Stephen Kneale

Some Lessons I Have Learnt after 10 Years of Pastoral Ministry

It may seem obvious, but you are not the saviour of the church; Jesus is. That truth should set you free. The church does not depend on you, but on Jesus. The church does not depend on your ministry, but on Jesus. The work does not stand or fall on you, but on Jesus. Be freed by that. You can only do what you can do and you only must do what Jesus has actually said you must do, not what tradition, culture or people’s general expectations (or, indeed, your own unrealistic expectations) say you must.

April 1 marked ten years of my being pastor at Oldham Bethel Church. Let’s quickly get over the fact that, yes, I started on April Fool’s Day. You can decide for yourself whether the bigger joke was played on me or by me. But ten years feels like the shortest long amount of time worth looking back and seeing what’s what. I don’t think ten years is all that long in the grand scheme of things. But it is the shortest long time that feels like a reasonable amount of time to have been in the same place, doing the same thing and that one might have learnt one or two things worth knowing over that period. So, I thought I might just share some of the things I have learnt. Some are bigger than others, some more or less significant, but they are things I know now and either didn’t know before or didn’t fully appreciate (and maybe I still don’t). But in no particular order, here are some things:
People Leave and This Is Normal
One thing that few people prepare you for before you begin your pastorate is that people will leave your church. I don’t know a single pastor that hasn’t had people leave their church. People leave for a variety of reasons, many perfectly legitimate, some perhaps less so. But even the best pastor in the world will have people leave on them both for legitimate and perfectly understandable reasons but also for less legitimate reasons and will have had fingers pointed in their direction as the fundamental reason why. People leaving is normal and is something we simply have to accept as a fact of ministry.
People Leaving Is Always Sad
The other thing about people leaving is it is always sad. If they are leaving for legitimate reasons, you will find it sad that good people, friends whom you love, are moving on. It isn’t necessarily hurtful when it happens, but it is sad nonetheless, even when it is for legitimate reasons and with every blessing from the church. Others leaving badly will make you sad because they cause so much pain, either to you personally or to the church at large. It is always sad when people leave and there is rarely much you can do to insulate yourself from it.
The Church Is Its People Who Are Its Best Resource
Indeed, the church is its people which means its people are its best resource. That doesn’t mean they are a resource to be exploited. Simply to say, the church is at its best when its resources are all working towards gospel ends. When each part of the body is freed up to serve in the particular ways in which God has gifted them to serve the church will be at its strongest.
Don’t Overestimate What You Can Do in a Year; Don’t Underestimate What You Can Do in Five
Somebody said this to me when I first started in the role and I think it has been seen to be true. There are lots of things we may want to do. Lots of things we might feel are worthwhile. But change will often happen in increments and change will often come when new folks show up and get stuck in too. It takes time to instil cultural change and it takes time to either win people to whatever needs to happen or to sift those who will not be won and feel they would be better served elsewhere. These things all take time. There is a limit to what might be achieved in a year, but over five years the change in a church can be enormous in a number of ways.
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Let’s Not Bemoan a World That Doesn’t Think the Way We Wish They Would

We need to get less cross about pagans thinking like pagans, and bemoan the fact that we are a minority group in a pagan land these days, and instead make effort to simply love and befriend a lost world in need of a Jesus they know precious little about. Being grumpy that the world isn’t thinking about Jesus at Easter, and doesn’t understand the significance of Easter for us or them, won’t bring anyone into the kingdom.

