Monday, December 12, 2011

On the Incarnation – the Humanity of Jesus

This past Sunday at church, I was blessed to hear a fantastic sermon for this Christmas season. My good friend, Josh Hurlburt, delivered an excellent message as part of Grace Church’s Advent series: “On the Incarnation”. Josh, who is Grace’s student pastor, had the topic of Jesus’ humanity as his part in the series. Below is the transcript of the sermon he preached, which I think should be mandatory reading (or hearing…) for all Christians during this Christmas season. In it, he discusses what we are really celebrating this season—what do we mean that Jesus was fully human and fully God, and why is that important to our faith?

Sermon: “The Hypostatic Union, Part 1: How Human was Jesus?”


We are in the second week of a series that we are calling “On the Incarnation.” And the subject that we get to talk about today is a little tricky. Why? Because I suspect that when I bring up the initial subject, which is the humanity of Jesus, most (if not all) of you will think, “Oh yeah, I agree with that 100%. I’m on board with that notion.” But I also suspect that when I start going into detail about how human Jesus actually was, some of you might start getting uncomfortable because I might start messing with your idea of who Jesus is, what He looked like, how He acted, etc. And when you starting messing with people’s idea of Jesus, you are walking on hallowed ground. So I will attempt to tread carefully this morning.

You see, there are two basic ways to err when you are thinking about the identity of Jesus. The first way is that people have historically erred in their perception of Jesus, is to say that He is man, but not really God. They would say that Jesus is a good man, but He’s not really the one true eternal holy God: he’s just a truly great guy, a guru, a spiritual teacher, a liberator, but not God. And Britton [Wesson] gets to deal with this next week [in his sermon on the divinity of Jesus].

The other way people make a mistake, and I would say if evangelical protestants err, (which, if you are a member of Grace Church, that’s what you are) … the way we err is that we will grant you that Jesus was God, but we sometimes we get a little iffy on the details of Jesus’ humanity.

If I were to ask you, “How do you picture Jesus in your mind, as a baby, during this Christmas season (for example), what do you picture?”

I don’t know what you think of, but often times we can think of the incarnation AS it’s presented in Catholic or Orthodox art.

In many of these pictures (like this one here), Jesus is a little freakish. He’s a kid, but often times He looks like an itty-bitty man. Have you noticed that? It looks like a man got washed in hot-water and shrunk down in size. It looks like a Jesus bobble-head of sorts.

And in these pictures Jesus is always very serious and adult looking. If I had a kid like that I’d sleep with one eye open! There’s something wrong with that kid.

And you can always tell it’s Jesus in these pictures, because what does he always have around his head? A big halo. Now, if I read the Scriptures correctly, during Jesus’ lifetime people weren’t sure that Jesus was God a lot of the time. But I’m sure if He had a big fat halo, that they would have figured it out. They’d be like, “Hmmm, which one is the Messiah?... I’m putting my money on the guy with the big glowing halo over his head. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s my guess.”

But you say, “That’s Catholic and Orthodox art,” but we, as Protestants, have it all together. Really? Do we? We sing a Christmas song that includes the lyrics, “The cattle are lowing, the poor Baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes…” What kind of kid doesn’t cry? Every kid cries! They can’t talk; they’re like, “There’s something warm in the back! Uggghhh!...”. They cry. Jesus cried when he was a baby.

And maybe the idea of Jesus crying or messing his diapers makes you a little uncomfortable. If that is the case, then, perhaps, you are a little uncomfortable with the fully humanity of Jesus. Not in a, “I-am- denying-it-kind-of-way”, but in a, “I-believe- in-it-but-it’s-not-something-we-talk-about-kind-of-way”. If that’s the case… then you are really going to hate this sermon. You are welcome to send all your angry emails to and they’ll be dealt with appropriately. That’s .

