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God With Skin On

Nothing like this had ever happened. Here was an ordinary carpenter turned itinerant preacher, and multitudes gathered just to sit at His feet. He had no degrees, but His teaching brought the Scriptures to life. He had no extraordinary physical appearance, yet people were drawn to Him. He neither wore long robes nor sat in the first seats at the synagogues, but He exuded a majesty that overshadowed all their finery. He had no pedigree to speak of, and in fact some insinuated that perhaps He was even illegitimate, yet His words commanded an authority that made the rulers nervous and the teachers jealous. Who is this Jesus?

Though He seemed to burst on the scene at the age of 30, His coming had been long awaited. The first promise about Him was only a glimmer, a hint—the Seed of the woman coming to crush the head of the serpent—given to ignite hope in the midst of failure. The promises multiplied through the years: Abraham’s Seed in whom all nations would be blessed; Judah’s Seed who would take the scepter and gather the people; Immanuel, the virgin’s son; the Wonderful Counselor who would be given; and on and on they came. The famine prophesied by Amos extinguished the announcement of any more promises, but the time frame prepared the world for His arrival. Israel’s religion initially preserved but eventually strangled the Word under a cloud of rules and regulations; Rome’s legions brought peace and order to the Mediterranean world; Alexander’s legacy instituted Greek as the language of culture and commerce. The time was ripe.

What produced this attraction? The easy answer is that God had taken on human flesh to dwell among humanity. The deeper truth is that the God-man came to unpack true holiness and righteousness—repudiating the prevalent mindset of His day about these terms—and to flesh out what God is truly like. 

He revealed that God is approachable—sinners could come into His presence and find acceptance, sick people could touch the hem of His garment and find health, commoners could hear His words and understand what the religious leaders intentionally hid from the masses. He took children in His arms, kissed them, and blessed them. He radiated joy and welcome, so that women whom others disdained would pour out their gifts to wash His feet and dry them with their hair. Though He is termed “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,” His joy invited sinners and irritated the religious. His visage might strike terror into the hearts of those whom He called to repent or those whom He rebuked for their hard hearts, but He was never dour or stuffy.

He demonstrated that God is relatable—He who was far off has come near (“Immanuel” means “God with us”). Unlike the scholars who only write for the applause of other scholars, He made truth “take-home-able”: He told parables about fishing, farming, and living that resonated with the hearers. As He told the parable of the sower, there were perhaps those casting seed on the hills; these and many other common events took life and depicted truth through His lips. He expounded the Law in such a way that He interiorized the commands—moving them from actions to attitudes, from hands to heart—and relentlessly pressed home sin and need. He and He alone “exalted the Law and made it honorable” (Isaiah 42:21). He exemplified the truth He taught, so that His love shone through His words and replaced the stench of guilt with the fragrance of grace. He exegeted the Father (John 1:18) so that those who watched Him most closely would continually be amazed at His majesty.

In contrast to the Pharisees who “trusted themselves that they were righteous and despised others” (Luke 18:9), Jesus manifested the truth that God is gracious—indeed, John would say that He is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Grace meant that Peter could fall to his knees in the boat because the presence of Jesus convicted him of sin, but that Jesus would simply say, “From now on you will catch men” (Luke 5:10). His grace accepted the touch of the leper that should have made Jesus unclean, but instead cleansed that leper. His grace refused to condemn the woman caught in adultery, and instead forgave her sin. His teaching was so full of grace that His hearers marveled at the gracious words that came from His lips (Luke 4:22). Though the additions to the Law had introduced to the Israelites of His day a God far off, stern, and waiting to pounce, He revealed the true grace that had been the privilege of Moses (Exodus 34:5-7). God is a God of grace, and Jesus is the Fountain of that grace.

He showed intimately that God is glorious, for John also said of Him, “We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father” (John 1:14). When He commanded the fish into Peter’s net, the disciples saw His glory. When He walked on the sea, and when He commanded the sea to be quiet—and it obeyed Him—they saw His glory. When He took the trio to the mount and was transfigured before them, in one instant they saw who He really is—the God of glory. The glory that rested on the Tabernacle, the glory that fell on Solomon’s Temple, and the glory that Adam and Eve lost—He is, and He came to restore that which was lost—the glory.

He displayed that God is holy—both in His life and in His death. In life, He revealed true holiness trudging the dusty streets of Jerusalem, living out God’s awesome presence “veiled in flesh.” Holiness is not “holier than thou” (Isaiah 65:5), measured by comparing to others; no, in the person of Jesus Christ holiness became approachable, relatable, gracious, and glorious in this simple Teacher from Nazareth. In His death, most importantly, He revealed the holiness of God. God’s holiness is honored because sin’s penalty is paid, God’s honor is restored by the Son who bears the sin of humanity, and God’s justice is answered by the final Innocent One who dies on behalf of the guilty. Because of Jesus, the Father can be just and still justify guilty sinners (Romans 3:26).

Finally, and most fully, His resurrection proclaimed that God is invincible. The fire that fell from heaven always signified divine acceptance of the sacrifice. Moses saw that mighty fire at the Tabernacle, Solomon at the Temple, and Elijah on Mount Carmel. Far more convincing was the resurrection; as Paul says, “[He] was declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). The resurrection is the Father’s stamp of approval upon the Son’s matchless life and substitutionary death; it substantiates every command and ensures every promise. Death’s authority was annulled, the grave’s dominion was shattered, and Satan’s head was crushed. Christ is the Victor over death, the Lamb slain, and the King of glory entering heaven to receive His reward (Revelation 5).

Who is this Jesus? He is the Christ, the fullest revelation of the Father, so much so that we do not have a “God-centered theology”; rather, we have a “God-in-Christ centered theology,” for the Son is the prism through which the Father’s true nature is made known to us. He is our Confidence and our Hope. He is our Savior, and He is worthy of our worship and praise. It is no wonder that Paul proclaims, “that in all things He might have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18).

Stan May, PhD.

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