The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
If indeed they had birth certificates in Bethlehem, that would’ve been the name on one filed at the town clerk’s office about two thousand years ago.
There would’ve been nothing odd about it, either. ‘Yeshua’ – a Hebrew name derived from the name we translate as ‘Joshua’ – was quite common. ‘Bar’ means ‘the son of’, and Joses (or Joseph) was quite commonplace as well. If little Yeshua went to school, his teacher probably called him something like ‘Yeshua J.’ to distinguish him from all the other little Yeshuas.
Of course, that was before his thirtieth birthday, when he came to be known as Yeshua Mi’Nazareth, or ‘Yeshua from Nazareth’. Bear in mind that this didn’t necessarily separate him from the other Yeshuas from Nazareth. When the twenty-something Yeshua filled out building permits for his father Joseph’s carpentry business, I bet he signed his name ‘Yeshua Bar-Joses Mi’Nazareth’, just to avoid confusion.
But at the age of thirty-three, right around the time of the Jewish Passover, Yeshua Bar-Joses Mi’Nazareth picked up a name that was all his own, a name that would forever separate him from the hodge-podge plethora of Yeshuas that wandered the width and breadth of Israel.
Translated in Greek as ‘Yesous Christos’.
In English, ‘Jesus the Messiah’… or ‘Jesus Christ’.
Referred to by numerous titles ranging from Emmanuel to the Son of Man to simply ‘The Lord’, Jesus Christ was, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the fulfillment of God’s promise made to Abraham: ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations’. Through Jesus all men – men of ‘many nations’ – can come into the covenant that God made with Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish people.
In the beginning – as in around 4000 or so B.C. – God’s relationship with man was imperfect. This was not because God is imperfect; far from it. It was because that through Adam sin entered the world, and sin absolutely cannot stand before God.
Under the Law of Moses – God’s first formal law for the nation of Israel – this was dealt with through sacrifice. Since the beginning of time, transgression could be atoned for only by blood. Thus, under Judaic law, hapless sheep, cattle and the like paid the toll for men’s misdeeds.
But such sacrifices were imperfect, and served only to delay punishment; they did not completely cancel the debt that man owed to the Living God, a debt created by the enormity of his own sin. While the full wrath of God may have been appeased temporarily by such sacrifices, such a lopsided relationship between the mundane and the Divine could still only end one way: in the eternal destruction of all that is mortal.
But God never desired such a relationship, and it was God who worked out a plan to free us all from that debt. It was God the Father – whom the unbelievers like to paint as a cruel tyrant, bent upon damning mankind – who set events into motion that would forever cleanse sin from those who choose His redemption.
‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.’ I’m not sure what ‘the Word’ was, although He was certainly a part of God, one of His mysterious facets – much like ‘God the Father’ and ‘the Holy Spirit’ are unique faces of the multiple-yet-wholly-singular Deity.
What is more certain is this: ‘the Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us’. The Word, whatever His holy nature may have been before, was born sometime between 4 and 6 BC, and given the name Yeshua Bar-Joses. And while He was indeed still God, He was born in the humble body of a human child.
I often wonder what Jesus was like as a baby. He was, being fully God as well as fully man, completely without sin. But did he cry a lot when he was sleepy, or was he a perfect angel of a baby? Was he fully cognizant as a child, being God, or did he – being also man – come into a knowledge of Himself only slowly, as we do? Did He torment the family cat because He didn’t know any better – or did he know better, because He was God even if he was a toddler, and therefore left the cat in peace?
I don’t know that answers to those questions; neither does anyone else, and anyone who says he does is lying. Scripture is silent about such things because we don’t need to know them; they are peripheral curiosities, and nothing more. Jesus didn’t come to torment the cat, or for that matter to spare the cat; He came for a much more noble reason.
Not much is said about Jesus’ actions until He was twelve years old. He was already wise and full of God’s grace; scripture says that His teachings amazed even the teachers at the temple. He was quite aware that He was the Son of God, too, for he told his mother that He had to be ‘in his Father’s house’.
(Some ascribe to Jesus’ mother Mary the nature of a goddess, and she is often the favored recipient of prayers. But scripture makes it quite clear that Mary was most ordinary, and somewhat befuddled regarding her task of raising the Son of God. She was – just like me, and any other believer – just a flawed human being, whom God chose for His own reasons to use for great things.)
