The Humanity of Jesus
April 23, 2017 sermon
By John Ulrich, Lead Pastor
In this series, we will look at the Biblical view of the real Jesus from multiple perspectives, which perhaps we have misunderstood or were unaware of. Today we focus on Jesus’ humanity, His existence as one of us, and how the fact that He was a man fits together with His divinity.
A. How Jesus and His humanity fit together
- Jesus was and is fully God. John reminds us that Jesus is deity,“the Word of Life” who has always existed. (I John 1:1)
- Jesus was and is fully human. At a specific time and place in history, “The Word [Jesus] became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us.” (John 1:14) Jesus was a real man with normal human life, human development, emotions, and affections.
As far as we understand, Jesus is still human, changed forever as a man. When He returns, we will be like Him, like Adam before the Fall, free from sin so that we may live in God’s presence forever.
- The exercise of Jesus Christ’s nature was subject to the control of the Father.
Jesus submitted his Godly attributes to His Father’s control and enabling of the Holy Spirit (John 5:19). His divine nature would shine through, but it was always subject to the will of the Father.
B. This changes our view of Jesus Christ.
- Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection were more painful physically and emotionally than we imagine. He carried the loneliness, pain, and accusation for us.
- Jesus’ temptation was real. Although he was tempted by the desires and feelings of humanity, He chose to obey the will of His Father (Luke 22:42). He now can help us in our temptations (Hebrews 2:18).
- Jesus is truly our pattern. He identifies with our struggles, pain & suffering. He is more like us than we ever thought. We can be more like Jesus than we ever thought: His life of dependency on the Father should be our life!
4. Jesus is more lovable than we could ever conceive. As the unfallen Adam, a man originally without sin, Jesus lived in perfect obedience to the Father. His ultimate surrender to God’s will in the Cross gave us all the possibility of resurrection as sinless people in the eyes of the Heavenly Father: to change into Jesus’ image here on earth and to live with Him forever. (I Corinthians 5:21)
- Paradox, seemingly absurd or self contradictory statements, may be true and sometimes can be used to reveal deeper truths. What “deeper truth” do you think we might learn from the paradox that Jesus is fully God and fully man?
- What difference does the fact that Jesus was a real man (fully human) make to your everyday life on earth? to your eternal life?
- How is Jesus Christ the second Adam? (See I Cor. 15:42-49, Rom.5:19)
- What was the prayer life of the human Jesus like? (See John 17, Mark 7:46, Luke 11, Luke 22:39-46). Can we follow in His steps?
- What keeps us from living in complete dependency & obedience to the Father as Jesus did?
- If Jesus had limited knowledge & sensitivity to pain, and suffering of mankind, where did He (as a man) get His guidance and power to overcome?
There are times when we think we know someone only to find out that they are very different from the picture that was in our mind. I remember when Kelley and I had been married for about eight years. We had raised our missionary support, packed our stuff and now it was our very first day in Africa. At that point, I thought I knew pretty much all there was to know about Kelley and insects, which is that the two do not mix. To that point in our existence, most bugs were evil bugs and spiders were definitely the worst. It didn’t matter what size or what kind. I would be like “Uh, that’s a grass spider – they’re good!” “No they’re not – that’s evil – kill it!” She would be like “John, there is a huge nasty spider in the bathroom!” It would be the size of the head of a pin. Didn’t matter, and I always had to be the one to kill them. Always. So I in my mind, Kelley was this beautiful and intelligent, but defenseless creature who would always need my help when it came to insects.
I remember that first day in Africa. We had spent two days on a plane. We were exhausted. We were sitting on some steps in a hallway, and we were talking. Here on the floor behind Kelley comes a pretty good sized spider. Not a tarantula, but about this big and kind of nasty looking, I gotta say. I’m thinking “This is not good! Kelley’s going to have a fit. We’re going to have to give her some Valium or something. She’s going to want to get on a plane and go back home. How can I very subtly kill this thing before she sees it?” When much to my surprise, Kelley – who is in mid-sentence explaining something – without skipping a beat in one smooth motion takes off her shoe, smacks the spider, and puts her shoe back on while she finishes her sentence. I looked at her like “What have you done with my wife?” Se just shrugs and says “I’m in Africa now.” I found out there was a side to Kelley that I didn’t understand at all!
