By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal
He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. Isaiah 53:5
It’s written on billboards, T-shirts and bumper-stickers. It’s the most basic lesson of Christianity: Jesus saves.
Scriptural passages like 1 Peter 2: 25-25 say that he bore our sins, that he stood in for us, sacrificed himself.
In order to do that, he had to be human. It had to be an even trade. God would not have sent an elephant to die for humankind.
In order to save humanity, Jesus, while remaining fully God, had to become fully human.
“And the word became flesh, and dwelt among us,” John’s gospel says.
This must mean what it says. If we take God’s word at face value, and believe God is above fooling us, then the word became flesh.
The word didn’t seem to become flesh or merely appear to become flesh. The word really became flesh.
Behold, on the other hand, the “Jesus of Nazareth” Jesus, the one from the 1977 television miniseries. This Jesus, portrayed by actor Robert Powell, floats through desert scenery with mesmerizing blue eyes and is every bit as human as Gort the robot.
This is the Jesus of unbridled piety. This is a heretical idea of Jesus.
In the years after Jesus’ death, big brains in the new Christian movement argued over how divine and how human he actually was.
The church said firmly that Jesus was fully divine and fully human. For the record at least, neither those theologians who favored a too-humble Jesus or a too-exalted Jesus won out.
Alas, a millennium and a half later, we have “Jesus of Nazareth.”
It’s the statement written behind the billboards, on the inside of the T-shirts and bumper-stickers. It’s the negative formulation of the most basic lesson of Christianity. If Jesus isn’t human, Jesus doesn’t save.
There could be no less than an even trade, yes? God will have no elephants for humans.
If Jesus was not human he could not understand us; if he was not divine he could not save us.
This is the unique beauty and power of the Christian story, the radical identification between God and humans. What other religion goes this far, to call its God authentically human? Christians really have to mean it, though (Philippians 2: 5-6).
The blue-eyed “Jesus of Nazareth” won’t do.
Christians have to honor their affirmation of Jesus’ humanity. They have to resist the magical thinking that has stolen the tears out of Jesus’ eyes and the fear out of his heart and threatened to leech out all the raw, human beauty and drama from the gospels.
When we insist, unreasonably, unnecessarily, that Jesus was always and everywhere completely sovereign and in control, even when he saw the torches coming up the Mount of Olives, we dance on the edge of Apollonarianism – that Jesus didn’t really have a human mind – and we don’t even realize it.
The Jesus of scripture cries out to be our brother, to be truly one of us in order to save us.
We should let him.
Galen Holley is Daily Journal religion editor. Contact him at (662) 678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org.