Have you found yourself wondering how Jesus' divinity intersected with his humanity? Did he have some kind of special glow about him?
Was he truly like you and me? The Apostle Paul taught that Jesus made himself nothing but not by depleting himself. Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg walks us through Jesus' incarnation. Father, we acknowledge always, and we always will, our total dependence upon you when we come before your book. That the Spirit of God might be our instructor, and that nothing that is said by a mere man may cloud the issue. So help us to think as we listen, and may our hearts be full with a genuine desire to welcome this life-giving food which you've provided for us in your Word. We seek you in Christ's name.
Amen. Isaiah chapter 49 and verses 2 and 3. He made my mouth like a sharpened sword. In the shadow of his hand he hid me. He made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver. He said to me, You are my servant Israel, in whom I will display my splendor. We were thinking this morning about what we refer to as the silent years of the life of the Lord Jesus—namely, the largest part of his earthly existence, concerning which we are provided with virtually no information in the pages of Holy Scripture. But when we go back into the Old Testament and to certain prophetic passages, such as the verses that I have just read, we are given an inkling of what God the Father has purposed to do with his Son, not only in those silent years but certainly in those years. The Lord Jesus was being prepared in the same way that an archer polishes an arrow in his quiver in order to make it perfectly effective, suited for the moment of use. And from all of eternity, God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit had entered into a covenant whereby it was determined that Christ would be incarnate.
The second member of the Trinity would be incarnate. And God was using the time of the formation of his Son in his earthly pilgrimage to fit him perfectly for the moment of supreme use. Jesus was alerted to the fact of his identity as he was going through his days, and to some extent in a particular way in this particular encounter that took place in the temple precincts between himself and these individuals. And we recognize that this awareness on the part of Christ was being underlined in these years growing up in Nazareth, growing up in a fairly normal, humble home, learning to face responsibility, learning to establish a routine, and learning to foster discipline.
And in that respect, very much like our own circumstances—living, really, in fairly ordinary homes and learning in the journey of our days. Now, our concern this morning is with the fact of the humanity of Christ—namely, that he shared our flesh and blood, that he was like us in every way except that he was without sin. That, of course, is a significant exception. In coming to where we were, in becoming incarnate, Jesus nevertheless remained sinless. There was in him no propensity to sin, he had no affinity with sin, and there was no stain of sin on his life. In his experience of pain and sorrow and bereavement and temptation, all of that he endured, and yet without sin. No one was ever tempted to the degree that Jesus was tempted. Because if you think about it, we in our temptations yield very quickly. None of us could ever claim to have resisted temptation to the extent that Jesus did.
He faced the tempter and stood up to him to the full extent of his onslaught. And therefore, he experienced temptation such as no one else has ever or will ever experience it. And yet, in all of that—and we need to note it carefully—he remained without sin. Now, the Gospels confirm that he knew all these different human experiences, as I say. That he knew what it was to be tired, to be thirsty, to suffer, and also he knew what it was to break into tears.
Now, this is tied to the fact that he not only took for himself a human body, he took for himself also a human psychology—that he was truly God and truly man, that he had a normal physical body, and that he had a human soul as well. In Philippians chapter 2, Paul uses the verb take when he says, he made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant. Now, I think you would agree that that's a quite marvelous paradox, in that he made himself nothing by taking something. Paul does not say that he made himself nothing by getting rid of things. He said that he made himself nothing by taking things. What did he take? His humility is revealed to us in what he took rather than what he laid aside.
Well, we can see there what he took. First of all, he took the very nature of a servant, taking the very nature of a servant. He who was Lord, Master, Sovereign of the universe became a servant. And this was not a seeming servant or a phantom servant, but he was the servant of God, and he was the servant of others, and he was the servant who was prepared even to wash the feet of his own disciples. So he took the very nature of a servant, he also took human likeness, being made in human likeness. In other words, there was nothing in his appearance to betray who he was. It was not that we would have seen Jesus on the Jerusalem streets and said, You know, that is a very striking individual.
Perhaps that's God. No, there was nothing about his human appearance that would have distinguished him from other Jewish men of his day. And again, those who want to make him and cast him in a certain way, to make him distinct from the humanity around him, do so often because they feel that they are duty-bound to secure for him his uniqueness, when in point of fact his uniqueness is to be found in his servanthood, and in the fact that he needed no halo to identify him, he was not accompanied by a shining light. He took human likeness. And he took the curse of death upon the cross.
