When talking about Jesus’ time here on earth, we tend to think about him as a god in human skin, something similar to how Zeus and Apollo were said to have roamed the earth. They were immortal with all of their powers and abilities but looked human. When we do this with Jesus, we forget that he truly was mortal, with more humanness that you’ve imagined!
Jesus wasn’t just pretending to be human so that he could fit in with us. He was human, yes so he could sacrifice himself for our sins, but also so that we can relate to him today. It’s difficult to connect to an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent invisible being in the sky, and God knows that. That’s why Jesus had to become like us, so that we can know that there is nothing we face that he didn’t face as well.
As a boy, he surely fell and skinned his knee, probably bumped his head many times, and tracked mud on Mary’s freshly swept floor. When Jesus worked as a carpenter with Joseph, he got splinters, cut his fingers, smashed his thumb with a hammer, and got his hands filthy with stain and glue. As an adult in his ministry, Jesus walked miles, on a near daily basis, in sandals on a dusty road. When the woman washed his feet with her hair and perfume in Matthew 26: 5-7, she wasn’t washing freshly cleaned feet that just came out of socks and shoes with neatly trimmed toenails. I’m betting they were blistered, callused, dirty, and smelly. Jesus also had to deal with all of the normal human illnesses. He hiccupped, burped, and sneezed. He may have gotten acne as a teenager and certainly had the occasional stomach bug. In the winter, he was cold, and his nose ran. In the summer, he was hot and sweaty. 1st century Jerusalem wasn’t known for its terrific hygiene: Jesus didn’t use deodorant or brush his teeth. Standing for hours while teaching and then walking for miles, he had aches and pains in his joints and back. He was a real human being with everything that entails!
I was camping this week, probably not the best choice of dates. We set up our tent on Wednesday, Thursday afternoon we had to frantically take it down under a severe thunderstorm warning that had threat of tornado, and we were never able to put it up again in two days straightof torrential rain. So Jesse and I ended up sharing the camper with my mom, stepdad, brother, and Mia. As I lay in bed listening to snoring in three different octaves, I found myself wondering if Jesus ever went through this. And you know what: He did! He didn’t have a camper to rest in every night as he walked through Judea, Samaria, and the surrounding countryside. He most certainly was caught in a rainstorm, and with twelve disciples plus seventy other male followers, I am positive that Jesus lay awake nights listening to much wider variety snoring than I was blessed with. But there’s another part to camping: campfires. The best part of camping is sitting around the campfire at the end of the day, (although Jesus probably didn’t have s’mores). The best conversation always seems to happen around the campfire, as the flames soften faces, and the dark crowds around, everyone leans in a little closer, listens a little harder, speaks more from the heart. I’ve always imagined Jesus speaking to his disciples in the daytime, but now I can’t help but wonder if his most powerful talks with them happened around a campfire, explaining his parables, foretelling of his death in Jerusalem, talking about the Father. His words from John 8: 12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” takes on a whole new meaning around a campfire.
I don’t say these things about Jesus to take away his glory. Not even a little. I want you to think about what he sacrificed for us in giving up his divinity to come down here on earth. In Heaven, Jesus never felt physical pain, illness, or discomfort. He gave up perfection, never suffering or struggling, to experience life on earth as one of his beloved children who are never perfect, always suffering and struggling.
In movies, when someone dies, they often argue with God or St Peter or an angel about wanting to come back to earth, but that’s ridiculous. When I die and am removed from my body, I am never again going to want to feel daily pain, get the flu, or scratch a mosquito bite! The spiritual body the Lord will give us in death will have none of the little aches and pains of having a physical body, yet Jesus relinquished that to live with and love us. His sacrifice on earth isn’t just about his sacrifice on the cross; it’s also about his sacrifice in giving up perfection in Heaven!
Another thing we tend to romanticize about Jesus is his appearance. Look at the depictions of him in art throughout history: he’s always white, perfectly groomed, his clothing neat and clean, and most of all, admit it: he’s handsome! Even in The Passion of the Christ, a good-looking actor was hired to play him, and in the most recent mini-series The Bible, Twitter was trending #sexyJesus because the actor playing him was apparently “sexy”. But the Bible specifically says otherwise.
