Why Did Jesus Have to Come As A Human?

Cover artwork by Abigail Jeyaraj (@handsxpens)

 

Written By Jose Philip, Singapore

Jose is currently serving as an Evangelist and Apologist with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (Asia-Pacific). He also lectures on Apologetics, Christian Ethics, and Gospel & Culture in Seminaries and Bible Schools in Singapore and Malaysia.

Jesus is easily the most influential person to have ever lived. He is also, possibly, the most enigmatic figure in human history. Talk to anyone and you will find that the vast majority actually do have something to say about Jesus, with a sizeable number choosing to believe the sensational (or the stereotypical) and not necessarily the truth. Hardly anyone in human history has attracted such controversy concerning his or her identity as Jesus has, and continues to.

What is also certain is that no one has bridged the chasms that divide humanity as Jesus has, and yet He had a very humble beginning. Luke 2:8 records that His mother “wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn”.

But, is that really where the story begins?

 

Jesus is the Word Enfleshed

According to John, one of Jesus’ first followers, the story of Jesus predates time (John 1:1-3, John 1:14)! Jesus’ story did not begin in an inn in Bethlehem; Jesus was with God “in the beginning” (John 1:2)—before the world was created and time existed—and “Through him all things were made” (John 1:3).

John goes on to say that, through His incarnation, God entered the world in the person of Jesus Christ, and He dwelt among us so that we might “behold [God’s] glory”. In other words, in knowing Jesus, we can know the God of all eternity. John spoke of Jesus’ incarnation as God “tabernacling” (living) with us (John 1:14).

Luke tells us how. In his letter to Theophilus, he wrote that an angel had appeared to the virgin Mary, to announce that she had found favor with God and that she would “conceive in [her] womb and bear a son, and [she] shall call his name Jesus”. This supernatural conception would be of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:26-35).

Much could be said about why God had to become human, three of which are central. First, the incarnation enables us to see God. Second, Jesus became human that we may receive grace in its fullness; and third, that we may live out our true identity.

 

That we might see [the invisible] God

“Why must I see God?” you may ask. There are many good reasons why. The simplest, and most crucial, is that ignorance fuels irreverence. When we don’t know the truth about who God is, we either end up dismissing God as a figment of human imagination, or make God up as we imagine Him to be. Only when we see (know) God for who He truly is, will we be able to respond to Him as we must.

On one occasion, Jesus explained to His disciples that He was going to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house, and would then come and take them to be with Him. Upon hearing this, the disciples had some pointed questions for their Master. Thomas wanted to know where He was going. Philip wanted to see the Father!

In response to Philip’s request to show him the Father, Jesus asked him a question (John 14:9-11). But in asking Philip “How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”, Jesus was not exposing Philip’s audacity in demanding to see the Father—but his inability to grasp what was already being made known. When you see me (for who I really am), Jesus said to Philip, you will see the Father in me.

In Jesus, the disciples were accorded a great privilege—they were allowed to see the invisible God in the face of Jesus. As Paul says in Colossians 2:9, “. . . in him (Jesus), the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily”. While we can only behold the fullness of our Maker when we cross over from this life into eternity, for now, we too, can see God and know Him more through Jesus Christ.

 

 

That we may receive grace in its fullness

Not only does Jesus reveal God for who He truly is, He shows us what it means to be truly human—and that’s only possible because God became human. God created humans in love and for love, something we see fully demonstrated in Jesus. His whole life was love.

By contrast, we love to be loved, but we don’t always love, and often times are not even aware of the depths of our own lovelessness! And this is a huge problem. When creatures created in love and for love withhold love, the consequence is dire: destruction. But what can we do when we don’t even realize that we have a problem?

Only the God of the Bible intervenes on behalf of His people—unaided by human praise or petition. Grace is the gift of God’s favorable disposition towards us who not only are undeserving of His favor, but fully deserving of His wrath. It is in this sense that divine grace is uniquely biblical. In the Old Testament we saw shadows of this grace, and it was made fully manifest in the person of Jesus (John 1:16-17).

But this does not mean there is no place for the Law of God; rather the Law is an expression of the grace of God as well. Think of what it would be like if we were expected to live lives that God approved of, yet had no idea how He wanted us to live? The Law is grace revealing to us what God requires of us.

The law, however, is powerless to help us live well. But what the law cannot do, Jesus can.