It should come as no surprise to anybody to hear that the world, generally, do not think like believers. But as unsurprising as that news should be, it doesn’t stop believers bemoaning the fact that the world doesn’t think like believers. Nor does it stop churches consistently answering apologetic questions that nobody is actually asking and/or getting irritated when the world doesn’t accept all the evidence we provide to answer a series of perceived challenges they never asked nor find particularly compelling when we do.
This is worth thinking about now as we head into Easter. Many will be holding Maundy Thursday services. Many more will hold Good Friday services. More still will hold Easter Sunday services. Across all these services, a good number of us will be thinking about making them evangelistic. Let’s use Easter as an evangelistic opportunity, let’s invite people to our services and let’s address some potential apologetic questions in our sermons.
But if we manage to get anyone into our services at all, we spend our time answering questions nobody is really asking. We focus on things like the swoon theory or the mass hallucination theory and spend our time explaining how these things are deeply unlikely and point out nobody in the academy has defended these things for well over 100 years now. But we often seem to miss that most people have never heard the swoon theory, or any other theory. Nor are they particularly interested in it. Many are quite happy to accept those theories are deeply unpersuasive. They just can’t see the relevance of them on any level. We end up answering questions nobody is really asking.
More likely, I suspect most of us will find not that many people come into our Easter services at all. Yes, yes, I know – you no doubt no somebody who was saved at an Easter service once. Read this, this and this then get back to me. But for the most part, most people aren’t really thinking about Jesus at Easter. Nor do they really care. Even if they get an invite to our Easter service, they’re not really sure why they should bother going or what it’s got to do with them. For most, Easter is nothing more than a commercially driven long weekend and an excuse to eat some chocolate eggs.
Many Christians seem annoyed by that. People should pay attention to Easter being about Jesus. They should be more interested. Well, whether that’s true or not, they aren’t and nobody is going to start thinking about Jesus, his gospel or enter the kingdom because some Christians got annoyed that they aren’t paying attention to a church calendar they have lived their lives perfectly happily up to now ignoring. We might make them think a bit about Jesus by getting grumpy about them not thinking about Jesus, but it isn’t likely to do anything positive nor move anyone one iota closer to genuine belief in Christ.
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Is That Descriptive or Prescriptive? Ackshually, It’s Both

If we recognise that every bit of scripture is both describing and prescribing something, the question is this “descriptive” or “prescriptive”? becomes unhelpful and not a little limiting. If we always answer both, we are forced to ask how do we tell which is which? It can be more helpful to reframe our original question into two, and add a third question between them, to get to the heart of the passage. The more accurate and helpful set of questions are: (1) what is this describing? (2) why is this here? and, (3) what, therefore, is this prescribing? Let me explain.

Here is a phrase-cum-question you often hear knocking about in discussions about the biblical text: is it descriptive or prescriptive? What they mean to ask by that is something like this: is this passage simply describing a thing that happened and isn’t binding on us or is it showing us something that we ought to copy and emulate? Is it merely describing an event (descriptive) or is it giving us some instruction (prescriptive)?
You are most likely to hear this descriptive/prescriptive chat when it comes to the book of Acts. But there’s plenty of Old Testament and gospel examples of the same kind of discussion. Sometimes, though people will use different words to say effectively the same thing, this question is behind any comment anyone ever makes along the lines, ‘that was just cultural’. In other words, it’s just describing the culture of the day and its practices, not binding us into doing exactly as they were doing.
Now, before I go on, it bears saying this is a legitimate question to ask. Not everything, in exactly the form it is described in the Bible, is binding on us. Just go and read the book of Judges, for example. Particularly any of the latter half. Almost nobody reckons just about any part of what is described there – in the form it happened – is stuff for us to emulate and copy today. Most of us are pretty clear it is describing what happened, not prescribing a pattern for us to follow.
Similarly, some stuff in the Bible is evidently binding on us and everybody reckons they are clear and obvious commands to follow. Turn to Matthew 5:21 or Romans 13:9 or James 2:11. It’s hard to argue that these things are merely descriptions of events that took place, not least because they aren’t describing any particular events! Nobody to my knowledge argues anything other than these are binding commands of Jesus. They are not describing any happenings, they are prescribing how we must behave as believers.
So far, so obvious, right? But what do we do with narrative passages of scripture? Most narratives don’t have any obvious binding commands in them directed at us. Whether stuff in Judges and Kings or New Testament narrative like Acts. Most of these narrative are describing events and don’t have commands from God directed to us the reader.
The problem with saying they’re prescriptive is they’re often full of mad stuff that really doesn’t seem like the sort of thing Jesus would have us do. Which of us, for example, reads 2 Samuel 11 and thinks that is just what Jesus wants his followers to do? So, we may say, these things are obviously just descriptive. But the problem here is that they are in the Bible and 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us pretty clearly all scripture is God-breathed and given to us for a reason, specifically so that we might be learn from it and be trained in righteousness. If the danger of saying narratives are prescriptive is that we might be led to prescribe all kinds of mad things, the danger of saying they’re descriptive is we think they prescribe (and therefore say) nothing at all!
But the story of the Levite cutting up his concubine and sending her body parts all over Israel is in our Bible for a reason, isn’t it? It might well not be prescribed – it isn’t something we are to emulate – but the purpose of the story surely exists to tell us something about God, his character, his people and how they ought to respond to him.
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Comfort, the Lure of an Easy Life and Taking Up Our Cross

We all have our levels of discomfort we seem willing to bear and our levels of discomfort, what we even find uncomfortable, differs from person to person and all of us, at some level, will allow that lure of an easy life to overtake. When Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him, this is precisely what I think he is calling us to put to death. For the sake of the gospel, we must die to our comfort. Those of us who won’t will end up killing the church.

