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Resurrection and the Remarkable Humanity of Jesus

Ever since my days in seminary–dating back more than four decades–I have thought more emphasis should be placed on the humanity of Jesus.  To begin with, if we are truthful, it makes no sense to think Jesus was God.  Jesus never claimed to be God.  Indeed, he would be stunned–even deeply troubled–if he thought his followers would one day make such claims about him.

Moreover, the only gospel that could be interpreted to make claims of divinity about Jesus would be the gospel of John (written about 100 CE).  And we have to remember, virtually all of John’s gospel was metaphorical narrative.  The stories of John came either  from other sources or were the creation of the author. They were not historical.

Jesus, fully human.  An enduring problem in thinking Jesus was God is that, over time, his human qualities become diminished.  If he is divine, his traits as a human person become more abstract.  They seem less real and carry less weight.  He becomes less one of us.  To the point: if he is divine, how real can his suffering be, and therein his humanity?  And if his suffering was in any way less than authentic, this radically changes the power of his crucifixion and the meaning of his resurrection.

For us to be drawn into the web of Jesus’ life, teachings and into the power of his crucifixion and resurrection, he had to be fully human.  He had to know the anxiety, the fear, and the uneasiness of the human experience–namely, that we are all going to die and that no matter what we do, we cannot hold off death.  This is the human experience.  If Jesus were not fully human, then how could God use Jesus’ death and resurrection to transform us and make us more whole?  It was imperative that we be able to fully identify with Jesus on a human level as one who has shared the depths of our human journey.

As a fully human person, what was Jesus like?  I confess I am forever fascinated by this question.  What was it like to be Jesus of Nazareth, to have what I call this God presence in him?  And as this God presence thrived in his spirit, when did he first become aware of it?  And how did he deal with it as he interacted with his many siblings* and prepared to launch his public ministry?  What was it like?  Certainly, the answer is complicated.  How could it not be?  And of course, we can never know.

(*Jesus had at last four brothers, all named in the gospels: James, Judas, Joseph, and Simon; and apparently some sisters, whose names are not mentioned.  Indeed, after the resurrection, his brother James became one of the pillars in the Jerusalem Church, eventually functioning much like a bishop in the fledgling early church.)

Crucifixion and resurrection.  Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are at the core of Christian faith.  They are forever linked, inseparable, each giving greater meaning to the other.  Given the depths of Jesus’ compassion and love, and the spirit of his passion for social and economic justice, as time wore on, increasingly, he became a menace to the Jewish and Roman elites.  Soon, it became only a matter of time until they acted against him, leading to crucifixion and his wrenching suffering on the cross.

Yet, somehow, the story wasn’t over.  Somehow, over the weeks, months, and, no doubt, years, Easter Sunday happened.  Although we can never know the details of what took place, the details pale in importance to the meanings.  Indeed, what does it all mean?  Crucifixion?  Resurrection?  What we know is, somehow, Jesus was alive to his most ardent followers in a compelling way.  They continued to experience and have a sense of his presence as a living reality.

Resurrection and the remarkable humanity of Jesus.  The resurrection of Jesus sparked the birth of a new self-awareness and new self-consciousness in the minds, hearts, and spirits of his followers.  This new awareness and consciousness came to them in their vivid memory of the remarkable human person Jesus was.  In the days, weeks, and months after the cross, they remembered:

  • His very human compassion and love, particularly for the peasant poor, the outcasts, and the “least of these.”
  • His brilliant parables and wise teachings.
  • His considerable healings and open table commensality.
  • His courageous and prophetic pronouncements aimed at a more just and egalitarian world.
  • His warm, charismatic presence and spirit.

I cannot stress enough the outstanding human being Jesus was.  Indeed, this is what explains the resurrection experience.  It was precisely his remarkable humanity that kept him alive in the hearts and spirits of his followers.  It was small wonder, therefore, that after his death, Jesus continued to appear to people in visions or other apparitional, trance-like experiences.  Again, it was his extraordinary humanity that explains this, as he continued to be alive to his followers in life-giving ways.

In summation, it is useful to ask: Why did Jesus come?  What was his life-purpose?  In John 10:10, Jesus tells us.  He has come, he says, not that we might live more moral lives, and not that we might be more obedient or more religious.  He has come that we “might have life and have it abundantly.”

The Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Frantz is a retired church pastor who began his ministry in the Baptist tradition before becoming a minister in the United Church of Christ. He holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from the Pacific School of Religion. He is the author of The Bible You Didn’t Know You Could Believe In and his just published book: The God You Didn’t Know You Could Believe In. Dr. Frantz and his wife, Yvette, are now retired and living in Boynton Beach, Florida.

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