With that being said, let’s jump right into today. And if you’re following along in your bulletin, you’ll notice that I’m going to try to do two things today. First, I want to clear up some misconceptions about Jesus’ Humanity; and then, secondly, I want to point out the importance of Jesus’ humanity to us and all mankind. I’ll spend most my time in the first section as the second section will be fleshed out in a couple of weeks by Steve. With that being said, let’s clear up some misconceptions about Jesus’ Humanity.

Clearing up misconceptions about Jesus’ humanity

1. He looked and lived as a real and normal human (Isa 53:2; Luke 2:52; etc).

You and I have all kinds of misconceptions about what Jesus looked like. The most common misconception that we Americans have is what I’ll call, “California Jesus.” He’s got blond hair, blue eyes. He’s tanned, tall, muscular, nice jaw, rugged European looking, etc. You imagine the Sermon on the Mount sounding like this [Keanu Reeves impression] “Dude, the kingdom of heaven is totally like a treasure hidden in a field…”

Another common misconception about what Jesus looked like is what I’ll call, “Pretty Pretty Princess Jesus.” Pretty Pretty Princess Jesus tends to have long hair, wears make-up, has some rouge on his cheeks, and a little eye-liner, has a long dress and opened-toe-sandals, listens to a lot of Elton John… that kind of thing. And it’s hard to worship Him because you can beat him up… even if you are a girl. It’s hard to worship someone you can beat up.

The truth of the matter is we don’t know what Jesus looked like, except it tells us in Isaiah 53:2, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” I have no idea what he looked like, and you don’t either. He might have been as beautiful as Doug Mary [an elder]. But He may not have been tall; he may have been short. Did you know that the average Israelite at the time of Jesus was five feet tall? Bet you never pictured Jesus as five feet tall. He may not have had long luscious hair like Frank; he may have had a receding hairline like I do. I don’t know.

What we DO know is that he was a carpenter, so he was probably in fairly decent shape. He probably had callouses on his hands and probably looked like a manual laborer. He walked around a lot, so He may have been long and lean and rugged.

So, when we talk about how Jesus looked, you should think of a normal looking, Jewish, blue-collar construction worker, going to work with a lunch box, callouses on his hands… . Not an American, not white, etc.

So Jesus looked very normal. He also lived very normal.

Luke 2:52 says, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” So, he grew up.

He grew up physically. He started off as a baby that needed to be changed, then became a toddler that had to learn how to walk, then because a teenager and probably tried to grow one of those gross teenager mustaches. (You know, where they don’t have enough hair up here to pull it off, but by golly, they’re going to try anyway…) He might have done this, but probably not, because I’m fairly sure growing one of those is a sin and Jesus didn’t sin.

Not only did Jesus have to grow up physically, He had to grow up spiritually. Jesus had a “human religious life.” This may sound strange, and even blasphemous to some of you, but it is nonetheless accurate. He attended worship in the synagogue on a regular basis (Luke 4:16), He had a deep and meaningful prayer life (Luke 6:12), He read the Hebrew Scriptures and meditated on them, and memorized them and applied them to his life.

On top of this, the Scripture shows us that Jesus showed off a full gamut of human emotions. There are the ones you would like, such as He loved people (John 13:23) and He was joyful (John 15:11; 17:13). We all like to imagine Jesus walking around, frolicking in flowers and petting bunnies all the time, so we don’t have problems with this Jesus in our minds having emotions like this.

But, He also had human emotion that we don't like to think about Him having all the time. He was often sorrowful and troubled (Matt. 26:37). He was often angry with people (Mark 3:5), even indignant (Mark 10:14) at some people. He wept tears when He was deeply saddened (John 11:33-35), and He was stressed, especially in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 12:50, John 12:17; Mark 14:32-42). So Jesus had the full gamut of human emotions.

