Recently during a devotional time, I was meditating on the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and during this time I was overwhelmed by my beauty in Jesus Christ. Perhaps this sounds like a strange thing to say. It’s common for Christians to emphasize how wretched, awful, and ugly people can be (some traditions take this further than others)—and I think it is important to spend time reflecting on the darkness and evil that exists within each of us. Part of God’s purposes with Israel was to make human sin fully known, as Paul says in Romans 7:13, “In order that sin might be recognized as sin, it [the Law/Torah] used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.” But, whatever else he did, Jesus Christ also came to show us just how beautiful we really are.
It is not unusual to hear Jesus described as “true humanity” or being “truly human.” (I think I first came across something like this from N. T. Wright, one of my favorite Biblical scholars and one of my inspirations for choosing to pursue theology and Biblical scholarship in seminary.) I think this language expresses a concept found in the Bible. It’s what I think Paul is alluding to when he calls Jesus Christ the “final Adam” in 1 Corinthians 15:45, or when he says in Romans 5:19, “just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” It is what I think Christians mean when they say that Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life or that he kept Torah perfectly. I think this concept is also evident in some of the early Christian theologians, for example Irenaeus with his concept of “recapitulation,” by which he means that Jesus “redid” human life and succeeded in every place that we failed. Jesus redeemed what Adam destroyed.
What calling Jesus “truly human” means then is that Jesus is the one who lived a human life the right way—upholding justice, compassion, truth, beauty, love, humility perfectly all the way through. He is what we are meant to be.
So, what does this mean? If I can be forgiven for using Platonic language, in Jesus was the true and perfect form of human beauty, goodness, and truth. It is not just that Jesus himself was beautiful, good, and true. Rather, these qualities as they relate to all people—you, me, and everyone else—are found in Jesus Christ. When we look at Jesus Christ, we all see our own beauty in him.
I was overwhelmed the other day during my devotional time because I realized what a wonderful gift this is. As Paul says in Philippians 2, the eternal Word of God gave up the status of utter transcendence, glory, and eternal happiness in order to become the least of all and therefore the servant of all—even to the point of dying.
The Word took on human flesh—skin and bones and a limited human mind, tiredness, hunger, pain—so that each of us could see our own beauty in him. Jesus lived and died to show you how beautiful God made you—and not only that! He lived and died to perfect you in your beauty! You are so beautiful in God’s eyes that God gave up everything to show you so and to bring you into the fullness of your beauty. His love is no less than that. Can you believe it?
Many years ago, when I first became a Christian, I remember being afraid. The Bible talks a lot about “losing” and “denying” yourself. I was afraid of this because I didn’t know who I would be without myself. What really could I even be without that—myself? I wasn’t sure I’d be anything at all. Maybe that thought has never crossed your mind, but for me it was really scary.
Little did I know that losing myself really meant finding myself—or, rather, that Jesus Christ had found for me a greater self than any I could have every imagined.
A short prayer: Thank you Jesus for everything you gave up and suffered to show me my own beauty. Thank you for your compassion and patience in guiding me into the fullness of the beauty you saw in me. Please use me to help others find their own beauty in you. Amen.