The Jesus Few Believers Knew
"THE JESUS FEW BELIEVERS KNOW"
by Dr. D. W. Ekstrand
Jesus was Made Flesh
The apostles remind us that the Scriptures prophesied that the Messiah (the Anointed of God) would one day come and bring salvation to the world (Gen 3:15; 22:18; Deut 18:15-18; Ps 2:1-12; 22:16-18; 110:1-7; Is 7:14; 9:6-7; 11:1-2; 40:3; 42:1; 49:1-7; 52:13 – 53:12; Jer 23:5-6; Dan 7:27; Zech 12:10-11; Mal 3:1; also Rom 1:2; 3:21; 16:25-26; Eph 2:20; 3:5; Jn 5:39; 1 Pet 1:10). Paul tells us that Jesus Christ was “born of a descen-dent of David according to the flesh, and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead” (Rom 1:3-4). Though He descended from the line of David according to the flesh (Is 9:6-7), He was also designated God’s Son. Scripture says, “When the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5). Sadly, the twin truths of Christ being both fully human and fully divine have not always been acknowledge by everyone throughout church history — the heresy of “denying Christ’s true humanity” was embraced by a number of philosophical schools of thought: “Gnosticism” maintained that the entire material universe was evil, therefore Jesus could not have been divine because He inhab-ited a physical body; as such they believed a “heavenly Christ” (an emanation of the Absolute, Supreme, Unknown Being — who is referred to as Bythos, and who dwells in infinitely remote spiritual light) acted in and through the man Jesus — thus Jesus was not God incarnate. Another heresy called “Docetism” believed that Jesus only seemed to be a man, but actually was not one. A third heresy called “Manichaeanism” believed that Christ’s body was composed of heavenly but not true material flesh. All of these and other heresies were soundly rejected in a series of early church councils — with the development of heretical teaching, the leaders of the Church used “Creeds” (from the Latin credo, meaning “I believe”), as a test of orthodoxy. In this way those within the Church could determine true Christians from heretics (1 Jn 4:1-3; 2 Pet 2:1-3). The Apostles Creed declared that Jesus Christ was “God’s only Son”… the Nicene Creed affirmed “the full divinity of Christ”… the Creed of Chalcedon declared the Lord Jesus to be “truly God and truly man”… and the Athanasian Creed declared Jesus Christ to be “perfect God and perfect man — though He is God and man, He is not two, but one Christ.” These creeds and the Scrip-tures they are based upon, teach that Jesus, the Son of God, became like us in every respect (except for sin) so that we might become like Him.
Jesus, who was fully equal with God in every way, “existed in the very form of God” (emphatic!) while He walked on this earth; He did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, rather “He emptied Himself” of that equal status and role, to take the status and role of humanity (Phil 2:5-11). He who was and is God took on the likeness of humanity for the sake of our salvation (1 Th 5:9; Titus 2:11; Heb 5:9; 1 Pet 1:8-9). In doing so Jesus set aside His rights as God and the continual use of His divine attributes… He laid aside the independent exercise of His divine attributes… that is, He didn’t continually exhibit the eternal attributes of immortality, omniscience, omnipo-tence, and omnipresence (except at the leading of the Holy Spirit on a few occasions). Instead of availing Himself of the many attributes of God, Jesus