And, while were talking about emotions, let me get on a soapbox of mine and maybe challenge some of your perceptions of Jesus when I say: I personally think that Jesus was a funny guy. I think God wants us to laugh. I think God has a sense of humor. If you don’t believe me, go to Wal-Mart and look at people. God is funny. When I read the Scriptures, particularly the Gospels, I see that Jesus was constantly being invited to parties. That was a big accusation against Him: the religious people said, ”Behold, a gluttonous man, and a drunkard, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners!' (Luke 7:34)

Jesus went to parties, but He didn’t get drunk, He didn’t eat too much, He didn’t end up with a lampshade on his head belting out “George Michael” tunes on the karaoke machine. He could have a great time without ever crossing over into sin. He was a lot of fun. I think that one of the reasons why the religious leaders hated him so much, is that they never got invited to any parties. Because they were no fun at all. That’s the way religious people tend to be. (Except for present company of course. Jud’s no fun, but the rest of you guys are a riot… .) So I personally believe Jesus was a fairly funny guy.

So Jesus looked and lived as a normal human. One hundred percent human, one hundred percent God, simultaneously. Not only that, but let’s clarify something else.

2. As human, He really was tempted, He wasn’t just faking it (Heb 2:18; 4:15; Luke 4; Matt 4; etc).

Hebrews 2 says, “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:14-18).

As conservative Protestant evangelicals, some of us really struggle with the idea that Jesus was tempted, and our logic goes something like this: Jesus is/was God, God cannot be tempted, therefore, Jesus cannot be tempted. And, if this is your position, you might take me to James 1 which says: God cannot be tempted by evil. (James 1:13).

To which I would respond, to you, “How do you explain all the temptations that Jesus went through, and all the suffering, and the crying, and the hardship?”

You see, if you don’t account for Jesus’ true humanity, you are left with one option: Jesus was faking it. If this is your theology, that Jesus wasn’t really tempted, Jesus didn’t really suffer, etc… then let me answer with an imperfect analogy. You are saying that Jesus is basically like Superman. Let me explain. For those of you who are comic book fans, or have seen the movies, let me ask you: if you were to see Superman on the street, without his tights on, what did he look like? Who did he present himself as? Clark Kent, the mild-mannered reporter. You have Clark Kent: bullets come flying at him, and bad guys chase him, and hardship befalls him, buildings fall on him, and he gets hit by a car and you are like, “Oh No!” But then you remember: he’s not really Clark Kent, that’s just his cover. He’s (duh,duh,duh,duh…) Superman. He’s got a big red “S” on his chest and nothing can hurt him.

Some of have this idea. We see Jesus who “appears” to be a poor Galilean peasant who was suffering and bleeding, and dying, and tempted. But not really. Because underneath Jesus’ peasant garb was…Superman. And if that’s true, Jesus was a faker. And if He faked about being tempted, and He faked about suffering…if He faked about those things… what else did He fake about? Where does it end?

For those of you who struggle with this, let me help you out real quick. I think I can do this real simply. This is the logic you are struggling with:

1. God cannot be tempted.
2. Jesus is God.
3. Therefore, Jesus cannot really have been tempted.

But let me change this up on you a little bit. Let me apply this same logical reasoning to the death of Jesus. If we use your reasoning, we end up with a most unsatisfactory conclusion:

1. God cannot die.
2. Jesus is God.
3. Therefore, Jesus did not really die.

Let me show you where you go wrong. It’s not in your logic. Your logic is impeccable. The problem is in the second line, or your minor premise. You see Jesus is not just God. Rather, He is God in the flesh, the God-man. He emptied himself of his equality with the Father and took on a fully human nature so that during his incarnation, while He remained fully God, he was also not merely God. As a result, you must change your minor premise, and then things start making sense.

1. God cannot be tempted.
2. Jesus is God-man.
3. Therefore, Jesus was tempted in every way as we are, but absolutely remained without sin. (Matt 4:1-10; Heb 4:15)

Jesus really was tempted during his time on earth. How? He was the God-man. He was 100% human combined with his 100% deity.

