Friday, August 11, 2006

Jesus is Our Fully Human Example

One of the most important lessons I learned for my Christian life was that Jesus is fully human. I had recited that as part of the Creeds since childhood, and I had believed it at least in theory. But in my first few years as a Bible-believing Christian, in an environment where good Bible teaching was highly valued but the Holy Spirit was mostly ignored, the humanity of the second Person of the Trinity was also given little attention.

I did of course learn that it was necessary for Jesus to be human for him to take on the cross the punishment deserved by the rest of humankind. But the idea I had of Jesus living on earth was of a divine being with superhuman powers in a human form, perhaps with an actual human body. This Jesus was portrayed as someone entirely unique, someone whom ordinary Christians could not aspire to be like. And Jesus now reigning in heaven just seemed to be totally divine.

Let me first make a disclaimer to avoid any misunderstanding. I accept and believe that Jesus is the divine Son of God, fully God as well as fully human. The Bible clearly teaches this. But it also clearly teaches the other side of the picture, that he is fully human.

It was only after I experienced the Holy Spirit for myself (I received the so-called "Baptism of the Holy Spirit" and spoke in tongues) that I started to understand the wider significance of Jesus' full humanity. Perhaps this is because I started reading books with a rather different perspective. I started to understand that Jesus is the perfect example for us to follow. Paul wrote, "I follow the example of Christ", and on this basis told the Corinthians to "Follow my example" (1 Corinthians 11:1, TNIV). Thus Jesus is an example even for us to follow.

You may ask as perhaps I did, how can this be? Jesus is the sinless Son of God, and we are sinful people, so how can we aspire to follow his example? The answer comes here:
we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
What an encouragement! Jesus faced the same kinds of trials and temptations that we do, and emerged victorious through them all! If he did, so can we. This is made clear here:
let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
The word translated "pioneer" here means something like "the first to follow a path", perhaps "trailblazer". Jesus was the first to run the race and to live the life of faith, and, because he did, we too can. (Yes, I know it is theologically controversial to suggest that Jesus had faith, but I won't go into that issue just now.)

Furthermore, if we are called to follow Jesus' example, that must mean that we should expect to do the same kinds of things which Jesus did. This is confirmed in John's gospel, where Jesus said:
Very truly I tell you, all who have faith in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
John 14:12 (TNIV©)
Note that although this was spoken to the twelve apostles, the promise is not restricted to them, or even to those who lived in their lifetime, but is a promise to all who have faith in Jesus. There is no room here for cessationism.

What kinds of works is Jesus talking about here? The answer just came as a surprise to me. Jesus is talking about the very same works which, in the previous verse, he was appealing to as evidence that "I am in the Father and the Father is in me" (John 14:11, TNIV). He is not referring to acts of kindness which any person can do, but to the miraculous signs which proved that God had sent him, signs such as turning water into wine, "the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory" (John 2:11, TNIV), and feeding the five thousand, a sign which caused many to believe in him (John 6:14). It seems that Jesus expects "all who have faith in me" to do not just similar works but even greater ones.

The objection that I would have made to this argument is that Jesus performed his miracles, and especially these great signs, because he was divine and so omnipotent. There is, I thought, no way that we humans can do anything even remotely comparable, because we are limited to what our natural human bodies can do. This argument might seem to be decisive, but the Bible clearly does not allow us to take this position. Firstly, it is contradicted by John 14:12, as we have already seen. And then, from a quite different angle, it is also contradicted by this passage:
But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Mark 13:32 (TNIV©)
Jesus didn't know something, so in his ministry, at least at this point, he was not operating in his omniscient divine nature. Yet he did know that the angels didn't know this, something which was not known to everyone. How did he have some supernatural knowledge but not all knowledge? The only answer, it seems, is that he was operating in his human nature but the Holy Spirit was revealing some divine truth to him. (I have taken this argument from Confronting the Powers by C. Peter Wagner, pp.129-130.)

It is of course no coincidence that Jesus' ministry began soon after he received the Holy Spirit. Before his baptism, Jesus seems to have lived a normal life. No childhood miracles are recorded in the biblical gospels, although some implausible fables are found in non-canonical gospels and in the Qur'an. The young Jesus was an exceptional student (Luke 2:46-47) but showed no special powers. Then at his baptism the Holy Spirit came upon him, and immediately led him into the wilderness to be tempted (Mark 1:9-13). Only after that did he begin to preach and to heal in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14-15, Matthew 4:23), and to drive out demons by the Spirit of God (Matthew 12:28).