Nothing else of significance is written about Jesus until He was baptized at the age of thirty, the Jewish age of manhood. While ordinary men are (or should be) baptized for the remission of sin, which makes them pure in order that they might receive the Holy Spirit, Jesus had no need of this. He was just as sinless – just as pure – going into the water as He was coming out of it. What was accomplished, though, was that the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, so that He might begin His ministry. The Spirit took the form of a dove, the traditional symbol of peace. (Remember that one of Jesus’ names is ‘the Prince of Peace’.)
While scripture – as it should – focuses on Jesus’ ministry and deity more than anything else, I wonder what His mundane life was like. He was baptized at thirty years of age, which means he’d already lived through his teens and twenties; His personality, habits, and hobbies were already pretty well established. (I, for instance, am forty-one and I have a great many quirks; I imagine that Jesus was much the same.)
For instance, while Jesus is generally called ‘the carpenter’s son’, He was almost certainly a carpenter Himself. One can just about take that for granted; it was the family duty of boys to pitch in and help their fathers, much like the girls were expected to shoulder some domestic responsibility. I picture Jesus looking much like I do some days, wandering across the jobsite, clutching His hammer and scratching his Head, because Joseph told him to hang all the doors but neglected to tell him that the doors were still ‘back at the shop’. (‘Back at the shop, by the way, is always where something is when you can’t find it on the jobsite!)
I work construction; I know how these things work. And Jesus would have been scratching His head, too, and unable to locate the doors. Because although He was God, Jesus seemed to have accepted certain limitations, perhaps so that He could fully relate to us. To wit: He wasn’t completely omniscient. While He could read the thoughts of all men – at least while in their presence – He wasn’t immediately aware of John the Baptist’s death; He had to be told. Neither did He know that it was the bleeding woman who’d touched Him so that her affliction would be healed.
I also find it amazing the Jesus could be a carpenter without ever breaking something, but even in death He was kept whole. Not a single one of his bones was broken. How did He manage to avoid smashing his thumb? Falling off a scaffold and breaking a rib? Dropping a board on his toe? Somehow, He did. I find this to be a miracle in and of itself, which pre-dates even His turning of water into wine.
I see a twofold purpose in Jesus’ three-year ministry on earth. First and foremost, it was ministry of wisdom and compassion. Jesus cared deeply for the poor, for the sick. He also selflessly gave His time, even when He was exhausted, to the masses who’d come to listen to Him. He was defined by (or perhaps tormented by) deep emotion. What is the shortest verse in the Bible? ‘Jesus wept’. (The italics are mine.)
Secondly, Jesus began an arduous task which continued on with His apostles, and indeed plagues the true believer to this day: He went head-to-head with the hypocritical and heretical religious orders of his era. Just as King David’s nemesis were the Philistines, Jesus’ archenemies were the Pharisees, the most prominent body among the Judaic religious orders.
We see this today in our own lives. The true Christian, with a decent understanding of scripture, must understand and combat a wide spectrum of denominational bull-hockey when trying to win converts. Modern faith is endlessly tainted by modern heresy, and so it was in Jesus’ day as well.
Jesus worked a fair few miracles…
He healed a great many sick…
He raised a couple of dead people…
He took vengeance upon those who made a mockery of His Father’s house. He ate, drank, laughed, loved, cried, and lived.
And when he’d done enough, enough to fill all the books that have ever been written, He finally did that which He’d really come to do.
The perfect sin offering come at last, the sacrificial lamb that could wipe away all sin, once and for all. Despite all the fire that he showed in life, despite all the sternness with which he could rebuke and chastise, Jesus Christ died with absolute meekness.
The last prayer Jesus prayed before Judas Iscariot betrayed Him was a twofold supplication: He prayed first for His disciples… and then he prayed for us. Past, present and future, to the Father He referred to us as ‘those you have given me’. And we ‘who have been given’ are many and timeless; Peter refers to us, saying ‘you, your children, and those who are far off.
Here we see a man going to the worst possible death – and the last thing He prayed for… was us, even thoughit was we who crucified Him, each and every one of us. You and I may as well have picked up the hammer and nailed Him to cross personally.
I could go on and on about what a physically horrifying death Jesus suffered. I could write about how traumatic it was to have the flesh scourged from one’s back, to have been beaten, to have had a crown of razor-sharp thorns forced into one’s head.
I could impress upon you, my unknown reader, the feeling of having a nail the size of a railroad tie pounded in between the bones of your wrist. I could go on about how much it hurts to have your feet impaled, too, and how agonizing it is to push up on those nails just so that you can breathe.
I could do all of that, with style and aplomb; I was once an expert writer of horror and dark fantasy, and I challenge anyone – even Clive Barker himself – to write as sadistically as I once did. I could make your skin crawl if I wanted to, and the hair stand up on the back of your neck.
