Summary: God, in Jesus, identifies with us and reveals his love for us in as real and personal a way as possible. And the more we come to understand and appreciate the full humanity of Christ, the stronger our relationship with God will be.
(Read Hebrews 2:10-11, 14-18)
In 1980 a woman named Rosie Ruiz ran the NY City Marathon and finished first in the Women’s Division--or so it seemed initially. After she received the star treatment at the finish line, though, some of the event staff realized that they hadn’t recalled seeing her pass by several checkpoints along the route. The judges investigated, and by watching video of the race they concluded that she had only run the first mile or so. She had then apparently hopped a cross-town bus, where she waited for the cluster of lead runners and rejoined the race a half mile from the finish line. All told, they figured she only ran about three miles out of 26. Eight days later she was disqualified and publicly disgraced for claiming an honor she had neither earned nor deserved.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus came into the world as a baby? We can only try to imagine what it would have been like for God himself to become an infant: helpless, dependent, vulnerable--without language or muscle control, whose crying was the only way of communicating his needs. He could very easily have come to earth as an adult who simply appeared on the scene, but he chose to experience the whole spectrum of human life, in all of its colors, from infancy to manhood. No shortcuts or cheating. He ran the entire race. But why?
You may have seen the television series, “Undercover Boss,” in which the CEO of a corporation assumes a disguise and works alongside his employees on the shop floor or otherwise in the trenches. In that role, he or she comes to a much deeper personal understanding and appreciation of what it takes to work there, and how vitally important the human component of the business is. And the CEO invariably comes away humbled, and a better leader, and better person, for having met the employees on their terms, where they live. There’s always an authentic human connection that happens as a result, and it’s heart-warming to witness.
Jesus came into the world as one of us, in the very humblest of circumstances: born in a stable with a feeding trough for a crib, his birth announced to lowly shepherds, the son of parents who couldn’t even afford a lamb for his consecration. He grew up as the son of a carpenter in an obscure village in the backwater of Israel. He relied entirely on the charity of others for food and shelter throughout his earthly ministry. Christ’s humility was a prominent feature of his life, to the last detail of being laid to rest in a borrowed tomb. He lived without any special privilege or advantage--so that he could fully relate to us, and so that we can know him in that same way, as someone who understands our human experience from ground level.
The Book of Hebrews is crucial in helping us to understand and appreciate the humanity of Jesus. He not only shared fully in our experience, being made like us in every way, but he was also “made perfect through suffering.” “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb. 2:18).
Jesus almost certainly knew what it was like to lose his father in death. If so, he also would have seen his mother coping with her grief, and helped her and his siblings, as the eldest son. He was well acquainted with the hard reality of suffering and death from personal experience. He wept at the death of Lazarus, although the Greek word is better translated “sobbed,” crying loudly and uncontrollably. He felt deep compassion for the rich young ruler who was caught in the trap of his wealth and privilege; he had heartfelt sympathy for those he healed and for the crowds who were lost, and all those living on the margins of society.
Our presidential campaign season is a time when candidates travel the country mixing with people where they live, gaining a better sense of who we are as Americans--and often that experience changes them for the better by instilling a greater sense of understanding and compassion. Along similar lines, think about what Jesus must have seen and encountered in the years of his public ministry: a woman caught in adultery, a man cheated out of his inheritance by his brother, a tax collector shunned by society, a mother bereft of her only child, lepers, blind beggars--and more encouragingly, a righteous centurion, an impoverished widow giving sacrificially of her meager income, the innocence and open-heartedness of children. He was fully immersed in the human condition all throughout his life, and it matters greatly that we realize that.
Jesus also experienced suffering in other ways. He suffered intense opposition to his ministry from the religious establishment, increasingly so as he became more popular among the people. He even faced misunderstanding and resistance from within his own family--John tells us that “even his own brothers didn’t believe in him” (John 7:5). And the people of his hometown of Nazareth were so angry with him when he confronted them with their unbelief that they tried to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:29). Rejection is one of the most intensely painful experiences in life, as we all learn sooner or later, and Jesus felt it keenly from all sides. And his crucifixion was its culmination.