After taking the very nature of a servant, he went lower still, Paul says. Now, if you think about this from the perspective of the angels for a moment—angels who wish they knew these things, angels who were the observers of so much, from the transcendence of glory—if you think about the angels, how they must have marveled to one another when they saw the Creator lying in a Bethlehem manger. That Christ, who from all eternity was God, in a moment, without ceasing to be what he was God, became what he was not man and is incarnate in this Bethlehem scene. And the angels tell of it, and the angels sing of it, and the angels observe it and presumably talk to one another and say, Is this not a most incomprehensible thing, that he who is God Almighty should be found lying in the straw of this Bethlehem manger?
And then the drama becomes even more staggering. The years pass, and the angels talk to one another and say, You know the Lord of glory is in the garden of Gethsemane. One of our angelic hosts has been dispatched to the garden to be with him there.
And hours later, the next bulletin goes on their noticeboard. If you thought it was incredible, says one angel to the other, that he went down and was in a manger, or that he was crying and sweating, as it were, great drops of blood in Gethsemane, let me tell you what the latest is. The Lord of glory is bleeding on a cross. He who cast the planets into space, he who ordered all things by the power of his Word, is now to be found nailed on a Roman gibbet.
And that's not all. For the Word went round the angelic court, and the Father has forsaken him. The Word has come to us that he is on that cross, and he is crying out to his Father from a throne, to a manger, to a cross, to dereliction. There's a striking thing in this as well, that it is on the cross that Christ prays for the only time in his entire life as recorded in Holy Scripture without addressing God as Father. And from the cross he doesn't say, Father.
And it's the only time he doesn't. He cries out, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Now, when we think about the incarnation, when we think about God becoming flesh, when we think about the true humanity of Christ, again, do not somehow or another mitigate in your mind the reality of this suffering, the immensity of this stoop, the staggering nature of it all, that here we have in Christ one who took to himself these things.
And on the cross his identity was obscured beneath all these layers of his humiliation. You think about that? The theologians do. Luther has a word for it.
I can't remember. Calvin has a word for it. Crupsis, where he refers to the hiddenness of Christ on the cross. If Nazareth was the last place in the world that we may have gone to look for a Messiah who might be living there, then here in this dreadful dying on a cross would be the last place in the whole world that a man or woman would ever look for God. Isn't that right? That's why the message of the cross remains absolute foolishness to men and women. They say, Are you actually telling me that on that Roman cross was God?
Yes. How could it possibly be? I am amazed at this. I am staggered by it.
We expect you to be. There was nothing that looked less like a divine act than that transaction on the cross, and there was nothing that looked less like God than that figure on the cross. The idea that somehow or another Christianity is the invention of the fertile imaginations of men and women, that they sat down together and they said, Let's conceive of a religion that we can bring to people, that they'll be interested in, and it will be a believable thing, and so on.
You can't imagine anything as inconceivable as this. And while in that scene the disciples fail to grasp what is going on, the youngest believer in the whole world turns to him and recognizes him. Did you ever think about that? That when the disciples buzz off and they say, The whole thing's over? When the people run away and hide?
When they go about their business and say, I guess that's it. It's all about to end in the cul-de-sac of a Judean hillside. And the fellow next to him turns, and he says, Today, would you remember me when you come into your kingdom?
The only guy that recognizes him. God is up here, he says. And this suffering, brutalized figure of humanity says, And today you will be with me in paradise.
It's an amazing story. It's all in the Bible. Thank God for our Bibles. Now, in the pilgrimage to that point, we have a real humanity, we have a real psychology, we have a human mind, and we have human emotions. Since Christ was truly man, he knew what it was to experience emotion. Now, this is a real reminder to those of us who, again, having created some kind of Christ in our minds who is distant from all of these things, we then will tend to create a Christianity like that conceived of Christ.
Therefore, we will have little place for emotion in our human experience of religion. Consider him at the grave of Lazarus, and what does he do? He weeps. Real tears.
For the first time, probably not. If his father was dead, as we anticipate that he was, he would have wept at the loss of Joseph, for he understood human emotion. When we have him pictured in the garden of Gethsemane in Mark 14, the words that are used to describe his condition there are emotional words. Mark tells us that he was deeply distressed, and he was troubled. That if you'd said to him, Jesus, how do you feel right now? He would have said, I'm really distressed, and I'm really troubled. But Jesus, aren't you God?
