My wife and I sat our four-year-old daughter down between us and read from the journal we created titled, “Stef’s Life.” It contained memorable happenings from her first two years. A diary of sorts. We loved to review it together.
Event #1: We had a distinguished visitor for Sabbath lunch today from the General Conference. After he left, we took you aside and said, “Stef, you should not have passed gas in front of Mr. ___________.” You replied, “I didn’t do it in front of him. I was standing right beside him.”
Event #2: After visiting Santa at the local Mall, we took you out for pizza. Coincidently, we had been studying the Old Testament ark and flood from Your Bible Story books. While we were waiting to be served, you walked from table to table telling people, “I just saw Noah!”
Event #3: Mom took you to Cradle Roll Sabbath School at church. The teacher asked the children if anyone had a dog. Your hand shot up. She came over and inquired, “So what’s your doggy’s name?” You replied, “My daddy calls him “D_ _ _ Dog, but I call him Tinker.”
I can easily imagine a similar scene in Nazareth with four-year-old Jesus sitting between Mary and Joseph as they recount happenings from His earliest days.
“You were born in the strangest of places… a barn surrounded by sheep and cows and chickens and donkeys. They formed a very unusual welcoming committee.
Jesus chuckles at the thought.
Joseph adds, “The next night, some shepherds walked right into that old, creaky, leaky, barn and said they’d been looking everywhere for our little family. Isn’t that amazing? Out of all those thousands of pilgrims in Bethlehem. They told us that they had just seen a huge choir of angels, singing way up in the sky, as high as the clouds. Hundreds of them. They were singing about (he pokes Jesus on the shoulder) You. So You must be very special. Don’t you think?”
Mary looks at Joseph and says, “Please get those three boxes on the shelf.” She holds the first one in front of Jesus. He reaches out and runs His little fingers over it. “This blue, inlaid box held the pieces of gold that the men from the East gave us. We had to sell all the gold in Egypt for food and shelter. This fancy six-sided box with the paintings of birds still smells a little like the Frankincense that was inside. And then this box for the Myrrh. We had to sell all that incense and oil for our journey back home and to get your father’s carpenter shop going again. Here, smell inside for yourself.” Jesus leans forward and sniffs, then smiles.
And more stories tumble out over time and are repeated. The angel appearing to Mary. Joseph’s dreams. The blessing of Simeon and Anna at the temple. The wisemen from the East. Zacharias’ inability to speak.
As Jesus grew, I can’t help but wonder how Mary and Joseph told Him about being “born of a virgin.” No one ever had to explain such a thing to their child before or since. The standard “birds and bees” analogy did not apply. Christ’s parents must have pondered long and hard about how to explain the unexplainable.
“You see Son, babies are usually made when… But that’s not what happened with You…”
I can hear Christ eventually replying, “So let me see if I’ve got this straight…”
Then, at age twelve, came the momentous, life-altering visit to Jerusalem during Passover. A fifth or sixth grader in today’s terms, Jesus navigates the immense crowds, making a beeline for the Harvard Divinity School of His day. He runs past offices and classrooms to the largest lecture hall where several distinguished professors have made themselves available. People are pouring in. Luckily, the Savior finds a seat in the front row.
Christ raises His hand often, asking provocative questions that leave the old men stroking their coiffured beards and mumbling among themselves.
At night, Christ and His family head back to their tent on the hillside, carefully stepping along temporary planks across the Kidron River now swollen to several times its normal size with the continuous flow of blood that drains from the hectic Temple altar. Lying awake at night, wondering, puzzling it all out into the wee hours.
The next day, on His way back to the lecture hall, the precocious pre-teen looks out across vast flocks of sheep that stretch into the horizon. Countless thousands. He sees them being led, one by one, to slaughter. Over and over and over again. All day, every day, the killing. New insights immerge. Painful possibilities begin to stir.
At the end of their stay, Christ is so completely absorbed in thought and conversation with the elders that he forgets to go home. He is focused like a laser on His Father’s business and His unexpectedly central role.
How did the fullness of Jesus’ self-understanding develop? How do you discover that you are God? No maps exist for such a fantastic journey within the human family. I cannot imagine that the full answer to the question “Who am I?” came to Him with suddenness and clarity. Most likely bit by challenging bit.
There were so many mental hurdles for Jesus to overcome regarding His place in the world. All His life He had been taught to say the Shema, “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is ONE” (Dt 6:4). How could there now be Two? His close examination of the Old Testament actually indicates Three. Clearly impossible.
At some point, after putting all of His parents’ stories and all the evidence from scripture together, Jesus comes to the astounding, very personal, conclusion, “I am GOD!!”
Did He think, “Who can I tell? They’ll think I’m crazy.” Did He confide in His mother? Certainly not His brothers or the priests. How do you keep making furniture and taking out the garbage when you know that you are God?
I try to imagine how I would react if my very best friend from childhood, Charlie, came to me and whispered, “I can’t sleep at night. I have this growing conviction that I just can’t shake.”
