In a previous post, I explored the concept of Jesus claiming to be our access point to the heart and mind of God. If we want to understand why Yahweh acted as he did, or why the Spirit moves as he does, or what to expect at the Final Judgment, we need to scrutinize Christ. What did he say? What did he do? How did he feel? We can then try to use our observations as a lens for everything else.
In this post I want to turn the coin around. Jesus is not only our access point to God, he is our only example of what humanity was meant to be.
You might be thinking: How can we compare a man who walked on water with a bunch of people that can barely keep their heads above it? Jesus was a God-man. We’re just men-men.
Most heresy-free believers would agree that Jesus was as human as any other human. He was born and died. He grew. He learned. He was hungry, thirsty and tired, just like the rest of us. According to Hebrews 2, he had to be made like his human brethren in all things so that he could become a genuine high priest for them, a compassionate advocate, a true eternal king of David, and the first human to experience and announce the promised resurrection of the body.
This is the paragraph where I’m supposed to say, “but he was also fully God.” Instead, I’m going to propose something else and try to remain heresy-free.
Yes, I believe that Jesus pre-existed the incarnation. He was “with God and was God.” Absolutely. But I am not going to say that he cast demons into pigs, healed the sick and raised the dead because he was God. I’m going to say that he did this because he was man—the first man we have ever seen that lived a normal human life according to the original specifications.
Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.
We try to wear this description like Cinderella’s stepsisters tried to wear the glass slipper. Only one human being has ever matched this description without having to redefine what Scripture means by “image and likeness,” or claim dominion over creatures by putting them in cages or fishbowls. When Jesus said, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father,” he was claiming perfect image and likeness. When he told the fisherman to put their nets on the opposite side of the boat, he was showing dominion over the fish of the sea.
Jesus was the first normal human being since Adam. Both were brought into the world by the breath/spirit of God. Both were tested. We barely see Adam before he loses the perfect image and likeness of God, and passes his own image and likeness to his son, Seth. (Gen. 5:3). One day Adam is looking at a giant furry creature and calling it a Grizzly Bear (yes, he spoke English), the next he is wondering if Mr. Grizzly can climb trees.
Jesus, however, was obedient to the point of death. He claimed to have been led and empowered by the Holy Spirit, just as we are encouraged to do. He studied the Scriptures and made time for prayer, just as we are encouraged to do. He was tempted, but made all the right choices, just as we are encouraged to do.
Is there anything that Jesus did that another human being couldn’t do by the power of God’s Spirit?
“…I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works.” John 14:12
What about character? Can we ever hope to get beyond our own sinful instincts and behavior? In the Beatitudes, Jesus made it clear that God was more concerned with the roots of our actions than the actions themselves. The Holy Spirit was given to re-orient the human race to its pre-Fall state.
…the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. II Cor. 3:18b
If we are already in the image and likeness of God, what is sanctification all about?
Here is an imperfect analogy:
A man builds a clock. The clock ticks, moving its hands around and around. Both the clock and the clockmaker are happy.
Then the clock realizes that it is not entirely in control. There is this “thing” that makes it tick. It begins to resent the “thing,” craving absolute autonomy, and chooses to reject it. The ticking stops. The clockmaker is upset. But the clock doesn’t really understand why.
In time, the clock spawns a whole room full of tickless clocks. The dead hands have become nothing more than a decoration. Finally the man makes a new, functional clock, and places it in the room so all the other clocks can see it. This clock not only demonstrates proper function, but leaves a box of batteries behind.
Like most parables, the analogy breaks down in certain places, but I think it poses an important concept: Christ was not a superhuman. He was a normal human. We like to look at ourselves and say, “to err is human.” God disagrees. God made something that was capable of sharing life with him—a union of spirits in a body of flesh (I Cor. 6:17). That union results in an exciting, revolutionary existence, beyond what we can think or imagine (I Cor. 2:9-10).
To embrace this concept is to embrace a vision for the human race. We have the owner’s manual, and we can observe the prototype. We don’t have to shrug with the rest of the world, falling into all the “my truth, your truth” madness that has invaded our culture, and even our pulpits. We can finally see what puts a smile on the clockmaker’s face.