Whenever the cross of Christ comes up in contemporary discussions, the dialogue is almost always framed by questions that seldom find satisfying answers to the casual inquirer.
Why did Christ have to die in this way? If God is all-powerful, then why could he have not found another way? And on and on the questions go.
The words of Paul are as true today as they were two thousand years ago when he said, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23). The logic of Christ’s death on the cross still causes many to stumble, and the questions continue to be asked.
The cross highlights, in the most graphic possible manner, the humanity of Jesus. It cannot be overstated that Jesus was not half God and half man. Jesus was fully God and fully man, and though we have no problem speaking of the God qualities of Jesus, I am convinced that we struggle to wrap our minds around the humanity of our Lord.
He was not even some superhuman species that was somehow immune to all the human ills like splinters, sore muscles, fatigue, skin rash, swimmers’ ear, and sunburn. In fact, Isaiah would say of the Suffering Servant, “Like a root out of parched ground; he has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him” (Isaiah 53:2).
Jesus was not some new and improved breed of man. He took on flesh like ours, and he suffered in the same ways as we do. It was essential that the Christ take on human flesh to redeem all that had been lost. Anything less would fail to accomplish God’s purpose of redemption.
The issue of Christ’s humanity is understood most fully only as it is traced back to the account of creation’s beginning in the garden. In Genesis 1 and 2, we are allowed a limited glimpse into the birth of God’s good world. The Creator spoke, and light dispelled darkness for the very first time. But this was just the beginning of our Maker’s masterpiece.
He established time with the division of day and night and then separated the water from the land followed by the planting of the largest garden ever. Soon the vegetation sprouted forth fruit and the earth sprung to life.
On the fifth day, as the Creator spoke and the vegetation was well established, the ocean waters began to churn with every imaginable fish and creature of the deep as overhead, newly created birds winged their way across the heavens. Then, as in a growing crescendo, the great beasts and livestock of the field began to run and roam, and as God looked on what he saw, he declared that it was good.
This was not some fairy tale or ethereal fantasy land. This world was a real, physical world that could be experienced with all the human senses. This world was not restricted to the boundaries of earth alone but must be understood to include the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).
This beautiful world, in which the spiritual and earthly lived in harmony, was the place God had designed where the human drama would unfold. It is noteworthy that this created realm, which fully satisfies what the Creator himself had envisioned, is not called heaven.
When God originally shaped the space in which he intended humanity to inhabit forever, it is our very own physical world where the birds fly high, the sea creatures swim deep, the animals run free, and the stars shine bright. For a time, it was paradise in every sense of the word, but the utopia was threatened by the very man entrusted to guard it. Dark days lay on the horizon.
Adam was made in the Creator’s image in order that he might work with, along-side, and on behalf of his God. Adam’s value and role in the creational agenda is almost always underestimated, but to do so diminishes our comprehension of the necessity of Christ’s human nature. Adam was intended to rule over all of creation on all the earth.
The Beginning of Humanity
The biblical language makes this clear when we’re told that God blessed them and instructed them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28).
This passage highlights the nature and the scope of Adam’s intended purpose. Adam was a real, physical man who God endowed with authority to rule over the physical realm but not in the garden only.
Oftentimes we mistakenly understand Adam’s reach and responsibility to be limited and restricted to Eden, but this is simply not the case. Adam’s jurisdiction was to extend to the far reaches of the globe until one day, “all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD” (Numbers 14:21).
Tragically, instead of faithfully fulfilling his God-given role, Adam led an insidious revolt against the Maker because Adam had bought into the lie that he knew better than God. As the intended ruler and king over all creation, Adam represented all that he had dominion over throughout every generation even until now.
When Adam was driven from God’s presence and the curse of Adam fell, the consequences came to us as well. You see, the charge to keep and cultivate the garden was not Adam’s alone. It was ours as well by virtue of our relationship to Adam. If Adam had obeyed God, the blessings of his obedience would have flowed to his descendants but so, too, does the curse for his disobedience.
As Paul reminds the Romans, “For creation was subjected to futility” (Romans 8:20), meaning that every part of creation has now been plagued by original sin, and now “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22). It is not merely the souls of man that need rescue and redemption, it is all of creation.
The Humanity of Christ
Now let’s get back to the subject of Christ’s humanity. The problem, as we have explored, is that all of creation, which includes the entirety of the physical world, stands in need of deliverance from sin’s curse. In order for paradise lost to be regained, there is a need for the human race to pick up the garden mandate and obey God perfectly where Adam sinned.
But there is a problem. All of humanity is deeply infected with Adam’s sin, and “there is none righteous” (Romans 3:10) who are capable of such a task. The only person capable of perfectly keeping the law is the Lawgiver himself, but a potential deliverer must come from the seed of Adam. This seems to be an impasse in redemptive history.
But God had a solution! God himself would take on the flesh of humanity in order to succeed where Adam failed. Paul says that “through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One, many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). The only person able to save us and restore creation to its previous glory is the God-man, Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:45).
No passage more graphically portrays this continuing Adamic struggle more than Matthew 4, which recounts for us the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Jesus does not merely find himself in the wilderness, he is “led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). Adam was charged with “keeping” (Genesis 2:15) the garden, which implies the need to guard and protect it from the one who would seek to destroy and loot it.
Though Adam failed, Jesus stepped resolutely into the wilderness to do battle with the same serpent who had ransacked the garden and carried the human race into exile. Make no mistake. This one who would battle the serpent in the wilderness was not a ghost or phantom. It was the man, Jesus Christ.
Why Does This Matter?
By entering the human arena, Jesus took up a war in the flesh. His life would be lived as a man with all of the struggles and temptations that are common to man (1 Corinthians 10:13), and no divine privileges would be taken. He bled real blood and suffered as a man though he could have cut short his torture with merely a glance toward heaven.
Then following his death, he vacated the grave and met with the applause of the angels as the debt for Adam’s race had been satisfied and hope was born. This salvation was the work of a man, but not a mere man. Only a sinless sacrifice born of Adam’s seed could reverse the curse which our father introduced into paradise.
May our hope be renewed today by the reality that Jesus clothed himself with humanity in order that we might be clothed with his glory as we live out our days in the renewed, physical world where we were designed to live from the beginning of time.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/bakhurmikele
Rick Kirby, along with his wife and children, live in Anderson, South Carolina. Rick serves as a corporate chaplain in the upstate of South Carolina, in addition to shepherding micro-church movements, which he does in partnership with the Evangelical Free Church in America and the Creo Collective. Rick has written as a freelance writer in the past with organizations such as The INJOY Group, InTouch Ministries, and Walk Through the Bible. Rick holds a Master of Divinity degree from Erskine Theological Seminary and presently is a Doctor of Ministry student at Erskine, as well. Through the years, Rick’s family has been deeply engaged in discipling efforts globally in Brazil, Ecuador and most recently in Puerto Rico. Among the many things Rick enjoys are woodworking in his woodshop and roasting (and drinking) coffee.