There are two categories of reason why Jesus’ incarnation is a source of great comfort. The first is that, in the incarnation, Jesus is like us. The second is that, in the incarnation, Jesus is unlike us.
How Jesus Is Like Us
As the man Jesus Christ, the second member of the Trinity has lovingly and humbly identified with the frailty of our humanity by enduring temptation, distress, weakness, pain, and sorrow. He did so by coming as our priest.
In the Old Testament, the priest would humbly stand between God and people as a mediator of sorts. He would bring the hopes, dreams, fears, and sins of the people before God as their advocate and intercessor. He would hear their confession of sin and pray for them.
Furthermore, offering sacrifices was central to His role, to show that sin was very real and deserved death, while asking God for gracious forgiveness. Then He would speak God’s blessing on the people. All the functions of the priest are ultimately fulfilled in Jesus.
The book of the Bible that deals most thoroughly with the priestly role of Jesus is Hebrews. In Hebrews, we are told that Jesus is our “high priest.” [FOOTNOTE: Heb. 3:1; 4:14.] As our priest, Jesus has offered a sacrifice to pay the penalty for our sin. Not only is Jesus a priest superior to the Old Testament priests, but His sacrifice is also superior to theirs—He gave his own life and shed His own blood for our sin. [FOOTNOTE: Heb. 9:26.]
Hebrews reveals that Jesus’ ministry as our priest did not end with His return to heaven. Rather, Jesus is alive today and ministers to us as our high priest who intercedes for us before God the Father. [FOOTNOTE: Heb. 7:25.] Practically, this means that Jesus actually knows us, loves us, pays attention to our lives, and cares for us. At this very moment, Jesus is bringing Christians’ hurts, suffering, needs, and sins to the Father in a prayerful and loving way as our priest.
Jesus’ priestly intercession makes both our prayer and worship possible. We pray and worship the Father through Jesus our priest by the indwelling power of God the Holy Spirit, who has made our bodies the new temples in which He lives on the earth.
When we understand Jesus as our priest, we are able to know that He loves us affectionately, tenderly, and personally. Furthermore, Jesus’ desire for us is nothing but good, and His ministry results in nothing less than life-changing intimacy with God the Father. Jesus makes new life and obedience possible by His loving, compassionate, and patient service to us as a faithful priest.
In his role as priest, Jesus is different from all other man-made religions and their false portraits of God. Virtually every religion sees God in a harsh way. Jesus is the only God who gets off His throne to humbly serve us and give us grace and mercy.
Perhaps the most insightful text of Scripture on the importance of the priestly ministry of Jesus is Hebrews 4:15–16, which says:
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Thus, Jesus is sympathetic to our temptations, weakness, suffering, sickness, disappointment, pain, confusion, loneliness, betrayal, brokenness, mourning, and sadness. Jesus does not refrain from entering our sick, fallen, and crooked world. Instead, He humbly came into this world to feel what we feel and face what we face while remaining sinless. Subsequently, Jesus can both sympathize with and deliver us. Practically, this means that in our time of need, we can run to Jesus our sympathetic priest who lives to serve us and give us grace and mercy for anything that life brings.
How Jesus Is Unlike Us
In addition to being fully God, a primary way in which Jesus is unlike us is that he alone is without sin. [FOOTNOTE: 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 9:14; 1 Pet. 2:22, 1 John 3:5.] While the Bible is clear that Jesus never sinned, the question of whether He had a sin nature as we do has been a point of historical division between various Christian traditions.
The Eastern church says yes. They focus on Romans 8:3 (that the Father sent his own Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin”), Hebrews 2:17 (Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect), and Hebrews 4:15 (which says he was one “who in every respect has been tempted as we are”). They then argue that this could not be if Jesus did not have any of the sinful thoughts or desires like the ones we wrestle with all the time. It is then argued that, although Jesus had a sin nature, He overcame it and showed us the perfect obedience that we can follow to live holy lives. The Western church says no. They focus on Hebrews 7:26–27: We “have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins.” It is argued that if Jesus had a sin nature, He could not fit this description. Furthermore, if He had sinful character, then He would be a sinner.
We are inclined to agree with the Western church and see the “likeness of sinful flesh” in Romans as a point of similarity rather than a point of character whereby Jesus had a sin nature. Subsequently, as the “last Adam” [FOOTNOTE: 1 Cor. 15:45.] Jesus was like the first Adam prior to the fall—without a sin nature—and therefore had a completely free will to choose obedience out of love for God the Father.
Because Jesus is like us in that He was tempted, yet unlike us in that he never did sin, He can help us when we are tempted and show us how to escape sinful situations.
Hebrews 2:17–18 says:
“Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
In conclusion, Jesus alone can mediate between God and us because He alone is fully God and fully man and thereby able to perfectly represent both God and man. Regarding the vital importance of both Jesus’ humanity and divinity, theologian Jonathan Edwards says:
“First, I would consider Christ’s taking upon him our nature to put himself in a capacity to purchase redemption for us. This was absolutely necessary, for though Christ, as God, was infinitely sufficient for the work, yet to his being in an immediate capacity for it, it was needful that he should not only be God, but man. If Christ had remained only in the divine nature, he could not have purchased our salvation; not from any imperfection of the divine nature, but by reason of its absolute and infinite perfection; for Christ, merely as God, was not capable either of obedience or suffering.” [ENDNOTE #1]
In other words, to redeem man, Christ first had to become a man. This is precisely what the Bible teaches: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” [FOOTNOTE: 1 Tim. 2:5.] This verse reveals the threefold reasoning as to why Jesus’ incarnation is of such great comfort. (1) There is one God for all peoples, times, and places. (2) There is one mediator between sinful humanity and the one sinless God. This mediator remedies the sin problem that divides people and God so that there can be salvation and reconciliation. (3) Christ Jesus alone can mediate between God and man because he alone is the God-man.
- Jonathan Edwards, History of Redemption (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1793), 312.