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The mystery and miracle of the incarnation is a wondrous truth that is essential to our faith. Like the Trinity, however, it is hard to find ways to illustrate it well. Perhaps John Howard Griffin’s memoir Black Like Me will give us a small bit of insight into this priceless doctrine.
Who was John Howard Griffin? He was a man who, in 1959, changed his appearance from a white man into a black man. Why? Griffin felt he could never fully understand the situations many blacks were experiencing unless he “became” one. So he darkened his skin with oral medication, as well as through the use of sun lamp treatments and topical stains. Once completed, he journyed through the South. The results were startling.
According to his journal, he was mistreated in ways he had never encountered. Specifically, there was transportation he was not allowed to access, restaurants in which he couldn’t eat, and hotels where he was refused residence. He was directed to specific, out-of-the-way restrooms, and told to drink from water fountains reserved for blacks. Through this experiment, Griffin knew first-hand what it was like to be slighted, cheated, even persecuted.
Admittedly, this illustration, like most analogies of the incarnation, falls short in some ways. But the overall point is obvious—just as Griffin knew first-hand what his black friends were experiencing when he “became” one of them, thus sympathizing with them much better, so Jesus “sympathizes” with us since he became one of us.
But Jesus’s sympathetic understanding is perfect, unlike Griffin’s, who, though well-intentioned, could never fully or perfectly relate since he had, at best, simply painted on a new appearance. Jesus didn’t just paint on humanity. He became human, entering our world as the Son of God and Son of Mary through a virgin birth. He grew up as a boy, lived as the God-Man, and gave his life as the mediating sacrifice for our sins (1 Tim. 2:5). He was fully God and fully man. As a man, he knows perfectly what we go through. As God, he perfectly provided the remedy for it. This is why Hebrews 4:14-16 states,
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 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.”
May the doctrine of the incarnation of Christ be our confident solace that no one understands like Jesus, nor does anyone redeem like Jesus. He is our perfect, exclusive sympathizer and Savior.
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