So, Jesus looked and lived as human. Jesus really was tempted, he wasn’t just faking it. The last clarification we’ll take on today is this:

3. His identity (i.e., His divinity) did not change as a result of the incarnation, His role did (Phil 2:5-11, etc).

Let me explain what I mean by this:

I once watched an atheist rant (rather angrily by the way), about how Jesus couldn’t have been God because Jesus didn’t display all the attributes that God has. God is all-knowing and Jesus needed to learn things and ask questions. God is ever-present, but Jesus was stuck to one time and place and wasn’t ubiquitous or omnipresent. This particular atheist struggled because he didn’t see Jesus as displaying all of the divine attributes that he expected Him to if He was 100% God.

We, as believers, often go to a text found in Philippians 2 when discussing the humanity of Jesus. It says:

“Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! (Phil 2:5b-8)”

The passage says Jesus “took on” the very nature of a servant. He “took on” humanity. He didn’t rid himself of the divine nature. Augustine, a great church father, wrote this quote which I find to be helpful: “Christ added to himself that which he was not, he did not lose what he was.” It’s like me putting on a coat. If I put on this coat, I haven’t stripped off anything else, I am simply adding to what I already was wearing. I am adding to the ensemble that I already sported. In the same way, Jesus took on something additional, on to himself, a role and nature that He didn’t have before, but He didn’t rid himself of the other. By adding humanity, He wasn’t stripped of divinity.

That bring us back to the question that the atheist asked, which is a good question: “If Jesus was simply adding to what He already was, and didn’t shed himself of any of his divinity, how come he didn’t show all the attributes of God (omnipresence, omniscience, etc.)? How do you explain that?”

Let me share with you an analogy to explain this. It’s not perfect, but you’ll get the point.

I’m a father. I’m a dad. And in a sense, I am “lord” of the Hurlburt home. (Lord having a little “l” here.) And in my little kingdom I have two children of my own, and they’re both boys. And when I say they are boys, I mean they are boys. They like to punch each other, pee in the yard, eat meat, they turn everything into a gun, and they sit on the couch in their underwear… sometimes even when we have guests over, which mortifies my wife.

But what my sons really like to do, is they like to wrestle with Daddy. They like to wrestle with me, particularly on Julie and my bed. Miles will stand in one corner of the bed—and I have to announce him, and I’ll say, “In this corner, weighing in at 45 pounds soaking wet, it is Miles “The Monster” Hurlburt.” And he’ll put up his hands and wave to the imaginary crowd. And then I’ll announce myself, “In this corner, weighing in at 190 pounds, is Joshua “The Hairy Old Man” Hurlburt.” And I’ll go “Ding, ding, ding” and right after that, Miles will point to me and says, “Daddy, I’m going to whoop you like a little girl,” and then, we’ll wrestle.

Now, to any father who has ever wrestled their boy: the first thing you have to do is stoop down to their level. When I wrestle Miles I wrestle from my knees. I have to get down on his level. Secondly, most of the time (not all of the time, because I have some pride) but most of the time I let Miles win. He’s on my back, usually in his underwear, beating me with his fists on the back of my head. He will then grab some random part of my body, hold it down on the bed, and say, “3,2,1… I win!

In these moments that I let Miles win, in these moments where I stoop down to his level, in these moments:

(A) I do not cease to be my boys’ father. Just because I let them win doesn’t mean they get to sit at the head of the table and eat the big piece of chicken. I’m still Dad, right? And I have all the rights and privileges as Dad: I’m still the head of the household and get to be in charge of the remote control. My person and position doesn't change.
(B) Secondly, it also doesn’t mean that while we wrestle, I don’t have available to myself all my attributes. I still have all my strength, and power, and terrorizing might, and lightning quick speed... for example. I just chose not to use them on the 7 year old because I don’t want DHS showing up at my door and taking my children. (They usually drop them off with Julie and I, not take them away…). I wrestle with Gabriel at the 8 year old strength level, and I wrestle with Miles at the 7 year old strength level… all the while maintaining my person, my role, and my attributes.

