What does it mean to you that Jesus was a man? We hear a lot about him being God (and later blog posts in this series will address that), but we don’t hear as much about his human side. Luke emphasizes this aspect of Jesus, and it’s important for understanding how we relate to him.
He grew up in the small farm village of Nazareth, which means that he lived doing hard work and manual labor for the first thirty years of his life before he became an itinerant rabbi (a travelling teacher and preacher). He may have been a carpenter, though that’s not clear. The word translated ‘carpenter’ in the original Greek New Testament (tektōn) could refer to a carpenter, builder, stonemason, craftsman, or other occupation. He nonetheless would have worked like others around him - not an easy life. And growing up in a farm village, he would have been acquainted with farm work, too. He was in a low socioeconomic class, like the majority of people in Palestine in his day, and would have had a difficult life like everyone else, trying to make ends meet.
In his second career as a rabbi, he spoke to the masses in everyday parables and illustrations aimed at the common person - stories about farming, planting, harvesting, trees, seeds, fishing, sheep, and common life events. Jesus shows us a God who is full of love, compassion and mercy, especially for those who are not successful in worldly terms, and for those the world has forgotten. He comes as a God who readily relates to us.
Jesus then became a travelling rabbi and minister of the gospel, teaching and healing the masses. His three years of ministry was not easy, either, as he travelled extensively and probably undertook a more ambitious ministry than any other rabbi of his day. For example, at one point he sends out 72 disciples to preach and practice the gospel after training them (Luke 10). His earthly ministry ended in seeming failure, in worldly terms, with his disciples deserting him upon his arrest and his humiliating crucifixion. And he never got the perks of ministry that many ministers get today.
In his ministry, we see in him a God who is humble and loving, not only toward the poor, but to all sinners. For example, the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15), Jesus pulls a suprise ending on his listeners. In that patriarchal society, the father would have had every right to disown the son and never let him return; that is what those hearing the parable probably would have expected. The ending where the father eagerly awaits the son and welcomes him back would have been heard as a shocking ending, as well as Jesus’ portrayal of the “good” brother. This twist ending dramatically shows God’s love and patience for us sinners.
Jesus identifies with us. He did not come as a prince living in a palace, trying to get to know and influence the shakers and movers, the elite, the rich, or the powerful of the world. He came for us. Jesus gave up his heavenly glory to live a difficult life as a lowly human for thirty years, first as a common laborer, and then as a controversial rabbi. He was also a “man of sorrows” who probably had a difficult life personally (as we’ll see in a future blog post).
We sometimes find our jobs or studies stressful, boring, or unfulfilling. It may be because it seems burdensome. It may be because of a bad boss or bad relationships at work. Maybe it’s just too much work and stress, physically or psychologically. Jesus would have felt those kinds of things as a common laborer or as a rabbi for much of his life. Imagine the Son of God coming into human form and enduring the life he did. He knows what you're going through. He identifies with you.
If you are a lay leader or a pastor in church, do you find church ministry discouraging, tiring or stressful? He knows, too, from his three years of ministry. He experienced much burden, stress and hurt as the first ever minister of the gospel. He identifies with you, too.
He not only knows your pain in the sense that God knows everything, but also because he personally experienced it all.