The relationship between humanity and God was broken from our side (Genesis 3). And so it had to be repaired from our side. Yet we, as constitutional rebels, were incapable of doing what was necessary to heal the breach. So God, wanting to effect a reconciliation, had to cross over to our side of the gulf and become Man in order to do so (Hebrews 2:16,17). This is what Christians call the Incarnation: the eternal Son entering space and time, and living as a specific individual at a certain historical time and geographical place – Jesus of Nazareth.
It is natural to wonder how Jesus could be both God and Man at the same time. The Bible does not tell us, so any thoughts on the matter (including mine) can only be speculative. Our only clue is the strange circumstance of His incarnation (Luke 1:28). If He had just appeared on Joseph and Mary’s doorstep (rather like the baby Superman), He would not have been human at all. If He had been conceived in the ordinary way, He would have been no more than a human being. Instead, He entered our world at the point of conception, but without a human father – His physical body fashioned in some way from the DNA of one of Mary’s ova.
Like every other human being on the planet, I am the product of two parents. Every cell in my body contains genes from both my father and my mother, so closely associated that they can’t be separated out. I am my mother, through and through – and also my father, through and through. Nevertheless, people who know me and my parents can point to various bits of me that appear to be ‘from’ either one parent or the other. I have ‘my mother’s eyes’, and ‘my father’s nose’ (even though, genetically, eyes and nose alike are derived 50% from each parent).
In a similar way (although I am not suggesting that there are such things as ‘divine genes’), Jesus of Nazareth has two ‘origins’: He is both human and divine, through and through. Yet we can look at certain aspects of His character and behaviour and say, ‘that’s divine’, or, conversely, ‘that’s human’. He regularly exhibited supernatural power (to walk on water, or to multiply loaves of bread) – yet He normally relied on other people for hospitality and financial support (e.g. Luke 8:3; 10:38). He had divine knowledge of people’s thoughts and motives (e.g. Mark 2:6-8; John 2:24,25) – yet He did not know the date when He would return to earth (Matthew 24:36). As Man, He could be tempted (Hebrews 2:18) – but as God, He remained sinless (Hebrews 4:15). As God, He is eternal (Hebrews 13:8) – yet as Man, He died (John 19:30-37).
As a man, Jesus was able to experience some things that God could not experience, and do some things that God could not do. As Man, He could feel pain and hunger. Most importantly of all, as Man He could suffer and go through death. He entered fully into the experience of being human: a physical body, babyhood and childhood (with its frustrations as well as its joys), celebrations, funerals, temptations, struggles, hopes and fears. “He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor.” (II Corinthians 8:9) And so He knows – from the inside – exactly what it is like for us to go through life on this earth. He is truly “God with us” – Immanuel (Matthew 1:22,23). Just like us, Jesus had to communicate with the Father through prayer (e.g. Mark 1:35). Like us, He had to cope with uncertainty, living by faith in His Father’s plan (Luke 13:31-33). As Man, He stands with us, His brothers (Hebrews 2:11-13) – and from that place speaks of His Father as His God (John 20:17).Because He is Man, He can be our High Priest (Hebrews 4:15,16), our Mediator (I Timothy 2:5), and our Intercessor (I John 2:1; Romans 8:34). He is on our side!
As both God and Man, Jesus is uniquely qualified to mediate between God and mankind, because He can represent both parties (Galatians 3:20). As both God and Man, He makes a connection between heaven and earth (John 1:51) that is more than just symbolic: in having a relationship with Him, we are automatically linked to God.
So God has actually visited us – not just briefly, but to stay. For Jesus is still human; after He died, He was resurrected, and He still has a physical body (Luke 24:39,40) (although He is now in heaven, not on earth). This is the basis for our assurance that we too will be resurrected in the same way (I Corinthians 15:49).