clothed Himself with all the attributes of humanity — except for sin. It is not a sin to be human… it is not a sin to get tired… it is not a sin to be tempted… it is not a sin to learn and grow through experience. As a man, Jesus grew intellectually, physically, spiritually, and socially (Lk 2:52). The late Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it this way, “Jesus took human nature to Himself, and chose to live in this world as a man… He humbly and deliberately put limits upon Himself, in order that He might live this life as a man while He was here on earth… We do not know how He did it, nor can we fully understand it.” None of us can wrap our brain around the fact that God came to earth in the form of a man… our finite minds are incapable of understanding infinite realities. Furthermore, as fallen human beings we have a tendency to over-emphasize one side (His divinity) or the other (His humanity). Instead, we must look to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in order to understand and accept the fact that both of these realities are true. Scripture tells us that God came into this world as the man Jesus Christ, to humbly and willingly be our suffering servant (Phil 2:5-11). The following chart helps us see Jesus’ two natures “in action” —
AS GOD AS MAN
*He was worshiped (Mt 2:2, 11; 14:33) *He worshiped the Father (Jn 17)
*He was called God (Jn 20:28; Heb 1:8) *He was called man (Mk 15:39; Jn 19:5)
*He was called Son of God (Mk 1:1) *He was called Son of Man (Jn 9:35-37)
*He was prayed to (Acts 7:59) *He prayed to the Father (Jn 17)
*He was sinless (1 Pet 2:22; Heb 4:15) *He was tempted (Mt 4:1)
*He knows all things (Jn 21:17) *He grew in wisdom (Lk 2:52)
*He gives eternal life (Jn 10:28) *He died (Rom 5:8)
*The fullness of deity dwelled in Him (Col 2:9) *He had a body of flesh and bones (Lk 24:39)
Jesus had a human body (Jn 1:14; 1 Jn 1:1), emotions (Mt 8:10; 26:38; Mk 3:5; Jn 2:13-17; 11:33-35; 12:27; 13:21; Heb 5:7), mind (Lk 2:52; Mk 13:32), and will (Jn 5:30; 6:38; Mt 26:39); yet this in no way compromised His deity. Though Jesus had a finite human will, He lived perfectly in sync with and submissive to the divine will. When the Word became flesh, the eternal Son of God took on full humanity… as such, He could fully relate and sympathize with us and our weaknesses (Heb 2:17-18; 4:15; 7:26). Jesus was born (Lk 2:7), grew as a human being (Lk 2:40, 52), grew tired (Jn 4:6), got thirsty (Jn 4:6; 19:28), got hungry (Mt 4:2), became physically weak (Mt 4:1; Lk 23:26), and died (Lk 23:46) — yet never sinned (Heb 4:15; 1 Jn 3:5; 2 Cor 5:21). He also had a real human body after His resurrection (Lk 24:39; Jn 20:20, 27). Jesus, by means of the Incarnation, came to know all the vicissitudes of life: trials, joys, sufferings, losses, gains, temptations, and griefs — He entered into them and understood them, and thus became a pattern for us to follow (1 Pet 2:21; Heb 2:16-18), that we should go through these experiences as He did. In Jesus, God entered the human realm — He walked and talked and laughed and cried and ate and drank and slept and bathed. He was tempted and had human parents and brothers and sisters (Mt 13:55), and had earthly relationships and suffered physically. And during His three years of ministry He proclaimed the truth, walked on water, calmed storms, healed the sick, fed the hungry, raised the dead, and conquered the grave.
