Road to Nazareth: Why did Jesus have to be human?
March 22, 2009 Series: Easter
Why Did Jesus Have To Be Human?
Today we will be focusing on the incarnation - when God became a man. Historic Christianity has always worshipped a Jesus who is one man with two natures; a divine as well as a human nature. The incarnation is the event that we celebrate at Christmas, the day that the Christ child was born in Bethlehem in a lowly manger to a virgin mother named Mary and a father named Joseph, who really wasn't the biological father.
The humanity of Jesus is generally not a point of controversy in the church today nor even among those who don't follow Jesus. It's not really his humanity that causes people to stumble but rather his deity. But this has not always been the case, even as I'm sure that there are those today who reject the truth that Jesus is 100% man. There were those in the early church who rejected the humanity of Christ. During the first several centuries after Christ a troublesome heretical teaching called Docetism taught that material creation is inherently evil and that the Son of God could never have been united with a true human nature. The apostle John uses the truth of the humanity of Christ as a way of testing spirits to see if they are of God. In 1John 4:1-3 he writes:
"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already."
As you can see, the doctrine of the humanity of Christ must also be taught and held in high regard for it is just as important as the deity of Christ.
Jesus has a Human body, mind and emotionsJust a cursory reading of the gospels is all it takes to see that Jesus indeed has a real human body. He was born of a woman just like all human babies are born. He grew up from childhood to adulthood like a normal boy, got thirsty, hungry, and tired. He experienced the same emotions we do such as joy, sorrow, anger, and sadness. He also experienced physical weakness when he fasted in the wilderness, and of course during the suffering he experienced leading to his crucifixion. Finally, he died physically on the cross which is final proof that he had a physical body.
Though all Christians readily accept that Jesus Christ came in the flesh and was a human being just like us, I think that there is an understanding about what Jesus was like that is not really based on the Jesus that we read about in the gospels. For example, how often do you hear about the Jesus who was, to quote Scott Peck from The Jesus I Never Knew, by Phillip Yancey:
I was absolutely thunderstruck by the extraordinary reality of the man I found in the Gospels. I discovered a man who was almost continually frustrated. His frustration leaps out of virtually every page: "What do I have to say to you? How many times do I have to say it? What do I have to do to get through to you?" I also discovered a man who was frequently sad and sometimes depressed, frequently anxious and scared....A man who was terribly, terribly lonely, yet often desperately needed to be alone. I discovered a man so incredibly real that no one could have made him up.
It occurred to me that if the Gospel writers had been into PR and embellishment, as I had assumed, they would have created the kind of Jesus three quarters of Christians still seem to be trying to create....portrayed with a sweet, unending smile on his face, patting little children on the head, just strolling the earth with this unflappable, unshakeable equanimity....But the Jesus of the Gospels - who some suggest is the best kept secret of Christianity - did not have much "peace of mind," as we ordinarily think of peace of mind in the world's terms, and insofar as we can be His followers, perhaps we won't either.
While there may be a bit of hyperbole in the previous quote there certainly exists some real truth there.
Also, most peoples idea of what Jesus looked like is based upon centuries upon centuries of western art depicting Jesus as a tall, handsome, somewhat effeminate man with long brown hair and blue eyes. Well, the scriptures give us very little to go on when comes to the way he looked physically. Pretty much all we have to go on is the prophecy of Isaiah some seven hundred years before Christ was even born. This is how he described the coming messiah: "He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not." In the preceding verses he describes must be the crucified Christ; "As many were astonished at you - his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind."
Now the real question I want to try and answer here this morning is not "was Jesus really a man?" but rather why did God have to become a man in order to save us? On the one hand it seems as though God could have come up with some other plan to save his creation without having to condescend to our level by becoming one of us. Perhaps, some may think, it would have made more sense for Christ to incarnate as a great super-human, able to crush easily anyone who opposed him. Certainly with the infinite power that he has he could have saved us any way that he wanted to or not saved any of us at all.
Let's take a look at some of the reasons that the bible gives us why it was necessary for Christ to take on full humanity:
1. To succeed where Adam failed.
"Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous." Rom. 5:18-19Paul tells us that Adam is our first representative and the result of his falling into sin in the garden of Eden was a life of constant sin that ended in death; not only for him but for all those who follow him. After Adam, it was impossible for anyone to live a life without sinning. This is because we inherit a sinful nature at conception and are born into a world where it is impossible for us to do anything to please God. Because of the disobedience of Adam we all are born condemned; impossible for us not to sin. So if you are displeased and upset and think it unfair that you have to suffer the consequence of a choice that Adam made, lend me your ear to hear about the second Adam, Jesus Christ.
