Retired pastor and author John Claypool tells the story of a discussion he had one time with his children’s babysitter, an elderly lady who lived a few blocks away. One evening when they returned, she met them at the door and was obviously very excited about something. She had in her hand a book she had found on the Claypools’ coffee table– When God Became Man. She had apparently not read very much in it, because she had one question after another for the pastor. “Did that really happen?,” she asked. “Did God really become a man? When was that? What was he like? What did he say?”
John Claypool was astounded by the lady’s astonishment at what he thought everyone knew. He knew this lady was an active member at another congregation in town, and he could not imagine that this should come as such a shock to her now, after all those years of going to church. “Certainly you’ve heard of Jesus,” he said to her. “Why, yes, of course,” she replied. “Well,” he said as gently as he was able, “The Bible says that Jesus was God Himself, visiting the earth he had created. God had decided,” Claypool said, “that he would come to earth in the form of a person, and what’s more, he’d come as a little baby. So, he was born into the world, just like everyone else, and that is what Christmas is all about. Isn’t that amazing?,” Claypool asked. “Yes, it is,” agreed his astounded listener. “And not only that,” he said, going on, “But God then allowed himself to die a death just like every other human being– and that, is what Good Friday is all about.” “You mean,” she said, “that was God on the cross?” “Yes,” he said, “That was God.”
Claypool did not say what church that lady attended, and the story seems too odd to be true. But it was great fun, he said, to tell someone about how God was in Christ, someone to whom it was all brand new. It reminds me of a visit I had one time with a man in a care center who could still visit a bit, but whose memory was quite gone because of Alzheimer‘s disease. I read to him some of the best known Bible verses, hoping something might be familiar. He leaned forward more and more, and he listened and he listened, and finally he said, “You know, that’s a pretty good book you have there.” It was all like the very first time he had heard any of it, and it sounded good to him.
John Claypool’s babysitter did not have Alzheimer’s disease, and she knew a lot of stories about Jesus, but she never really put it all together. She had always just thought of Jesus as nothing more than the human founder of a new religion. She was thrilled to hear that God himself had actually lived a life like us, and was amazed to hear that he even allowed himself to be killed.
Even though we have heard it all before, it is worth reminding ourselves again why it is so important that God did become a human, and go through everything, in life and in death, just like each of us. And there are two basic reasons. First, in the person of Jesus Christ WE learn about God in a very personal way. “If you have seen me,” said Jesus, “you have seen the Father.” Over the centuries, philosophers have wondered and written about who God is and what God must be like. The Old Testament prophets had direct experiences with God and tried to communicate to their listeners what God was like and what he demanded of us and what he offered us. But as Christians we look first and foremost at Jesus to know what God is like. There, in person, we see most clearly, who God is and what God has to say to us.
Secondly, as the result of God becoming a person, GOD learned what it is like to live the life that we live. The Bible speaks of this in Hebrews chapter four where it says, “Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess, for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are, yet he was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and grace to help us in our time of need.” Jesus knows what it is like to be tempted and weak and be in need of help.
Sometimes it is hard to know just what to say in a given situation. I have heard some people say that they do not like going to visitations or funerals because they don’t know what to say there. Many times you don’t have to say anything at all, because just being there already says a great deal. Actually, it might be better to say nothing at all than to say the wrong thing. One thing I usually do not say is, “I know just how you feel.” Usually, I don’t know just how they feel. How can I know what it is like to lose your spouse after 55 years of marriage? How could I possibly know what it’s like to have to go into a care center after an entire lifetime of being independent? And I don’t know what it is like to lose a child, or face life-threatening surgery, or be laid up in the hospital for a month. I’ve never been through any of that, so I don’t know how it feels. There are things I can say, but I can’t truthfully say “I know just how you feel” in those situations.
But when a widow who just lost her husband a few months ago comes over to the home of a friend who just lost her husband that very day and says, “I know just how you feel,” that is all she needs to say. The other widow then knows that they do indeed share a common sorrow and do understand each other and can bear one another’s burden in a special and unique way.
In the same way, says the Bible, when we pray to Jesus, we can know that HE KNOWS just how we feel, for he too lived a life like we are living. He, too, faced the difficulties of growing up; he too faced the death of friends and family; he too faced betrayal and desertion by friends; he too faced temptation and disappointment and failure. Jesus also faced excruciating pain and death; he even faced despair and times when he felt completely alone, abandoned even by God in heaven, as when he prayed from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When we are in pain or sorrow or grief, it helps to have a friend there who can truly say to us, “I know just how you feel,” and mean it. In Jesus, we always have such a friend, because he lived a life like us, and, faced the death that we must all face.
Hebrews 4:15-16 — For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are— yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
II Corinthians 5:19 — …God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself…
Philippians 2:5-7 — …Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
O Lord, the house of my soul is narrow; enlarge it so that you may enter in. It is in ruins, O Lord, repair it. I know and I confess that it is displeasing in your sight. But who shall cleanse it, or to whom shall I cry but unto you? Cleanse me from my secret faults, O Lord, and spare your servant from strange sins. Amen. –St. Augustine