Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Real Jesus's Full Humanity

In my Ph.D program at Northwestern University I had to do what all Ph.D students do; namely, pass what are called “comprehensive exams.” If a student passes these exams they become a “Ph.D candidate.” This allows them to begin working on their doctoral dissertation. One of my exams was in the area called “Christology,” which means “the doctrine or study of Christ.” This particular exam focused on what the early church (1st – 4th century) had to say about Christ. This period of church history dealt with the question “Who is Christ, and what is Christ’s true nature?” Out of these questions came the great church creeds, like the Nicene Creed.

A more modern version of these creeds is the Westminster Confession. Here’s what the WC has to say about the nature of Christ:

-"The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon Him man's nature, with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; …So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man."

The orthodox, evangelical understanding of the Scriptures is that, when it comes to the nature of the Jesus of the Gospels, He is “fully God and “fully man.” To emphasize one of these natures over the other is to head down the road to biblical heresy.

When, in Matthew 14 and Mark 6, Jesus walks on the water, we get a revelation of the full divinity and the full humanity of the Real Jesus. In Matthew 14 the 12 disciples are beginning to understand that Jesus is God when they say, after the water-walking episode, “Truly this is the Son of God.” But in Mark 6 the disciples were confused because they did “not understand about the bread.” What does that mean?

When Jesus fed the 5,000, we read that He took bread, broke it, gave thanks, and gave it to His disciples to pass out to the people. In Mark 14 the same words are used at the Last Supper: Jesus takes, breaks, gives thanks, and gives to his disciples. But there He adds, when breaking the bread, the words “This is my body.” The “bread” is really about Himself as the Messiah who has come and whose physical body will be broken, and by whose physical “stripes” we will be healed. This is about the “bread,” the humanity of Jesus. That’s the thing the disciples did not understand, but which is now essential for us to understand when it comes to knowing the Real Jesus.

When it comes to you and me, it’s obvious we are not God. But are we “human?” I believe the biblical answer is “not completely.” Jesus was “fully human,” we are not. Adam, in the pre-Fall Garden, was more human than we are. He had not yet sinned. Adam’s humanity included ruling over all the creation. Further, in heaven, in eternity, “we will be like Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:49 says, "just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven." In heaven nature won't us problems like such as wind-storms on the sea. We won’t need flood insurance when we are fully redeemed.

As Jesus strides across the Sea of Galilee about to pass by the oar-straining disciples, we have a picture of the rightful, exiled King returning not only in full God-ness but also full humanity, the elements of nature subdued. When Peter gets out of the boat and water-walks he is experiencing not only the power of God but getting a glimpse of true humanity, of what we were created to be and are destined to be.

If you want more explanation, please get a tape of my May 27, 2007 sermon. See also N. T. Wright's comments re. such things in his Mark for Everyone.