By Pastor Glenn Pease
Superman has always been popular as a comic book character, and I can remember racing across the snow in a blizzard to trade comic books with a friend in order to get some new adventures of this heaven-like hero of humanity. In our day now the movies of superman have made millions because they appeal to the universal human fantasy that man can be God-like, and fly on his own power, be invincible as he fights the forces of evil. We love to have our super heroes. This is true in every culture.
Some of the early Christians exalted Jesus to the level of a superman. It is understandable why they did, but the majority of Christians got together and declared these Christians heretics by making Jesus a superman. They were guilty of thinking too highly of the deity of our Lord. This seems very strange to us, but the world is full of strange things. There is a rare metal called gallium which melts at 86 degrees, so that if you held it in your hand for awhile it would begin to melt. That does not fit our image of a metal, but it is a fact. It seems equally unlikely that anyone could think too highly of Christ's deity. How could this be possible?
The Christians who were called heretical were saying that Jesus was so divine than he could never be truly human. They so exalted the deity of Christ that they denied his humanity. They said he could not have been a real man for human nature is evil, and a holy God could never take on a human nature. These people were called Docetists from the Greek word meaning to seem. They said Jesus only seemed to be human.
Their theology has come down to us in the Acts of John which was written in the second century. In it Jesus does come down from the cross and does not suffer at all. That would be totally unworthy of the Son of God. The people saw him suffer on the cross, but that was only an illusion. Jesus appears to John and reveals to him that he is really not suffering at all. It is all a trick, and it is like superman acting weak when he is not. This superman image of Jesus became popular, and we have Gnostic documents from the third and fourth century that tell us Jesus did not really die. It was all an illusion and Jesus was really laughing as he watched them nailing him to the cross, for it was not real. The church declared these writings heretical for they rejected the real humanity of Jesus.
The New Testament does not give us this superman concept at all. The Jesus of the New Testament could not stop bullets, for he could not even stop whip on his back. It cut through his skin and made him bleed, as did the crown of thorns on his head. The spear went through his side and the nails through his hands. He had to endure the pain a suffering of a fully human body.
The battle raged for centuries between the two groups with one saying it was all illusion and the other saying the pain was real in a real human body. Orthodox Christianity said Jesus was not a fake man, but he was totally real as a man. One heresy after another tried to deny the full humanity of Christ, but the church stuck to the Scripture and said he was fully real in his humanity. The battle goes on yet today, for many believe Jesus was fully God, but not fully man. They say his humanity was only a disguise. Charles Colson in The Struggle For Men's Hearts and Minds tells of a survey by Christianity Today in which people were asked if they believed Jesus was fully God and fully man. Among the general public only 26 percent said yes. Among evangelical Christians only 43 percent said yes. That means that the majority of believers are still rejecting one of the major doctrines of orthodox Christianity. They do not realize that they are heretical in their beliefs.
All of this brings us again to the introductory paragraph of Paul's letter to the Romans. In it he spells out the essence of the Gospel which centers in the two characteristics of Jesus, which are his humanity and his deity. Like the two ends of shoelaces, these two realities tie up the Gospel package. If you cut one side off you lose it all. Paul says in v. 3 that the Gospel regards God's Son as to his human nature and then in v.4 he says it regards God's Son as to his divine nature. Only a man could come from the seed of David. The word used here is spermatos. Jesus had a human nature that came from the very sperm of David. He is called the son of David because he was a physical product of David's body. But then in v. 4 Paul says Jesus was declared to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead. Only one who was God could raise himself from the dead.
So we have here in these two verses the basis for the two main Christian holidays of the year, which are Christmas and Easter. On Christmas we celebrate the humanity of Jesus, for he was God come in the flesh. He was totally human and had to grow in wisdom and knowledge and stature. On Easter we celebrate his deity, for he did what no man can do, as he defeated death and rose from the grave. The full Gospel is Christmas and Easter, and that Jesus was fully man and fully God. He was the God-Man. If you take either one out of the church year you have destroyed it, and if you take either of the natures of Jesus out of him you have destroyed the Gospel and the Jesus of the New Testament.
It can be hard to grasp how Jesus could be both God and man, but this is the clear revelation of the New Testament. Paul could not have made it clearer than he does in Rom. 9:5 where he writes of the Jews and says, "...from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised." There are numerous examples of the dual nature of Jesus. God does not sleep, but Jesus did. God does not get tempted, but Jesus did. God does not pray, but Jesus did. God did not die, but Jesus did. The list could go on and on because Jesus was fully man and experienced life as all humans do. He was one with us and felt all of the human emotions.
A little girl said to her mother, "I just love Marjorie more than anybody else." The mother asked why she loved her more than her other friends and she replied, "Because when I cry she cries with me." That was the kind of friend Jesus was. He wept with those who wept. He could feel what they felt, and he still does have these human feelings so that he can identify with all who call upon him. Paul says in I Tim. 2:5, "For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus." His present and eternal manhood is one of the major teachings of the book of Hebrews. If we did not have a human Savior and mediator how could we have any confidence that he can really understand where we are coming from in our weakness? He says in Heb. 4:15-16, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." Some poet has written-
O glorious truth that my High Priest
Who bids me tell him all my need
Is sympathetic with my plight
For He's the Son of Man indeed!