Through His incarnation, Jesus is able to help us attain a righteousness that we will never have on our own. In Hebrews we read:

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 2:17–18)

In living by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4), Jesus demonstrates how to live as we were created to, and invites us to do the same (Matthew 11:28). When we learn to live our lives as Jesus instructs us to, we receive the grace we need to become the kind of people we were created to be.

 

That we may live out our true identity

The Word became flesh not only to help us know (see) God and receive grace, Jesus became human to redeem and restore us to who we were created to be—sons and daughters of the Living God. This truth is writ large in the New Testament:

For the son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost. (Luke 19:10; cf. Matthew 9:13; Mark 10:45).

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)

It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. (1 Timothy 1:15; cf. 1 John 4:10)

The incarnation of Jesus Christ and the salvation of the entire world are inseparably intertwined. Here’s why. In Romans 5:17-18, we read:

For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.

To appreciate Paul’s assertion in Romans 5 that the righteousness of one man, Jesus Christ, is able to save many, we need a better grasp of human creation.

In Genesis, we read that God created humans in his image, and they were created to exercise dominion over all of creation (Genesis 1:26-27). Human actions have cosmic consequences. This is why the corruption of all things necessarily follows human rebellion (Genesis 3:9-24; Romans 8:20-22). This is what the Bible calls, death. It makes perfect sense, then, to say, “because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man” (Romans 5:17).

Our rebellion against God has disrupted everything for everyone for all time. Only the Creator could fix the mess we had gotten ourselves into, and He did—the Word became flesh. In His human form, Jesus was tested in every way, persecuted without a cause, and He suffered beyond measure. Yet He was without sin and he invites us to live as He did.

Because of our sin, Jesus was killed in the most gruesome way possible—death by crucifixion. But death was not the last word. Christianity is built on the unshakable foundation that the tomb of Jesus Christ was found empty three days later. Jesus Christ is alive—and that’s why we can live too.

No one loves us as much as Jesus does. No one sacrificed for us as much as He did. No one desires for us to be the person you were designed to be, as He does. Finally, no one cares enough to step into our world for our sake at great cost to Himself as He did. When we come to Jesus, we begin to see God for who He really is, and we will then appreciate and find the help we need to become who we are created to be.

 

Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a four-part series on who Jesus is. Read the first article, “Why Do We Even Need A Savior?” here, and look out for the last two articles, “How Was Jesus Both God and Man?” and “What Difference Does Jesus Make?”.

Why Do We Even Need A Savior?

Cover artwork by Abigail Jeyaraj (@handsxpens)

Written By Max Jeganathan

Max Jeganathan is currently the Regional Director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (Asia-Pacific). Born in Sri Lanka, Max’s family moved to Australia as refugees when he was young. He has worked as a lawyer and a political and policy adviser. As an RZIM speaker and apologist, he addresses faith, politics, public policy, economics, and moral reasoning. He lives in Singapore with his wife, Fiona, and son, Zachary.

The movie The Martian—starring Matt Damon—tells the story of fictional astronaut Mike Watney. Watney finds himself stranded on Mars after an emergency evacuation of his space station. The story follows his incredible ingenuity, innovation, and resilience, in fighting for survival.

Having returned to earth, the final scene of the film depicts Watney talking to a group of National Aeronautics and Space Administration cadets. Speaking from his harrowing experience, he expounds on the importance of dedication, insightfully stating that “. . . If you solve enough problems, you get to come home!”

Watney’s declaration is a powerful reflection of the creed that increasingly drives modern society. We are repeatedly told to study hard, to work hard, to apply ourselves, and to live out the truth of who we are.

This mantra of self-sufficiency is one we have taught ourselves for thousands of years. The sociologists call it self-sufficiency, the psychologists call it self-actualization, the seminal thinker Carl Jung called it individuation. It is the same idea that underpins so much of the self-help, life-coaching, and new-age philosophy we see today. We are called to look into ourselves and pull ourselves up by our own moral, physical, emotional and existential bootstraps.

Having worked as a lawyer, I found this mantra baked into the legal profession. Status, worth, and personal value were inextricably tied to how well we performed in our work. Having seen the professional journeys of my friends and relatives, it is increasingly clear to me that this illusive goal of self-sufficiency permeates every profession and workplace across the world.

The universal call to self-discovery and self-help has been the great cultural driver of the 20th and 21st centuries. However, the results have been questionable at best. We are more technologically, academically, intellectually, and financially advanced than ever before in human history. We are told to find ourselves, to please ourselves, and to define ourselves.

