Thursday, January 12, 2012

What a man!

As we've just passed from the Christmas season into the New Year I've been thinking about the nature of the incarnation of Christ.   I came across something I wrote 5 years ago and I'd like to share it now.

Most Christians don't have too much trouble coming to grips with Jesus' divinity.  We read the gospels with the foreknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and we correctly see his earthly life and ministry through those lenses.  Although we affirm the doctrine of the incarnation, the doctrine stating that God the Son became flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, I believe many of us have a hard time truly grasping that when the Son emptied himself in becoming a man, he didn't exploit the fact that he was God (Philippians 2:5-7).  That is to say, that in becoming man, Jesus did just that - he became a real life human being, just like you and me!  When we affirm this fact, we have a tendency to counter it with statements like, "Well, he was no ordinary human being.  He was the God-man."  Yes, that's true, but in being the God-man, Jesus didn't exploit his divinity.  He was the God-man with one armed tied behind his back so that he truly experienced life the way you and I live our lives.  Consider the fact that though Jesus performed miracles, those miracles were always in the service of other people, not himself.  The miracles may have proved who he ultimately was (the I AM incarnate), but they didn't make life any easier for him, but rather they made life better for those around him (signaling that the Kingdom of God was being ushered in through his life and ministry).  Let's not forget the fact that Peter and the other apostles, not to mention many of the early "ordinary" Christians also were given the ability to do miraculous things through the power of the Holy Spirit in the service of others.  We don't struggle in coming to grips with those individual's humanity.

Let's consider a passage from Matthew's gospel which clearly illustrates Jesus' humanity.  In Matthew 26:36-46, Jesus takes his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.  This is no ordinary prayer session, but a desperate plea from an emotionally drained, physically worn out man, who is literally carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.  We sometimes assume that because Jesus was God, he sailed through this ordeal as if he were taking a leisurely stroll across the waters of Galilee.  But notice his urgent plea to the disciples, "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me." (26:38).  Doesn't this remind you of the emotional state of the family who sits anxiously awaiting the word from the surgeon who's operating on a loved one in critical condition?  Does it not remind you of the drained psyche of the man who's lost his wife and children to divorce?  In the garden, Jesus experiences grief, pain, and fear all rolled into one.  When his disciples fail to watch and pray with him, he feels abandonment as well.  He falls on his face and cries out to his most intimate companion, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want...if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done." (26:39 & 42). 

Whether we feel comfortable admitting it or not, Jesus asks his Father to change his mind on this whole idea of crucifixion.  Jesus asks the God who creates out of nothing, to create a less painful, less brutal, less traumatic means of atoning for and reconciling humanity.  Jesus isn't just posturing here, he means these words.  We have to assume that if the Father creates some alternative route, Jesus takes it.  But despite the fact that Jesus is overwhelmed with sorrow, he wholeheartedly embraces the cup, accepting his Father's answer to his prayer - in this instance, the answer is no.  In death, as in life, Jesus is completely obedient and submissive to the will of the Father.  This doesn't make his sacrificial gift any less amazing, but more.  As we see this Jesus, this man, fully embracing a life of selflessness and submission, how can we be anything other than grateful and humble?

Jesus, the exalted King at the right hand of the Father knows what it means to suffer.  He knows what it's like to be emotionally drained and physically abused.  He knows what it's like, whether in joy or in sorrow, to be human.  As the writer of Hebrews makes abundantly clear, Jesus can empathize with us - he's been in our shoes.

What kind of God do we serve?  What kind of God is so powerful and yet so humble?  What kind of God says that it's not enough just to lovingly create us, but in fact takes our very humanity into his own eternal life and being?  What kind of God doesn't just create us in his image, but takes on our image?  What kind of God loves us so much that he gave and continues to give us his very own unique Son?

What kind of man exists as God, but doesn't exploit his divinity?  What kind of man is able, and even more incredible, willing to take the weight of the world's sin onto his very own shoulders?  What kind of man is abandoned by his closest friends, only to later accept them all back as if nothing had happened?  What kind of man endures cruel torture and the worst kind of scorn and humiliation, only to beg God to forgive his tormentors?  What kind of man, who while suffering on a cross, takes time to invite a petty thief into his kingdom?  What kind of man would do all of this, not for his glory, but out of his sincere love?  What kind of man?  Jesus. - Shay


  1. Shay, your thoughts have richly blessed me today. I am thinking about the song, "When I survey the Wondrous Cross" - an the irony that something so cruel could deserve the adjective, 'wondrous'.....yet it is just that because of the amazing HOPE it affords us all as we live in the Kingdom and look towards the full unveiling of that Kingdom. It is inconceivable that one would love me so much to be the kind of man you described. What is even more amazing is His very ability to empathize with my every trial. God is SO VERY GOOD! Thanks for sharing. Love you bunches!!!!

  2. I was reading today about how God said He would create man in "our image." So I was hit by your thoughts on how God took on man's image. I suppose we are created to be so much more - and He was willing to let go and become like us... You have given me a lot to think about - thanks!