The three years of Jesus’ earthly ministry began when He was baptized and tempted (Mk 1:1-5; Acts 1:21-22; 10:37; and Mt 4:1-11; Mk 1:12-13; Lk 4:1-13), and ended when He was crucified, resurrected and ascended (Mt 27-28; Mk 15-16; Lk 23-24; Jn 19-21; Acts 1:1-11). Throughout His earthly ministry Jesus spoke and claimed to be one who possessed authority beyond that of any human being (Mt 5:31-39; 10:32-33; 11:25-30; 12:6; Mk 2:5-7; 2:28; 8:27-38; 14:61-62; Lk 7:48-49; Jn 4:12; 7:46; 8:53). In spite of His divinity, for man’s sake, He took on the form of a servant, becoming mere man. In doing so, He did not empty Himself of any part of His essence as God; rather He gave up His privileges as God and took upon Himself the existence of humankind. He was sent into the world “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3), though His flesh was not sinful (2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 2:2; 1 Jn 1:3). The Greek word translated “likeness” is the word homoioma (Mt 6:8; 7:26; Rom 6:5; 8:3; Phil 2:7; Heb 2:17; Jam 3:9); literally the word means to “be made like something.” Consider Adam and Eve if you will — God did not create them with “sinful natures,” yet they ultimately, despite their perfect sinless natures, were “somehow moved within their soul” to sin against God… in applying the foregoing logic to Jesus, He exercised perfect faith and chose not to sin. Is that to say that He felt no inner allurement or attraction to sin? No, I don’t believe it does, or He wouldn’t have had to “resist temptation” like we do, or truly be made in the “likeness of sinful flesh.” Incidentally, I am well aware of the fact that some theologians have a difficult time accepting this teaching. To me, the amazing thing is that Jesus fought against every attempt by Satan and the entire world of darkness to “honor God and continually walk righteousness.” That is beyond human understanding because I believe His temptations were as real as ours, and I’m only too aware of how incredibly weak I am in the face of temptation. By the way, I am not imputing the slightest bit of evil to Jesus (be it in His thinking or whatever), nor am I suggesting that His nature was tainted with sin even in some miniscule way. So don’t use the argument, “Then Jesus must have had the ‘potential’ to sin,” because you can’t refute paradoxical truth with human reasoning. Thus I believe, as Adam was at creation, so Jesus Christ (the second Adam) was at conception (as a human being)… though He continued to be fully God, He was also fully human and took on the form of a “bondservant” (the lowest status on the social ladder; Phil 2:5-8; Heb 10:5). It is truly amazing that the God who created the universe (Jn 1:3; Col 1:16) and who rules over all creation (Col 1:17) would choose to take on the nature of a servant. Note the contrast between Jesus’ placing Himself in the lowest status of all (Phil 2:7-8)… and God the Father’s ultimately elevating Him to the highest exalted status of all (Phil 2:9-10).
Most of us see Jesus as fully God… but few of us see Him as fully human. The author of the third Gospel, Luke, was a medical doctor and probably one of the most educated of the early Christians. He was also interested in things that did not attract the attention of the other Gospel writers. He tells us at the beginning of his Gospel that he had done a good deal of study on the life of Jesus… so what he offers to us is an account which has been carefully researched and includes the testimony of eye witnesses (Lk 1:1-3). In all likelihood, one of these eye witnesses was Mary the mother of Jesus. The Gospel opens with two long chapters for which she was probably the source. Luke even seems to hint at this when he tells us at the end of the chapter two that “Mary treasured all these things in her heart” (Lk 2:19, 51). Like every mother Mary recalled the different stages of Jesus’ life — “the Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him (Lk 2:40)…. He kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Lk 2:52). Jesus grew up the son of a car-penter (Mt 13:55) in a little village town called Nazareth (Lk 1:26; 2:39; Mt 21:11) out in the countryside some 15 miles west of the sea of Galilee. He grew physically — as an apprentice to His father, He worked with His hands, carried wood for yokes on His shoulders, and tested them on oxen to see whether they were “easy” (Mt 11:28-30); no wonder He grew strong. He also grew strong in spirit — He was filled with wisdom… the grace of God was upon His life. Though Jesus “grew” in strength and wisdom and stature, He was never morally imperfect… from beginning to end He lived a perfect, sinless life (Heb 4:15). He grew through every stage of His life, both in understanding and capacity. His obedience to God as a seven year old boy was as perfect as the obedience He showed when He willingly died on the cross in order to fulfill His Father’s will (Phil 2:8). Because He obeyed God to the limit as man, His Father’s love for Him knew no bounds.