I have long been convinced that one of the biggest enemies of the gospel is our own personal comfort. There are simply some lines that we seemingly are unwilling to cross. Some of our lines may differ, there are levels to which we are willing to tolerate some discomfort but even our discomfort is largely within the bounds of what we are comfortable being uncomfortable with (if that makes sense?) But if we are serious about the cause of the gospel, we are going to have to get a bit uncomfortable.
I am reminded of the missionaries who told me that there seems to be some sort of common belief that they must just be people who love snakes in their beds or civil unrest. It’s alright for them – they probably love the adventure – but it’s not really for me. Whilst I’m sure there are some who relish the adventure, I am sure many more are less enamoured with dangerous animals and less than sanitary conditions and are, instead, motivated by the belief that somebody needs to take the gospel where nobody is willing to go. They chose to be uncomfortable for the sake of Christ.
It is very similar to the kind of noise those of us in deprived communities often hear. It’s alright for people like you, but it isn’t for me. I’m never quite sure what they mean by that in my case. Not least, most who insist it’s alright for people like me because I’m more like the people here than they are usually also want to tell me how middle class my upbringing was and I definitely am. You can’t really have that both ways. But even if they have some other reason – and I know unquestionably middle class people who have gone to deprived places who have heard similar things – the line remains largely the same: that would be a level of discomfort too far for me. But, of course, because we know it isn’t the “spiritual” thing to say, we dress up our discomfort by insisting that the people who do go must just love living next door to drug addicts on council estates or serving in areas where racial tension runs high.
But of course, we have the same problem the closer to home we get too. Forget being asked to move anywhere, we hear these comments from people being asked to share the gospel in the nicer areas they have decided to live in. Churches with evangelists, or any people committed to evangelism, will often point to such people and say ‘it’s alright for you.’ I have been in middle class churches where any evangelistic endeavour or people of a more evangelistic bent are just viewed as loving being gauche, weirdos who must just love awkward conversations about Jesus or people who have no concern about whether they keep their jobs or not. It’s alright for them, but it’s not for me. It’s all a level of discomfort too far.
Then there are the lads who perhaps are a bit worried about evangelism but they’re at least willing to sit and talk with members of the church and help them grow. But meeting up for half an hour, in a lunch break, that’s a bit of a pain. Easier just to not do that. Then there are evenings out, but that’s all a hassle too. There is a level of discomfort even here that stop us from bothering engaging in discipleship and giving up almost any of our time for the sake of building the kingdom.
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The Very Worst Thing We Can do to a Person

Hypocrisy is telling other people how to live when you are unwilling to do the same things. This was what the Pharisees were doing. Hypocrisy is telling people that we are all sinners in the same boat, who all need to repent of many different things, but then making out that we have no need to repent and everyone else does. Hypocrisy is claiming we love Jesus, claiming he has changed our lives, all while living in such as way that there is zero evidence of it in practice. It is saying one thing and doing another, demanding others live in ways we are unwilling to live ourselves.