 

We’ve Always Fallen Short

Yet the indicators of human flourishing are in free-fall. Suicide, depression, divorce, anxiety and social dislocation are at all-time highs globally. It is the so-called “era of human rights”, yet there are more slaves now than ever before in history. Increasingly powerful mobile technology sees us more connected than ever before and yet loneliness is the greatest cause of teen suicide globally. We claim to be on a march to moral perfection and yet we killed more of each other in the 20th century than in all 19 preceding centuries combined. Our moral condition remains—as ever—dangerously untethered and our technological advances have made our struggles ever-more visible to us.

In his letter to the churches in Rome just a few decades after the resurrection of Jesus, the evangelist Paul wrote that “we all fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Many centuries before Paul put ink to parchment, the Psalmist powerfully agreed with him, declaring the universal human need to be rescued from our failures, our imperfections, our immoral nature and ultimately, from ourselves (Psalm 51). We see these truths in our lives every day. Not only do we fall short of God’s perfect moral standard, we even fail to live up to the imperfect moral standards we invent for ourselves (Romans 2:14-15).

 

We Desire Help

We need look no further than our own hearts to see evidence of our deepest needs. We seek justice, forgiveness, belonging, identity, peace, and fulfilment. Yet our tendency to put ourselves first to find these things seems to constantly leave us wanting more. Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn famously wrote that the line that divides good and evil cuts through the heart of every man and woman. He was undeniably correct.

Of course, there are those that deny the human need for help. Society tells us that we have everything we need within ourselves and therefore, all we need to do is look deep down inside for the answers we seek. Superficially reassuring though such sentiments may be, experience points in another direction. The more we look inside ourselves, we not only see an absence of answers but even more questions. The evidence is undeniable: We need rescuing from ourselves.

As much as we try to convince ourselves that we don’t need help, our struggles pour out in every aspect of our self-expression. When we run into trouble, we seek help from beyond. It is an instinctive and automatic reaction. We seem to know that our needs within must be met from without.

When we look closely at the great superhero stories, some common themes emerge. The selflessness of Ironman as he flies weapons of mass destruction beyond reach of the Earth; the compassion shown by Superman when—even with his life on the line—it is said of him by his enemy, “He cares. He actually cares for these Earth people”; the fearlessness of Wonder Woman who fights to protect the human race, even after discovering their inherent capacity for evil, for the sake of their inherent capacity for good. Superheroes offer us a unique combination of sacrifice, justice, and compassion, all brought together in acts of rescue.

What if the ideals we admire most in our superheroes—power, sacrifice, compassion and justice—were brought together in a Savior that actualized them to rescue you and me? What if the offer of rescue was made outside of the fictional world? What if our imaginary superheroes were but hopeful glimpses of a rescue mission that was not fictional?

It is in this context that the Christian story emerges with three life-changing pillars unsurpassed in human thinking:

  • A uniquely honest understanding of the reality of suffering in our world (1 Peter 1:6). The Christian message doesn’t pass off suffering as an illusion, meaningless, a product of karma or something that can be avoided. It correctly acknowledges it as an unavoidable reality.
  • An accurate diagnosis of the struggles of the human heart’s desire for justice and forgiveness (Psalm 51); and
  • A rescue mission of the most unlikely kind: The entrance of God himself into His world as a person, Jesus Christ (Colossians 1). God as man who died on a cross to do away with all of our brokenness, shame, guilt and wrongdoing.

In these three Christian truths, we find the most compelling analysis, diagnosis, and response to the human condition in human history.

Jesus not only satisfies our deepest need, that of rescue. He also satisfies our deepest desires, those of belonging, purpose, identity, and fulfilment (John 10:10).  And He does it through grace, by taking away our guilt and shame, covering over our imperfections with His perfection and adopting us into the family of God, where we are assured of an eternal identity as his children. It is the greatest rescue mission ever carried out, on any measure.

I had practiced law, worked in politics and sat at cabinet tables with Prime Ministers. Professionally, things could not have been going better. However, something wasn’t right. It wasn’t until I accepted the fact that I was never going to find the fulfilment my heart longed for within myself, that I saw what had been staring me in the face for so many years. The love of God chased me down. Jesus Christ, the only Savior the world has ever known, came after me, and my life has never been the same again.

Interestingly, even the film The Martian—amid its explicit sub-theme of self-reliance—makes a glaring concession. Yes, astronaut Mike Watney deserved the praise he received for surviving all those weeks on Mars. However, in the end he was not able to save himself. All of his ingenuity did nothing for his ultimate situation. He needed rescue. His final journey back to the safety of Earth only occurred by virtue of a rescue mission from beyond.

