At times it feels like the events of Scripture and of Jesus’s life are resonant with spiritual truth, but difficult to conceive of as tangible reality. Intellectually I affirm the historical fact of Jesus and the Bible’s record. But the pragmatism and “modern sensibility” of our post-Enlightenment age, coupled with the cavernous time gap between then and now, has something of a de-anchoring effect. As a result, my trust in Jesus and the Bible’s truth can become more like that of a fable or mythology — rich with meaning and truth but not occupying the same human, earthy plane of reality I live in.
The apostle John wrote 1 John to offer Christians a number of assurances, seeking to underscore their confidence in Christ in the face of false teaching. The particular form of heresy John was combating was likely Docetism, which taught that Jesus only seemed human, and therefore only seemed to live and die and resurrect, but in reality he didn’t actually take on flesh.
This is similar, though far from an exact parallel, to the struggle I shared above. The spiritual truth I live by detaches from history so that Jesus takes on a “seems like” form rather than a real, human one.
In 1 John 4:2, the apostle emphasized that one could discern whether a teacher was speaking a Spirit-guided message or a false one based on whether they affirmed that Jesus was a real, living human being. This truth — the incarnation, God taking on flesh — is absolutely essential, John affirmed. Without it, we have no perfect, human substitute who died in our place, and no resurrected and living human who paved the way for our own eventual physical resurrection.
Contrary to Docetism, and contrary to my decoupling of the spiritual from the historical, Jesus did come to earth in flesh and blood. He walked the earth, he cried and laughed, ate and drank, ached and bled, and endured in real human flesh the agony of the cross and physical death. So too did he walk out of his tomb on human feet, with holes in his human wrists.
The incarnation — the actual, physical, historical, human Son of God who lived, died, and rose again — is the bedrock upon which this letter’s assurances stand: - Because Jesus is real, you have real forgiveness. - Because Jesus is real, you have real fellowship with God. - Because Jesus is real, you have a real Holy Spirit living in and empowering you to overcome the snares and temptations of the world. - Because Jesus is real, you have real wisdom and discernment to identify spiritual truth. - Because Jesus is real, you have real rebirth and new life, and will have a real, physical, eternal resurrection.
Toward the end of his letter, John wrote, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). We know because Jesus is so much more than a myth or a fable. He is a real, living Savior.
Jesus, forgive me for how easily I can overlook the fact that you lived and walked in the same history within which I live. You are a real, live, flesh and blood Savior. How wondrous it is that you truly lived, died, and rose again! Help me anchor my trust, and the assurances that follow, in your authentic and historical reality. Amen.
Throughout This Day: Be attentive to your physical senses today: the textures you touch, tastes on your tongue, scents on the air. As you do, consider that Jesus experienced those same physical realities. How does this recognition of Jesus’s humanity deepen your connection to him and to your faith? What insights does it bring? How does it encourage greater hope and faith?
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