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Following Jesus Today: The Truly Human Jesus

June 9, 2020 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Luke 2:39-40 (NRSV)

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Focus

One reason the full humanity of Jesus matters is that it means he understands our experience. He knows what it’s like to skin your knee, hit your thumb with a hammer, be teased by the kids in the neighborhood, and all that other things that can make up ordinary human life. Jesus gets it when our work is tedious or overly demanding. He knows how difficult relationships can be, whether with family members or co-workers. With Jesus, we are following one who understands.

Devotion

Today we continue on in the devotional series I’m calling “Following Jesus Today.” You can find the whole series here, if you’d like to read previous devotions.

Luke 2:39-40 tells us briefly what happened with Jesus after he and his parents returned to their hometown of Nazareth. Over many years (implied), Jesus grew up and became physically strong (in part, no doubt, through helping his father carry boards, stones, and other building materials). He was also “filled with wisdom” and “the favor of God was upon him” (2:40). Strength, wisdom, and divine favor were abundant in Jesus, as we would expect of such a special boy. But, in reality, any faithful Jewish parent in the first-century A.D. would have wanted these blessings for their children. In fact, we who are parents today want these very things for our own children.

As I read Luke 2:40, I must confess a measure of unfulfilled longing. I’m glad for what Luke tells us, but wish I knew more about the life of Jesus. I wonder what he was really like in person, what made him laugh, what he did with his friends, what he learned from his parents and others in his village.

In the early centuries of Christianity, some imaginative folk actually made up stories about the early life of Jesus. They were often fantastic, picturing Jesus as a wonder-working prodigy. One of my favorite stories appears in the so-called Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, which was written perhaps in the 7th century A.D. In Chapter 18 of this “gospel,” as the baby Jesus and his parents were on their way to Egypt, we read: “And having come to a certain cave, and wishing to rest in it, the blessed Mary dismounted from her beast, and sat down with the child Jesus in her bosom. And there were with Joseph three boys, and with Mary a girl, going on the journey along with them. And, lo, suddenly there came forth from the cave many dragons; and when the children saw them, they cried out in great terror. Then Jesus went down from the bosom of His mother, and stood on His feet before the dragons; and they adored Jesus, and thereafter retired.” Then the infant Jesus explained to his parents that “all the beasts of the forest must needs be tame before me.” Not bad for a baby in the first few weeks of his life!

As entertaining as this story and others like it may be, they tell us little about the real life of the real Jesus. In fact, they distort one of the most central and precious truths about Jesus, namely, that he was “truly God and truly human” (in the words of the fifth-century Chalcedonian Definition). Though, as we’ll see in tomorrow’s devotion, Jesus was exceptional in many ways, he was also a true human being who did not possess at birth the ability to command dragons to behave.

Why does this matter to us if we are seeking to follow Jesus today? There are many reasons. One of the main ones is that the full humanity of Jesus makes possible our being saved through him, and we follow Jesus not in order to be saved but in response to salvation given by grace. Another reason the full humanity of Jesus matters is that it means he understands our experience. He knows what it’s like to skin your knee, hit your thumb with a hammer, be teased by the kids in the neighborhood, and all that other things that can make up ordinary human life. Jesus gets it when our work is tedious or overly demanding. He understands what it’s like to work long hours or to deal with cranky customers. He knows how difficult relationships can be, whether with family members or co-workers. With Jesus, we are following one who understands us because he was fully human as well as fully divine.

Reflect

How do you respond to the description of Jesus’s life in Luke 2:40? What do you think? How do you feel?

When you picture Jesus as a boy, what do you see?

Why do you suppose it is sometimes difficult for Christians to acknowledge the full humanity of Jesus?

Act

Take some time in prayer to talk to Jesus about the “ordinary” things in your life, the things you might not regard as “spiritual enough” for prayer. Talk with Jesus about your work and what you love (or hate) about it. Tell him about your friends or family. See if you can be with Jesus as with a friend (John 15:15).

Pray

Lord Jesus, thank you for the biblical gospels. They give us what we need to know in order to follow you faithfully in this life. They are a precious, indeed, a priceless gift. Thank you!

Yet, Lord, we would confess that we wish we had more information about you, your growing up, your day-to-day challenges and adventures, your close relationships, your experience of work. Perhaps in the age to come we’ll get to watch the video of your life someday!

In the meanwhile, Jesus, help us to remember and to embrace your full humanity. Yes, you are truly God, but also truly human. You have experienced human life from the inside out. This means you understand us empathically and intimately. You understand me, my joys and loves, my fears and longings. May this truth give me freedom to follow you openly, faithfully, and fearlessly. May it help me to share my heart with you unhesitatingly. Amen.


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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling Archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Away in a Manger


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