Unfortunately, I grew up in a religious tradition that was just that and nothing more: religion. It depended on performance — following a set of rules and fulfilling obligatory duties — and highly moralistic and legalistic to a fault. My childhood and teenage years were filled with images of a cold, domineering God who hated me and was always ashamed of me. It’s no wonder that I, and many others, have left churches as a result of experiences like this.
While I’m sure the people there meant the best, and in no way am I saying that tradition is to be completely abandoned nor left to the past, what I am saying is that those traditions, rules, and duties are empty if they don’t lead us to the heart of God. They’re lifeless — dead — and that’s all it was to me growing up: dead religion. For many people, that’s still all it is now, and all it ever will be. It reminds me of Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof. Unable to let go of the rigidity of his tradition and what it dictated, he disowned his own daughter.
Nothing could be further from dead religion though than the “reason for the season”: Resurrection Sunday. It’s a celebration of living and breathing relationship with a loving Father who longs for us to come close to Him and know Him and His heart deeply. Jesus isn’t just some tchotchke we dust off during Christmas or Easter to put on our fireplace mantles for a few days, only to store Him away in the attic until we “need” Him again. He isn’t some unnecessary relic of the past, irrelevant to our life today, nor is He weak and powerless to save, to move, or to speak.
No — on Resurrection Sunday, we celebrate with glorious praise and thanksgiving that Jesus is very much alive and well, even right now, in the midst of the global pandemic of COVID-19.
The death and resurrection of Jesus is a curious thing. It represents both the full divinity of Jesus Christ — that He was fully God, and thus able to save us from the sin that cripples us and separates us from relationship with our Father — and the full humanity of Jesus. It’s good and right to glorify and honor Jesus for being the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who defeated sin and death and who will continue to reign forever and ever. We must always, in our hearts and minds, keep the beauty and wonder of Jesus at the forefront of our minds, that our lives might honor Him as He deserves.
But in our effort to place Jesus above all where He so rightfully belongs, we cannot forget why we remember Resurrection Sunday: because while we were still sinners, Jesus became flesh to dwell among us, that He might humble and empty Himself of all divine prerogatives and authority to die for both you and me. Jesus was not some disembodied spirit that floated across the face of Earth. He was flesh and bone. He was muscle and sinew. He walked this Earth. He cried on this Earth. He taught on this Earth. He experienced pain and suffering on this Earth. He witnessed both the best and the worst of life.
Yet, through it all, Jesus displayed for us what it looks like to live in perfect relationship with the Father, always staying connected to a love that will never die nor fail. It is this life — this very real humanity — that we remember on Resurrection Sunday. And it this life — this very real humanity of Jesus — that we learn to embrace on Resurrection Sunday. We miss the true nature of Jesus if we choose to disregard His humanity, His suffering, and His livingsacrifice.
It says in Hebrews 4:14–16 (ESV): “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
These verses, known and quoted by many, are not just revering the divinity of Jesus as our great high priest. They also exalt His humanity. Take a moment to read back it through slowly and hear what the Holy Spirit is saying to us through these holy words. Jesus, fully God, was tempted in every respect, yet without sin. Jesus, the perfect Son of God, was tempted in the same exact wayboth you and I are, yet, without sin.
Throughout the years, I’ve time after time referred to this verse. Admittedly though, when I’ve quoted it before, it’s been as a half-hearted, “Christianese” coping mechanism, not out of faith. It’s not until recently that my eyes and heart have been opened to the truth it contains. That’s what revelation is: revealing something that has always been there, but which has been hidden or veiled. This is what the Spirit of God — the Holy Spirit — does in our lives. He uncovers what has been veiled so that we can see the person of Jesus for who He truly has been, is, and will always be (Hebrews 13:8). It is here that we can tangibly experience the full humanity of Jesus and its life-transformative power.
