God “became flesh and dwelt among us,” says the first chapter of John’s Gospel. There are two basic reasons why it is so important that know and believe that God did become a human, going through everything, in life and in death, that every human does.
First, WE learn about God in a very personal way. Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me, has seen the Father.” Over the centuries, philosophers have pondered and debated 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, what he demanded of us, and what he offered to us. But to know what God is like, we look first and foremost at Jesus. There, in person, we see most clearly who God is and what God has to say to us. When we pray, we can picture in our mind a young man, a person like ourselves, whose words and actions are recorded for us to read so we can get to know him better. God is not an impersonal force pulsating through the universe. God is a personal being who at a particular point in history became a person.
Second, as the result of God becoming a person, GOD learned what it is like to live the life that we live. The Bible describes this in Hebrews 4:14-16: “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.”
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 funerals because they don’t know what to say to those who are grieving. You don’t have to say much at all, really, because just being there says a lot. Actually, it might be better to say nothing than to say the wrong thing. One thing that I try not to say is, “I know just how you feel.” Well, I usually 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 a lifetime of being independent? And I don’t know what it is like to lose a child, face life threatening surgery, or be confined to a hospital bed for a month. I’ve never been through any of that, so I don’t know how it feels. There are other things I can say, but I can’t truthfully say “I know just how you feel” in many situations.
However, 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 lady whose husband just died knows that they do indeed share a common sorrow, do understand each other, and can indeed bear one another’s burden in a special and unique way.
In the same way, says the book of Hebrews, 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 also went through the difficulties of growing up; he also grieved the death of friends and family; he also faced betrayal and desertion by friends; he also struggled with temptation and disappointment and failure. Jesus also endured 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.” We have such a friend in Jesus, because he was here and lived a life like us, and even faced the death we must all face. As we sing in the old hymn: What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear; what a privilege to carry, everything to him in prayer.
What a Friend We Have in Jesus to the tune of Folsom Prison Blues. Nice!:
John 1:1, 14a — In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
John 14:8-10a — Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?”
Hebrews 4:14-16 — 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, Still Lead On by Nicholas Zinzendorf (1700-1760):
Jesus still lead on
Till our rest be won;
And although the way be cheerless,
We will follow calm and fearless;
Guide us by your hand
To our fatherland…
When we seek relief
From a long felt grief,
When temptations come alluring,
Make us patient and enduring;
Show us that bright shore
Where we weep no more.
Jesus, still lead on
Till our rest be won;
Heavenly leader, still direct us,
Still support, console, protect us,
Till we safely stand
In our fatherland.