Lesson 5: Is Jesus Special? How?

Jesus is humanCreeds are not complete statements of what we believe. For the most part, they state positions the Church has taken on controversial issues. You see that easily when you examine the second article. It skips from Jesus’ birth to his death, saying nothing about his ministry. Apparently, the reason is  because believers in those days had no problems with things like miracles. That is not the case in our scientific age. In fact, after 2000 years, we also tend to read some parts of the creed in ways the original writers never intended.

A good example is how the early Church tried to explain how Jesus is special in a few jam-packed phrases: “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary…”

The words that jumped out at most of the people I served were “born of the Virgin Mary.” Many of my parishioners wondered if they had to believe in this kind of miraculous birth. Fundamentalists insist we have to, because it attests to Jesus’ supernatural nature. The early Christians, on the other hand, used the concept to illustrate Jesus’ human nature. They began by proclaiming Jesus is divine in various ways. He is the Christ, the Greek word for the Jewish Messiah. He is Lord, the word Jews used for God. They then went on to claim Jesus at the same time is conceived and born like all of us. He is an ordinary human being.

That apparent contradiction is the assertion that has to be pondered– a way of putting it that worked for 1st century Christians but creates difficulties for 21st century followers. The Church tried to explain it in a variety of ways. John spoke of an incarnation in which the Word of God becomes embodied (John 1: 1-18). Paul talked of God emptying himself of his divinity for a special time period (Philippians 2: 5-11).

Many modern theologians use the biblical concept of the Image of God to make the point. Remember Genesis 1: 26, 27 says humans are created in God’s image. Genesis 5: 1-3 describes this as the same way that a son resembles his father. This approach to the “Image of God” assumes that troubles develop because we do not live up to this image. The New Testament claims Jesus is the perfect image of God, who enables us to begin living up to our true humanity (Colossians 1: 15-20). Jesus is special, then, by showing us first what being human is supposed to be and second what God is like (John 12: 25, 14: 9). If we lived our God’s image, we –like God– would use love, not power, to heal the broken creation.

Modern Christians often miss this central affirmation of the creed that acknowledges Jesus is truly human. The Gospel makes no sense unless we believe Jesus experiences the same limitations we do.

We have an opportunity to take a deeper look at this next week when we examine what the creed says about Jesus’ dying a truly human death. That will bring up another modern question that asks if Jesus is the only expression of God available to humanity.

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