Teaching Series

Series: Overflow
Message: Incarnation
Preacher: Mark Johnson
Reflection: Mark Johnson
Live Wonder: Jessyka Dooley
Live Adventure: Jessyka Dooley
Live Purpose: Emily Ellis
Editor: Becky De Oliveira

Refresh: Begin with prayer. Ask for the Holy Spirit to open your heart to new understanding and for God’s character to be revealed.

Read: Philippians 2:5-11 in the English Standard Version (ESV). Note 1–3 insights or questions. 

Reflect: Paul reminds us of the following: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8, ESV).

Ellen White points out the difficulty in understanding what she calls the mystery of God:

When we seek for appropriate language in which to describe the love of God, we find words too tame, too weak, too far beneath the theme, and we lay down our pen and say, ‘No, it cannot be described.’ . . . This love is past all language to describe.  It is the mystery of God in the flesh, God in Christ, and divinity in humanity. (Christian Education, p. 77)

To Christians, the Who and What is pretty clear. It is Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, One with the Father and the Holy Spirit, with “life original, unborrowed and underived” (Desire of Ages, p. 530). But many early Christians fought and died over these distinctions before they became part of orthodox belief in the early Christian church councils. From the beginning, the Church had to contend with those who misinterpreted the person and mission of Jesus.  

There is not room here to describe all of the contentious theories and heresies regarding the dual natures of Jesus, and His relationship to His Father, but they included the ideas that He was adopted by God, that He did not have a real body, that He was a mere manifestation, or emanation, of God, that He was subordinate to the Father or that He was a created being—more than human and certainly divine, but not God. At the Council of Nicaea, in 325 C.E., it was determined that Christ was “begotten, not made,” and that He was “of the same substance as the Father.” Nicaea, however, did not put the controversies to an end. In 381 C.E., at the Council of Constantinople, the official terminology became “one divine substance, three divine persons.”  Father, Son and Holy Spirit were distinct from one another, but were equal in their eternity and power.

The conflict, however, continued. At the Council of Chalcedon, in 451 C.E., the Western understanding of the Who and the What, the two natures of Christ, was finally settled.  “We all unanimously teach . . . one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, perfect in deity and perfect in humanity . . . in two natures, without being mixed, transmuted, divided, or separated.” The language was somewhat clearer, but the mystery remained.

Recalibrate: What difference would it make if Christ were a created being, or not equal with God the Father in His “eternity and power”?

Respond: Pray for a clearer understanding of what the nature of Christ means to your salvation and the conflict in the Great Controversy.

Research: Read about the early church councils and the controversies they discussed and “resolved” regarding the nature of Christ.  

Remember: “Jesus has always been as God is” (Philippians 2:6a, NLV).

Mark is executive director of the public health department in Jefferson County, one of the most populous counties in the state of Colorado. He received his medical training at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins University and is board certified in preventive medicine and public health. He is chair of the vision board at Boulder Adventist Church where he is a regular preacher. Mark is married to Diane and they have two adult children and three granddaughters.


As a family, reflect on what this year has entailed for your child. What were the ups? What were the downs? What did they learn? How have you grown because of them. We are reminded that Jesus came to serve, not to be served. As you look to the last few days of the year, end them with this word in mind: service. Much of your year most likely consisted of either getting or receiving service in some way, shape, or form. Use these last few days of 2018 to serve as a family.

What did Jesus do for us? Jesus died for our sins. He came to give us new life and opportunities to live in the spirit. The Bible tells us that Jesus came to give us life to the fullest! What do you imagine living life to the fullest to look like? Today, find something new to do. Have you ever wanted to try a new sport? Or maybe a new craft? Remember that Jesus wants us to live life to the fullest in every way possible!

One Christmas I wanted nothing more than a doll named Kaya. I made it quite obvious to my family that I wanted her. I dropped hints at the dinner table, slid magazines onto my aunt’s night stand, and left notes at my grandparents’ house. (You might say I was quite discreet in the process.) One day I noticed a box underneath the tree that was in the exact same shape as a box that Kaya would fit into. I knew right away that she was in that box. Christmas Day came finally around and I waited patiently to open my present. When the box was handed to me, I ferociously opened the box, stuck my hand inside, and pulled out . . . a Barbie scooter. I forced a smile on my face and told my mom, “Wow, thank you so much. This is exactly what I needed!” The present might as well have been a pair of socks! It came in a way that I was not expecting. I thought my present was going to be a doll, but instead it was a scooter. Jesus came in a way that was unexpected. The writers of the Old Testament prophesied that there would be a Messiah, a king that would come. So that’s what people were expecting, a king that would deliver them from the Romans. But Jesus came in the form of a helpless baby. He was not powerful or adorned in riches, but rather He was placed in a feeding trough on the outskirts of town because people were not expecting Him to come in that form. Sometimes we have expectations about God or about how life should go. We have a detailed plan for life and dreams about how it should go. I challenge you this week to let go of some expectations that you might have about God and His plan for your life.

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