the Harper Lee classic from 1960 that was turned into an award-winning movie starring Gregory Peck and Mary Badham. The program featured interviews with various celebrities on how the story (the book, the movie) had impacted their lives.
It was a fascinating show, one that I could not turn away from.
Just last week, I had bought the book (“Scout, Atticus, & Boo” by Mary McDonagh Murphy) containing these same interviews, and had eagerly devoured it. (If you want to conclude that I love “To Kill a Mockingbird,” go to the head of the class.)
So, after reading the book last week, I had the experience two nights ago of seeing the book, so to speak.
That night, lying in bed trying to get to sleep, I was struck by the difference in reading the interviews in the book and watching the subjects actually say those things on television. That’s when something struck me about the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ.
It’s one thing to have a message in print; another thing entirely to have it in person.
I had read the interviews; I knew what each person would say about Scout or Atticus or Harper Lee or the town of Monroeville, Alabama. Yet, seeing Tom Brokaw say it on the television broadcast, hearing his inflection, his pauses, his emphasis, made it an entirely different experience.
It was one thing to read Alice Finch Lee’s account of her sister Nelle Harper Lee, but something else to see and hear her mouth the same words. In print, she’s as articulate as the next person. In person, she’s nearly a hundred years old and her voice was weak and scratchy and there was a gleam in her eye that made you automatically like her.
We have the Bible. It’s the Word of God. It’s great, and we love this Word dearly.
However, something special happened when the Lord Jesus came to earth. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
From that moment on, God’s Word took on a new significance.
Until Jesus appeared, God’s Word was in print. It was parchment or papyrus and sheepskin or paper on which ink of some kind had been applied to form letters and words, sentences and paragraphs, all intended to convey the message of Heaven.
And that was great. In no way do we denigrate that. Moses told the Israelites, “What great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?” (Deuteronomy 4:8)
But when Jesus was born in Nazareth, something unique happened.
The Word took on flesh and blood and lived among us and showed us all that God had been saying and intending and was planning. From that moment on, you not only could see the words, but you could see them “in the flesh,” so to speak.
When Jesus walked the earth and spoke, people heard the Word of God and saw God the Son in the flesh. No one who observed this came away unchanged. Everyone chose sides.
When Jesus ministered and preached, people saw things they had never seen before. “We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Given a choice between seeing the Word in print and in person, choose the latter. There’s no comparison.
The incarnation of Jesus (that is, the act by which “the Word became flesh”) was the greatest moment in this small planet’s history.
But wait. That’s not the end of the story.
In a different way and to a lesser degree, Jesus is incarnated in the lives of humans who turn to Him in repentance and faith.
“Christ in you” is the mystery that was hid from the foundation of the world, said the Apostle Paul to the Colossians (Col. 1:27). “Christ in you” is the essence of the Christian life. “Christ in you” is the open secret of the disciple’s life on earth.
Someone has said, “Though Christ in Bethlehem a thousand times be born, until He is born in thee, thy soul is still forlorn.”
Salvation is when Jesus Christ is “born” in you. It is your own individual incarnation, to stay with the metaphor.
Now, if God had something to say to our world which He could say only by being incarnated in human form in First Century Galilee and Judea, it is no stretch to conclude that by being incarnated in you and me, He’s also trying to say something to our world.
Your assignment is to find out what the Lord is saying to your world–your family, your circle of friends and acquaintances, your co-workers–through living inside you.
You are God’s answer to the questions of the skeptic.
The skeptic wants to know: Is God real? Are the promises of God true? Does Jesus truly live? Does He answer prayer? Is this “for real?”
You are the answer.
If you decide this is too difficult a role for you to fulfill, Christian disciple, you would not be the first. Something inside us wants to tell searchers and unbelievers, “Don’t look at me; look at Jesus.” We want to say, “Don’t do as I do.”
But God has not let us off that easily. He has so arranged matters that people will be making conclusions about Himself based on what they see in us. And they are right in doing so.
We are Exhibit A of Jesus Christ. Like it or not. The burden of that is staggering; the blessing is wonderful.
Jesus told those closest to Him, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). They were that close.
God’s plan calls for people to look at us and see Jesus. Scripture calls believers His very body (I Corinthians 12:27, among other places). That has to mean something.
Let us pray that in beholding us–listening to us, seeing how we behave and talk and move–that outsiders will feel they have come into contact with the very grace and truth of God.
How’s that for a heavy assignment?