Jesus, living among men — what must that have been like?
How do you envision that? Something like Superman goes to kindergarten? I mean, He was the Son of God… right?
Of course He was. And is.
But if we emphasize His deity and minimize His humanity, we end up with a caricature – a distorted picture – of His earthly existence and His identity. For, while He came to earth as the Son of God, He fully experienced all it means to be human, short of succumbing to temptation. Consider how the writer of Hebrews characterizes Him when comparing Him to the High Priests of the Old Testament —
For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. — Hebrews 4:15
He was tempted in all things, just as we are. Much has been written about this, but for now it is enough to recognize that Jesus fully experienced the challenges of following God as a human. Maybe even more-so than you and I, for as C. S. Lewis has observed,
“Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. … We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.” – Mere Christianity
So, as we read of Christ’s habits and experiences on earth, we must not discount His example simply because He walked the earth as the Son of God. He knew the difficulties of human existence first hand.
Having some experience as a human, I tend to divide these difficulties into two categories. First is the difficulty of renouncing our own agenda to follow Him unreservedly. This is a problem with our will. The desire to decide for ourselves what is good and what is not is deeply rooted in us.
But many of us, at least in principle, have made the commitment to renounce our agenda to follow God.
Which brings us to the second problem — in addition to willingness, we need guidance. I can be willing, but if I’m not clear on what He wants me to do — on which options before me are good, and which are not — that willingness seems of little consequence.
Which brings us back to the issue of our dependence on God. We need God’s guidance. And to Jesus’ humanity. Because He demonstrated the same dependence — the same need for guidance — that we encounter.
Consider the beginning of His public ministry (Matthew 3:13 – 4:11; Mark 1:9-13; Luke 2:21-22; 4:1-13). We’ll focus on Matthew’s account.
- After Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist, the Spirit descends on Him and the Father speaks audibly about Him (and to Him – Mark 1:11) identifying Jesus as His Son, with Whom He is well-pleased.
- This Spirit, Who just descended on Jesus, then leads Him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
- The devil speaks to Him directly, challenging God’s recent words, and tempting Jesus in every area (lust of the flesh – food; lust of the eyes – kingdoms; pride of life – temple pinnacle – cf. I John 2:15-17).
- After the temptation was completed, angels ministered to Jesus (cf. Hebrews 1:14).
So at the inauguration of His earthly ministry, Jesus is spoken to by the Father, led by the Spirit, temped by the devil, and ministered to by angels.
These observations broaden our discussion a bit, I think, but in doing so, give us a better sense of the issue. See, the question of how we receive guidance from God is part of a larger issue — our interaction with the spiritual realm.
Like Jesus, we are sons of God, and are led by the Spirit (Romans 8:14). Like Jesus, we are tempted by Satan (e.g., 1 Corinthians 7:5). Like Jesus, we have angels sent to minister to us (whether we realize it or not – Hebrews 1:14). So, if we are like Jesus in all of these other interactions with the spiritual realm, why would we assume that, unlike Jesus, we never can hear directly from the Father?
With that in mind, let me ask a question. What is the effect of launching Jesus’ ministry in this way?
Does it show that He is not, in fact, one of us (“Superman goes to kindergarten”)?
Or does it introduce Him as the One who will become the high priest who can sympathize with us because He has been tempted in every way we have (Hebrews 4:15)? As the Man who will succeed where all other men have failed, securing righteousness for us, reconciling us to to God, and restoring us to life (Romans 5:6-21)?
Clearly, Jesus is introduced with an emphasis on His humanity and His accompanying dependence on the Father.
Indeed, we see this dependence over and over throughout His life.
Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. “For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel. — John 5:19-20
In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. — Mark 1:35
After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. — Matt. 14:23
But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray. — Luke 5:16
Note this last passage. He would often slip away into the wilderness to pray. Often. Jesus needed to pray. Often. He needed God’s guidance. He needed to hear from God.
Now, I know that the direction this conversation has taken is making some of you nervous. You’ve seen this “hearing from God” thing abused. Or taken to unbiblical applications.
So, let’s clarify a couple of things. The kind of hearing from God that I am talking about doesn’t attempt to justify sinful behavior. Doesn’t contain new revelation. Is not on par with Scripture. Doesn’t mean you have to listen to me or that my statements are irrefutable.
It simply flows out of a recognition that if Jesus, the Word made Flesh, needed personal guidance from God, then I might as well.
With that in mind, there are a couple of observations I want to make about Jesus’ example.
First, God’s direct, audible communication with Him was limited, just as we saw with the Old Testament saints. The only words from the Father at the inauguration of His ministry appear to be, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” It was not an ongoing dialogue — just a single sentence. Not even at those critical moments when Jesus was being tempted. Especially at those critical moments when Jesus was being tempted. At those moments, Jesus had to trust the Father, and rely on what God had already communicated through Scripture. A lot like us.
And as He lived out His time on earth, the primary way He seemed to hear from God was through His frequent times of prayer. A lot like us.
So, look what happens after one of those times of prayer —
It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.” — Luke 11:1
John the Baptist had apparently taught his disciples to pray, and, now, Jesus’ disciples, likewise, desire to be shown by their Master. But note the sequence of events.
Jesus finished praying. Then, one of his disciples ask Him to teach them to pray, like John had taught his disciples.
“Show us how to do what you do.”
They were motivated by His example. They saw it as something to be emulated.
So should we.
In the next article, we’ll take a look at His response.