At the memorial service for Charles Schulz (1922–2000), creator of the beloved Peanuts comic strip, friend and fellow cartoonist Cathy Guisewite spoke of his humanity and compassion. “He gave everyone in the world characters who knew exactly how all of us felt, who made us feel we were never alone. And then he gave the cartoonist himself, and he made us feel that we were never alone. . . . He encouraged us. He commiserated with us. He made us feel he was exactly like us.”
When we feel that no one understands or can help us, we are reminded that Jesus gave us Himself, and He knows exactly who we are and what we are facing today.
Hebrews 2:9–18 presents the remarkable truth that Jesus fully shared our humanity during His life on earth (v. 14). He “taste[d] death for everyone” (v. 9), broke the power of Satan (v. 14), and freed “those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (v. 15). Jesus was made like us, “fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God” (v. 17).
Jeralean Talley died in June 2015 as the world’s oldest living person—116 years of age. In 1995, the city of Jerusalem celebrated its 3,000th birthday. One hundred sixteen is old for a person, and 3,000 is old for a city, but there are trees that grow even older. A bristlecone pine in California’s White Mountains has been determined to be older than 4,800 years. That precedes the patriarch Abraham by 800 years!
Jesus, when challenged by the Jewish religious leaders about His identity, also claimed to pre-date Abraham. “Very truly I tell you,” He said, “before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58). His bold assertion shocked those who were confronting Him, and they sought to stone Him. They knew He wasn’t referring to a chronological age but was actually claiming to be eternal by taking the ancient name of God, “I am” (see Ex. 3:14). But as a member of the triune Godhead, He could make that claim legitimately.
In John 17:3, Jesus prayed, “This is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” The timeless One entered into time so we could live forever. He accomplished that mission by dying in our place and rising again. Because of His sacrifice, we anticipate a future not bound by time, where we will spend eternity with Him. He is the timeless one.
In a 1929 Saturday Evening Post interview, Albert Einstein said, “As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene. . . . No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.”
The New Testament Scriptures give us other examples of Jesus’s countrymen who sensed there was something special about Him. When Jesus asked His followers, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” they replied that some said He was John the Baptist, others said He was Elijah, and others thought He was Jeremiah or one of the prophets (Matt. 16:14). To be named with the great prophets of Israel was certainly a compliment, but Jesus wasn’t seeking compliments. He was searching their understanding and looking for faith. So He asked a second question: “But what about you? . . . Who do you say I am?” (16:15).
Peter’s declaration fully expressed the truth of Jesus’ identity: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (v. 16).
Jesus longs for us to know Him and His rescuing love. This is why each of us must eventually answer the question, “Who do you say Jesus is?”
Raleigh looks like a powerful dog—he is large and muscular and has a thick coat of fur. And he weighs over 100 pounds! Despite his appearance, Raleigh connects well with people. His owner takes him to nursing homes and hospitals to bring people a smile.
Once, a four-year-old girl spotted Raleigh across a room. She wanted to pet him, but was afraid to get close. Eventually, her curiosity overcame her sense of caution and she spent several minutes talking to him and petting him. She discovered that he is a gentle creature, even though he is powerful.
The combination of these qualities reminds me of what we read about Jesus in the New Testament. Jesus was approachable—He welcomed little children (Matt. 19:13-15). He was kind to an adulterous woman in a desperate situation (John 8:1-11). Compassion motivated Him to teach crowds (Mark 6:34). At the same time, Jesus’ power was astounding. Heads turned and jaws dropped as He subdued demons, calmed violent storms, and resurrected dead people! (Mark 1:21-34; Mark 4:35-41; John 11).
The way we see Jesus determines how we relate to Him. If we focus only on His power, we may treat Him with the detached worship we’d give a comic book superhero. Yet, if we overemphasize His kindness, we risk treating Him too casually. The truth is that Jesus is both at once—great enough to deserve our obedience yet humble enough to call us friends.
Nearly every time an angel appears in the Bible, the first words he says are “Do not be afraid!” (Dan. 10:12, 19; Matt. 28:5; Rev. 1:17). Little wonder. When the supernatural makes contact with planet Earth, it usually leaves the human observers flat on their faces in catatonic fear. But Luke tells of God making an appearance on earth in a form that does not frighten. In Jesus, born in a barn and laid in a feeding trough, God finds at last a mode of approach that we need not fear. What could be less scary than a newborn baby?
