It is possible to understand written or verbal communication by just direct contact with the information. That is how we read newspapers and other media sources. We know nothing about the reporter or author, we just interact with what they present. But understanding the person behind the information can take the communication to the next level.
For example, I hope that my sermons are understandable enough. But there are certain facts about me as a person that fill in the blanks to what I’m trying to say. It is important to know that I’m originally from St Catharines and that I love this community. It is important to know that I didn’t grow up Baptist. It is important to know that I spent some time as an atheist and came to personal faith as an adult. It is important to know that I am the father of two children with disabilities. Even just those facts can help you to understand what I’m trying to say, since I cannot give you all the backstory in every sermon.
This is one of the reasons that I enjoy reading the stories behind my favourite hymns and songs. These song-writers were real people and their life situation helped to shape what they wrote in their songs. Often reading their stories helps us to see and sing their songs in a fresh way.
This is equally true about Jesus. We can read the parables and teachings of Jesus and receive something from it. But who was Jesus? Was he just a religious teacher? Or was he something more? Understanding who Jesus was will help us to understand his teachings but more than that, it will help us to deepen our relationship with Jesus. This short story about Jesus will help us to have the right foundation.
Jesus Strikes Back
In the previous passages, we saw a number of religious leaders go on the attack. They tried to trap Jesus by putting him in a position that they couldn’t escape. Jesus was able to outsmart them every time. Now it was time for Jesus to turn the tables and put them on the spot.
The other religious leaders believed in a coming messiah, they just didn’t believe that Jesus was that messiah. There were many ideas about the messiah but the one common them was that he would be a descendant or son of David. There had been a promise that the line of David would continue forever but there was no one of the line of David ruling as king. It was the reign of David that was the golden age for Israel and so they longed for a return to those days.
When one is thinking about David, it is natural to go to the Psalms, as many of them were written by David. Jesus agreed with the religious leaders that the messiah was to be the son of David but he pointed them to a Psalm that described him as David’s Lord. How could the messiah be both David’s son and his Lord? The religious leaders had no answers for that. Jesus was better at setting a trap than they were.
There was an answer to this problem, it was just one that Jesus’ opponents didn’t understand. Jesus was the son of David in that he was a human descendent from the line of David. But Jesus was also David’s Lord because he is also God the Son, the second person of the Trinity. Because Jesus was both God and man, he could be both Lord and son. This is called the incarnation. Let me make it clear this is not like the mythological demigods, who were half god and half human, being conceived by the union of divine and human parents. Jesus was fully God and fully human. He had completely human DNA and yet he existed as far back as the Father and Spirit. God and humanity were perfectly united in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
So Jesus is God and man. So what? Yes this is very interesting for theologians, but what does that mean for us? I have noticed that throughout the New Testament, there is an emphasis on the incarnation, of a correct understanding of theology, but not just as a theological discourse. It is found in letters to churches that had very practical needs and yet the authors called their audience to reflect on the incarnation. It was assumed that Jesus as God and man had something relevant to say to these Christian communities. I believe that is equally true for us today.
Let us begin with Jesus as a human being. To take the incarnation seriously, we have to accept Jesus as fully human and not just as a pretend human. In the Old Testament, there were appearances of angels that looked human in appearance but it was an illusion. They never had flesh and blood. Jesus really was a human being.
Jesus was born as a baby and he needed to learn how to talk and to use the toilet. Jesus grew up with younger siblings and Jesus went through puberty. He was trained to work as a carpenter and would go into work each day, working his muscles and his mind.
Jesus experienced hunger, thirst and fatigue. He came into conflict with those who didn’t understand him and was betrayed by those close to him. He had a strained relationship with his biological family. He experienced both emotional and physical pain and he eventually died.
Let all of that sink in. Almost everything that we have experienced, he has experienced as well. This is one of my favourite verses in the Bible: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) Something happened in the incarnation that allows us to connect with God in a way that was never before possible. In our deepest distress, we can go to Jesus and trust that he understand our pain, not just as fact but as experience.
But the incarnation is not just that Jesus was human but that he was God. Going back to Hebrews, we are told: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Hebrews 1:3)
Why is the divine nature of God important? It is good that Jesus can identify with our pain, but what good is that if he cannot help. Imagine that you were seriously ill. It would be nice if your neighbour came along side you and was sympathetic of your suffering. But it would even better if one of the top doctors, who had access to all of the cutting edge treatments, came along side you and was going to accompany you on this journey. Sympathy is good. Sympathy plus the ability to help is even better.
It was because Jesus was both human and God that his death on the cross means something to us. Lots of prophets died sad deaths in the past but those deaths didn’t help anyone. But Jesus as the God man was able to reconcile us to the Father, being the only one that could stand in the gap.
In addition to what Jesus did on the cross, he is in relationship with us as our big brother in the family of God. His human and divine aspects continue to impact us. We can come to us with whatever needs we have and Jesus is able to respond. That doesn’t mean that we get every prayer answered the way we want and avoid all suffering. Not even Jesus got that. But is assurance that we are never forsaken. Through our relationship with Jesus, God is ever present in our lives. That makes all the difference in the world.
Who is Jesus? There is so much that we could say but for right now, remember that Jesus is the Son of David and the Lord of David. Jesus is human and God. That is not just theological trivia, that is a fact that can give us hope in the most difficult of times. God is not just an impersonal force, God has a face and it is the face of Jesus. Jesus allows us to connect with God in the most powerful of ways. This Jesus knows both suffering and power. This is very good news and it is something that can give us hope in the most difficult of times.