Jan Johnson
Jan Johnson

WisBits Archive

February 2013

Is Jesus an Exception?

Jesus is my hero. He cared about people and spoke difficult truths to them in love. He looked deep within people, to perceive what they were thinking and feeling and he addressed that. When I speak of Jesus as my real life hero, some people give me glazed-over look. For them, Jesus doesn’t count as an example. Why? Because he wasn’t really human like me—he was an exception. He was the Son of God so everything was easy for him. Besides, he didn’t live in the real world of running a church or raising small children or trying to make a computer work. They view Jesus as a superhero drawing on supernatural powers not available to us (even through the Holy Spirit). He never had to struggle to obey as we do, even to forgive enemies. Without realizing it, people buy into a version of the ancient heresy of Docetism:  Jesus wasn’t really human.

So I delight in pointing out the ordinariness of Jesus’ life.  “As a construction worker in his youth and adulthood, Jesus no doubt worked in the huge ongoing project of Herod’s capital Sepphoris (four miles from Nazareth), building plazas, theaters, reservoirs, and a palace. There he would have mixed with architects and scholars but also with slaves and day laborers. When Joseph died, Jesus then became the father figure in his family of at least seven siblings or cousins. So Jesus would have settled family squabbles, run the family business (delaying his preaching ministry), and taken leadership roles in his small village, no doubt teaching Sabbath school. Says William Barclay, ‘He knows the difficulty of making ends meet; He knows the difficulty of the ill-mannered customer and the client who will not pay his bills. He knew all the difficulty of living together in an ordinary home and in a big family.’”  (Invitation to the Jesus Life, pp. 57-58). Jesus lived as a small businessman many more years than as a teacher, which may explain why half of his parables take place in a business setting. So he understands my need to make an income, my struggle against self-promotion, or my need to put in extra work to produce a product that glorifies God.

Consider also Jesus’ people skills. Besides managing a large family and a construction business full of relatives (gulp!), he also formed and led a band of wannabe revolutionaries (first-century Democrats and Republicans) to start a movement that thoroughly loved people. (Think: Mandela X 1000).

As for always knowing what to do, Jesus may not have. That may have been why he spent nights in prayer. Andrew Murray says that Christ did not “receive God's commandment in eternity as part of the Father's commission to Him on entering the world. No. Day by day, each moment as He taught and worked, He lived, as man, in continual communication with the Father, and received the Father's instructions just as He needed them. Does He not say, ‘the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; (Jn 5:19-20).” These words reveal the workings of Jesus’ inner life—dependent on God for everything. Like us, Jesus “grew” and he “became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him” (Lk 2:40,52).

We know that skills and virtues did not come magically to Jesus because he had to learn obedience not in an easy way but through what he suffered (Heb 5:8). He grew and learned the way we do—by relying on the divine resources of the Father and the Holy Spirit. Over and over, he claimed not to rely on his own ideas or power or strength, admitting he did nothing on his own (John 5:30; see also 5:19-20, 41; 6:38; 7:16, 28; 8:28, 42, 50; 14:10, 24). Jesus was tested and tempted just as we are (Heb 2:18; 4:15). He was hungry and thirsty, weeping and frustrated, troubled in spirit and cheering with joy. Jesus’ virtuous life matters to us because it could so easily have been otherwise (like us). His life is described as “perfect” (Heb 5:9), which is the word for complete, or as Dallas Willard is fond of translating that word: “fully functional.”

This deeply-understanding, radiantly obedient one is the Christ who dwells in us through the Holy Spirit. Daily he teaches us to live entirely dependent on God’s strength to do good, to be joyful, and to return good for evil when someone puts us down. He shows us how to do this. We can rely on him.

Grace and peace,
Jan Johnson


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