We were continuing in our sermon series in Matthew yesterday. This week, we reached Jesus’ comments about hypocrisy and the woes he pronounced against the Pharisees. You can listen to the whole message here if you are so inclined (the sermon comes at the front end of the service).
During the course of one point, I went off-piste. I was moved to suddenly go off my notes on a short detour. I can’t remember exactly what prompted it. You can probably find the section if you watch the sermon back. But I was particularly moved to speak into the very worst thing we can do to somebody. Unusually, I got a bit upset about it to be honest. Not least because it happens time and again and is a matter on which I think many UK churches need to repent and to whom the Lord will have some very stern things to say.
One of Jesus’ big concerns in Matthew 23 is that the Pharisees are leading people to Hell. Jesus says expressly that this is what they do, where they are going themselves and where those who follow them will end up too. Earlier in the gospel, Jesus has some very hard words concerning millstones around people’s necks if they cause any of his little ones to stumble. The ‘little ones’ isn’t just about children, but more broadly Jesus’ people. Stumbling in scripture does not usually mean a sinful (but repentant) lapse, but rather tends to mean falling away altogether. Jesus is saying anyone who leads people away from the kingdom – as the Pharisees teaching does – would be better off never having been born!
My sidebar (albeit a relevant one) centred on this. One of the purposes of the passage we were looking at is to help us avoid hypocrisy. To look at ourselves and ask if we really belong to the kingdom unlike the Pharisees who were hypocrites and didn’t. One of the applications drawn was the need for church discipline. As church members it is our duty to warn people if they appear to be living hypocritically and we should welcome others pointing out where we are living hypocritically so that we can repent and not remain hypocrites who find ourselves outside of the kingdom on the last day.
But so often church discipline is dismissed as ‘unkind’ or ‘unloving’. Who are you to tell me that my life does not match my profession of faith? Isn’t that the real essence of hypocrisy: telling other people how to live?
Well, in short, no it isn’t.
Hypocrisy is telling other people how to live when you are unwilling to do the same things. This was what the Pharisees were doing. Hypocrisy is telling people that we are all sinners in the same boat, who all need to repent of many different things, but then making out that we have no need to repent and everyone else does. Hypocrisy is claiming we love Jesus, claiming he has changed our lives, all while living in such as way that there is zero evidence of it in practice. It is saying one thing and doing another, demanding others live in ways we are unwilling to live ourselves.
Assuming we are not saying we are better than anybody else – we are sinners too – but this is a kingdom-disqualifying matter of sin that warrants repentance is not hypocrisy. It is not pointing at ourselves and saying how great we are, it is actively calling people back to Jesus. And (I would hope) is done out of a genuine concern for the state of a person’s soul rather than any desire to make ourselves out to be superior to them.
But I think churches very often do not want to engage in meaningful church discipline of this sort. And, I’ll be frank, I get it. Who wants to have awkward conversations with people about their lifestyle choices, their unrepentant behaviour and evident sin in their lives? It is difficult and unpleasant, not just for the person hearing it, but for the person having to bring it up. The only people who relish those sorts of conversations are psychopaths! Most of us, if we are honest, want a quiet life and are only too conscious talking to people about their sin and calling them to repent of specific matters is absolutely not the way to get it.
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Don’t Turn Your Faith Into a Work

Let’s not turn faith into a work but glory in the grace of God. Let us delight in the fact that it is all grounded in him, his sovereign choice, his willingness to submit to death on our behalf so that we – with no grounds for boasting in us as a result – might be saved. Making faith a work robs God of glory that should rightly and only belong to him.

It is straightforwardly true, according to scripture, that we have been saved by grace. Faith is the product of God’s grace towards us. Faith is the only mechanism God could use to save us by grace because it is the only means that doesn’t require any outward activity whatsoever. It seems obvious enough that faith cannot be a work.
Yet, that is precisely what some of us want to make it. We want to believe that we welled up within ourselves the ability to put our own faith, of our own volition, in Christ. The moment we believe this, we have made our faith a work. Let’s just look at Ephesians 2:1-10 to see how it is so.
you were dead in your trespasses and sins 2 in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit now working in the disobedient.[a] 3 We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us,[b] 5 made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! 6 He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— 9 not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.
Paul is at pains to point out our deadness in trespasses and sins. As has often been pointed out, dead people don’t will anything. They don’t do anything and they don’t believe anything. They are dead. Paul, in the first three verses, impresses upon us our deadness that was evidenced by disobedience. However, v4 marks a turning point. He notes that God takes the initiative and makes us alive with Christ ‘even though we were dead in trespasses.’ Our deadness meant God had to take the initiative. It is this, Paul says in v5, means ‘you are saved by grace’.
Paul picks up this idea again in v8.
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Singing in Church and Enjoying God’s Commands

By and large, I’m not a big one for the singing. It is an element of church I do, and I engage with, because I love Jesus, I want to obey him and I want to serve others and prefer their needs. And I think that is far more important than whether I enjoy them on a personal level myself.

