While I was in Paris last spring I had the pleasure of visiting the Musée d’Orsay to see a few exhibitions, including a retrospective of the work of Gustave Doré. One of the biggest pieces in the collection they were showing was his extravagant oil painting; Christ leaving the Praetorium. There, in the centre of the canvas, is a figure draped in the purest white; a halo offers a luminescent glow around a crown of thorns that seems to have barely left a scratch on the perfect hair it sits upon.
The label may have said it was a painting of Christ but the protagonist was not the Jesus I know.
Art has, through the ages, striven to capture with mortal brush-strokes the essence of the divine. It’s often as if, in the pursuit of capturing the fact that this man was God, artists have missed a crucial point; God became a man.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
– Philippians 2:5-7 (ESV)
The bible presents us with a Christ that is fully God and fully man. A God who, as Paul describes it, ’emptied himself’ to become like us. This is known as the incarnation.
It can be a challenge to get your head round but the incarnation means that Jesus was not a mixture of God and man, in the Greek tradition of the demi-god, rather He was one hundred percent God and also one hundred percent man.
This is why we have a God who not only has great power but also unsearchable understanding; a God who knows what it is to face the problems and challenges of humanity. He came to be with us, to be like us, to serve us, but ultimately? He came to save us and bring us back into relationship with the Father.
When Christ left the Praetorium He was bloodied, bruised, and tortured and there is the power of the Easter story. That is the cost of His love for us. Because of His great love for us He endured the agonies of the cross, and the far greater agony of feeling separation from the father. It’s because of what He went through that our sins are forgiven, we have peace and we are healed.
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
– Isaiah 53:5-6 (ESV)
If we believe in a Jesus who floated through life on a cloud of angels, who did not feel the depth of the torture that He was subjected too, then how can we really understand that He has taken our punishment? That the wounds laid upon Him were to spare us? That our life comes at the expense of His death? How can we understand and appreciate the cost of our freedom?
The Jesus I know is not the glowing figure from Doré’s painting but the hero who, though fully God, was willing to become fully man so that He could sort out my mess. Who willingly submitted to the most brutal torture and execution methods that humans could imagine, so that we could live as God originally intended – in relationship with Him.
Christ’s humanity is at the very heart of the Passion; His willingness to empty himself out for us is what brings us into the family. Through His death we can live.
That is the Jesus I believe in, the Jesus who wants to forgive your sins and unite you with the love of God.