Have you ever had that experience with someone? Where you thought you knew them only to discover that you had mistaken assumptions or that there was a side to them that you did not have a clue existed? I think we all have the capacity to do that – to be surprised in both good and bad ways by a piece of who someone really is. We can do it with our spouse. We can do it with our children – either under-estimate or over-estimate what they are capable of. We can do it with our friends. And we can do it with Jesus.
I think we all have in our minds a sort of mental picture of Jesus that is a composite of all the Bible stories we’ve heard and the Jesus movies we’ve watched – and maybe what we want him to be – and even what our culture says Jesus should and shouldn’t be like. Sometimes I wonder if we haven’t – kind of like I did with Kelley – built up a stereotype that isn’t completely accurate.
I wonder if we might have misunderstood the real Jesus.
Well today, we are starting a new series called “the Real Jesus” where we are going to look at some aspects of who Jesus is that might surprise us – aspects that we either misunderstand or that we might not be aware of. As we go through this series, we’re going to look at some aspects of Jesus that we don’t talk about much – like Jesus as our King. We’re going to look at some aspects that might not be very popular – like Jesus as judge. Next week, John Maiden is going to look at Jesus’ divinity – what does it mean that he is God’s Son? We are going to start today with a look at an aspect of Jesus that has probably been the most surprising thing I’ve ever learned about him:
Something that blew my mind and completely changed the way I view Jesus as I read the gospels, and think about him, and even as I pray. And that is Jesus’ humanity – his existence as one of us.
Actually, today we are going to look at the way Jesus’ humanity went together with his divinity. How did the fact that Jesus was God fit together with the fact that he was a man? That’s something that was always kind of fuzzy for me as a Christian. What I’m going to share with you today changed my understanding of who Jesus was, and what he did for me and really brought me to worship.
Today we are going to talk about that. Here’s what we are going to do:
- We will look at the facts: three basic facts about how Jesus’ divinity fit with his humanity.
- We will see four implications: four ways that that might change the way we look at Jesus.
I have a very simple goal today. I want us to worship! I want us to worship. That’s why we structured the service the way we did today. We wanted to leave some time after the service to worship Jesus in song and in prayer. Worship changes us! It just does. It’s my hope this morning that as we see Jesus more for who he really is – and as we understand the price he paid, and how much he is the pattern for us, that we will worship – and that as we do that, we will be changed!
First of all, let me give you three points about how Jesus divinity and his humanity fit together.
Jesus Was (And Is) Fully God
John says this clearly. Look at what he says:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”
– John 1:1-3
John is the sort of Shakespeare of the New Testament. In this passage, John is being playful with us. He’s reminding us of Gen. 1:1, the very first verse in the Bible, where in the beginning where God creates the heavens and the earth by speaking them into existence. So the very first thing that exists before the heavens and the earth is actually the word that God spoke to create them. So in the beginning is the word!
John is also making a very clear, very direct, very theologically profound statement: The word was both with God and the word was God. Then in verse 14 John makes it clear that “the word” here is a title for Jesus. He says “the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” So John is saying in no uncertain terms that Jesus was God. That Jesus is fully God – that he is divine.
Scripture tells us quite clearly in many ways that Jesus is God. Next week John Maiden is going to speak to us, and he is going to explain to us everything that it means to say that Jesus is God. Because John understands it all – right John? I use John to do my light work! Seriously, I’m just touching on that, but John will look at it in more detail next week.
Jesus is God. He takes the names of God. He makes the claims of God. But perhaps most importantly, Jesus does things that only God can do. He knows things that only God can know. There are times when he knows what people are thinking. Times when he knows who really believes in him and who doesn’t. In John 6 early in his ministry, Jesus turns to the disciples and says “Have not I chosen you 12, and one of you is a devil” He was talking about Judas, because he knew Judas would betray him. He does miracles – things that normal people can’t do – like healing people – and feeding the 5,000 – and controlling the weather – and raising the dead. John tells us here that Jesus created the world!
So when we put the teaching of Scripture together, we can see that in numerous places and in a variety of ways Scripture tells us that Jesus is fully God. Jesus is more than just a good teacher – more than just a self-actualized human being – more than just a prophet – more than god-ly – more than just a Son of God. He was fully God.