The implication seems clear: Jesus carried out all of his ministry as a human being filled with the Holy Spirit. He exercised the gifts of the Spirit, such as prophecy in his prophetic preaching, healing and miraculous powers. The divine Son of God had voluntarily "emptied himself" (Philippians 2:7, RSV) of his divine attributes like omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence and submitted himself to the limitations of a human body. But as a perfect human, perfectly filled by the Holy Spirit, he could operate perfectly in the gifts of the Spirit, and so do the great works which proved that God had sent him.

So what of us? We too, as Christians, have received the Holy Spirit - whether or not we have had a specific experience of the Spirit's power. We are not perfectly filled with the Spirit because of our sinfulness, and need to seek continual new filling (Ephesians 5:18; the verb "be filled" is in the present continuous tense). But the same Holy Spirit who filled Jesus also fills us, and so in the power of the Spirit we can do the same works that Jesus did, and indeed even greater works, probably because there is, or should be, not one person but the whole church for the Spirit to work through.

This is not all a matter of great miracles. Through the Spirit we can experience the same close relationship with the Father which Jesus experienced. We can hear the Father speaking to us and let him speak through us. We can aim to be like Jesus in this:
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 (TNIV©)
And as we do what we see the Father doing, as revealed to us by the Holy Spirit, we will find ourselves, together as the church, doing even greater things than Jesus did: bringing his power, his compassion, and his saving message not just to one small country, as he did during his life on earth, but to the whole world.

4 Comments:

At Saturday, August 12, 2006 8:55:00 am, Blogger Sally said...

Good stuff here thank you- followed a link through from Tim Chestertons blog.

 
At Sunday, August 13, 2006 6:47:00 am, Blogger ts said...

Thanks, Peter. I've recently been writing a lesson on temptation for my church and came across an interesting problem. James 1 seems to suggest that temptation comes from our evil desires, but Jesus didn't have evil desires. Doesn't this contradict Hebrews, where it says Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are?

Please help!

 
At Sunday, August 13, 2006 11:04:00 pm, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

A good question, TS. I think the problem is with the complex Greek syntax of James 1:14. To translate this very literally, it says "but each one is tempted by own desire drawn away and enticed". I note two points to consider here:

First, "by own desire" is probably to be linked with "drawn away and enticed" rather than with "tempted". Desires don't tempt, but they do draw people away and entice them, and leave them open to temptation.

Second, the word used here for "desire", epithumia, does not always refer to something evil, although it usually does. For example, it is used in a clearly good sense in Philippians 1:23 and 1 Thessalonians 2:17, and most tellingly in Luke 22:15 (literally "I desired with desire") of Jesus' own desires.

Applying this to Jesus (and all of this is rather off the top of my head), we can say that Jesus had normal human desires, but untainted with sin, and these included desires not to do what God called him to do, and especially not to face the cross. When Satan tempted him in the desert, he made use of Jesus' normal human desires to eat and to take the easiest path in his ministry. In Gethsemane, Jesus' normal human desire was to avoid a painful death. Satan took advantage of these situations to tempt Jesus, but Jesus chose to withstand the temptation and accept what God had called him to do: to fast, to minister only in God's way and authority, and to die on the cross.

James continues in 1:15, literally "then desire conceiving gives birth to sin". But it takes two to conceive. James chooses not to mention the devil, but there seems to be implicit imagery here in which natural human desire is likened to a woman being seduced by the devil. Jesus had the natural human desires, but said "no" to the devil's seductions. We should do the same.

 
At Monday, August 14, 2006 8:08:00 am, Blogger ts said...

Thanks, Peter. I read your reply, and it squares with my Adam Clarke commentary on Hebrews 4:15, which I just checked:
"For though He had a perfect human body and human soul, yet that body was perfectly tempered; it was free from all morbid action, and consequently from all irregular movements. His mind, or human soul, being free from all sin, being every way perfect, could feel no irregular temper, nothing that was inconsistent with infinite purity."

Thanks for the insight.

 

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