Early in the Savior’s ministry he sailed with his disciples across the Sea of Galilee. As the Master rested and slept, a violent storm broke suddenly about them. The small vessel floundered as waves swept over the sides. Despite the sailing expertise of some of the disciples, they feared for their lives, awakened the Master, and pleaded for help. He arose and rebuked the wind and the sea, and there was a great calm.
Marveling at such power, his followers wondered, “What manner of man is this?”
Nearly 20 centuries later, we still ask the same question. But through the pages of scripture, we have come to know Jesus as a warm human being, one who understands the pressures we are subject to because he fully experienced our humanity.
He was “… touched with the feeling of our infirmities … [and] in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15.)
Despite the teachings of the scriptures, feelings about Christ’s identity have varied widely. To the pagan world of the first century, he was not man at all, but a god temporarily disguised as man. More recently—especially in our times—humanism has not seen him as God at all, but as a great teacher, a leader but not a Savior. These two heresies deny the essential nature of Christ.
We of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints witness to both the humanity and the divinity of Jesus; he is the literal, Only Begotten Son of God in the flesh. The nature of Christ is like a coat woven in two colors—the threads of neither color can be removed without destroying the whole garment. But here we will focus most particularly on those qualities where Jesus was, during his mortal ministry, “like as we are.”
One of the Master’s most admirable qualities was his spontaneous joy and his ability to inspire others to experience joy and faith. After telling his disciples to love one another, Jesus explained:
“These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” (John 15:11.) And in his great prayer to his Father, Jesus summed up his whole ministry in one precious phrase: “… These things I speak in the world that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” (John 17:13.)
On another occasion, Jesus “rejoiced in the spirit” over the return of the Seventy who reported “with joy” the great success of their mission. Although he fully shared their joy, he warned them not to rejoice because they had power to cast out Satan but to rejoice that their names were “written in heaven.” (Luke 10:17–21.)
Jesus expressed another aspect of joy when the apostles began to feel the ominous approach of the Master’s death. He told them that after the sorrow passed, “… I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.” (John 16:22.)
Jesus likened his suffering to a woman in childbirth who, as soon as she is delivered of the child, forgets the pain “for joy that a man is born into the world.” (John 16:21.) How true it is that pleasure may be had for a coin, but the price of joy is pain.
Another human characteristic Jesus had to an extraordinary degree was his great faith in people. Sending out the Seventy demonstrated his faith in ordinary men, and he continually fostered and encouraged faith among his disciples. Stories of his praising people for faith to be healed are recorded in Matt. 9:22; Matt. 15:28; Mark 10:52; Luke 7:50; Luke 17:19.
When Martha scolded Mary for listening to Jesus instead of helping with the dinner, Jesus’ mild rebuke apparently worked wonders in Martha’s spiritual growth. When we meet these sisters again on the occasion of their brother’s death, Martha is the spiritual heroine because of her faith. She meets Jesus in the road and says:
“Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.” (John 11:21–22.)
It seems that Martha’s faith, encouraged by Jesus, preceded the miracle of Lazarus’ restoration to life.
One of the most important ways Jesus showed his humanity was his need for prayer. Time after time, Jesus withdrew himself from the constant clamor of the multitudes to seek refreshment in the solace of solitary prayer. He began his ministry with 40 days of fasting and prayer in the harsh wilderness of Judea; and the last words he spoke in mortality were addressed to his Father: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46.)
As he taught his disciples to pray, we have confidence that he was himself the example that they were to follow, and that the instructions he gave were drawn from his own prayers.
“When ye pray, use not vain repetition. …” (Matt. 6:7.)
“Enter thy closet, and … pray to thy Father … in secret; and thy Father … shall reward thee openly.” (Matt. 6:6.)
“Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt. 26:41.)
“Forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father … may forgive you.” (Mark 11:25.)
“Men ought always to pray, and not to faint [or quit].” (Luke 18:1.)
And, perhaps most significantly, “Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24.)
However, the one area where we identify with Jesus more than in any other is in our common need to love and to be loved. Here again, both by example and by his many teachings on the subject, we see that the heart of his message is love for God and for man, the one nonexistent without the other, both of them exemplified in his life.
“If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15.) Jesus, who obeyed his Father’s will, even to be crucified, thereby showed his perfect love.
He counseled from his own experiences, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you. … That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven. … Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:44–45, 48.)
Therefore is a key word in the above scripture, a summary suggesting an antecedent. What is the antecedent? If we study those verses carefully, we clearly see that love, even loving our enemies, is the road to perfection. Christ demonstrated this quality in his compassionate concern for all men, even to forgiving the men who crucified him.
Love, for Jesus, was a dynamic force, a major factor in conversion, as just one example illustrates. Peter had followed Jesus for three years, bearing testimony to his divinity at a time when many disciples fell away. He faltered and denied Christ, but love still fathers the best harvest of souls. The Savior knew this when he asked Peter, “Lovest thou me?” (John 21:17.)
Although it grieved Peter to be posed this question three times, Jesus knew that if Peter really loved him, he would be converted and have the strength to convert others.
There is no place where Jesus proved his humanity more than in his passion and death. He stood as a man before Pilate, the finest example of manhood God ever put on earth. In the final hours of his life he had time to provide for his mother, to give comfort and assurance to a dying thief, and to ask God to forgive those who were tormenting him.
One of his antagonists said: “He saved others; himself he cannot save.” (Matt. 27:42.) And never were words more truly spoken. No man can spare himself and save others. Jesus said, “He that findeth [or keeps] his life [for himself] shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matt. 10:39.)
The great redemption is of such importance to the human family that every thought and act of every human mortal who has ever lived upon this earth in past ages, those now living, and those yet to come to earth are involved. The height and depth of what Christ has done for us in his atonement are fully known only to God. If we can understand the plan of salvation taught to us by God’s prophets, that is all we need to know, and it is the most important of all human knowledge.
Without his humanity and divinity our Savior’s great redemption could never have come to pass. How very grateful we should be for having been brought out of darkness into the wonderful light of his love and forgiveness and having been given the promise of eternal life.
By our obedience to his commandments, every power, every perfection, and every joy that God has will be given unto us.
The Lord has promised: “And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father;
“And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.” (D&C 84:37–38.)