Perhaps what we see in film scripts is what we find in our hearts: that our greatest need is for a Savior from beyond. Thankfully, in the person of Jesus Christ, that’s exactly what we have offered to us. He has done everything for us that we could not do for ourselves. The question for you and me is: Do we reject Him or accept Him?

 

Editor’s Note: This is the first article in a four-part series on who Jesus is. Read the second article, “Why Did Jesus Have to Come As A Human?” here, and look out for the last two articles, “How Was Jesus Both God and Man?” and “What Difference Does Jesus Make?”.

4 Ways To Celebrate Reformation Day

Written by Ashley Ashcraft, USA

While October 31 is more popularly known as Halloween, the date also holds a special place in the heart of many Christians. On this day 501 years ago, a German monk named Martin Luther published a list of grievances against the Catholic Church. He nailed this list—which later came to be called the 95 Theses—to the door of the chapel at the University of Wittenberg, and this ignited a movement. All of Europe, and eventually the whole world, would feel the effects of Luther driving the nail into his list.

Until I became a Church History teacher, I didn’t fully appreciate the importance of the Reformation. Its impact just felt commonplace to me. But when I started teaching about the Reformation, I began to understand how truly revolutionary it  was—this lone monk standing up against the powers that be to call for reform, for truth.

For this reason, I think we should not let October 31 pass us by without remembering the work God has done in His body—the Church—during that momentous time. But, how do we do that? Here are 4 ideas to help you celebrate the Reformation:

 

1. Read Your Bible

When studying about the Reformation, we often overlook the impact of Luther translating the New Testament into German. Before he did this, the common person in Germany did not have access to the Scriptures for themselves or in their own language. So when Luther translated the New Testament into German, it was a revolutionary move: they no longer had to rely on those who could read Latin to translate for them, but could read it for themselves.

In a day and age when we have Bibles everywhere, literally at our fingertips on our phones, it can be easy to forget the people who dedicated their lives to making sure we could read the Scriptures in our own language. I encourage you to get a physical copy of the Bible out, flip through the pages, and read it. Read it with a grateful heart and mind, and the realization that to have your own copy, and to have it in a language you can read, is a monumental gift.

If you’re wondering where to begin, perhaps start with the book of Romans, a letter from Paul that was very influential and life-changing for Luther himself. It was Romans 1:17 that changed Luther’s life: “The righteous will live by faith.”

 

2. Watch The Movie Luther

If you’ve never seen this movie, I highly recommend it! Made in 2003, Luther is an excellent portrayal of the events of the Reformation. While some details are highlighted or added for the sake of storytelling, it does tell us the bulk of the story. And, better yet, it is captivating. I show this movie to my students every year, and they love it. They clap at some parts; they cry at others. And they don’t want to it be over when it ends. That’s a good recommendation!

This movie is rated PG-13, so put the littles to bed tonight, pop some popcorn, head on over to Amazon, and watch this film. You’ll be glad you did!

 

3. Reflect On What God Has Done

Not only is it important to look back in history—to learn from what went wrong and what we did well—but God Himself commands us to do so time and time again. In multiple places in Scripture, God tells us to remember and rehearse the ways that He has worked and moved among His people. God told Joshua to set up 12 memorial stones to help the people remember how He helped them cross the Jordan (Joshua 4). He also asked Samuel to set up a pillar called Ebenezer so Israel would remember how He had been victorious in battle (1 Samuel 7). And He definitely worked through Luther and the people who stood with him in protesting the Church. So let’s set October 31 up as one of these pillars or stones of remembrance, and take some purposeful time to remember what God has done among His people.

What we had then was a church suffering from years of corruption; we saw people seeking unity, but not at the cost of truth. We had a man willing to stand up to this corruption, and we saw a handful of supporters rallying behind this bold leader. So I give you these questions to intentionally think on and discuss with your loved ones this evening:

How should we actively seek unity and truth in our local church communities today?

When is it right to stand up to authority?

What does obedience look like for you right now?

Who are your people who will encourage you and champion your calling?

 

4. Learn More About The Reformation

A last way to celebrate the Reformation today would be to spend a bit of time learning about the events and important players of the time.

If the 95 Theses are what started all of this, then it would be worth our time to look into them. You can find a list very easily on the Internet. And if they’re difficult to understand, google a modern translation.