Jesus Grew in the Fear of God
Scripture tells us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prv 9:10). Since Jesus “grew in wisdom” (Lk 2:52), Jesus grew in learning to fear God — Jesus lived in the fear of God. With our fallen minds we tend to distort the biblical concept of “fearing God,” and feel ill-at-ease about the whole idea that there should be fear of any kind in the spiritual life. In order to address this distortion, we need to understand that the Bible speaks about two very different kinds of fear — there is “servile fear” and “filial fear.” Servile fear is the fear a slave feels towards a harsh master; when applied to God it amounts to a sense of terror toward Him. In contrast, the idea of Filial fear is a loving fear that a child feels toward his father and mother; the experience of every believer toward God. The wicked fear God because they have a frightening picture of Him in their minds (Mt 25:24-25); that is, they have a perverted understanding of God. Servile fear lurks within our hearts even after we become Christians, and may sometimes haunt a true Christian throughout his entire spiritual life. The only means of deliverance lies in our “growth in filial fear” — it takes filial fear to destroy servile fear.
What then is filial fear? It is that indefinable mixture of reverence and pleasure, joy and awe that fills our hearts when we realize who God is, what He has done for us, and how much He loves us. The psalmist encourages us to “Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling” (Ps 2:11). Likewise he says, “How blessed is the man who fears the Lord” (Ps 112:1). Jesus lived His life with genuine reverence and awe of God the Father. Throughout biblical history God’s people have been commanded to “fear God” that it might go well with them (Deut 5:29; Jer 32:39-40; 1 Pet 1:17; 2:17). God looks for filial fear in His children. David prayed, “Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your name” (Ps 86:11) — his prayer suggests that a failure to fear God is the result of a divided heart, one that is not entirely devoted to God. Our Lord had an undivided heart. When we truly see God for who He is, we will walk with Him in reverence and awe and joy. Jesus said, “The pure in heart see God” (Mt 5:8). Those who experience purity of heart can say with the hymn writer John Newton, “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear.” The psalm writer says, “If Thou, O Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, who could stand? But there is forgive-ness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared” (Ps 130:3-4). Again, filial fear is produced in us when we realize how much God loves us — if we would grow in grace we must have a reverential fear of the goodness and glory of God. When Peter denied his Master, he wept bitterly when the eyes of Jesus met his — in effect Jesus was saying to him, “I am praying for you, Peter, because I still love you. I forgive you. I am going out to die on the cross for you” (Lk 22:31-32, 61-62). The truth of the matter is, “nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:39). Filial fear is always the grateful response of saved sinners; we merit hell and torment, but are given heaven and blessing — that is how awesome our God is!
Jesus said it is by learning to “fear God” that we are delivered from the fear of what men can do to us (Mt 10:26; Phil 1:28; 1 Pet 3:13-14). Jesus was not bullied by the threats of what others might do to Him — He would rather die than grieve His Father’s heart. It is the fear of God that keeps us from sinning (Ex 20:20), and causes us to walk in holiness and cleanse ourselves from every defilement (2 Cor 7:1). Filial fear promotes obedience in our lives — by faith Noah built an ark “in holy fear” (Heb 11:7), because he so highly valued the smile of God on his life. Noah would rather lose all his “friends” than lose the friendship of God. When we experience the mercy and forgiveness of God in our lives, we no longer think the fear of the Lord and the love of the Lord are mutually exclusive; we discover that one cannot exist without the other. When we realize the “great thoughts about God” that Scripture sets before us, they will lead us to a lov- ing filial reverence and fear of our Father in heaven. It was the “great thoughts about God” in Scripture that caused Jesus to grow in the wisdom and fear, and the wonder and love of God. As God’s child, consider that God chose you to be one of His children… that in His provi-dence He has guided, protected and chastised you that you might experience the fullness of His love and grace… that He loved you so much that He went to the cross to die for you… that He has provided for your every need since the day you were born (Mt 10:30). If the “love of God” is not preeminent in your understanding of the “fear of God,” you have simply failed to understand the foundational principle of this truth. To fear God is the beginning of wisdom (Prv 9:10). That is why the preacher of Ecclesiastes says: “Here is the conclusion of the matter — Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecc 12:13). To let the defilements and dark thinking of the flesh be the determinant of reality in your mind, and not want to “truly know” the God of creation in all His glory and splendor, is absolute foolishness and indubitable stupidity. Knowing the filial, loving fear of God is the beginning of true spiritual progress and growth in the Christian life. Reflect upon the words of the great Puritan preacher John Flavel —
The carnal person fears man, not God;
The strong Christian fears God, not man;
The weak Christian fears man too much, and God too little.