If Jesus is just a fake man and never really felt the power of temptation, and never really felt the weakness of the flesh, and never felt the pain and limitations of the body, then he could never really understand us. We could never identify with his example, for it would be meaningless to have an example of one who was God only, and had no limitations. He would be no more an example for us than superman flying an explosive device into outer space where it can explode harmlessly. This is no meaningful example for our behavior in dealing with the forces of evil.
The only reason we can follow Jesus and go about doing good, loving people where they are, and sharing the good news is because these are all things that people can do. His deity would be no example at all, but his humanity is powerful example that we can follow. We cannot walk on water or turn water into wine, but we can do those things he did in his humanity, for we can love and serve and encourage. William L. Stidger said it in poetry.
My Master was a man who knew
The rush of rain, the drip of due;
The Gentle kiss of midnight air
Upon his face upraised in prayer.
He was a man of lakes and stars;
He knew the Pleiades and Mars;
The silver of the Milky Way
The night, the light, the dawn, the day.
His skin was bronzed like that of one
Who traveled under wind and sun;
His feet were stained by dusty ways;
His cheeks were brown as autumn days.
All men and their need were in his thought.
This man, God-bred, star-led, sky-taught.
It is so important that Jesus had a complete human nature that it was to be an anti-Christ if one denied it. This sounds strange, for it means you can say that Jesus was very God of God and yet still be anti-Christ by a denial of his human nature. II John 7 says, "Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the anti-Christ." We do not really have a choice in the matter. We either acknowledge that Jesus entered into a complete human nature, or we cease to be for the Christ of New Testament revelation.
The Arian heresy said Jesus did not have a human soul. The Apollinarian heresy said the human soul of Jesus was replaced by the Logos, of the divine spirit so that Jesus was only a partial man. He was a brilliant theologian, and he forced the church in the fourth century to struggle with the issue. In 381 A. D. at the Council of Constantinople the church condemned the idea of Jesus being only a partial man. If he was not totally man he could not be a substitute for man. Just as animals could not be an adequate substitute for man, nor could an angel, so it was not possible for a partial man to be so. Jesus had to be a complete man with a human body, mind and soul. His human nature had to be just as complete as his divine nature. He was one personality with two natures. He was complete man and God joined in perfect unity.
Every attempt in history to somehow modify the human nature of Jesus so that it was not totally and completely human has been condemned as heresy. Every conceivable bit of biblical data was weighed for centuries, and the end result was that every hint that Jesus was somehow not a complete man was rejected as anti-Christian theology. This is not an easy concept to grasp that one can be equally God and man, but as Robert Capon writes, "The rule of theology is: when you've got two truths which you can't hold in harmony, you don't solve the problem by letting one of them go. You hold on tight and hold them both in paradox."
The only way you can understand how Jesus could be God and still pray "not my will but thine be done" is to recognize that Jesus had a human will. His human nature had a will of its own, just like ours has, and he had to surrender that will to the will of the Father, just as we do. This is a major truth and we see Paul beginning this letter to the Romans by asserting this doctrine as the very foundation of the Gospel. You do not have to know that Jesus preached the Sermon On The Mount to be a Christian. You do not have to believe that Jesus took a towel and washed his disciples feet. There are dozens of facts about Jesus you do not even have to know to be a Christian, but you do have to believe that he was fully God and fully man to be an authentic Christian.
This has profound implications for the Christian view of man. Your view of human nature will have an effect on all you are and all you believe as a Christian. Those who have a low view of human nature have a hard time loving lost and sinful people. A police officer was complaining one day when it was dull and nothing was going wrong in society. He was griping because their was not robberies or fights of murders, and not even a stolen car. He said, "If this keeps up they will be reducing the force and we will be out of a job." The chief responded, "Don't worry Pete. Something will happen. I've got faith in human nature."
He was right, and you can count on human nature to be doing something evil and illegal very soon. Crime, war, greed, and folly of all kinds is never far away because of fallen human nature. Jeremiah said that the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Paul says in Rom. 8:7-8, "The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God." The Bible repeats this often, but Christians have applied this truth to life in a way that is misleading. They say that since man is such a miserable sinner that means he is worthless. This is not so, for God gave his Son and Jesus gave his life because of a high view of the worth of man.
Man was the crowing work of God in creation, and he said his work was, not just good, but very good. Human nature was his best work for he made man in his image. Man fell and filled the creation with great evil, but God never gave up on this great work. He was determined that man would be restored to the goodness in which he was made, and that he would spend eternity in that state with God. God's view of man is to be the view that we have, and that is that sinful human nature is worth a great price to save and restore to its state of goodness.
