Philippians 2:7-8; Hebrews 4:14-16; II Corinthians 5:16-2
Identification and humiliation: these are the two words that are uppermost in my mind today as I continue to contemplate the deeper meaning and mystery of the incarnation, the Word made flesh, the fact that Jesus was fully human, as well as fully divine. He modeled a new kind of greatness, not an ascent but a descent, identifying Himself with us in our humanity, in the weakness of the flesh, never ceasing to be fully God but surrendering some of His divine prerogatives: “….emptying himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8)
Almost everyone in the West knows the story of His birth in a stable, of all places, in Bethlehem of Judea. Most of the people in the United States and Europe also know the Christ Child was cradled in a manger. Even many non-believers among us have joined in singing the familiar Christmas carols, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “Away In a Manger,” but there are fewer people who seriously consider the meaning of it all, how the infant Jesus was not only born in obscurity, but also nurtured in flight. Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to escape the wrath of the evil King Herod, who had issued an order for all infants in Bethlehem to be killed, for he had been told that the prophets of God had foretold that a king from the line of King David, the greatest king in Israel, would be born in Bethlehem, “the city of David.” Herod had talked with the Wise Men who had come from a great distance to worship this promised Messiah, and he wanted to be sure this special child would not grow up to be a threat to his own reign as king. I also wonder how many people give any serious consideration to the fact that Jesus was also raised in Nazareth, after Mary and Joseph had returned to their home there following the death of Herod. That was up north in Galilee, far from the center of power in the south, in Jerusalem. There was a common saying among the Jews, “Nothing good ever came out of Nazareth.”
But Jesus did! He had grown up there, known only as the son of Mary and Joseph, but everyone in the little synagogue in Nazareth knew there was something inexplicable about him, for he knew the scriptures, he was able to discuss the law and the prophets with the religious leaders. No one was able to explain his wisdom; He was not well educated. He had only attended their little synagogue school with the other boys and girls in Nazareth. However, when his parents had taken him as a young boy to Jerusalem, they had found him talking with the priests, who were also confounded by his knowledge. His neighbors had probably thought he might study to be a rabbi, but when Joseph died Jesus had followed in his footsteps; as the oldest son responsible for his family’s welfare, they assumed he would remain there in Nazareth as a humble carpenter—an honorable trade, to be sure, but Jesus obviously had so much potential.
How could they have known that he was much more than a carpenter; that was the way he had made his living, but it was not going to be the way He would make his life! How could they have known that he was not going to be one who might teach the word of God, that he was the Word of God! That he was God who had come to teach? How could anyone have known that a simple craftsman was the Christ, that Jesus was just waiting for the day when he would know His Father in heaven was leading him to begin His ministry?
When that day finally came, he put his tools away, swept up the shavings from the floor, closed the door of the carpenter shop and made his way from Galilee to the Judean wilderness, where John the Baptist, that fiery prophet of God, whose coming Isaiah had foretold, was crying out, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand. Prepare the way of the Lord!” John had a large following and was baptizing converts at the Jordan River. His baptism was not Christian baptism, for Jesus had not yet been identified as the Christ. John’s baptism was preparatory, anticipatory, as he himself had been proclaiming: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I am is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11; see also John 1:14-27) The baptism of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, baptism “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” would become Christian baptism in “the fullness of time.”
When Jesus finally appeared asking John to baptize Him, John knew who He was and said, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you come to me?” But Jesus, the Christ (Messiah), humbled Himself to be baptized by John. Why? As we have seen, he had no need to repent, for He was sinless. The answer is found once again in those two words “identification” and “humiliation.” Jesus was identifying Himself as our sin-bearer, John proclaimed him to be “The Lamb of God, who will take away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) He was baptized for the same reason He was crucified—for us! He was identifying Himself with all sinners, for He had come to be the friend of sinners, to be their Savior, to save them from the power and penalty of sin.
Jesus could not have been fully human if He had not stooped, if He had not come down to our level, down to earth. How else could we have known that we worship and serve a down-to-earth God? God had to become visible and touchable to become truly knowable! Listen to the words of the Apostle John in his first epistle: “We declare to you…what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life (i.e., Jesus, the Word made flesh). This life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us…we declare to you so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (I John 1:1-4)
If the Eternal Christ had not become fully human, then He could not have been “touched with the feeling of our infirmities”—if He had not experienced life as we experience it, including all of the emotions that we experience, with the exception of guilt and shame (for He was without sin)—then He would not have been able to identify with us. It is because of His incarnation as the historical Jesus that the risen, ascended, and glorified Christ on the throne in heaven, as our great High Priest, can identify with us in the circumstances of life, including those that are most difficult. He can identify with you, whoever you are, whatever your circumstances are.
- Those of you who have been lonely—Jesus Christ experienced loneliness. He did not want to be alone in the Garden of Gethsemane. He needed a few of His friends to be with Him on that dark night, when He was willing to take a detour around the cross if it was possible.
- Those of you who have been betrayed—Jesus Christ was betrayed, and by someone He had loved and trusted.
- Those of you who have been abused—Jesus Christ was abused.
- Those of you who are going through the experience of grief—”Jesus wept” at the grave of a friend.
- Those you who have experienced rejection—Jesus Christ was “despised and rejected.”
- Those of you have been victims of violence—Jesus Christ was a victim, who suffered more than you have ever been called upon to suffer, who bore more pain than you will ever be called upon to bear.
HE UNDERSTANDS. HE KNOWS. HE CARES.
This is why we can sing, “No one ever cared for me like Jesus,” “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear.” We Christians have something to sing about. It was G.K.Chesterton who said, “I can sympathize with those of the other two monotheistic faiths for whom the thought of such an incarnation seems a blasphemy that might shake the world; but it did not shake the world, it steadied the world!” (The Everlasting Man)
This is something we need to know at this time in our nation’s history, in our own lives, when we are anxious and troubled about so many things because so many things we had trusted in are being shaken, when in our broken and fragmented world we need to find something that will steady us—that something is really someone, JESUS CHRIST, who “is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) This is the New Testament letter in which we are reminded that in such times as these, we need an anchor, and Jesus Christ is that anchor; ‘WE HAVE THIS HOPE, A SURE AND STEADFAST ANCHOR OF THE SOUL.” (Hebrews 6:19)