Jesus too was born a man but because he was conceived by the holy ghost and born of a virgin, he did not receive the sinful nature at birth. Outwardly he looked no different than any other man. But inwardly he was very different. That's because he never once sinned. From his lowly birth to his violent death he was completely innocent. When you trust in Christ for your salvation, his good clean life and perfect righteousness is credited to you. Then he chose to suffer and die as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, taking on the wrath of God by himself to satisfy the justice of God. When you confess your sins to Jesus and receive his forgiveness, you recognize that your sins were the reason why he had to go to the cross.
2. To be our mediator"For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time." I Tim. 2:5-6In order to bridge the alienation that exists between God and man because of sin, Christ had to be a man to represent us to God as well as represent God to man. In this He is perfect because he is linked to both sides - to us as well as to God. As mediator, he brought reconciliation between us and God by taking our place on the cross, bearing the curse that was due us. He was our substitute. By shedding his blood, he made peace for us which brought us an end to hostility, guilt, and the otherwise unavoidable wrath of God. Instead of the condemnation we deserve we receive forgiveness of all past, present and future sins. When we receive this reconciliation through faith in Christ we are justified and have peace with God.
Now you might think that his work as mediator was finished on the cross, but he still continues to serve as mediator using us and all of his followers as messengers to persuade those for whom he achieved reconciliation to actually receive it. That is what our primary mission is and will continue to be.
3. To show us how to live"Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked." 1 John 2:6The fact that Jesus was fully human ought to give us hope that we too can live lives that are glorifying to God. He too experienced difficulty and temptations but he never once caved in to the pressures that he was facing at the moment. He did this by always considering his fathers will over his own human will. And he did it by the power of the Holy Spirit.
4. To be the pattern of our resurrection bodies. Paul tells us that our bodies will also be raised one day in the same way that Christ's was raised. In 1 Cor. 15: 42-49 he writes:"So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are these who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven."This is the great hope of the believer in Christ; that one day we too will have brand new spiritual bodies modeled after Christ's own body, never to die again.
5. To be our high priest foreverIn addition to the above reasons, I love the way the writer of the letter to the Hebrews explains why Christ took on flesh and blood. In the second chapter, verses 14-18, he says:
"Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."
Summarizing these verses, Christ became one of us so that he could die, and that his death was for the purpose of destroying Satan, who has the power of death. Furthermore, his death would deliver us from lifelong slavery. Since he came to help us, not angels, he had to be made like us in every way. We are after all the true offspring of Abraham, because we worship the same God that Abraham worshipped.
Therefore, he had to be made just like we are in every way to be our merciful and faithful high priest. Until the death of Christ, Jewish priests would go into the temple to make sacrifices of atonement for the sins of the people. The temple had a holy place and a most holy place. The holy place was accessible by the priests throughout the year to do their priestly work. The most holy place however was to be accessed only once per year and only by the high priest. Hebrews 9 explains in detail how this ritual for the purification of the people from their sins took place. It makes for some fascinating reading to be sure.
But because Christ was human just like we are, and because he was perfect and without sin, he was an acceptable sacrifice to really atone for the sins of the people once and for all. According to this passage in Hebrews 2:17 he made "propitiation" for the sins of the people. This is one of those theological words that is very rich in meaning. It means satisfaction or appeasement, specifically towards God. Propitiation is the work of Jesus Christ on the cross by which He appeases the wrath of God who would otherwise be offended by our sins and demand that we pay the penalty for it. It is often associated with the idea of substitutionary atonement.
This word appears three other times in the new testament; in Rom. 3:25, 1 John 2:2, and 1 John 4:10. Each time it means the same thing; that Christ became our substitute on the cross, taking on the wrath of God on our behalf, literally embodying the sin of the world and personally suffering excruciating pain and humiliation to take away the anger that God has personally toward those who sin and disobedient toward him. He satisfied the justice of God, for God is holy and just and cannot ignore sin. Now anyone who recognizes their standing before God as a sinner and repents and trusts in Christ alone as their savior can stand before God completely forgiven and cleansed of their sins. Not because of any good works that they have done but only because of the good works that Christ has done.
So the first part of substitutionary atonement is this that Christ took away your sins on the cross, and the second part is that he gives you the credit for his righteous and perfect life as an absolutely free gift. So God no longer sees you as a sinner, but as a perfectly righteous person. In other words, the life he lived, he lived for you and the death he died, he died for you.
In closing, let's read again verse 18: "For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."This is where it's important for us to remember that Christ was a human being just as we are. He is our compassionate high priest. He knows what it's like to face the struggles and hardships that we face. He experienced temptation while he was here just as we do. So when you suffer in this life, know that he too suffered in this life and he understands what you are going through and is able to help you. He desires that you call upon him for help in times of need. Remember that you are not alone and that Christ still lives to make intercession for you on your behalf. He still has a human body and will for eternity. Someday soon he will return in the same way that he left.