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The Dirtiness of Jesus Dwelling Among Us

by Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell on January 19, 2013
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CNN: “My Take: Jesus was a dirty, dirty GodAnd the Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . .” (John 1:14)

The Bible tells us that Christ was human and, of course, fully God (theologically termed the “hypostatic union”). The gospels give us some facts about His humanity: He was hungry, He thirsted, He ate, and of course, He died. One Christian leader, surprising his own colleagues, has pointed out some earthy aspects of the physical nature of the God-Man that are not discussed in Scripture. Johnnie Moore, a VP at Liberty University, has reasons for bringing them up. Despite the potential for misinterpretation of the slightly shocking headline wordplay on “dirty,” Moore’s CNN “belief blog” is an effort to rebut excessively sanitized depictions of Christ. He does not however suggest accepting liberal views in their place, but simply encourages a realistic view of our Lord’s humanity.

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The biblical account of Noah’s Ark and the global Flood is a true record of an actual historical event. Answers in Genesis discourages the use of “bathtub ark” depictions that suggest the Ark “story” was only a fairy tale. Instead we encourage the use of realistic Ark depictions, like that in the second picture, to remind people that Noah was a historical person who built a real Ark on God’s instructions to preserve life in the midst of a global catastrophe. Similarly, Liberty University’s Johnnie Moore recently wrote a CNN Belief Blog to discourage Christians from painting a sanitized Jesus that ignores the dirty realities of the life He endured during His 33 years on earth. The real historical Jesus is someone all people should be able to relate to, and understanding how fully He humbled Himself to become one of us in all our humanness (except for a sinful nature) should strengthen our ability to present His offer of grace to the world.

Moore paints a picture of Jesus having to deal with the dirty realities of daily living two millennia ago.

Moore paints a picture of Jesus having to deal with the dirty realities of daily living two millennia ago. While the Gospels don’t discuss such issues as the privy needs of Christ, the Old Testament Levitical laws do address the fact that all human beings face certain practical considerations. We may not like to talk about bathrooms and body odor, and the headline CNN used for Moore’s blog probably challenged some sensibilities, but such unpleasantries are a part of life, and because they are part of every human life they were a part of Jesus’s earthly life.

Moore points out that many Christians—in their understandable desire to acknowledge our Lord’s dignity—present “Jesus . . . walking like he’s floating in robes of pristine white followed by birds singing some holy little ditty. He’s polished, manicured, and clearly – God.” Moore explains that this image of Jesus Christ errs not only because it fails to show how fully human Jesus was but also because it imitates the Greco-Roman concept of mythological gods.

Greco-Romans gods were majestic, powerful, and fractious. Depicted with flawed human characteristics, often in some dalliance with wretched humans, these mythological beings were only toying with people for their own amusement. Moore points out, “Jesus arrived in defiance of this prevailing imagery.”

Our God—the one true God—came to earth to be fully human not for His amusement but for our salvation. We don’t do the cause of Christ any favors when we depict Him as a hybrid of a Greek demigod and a shy inoffensive man with sad eyes. When we brush away the dirt from some thirty years of His life, we make Him more like the myths of Mount Olympus than the genuine loving Creator and Savior who came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). The Gospels present Jesus’s genuine humanity—and Moore gives a number of examples, including His poverty, His frustration with being constantly misunderstood, and His vulnerability to the vicissitudes of the mob mentality. If we take the humanity out of our depictions of Jesus, we cheapen His message by making Him resemble the myths with whom He so greatly contrasted.

It is vital to distinguish Moore’s descriptions of our Lord’s humanity from those of secularists and religious liberals. God-haters and those who bend the Bible to their own version of reality present many blasphemous and false depictions of Jesus Christ’s humanity, denying the truths of Scripture. We see secularists and religious liberals wrongly accuse our Lord of immorality and fraud. Jesus Christ was in all ways tempted like as we are, yet He never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). If these distorted assertions about Him were true, He would not be qualified to be our Savior and bear the sins of the world (Hebrews 2:9). But Jesus was and remained sinless. As 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” While the visual imagery Moore uses may shock some, Moore’s blog does not misrepresent Jesus’ humanity. Moore neither accuses Jesus Christ of sinning nor robs Him of His divinity, holiness, or righteousness.