Yes, I'm God. Well, how come you're really distressed and you're really troubled? Because I'm really man, and I have normal emotions. And in fact, I've got to tell you that I am so terrified of the prospect of being the sin-bearer in the presence of this holy God that if, frankly, there was a possibility of me being able to relieve myself of the cup that I am now about to drink, I would be glad if that were possible. Because, you see, he faced a horror greater than any we will ever know.
Scottish theologian by the name of MacLeod says, emotionally, he went to the outer limits of human endurance so close to the absolute limit that he was almost overwhelmed. Now, of all the things that we can and might say about this, we must at least say this, that in his embracing of human emotion, the Lord Jesus legitimizes the reality of our emotional pain. How in the world could we have an emotional Christ without emotional followers of Christ? A Christ who knew what it was to weep, and followers who said, Oh no, he's dead, it's nothing to me, as if somehow or another upholding this Christ who himself wept. Or followers who put on this big, brave face and say, Oh no, I'm not distressed, I'm not concerned, I'm not troubled, I'm a Christian, you know.
People are going, I don't understand that. And they have every right to say they don't understand it, because it isn't understandable. The reality is, I am troubled, I am distressed, I am put upon, I do face these issues. And it is a lie to say that we don't. And therefore, if we do, we simply identify with the reality of the experience of Christ. So that's why you have that lovely phrase or two in the hymn, Standing Somewhere in the Shadows You'll Find Jesus. If you're doing Spurgeon's morning and evening at the moment, you will know that one of his mornings this week, he talks about the distinction between if you go to a Christian friend with your problems, the chances are he'll just make it worse. I mean, he says that a little nicer than that, but essentially, that's what he says.
You know, you really don't have much hope if you go there. But if you will go to Christ, he says, then that's all the difference in the world. Because, you see, in the shadows of our experience, standing somewhere in those shadows, you'll find Jesus. And he's the only one who cares and understands. And standing somewhere in the shadows, you will find him, and you'll know him by the nail prints in his hands. This real Jesus had a real mind and real emotions, and he engaged in real affection.
Real affection. He expresses in all of his earthly pilgrimage the need for and the enjoyment of human relationships. Now, again, you see, if we make Christ less than human, we've got the impression that somehow or another he just wanders through his life, just going places. It doesn't matter if he knows anyone or doesn't know anyone, because after all, he is in direct communion with the other members of the Trinity, and he somehow or another is on a totally different plane, and all of that kind of stuff is irrelevant to him. No, you see, that's because we created a Jesus of our own imagination. Mark, in the third chapter, about the fourteenth verse, it says that when Jesus called the twelve—and the phrase has always struck me—it says, And he chose twelve to be with him.
Did you ever notice that? Mark 3.14. Why did he choose twelve? He chose the twelve, first of all, to be with him, then to go for him.
But they didn't go for him until they'd been with him. And why did he want them to be with him? Because he wanted their company. Because he liked hanging out with them.
Because he knew he had a job to do, and he was glad of their companionship. And even in the midst of the twelve, he picked within the twelve. And he picked Peter, James, and John with regularity. They got to go places that the other nine didn't get to go. Into the garden of Gethsemane he goes, and who does he take? He takes Peter, he takes James, and he takes John.
And why would he do so? Someone to talk to, in the face of the great challenge. You ever go to a great challenge on your own?
Probably not. I bet you didn't go to your last doctor's appointment, if it had any significance attached to it, on your own. I'm sure somebody came with you. You were glad of their companionship in the car, you were glad to sit there in the waiting room together, and you were thrilled to see their friendly countenance when you came back out. Just the very fact of their presence made all the difference, and Jesus in his humanity identifies with that perfectly. There is a reason Jesus can relate to our suffering. It's because he suffered too.
He took on a human body and experienced the same emotions, temptations, and trials as you and I experience. You're listening to Truth for Life with Alistair Begg. As you listen and come to know Jesus better through the teaching of Truth for Life, you need to know that you have another listener to thank. Someone who has benefited from this program and who gives financially so that the rest of us can benefit in the same way. With the close of the year just a few days away, we want to ask you to think about paying their generosity forward.
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The zip code is 44139. And be sure to ask for a copy of the book Every Moment Holy when you make a donation. It's our way of saying thank you for your support. This is a wonderful book filled with prayers for all occasions. It will increase your awareness of God's presence as you go through the events of every day. Once again, request the book Every Moment Holy when you give a donation at truthforlife.org slash donate. I'm Bob Lapine. Unlike royalty or celebrities who keep a protective barrier around themselves, Jesus went out into the world and surrounded himself with ordinary people. Listen tomorrow to find out why. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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