At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, whom we Christians believe is the second person of the divine Trinity, who took on human form to experience our sufferings, die for us and make our salvation possible.
The idea of God becoming man strikes us as a bit odd, at the very least. How could a perfect spiritual being – omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, omnibenevolent – become for a while a human being, much less a helpless baby wholly dependent on his mother?
If Jesus were truly God, why would he have agonized to the point of sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane and pleaded with God the Father to relieve him of his suffering and deliver him from the agony of his earthly mission? Why would Jesus have cried out to the Father from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Why would He have needed the Father’s help? Why not just take himself off the Cross – as some mockers taunted at the time?
Interestingly, these types of questions, which used to be major stumbling blocks in my spiritual path, are now foundational pillars undergirding my faith. I now understand that Christ’s calling out to the Father for help did not mean Christ was not God. But for God’s plan of salvation to work, Christ had to take on human form and voluntarily surrender the use of some of his divine attributes in order to offer himself in substitution for us.
Scripture lays it out clearly:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but 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.” (Phil. 2:5-8)
“But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. …
“Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2: 9-10, 17-18)
Christ’s human nature and his voluntary non-use of certain divine attributes allowed him to experience all the indignities of imperfect human existence and all the trials and tribulations we face. As my pastor, Ron Watts, observed in his sermon on Sunday, Christ, who was “made like his brothers in every respect,” shared our experiences so that he could fully relate to us and us to him. Just as we bond with our fellow human beings who have shared our particular experiences, we can bond with Christ, because he has shared our experiences. As Pastor Watts poignantly noted, he even knows what it’s like to be denied a prayer request: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.” (Luke 22:42)
Although Jesus allowed the temporary restriction of his divine attributes, he did not compromise the essence of His deity in any respect. He was fully human and fully divine, and this perfect union is what made possible God’s flawless method for our salvation. Indeed, Christ’s perfect harmony with the Father can be seen in his very next words following his request that the cup be taken from him: “Yet not my will, but yours be done.”
Though having existed in absolute bliss with the Father and Holy Spirit in eternity past, Christ condescended to human form and ultimately experienced separation from the Father, who cannot look on sin. This separation was possible only because God is Triune. The separation was not just in a judicial sense; it was real – physically and spiritually.
Christ’s humanity subjected him to real temptation and real agony. His divine nature empowered him to resist all such temptation and live a sinless life and conquer death for us – gloriously defeating death through death.
His suffering and redemptive death were not just some abstract satisfaction of a divine mathematical equation. He had to experience the full force of God’s actual wrath for all the past, present and future sins of mankind. “He died forsaken by God,” says the Bible Knowledge Commentary, “so that his people might claim God as their God and never be forsaken.”
As Christian writer John Stott said, “The God Who allows us to suffer, once suffered himself in Christ, and continues to suffer with us and for us today.”
As we ponder the wonders of Christ and marvel at his deity, we must understand that when he walked this earth he was also as fully human as we are, and that his humanity opens the door to our personal relationship with him.
It is this personal relationship with him that is the heart of Christianity.