Jesus: God and Man Matthew 1:18, 24-25; John 1:1-5, 14
4/8/2019 12:51:54 AM
April 7, 2019
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Matthew 1:18, 24-25; John 1:1-5, 14
Close your eyes and imagine you’re on a construction site. But not a modern construction site! An ancient construction site in the Roman Empire. In fact, you are in Judea in the year 20 AD. Tiberius is emperor in Rome. Valerius Gratus is the Roman prefect or governor in Judea. Herod Antipas is the Tetrarch in Galilee.
But these are politicians. You’re on a construction site. Imagine the sounds. Imagine the smells. You hear wood being sawn. A stone hammer thumps against a nail. You hear stone being chiselled. You smell saw dust and sweat. Men are talking, calling to one another. Another grunts as he lifts a heavy log.
You approach a strong young man from behind. He is the foreman on the site, overseeing the construction of a new home. His broad shoulders and muscled arms testify to the heavy work he’s been doing since he was a child, working alongside his father. Now, however, his father is dead and this young man has been running the family carpentry business for a number of years.
He reaches down to lift a beam and you notice a blackened thumb nail. Even with experience, sometimes you miss the nail and find your thumb! As you get closer, you can smell the sawdust mixed with sweat that permeates his clothes, a rough woolen tunic pulled between his legs and tucked into his belt to allow free movement. His skin glistens with sweat under the afternoon sun.
Hearing your approach, he turns towards you and smiles. It is Jesus, son of Joseph! The local builder, carpenter and general contractor. He smiles at you and welcomes you to the site.
You can open your eyes. Sometimes in worshipping Jesus, in talking about his power and authority, we forget his total humanity. We forget that Jesus was a person, a human being, just like you and me. While it is true that he was also divine and, therefore, much more than you and me, he was never less than you and me. People are surprised to think of Jesus sweating. People forget that he worked hard as a carpenter, a builder before he began his teaching ministry. We forget that he had friends in town, that there were people who knew him since he was “this high.” We forget that sometimes he cut himself, or hit his finger with a hammer, or dropped a log on his foot. He was fully human, after all!
Today, we are looking at the humanity of Jesus, what is technically called the “incarnation.” We are looking ahead to Palm Sunday and Easter in the coming weeks. As we approach those very important days in the Christian calendar, I want to begin by laying a foundation about Jesus’ humanity.
To that end, we are going to look at the significance of Jesus’ humanity, beginning with two texts that approach Jesus from opposite directions. Please turn with me to Matthew 1:18, 24-25. This is a passage familiar to us from Christmas, but we are going to look at it from a different perspective than Christmas. Then we are going to turn to John 1:1-5, 14, which looks at the beginning of the story of Jesus’ life on earth from a very different perspective.
What It Says
Consider all the words in this Matthew passage concerning birth. This is how his birth came about, he had a mother, before she came together with her betrothed she was pregnant via the Holy Spirit. Then, after Joseph’s dream, he took her to be his wife, but again we are told that they did not have marital relations until after she gave birth to a son, Jesus.
We are familiar with this from Christmas, but consider how God entered into the world: through birth as a baby. He didn’t descend from Heaven. He didn’t just appear out of nowhere. He didn’t enter the scene of history without a history of his own. In fact, both Matthew and Luke go to lengths to detail his earthly history in his genealogy.
Matthew’s Gospel is full of vocabulary describing Jesus’ human birth. He had a mother. He was born
from her in the normal, expected way. What was miraculous was his conception- that she was a virgin! But after conception, everything else carried on as expected for a human child.
In fact, when you consider Jesus’ family tree- his ancestors as detailed in Luke (via Mary, not his adopted father Joseph)- Jesus inherited at least some of his genes from his ancestors through Mary! Jesus was fully human! He looked like his mother. He may have looked like his maternal grandfather too! He didn’t look angelic or divine, he looked like his cousins! Jesus had roots in the community. He could travel around and see where his grandparents were born, where his cousins lived, etc.
Matthew, Mark and Luke all start with Jesus’ humanity and proceed to show his divinity. They tell the story as it developed from an earthly perspective: Jesus was born and raised as a “normal” person, whose special nature only became apparent at the end of his earthly life.
John, by contrast, comes at Jesus’ life from the opposite end of the spectrum. He begins with the real beginning, the beginning of the universe! John begins his Gospel with Jesus’ divinity and then proceeds to show his humanity. John opens with “In the beginning” meaning the beginning of all creation. John speaks of the Word, the divine Logos, the wisdom or ordering force behind creation that gives creation its coherence. The Word was with God and was God. The Word is fully divine!