This is important. That means that all the attributes or characteristics of God belong to Jesus. God knows all things. He is omniscient. As they say “Has it ever occurred to you that nothing has occurred to God?” He know everything. And as God, that attribute applies to Jesus. God can do all things. He can do anything that doesn’t contradict his nature. He is omnipotent. If Jesus is really God, he has to be able to do all things. It’s part of the job description of being God.
Also, God is omnipresent. He’s everywhere at once. As God, Jesus has to have that ability. These are the ways that God has described himself in Scripture. To be God is to be perfect in knowledge – in power – in presence. So when you come to church and you hear “God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit” we are saying that all three of these people have all of these attributes. To the best of our understanding, to not possess these is to not be God. Jesus is fully God.
As awesome as that is, Jesus’ deity – his God-nature – is not a surprise. The belief that Jesus is divine is a belief that the church has had since the time of the Apostles. All branches of orthodox Christianity – from Eastern Orthodox – to Roman Catholic – to all the protestant denominations – confess this to be true. So Jesus was and is fully God.
Jesus Ws (And Is) Fully Human
John 1 – the passage that we read – teaches us this truth as well: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Look at verse 14. In verse 1, John said “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In other words, from the very beginning Jesus always existed as God. But here John tells he became flesh. There came a time when the Word added a second nature and became flesh. John uses a different verb and a different tense here in verse 14 to show us that this occurred at a specific point in time. Jesus took on a human nature – and he made his dwelling – he literally “tabernacled” among us. John tells us that Jesus became human and lived among human beings. He is telling us that Jesus was fully human.
Again, this is taught all over the New Testament. Just like Scripture tells us clearly that Christ was God, it clearly teaches that he was human. The Apostles called him “the man Christ Jesus.” Jesus called himself a man at one point in his ministry. He had a normal physical body and normal appearance. He didn’t glow. He wasn’t an immaterial projection. He was so normal that people in his hometown said “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” So normal that his brothers didn’t think he was divine.
Again, this all means is that Jesus was fully human. He didn’t just “put on” humanity like we would put on a mask. His humanity was real. He experienced normal human development. He grew from zygote to fetus to infant to adolescent to adult. He experienced genuine human life – with hunger and thirst – and weariness and pain – and death. He had ordinary human affections. He had friends that he really cared about. Scripture tells us he chose the twelve “to be with him – ”and he was especially close to Peter, James, and John. He felt disappointment when they couldn’t stay awake and pray with him. He had ordinary human emotions. He knew sorrow, amazement, anger, and he knew what it was to weep with grief.
Jesus is still human. So far as we understand it, his humanity will last forever. I keep forgetting that. I keep thinking that right now he is just as he was before he came to earth, but he’s not. This incarnation wasn’t just some boot camp that he did for a while and then left. It changed him forever. Jesus is resurrected now, but he is still a human being. He still has wounds in his hands and feet and side. That’s why in 1 John the New Testament says “When he appears we will be like him – for we shall see him as he is” – not “as he was.” He will still be human.
Jesus is human. That means he could die in our place, paying for our sins, and he could give us his resurrection life. He’s human! Again, this is no surprise. Jesus’ humanity, too, is accepted by Christians everywhere. Jesus becoming human is what we celebrate every year at Christmas!
So Jesus is fully God and fully human. So if we agree on these things, what is it that’s going to surprise us about Jesus? What is it that we have to learn? Well for me, the learning curve was the way that these two natures fit together. Because they have to go together in some way. I don’t know if you’ve thought about it, but these two natures (divine nature and human nature) in some ways are mutually exclusive:
- God is infinite. People are finite.
- God is everywhere at once. People are in one place at one time.
- God can do anything he wants. People can’t.
- God knows everything. People do not know everything.
So the two natures are in some ways mutually exclusive.
