The Greatest Story Never Told: part 2 by Ron Habermas
#2 (of 5): "Who Was Jesus?"
I start my teaching on the four gospels by listing these fifteen diverse items:
• Understood God’s Word
• Knew what people thought
• Expressed sympathy
• Was always learning
• Got hungry
• Was self-sacrificing
• Sang hymns
• Became surprised
• Was led by the Holy Spirit
• Got angry
• Waited a long time for God to answer prayer
• Wanted to be left alone
• Served others
• Doubted God’s presence
• Needed support of others
"Which of these traits do we find in Jesus’ life?," I initially ask my listeners. "What traits do we not find?," is the logical follow up question, which I also ask.
The answer to this second blog’s overarching title question is that Jesus was always 100% God and 100% Man. Still, His favorite name for Himself was Son of Man, because He wanted to emphasize His complete humanity in God’s Image. We will do the same in this series.
The answer to this blog’s opening exercise on Jesus’ traits is that all fifteen are true of our Lord. The more surprise that brings to readers, the more this blog’s topic needs to be taught in the Church. From my perspective, it’s hard to imagine a more pertinent topic of study for this generation.
Fully Human—Without Compromise
Whenever I continue teaching the life of Jesus in the gospels, I also cite this summary, based upon years of study: "Those who knew Jesus best—from day-to-day encounters on Galilee’s dusty roads—never had a problem with our Lord’s humanity. However, they fiercely struggled with His claims of deity. We, who have not spent one minute with the earthly Jesus, have the exact opposite problem!"
A solid illustration of the first half of this summary comes in John 10:22-23, where Jesus reaffirms He is Messiah, so the crowd picks up stones to kill Him. Notice their precise accusation, which validates both natures of Christ: "We are …stoning you …for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God."
The Book of Hebrews describes this "mere man" Jesus in two key verses:
• He was "made like [us] in every way" (2:17a); and
• He was "tempted in every way, just as we are—yet without sin" (4:15b)
These two truths are essential if we want to know "Who was Jesus?"
A Handy Model
The simplest and best description of people I ever found was created by my mentor, Ted Ward, who metaphorically tied the human hand to an unforgettable model. The palm of the hand represents every person’s spiritual sphere, distinguishing itself from (yet intricately connecting itself with) five complementary areas. From thumb to pinky, those five areas include the physical, mental, emotional, social, and moral spheres of humanity. This sequence is vital, since it moves from more-to-less observable facts available to us. We tend to observe people—then later describe them—more by their physiological qualities (thumb) than by their moral traits (pinky). I created links between the fingers and palm to show our Lord’s integrated life:
• Physical – Spiritual sphere: Jesus was once so exhausted He slept soundly on a cushion in a boat that "was nearly swamped," as the "waves broke over" the vessel at sea. Shortly afterwards, He calmed the storm (Mark 4:37-38).
• Mental – Spiritual sphere: The multitude’s unified response at the end of the Sermon on the Mount indicate the Son’s deftness in this second domain: "the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law" (Matthew 7:28-29).
• Emotional – Spiritual sphere: In John 13:34 Jesus commanded, "As I have loved you, so you must love one another." The Son added that this particular love will be the litmus test to identify true Christ-followers.
• Social – Spiritual sphere: Even before His first miracle, the social maturity of our Lord was apparent when He is invited to the wedding of Cana (John 2:1-2). Thereafter, He capably interacted with a wide range of people who were diversified by faith, age, gender, ethnicity, and social status.
For most of us, blending Christ’s deity and humanity is like mixing oil and water. It doesn’t seem to work. We get more questions than answers. The doctrine of kenosis helps us with this common dilemma. Kenosis simply means: "Jesus voluntarily set aside His powers (not His nature) for thirty-three years, choosing to not use those powers apart from the Father’s Will for Him." (See passages like Phil. 2:4-11, for biblical explanations). One affirming test of kenosis is how three of Jesus’ divine qualities are "put on hold" in all four gospels.
Omnipresence (ability to be everywhere at the same time) is a non-issue. Nobody—liberal or fundamentalist—ever claims our Lord portrays this trait on earth.
Omniscience (all-knowing) is also on hold in two complementary ways (two sides of the same coin): (1) Positively-stated, Jesus’ knowledge grows throughout His life, a logical contradiction of omniscience (Luke 2:40, 52; John 15:15b); and (2) Negatively-stated, Jesus admits that only the Father knows when the Son will return to earth (Mt. 24:36).
Omnipotence (all-power) is the toughest trait to analyze in the kenosis doctrine, but a couple biblical concepts offer guidance. The first is precedent: Every category or grouping of Jesus’ total miracles is found elsewhere in the Scriptures, usually in the Old Testament. For example, whereas nobody ever turned water into wine besides the Lord, other food miracles are performed by godly people in the Bible. None of Jesus’ empowered miracles is unique.
The second concept is pattern: At the end of Jesus’ life, in Gethsemane’s garden, Judas betrays Christ with a kiss and a mob rushes in. Peter cuts off a servant’s ear. Our Lord heals that man, as He rebukes Peter’s behavior for his less-than-best-way to handle this conflict. Then Jesus explains that the best way is the precise pattern for help the Son always used during His thirty-three years on earth. Watch how what the Son says generates even more support for the kenosis doctrine: "Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?" (Mt. 26:53). The details and sequence of this pattern are vital to grasp. Instead of relying upon His own omnipotence, Jesus acknowledges that (if He had to) He would again turn to the Father—what He consistently did—when requesting personal help. And His Father would faithfully supply His needs.
A Wrap-Up of Blog #2
"Who Was Jesus?" He was fully God—a biblical position with which evangelicals typically have no problem. Yet He was fully Man—an equally biblical concept we tend to stumble over! He was made just like us and tempted just like us. The Hand Model illustrates His holistic life as it does ours. And the doctrine of kenosis explains how He consciously set His powers aside for a lifetime, verified by the three "omnis" missing from His earthly resume.
All this means Jesus is more than able to sympathize with the frail human conditions we share with Him. He also shows us the best way to live.
For more information visit www.Zondervan.com/icef or see chapters 6-10 of Introduction to Christian Education and Formation.
Dr. Ronald Habermas is professor of biblical studies and Christian formation at John Brown University and a member of the North American Professors of Christian Education. He holds degrees from William Tyndale College, North American Baptist Seminary, Wheaton Graduate School, and Michigan State University. Dr. Habermas is the author of many journal articles and several books including The Complete Disciple and Introduction to Christian Education and Formation. He and his family live in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.
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