But I won’t.
I won’t, because I don’t believe the physical torment was what hurt Jesus the most, nor was it what worried Him most as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. No, I believe what hurt Him the most was the state in which He died.
In all the history of the world, there is no man who has ever died knowing that he was separated from God. No one, with no exceptions. Some may not believe in Him. Some may have placed their faith in pagan ‘gods’, or in denominational teachings that make a mockery of God. Some may not know about Him. But the simple fact of the matter is, that anyone who has ever come into the full knowledge of God will run screaming to Him, entering into the Kingdom through the blood of the Son. Such men may even fall away later… but they do so making excuses for themselves, and not really believing that Eternity will be denied them.
Any man who knows, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that he is separated from God will move to repair that oversight. No man has ever deliberately died cut off from the Creator.
The last sound He made was an inarticulate cry, but His last coherent words were ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ (‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?’).
What do we know about God the Father? First and foremost, He cannot look upon sin. That was why the Levitical priests had to go through massive purification rites before entering the temple area known as the ‘Holy of Holies’. It’s why sacrifices were constantly required from the Israelites.
In the moments approaching death, Jesus Christ of Nazareth became the filthiest flesh-and-blood being ever to have lived; only demons were more impure than He. He took upon Himself all the sin that had been – or ever would be – committed, and nailed it to the cross.
Somehow during the course of that process, Christ did exactly what we fear to do; He cut Himself off from God, from Himself. And then He did what no man has ever knowingly done; he perished in that state. He gagged on His last breath, keenly aware that the God whom He’d known – who He was – since the beginning of time had forsaken Him. Not by choice, but by a self-imposed limitation. God must, by His very definition, be kept holy. Yet Christ, in dying stained by our sin, became most unholy.
I’m sure Jesus didn’t like being scourged, beaten, or pierced by thorns and nails.
But I am also sure that those became a small matter, overshadowed by the horror of being abandoned. Of being left to die as something foul, something unclean. I don’t know at which point God became unable to look upon His Son, upon the part of Himself that He’d sent to redeem His creation. I suspect it was right after Gethsemane, for Christ told those who arrested Him that ‘this is your hour, when darkness reigns’, and I think that his anguished cry of ‘Eloi, Eloi’ simply came out when He was unable to bear the separation any longer.
I could be wrong. Just as I cannot see Salvation (yet), I cannot read Damnation. Only God knows when His own being became fragmented. But beyond any shadow of a doubt, that agony tore apart God’s heart just as surely as it did Jesus’.
We love so much to talk about the courageous men of our world, the George Washingtons and the William Wallaces and the Robert E. Lees. They were great men, too, and worthy of honor. But human courage always shares one element, one that subtly robs it of its grandeur, and that is this: human bravery is simply a virtue born of necessity. Courage only blossoms as a last resort, the alternative to the unthinkable.
No one ever chooses to be courageous, any more than he chooses to die separated from God.
Yet God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit all suffered the unbearable agony of having His inner being ripped apart, and He chose it. He always had the option of walking away – for He is God, after all. He could’ve turned around and made another world, a better one, instead of hurting so badly for this one.
But He didn’t. He willfully chose to suffer the single worst torment of all time, and He chose it because He loves us so very, very much.
Christ was resurrected by the Father in whom He’d placed perfect trust; after three days, He emerged from His borrowed grave…
But sin didn’t. It can come out of that grave only when we willfully pull it out. Otherwise it just lies there, inert, made a silly thing by Christ. But as quickly as we can repent and be baptized, all the sins that we’ve retrieved can be forced right back into that grave, and they will stay there for as long as we remain faithful.
Under Moses, the blood of sheep and cattle was sprinkled upon altars of stone, so that men’s sins might find some measure of imperfect mercy.
Under Christ, His perfect and blameless blood is sprinkled upon our hearts, splashed freely across an altar of flesh, so that we might come into perfect mercy. Pagans will reject this truth. Atheists will scorn it. Denominationalists will flirt with it and, ultimately, miss its point entirely.
But for those of us who know, who understand what was done for us and what we must do to claim that Gift, there is eternal life. Life lived out side-by-side with the Son of Man, who sits at the right hand of God, filled with the Holy Spirit.
‘Repent and be baptized,’ said the Apostle Peter, ‘in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…’
That’s great news. But Peter didn’t stop there. ‘The promise is for you and your children,’ he continues, ‘and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.
Christ died for all. For those to whom the Apostles spoke, and those before them. For their children…
And for those who are far off.
In case you need further clarification… that would be us!