Then John goes on to show that the Word became flesh, became a human, dwelt among us and John was a witness to this fact. In fact, John talks about having touched the Word! In Greek understanding, touch was the most trustworthy of senses, the least prone to being mistaken or fooled. John is providing tangible evidence of Jesus’ humanity.
John’s Gospel depicts many of the most dynamic examples of Jesus’ humanity. John was trying to counter a particular false understanding of Jesus’ nature, Gnosticism, and so he demonstrated Jesus’ humanity to its fullest. It is in John that we see most of Jesus’ emotions- he weeps, he’s angry, he snorts in disgust, etc. John begins with Jesus’ deity, then shows his humanity.
What It Means
What does all of this mean? Certainly, we’ve not looked at all of the texts that describe either Jesus’ deity (divine nature) or his humanity. We’ve only considered texts about his arrival on earth and the different approaches of different Gospel writers. I’m not setting out today to “prove” or demonstrate either side of Jesus’ nature. Rather, because this is a central, fundamental belief that all Christians hold to, I want to explore the significance of Jesus’ humanity because I think many Evangelicals have under-emphasized his humanity because we spend so much time talking about his divinity.
Jesus was born, he did not descend from Heaven or just appear on earth. Other religions describe God or gods coming to earth, but they are not born. They appear, the descend, they visit. Jesus was born of a woman, developed as a baby, learned to walk, grew up as a young man, etc. Jesus experienced all the weaknesses of humanity as well, including temptation, but he did not sin. That is, he did not give in to the temptation he experienced!
Jesus experienced human limits. Jesus, as a boy, had to grow in stature, in understanding and favour with God and men. There were times he couldn’t reach what he wanted. There were times he didn’t understand what he was expected to do, or how to do what was expected of him. He had to learn! Jesus lost his baby teeth and had a gapped-tooth smile for a while!
Jesus also experienced human physical limits like fatigue, hunger, thirst, pain and ultimately physical death! Think of John’s Gospel when Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well. He sits down because he is tired and sends the disciples into town to find food. He asked her for a drink. He was tired and thirsty! Similarly, on the cross, he was thirsty. He cried out for a drink and they soldiers lifted a sponge to his mouth. At the beginning of his ministry, when he was tempted in the desert, he was hungry after fasting for a month! Jesus experienced human physical weaknesses and limits.
Jesus experienced human emotions. Jesus loved people. The rich young ruler, Jesus looked on him and loved him. John was known as the “beloved disciple.”
Jesus got angry. When he saw what was happening in the Temple in the Court of the Gentiles, the only area in which non-Jews could worship God, he got angry and drove the money-changers and merchants out with an improvised whip! When Lazarus died Jesus snorted in indignation at the damage death caused to those left
behind! John actually uses the Greek word for a horse snorting!
When Jesus looked out over Jerusalem on Palm Sunday he wept. [Luke 19:41] Several times in Matthew, when he saw the people poorly led, or mistreated, he was moved with compassion. [Matt 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34] The word used describes a gut-reaction. We could think of it as a “gut-wrenching” emotion! Jesus was fully human with the full range of human emotions.
It is hard to reconcile Jesus being both fully human and fully God. It can make our heads spin if we start thinking about it too hard, or exploring some of the nuances of what that means! During Jesus earthly ministry, nobody thought of him as divine. That’s why people got angry when he dared to forgive sins! Only God can do that! The disciples knew he was the Messiah, the Christ, but they didn’t think of that as divine. It wasn’t until after the resurrection that Jesus’ followers came to understand his deity and worship him! It is appropriate to worship Jesus, but it is only appropriate to worship God, Jesus must be God, so his nature must be both human and divine.
There have been many errors as people try to explain Jesus’ two natures. This is one reason Church History is important for people to study: to see the errors made in the past so as to recognize them again today! One error people made was to deny Jesus’ humanity- they thought he just appeared human, but wasn’t actually human. This was a very early heresy! John counters this idea very early on in his Gospel by showing Jesus’ emotions. An early, heretical text describes Jesus as impassive on the cross, not really suffering (Gospel of Peter). But all 4 Gospels show Jesus’ painful experiences on the cross, not an impassive, unfeeling pseudo-person.
Others have denied his deity, saying he was just a nice man, but not God. His resurrection and ascension counter this. This was an issue in the 1st Century, but again an issue in the 20th and 21st as people try to reduce Jesus to a nice man, a good person and example, a good teacher, but not God.