My wife and I were chatting about singing in church the other day. We had recently been somewhere where the singing was particularly good. Everything was sung with gusto and the room was full of people really belting out the hymns. She absolutely loved it. Whilst I was glad to hear people singing up, and it was nice enough, I wasn’t nearly so moved by it.
The truth is, I’m just not that fussed by hymns. There I said it. Of course, it is absolutely right for us to sing in church. It is right because scripture tells us to do exactly that. It is also absolutely true that some people love hymns and singing in church, they find it a really key way they engage with the Word. And that is absolutely great. But we aren’t all built that way, and that’s okay I think.
The reason I share this isn’t to say how great it is that I don’t tend to love singing in church. I don’t think it is something to aspire to. I wish I liked it more if I’m honest. But it is a prime example of something I do in church, essentially, because scripture tells me to do it not because I love it.
Now, you can – if you are so minded – consider that a defect in me. I don’t absolutely love something the Bible tells me to do. The issue is surely mine.
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Cremation or Burial: Why I’m Not Convinced It Matters Nearly as Much as Some Think

In the end, the bottom line here is this: if the Lord was especially concerned about this I am confident he would have given us a clear and definite instruction somewhere in his Word. That he hasn’t tells me we are likely to be making a bigger deal out of the means than God does, which rarely seems like a good idea to me.

Discussions among Christians about cremation or burial are nothing new. There have long been discussions about these things floating around. But I saw a Gospel Coalition article on this yesterday that argued for “Christian burial”, not as a command, but as a preferred practice. You can read the case made in the post here if you like. I have never been fully convinced by these arguments.
First, let’s start with what we all agree to be true. Indeed, a true point that is often quickly overlooked as the definitive point that I think it might be. Namely, burial is nowhere commanded in scripture. There simply is no command nor instruction for burial to be the preferred method of bodily disposal. Whatever else we make of that, we have to accept there is no biblical instruction here so we are not dealing with a sin issue regarding whether we bury or cremate.
One might argue against that, in the face of no specific command, we still want to look to God’s original design. Something akin to what Jesus does with the Pharisees concerning his teaching on divorce. But we can’t do this in relation to burial and cremation because God’s original design did not include death. We can’t go back to the original blueprint in that way to determine what God would have us do in the world in which we now live. The practice of burial or cremation is a necessary consequence of God’s design being broken.
Some would then argue, in the face of no expressed command and no original design to guide us, we can look to biblical example. Here we might have more joy; it is certainly true that the prevailing practice in scripture is burial. However, when we look at the reason for the first burial in scripture, it has nothing to do with the rightness or appropriateness of burial itself. Interestingly, death occurs and is specifically mentioned a number of times prior to the first burial but there is no mention between Adam and Abraham concerning how those particular bodies were disposed. We’re just told people died.
The first burial we read about comes in Genesis 23 when Abraham buries his wife Sarah. But the particular concern of the passage isn’t primarily to do with the importance of burial. It is to do with Abraham gaining and owning a stake in the land for him and his descendants. It is interesting (though in no way conclusive) that burial simply is not mentioned before this point and in this particular case is very much linked to issues to do with inheritance in the land itself. The later instances of burial in Genesis are similarly concerned with this same issue.
If that is true in Genesis, it may well make more sense to view later comments about burial in the same vein. So, for example, in Numbers 20:1 in which Miriam is buried in the wilderness of Zin, the point seems less concerned about the mode of bodily disposal as the geographical location in which she was buried. The point seems to be less that Miriam was buried as part of a repeated example-cum-instruction for God’s people and more to do with the fact that the wilderness generation have no stake in the land. They not only fail to enter it, but fail to even be buried in it like their forefathers. The same is true of Moses in Deuteronomy 34:6.
This point is even more pronounced and clear in Joshua 23:32, in which Joseph’s bones – which were already buried in Egypt – are moved to Israel. The concern is not the means of disposal and very particularly about where the body is laid to rest. The emphasis is on being buried in the land and being associated with the Patriarchs and the land God had given them, even to the point of moving already buried people. This is precisely the point made of David’s burial in 1 Kings 2:10 where the emphasis is on being buried “with his ancestors… in the City of David.” The only break from this apparent pattern is the burial of Elisha in 2 Kings 13. Nothing is particularly said about it other than ‘he died and was buried’ but the purpose for its inclusion becomes clear in the next couple of verses that describe a miraculous event surrounding the body of Elisha. The burial itself is not deemed significant and is only mentioned because of the miracle that followed.
If that contention is correct and burial was to do with association with the land itself – and I think that is clear in most the examples we read and explicitly clear when Joseph’s post-interment body is moved from Egypt to Israel for this reason – we surely have to question the assumption that this is a pattern for Christian burial rather than a pattern concerning the land of Israel and its people. To put it another way, if my contention about burial and the land is correct, does that make any difference to us when we consider the New Covenant people of God who are from every tribe, tongue and nation and not connected to the physical land of Israel in the same way?
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Why Did Jesus have to be Fully God?