So how do we solve this? How did Jesus’ two natures fit together? I think most of us sort of instinctively solve this problem the way I did for a long time, and that is with what I call “the Superman view.” What I mean by that is this: We look at Jesus in the gospels, and we assume the physical part of Jesus is human and the rest is God. We look at him kind of like he’s Clark Kent. He’s got all his super-powers all the time. They are available to him any time, but sometimes it’s better for us if he just looks normal. So when we read the stories about Jesus, we read them as if Jesus always knows everything as if he can do everything. We’re not sure how the omni-presence thing works out, but we’re willing to let that one slide. So we think of Jesus as having at his disposal all his powers as God.
That’s the way I pictured Jesus for a long time. Like “Of course he do miracles whenever he wanted. Of course he could zap himself from Jerusalem to Galilee, he just likes to take the walk.” That works fine with the Bible stories I mentioned when we talked about his deity. The stories where he knows things, and heals people and controls the weather.
So that works fine much of the time, but there’s a problem: There are times in the gospels when Jesus doesn’t look so much like superman – times when he doesn’t seem to have all knowledge or doesn’t appear to be all-powerful. I remember I first really noticed these when I was teaching a class on the person of Christ at the Theological College. I noticed that are times in the gospels when Jesus doesn’t seem to know everything. He told the disciples he didn’t know the day or hour of his return. In Luke 7, we are told that Jesus was amazed at the Centurion’s faith. It’s kind of hard to be amazed when you have Divine omniscience. Luke 2 tells us that as a child “Jesus grew in wisdom.” How can God grow in wisdom? I wondered…
As I looked further, I noticed that there were times Jesus couldn’t do certain things. For example, look at what Mark’s gospel says in Mark 6:5. This is talking about Jesus in Capernaum. It says “He could not do any miracles there – only lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.” “Could not!” There are times in the Gospels, Jesus goes away to pray. I thought “Wait – why would he need to pray if he’s all-knowing and all-powerful?”
There is still this deal with his presence only being in one place. I was surprised when I really thought about these things, and I realized that I needed to re-think my picture of Jesus. So how do we resolve this? How do we put these two natures together?
I don’t have everything about Jesus figured out. But as I understand it and as many solid theologians understand it, here’s how it fits together:
The Exercise of Jesus’ God Nature Was Subject To The Control of the Father
This was a surprise for me, but it made so much more sense of Jesus for me! Jesus was always fully God. He did not lose any of his attributes as God. If he would have lost those attributes, he would cease to be God. But as I understand it, the exercise of those attributes – the ability to use that knowledge – the ability to use those powers – the ability to be omni-present – was subject to the Father’s control and the enablement of the Holy Spirit. During the 33 years of Jesus’ life and ministry on earth, the exercise of Jesus’ divine attributes was subject to the authority of the Father. He had them freely at his disposal before his birth. He has them freely at his disposal now. But during that time on earth, he voluntarily submitted the exercise of those attributes to the control of God so that he fully experienced life as a human. Jesus voluntarily gave up not those attributes, but the exercise of those attributes.
I think that Jesus hints at this in John 5:19 – there he says:
“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”
– John 5:19
Just so we’re clear, let me explain my understanding of this: Jesus fully experienced life as an unfallen human (like Adam before he sinned). There were times when the Father enabled him to express his divine nature and do miraculous things. But that was subject to the will of the Father. What that means is that Jesus wasn’t like superman at all. He couldn’t always snap his fingers and fix everything. He didn’t always know how things were going to turn out unless the Father had revealed that to him. This is why he prayed – not to set a good example but because he genuinely needed the will and enablement of the Father. The exercise of Jesus’ God nature was subject to the control of the Father.
Now, maybe that’s the way you’ve always thought of Jesus. But for me, that was a big change. Like I said in the introduction, there are ways that this changes our understanding of Jesus and the way we look at him. So let me just give you four ways this changes the way we view Jesus:
1. It means Jesus’ passion (crucifixion and death) was more painful than we imagine.
I used to read the story of Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion with that superman view of him. It still amazed me and brought me to tears when I thought about what he went through for me. But since I’ve come to this view of Jesus, the way I view his passion has changed.
