This is the time of year when we remember and reflect on the fulfillment of a promise God made thousands of years ago. The coming of one who would bring restoration, redemption, and salvation.
The hope of the world would be wrapped in swaddling cloth and laid in a manger. (Though I’m sure Mary would have enjoyed velcro swaddlers, because they’re a game changer.)
It’s easier for us to wrap our minds around the humanity of baby Jesus, but not as easy when he becomes an adult. We know that Jesus is fully man and fully God. But at times our minds associate baby Jesus as human and adult Jesus as God.
Next to the Trinity, this might be one of the most complex and difficult aspects of Christian theology for us to truly understand.
We often feel disconnected from the life and ministry of Jesus, because we assume he was purely operating from a place of power as God. Now it’s clear that Jesus endured human experiences. But when we look at the perfection of his response, we assume he’s using his God card.
When we view Jesus’ life through this lens, the call to be like Jesus seems impossible.
But the truth is Jesus was more human than we realize. Jesus’ humanity is the fullest expression of what it means to really be human. Here are some different aspects of his life and ministry that serve as an example for us to follow.
He lived life as a servant.
When Jesus became fully human, he took on the posture of a servant. Here’s what Paul says in his letter to the church in the city of Philippi.
“[He] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8)
It’s not that Jesus’ divinity was revoked, but he emptied himself and did not operate by his divinity. He didn’t come in the fullness of his divine glory, like we read in Exodus 19:16.
As God, he had the right to be revered, to be served, and to silence those who mocked and humiliated him. Yet, he came as a servant to humanity. He emptied himself of his rights as God. It wasn’t only in his physical form that he didn’t display his glory and power, but in everyday life. Only very few people during Jesus’ time on earth were aware that he was the Messiah.
Jesus was far more like us than we realize. He depended on the will of the Father and the work of the Spirit.
He only did what the Father commanded of him.
During his earthly life, Jesus never did anything on his own authority. He said as much himself.
“For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”’ (John 12:49-50)
Jesus fully obeyed the will of the Father throughout his ministry and life. There’s nothing that he did that was outside God’s purpose for him. Jesus continued to obediently trust the Father, even when it was hard.
Jesus struggled to obey.
We see this struggle most vividly on the night he was to be betrayed and he called out to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane.
‘“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’ And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.’” (Luke 22: 42-43)
The greatest display of obedience was the cross. Even knowing the will of the Father, Jesus asks if there’s another way.
This is a verse we are familiar with and one that displays the humanity of Jesus. But the next verse equally displays this. God sent an angel to strengthen Jesus. If Jesus were operating out of his deity, then he would have no need for an angel to come and strengthen him.
Jesus learned to trust the Father.
The apostle Peter, a close personal friend of Jesus, picks up on this very same theme.
“When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23)
In the midst of persecution and suffering, Jesus still trusted in the will of the Father. His actions stemmed from the understanding that he could fully rely on the Father. Jesus planted himself in the understanding that his Father governed sovereignly over the whole earth and that he would operate within the interests of moral order.
Jesus could have responded differently in the many situations he faced, but his responses were motivated by his dependence on his Father.
Jesus’ dependence on the Father is something we can certainly relate to. It’s not out of our reach to respond to situations the way Jesus did. As Jesus functioned in his humanity, his dependence on his Father was all the more important. In the same way, we need to fully trust and rely on our Father.
He depended entirely on the Holy Spirit.
From the very beginning of Jesus’ earthly life, he was dependent upon the Holy Spirit. Mary was told this before Jesus was even born.
“‘And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.’” (Luke 1:35)
It was the Holy Spirit who was the cause of the incarnation.
The earthly ministry of Jesus only begins once the Holy Spirit descends on him during his baptism (Mathew 3:16).
Two of the most significant areas where we can see Christ’s dependence on the Holy Spirit are his performing of miracles and his ability to resist temptation.
Jesus performing miracles is usually understood as him operating through his divinity. But that’s not how scripture describes it. Instead, the miracles he performed came through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Peter preaches about this in Acts.
“God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” (Acts 10:38)
While miracles may still feel a bit more distant from our everyday lives, enduring temptation hits close to home for all of us. When Jesus resisted temptation, it was by the power of the Holy Spirit.
“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness” (Luke 4:1)
“And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee…” (Luke 4:14)
The Holy Spirit sustained Jesus before, during, and after his temptation in the wilderness. Yes, Jesus was tempted as we are but that is not where our relation to him ends. He depended on the Holy Spirit to sustain him during his time of temptation.
Jesus’ ability to resist temptation didn’t come from his divine attributes but rather his humanity – his dependence on the Holy Spirit.
Jesus modeled a life of dependence for us.
These are only a few examples seen in Scripture of Jesus’ ministry being dependent upon the Father and the Holy Spirit. Similarly, we must depend on the Father and Holy Spirit in order to live holy lives as Jesus himself.
Jesus is the one who made it possible for us to be holy. But we must actively depend on the other two members of the Godhead to humanly live holy lives.
You can relate to Jesus’ humanity in more ways than you realize. And this was the plan of the Father. He sent his son to be fully human to bring salvation–and that could only be done by God himself.
Jesus’ divinity should never be overlooked. But our understanding of his humanity should never be limited to him as a babe lying in a manger.