How Deep Is Your Incarnation?

Far too many Christians would rather have a respectable Savior than the One who came to meet us at our lowest.

When I speak to Christians, I’m compelled to ask, “How deep is your incarnation? Is it Hebrews 4:15 deep? Or just sorta kinda deep?” Because if it trucks with what the writer to the Hebrews presents—“One who has been tempted in all things as we are”—then, well, that’s some serious incarnation. In other words, you’ve got a Savior on your hands who could really save the God-so-loved world instead of simply condemning it or tossing around promises He couldn’t keep. So yes, I must ask, how deep is your incarnation? Your answer makes all the difference.


A word has surfaced in Christian circles over the last few years—a word that has been an attempt to try and get at this idea of deep incarnation, this “tempted in all things as we are.” The word is messy. You hear or read it in phrases like “God came down and got involved in our messy lives” or “Jesus is right here in my mess with me.” The attempt is admirable. The word, however, is an awful choice because it doesn’t go far enough.

Messy is spilling coffee all over your presentation moments before giving it. Messy is an old girlfriend sitting down at the table next to a husband and wife out celebrating their anniversary. And while Jesus is definitely with us in those moments, for He is Immanuel, those are situations that you and I can, for the most part, manage ourselves without any outside help. They’re not comfortable by any means, but they are just messes. Yet the High Priest the writer to the Hebrews is talking about dives past the messy platform and keeps on descending, down, down, all the way to the bottom. All the way to the muck.

muck (noun)—wet dirt or mud; solid waste from farm animals; something that is disgusting.

It’s even somewhat of a disgusting word to say, isn’t it? I mean, when was the last time you heard someone use the word muck? But when our High Priest is described as one “tempted in all things,” that means all the things, including those weaknesses or temptations we would describe as disgusting, like muddy water or animal waste.

Now unfortunately, we Christians are pretty good at self-loathing. Brennan Manning once said, “In my experience, self-hatred is the dominant malaise crippling Christians and stifling their growth in the Holy Spirit.” The reasons for this are legion, beyond the scope of this article, but at least that gives us some common ground to wallow in. So, think about the last time you were really disgusted with yourself because of a temptation you succumbed to. Or maybe it was some recurring weakness that you were convinced you’d finally moved beyond, but when the right set of circumstances presented itself, you fell off the proverbial wagon. Got that moment in mind? Good.

Okay, now try picturing Jesus experiencing that exact same temptation—the really disgusting one, the mucky one. Yes, you’re right, the verse states that even though He was tempted, Jesus didn’t sin. But our pressing question is not “Did He give in?” but “Can you see Him being tempted as you were/are?” Can you? If you can’t, then there’s a possibility you’re serving some impostor of our Savior, one who cannot, as the old hymn says, understand “our every weakness.” Such a savior may be respectable, but he cannot relate. And if he can’t relate, then chances are high he really can’t help. He’s a fraud.

I’ve often wondered if after a long, hard day of rinsing sinners in the Jordan, John the Baptist stilled himself and considered his own muck? These lines from a poem I wrote a few years ago reflect the forerunner pausing from the sins of others to confess what was in his own heart. Because when they’d all gone home and it was just him and the river, I think he knew.

I knew.
I knew of my anger flashed
at the whoring husband
who will never change.
I knew of my breathless disgust
at the shrewd lover of mammon
as he confessed for spectacle.
I knew of my lust stirred low
when she rose from the water
for yes, I am a man.
I knew of my envy as I
watched them leave my wilderness for
settings of silver and beds of ease.
I knew of what posed as indignation
for that brood of vipers but
was actually my own venom of hate.
I knew of what I am foremost.
I knew.

Anger. Disgust. Lust. Envy. Hate. Can you see Jesus wrestling with any or all of these temptations? Again, how deep is your incarnation?

Anger. Disgust. Lust. Envy. Hate. Can you see Jesus wrestling with any or all of these temptations?

Take anger, for example. In Ephesians 4:26, the apostle Paul admonishes us: “Be angry, and yet do not sin.” Yet how many times do we let anger get the best of us, push us over the line into immorality? Yeah, I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the times. But consider the scriptural episode of Jesus cleansing the temple, found in John 2:1-25. You know, the one where He made a scourge of cords and drove out all the moneychangers, in addition to turning over tables and dumping their money all over the floor of his Father’s house. My gut tells me if you and I had been in the company of disciples that day, we would’ve stood with our jaws open wide and our hearts racing 90 to nothing, wondering what had happened to our Lord. In those moments, He wasn’t the endearing little hothead from Inside Out. This was berserker-Jesus. Yes, yes, but He did not sin. Again, the equally amazing truth of the depth of Christ’s incarnation is that we have a Savior who can fully relate to being pushed to the very brink, bumping up against injustice with a maddening rage that could’ve huffed and puffed and blown the whole town down.

