I am writing this on the first day of Holy Week, when the Christian world celebrates the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. For me, it is an appropriate time and reason to return to a long-forsaken commitment, the exploration of Christ-like masculinity, which I began to discuss in a blog published in July of 2019. So, in the spirit of repentance, my next several blogs will focus on “Christ-like Masculinity, The Twelve Attributes that Made Jesus Christ, The Man.”[i]
#1. Jesus knew who he was!
That might seem obvious, after all shepherds and angels attended his birth and Wiseman from the east visited him. I’m sure his mother told him all about this, right? Perhaps, but we do know that Jesus had to experience all aspects of mortality, including not believing everything his mother told him; like us he had to find out who he was for himself.
It’s clear that by the time of his ministry he knew who he was because of the many declarations of his identity that he made both publicly and privately (see Luke 4:18-21; John 4:25-26, 6:35 8:12 and 8:58)
But how did he find out?
The scriptures are not totally clear on the how, in large part because of the information gaps between his early childhood and the start of his ministry. We can assume a few things, however.
1. He felt the spirit of God, grew in wisdom and that the grace of God was upon him (Luke 2:40)
2. At an early age he had at least an awareness of his purpose from studying the scriptures, as when he taught in the temple, and later said to his mother, “”wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:46-50)
3. His awareness of who he was came to him gradually as he continued to grow in wisdom and stature. (Luke 2:52)
4. He learned about God and himself by communing alone in the wilderness. (Matt 4:1-2)
5. He likely found out the same way Peter came to know who Jesus was, because “ flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” (Matt 16:13-17)
6. Finally, and I think most importantly, he found out who he was because he suffered, and learned about himself by encountering temptations. (Matt: 4:1-11)
Author and psychologist James Hollis makes the following observation. “Suffering is spiritual, for it inevitably raises questions of meaning. If we are free of suffering, we are less likely to engage with those questions that ultimately define who we are.”[ii]
So here I am on Palm Sunday, knowing as Christ did (at least in concept), what is going to happen on Friday. Such a contrast. A triumphal entry and then five days later, an ignominious death. Most, perhaps all “normal” human beings would not be able to cope with such a contrast. The cheering crowd, the adulation of celebrity alone would knock most of us off our moorings.
Just recently, Chip Gaines of “Fixer Upper” fame offered an insight on the impact of celebrity, “ … for me to become famous, I lost a part of myself that was really… it was sad," he admits. "I would say it took me a year or two while I was still filming to try to grapple with what exactly it was that I was losing."
Jesus only had a week, and yet based on what we know occurred after his triumphal entry, he remained stable, focused, graceful, humble, and noble. I submit that his demeanor during that last week of his life had little, if anything to do with knowing what was to come; knowing probably made it harder. Rather I contend that the way he greeted the known and unknown events of that final week of his life was the result of an internal foundation that existed because he knew who he was.
Jesus knew what had to be done from an eternal perspective, and in the big picture what was going to happen as that week unfolded. I am not so sure however that he knew about the specific details as he entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday.
He still had suffering to experience that would test him. We know that he felt moments of heaviness and loneliness throughout the week. We see his reaction to his apostles and friends abandoning him, his “bargaining” with his Father in Gethsemane as to whether or not he had to drink the cup, and even questioning during his last few moments on the cross, why his Father had forsaken him. He had to suffer in order to fulfill his purpose and as a result came to know even more profoundly who he was.
And why was all this necessary? There are many reasons, but from the perspective of knowing who he was, psychologist Carl Yung explains it this way. “We “must be alone if [we] are to find out what it is that supports [us] when we can no longer support [ourselves]. Only this experience can give [us] an indestructible foundation.”[iii]
Like Jesus, we too must suffer, including being alone, that a solid foundation might be built within us. It is a process that gradually unfolds over our lifetime and like Jesus we will likely not fully know who we are, until our very last moments in mortality. Mercifully, we are promised that we do not have to suffer to the same degree to arrive at that place.
16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
17 But if they would not repent, they must suffer even as I;
18 Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—
19 Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men. (Doctrine and Covenants 19:16-19)
He suffered in service to his Father and to his Father’s children, and as a result came to know the fullness of who he is. Is this not the model that he gives to us? We too can experience our ever-expanding identity, as we close the gap between ourselves and God, in other words, as we repent. So, as I contemplate Jesus Christ this week, what he did and why, I am struck by the awareness that he suffered and died that you and I might be and come to know who we are.
Notes: [i] Disclaimer: Most of what I write today and over the next few weeks on this topic is equally applicable to women. As a man however I am choosing to write from the perspective I know best. I thank my female readers in advance for their willingness to translate where necessary. [ii] Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life (page 210)” by James Hollis [iii] Carl Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, as quoted in “Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life (page 260)
We'd like to thank Alan Downing for contributing this article to Discover Identity