See, growing up, I had this theory about Jesus (I’m not exactly sure where I got it from) that — yes — He was tempted in the desert. But other than that, He lived a wonderfully perfect life without any trouble or temptation whatsoever. But Hebrews 4:15 speaks of a much different reality than this former “non-reality” not based in any truth. Hebrews speaks of a Jesus who is deeply acquainted with pain, suffering, and temptation. In fact, the temptations that both you and I struggle against (even the ones we are too ashamed to talk about), even those tempted Jesus.
It was such a massive paradigm shift for me that I very honestly struggled with it at first. It seemed wrong to say that Jesus was tempted, Him being the divinely perfect Son of God and all. But that’s exactly what this verse says — that Jesus was tempted just like us — and that’s exactly the point. Still troubled, I looked up the original Greek to try and quell my concern, but it’s as literal as the English translation. I eventually reasoned that even if the author meant it metaphorically, the meaning still stands: Jesus was tempted as we are, and it is exactly this truth that sets us free from all shame, guilt, condemnation, and fear. From even sin itself.
There are two important lessons we can draw from these verses:
First, temptation in and of itself is not sin. It is what we do with our temptation that determines whether it is sin or not. Look back at verse 15: Jesus was tempted, yet without sin. This truth set me free from the unattainable, performance-driven burden that not only did I have to keep from sinning in life (essentially, be completely perfect), but that I couldn’t even be tempted by anything. If I was, that meant I wasn’t worth anything. Now, temptation can, to a certain extent, if habitually the same thing, potentially show us something that’s off in our hearts and minds. But we shouldn’t burden ourselves with expectations that aren’t required either.
Secondly, and probably most importantly, we find our freedom in Jesus. It’s interesting that after speaking of Jesus being tempted in every respect, yet not sinning, the author continues on by saying that we can now confidently reach out to this very same Jesus and receive grace and help in our own time in need. Because if Jesus was a perfect, disembodied, completely divine being, there’s not necessarily much to relate to. Especially if He doesn’t know what it’s like to be human. But if Jesus was a real, live human, who experienced everything you and I have, are, and ever will, then now we have a friend forever in the person of Jesus.
Simply put: by embracing the humanity of Jesus, we learn to embrace the Jesus in us.
Because the very same Jesus that was tempted — just like us — yet was completely without sin, that Jesus died for us and rose again on the third day. And He now sits on the throne, ever interceding on our behalf, covering us with His blood that we might be presented before God the Father as righteous and holy, as innocent and faultless (Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25, Ephesians 1:4; 4:24, to same only a few). And the very same Jesus that conquered sin, death, and grave: He now lives in us! Jesus, He knows the way out. And if He lives in us, then we too can find our freedom from sin. For the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead now lives in you and me (Romans 8:11).
In the humanity of Jesus, we find our freedom. In the humanity of Jesus, we find the grace, strength, and help we need to overcome any giant or battle we might be facing. If you are hurting, Jesus knows what that’s like, and He will bring you comfort and healing. If you are facing difficulty and hardship, Jesus know what that’s like, and He will strengthen and sustain you. If you are struggling against some sin, temptation, or destructive habit, Jesus was tempted too, and He knows the way out. He knows the way to freedom. He knows the way to life. That’s why He came: to give us life abundant (John 10:10). In the Greek, it means life “superadded” — more life that we could ever possibly imagine, constantly being poured into us. Jesus is enough.
My prayer today is that each and every one of us would discover the true Jesus today. The true nature and heart of the Risen King, who conquered sin and gave His life so that we could experience complete freedom not someday when we “go to Heaven,” but here, and right now. In this moment, wherever we are at. Jesus knows us. He hears us. And He is for us. All we need to do is reach out and ask for His help, and He will show us the way to life everlasting. He will show us the way to resurrection power that fills our bones and lungs until we are beaming with love, joy, and peace.
Embrace the humanity of Jesus. It’s where freedom is found. It’s where life is found. It’s where we are found.