Jesus got His hands dirty and died because He was fully human, but He rose from the dead because He was (and is) God. He did this so He could demonstrate that He was fully qualified to pay the penalty for the sins of all mankind and actually bear that guilt on the Cross (Romans 4:25–5:1). But His sacrifice on the Cross will do an individual who rejects His grace no good in eternity; therefore, Moore’s article is an effort to get ordinary people to realize the depths to which Jesus descended to save us.

Part of the divine majesty of Jesus Christ is manifest in His very condescension to the level of lowly humanity.

Moore says, “The brilliance of Christianity is the image of a God, named Jesus, arrived with dirty hands.” Part of the divine majesty of Jesus Christ is manifest in His very condescension to the level of lowly humanity. No mythological god would go slumming without an ulterior motive, but Jesus Christ—the Creator of the universe—was willing to leave the majesty of heaven for a time and become embarrassingly human. Humans since the Fall of man in the garden of Eden have had plenty to be embarrassed about. Ordinary bodily functions, while natural and normal, are, for many, embarrassing to talk about and are often the imagery chosen for gutter-speak. We in western culture generally like to keep what happens in private private. (Not all cultures have the same taboos incidentally, either in their taboo-topics of conversation or in their chosen areas of privacy.)

Moore’s article may make some Christians uncomfortable by pointing out how completely like us Jesus Christ was during His 33 years on earth, but that is the point. His humanity didn’t consist only in His birth and death but in everything in between. “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people,” according to Hebrews 2:17. Jesus Christ was tempted in all things just as we are (Hebrews 2:18 and Hebrews 4:15). And for that to be true, He had to suffer from not only hunger and thirst but also the same basic human indignities we do. After coming into the world in the usual undignified way, Jesus’s swaddling clothes got as dirty as the next baby’s.

Knowing that the Creator of the universe (Colossians 1:13–20), who has all power on heaven and earth, left the clean comfort of heaven to experience the dirt, degradation, and discomfort of earth with us should remind every Christian of how great a God we serve. “Immanuel” (Matthew 1:23) means “God with us,” and so He was, in every way, yet without sin. For that reason, Philippians 2:5–11 juxtaposes the emphasis on Christ’s humanity with the fact that in due time EVERY knee shall bow and EVERY tongue confess that He is God, to the glory of God the Father. The depth to which Jesus Christ descended is a reason to praise Him and to trust Him.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,
who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,
but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.
And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,
and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:5–11)

We should remember that while Jesus Christ has been fully God from eternity past, when He became flesh (John 1:14) very few people knew who He was. Moore alludes to this historical reality when he writes that Jesus got fed up with the Pharisees and called them satanic vipers, commenting that this is “the behavior of a frustrated man who might also be divine, but sure knows how it feels for annoying people to get under his skin.”

Nobody knew Jesus was God when He arrived as a babe in Bethlehem except Mary, Joseph, and certain shepherds and foreign magi. He had to spend the rest of His life—and death—proving His deity and therefore His infinite fitness to bear the penalty for the sins of the world. Jesus had to prove—and did prove—even to His closest companions, that He really was God by His Resurrection. The Apostle Paul in Romans 1:4 confirms this by saying Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” Through His eternal Spirit He is still proclaiming that truth, and we proclaim Him not only as our Creator and Redeemer who died for us but also as our Risen Savior. God loved us enough to not only die for us and rise again for us but also to experience what it was like to be one of us.

God said in 1 Samuel 16:7 regarding Jesus’s earthly ancestor David, “man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Jesus, though fully human, remained holy and sinless. By contrast, we—no matter how good we try to look on the outside—are completely “dirty” on the inside because we are sinners. The take-home message of Moore’s blog should make us focus on how far our Lord humbled Himself to redeem us so that we can proclaim:

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).

Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC, the New York Times, or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard about it.) And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us.

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