One of my struggles with seminary was an imbalanced focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus and little attention to his life.
Before you throw me out of the church by no means is the cross and resurrection of Christ an after thought. No way, essential to our faith and life with God.
But for all the pontification on what exactly was accomplished on the cross, and what the resurrection means for life and eternity… what about Jesus’ life? What do we learn from his birth, ministry, and the way he conducted himself in the world? Shouldn’t we care about the Incarnated Son of God? That Jesus was a real person living in real time.
I'm not ready to challenge the churches confessions but not enough is said about the life of Jesus. We believe in the miraculous virgin birth, death of Jesus for sins, and triumphant bodily resurrection. But what does the humanity of Jesus say to our everyday living and discipleship and life with God?
I think a lot.
Three Important Texts
Hopefully, I’m not stirring up a hornet’s nest for the sake of being provocative (or heretical, depending on how you see it). But I think we have much biblical grounds for considering the ramifications of Jesus’ life for a model of discipleship and the God-with-life.
In one of the most astounding depictions of the gospel and mission of Jesus we read in Matthew 11:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” (Matt. 11:28-30).
Burdened by religion? Tired of rules you can’t seem to keep? Come to Jesus and find rest…
But notice what Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…” In the first century a yoke was placed around the neck of an animal as they plowed a field. It would control where the animal needed to go.
Jesus uses a double meaning and says, you can put on a yoke, a way of living in the path of the religious Pharisees who burden you with Law and show little grace. Or, you can put on my yoke and learn from the Master of grace and love and joy because I’m gentle and humble.
But this is a learned reality. We learn from Jesus as we submit our wills, desires, and lives before God. We daily put on the yoke of Jesus and learn from his life. Jesus is the Teacher, we are the students. His life matters.
A second text essential to the humanity of Jesus is found in Philippians 2:5-11:
“5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Jesus humbled himself and came to earth as a man. He left the perfection of glory and eternity with the Father to serve humanity with his life and death. Have the same mind as Jesus…
We are to be servants. Disciples of Jesus are to consider others better than themselves. Christians aren’t tasked with dying for sins, but are tasked with humbling themselves before Jesus and others, to serve in the same manner Jesus served. He served his enemies, and we should too.
Paul talks this way regarding marriage in Ephesians 5. Men are to submit and serve their wives, and lay their lives down, the way Christ laid down his life down for his church.
Jesus showed grace to people who didn’t deserve it. We‘re to do the same. Jesus’ life is a model for how we are to live our lives. If we are being conformed into the image of Christ, we will become servants of all.
A third text, which is helpful for considering the humanity and life of Jesus as a model for discipleship is found in 1 Peter 2:20-22:
“21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.”
Peter is writing to a church during persecution. He uses Jesus as a model for how to suffer, and how to suffer well by following in his steps.
I know there’s nervousness when we talk about imitating Jesus as a model for living. We turn Jesus into merely a teacher and example and not Savior. But are these distinctions warranted? The Christian who loves Jesus, and wants to do his will, and follow his ways gets nervous about imitating the perfection of humanity, wisdom of God, and smartest human ever? Where else do we look for how to live our lives in the world?
Let’s not bring our baggage to the text and let it speak on its own terms. Peter said Jesus is our model in how to suffer and suffer well. We can follow in the steps of Jesus. We’re commanded to do so.
The Humanity of Jesus and the Great Tradition
How did Jesus do it? How did he suffer well? Jesus lived with such a close and intimate relationship with God that he entrusted himself to the Father. He knew the love and care of the Father and didn’t need to revile or act in anger. The Father had everything in control.
Examining the life of Jesus gives us hints into how to live with God. Jesus is the perfection of humanity and gives us examples on what discipleship and living in God’s kingdom is all about.
There is a second reason why I wanted to explore this topic is because the humanity of Jesus informs the Great Traditions of the Church. In the humanity of Jesus we see why there have been movements like the: Evangelical, Holiness, Charismatic, Incarnational, Contemplative, and Social Justice streams of the church.
As I mentioned in my previous article, these movements are the secret for a balanced and vibrant Christian spirituality and relationship with God. We see hints of these movements in the life of Jesus. Something in Jesus’ humanity speaks to the multifaceted ways we are to live unto God.
Prayer-filled life (Contemplative)- Jesus spent much time in silence and solitude with the Father praying and communing with him. He went into the desert to pray when making big decisions and prepared himself to fight off the temptations of Satan.
Virtuous life (Holiness)- Jesus lived with love, peace, and joy. The most free and humble human you’ll ever meet. Not to mention the wisest. Never in a hurry, never consumed with money and possessions or anxiety, and constantly walking in holiness and love. Loved women, children, men, the sick, and the outcast.
Spirit-empowered life (Charismatic)- Jesus operated in the power of the Holy Spirit. He lived his life and did ministry with the empowerment of God’s presence. Not to mention, demonstrated all the fruits of the Spirit. This is the example for all life and ministry.
Word-centered life (Evangelical)- Jesus knew man could not live on bread alone, but every word that came from God. He was saturated with the Scriptures in his life and ministry. He also preached the Kingdom and invited others into life with God. Jesus preached good news of great joy in his life and death and resurrection.
Present-moment living (Incarnational)- Jesus spent the bulk of his life out of the public eye. He lived in a normal home with family and worked a job. Jesus learned obedience and intimacy with God through the ordinary stuff of life.
The incarnation is not something to be repeated by us, Jesus’ incarnation and virgin birth is a one time miracle. But incarnational living is to experience the mercies and love of God in our families, work, neighborhoods, churches, and society. Like Jesus, we are learning to be present with God and others in everyday life. We are being shaped and formed in the things of God right in the ordinary stuff of life.
Justice and Peace (Social Justice)- Jesus came to preach good news to the poor and powerless. He came to heal the sick and love his neighbors. Like Jesus, we should care about the injustices of the world, and see more of God’s peace come into the lives of people.
With these sketches we see emerging a balanced discipleship and balanced churches. The balance rooted and hung together by the Christ who is reconciling and restoring all things. The same Christ who is conforming and transforming his people into his image and likeness.
These are not perfect sketches. No one life and no one church will ever find a perfect and harmonious balance. But if Jesus’ life has anything to say to our discipleship and living with him in the Kingdom, they are certainly areas we can be stretched.
In the next couple of articles I’ll give more biblical and historical examples of the Great Traditions and how we can practice them in our own context.
See you soon…