“And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him…And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man…Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 2:39-40, 51-52; 3:21-22, ESV)
As human beings, we have a natural instinct to construct spiritual, emotional, and mental scaffolding—those structures and processes that enable us to move toward a deeper understanding of truth as we go through life. This means that unless we have direct access to the truth, we might inadvertently create rules based on incorrect or misguided assumptions, rather than on reality. This is why our culture rejects the notion that only one way is the right way—your truth is your truth, but it doesn’t have to be my truth. If we apply this notion to our understanding of God, we are going to end up with some very interesting ideas.
Take a moment to consider some of the things you believe about God right now. You might believe God’s love for you extends only as far as your list of good deeds. Perhaps you think you are either blessed or cursed by God based on your financial situation. You could imagine God shares your political views because you cannot fathom God would view things any other way. Maybe you were taught that some sins are simply too terrible and God has a limit of how much sin he is willing to forgive. Since you believe these things, you go through life checking boxes because it’s something you can manage. Here is the problem with this method of knowing God: if our understanding of God is based on our assumptions about God rather than on God himself, our spiritual scaffolding will either break down or produce an inaccurate view of God.
In his article The God Who Came Down, scholar Michael Horton writes, “We look for a god we can manage rather than the God who is actually there.” This is why the incarnation is so important—God came down and revealed himself specifically in the person of Jesus. The people of Nazareth knew him and watched him grow. The teachers at the temple were amazed at his understanding of their teachings and by his questions. He was baptized by John in the Jordan River. Why? Because he was there! We know he lived based on the witness of thousands of people as recorded in the scriptures, which has been passed on for thousands of years. We don’t have to base our understanding of God on our inaccurate and misguided assumptions anymore—we can base it on the actual person of Jesus.
Prior to Jesus’s incarnation, and even afterward, humanity attempted to philosophically and scientifically separate faith and reason. In our postmodern culture, faith and reason cannot both occupy a seat at the table of reality. In the same article mentioned earlier, Horton writes, “Reason is in the realm of public, objective truth, while faith is relegated to the realm of private experience and personal therapy.” It’s a fancy way to say that just because we personally believe in the existence of God and have maybe even had a spiritual experience doesn’t make it true—it just means it’s true for us. Here’s the good news: when Jesus arrived on the scene, he became the object of our faith. Our faith is not based on an unknown, undefined, ethereal being, rather it is based on a very particular person—Jesus. He was a Jewish rabbi in first-century Palestine. The world doesn’t need to experience this in order to understand it as history. Jesus lived, loved, suffered, died, and resurrected. People saw him. We cannot reason Jesus out of real, public, and objective existence—we have to take the person of Jesus seriously.
As Christians, if our worldview is primarily determined by who we believe Jesus is, then we have to believe Jesus is real. The reality of Jesus’s existence removes our ability to create and manage God based on our inaccurate assumptions. We tried and failed to climb up to God through reason. Instead, God has lovingly and willingly climbed down to us. We can’t ignore it and I don’t know why we would even want to.
A prayer: Jesus, you came into this world as a baby and you grew into a man. You lived, you loved, you suffered, you died, and you rose from the grave. Some days we cannot believe it really happened—it is too loving, too good, too real, and so true. We confess that we prefer to climb our way up to you on our own terms rather than believe you wanted to step down and meet us. Thank you for coming down and showing us what matters. You are the way—we can pattern our lives after yours. You are the truth—we can trust you because you were there. You are the life—to know you is to know God, the author of life. Help us to rest in the truth of who you really are and adjust our lives accordingly. We love you, Lord and it is in your name we pray. Amen.