Jesus Grew as a Human Being
Luke tells us that Jesus “grew” — the word he uses has an interesting etymology. Originally it meant “making one’s way forward by pushing aside obstacles.” It was used of an army march- ing its way through rocky mountains, forest, rivers and rough terrain… later it simply came to mean “making progress of any kind.” It is important to remember that Jesus had to overcome a host of strenuous obstacles in His life — just as we encounter obstacles in our lives (Jam 1:2), things were no different for Jesus. He felt the same kind of pressures that we experience…and the temptations to compromise — He lived in “the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3) — He experienced weakness, hunger, thirst, fear and opposition, just as we do. Jesus lived His life in the same world that we live life. He was not tempted in a beautiful garden, but in a barren desert… He was tested when He was hungry… He was not surrounded by a tame creation, but by wild beasts (Lk 4:1-2; Mk 1:12-13). Jesus is the Author and Pioneer of our faith and salvation (Heb 2:10; 12:2) — He is the great trailblazer. Picture an army captain hacking his way through a jungle during a battle with guerilla forces… he leads his men from danger to safety by first facing the dangers, impediments and tests himself. Similarly Jesus is the Captain of our salvation. He has tasted all of our experiences and temptations — He experienced them in their full strength; where we stumble and fall He pressed on. He overcame temptation, conquered death, and drew its sting. Now He beckons us, “Follow Me, the pathway of faith is safe for you to use!”
It is because Jesus experienced the same things we experience that He is able to see us through our struggles toward spiritual growth (Heb 2:18; 4:15-16). Just as Jesus grew in His relationship with God, so we too are enjoined to “grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ” (2 Pet 3:18). The word “knowledge” in Greek is ginosko — it means to know someone intimately, relationally, experientially, and progressively (read Jn 17:3). It is one thing to know things about a person, it is quite another to “personally know someone intimately,” and to experience life with them, and to progressively grow in your relationship with them — all of this is inherent in the Greek word ginosko — we are to grow in our understanding and experience of God’s goodness and kindness, His grace and mercy, and His eternal love and favor. So this knowledge is not mere information, but “personal fellowship and communion with God.” We are not just called to understand God “doctrinally” — we are called to experience Him “relationally.” If we are to let our light shine before men, we must cultivate intimate communion with Christ.
Jesus grew in grace in the face of severe obstacles and constant trials. He once spoke about the whole period of His ministry as a “continuous time of trials” (Lk 22:28). As the Captain of our sal-vation and the Pioneer of the life of faith He experienced opposition from the powers of darkness at the height of their strength… we, by contrast, even though our trials are real, meet with a foe who has been defeated and stripped of his powers (Col 2:15; Heb 2:14). Jesus was “tempted” in every way such as we (Heb 4:15), yet we are often inclined to think that “He did not experience what I am experiencing.” The truth is, we will never experience what He experienced… in our temp-tations we give way long before we experience the level of “temptation’s pressure” that Jesus experienced — the powers of darkness never need apply the degree of pressure to us that they applied to Jesus. We provide them with an easy target… Jesus exhausted all the devil’s powers and energies because “not the slightest measure of darkness dwelled in Him” (Jn 14:30; 1 Jn 1:5)… not even in evil’s darkest hour could He be overcome (Lk 22:53). With that said, we must be care-ful not to underestimate the “impact of temptation” in Jesus’ life, as if He didn’t struggle with temptation or experience its angst and allurement — if that is the case then He would neither be able to identify with the “pressures” of temptation that we face… nor would He be able to “sympathize” with our weaknesses. Obviously it is not possible for us to know exactly what He experienced “inwardly,” and how much He “struggled” when faced with temptation, but to simply conclude that “temptation” was a slam dunk for Him, and that it didn’t present any problem at all to Him, would basically make it a “non-issue” in His life; yet that is primarily how many Christians and theologians view temptation in the God-man’s life — to hold such a position, however, would invalidate the integrity of the temptations He faced. The truth is, Jesus had to make a “personal conscious effort” to be righteous, and exercise faith in the face of opposition and darkness… furthermore, in no way was He “forced” to do so by God; that would have resulted in Him being a mere puppet. The love of Christ for us would be “hollow” if God had forced Him to die on the cross (Eph 5:2, 25; Rev 1:5; Gal 2:20). It is important for us as believers to accept these “paradoxical realities;” though we may not be able to fully reconcile them in our minds, and though the nature of some of these mysteries transcend our ability to understand, we must accept the integrity of them as indeed being true and genuine.