Look into the issues that dominated the Reformation, such as indulgences, purgatory, the power of the pope, and the five solas. Check out key people like Pope Leo X, John Tetzel, Prince Frederick, and Katarina Von Bora. All of these people played important roles in Luther’s life and in the Reformation. Maybe even add a few Reformation trivia questions to your evening! Knowing this story will help us appreciate what  happened, as well as how the events of the Reformation affect our churches today.

And how does the Reformation affect our churches today? Had Luther not stood up to the authorities and called for truth and change, many things would have been different. The power of the Pope might have remained unchecked, and the sale of indulgences might have persisted. We might not teach or believe justification by faith; the common everyday person may not have access to the Scriptures for themselves; and the Protestant branch of the church, with its many denominations, may not even exist. The influence of the Reformation is huge and lasting, and worth celebrating! Happy Reformation Day!

Would Jesus Like Your Post On Social Media?

Written By Michelle Lai, Singapore

If God were on social media, would He like your post?

I used to take to Instagram daily. I would post a picture with a caption telling my followers what I felt at the moment. I would post sad reflections, happy anecdotes, and even angry rants. It was my way of expressing myself and dealing with boredom and loneliness. I could “talk” to my followers without actually engaging in a conversation or meeting up with anyone.

However, I learned the hard way that even though we have the right to express ourselves freely, we should also be responsible for the thoughts that we express and upload on a public platform.

I’ve since learned how to navigate social media in a healthy way, and here are three questions I often ask myself:

 

1. Will my post benefit my friends?

I like to listen to sad ballads, and would often post sad lyrics that may or may not mean anything personal. Because of the emotional nature of my posts, my friends often asked me if I was okay. But I didn’t want to explain things; I just wanted the responses. Ideally, friends asked if I was okay, but often I received uninvited comments on my life and activities instead. Also, close friends were sometimes the last to find out when something happened in my life, since distant acquaintances saw it first on Instagram.

All this led to me feeling very vulnerable and exposed to the world. It is a funny dilemma, feeling relieved yet empty if people do not respond to my posts, but feeling overwhelmed if they do.

I was not glorifying God with the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart (Psalm 19:14). Not only did my social media habits cause problems between me and my friends, they also caused me to become consumed by things such as seeking approval, explaining myself, and chasing after the instant gratification of expressing my highs and lows without much thought.

Whereas I once treated social media like a scrapbook or diary, I now treat it as a tool to connect with my closest friends. For example, I would post Christian poems to encourage my friends, or share recent milestones to celebrate with friends and offer encouragement. I also try to minimize posting about my daily life, and only post pictures with my loved ones. I remind myself not to linger on social media after I post, so that I would not feed on “likes” by my friends. When I see something interesting my friends shared on social media, such as photos from their recent travels, I try to meet up with them in person and ask them more about what they posted.

 

2. Have I taken time to process what I want to post?

Nowadays, I do not write a post whenever I feel like it. Instead, I give myself some time to think over whether the post is necessary, whether it is kind, and whether it draws attention to myself in a self-indulgent way.

I am learning that talking to someone about my feelings—instead of ranting on social media—gives me the privacy to keep the issue personal and professional in certain situations. When I share my struggles with friends or mentors, I can often gain other perspectives. This allows me time to process my thoughts. I realize that, often, when I give myself time to sit on a feeling or nagging thought, it passes and no longer becomes a nagging issue. Like “emotional eating,” many times I need to be careful of “emotional posting.”

 

3. Am I glorifying God or causing others to stumble?

I once worked with a group of classmates on a school project together. When I had a disagreement with one of them, I posted a picture of a steam engine with an angry caption in our group chat. It affected the morale of the entire group.

While social media is for sharing more than just happy things, as a follower of Christ I should not post anything that might cause others to stumble. I should definitely not take to social media and rant without considering how my words will affect others.

The psalmists in the Bible were not afraid to write sad and angry psalms, but ultimately, they always brought the focus back to God. While I do not think we should refrain from posting about issues like depression, or even sharing that we are tired or sad on a particular day, I am learning from the psalmists that my posts should always point others back to God. For example, when I write poems about depression, I bring God into the picture. I also include a link to an emotional support hotline for anyone who might want to seek professional help. I make sure I end my poems in hope.

 

While it hasn’t been easy to readjust my social media habits, I’m learning that we are called to love people around us, and guarding what comes out of our mouths (or fingers) is a good place to start.