I don’t know if I have the picture all correct in my mind, but I now see a Jesus who truly experiences the Passion in many ways as you or I would experience it. I now see a Jesus who really means it when he begs the Father to let the cup of suffering pass from him. This isn’t some show done for the audience’s benefit. As a human, Jesus does not want the loneliness – the pain – the accusation – the desertion by his Father – as he bears the weight of the sins of the world. I now see a Jesus is truly hurt when his friends, the disciples, desert him. I see a Jesus who is truly frustrated when they fall asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane and he says “Could you not keep watch with me for one hour?” I see a Jesus who makes the very hard choice to speak the words that will see him crucified: Declaring his divinity before the Jewish authorities so that he could be charged with blasphemy. Claiming to have a kingdom before Pilate so that he could be executed by the Romans. I see a Jesus who had to choose – as one of us – to obey the Father and bring that on himself. Do you know – do you have any idea – what Jesus really went through for you? Jesus’ passion was more painful than we can imagine.
2. It means Jesus’ temptation was real.
Jesus’ request that the cup of suffering pass from him was a real request that part of him really wanted. Then it shows us that Jesus was truly temptable. He could be tempted in the garden to not do the will of the Father. Not tempted because he was sinful like you and me, but tempted because he was human. Jesus had the normal instinct of self-preservation that God has put in the heart of every human. So he could be tempted – not exactly like you and I can be tempted. We’re partly tempted because we have developed a taste for sin. He didn’t have that. But he could be tempted like Adam was tempted – tempted by the desires, feelings, and compulsions that come not from sin, but from humanity. So when Satan tempted him in the garden – in the desert – and throughout his ministry – it was real.
In fact, in some ways it was more real than the temptations we face. Knowing who Jesus was, Satan focused his efforts fully on him, doing everything he could to prevent Jesus from fulfilling the Father’s will. He was truly tempted.
This shows us that it’s not a sin to be tempted. It’s not a sin to have human desires. It’s not a sin to not want to suffer – not a sin to desire comfort. If Jesus experienced that, it’s not a sin. The sin comes when we make the choice that Jesus never made and yield to temptation, or nurture sin in our minds, or choose our comfort over God’s will.
Jesus knows the weight of your temptation. He understands what you are going through, and the Bible tells us He prays for you. This is why in Hebrews 2:18 the Bible says “because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” It means Jesus’ temptation was real.
3. It means Jesus is truly our pattern.
He truly lived not as superman, but as we live. He lived like you and me. Jesus knows what it is to walk on cursed ground as you and I walk it. He knows what it is, to sweat and work, to be tired and thirsty. He knows what it is to grieve and cry for his loved ones like you do. Jesus knows the heartache real abandonment – real betrayal. He knows the fear of death. He knows what it is to pray and have God say “no.”
When I look at Jesus, I am not looking at some guy from outer space. I’m not looking at Superman. He’s not presenting me with some “pie in the sky” unattainable version of the Christian life. He was human like we’re human. He had to depend on the Father like we have to depend on the Father. He needed to pray like we need to pray When he chose his disciples – when he faced human brokenness – when he had a big decision. He needed the Father like we need the Father.
He really is our pattern. He is more like us than we ever thought.
Because he’s so much more like us than we ever thought, we can be more like him than we ever thought. When I read Jesus’ teaching – and see his life – I so often excuse myself. I tell myself “Well, I could never do that because after all that’s Jesus.” But once we understand his humanity, we see that that won’t quite cut it like it used to. He really truly is our pattern. His life of dependence on the Father, should be our life.
4. Lastly – and this is simple: It means Jesus is more loveable than we could ever conceive.
Do you know what Jesus did for you? The one – who was with God in the beginning and knew perfect joy and fellowship at the Father’s side – the one who was God and shared all his attributes and abilities – was made flesh. He took on an unfallen human nature with its limitations and weakness and became dependent on the Father just as you and I are. He lived a life of perfect obedience – a life we could never live for ourselves because of our sin. Then at the cross, He didn’t just take on our flesh. He went further and took on our sin. So that just as John tells us “the Word became flesh,” Paul tells us this:
“He became sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
– 2 Corinthians. 5:21
Jesus loved you and me enough to become like you and me and to die for you and me. When I allow myself to be surprised by his humanity and learn who he truly was, it makes him more loveable than ever. It makes me want to fall down at his feet, and worship him. Jesus was – and is – fully God. He was – and is – fully human. And by subjecting himself to the control of the Father, He reconciled us to God.