“Obedience” lay at the heart of Jesus’ life — the apostles saw His obedience as the key to understanding His work… He obeyed God unto death (Phil 2:8). It was God’s plan that His Son should lay down His life for others; in this respect He did the will of His Father (Jn 3:16; 4:34; 5:30; 6:38). It was because of Christ’s willingness to voluntarily surrender His life, that caused God to delight so strongly in Him: “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life…. No one takes it from Me… I lay it down on My own initiative” (Jn 10:17-18). The various records of the Father’s delight in His Son’s obedience (Mt 3:17; 12:18; 17:5) is proof that the life Jesus lived was neither simple or easy or without difficult and extraordinary sacrifice. Jesus had placed Himself under the “law of God” (Gal 4:4) — the same law by which our lives are also governed. Jesus was obedient to His parents (Lk 2:51)… He honored them… when He was hanging on the cross, He made arrangements that the apostle John would care for His mother (Jn 19:25-27) — this was obedience to the will of God at its finest (Ex 20:12). Jesus obeyed all the commandments of God and exhibited them to perfection in His own life… denying His own human will, and sub-mitting to the will of the Father (Mt 26:39, 42; Jn 6:38).
Though Jesus remained God, He chose instead to live His life “by the power of the Holy Spirit.” He lived as we must live — by the enabling power of God the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:16). Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus was able to experience the kinds of things we experience — without sinning. This is what is meant when the author of Hebrews said, “He had to be made like His brothers in every respect” (Heb 2:17). Jesus knows what it is like to learn to walk and talk and read and write and think and reason and trust and fear God, because “He learned these things” like we do. Jesus remained fully man and fully God during His Incarnation — He maintained all of His divine attributes, and occasionally availed Himself of them for the benefit of others, such as performing miracles (Jn 20:21) and forgiving sin (Mk 2:1-7). Nevertheless, Jesus lived a “fully human life” in that He lived it by the power of the Holy Spirit. Scripture teaches us over and over again that Christ performed His mediatorial work controlled and impelled by the Holy Spirit — Jesus was conceived by the “Holy Spirit” (Lk 1:35)… He was given the title “Christ” (anointed One) by the Holy Spirit… Jesus’ aunt Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit when greeting Jesus’ pregnant mother Mary, and His uncle Zechariah went on to prophesy that their son John (the Baptist) was appointed by God to prepared the way for Jesus (Lk 1:41-43, 67, 76). When Jesus was dedicated to the Lord in the Temple, “the Holy Spirit was upon Simeon and revealed to him that he would not die until seeing the Christ of God” (Lk 2:25-27). Simeon was “in the Spirit” when he prophesied about Jesus’ ministry to Jews and Gentiles (Lk 2: 27-34). John the Baptist prophesied that one day Jesus would baptize people with the Holy Spirit (Lk 3:16). The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at His own baptism (Lk 3:21-22) — Matthew tells us that “the Spirit rested on Jesus” (Mt 3:16), as if to suggest that the remainder of His life and ministry on earth would be done under the anointing and power of the Holy Spirit. Luke says that Jesus was “full of the Spirit and led by the Spirit” (Lk 4:1-2), and came “in the power of the Spirit” (Lk 4:14). After reading Isaiah 61:1-2, which says “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,” Jesus declared, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:14-21). Luke goes on to say that Jesus also “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit” (Lk 10:21). Jesus is the supreme example of what is possible in a person’s life when one is totally dependent upon the Spirit of God (Jn 13:15; 1 Pet 2:21-25).
