Jesus the Human Being
In the classic Christmas hymn, Away in a Manger, the second stanza reads, “The cattle are lowing / The poor Baby wakes / But little Lord Jesus / No crying He makes.”
Wait. What? Why not? The God-child could not cry because he was divine?
In our great desire to honor the deity of the Lord Jesus, we can do harm to the amazing truth of the incarnation.
Christianity has always believed that Jesus is 100% God and 100% human. Yes, the baby Jesus most likely cried when he was hungry or tired. After all, he also got hungry and tired as an adult (Matthew 4:2; John 4:6).
Why is the Incarnation that we celebrate at Christmas so incredibly important? And what does it have to do with the High Calling of our daily work?
It all ties together. Here’s the story:
In the beginning, God created humanity as the imago Dei, the image of God. God says,
“Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26)
God created Adam out of love as the first human, as the head of the whole human race. And he was given a career. In fact, God gave all of humanity this job description:
“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28)
“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15)
The first human had a job to do. And so do we.
In his book, Engaging God’s World, Cornelius Plantinga Jr. writes,
“To image God, then, human beings are charged not only to care for earth and animals (‘subduing’ what’s already there) but also with developing certain cultural possibilities (‘filling’ out what is only potentially there). To unfold such possibilities – for example, to speak languages, build tools and dies, enter contracts, organize dance troupes – is to act in character for human beings designed by God. That is, to act in this way is to exhibit some of God’s own creativity and dominion in a characteristically human way.”
Humans have been created like a mirror that is supposed to shine clearly to the world the character of God by doing what he would do to cultivate the world.
The next part of the story is where it all goes wrong. Because the first human rebelled against God, the image of God in humanity has been broken. It remains but is severely marred. The glass of our mirror has shattered. The reflection remains but is not clearly seen. In other words, everyone (even those who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord) remains the image of God. But everyone (even those who do know Jesus Christ as Lord) is a broken image-bearer.
Our work is broken as well: Instead of ruling on God’s behalf on earth with love and care, we often seek to dominate. Instead of cultivating the world in our work for the good of all, we see many people (maybe even ourselves) doing work for selfish reasons. Instead of worshipping God with our work, we are all too often guilty of worshipping what it can get us – prestige, wealth, luxuries.
You see, we humans are supposed to be God’s representatives on earth – to steward the goodness of all that God has made, to make stuff from the raw materials around us, to advance in wisdom and technology. And humanity over the ages has indeed done this. God is still glorified through what humans do. But, we must also admit, in the midst of all the good that we’ve done, we are constantly screwing things up. We need to be fully restored to the image-bearers that God has created us to be.
This is where Christmas comes into the story. Christmas is how God restores the imago Dei to the human race!
When we concentrate just on the divinity of Christ (as important as that is), we miss how the humanity of Jesus redeems us as image-bearers.
Paul explains to the Colossians how important Jesus the human is:
“He (Christ Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” (Colossian 1:15)
When we read a passage like Colossians 1:15, we do not think deeply enough. We skip along thinking, “Yea, sure, Jesus is the image of the invisible God because he is God.” But that is not what this passage is talking about! When we read “image” we need to think “human” because that is what a human is: the image of the invisible God!
Therefore, Jesus, as the “firstborn over all creation,” became the new Adam – being fully what a human is supposed to be. Jesus loved, he worked, he served, he taught, he cared.
As a human.
And he did it all without sinning.
So, for those who trust in Jesus, who follow him into the redemption of what it means to be human, we are given this promise:
“We, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Remember, humans are only glorious when we reflect God as image-bearers. God is moving us through the process of transforming us into being fully human again.
And God is committed and always active in bringing us to the fullness of what it means to be human:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:28-29)
We have a destiny: To become conformed to the likeness of Jesus the human – so that we can once again be fully human. God, in his sovereign power, is taking all that we expereince (both the good and the bad) and using it to usher us to that destiny!
At this Christmas, the fact that God became a human is good news! As we picture baby Jesus with his sweet head lying in the hay of a manger, remember that for all eternity past Jesus was planning to become a human to redeem us so that we can be fully human again.
Post by Bob Robinson, Faith Editor for The High Calling and the Executive Director of The Center to Reintegrate Faith, Life, and Vocations. Follow Reintegrate's tweets at @re_integrate and Bob's personal twitter at @Bob_Robinson_re