This week marks the most important eight days found on the Christian calendar. From last Sunday's jubilant Palm Sunday, to the upcoming introspective Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and culminating in next Sunday's celebratory Easter, Holy Week is the global zenith of Christianity.
Now, it might seem odd to many that Christian adherents evoke the death of its leader every year. After all, commemoration is one thing - but a celebration?
It all points back to the person at the center of the revelry: a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth whose public ministry only lasted three years and ended in his killing. More songs have been sung to him, artwork created of him and books written about him than anyone who has ever lived. Jesus looms so large over human history that we actually measure time by him (noted as B.C. -- "before Christ" -- and A.D. -- anno Domini).
So what was it about Jesus that has instigated the largest religion in the world at two billion devotees?
We could look at a myriad of items but I think the wonder of Easter is found in the collision of two diametrically opposed attributes found in the person of the one called the Christ.
In John 10:30, Jesus says, "My Father and I are one." To a Jew at this time, this language would have struck a deep chord. Jewish believers at this time recited the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4 three times a day that said: "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, he is one."
The word for "one" there is a Hebrew word -- echad -- that means singularity and plurality coexisting simultaneously. It literally means "the Lord our God, he is one God." So Jesus, being confronted by the Jewish leaders about his divinity, drops a bomb. He claims that there is one God but then he avows that he is not only equal to God, he is 100 percent God.
Throughout the history of the world, numerous people have claimed to speak for God. Yet there is a remarkably short list of people who have actually claimed to be God. Buddha, Krishna, and Muhammad did not claim to be God. In fact, they declared to their followers that they were not God. Jesus, on the other hand, lucidly and repetitively said that he was God.
While the divinity of Jesus is a contentious idea for some, many see the humanity of Jesus as downright blasphemous. In John 1:14, it says, "...the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Notice the term "Word" is capitalized there. John is speaking of a person here -- Jesus, the Word.
So John tells us that Jesus left the perfect culture of heaven to enter the flawed culture of man by becoming like us. This is what theologians call the incarnation. He had a human body and emotions and experienced the limitations of being human.
When the Word became flesh, he did not merely become a man in part. He became a true, complete, holistic human being. Jesus was 100 percent human.
If you are keeping score so far, you have noticed that we've said that Jesus was fully God and fully human. And here's the collision. How can one person be 100 percent two things at the same time?
You have three options. Option one: You can deny the full divinity of Jesus so he can be more human. Option two: You can deny the full humanity of Jesus so he can be more God. Option three: You can keep the full divinity and the full humanity of Jesus in the mix.
If you are anything like me, this makes your head spin. I know when I first started to wrestle with this mystery, I kept rubbing up against this idea that if Jesus became a human, he surely had to give up some of his divine attributes. And if he gave up some of his divinity, he in turn wouldn't be fully God.
But in Philippians 2, the beautiful collision of Jesus' divinity and humanity surfaces when it says, "though he (Jesus) was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."
In verse 6, the Apostle Paul is affirming the sovereign position of Jesus but immediately in verse 7, he shows us in the word "emptied" that Jesus abandoned his sovereign position -- but not His deity.
So how do the claims of Jesus' full divinity and full humanity interface with Holy Week? It's found in the latter part of verse 7 and the first part of verse 8 in Philippians chapter 2. It says that Jesus was born in the likeness of man and that he was a God in human form. See, Jesus, as God, had to approach a sinful people as a person himself. He had to do His service here -- he had to come into our brokenness and our mess. He couldn't do it from the edge of heaven.
On Easter, Christians around the world celebrate that Jesus died and rose again as a substitute for man. It is only by Jesus tasting death as a man that we can be free from sin and death. He substituted His own death for ours and is the only worthy substitute because God, in the form of Jesus, became a man.
This is what Christians celebrate on Easter. Jesus lived the sinless life we couldn't live and died the death that we deserved. Jesus had to be fully human to satisfy the wages of sin, which was death. God demanded perfection and Jesus delivered in our place. Party on.
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