Scripture is clear throughout, God will save his people himself. God will work salvation and he will get all the glory for it. If Jesus is only a man, we have a created being stealing the glory that rightly and properly belongs only to God. But if Jesus is fully God, and the Bible says he is, then God is the one who works salvation and all glory remains firmly with him.

Yesterday, I said this about the Incarnation:
At the incarnation we see God become man. Jesus Christ, the second person of the trinity, took upon himself human flesh. In doing so, he didn’t cease to be fully God nor did he become something more than man (either a demi-God or a super-human). Jesus became the God-Man; fully human and yet fully God with two separate natures united in one person.
I didn’t spend any time showing where such beliefs come from in the scriptures. I am simply assuming here that you know the scriptures teach these things. What I am more interested in doing here is thinking about why it matters. Yesterday, we considered why Jesus had to be fully human so, today, we will think about why it was necessary for him to be fully God.
To Bear the Weight of Sin
If Jesus was merely human, even if he somehow managed to live a perfect human life as a second Adam, though he might be classed a sinless, spotless representative, he would not be able to bear the full weight of sin. As a mere man, Jesus would only be able to pay for sin in the same way as any other human being; namely, finitely. That represents something of a problem when we are faced with the infinite offence of sin against an infinitely holy God.
For sin to be paid for in full, it had to be paid for in a person with an infinite nature. That is to say, only God himself could take upon himself the full weight of sin and have any hope of being able to say, ‘it is finished!’ For full satisfaction, for the penalty of sin to be paid in full, required an infinite nature. If God himself did not take the punishment of sin upon himself, the price could not be paid and our sin would remain unatoned for.
To be a Suitable Mediator
1 Tim 2:5 tells us ‘there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.’ Yesterday, we saw how Hebrews demanded a human mediator who is just like us so they could adequately represent us. But that cuts both ways! Whilst we need a mediator acceptable to us, God needs a mediator acceptable to him.
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Why did Jesus have to be Fully Human?

If Jesus is not fully human, his resurrection provides no real hope for humanity. But if God has raised the man Christ Jesus – the new and better Adam (which literally means man) – who has been faithful on our behalf as our representative, then the claim to a future hope of resurrection suddenly has power. God did not simply raise God because God cannot die and God could raise himself from the dead. Rather, he raised the man Christ Jesus who – being just like us and functioning as the substitutionary representative for humanity.

At the incarnation we see God become man. Jesus Christ, the second person of the trinity, took upon himself human flesh. In doing so, he didn’t cease to be fully God nor did he become something more than man (either a demi-God or a super-human). Jesus became the God-Man; fully human and yet fully God with two separate natures united in one person.
If you think that sounds weird, that fact isn’t lost on Christians. Jim Packer said, ‘Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the incarnation.’ He goes on, ‘This is the real stumbling block in Christianity. It is here that Jews, Muslims, Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and many of those who feel the difficulties concerning the virgin birth, the miracles, the atonement, and the resurrection have come to grief.’ But it is, he insists, ‘in itself an unfathomable mystery, but it makes sense of everything else that the New Testament contains.’
I am not going to spend any time today defending the Incarnation. I am simply going to assume it as the evident teaching of scripture. Jesus Christ is, according to the Bible, both fully God and fully man. What I want to do here is dig into why that in any way matters. Today, I will focus on his humanity and tomorrow his divinity. So, why is Jesus’ full humanity so important?
A Suitable Representative
Way back in Eden, Adam – the first man – served as the representative for all humanity. As our federal head, Adam’s sin meant we all sinned and Adam’s guilt is imputed to us and becomes our guilt. Much of the rest of the Old Testament is concerned with trying to find a second Adam who would obey God and become the faithful covenant partner through whom God could save his people. If all were guilty in Adam, we need a representative through whom all could be made righteous. Though many potential second Adams rise up but ultimately fail, the Bible is clear that Jesus is sent by God as this faithful representative. As such, Jesus had to be a man – made just like us – so that he could be an appropriate and adequate representative for the human race.
To be a Substitutionary Sacrifice
The Bible is very clear that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin (Lev 17:11 cf. Heb 9:22).
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