I’m sure you’ve heard this question before: What’s the fundamental sin behind every sin? It’s a question that attempts to get at the core of all human rebellion. The common answers are pride or idolatry. Both answers seem compelling. I’ve even heard gluttony, since the first sin was with food. That may be a stretch. However you term it, the serpent’s promise—You will be like God (Gen. 3:5)—seemed to be the turning point in Eve’s decision to eat the fruit.
The serpent’s enticement was more than simply to be god-like. Adam and Eve were already the crown of creation, the image of God. They were, so to speak, the rulers of the world and God’s co-regents. The temptation was an attempt to blur the Creator-creature distinction. It fundamentally went against how God describes his relationship to everything else: “I am the Lord and there is no other, Besides me there is no God” (Is. 45:5). It confuses who God is and who we are in relation to him. The delusion is more significant than Pinocchio wanting to be like Geppetto. Eve, the creature, wanted to be like God, the Creator and Uncreated!
This dysfunction is profoundly displayed in the rulers of the nations during Israel’s fall and exile. Notice the pomp of the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14:14, “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” The king was not only over Babylon, but he conquered the world and sought to be something more:
I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the afar reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High. (Is. 14:12-14)
He was not content to be only the conqueror of the nation. He wanted to rule over the heavens and earth. This pseudo-divine posturing is the same garden-temptation of Eve. Both lost sight of the unique identity of God and their place as creatures. Both are instances of high treason. They are exemplary of human rebellion.
While human rebellion is man’s craving to be like God, it is the glorious grace of the gospel that God has become like man. God the Son has pitched his tent with us and become like us in every respect. This is the Incarnation, the building blocks of God’s saving work in Christ: He is both the Lord Almighty and our Brother. The eternal God became low for the very ones who wanted to subvert his greatness. He took the place of the ones who wanted to take his. The Blessed One of heaven became a curse for us. He bore the judgment for sins committed against his own glory. Even more, we the prideful, rebellious, glory seekers receive his perfect standing. We are not only forgiven of our trespasses, but the same words that were said to Jesus at his baptism from the Father, “You are my beloved Son, in you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22) are now attributed to us! Like a flower that shoots from its fertile bed, so the gospel of Jesus Christ flows out of the truth of the Incarnation of the Son of God.
The Christmas story has something to say to those of us who crave to be great. There is One who is gloriously greater than anything in heaven and on earth. He became cursedly low, so that we would become greater in Christ than we could ever imagine. We don’t need to sinfully desire love and adoration, for we have been so adored by God, whose love would satisfy us more than the admiration of those impressed with us. Herein is love: Though we rebelliously sought to be like God, God humbled himself and became like us.