This is the fifth part in a series called “Simple Faith”, examining the simple concepts of the Christian faith. You can read the previous posts by following these links: Simple Faith, God, The Bible, and Sin and Death.
Note: I chose the picture above because it both shows the traditional view of Jesus and a model of what Jesus may actually have looked like based on the standard features of Jewish people of that time. I struggle sometimes with the “perfect” (and very caucasian) images of Jesus that we sometimes have. This is not at all the focus of my post, but I find it interesting. For a brief description of what Jesus may have looked like, wore, etc., check out this short BBC article.
In this part of our simple faith series, we enter into the heart of Christianity – the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The views on Jesus are many and varied. Christians claim that he is the divine Son of God. Others believe he was just a historical person, but who exactly he was is all over the map – a spiritual mystic? A wisdom teacher? A miracle worker? A simple prophet or teacher who was misunderstood by his followers, who later “upgraded” him to the Son of God? The ideas are legion. There are even a few (very few) who would argue that he never existed.
With all of these different views, understanding Jesus can feel incredibly complex. There have been countless volumes about him and an indescribable amount of ink spilled to try to explain him. But it can also be quite simple to understand Jesus. I have stated it as such: God became human in the person of Jesus to pay the price for our sin and to restore our relationship with God. Let’s break that down briefly.
Have you ever looked at an animal, like a dog, and wished you could understand and communicate with it? That would be awesome. By far the easiest way to do it would be to become that animal. By doing so, you would be able to communicate and understand it, and it, you. While this isn’t a perfect analogy, this is basically what Christianity says happened. God became human. Jesus was fully human – he was born, grew, ate, slept, walked around, and eventually died like every other human.
But at the same time, he was God, demonstrated by the what he did and said. This is seen in a variety of ways – one thinks automatically of the healings he performed, driving out demons, and control over nature. But aside from those, we also see Jesus doing other very God-like things – forgiving sins, accepting worship, claiming to be Lord of the Sabbath, speaking as though his words were more definitive and authoritative than the Jewish Scriptures (the Old Testament), calling God his Father (instead of “our father” as the Jews apparently did), and so on. Plus his statements in the gospel of John that are even more definitive – I am the way, the truth and the life…, I am the resurrection and the life…, I am the bread of life…, I and the Father are one…, before Abraham was, I am [the Jewish name for God]….
Then there’s the whole rising from the dead thing. This is the linchpin of Christianity – the moment when Jesus showed that he was more than just a simple prophet or wisdom teacher. Of course, there’s no getting around the fact that it takes faith to believe that he actually rose from the dead, but it is definitely the simplest explanation for the rise of Christianity. All other explanations require ignoring or rewriting the gospels (to make Jesus not divine), and the complicated creation of other theories to explain the rise of Christianity. And while someone rising from the dead is definitely hard to believe, it is no harder to believe than God existing in the first place or becoming human. It’s at least consistent.
But it’s not just his existence and nature that are important. We looked last time at the fact that our sins have consequences. While we mostly discussed the external and internal destructive consequences of sin, it is also worth noting that our sins will often (always, if life was actually fair) bring some form of punishment. A child who lies and is caught will be punished by their parent. An employee caught stealing will be punished in some form (probably fired!), and someone who breaks the law will go to prison. While initially that punishment is designed to be corrective in nature, eventually, if the problem is not fixed, the punishment becomes permanent – whether that is permanent loss of relationship or employment, lifelong imprisonment or even (in some places) execution. I am not arguing for or against any particular form of punishment, I am simply acknowledging what we all know: wrong behaviour has consequences – punishment. One cannot simply allow a person to continue without correction. And if they refuse to change, eventually either removal from your presence or from society as a whole becomes necessary. Christianity argues that our sins deserve punishment, which is entirely consistent with our sense of justice. We would expect no different from our earthly parents or leaders, so why would we expect different of God? But it also says that Jesus, deserving no punishment himself, took that punishment for all of us.
In some ways this sounds hard to grasp, but we are very familiar with the concept if we think of movies. Who hasn’t seen a movie where one person sacrifices themselves for the benefit of others? At the same time, we are familiar with the concept of one person taking the punishment for another. While the general rule is that each person should pay for their own sins, we recognize that, especially when the punishment is too great, both the punisher and the sense of justice can be satisfied by another offering themselves to take the punishment or pay the fine.
This is what we find in the story of Jesus. Out of love, he offered to take our punishment. And God poured out His wrath and our punishment on him. In doing so, justice was served. But in taking that punishment on Himself in Jesus, God was both the punisher and the punished. We have seen and understand the love of God, and also the wrath of God toward sin.
(As a side note, but an important one, wrath is appropriate. Just think of how we react as parents when one of our children disobeys, especially if they hurt another one of our kids. Sin destroys us, others, and relationships, and we are correct as parents to be angry about it and to punish appropriately. So, too, God expressed His displeasure toward sin and poured out His wrath on Jesus, as well as promised wrath at the final judgment in the future. We hate the idea of wrath when we look at God, but we are very quick to experience (and justify!) wrath when others offend us, and to demand justice. I think we are pretty hypocritical to expect otherwise from God.)
So because justice has been served, we are able to enter into a new relationship with God. God has always wanted to live in relationship with us, but our own sin has got in the way – it has stood as a barrier of guilt from our perspective, and as a barrier of justice from God’s perspective. Jesus took away both of those barriers. Justice has been served, and we can enter freely into God’s presence knowing that someone has paid for our sin.
That may have got complicated again, so let’s move it back to simple. God. Became human in Jesus. Jesus restored our relationship with God by getting rid of the barriers of justice and guilt, rising from the dead to show that he has power even over death. So now we can live in the proper relationship with God without fear of punishment, but rather with hope for eternal life. In my last post I ended by pointing out that I need help with this sin problem. In this post, we see that God provided that help.
And that is the simple story of hope that we hold onto in the midst of a complex and sinful world.