Furthermore, near the end of His life when we are told that His spirit was “deeply troubled,” He exercised so much grace and self-control that He was able to encourage His disciples lest their hearts should also be troubled (Jn 14:1ff). He was God’s High Priest — He came to offer a sacrifice, and at the same time to be the victim Himself. He prayed for and cared for His people; He could feel for them in their weakness and needs even in the midst of His own suffering (Heb 5:1ff)… “He was made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful (emphatic!) and faithful High Priest… because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted (Heb 2:17-18). “We do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who was tempted in every way, such as we; yet was without sin (Heb 4:15). So every experience of life was tasted in some form by Jesus… as the Captain of our salvation He did all this for our sake, and as an example for us to follow… as the Pioneer of our faith, He has made it possible for us to follow Him.
Jesus is Our Model for Living
It is important to note the following — “Jesus did not possess any ‘special means’ of spiritual growth which are not available to us.” Beloved, it is essential that we realize this if we are to become like Him. The Gospel narratives make it clear that Jesus looked to three particular channels of help and blessing during His time here on earth —
1. Scripture — Jesus searched the Scriptures to grow in grace and understand the will of God for His life. He identified Himself with the Old Testament figures of the Suffering Servant (Is 52:13-53:12; cf. Gen 3:16; Mt 8:17; 12:18-21; 26:67; 27:26; Lk 22:37; Jn 1:29-30; 12:37-41) and the Son of Man (Dan 7:9-14; cf. Mt 10:23; 19:28; 25:31; Mk 8:38; 13:26; 14:62). Remember, the New Testament wasn’t written until after Jesus had ascended into heaven; thus He was occupied with learning what the Old Testament had to say (essentially it is about 1300 pages long in English; with the five books of the Law totaling about 300 pages). It was in the Scriptures wherein Jesus saw His own life and ministry prophesied, and He lived according to what it said, that it might be ful-filled through Him (Mt 4:4, 7, 10, 14-17; 5:17-19; 5:21f; 5:27f; 5:31f; 5:33f; 5:38f; 5:43f; 6:6f; 26:41f). God’s Word was the Spirit’s sword to Jesus, and it safeguarded Him during times of fierce temptation. With that in mind, Jesus “trusted God’s Word” (that’s faith), and lived His life accordingly (just as you and I are called to do)… such knowledge and understanding of God’s Word, linked with humble obedience, will always lead to growth in the Christian life because “it pleases God” (Heb 11:5; cf. Mt 3:17; 12:18; 17:5; 26:39-44; Jn 4:34; 5:19, 30; 6:29, 38; 8:16; Phil 2:8; Heb 2:13; 5:8; also cf. Prv 3:5-6; 1 Th 2:4; 4:1; 1 Jn 3:22). The idea that Jesus principally “lived a life of faith” (that is, believing/obeying the Father), is somewhat puzzling to many believers, because they think He was omniscient when He walked here on earth… that He knew all things, but that is not what Scripture teaches (Mk 13:32; Lk 22:42; 23:46; 24:49; Jn 8:28, 38; 10:18; 12:49-50; 14:10, 16-17, 28; 15:8; 16:28; 17:4-5, 18, 25-26; 20:21; Phil 2:6-8). Like Jesus, “we are to walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). Is walking by faith easy? No, not at all… because we must forego the “self-life;” yet that is the life of faith to which each of us have been called (Prv 3:5-6; Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38). Note the words of Jesus — “If anyone wishes to come after Me (emphatic!), let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mt 16:24). “What will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world (emphatic!), and loses his own soul? What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mt 16:26). Beloved, those are very sobering words from our Lord. Please don’t ignore them.