We do not look at a rotten tomato and conclude that is what tomatoes are. They are soft and slimy, black and moldy worthless fruit. That may be what a rotten tomato is, but that is not the nature of tomatoes. The tomato as God made it is a firm and brightly colored fruit with hundreds of delicious uses beneficial to man. The rotten tomato is just as real as the ideal tomato, but the ideal one is the one that is what a tomato is meant to be. The rotten one is the product of decay and death. If you apply this illustration to man, you need to see man for what he was meant to be, and what God can make him to be, and not what he is when he is filled with decay and death. Man fell and filled the creation with great evil, but God never gave up on this great work. He was determined that man would be restored to the goodness in which he was made, and that he would spend eternity in that state with God. God's view of man is to be the view that we have, and that is that sinful human nature if worth a great price to save and restore to its state of goodness.
We do not look at a rotten tomato and conclude that is what tomatoes are. They are soft and slimy, black and moldy worthless fruit. That may be what a rotten tomato is, but that is not the nature of tomatoes. The tomato as God made it is a firm and brightly colored fruit with hundreds of delicious uses beneficial to man. The rotten tomato is just as real as the ideal tomato, but the ideal one is the one that is what a tomato is meant to be. The rotten one is the product of decay and death. If you apply this illustration to man, you need to see man for what he was meant to be, and what God can make him to be, and not what he is when he is filled with decay and death. You do not define anything by its worst example, and so you should not define man that way either.
So when we look at man and ask what is man?- we do not go to the drunk in the gutter, or to the sophisticated scoundrel who rips off widows. They are men alright, but they are poor specimens of the species. Even so they are worth saving because of what man is. He is not just a drunk and a scoundrel, but he is one made in the image of God. He can become a being that is so good that a holy God can be pleased with him. Man is always far more than the sum total of his sin and folly. He is a being who can become a child of God. You do not define man by looking only at the first Adam. You need to look at the second Adam to get the real and true image of man. Jesus is what man was meant to be, and he is what man will be again by the grace of God.
You can say all you want about the depravity of fallen man, and you will be right, for it is all true, but the final word about man is not his fallen nature, but his redeemed nature. Satan did his best to spoil the second Adam too, but he failed, and the result is Jesus and his perfect human nature will be the final word about man. We are not to define man by the worst examples. We don't do that with anything else. We don't define a lake as a weed infested swamp unfit for human pleasure just because such things do exist. A lake is a beautiful body of water full of potential for human pleasure. We don't define milk as a soar, bacteria infested liquid that can make you sick. No matter how much of this there really is, that is not what milk is. You define things by their best example and not their worst, and so it is with human nature. What is it? It is the greatest work of God known to us in this world. It is a channel of all that is good and God-like in this world, and the proof of it is the manhood of Jesus Christ. He is what man is.
You cannot look at any other man and say this is the best God could do, and this is what He made man to be. But you can look at Jesus and say that, for He is man as God meant man to be. This changes the entire Christian perspective on what it means to be human. We can get so down on the depravity of man that we come to despise being human, and this is folly. The more human we become, the more Christ-like we become. The goal of God is that all His children become as human as His incarnate Son. The point of redemption is not to take man out of his manhood and make him angelic, or some other creature. The point is to restore him to full and complete manhood. The destiny of the redeemed is to be as fully human as Jesus.
R. Lofton Hudson wrote a book called, Helping Each Other Be Human. The point of the book is that the purpose of the Christian life is to be more human. We call it being sanctified, or being Christ-like. Paul says it is being called to be saints. But all of this, in the light of who Jesus was, means we are called to be as truly human as He was. Christians sometimes get all bent out of shape over whether we are God-centered or man-centered, and they forget that if we are Christ-centered the distinction evaporates, for He was God and man. The human and the divine are of equal importance in a Christ-centered theology.
The Psalmist asks, "What is man that thou art mindful of him?" And the answer is Jesus. That is what man is, and that is why God is mindful of him, and why he pays the ultimate price to save him. He is for sure a rotten apple, but God has His own proverb about apples. Our human proverb is that one rotten apple can spoil the whole barrel. God's view is just the opposite, for He says that one perfect apple in a barrel of rotten ones can restore them to what apples were meant to be. Only a real and perfect man could do it, and that is why Christians have fought off every attempt to minimize or modify the manhood of Jesus.
Only man could offer a sacrifice to please God, but only God could provide such a sacrifice, and so the only hope of man was a God-man, and so Jesus is the only answer. To know Jesus is to know all there is to know of God, and all there is to know of man. He is the best of both. He was man as God intended man to be as one imperfect fellowship and obedience to his creator. How human can God be? The answer is Jesus. How divine can man be? The answer is Jesus.
David Read, the contemporary preacher and author, quotes the Christmas Carol: "The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying He makes." Read says, "I don't believe it. Jesus was a real baby and He cried like all other babies. He wept as a man and He cried as a baby." We dare not deny any aspect of the reality of His humanity, for He was totally human. He is the one perfect apple that will restore the barrel of rotten humanity to what God intended man to be. We are all spoiled apples, but by faith in Jesus Christ we can be assured of enjoying forever a perfected human nature. May God help us to be biblically intelligent Christians who not only enjoy Christmas and Easter, but know why we do, and acknowledge that our Lord Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man.