“What is it Charlie?”
“Well… I… I think… I think I’m… God.”
“Ya. Great. And I’m Superman.”
Comprehending the mystery of the incarnation had to have been an obsession for Jesus. He experienced the most complex, wrenching search for identity of any human who ever lived. It is certainly much more than a quantum leap to go from “I’m special and unique” to “I’m God. I created everything. I created those mountains over there, those animals, humankind, earth, the oceans, the moon, the sun! I must have all power and all knowledge somewhere deep inside me.”
How did He avoid testing such an outlandish proposition prior to His public ministry, just to be sure? Why not try to work some little miracle out in nature as confirmation where no one else could see? Levitate a stone? Create a handful of juicy figs? He somehow knew not to engage in such a misuse of His creative energy, not even as a comeback when others treated Him like dirt.
Whenever it was that Jesus finally came to the firm, unshakable conclusion that He was, in fact, divine, it could not have been entirely good news for Him as a human, not at all. I suspect that a big part of Him was absolutely horrified.
Contrary to popular thought, being God was the greatest problem, the greatest burden, of Jesus’ life. As the Savior walked this earth, divinity was actually a tremendous liability.
Ellen White shares this rather startling insight:
“It was a difficult task for the Prince of life to carry out the plan which He had undertaken for the salvation of man, in clothing His divinity with humanity. He had received honor in the heavenly courts, and was familiar with absolute power. It was as difficult for Him to keep the level of humanity as for men to rise above the low level of their depraved nature, and be partakers of the divine nature.
I don’t know about you, but rising above the low level of my depraved nature is the central struggle of my life.
Unlike me, Christ struggled with immense inner forces and was faced with infinitely greater consequences. He eventually came to understand that there was enough power within Himself to create an entirely new universe! Far from being locked away in some inner mental vault with a complex combination, it was always just under the surface, as near and accessible as a single thought.
Avoiding any misuse of that titanic divine ability was an enormous challenge. Ellen White indicates that it took “the strength of all His faculties” to hold back.
The Devil knew all about the Savior’s inner struggle with His dual nature and exploited it to the full.
I think of Satan’s temptation in the Wilderness for Christ to turn stones into bread. That would be no temptation at all for me. I’m quite sure there’s no divinity inside.
But of course, Christ could do it. He could make a billion loaves at the snap of a finger. Problem is, if He misused His divine power just once, just one single time, the entire plan of salvation would have failed. The entire human race would die forever and the universe would be thrown into utter chaos. All from a single loaf of rye. No pressure.
The author of the book of Hebrews describes the Savior’s inner turmoil as He wrestled with the forces of evil,
“For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:18 NKJV).
F.F. Bruce comments, “He endured keen trials and temptations Himself, not only the trials incidental to our human lot, but those… temptations that attended His Messianic calling.”
The book of Hebrews adds,
“Who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death” (Hebrews 5:7-8 NKJV).
The ever-present possibility of taking the easier way out added an enormous weight to the struggle.
Of course, the worst temptation to use His divine power, by far, came at the cross. Satan spoke through bystanders who did his bidding and shouted, “Come down from the cross and we’ll believe in you! If you truly are the Son of God, free yourself. Jump down here Mr. Messiah and we’ll give you a raucous ovation. It’s not that far really!”
Satan hoped that such insult and sufferings would call forth from the Son of God some complaint or murmur; or that he would manifest His divine power and wrench himself from the grasp of the multitude, and thus the plan of salvation at last fail.
Enduring suffering courageously when you can’t do anything to stop it is one thing. To endure excruciating physical and spiritual torture knowing you have the power to stop it whenever you choose is quite another. That is, without doubt, exponentially more difficult.
It took every fiber of Jesus’ being to stay put on the cross and endure it all. It was a moment by moment mental affirmation to go on. The nails had nothing to do with it.
His severed nerves shot waves of hot, searing voltage along His arms and up His legs, but He refused to budge.
His torso convulsed so hard His wrists almost pulled through the nails, but He stubbornly remained.
His mind nearly shut down from shock when the Father seemed to leave Him forever, but somehow, some way, Christ persisted.
He remained right there, cemented in place by love, until all was finished and He had exhaled for the final time on that fearsome wooden altar.
Notes & References:
 EG White, Desire of Ages (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1940) 72
 EG White, Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 7 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1957) 930.
 EG White, “The Temptation of Christ,” The Review and Herald, April 1, 1875.
 EG White, Spiritual Gifts Vol. 1, p. 49.
Kim Allan Johnson retired in 2014 as the Undertreasurer of the Florida Conference. He and his wife Ann live in Maitland, Florida. Kim has written a number of articles for SDA journals plus three books published by Pacific Press: The Gift, The Morning, and The Team. He has also written three sets of small group lessons for churches that can be viewed at www.transformyourchurch.com (this website is run by the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists). He is also the author of eight "Life Guides" on CREATION Health.
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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10689