Preachers tell us that Jesus is a great example for us. This is really the old-style English religion. Muscular Christianity: “Play up and play the game.” And then they tell us that he was a wonderful teacher. Indeed he was. The parables appear to be simple stories, “Earthly tales with a heavenly meaning,” as we were taught at Sunday school. Really though, the parables go much deeper. To read them with care is to find them frequently shocking and lit up with flashes of irreverent humour. Some parts of his teaching are even more shocking. What other teacher ever said, “I and the Father are one” or “Except ye eat my flesh and drink my blood, ye have no life in you”?
These facts are rather beside the point when it comes to trying to understand Jesus. After all, an example is only any use if we stand a chance of being able to follow it. And that’s just it, we can’t. If we could follow his example, we wouldn’t need him. As William Blake said, “If moral virtue was Christianity, Christ’s pretensions were all vanity.” Jesus is different. We are fallen creatures, sinners. Jesus is without sin. Jesus is the one who came to deliver us from our sins.
Different again, he was born of a Virgin. But he didn’t begin when he was born. St John’s gospel startlingly opens by telling us that Jesus is the eternal Word of God, who was always with and at one with the Father. This man striding the fields of Galilee is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, “by whom all things were made.”
We are one nature – human. Jesus derives his humanity from Mary, his Mother. But he is also divine. His two natures are eternally combined in the one Person of Jesus Christ. At Christmas at his Incarnation, he brought the fullness of the Godhead to humanity. And at his Ascension, he took his humanity into the Godhead. As the Advent hymn tells us, even the wounds of the Crucifixion are still there in his resurrected, glorified body: “Those dear tokens of his Passion, still his dazzling body bears.” And his body always will bear them. He is ever and the only God-Man.
So, if Jesus is not merely an example, and if his teaching is mysterious beyond words, what are we to make of him and his coming among us?
Simply, he came to provide that which we cannot have of our own efforts. He offered himself as the Sacrifice for our sins. He died for us on the Cross and he rose again on Easter Day for our redemption. By our sins we separate ourselves from God. If we confess our sins and believe in Jesus, the strong Son of God who came to save us, then our fellowship with God is restored forever. “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.”
It is admittedly a tall story. It was from the first so shocking that St Paul describes it as “a scandal, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the wise.”
But this is the gospel truth. This is why we can say to Jesus – as Thomas said in the upper room at the first Easter – “My Lord and my God!” without committing idolatry. This is why we are able to call ourselves Christians.
“The miracle is that he came here at all, where no one ever came voluntarily before.”