All that is to say: I am stooping down, I am humbling, I am serving, I am identifying with my boys. I am breaking it down to their level. Because I want to be with them, and love on them, and make sure they know that their Daddy desperately is in love with them, and thinks they’re the “bees knees.” (Whatever that means…)

Back to Philippians 2. It says: “Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; “

It doesn’t say He wasn’t equal with God; in fact, it says He was “in very nature God,” but during His time here on earth, He didn’t “use it to his advantage.” “Rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! (Phil 2:5b-8)”.

He took on humanity. He stooped down. He humbled himself. He did NOT change His role, lose His attributes, or cease to become in anyway fully God. Britton will elaborate on this next week for you guys. But, if you struggle with this issue, I hope that illustration helps.

The importance of Jesus’ humanity to us

So having cleared up some of the confusion some of us might have with the incarnation, with the fully humanity of Jesus we might have, let me briefly point out why Jesus’ humanity is so important to you and I. Steve will go over this in a more thorough manner on Christmas Eve, but I must hit on three of them briefly as we close here.

The first is this:

1. Jesus’ humanity reveals God to men (John 14:9; Heb 1:1-3a; etc).

God is Holy. God is Other. God is far superior to humans, so much so that He cannot be known by unaided human reason. If God wants Himself to be known, He must take some initiative to make Himself know to humanity.

And God has done that. He shows and communicates Himself to mankind in many different ways. He has reveals Himself through: His works (as recorded in Scriptures), nature, or the world we see around us (Psalm 19:1-6), His Word (Psalm 19:7-14), dreams, visions, and the like.

But, in the Incarnation, in the coming of Christ, when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, God revealed himself in a manner that none of these thing can rival. He reveals Himself in such as way that Jesus can say in John 14:9: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.”

In God’s mighty works, in the nature He created, in dream and visions, we see hints of God and clues to who He is, but in the person of Jesus Christ, in the hypostatic union, in the Incarnation, we see God Himself: standing before us, offering redemption and restoration and forgiveness.

So, Jesus’ humanity reveals God to us. But not only that—and we at Grace Church are particularly well-versed in the next point.

2. Jesus’ incarnation redeems fallen man (Luke 19:10; Gal 4:4-5; Heb 9:22).

Galatians 4:4-5 says: “When the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”

To put it more directly, Hebrews 9:22 says, “Apart from the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins,” and apart from a human body, there could be no shedding of this blood.

We see this when we are at the communion table. When we come to the communion table we are reminded that our salvation has been obtained for us through the shed blood of Christ on the cross of Calvary. There is the bread that symbolizes his body – the human body that “The Word” / Jesus took on, as we discussed earlier, for man’s salvation. There is the cup that symbolizes the blood that was shed for the forgiveness of our sins.

This is the only way that it could have been accomplished: by the Incarnation, by the hypostatic union, by the God-man laying down his life for your sake and mine.

So Jesus’ humanity reveals God to us. Jesus’ humanity redeems us. But it also:

3. Jesus’ humanity aids Jesus as He sympathizes and intercedes for us (Heb 2:17-18, 4:14-16, 7:25, etc).

Hebrews 2:17-18 points out, “[Jesus] had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.”

This connects directly to what we talked about earlier.

Jesus really was tempted.

Jesus really did suffer.

Jesus really was poor.

Jesus really was rejected.

Jesus really was betrayed.

Jesus really was physically hurt.

Jesus really was sad when His close friends died.

Jesus really did get frustrated when evil things pressed in around Him.

Jesus really did feel pressure and had stressors come against Him.

And because of that, He really can and does understand what you are going through. He does have compassion on you. He does sympathize with you. “Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help [us] in [our] time of need” (Heb 4:14-16).

When Jesus ascended into the heavens after His first go-around here on earth, He wasn’t done with us. He continues to work on your behalf. He intercedes for you, continuing to shape you and I into the redeemed, restored, purified, objects of His affection that we were meant to be.

And all this was possible because God decided to take on a human form for the sake of those He loves.

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