Lighthouse Leader Study Guide
Date: December 11, 2016
Series: Born This Day: Christmas 2016
Luke 2:12, 16
This Week’s Printable Resources:
Overview of this Lesson
This week we continue our study of Luke 2 as a part of our Christmas 2016 series. Last week, we focused on Jesus Our Savior; this week we look at Jesus born as a baby. The Incarnation is the topic of study.
As you will see in this week’s study notes, the doctrine surrounding the birth of Jesus—the Incarnation and the Virgin Birth—are the most disputed doctrines by Bible critics next to the resurrection. There are many who believe in Jesus as a historical person, but they believe he was a gifted rabbi and teacher, not the Son of God.
Understanding the Incarnation, like any area of systematic theology, is one best approached at an elementary level. That is the approach to this week’s lesson. Essentially, the lesson consists of a series of questions one might ask about the Incarnation like, “how can Jesus be both God and man?” or “why did Jesus need to become a man?” Each question contains a pretty extensive answer. This does not imply an expectation that you’re going to teach down to this level of detail, but I wanted you to have the information at your fingertips so you feel confident as you approach this topic.
Remember, too, that as a group leader, sometimes the best answer is to simply say, “I don’t know the answer to that, but I’ll find out.”
At the end of this week’s lesson, I added a detailed article by Millard J. Erickson from his systematic theology on the Virgin Birth. At the conclusion of that article, he, too, addresses several questions critics ask. You can use this resource as an addendum to your study, if needed.
Remember, that this week essentially concludes our Fall semester for Lighthouses. The week of December 18 no lesson is provided; instead, we encourage you to plan a Christmas fellowship with your group, bring in food and enjoy the company of your group members. The following two weeks are Christmas Sunday and New Year’s Day. There are no groups meeting those two weeks.
The Spring semester for Lighthouses will begin on January 8. We will start a new teaching series on the book of 1 Samuel. This will carry us through the conclusion of the Spring semester in May.
Have a blessed and merry Christmas and thank you for serving our church in such a meaningful and profitable manner. Your leadership and investment in the lives of our church members will pay eternal dividends.
Memory Verse for This Week
And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”– Luke 2:12 (ESV)
This Week’s Core Virtue
Joy (John 15:11): I have inner contentment and purpose in spite of my circumstances.
This Week’s Take Home Truth
“Jesus was born as a baby so that would have a body by which he could be both Son of Man and Lamb of God; both our high priest and the acceptable sacrifice. And because Jesus gave his body to God in death, we can give our bodies to God in life.”
1. Has there been a time when what you expected was far removed from reality, you expected a palace and instead you found a stable?
2. Why do parents make silly sounds and funny noises with infants?
Phrase this question how you want. The idea is to get us thinking about how grown adults act in crazy ways in order to communicate and relate with an infant who is unable to talk yet, but who can giggle and laugh as we play with them and build a relationship with them. To do so, grown adults get down on the same level as an infant.
3. Looking back at your notes from this week’s sermon, was there anything that particularly caught your attention, challenged or confused you?
Make sure you ask this question this week. It gives people the opportunity to discuss questions or issues that come up beyond the written questions. People’s responses can often lead into one of the questions in the “Digging Deeper” section. Also, some weeks this question will result in a lot of discussion, other weeks, not so much.
Read the Text (Luke 2:1-21)
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
The Shepherds and the Angels
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
In this section, feel free to develop your own questions to help guide your group’s discussion. Below are some suggestions. Remember, if you are hearing from everyone in your group, chances are you won’t have to time to discuss every question. You may start with one that catches your attention so you don’t run out of time. For example, it’s not odd to start with Question #6, then go to Question #5 and if you have time come back to Question #4.
4. As we continue our study of the Birth of Jesus, what are some cultural signs of the significance of His birth?
No other event has shaped the Gentile world more than the birth of Jesus Christ. We literally divide our timeline of history by the date of His birth—BC, Before Christ, and AD, Anno Domini (the year of our Lord).
As a side note, we mention that the Gentile world divides its timeline by the birth of Christ. The Jews did not acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, so the Hebrew calendar to this day is different from the Western/Christian/Gregorian calendar. Today (December 11, 2016) is the 11th day of Kislev, 5777 on the Hebrew calendar.
5. What does incarnation mean?
Literally, the word “incarnation” comes from the Latin word incarnatio meaning “in flesh.” We see English words related to “carne” that mean literally “meat.” For example, there are many recipes for Chili Con Carne—chili with meat. We call an animal that eats meat a carnivore.
So, when we speak of the incarnation, we mean that God came in the flesh. Here’s how the Holman Bible Dictionary defines incarnation:
God’s becoming human; the union of divinity and humanity in Jesus of Nazareth.
Definition of Doctrine Incarnation (Lat. incarnatio, being or taking flesh), while a biblical idea, is not a biblical term. Its Christian use derives from the Latin version of John 1:14 and appears repeatedly in Latin Christian authors from about a.d. 300 onward.
As a biblical teaching, incarnation refers to the affirmation that God, in one of the modes of His existence as Trinity and without in any way ceasing to be the one God, has revealed Himself to humanity for its salvation by becoming human. Jesus, the Man from Nazareth, is the incarnate Word or Son of God, the focus of the God-human encounter. As the God-Man, He mediates God to humans; as the Man-God, He represents humans to God. By faith-union with Him, men and women, as adopted children of God, participate in His filial relation to God as Father.
To be clear, when we speak of incarnation, we do not mean a human being became God. This is what the Mormons believe, and it is false. In fact, this is Satan’s first lie in the garden when the serpent told Eve she would “become like God” if she ate of the fruit (Gen. 3:4). Man did not become a god, but God became a man.