Puzzled skeptics stalked Jesus throughout His ministry. How could a baby in Bethlehem, a carpenter’s son, be the Messiah from God? But a group of shepherds in a field had no doubt about who He was, for they heard the message of good news straight from a choir of angels (2:8-14).
Why did God take on human form? The Bible gives many reasons, some densely theological and some quite practical; but the scene of Jesus as an adolescent lecturing rabbis in the temple gives one clue (v. 46). For the first time, ordinary people could hold a conversation, a debate, with God in visible form. Jesus could talk to anyone—His parents, a rabbi, a poor widow—without first having to announce, “Don’t be afraid!”
In Jesus, God comes close to us.
The vintage cabin, expertly constructed from hand-hewn logs, was worthy of a magazine cover. But the structure itself was only half the treasure. Inside, family heirlooms clung to the walls, infusing the home with memories. On the table sat a hand-woven egg basket, an ancient biscuit board, and an oil lamp. A weathered pork pie hat perched over the front door. “There’s a story behind everything,” the proud owner said.
When God gave Moses instructions for constructing the tabernacle, there was a “story” behind everything (Ex. 25–27). The tabernacle had only one entrance, just as we have only one way to God (see Acts 4:12). The thick inner curtain separated the people from the Most Holy Place where God’s presence dwelt: Our sin separates us from God. Inside the Most Holy Place was the ark of the covenant, which symbolized God’s presence. The high priest was a forerunner of the greater Priest to come—Jesus Himself. The blood of the sacrifices foreshadowed Christ’s perfect sacrifice: “He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12).
All these things told the story of Christ and the work He would accomplish on our behalf. He did it so that “those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance” (v. 15). Jesus invites us to be a part of His story.
Why did Jesus come to Earth before the invention of photography and video? Couldn’t He have reached more people if everyone could see Him? After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.
“No,” says Ravi Zacharias, who asserts that a word can be worth “a thousand pictures.” As evidence, he quotes poet Richard Crashaw’s magnificent line, “The conscious water saw its Master and blushed.” In one simple line, Crashaw captures the essence of Jesus’ first miracle (John 2:1-11). Creation itself recognizes Jesus as the Creator. No mere carpenter could turn water to wine.
Another time, when Christ calmed a storm with the words, “Quiet! Be still,” His stunned disciples asked, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:39,41). Later, Jesus told the Pharisees that if the crowd did not praise Him, “the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40). Even the rocks know who He is.
John tells us, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen His glory” (John 1:14). Out of that eyewitness experience John also wrote, “We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. . . . He is the Word of life” (1 John 1:1 nlt). Like John, we can use our words to introduce others to Jesus whom wind and water obey.
As Charles Dickens’ story A Christmas Carol begins, there is mystery surrounding Ebenezer Scrooge. Why is he so mean-spirited? How did he become so selfish? Then, slowly, as the Christmas spirits marched Scrooge through his own story, things become clearer. We see the influences that changed him from a happy youth into a selfish miser. We observe his isolation and his brokenness. As the mystery is solved, we also glimpse the path to restoration. Concern for others pulls Scrooge from his self-absorbed darkness into a new joy.
A far more important mystery, and one much harder to explain, is that which Paul spoke of in 1 Timothy 3:16: “Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.” Extraordinary! God “appeared in the flesh.”
The mystery of Christmas is how God could become man while remaining fully God. It defies human explanation, but in the perfect wisdom of God, it was the plan of the ages.
“What child is this?” He is Jesus Christ—God revealed in the flesh.
A church group invited a speaker to address their meeting. “Talk about God,” the group leader told him, “but leave out Jesus.”
“Why?” the man asked, taken aback.
“Well,” the leader explained, “some of our prominent members feel uncomfortable with Jesus. Just use God and we’ll be fine.”
Accepting such instructions, however, was a problem for the speaker who said later, “Without Jesus, I have no message.”
Something similar was asked of followers of Jesus in the days of the early church. Local religious leaders conferred together to warn the disciples not to speak about Jesus (Acts 4:17). But the disciples knew better. “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard,” they said (v. 20).
To claim to believe in God and not in His Son Jesus Christ is a contradiction in terms. In John 10:30, Jesus clearly describes the unique relationship between Himself and God: “I and the Father are one”—thus establishing His deity. That is why He could say, “You believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1). Paul knew that Jesus is the very nature of God and equal with God (Phil. 2:6).
We need not shy away from the name Jesus, for “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).