Some early errors proposed that God “possessed” a good man named Jesus, but then left when he was on the cross. Because, how can God die?!? Again, resurrection/ascension counter this. But you can imagine the difficulties Jesus divinity and humanity present! Was he really human if he didn’t sin? Etc. But the core doctrine of Christianity is that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine (fully God) at the same time!
Why does all this matter? It’s a pretty deep theological concept. Your head might be hurting or you may be bored thinking about it. Why does it matter? Actually it matters a lot! If Jesus isn’t God, then we dare not worship him! If he wasn’t human, could he really have taken our sin upon himself? Can he really offer forgiveness?
There are a number of really good reasons why it matters that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. We’re going emphasize why his humanity matters.
First, Jesus’ humanity reveals a lot to us about God. The name Emmanuel means “God With Us.” Jesus’ humanity shows us that God is a God who pursues those he loves! HE came to us, not us to Him! Col 1:15 says that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. We can’t see God normally, but in Jesus we do see him! Many people say they don’t like God, but almost everybody likes Jesus. Well, the two are the same! Want to know what God is like? Examine Jesus!
Col 1 goes on, v. 19-20, to say that the fullness of God dwelt in Jesus in order to reconcile us to God! Jesus’ humanity is what allows him to reconcile us to God. The problem of sin is a human problem. It affects all of creation, but it is a problem caused by and perpetuated by humans. So it makes sense that God’s divine plan to solve the problem of sin must also involve a human! Jesus’ atonement on the cross requires that Jesus be fully human for it to apply to us. Otherwise, if Jesus were not human, he could not take the human consequence for sin upon himself!
Jesus’ humanity allows him to intercede for us with the Father. Jesus, right now, is advocating for us with God! He is serving as an intermediary between us and the Father. That’s the role of a priest! In Hebrews, the author described the difference between Israel’s high priests and Jesus as high priest. Jesus has experienced all of our difficulties, including temptation, with one exception- Jesus never sinned! So unlike earthly high priests, Jesus doesn’t have to offer sacrifices for his own sin as well as ours. Yet, because of his humanity, he understands exactly what we struggle with! He has compassion and empathy for us!
The author of Hebrews concludes, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that
we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Knowing Jesus was fully human gives us confidence to approach the throne of grace. We have a high priest there already advocating for us!
Let me ask, how do you approach God? With fear? With shame? With doubt? Don’t! Jesus is there advocating for you and he knows what you’re going through, what you’re struggling with.
Do you ever feel far from God? Jesus did. (My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me?) He understands!
Do you ever feel homesick? (Jesus left the glory of heaven! He traveled around for 3 years- foxes have holes, birds have nests but not Jesus!) He understands
Do you ever have a bad day at work? Jesus did too, he understands! There were certainly difficult days as a carpenter, difficult customers, days when projects didn’t go according to plan. Certainly there were difficult days in ministry, like when the people of his home town tried to push him off a cliff!
Are you adopted? Did you ever lose a parent? Grow up in a single parent household? Jesus did! By the time he starts his ministry, Jesus’ dad is dead. So his adopted earthly father died before Jesus started his ministry. One theory as to why Jesus started his earthly ministry when he was about 33 years old is that he had to wait for a younger brother (maybe James?) to grow up to take over the family business! He had to support his mother and his younger siblings for a while before pursuing his ministry calling!
Do you ever find it hard to pray? –Jesus had to develop his prayer life- often retreating to pray. At the end of his time on earth, in the Garden of Gethsemane, he asked his disciples to pray with him. It was hard! He needed support.
Did you ever have something really hard to do that you were afraid to do? Again, Garden of Gethsemane! The cross didn’t surprise Jesus, he saw it coming! And yet he obeyed God and followed through on the difficult course of obedience, even through the Valley of the Shadow of Death!
Do you ever weep over sin? Jesus did! He wept over Jerusalem and that they had rejected God and their Messiah. He had a gut-wrenching compassion for people who were poor, hungry, mistreated and mislead. Jesus understands.
Christianity is not a call to live a good life and be a good person. Christianity is not a set of rules or practices to follow to please God. (Like Old Testament Judaism or Islam.) Christianity is not about emptying yourself to become one with something greater. Nor is Christianity about something that happened far away, long ago, that often feels like it’s at arm’s length, something done “over there.” Christianity is about relationships- primarily our relationship with God through Jesus and our relationships with Jesus who knows exactly what our struggles are!
Christianity is a call to be in relationship with a person who knows exactly who and what you are, and loves you anyway. Why? Because he’s been there himself. Won’t you enter into that relationship with him?
Jesus: God and Man Matthew 1:18, 24-25; John 1:1-5, 14
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