Jesus - a man like any other man

I had a moment of clarity the other day: Jesus was just a man, like any other man.

He was the son of Joseph, the carpenter in Nazareth, and he carried on his father's trade. There must have been plenty of time to think, ponder, meditate, as he cut a piece of timber, and hammered in a nail. He found God among the wood shavings.

He was born into the nation of Israel, his family doubtless regular attendees at the synagogue. I like to think that he was particularly drawn to the scroll of Isaiah, and as he heard it read, or read it for himself, something lodged in his unconscious. What was it about Isaiah's encounter with the heavenly hosts?

And one day, as he was working, it suddenly rushed in upon him: Isaiah laments his sinful condition, "Woe is me, I am ruined. I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among people of unclean lips." At that moment, a seraph flies to him with a live coal in his hands, "With it he touched my mouth and said, 'See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.'" That was it. Your sins are forgiven! Gospel writers externalise the event in the life of Jesus - "the heavens opened up...the holy spirit descended like a dove" - but it was an internal revelation, God forcing himself into this man's mind because there was no longer any resistance to the truth.

The whole hidden message of God's forgiveness became crystal clear to this carpenter from Nazareth. He understood his own broken relationship with God. Once he recognised that condition, and the various ways it manifested itself - once he began to see himself as God saw him - he was able to make the return journey, to close the gap between himself and God until he was able to say with confidence, "I and the Father are one."

At the same time, he saw right through the baffling accounts of Israelite and Judean rulership and reduced the concept of a "kingdom" right down to the dynamic relationship between God and man: The kingdom of God. If each individual man and woman recognised the presence of God in his or her life, we could be changed from the inside out. Men are distant from God, on the run from God through shame, fear, anger. We need to turn back, go towards him, reunite with him, accept him as the ruler in our own life - become God-centred, and no longer self-centred. This would have a profound effect on the life of every person. It would dramatically alter our relationship with ourselves, and with other people, for the good of all mankind.

At some point, he looked around and saw the terrible plight of the people about him. The weary, the downtrodden, the burdened; they looked to him like sheep without a shepherd, harassed and helpless. He saw what contributed to the reason, religious leaders who "tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them." They were the flayed and mangled, the plundered and vexed, the people of the earth, the "sinners".

But now, he knew: Your sins are forgiven. He saw their condition, he understood why, and he wanted other people to know what he knew. Like Isaiah before him, he said, "Here I am, send me!"

There had been almost 500 years of silence. The people were crying out for someone to acknowledge their desperate condition - and, here was a man who spoke directly to their hearts, who spoke to individuals on a one-to-one basis, and who told them that God understood. He told them God saw them for who they really were, that he had been in their past and he was here with them in their present. He told them that if only they could see themselves as God sees them, they could experience peace, happiness, a freedom from the anxieties of life. All it takes is the smallest amount of faith...a slight foothold, and the whole of life can be changed beyond recognition.

Jesus didn't drop onto the scene fully formed. He would have started quietly at first. He wanted to test out his understanding on a few people. He knew he was right, but all the same, how would people react? After all, this had the potential to be earth-shattering. The religious leaders certainly wouldn't like it, but even some of them would be able to understand...surely?

It would only need one or two encouraging results - several visits to a reclusive, bed-ridden depressive whose spirits were so lifted that he decides to venture out once more; an unapproachable violent street-dweller whose whole countenance changes after this courageous man approaches him and with a few gentle questions strips his life bare - and the rumours would begin. Word would quickly spread.

They didn't get it. Not straight away. Jesus knew it was a concept not easy to grasp. They had to have their expectations smashed by something unexpected. His death helped them realise all their expectations were wrong, and that only once their walls of resistance had fallen was it possible to experience the same revelation Jesus did. Yes, this is what he meant when he said, "Your sins are forgiven."

It happened to fishermen from Galilee, a tax-collector, tent-makers, a business-woman from Thyatira, men and women like any one of us. It happened to a carpenter from Nazareth - and, it can also happen to you.