2. Prayer — Jesus’ entire life was one of prayer. He spent time regularly in prayer and intercession because of the demanding work that lay before Him and His desire to have fellow-ship and loving communion with His Father. Prayer was a dynamic part of Jesus’ life and ministry, just as it should be for ours (cf. Mt 14:23; 21:13; 26:36; Mk 6:46; Lk 5:16; 6:12; 9:28; 22:41; Acts 1: 14; 2:42; 3:1; 6:4; 16:16; Rom 12:12; 1 Cor 7:5; Eph 6:18; Phil 4:6; Col 4:2; 1 Tim 4:5; 1 Pet 4:7; Jam 5:16; Jude 1:20). Jesus developed intimacy with the Father during His moments of communion with Him. Jesus prayed that the Father would “glorify His name” (Jn 12:28), and that “His will would be done” in and through His life (Mt 26:39). This is also how you and I are to pray (Mt 6:10). Following are forty passages from Scripture that stress the importance of action taken “for God’s sake;” carefully reflect upon them to enhance your appreciation and understanding of this concept — 2 Kg 19:34; 20:6; Ps 23:3; 25:7, 11; 31:3; 44:22; 69:7; 79:9; 106:8; 109:21; 143:11; Is 42:21; 43:25; 48:9, 11; Jer 14:7, 21; Ezek 20:14, 22, 44; Dan 9:17, 19; Matt 10:18; 16:25; Mark 10:29-30; Luke 6:22; Jn 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23; Acts 9:16; Rom 1:5; 1 Cor 4:10; 2 Cor 4:11; 12:10; Phil 1:29; Phil 1:6; 1 Pet 2:13; 1 Jn 2:12. Beloved, never forget, ultimately life is about God, not us… God is the One who is preeminent, not us — that thought runs completely contrary to the flesh, because the flesh is all about self and its own autonomy. Remember, we are the creature, not the Creator, and creatures don’t dictate reality to the Creator. By the way, it takes most believers a “lifetime of struggling” to apprehend and accept this truth because of the presence of “indwelling sin” (i.e., flesh; Rom 11:36; 1 Cor 8:6; Eph 3:21; Col 1:16; 1 Tim 1:17; Heb 2:10; 1 Pet 4:11; 2 Pet 3:18). It is also interesting to note that Abraham grew strong in faith when he gave glory to God (Rom 4:20). As Jesus kept His heart in tune with God, His love and devotion to Him gained in energy and power. This is one of the qualities of love — it grows in the exercise of it. Carefully reflect upon all of the verses listed above.
3. Fellowship — Jesus spent significant time in fellowship with God’s people… even at the age of twelve He was engaged in discussion with Jewish teachers in the Temple. His penetrating questions amazed them. Jesus was wrestling with the great issues God’s Word (i.e., the Old Testament) had already begun to impress on His spirit, and He openly discussed them with the learned scholars in the Temple. At the age of thirty He began His public ministry and chose twelve disciples “to be with Him” (Mk 3:14), and it was these men He would eventually send out to preach the good news of salvation to the world (Mt 28:19-20; Lk 9:1-6; 10:1-16; Acts 1:8). Just as His disciples needed His fellowship, so also Jesus desired to grow in fellowship with them — they were His constant companions. Jesus took three of them with Him to share His experience when He was changed on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mk 9:2-13), and to witness His suffering and encourage Him with their presence in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mk 14:33-42); likewise He found spiritual fellowship at the home of Mary, Martha & Lazarus (Jn 11:1-46).
Knowledge of God’s Word, communion in God’s presence, and fellowship with God’s people are all means by which Jesus grew in grace… conversely, these are the same means by which we are to grow in faith and become more and more like Christ. All three of these means merit the highest priority in our lives. If you have not already begun to follow the Master’s example, begin doing so today.