Isaiah 53:2 says: He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. I like how The Message Bible states it best: There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look. He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand. One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
That’s pretty clear that Jesus was not a handsome or attractive man, and that was part of God’s plan. He didn’t want people following Jesus because of his appearance. It was Jesus’ message that attracted (and repelled) people to Jesus. It’s easy to follow a leader who is attractive, consider many politicians today; we often care more about how they look than what they say. Jesus was the antithesis of this. He was not a handsome man, because he was far more concerned with winning our hearts than our eyes. Think again at the pictures of Jesus: I don’t think that he spent time daily grooming his beard and mustache; he only had three years to do and say everything that needed to be done to prepare his disciples for his death and resurrection! That was his priority!
I know that this subject matter may make some uncomfortable, and others may refuse to hear it at all, but when we deny Jesus’ humanity, we lessen his purpose on earth. Because of his experiences as a human, he’s felt what we feel; he’s faced the challenges we’ve faced; he knows what life on earth as a human is like, and we can turn to him for comfort, security, and forgiveness knowing that Jesus really gets it.
Jesus came to earth to be one of us so that when we cry, tears of joy or pain, we can look at him and know that he knows just how it feels. Jesus was a big brother to at least six other children: brothers Jude, Joseph, James, and Simon and at least two sisters. As the eldest child in his family, he knows what it’s like to hold a newborn baby in his arms and feel completely overwhelmed with love. On the other hand, he also changed dirty diapers and wiped runny noses. He grew up in a large family that was surely filled with love and affection. He knows the private jokes that siblings have with each other, and the way they can make each other crazy as no one else on earth can! Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, died before Jesus began his ministry, so Jesus knows the grief and loss that comes with the death of a parent. He loved his mother, Mary; you can see it in his interactions with her in John 2:1 in the wedding at Cana, putting her off and then doing her bidding anyway, as well as on the cross in ensuring that the disciple John would care for her after his death. You can also see his love for Mary in his compassion in Luke 7 for the widow of Nain whose son he brought back from the dead; in the widow’s grief he could foresee his own mother’s pain at his death. Jesus got angry: throwing over the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple wasn’t an act of gentleness in John 2. He was bullied: In Luke 4 his hometown of Nazareth laughed at his claim to be Messiah and attempted to throw him off a cliff, and the Pharisees were constantly trying to trap him and make him look foolish. Jesus was wounded by his family in Matthew 12: the same brothers he grew up with now thought he was insane and came to bring him home away from his ministry. Jesus became frustrated: In Matthew 17, when the disciples failed to free a boy of demonic possession, Jesus lashed out saying, “how long shall I put up with you?” In John 11, He cried over a friend’s death, weeping at Lazarus’ grave. Jesus was afraid: read his prayer in Gethsemane in Matthew 14 and you can feel both his terrible fear and terrific courage. He had his heart broken: Judas, one of his closest friends, betrayed him with a kiss. Jesus was abandoned: the disciples deserted him after his arrest. And Jesus felt forsaken. In Matthew 27, at the end on the cross, he cried out, “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?” Jesus encountered joy and laughter, love and fear, heartbreak and personal pain, just like us, and he willingly did it all so that we can turn to him and say, “I know you know my pain, Jesus, be my best friend. Love me for who I am. Heal my heart’s brokenness and fill me up with your Spirit.”
How amazing and awesome is Jesus’ love for us that he would give up an eternal life in Heaven free of any hardship or pain for a temporal one here on earth that would end in his death on a cross? Because he met all of the challenges we have to meet, he is able to say to us with truth, “Yes, it will be okay. Maybe not now, but I promise, someday it will be okay again.” His sacrifice is one that we can relate to every single day: when we get a blister on our feet or a splinter in our finger; when we love our mother or have a friend betray us; when we lose someone we love or feel forsaken by God; wherever we are, whatever we face, Jesus has been there. And he did it out of love for each and every one of us.