Or consider the scene in Luke 7:1-50 where the sinful woman washed the feet of Jesus with her tears. I mean, really consider it. You don’t drip tears from your eyes on someone’s feet and then dry them with the hair on your head from a respectable distance, safe for the whole family. No, you have to get in his personal space. The sheer intimacy of that moment surely made the onlookers blush and squirm and possibly turn away. Find an honest man and ask him if he were in that situation whether he might have been physically aroused and tempted to lust. You see, we have to be very careful not to paint Jesus as some sort of robot or an angel hovering a foot off the ground. He was neither. Unlike us, He was completely God. But like us, He was also completely and entirely flesh and blood. When Scripture says that He knows, He knows.

We have to be very careful not to paint Jesus as some sort of robot or an angel hovering a foot off the ground. He was neither.

Christian apologist C. S. Lewis referred to the incarnation as nothing less than “the grand miracle.” Ax heads floating on water and the sun standing still, those are truly miraculous, no question. But the incarnation, in all of its depth and complexity? That we would have “One who has been tempted in all things as we are” living and working and dying right alongside us? That’s the biggie. Believe that miracle, and everything else should come easy.

But yes, you’re right, there’s that last phrase—“yet without sin.” Plumbing the depths of the incarnation doesn’t leave us all down in the disgusting muck. No, while He sympathizes and empathizes with our every weakness, He simultaneously reaches over with a nail-scarred hand or two to raise us up, to right us, to stand us back up on our feet to walk in the light of His glory and grace. Lewis says it well: “He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still … to the very roots and seabed of the Nature He has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him.”

So I still feel compelled to ask: How deep is your incarnation? Does it go all the way down to the very roots of who you are and what you wrestle with on a daily and hourly basis? Is it deep enough to include the messy (for sure), but also farther down into the mucky muck? That question really allows no room for gray. Our answer makes all the difference, because one response leaves us with a rather pitiable teacher whose intentions are less than honest. The other means we have a grand Savior who can be described as nothing less than miraculous.


Photograph by Ryan Hayslip

Related Topics:  Spiritual Life

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15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

26 BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger,

1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there;

2 and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding.

3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, They have no wine."

4 And Jesus said to her, Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come."

5 His mother said to the servants, Whatever He says to you, do it."

6 Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each.

7 Jesus said to them, Fill the waterpots with water." So they filled them up to the brim.

8 And He said to them, Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter." So they took it to him.

9 When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom,

10 and said to him, Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now."

11 This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.

12 After this He went down to Capernaum, He and His mother and His brothers and His disciples; and they stayed there a few days.

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.

15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables;

16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, Take these things away; stop making My Father's house a place of business."

17 His disciples remembered that it was written, ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME."

18 The Jews then said to Him, What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?"

19 Jesus answered them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."

20 The Jews then said, It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?"

21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body.

22 So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.

23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing.

24 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men,

25 and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.

1 When He had completed all His discourse in the hearing of the people, He went to Capernaum.

2 And a centurion's slave, who was highly regarded by him, was sick and about to die.

3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders asking Him to come and save the life of his slave.

4 When they came to Jesus, they earnestly implored Him, saying, He is worthy for You to grant this to him;

5 for he loves our nation and it was he who built us our synagogue."

6 Now Jesus started on His way with them; and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof;

7 for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed.

8 For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, `Go!' and he goes, and to another, `Come!' and he comes, and to my slave, `Do this!' and he does it."

9 Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled at him, and turned and said to the crowd that was following Him, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith."

10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

11 Soon afterwards He went to a city called Nain; and His disciples were going along with Him, accompanied by a large crowd.

12 Now as He approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her.

13 When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, Do not weep."

14 And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, Young man, I say to you, arise!"

15 The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother.

16 Fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, A great prophet has arisen among us!" and, God has visited His people!"

17 This report concerning Him went out all over Judea and in all the surrounding district.

18 The disciples of John reported to him about all these things.

19 Summoning two of his disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?"

20 When the men came to Him, they said, John the Baptist has sent us to You, to ask, `Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?'"

21 At that very time He cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He gave sight to many who were blind.

22 And He answered and said to them, Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM.

23 Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me."

24 When the messengers of John had left, He began to speak to the crowds about John, What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?

25 But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who are splendidly clothed and live in luxury are found in royal palaces!

26 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one who is more than a prophet.

27 This is the one about whom it is written, `BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.'

28 I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he."

29 When all the people and the tax collectors heard this, they acknowledged God's justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John.

30 But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God's purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John.

31 To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like?

32 They are like children who sit in the market place and call to one another, and they say, `We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.'

33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, `He has a demon!'

34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, `Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'

35 Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children."

36 Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table.

37 And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume,

38 and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume.

39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner."

40 And Jesus answered him, Simon, I have something to say to you." And he replied, Say it, Teacher."

41 A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.

42 When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?"

43 Simon answered and said, I suppose the one whom he forgave more." And He said to him, You have judged correctly."

44 Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.

45 You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet.

46 You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume.

47 For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little."

48 Then He said to her, Your sins have been forgiven."

49 Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, Who is this man who even forgives sins?"

50 And He said to the woman, Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

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