6. Is the incarnation a cardinal doctrine of Christianity?
In the early 20th Century, the very integrity of the Bible was under increasing attack by proponents of what became known as Higher Criticism. Alarmed at the conclusions of the higher critics, a group of Bible-believing Christians produced a multi-volume work that became known as The Fundamentals.
Edited by R.A. Torrey, The Fundamentals outlined in clear terms what true Christians believe about the Bible and about God. The Fundamentals could be summarized by five essential, or cardinal, doctrines. These doctrines are essential to true Christian faith. If a person does not believe all five of these cardinal doctrines, he is not a true Christian, born again of the Spirit of God.
The five essential doctrines include:
- The Trinity: Term designating the three members of the triune God: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- The Person of Jesus Christ: God the Son, the Messiah, Savior.
- The Second Coming: The bodily return of Jesus Christ to earth to complete the work of salvation, establish His kingdom, and reign from David’s throne.
- Salvation: God’s way of providing people deliverance from sin and death. Scripture reveals salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
- The Scripture: The holy writings of Judaism and Christianity. The Bible consists of 66 different books penned by 40 different authors over thousands of years, each word and syllable inspired by God the Holy Spirit. The Bible is entirely inerrant and sufficient for all Christian life.
While there are many areas where good Christian men and women can disagree on various interpretations and applications of teachings from the Scriptures, within these five areas there is no room for disagreement, for to deny any one of these cardinal doctrines is to strip the gospel of its power to save.
In fact the doctrine of incarnation is perhaps the essential of the five fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. John Chrysostom (AD 349-407), one of the early church fathers, stated, “this doctrine forms no small teachings of the Church, and is its chief doctrine with regard to our salvation and one through which all things have come to exist and are directed. Through it death has been destroyed, and sin has been removed, and the curse has vanished, and countless blessings have come into our lives.”
7. Why did God become a man?
According to John Calvin, God became a man to accommodate us. God is our Creator, and as such, He needed to descend to our level so that we can relate to Him within our human limitations and human parameters. Literally, as the Son of Man, Jesus walked in our shoes and experienced the same trials and temptations we experience. Yet, as God, He lived a perfect, sinless life, which uniquely qualified Him as the perfect Lamb of God.
The writer to the Hebrews says this perfectly:
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.–Hebrews 4:14-16
As Todd mentions in his message, Jesus becoming man enabled Him to identify with man’s need and satisfy God’s wrath.
8. How did God become a man?
In Matthew 1:18, the Bible tells us, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” This is a direct fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy found in Isaiah 7:14: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”
NOTE: The doctrine of the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ, according to Millard J. Erickson, is the most contested event in the life of Jesus Christ following the resurrection. I’ve provided an excellent discussion of the virgin birth as an addendum to this week’s notes. Read this (or forward the article) if there are questions within your group concerning the legitimacy of the virgin birth.
9. How can Jesus be both fully God and fully man?
This has been a hotly debated question throughout church history. Here is a quick summary of the various heresies that have surfaced:
- Ebionism—denies the deity of Christ
- Arianism—denies the fullness of the deity of Christ
- Docetism—denies the humanity of Christ
- Apollinarianism—denies the fullness of the humanity of Christ
- Nestorianism—denies the unity of the natures in one person
- Eutychianism—denies the distinction of the natures1
The Chalcedonian Creed (remember last summer?) addressed these issues. Here’s a refresher:
In a.d. 451, leaders of the church assembled at Chalcedon (outside of ancient Constantinople) and wrote a creed affirming both Jesus’ full humanity and his full deity, with his two natures united in one person. Hereby all six Christological heresies were rejected. This creed, formulated at Chalcedon, became the church’s foundational statement on Christ. The Chalcedonian Creed reads as follows:
We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us (emphasis added).
Implications of Chalcedonian Christology
The Chalcedonian Creed teaches the church how to talk about the two natures of Christ without falling into error. In particular, Chalcedon teaches the church to affirm that:
- One nature of Christ is sometimes seen doing things in which his other nature does not share.
- Anything that either nature does, the person of Christ does. He, God incarnate, is the active agent every time.
- The incarnation is a matter of Christ’s gaining human attributes, not of his giving up divine attributes. He gave up the glory of divine life (2 Cor. 8:9; Phil. 2:6), but not the possession of divine powers.
- We must look first to the Gospel accounts of Jesus Christ’s ministry in order to see the incarnation actualized, rather than follow fanciful speculations shaped by erroneous human assumptions.
- The initiative for the incarnation came from God, not from man.
While this creed does not solve all questions about the mystery of the incarnation, it has been accepted by Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches throughout history, and it has never needed any major alteration because it effectively articulates the biblical tension of Christ’s two natures, completely united in one person.
10. Did Jesus and His disciples state Jesus is God?
Without question, yes. Here are some quick examples:
- John 1:1–3 – 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
- John 1:14 – 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
- John 14:8–10 – 8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.
- Philippians 2:5–11 – 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
- 1 Timothy 3:16 – 16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.
Keep in mind that the crime for which Jesus was tried and convicted to death was the crime of blasphemy.
These questions are given to prompt both reflection and learning on a personal level, and should likely be completed individually and apart from your regular group time.
11. Looking back at this week’s teaching and study, what’s the most important thing to remember?
“It was a great dignity that man should be made according to the image of God; but is amore sublime glory that God should be made after the image of man.”–Isaac Barrow
- Source: Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 2519. ↩︎