The Purposeful Incarnation of Jesus Christ
As part of God’s plan of sheer goodness, the Father sent His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ as Redeemer and Savior (CCC 1). In the Incarnation (meaning, the ‘act of being made flesh’), God purposefully chose to come to Man (CCC 456). By becoming flesh, Jesus demonstrates God’s love (CCC 458), so that Man might have a perfect model of how to love God and neighbor (CCC 459) and so that Man might be able to participate in God’s divine nature, becoming adopted children of God (CCC 460).
The Importance of the Physical Jesus Christ
The Church places a great emphasis on the importance of Christ’s physical body. “Since the Word became flesh in assuming a true humanity, Christ’s body was finite. Therefore the human face of Jesus can be portrayed…” (CCC 476). “At the same time the Church has always acknowledged that in the body of Jesus “we see our God made visible and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see.” The individual characteristics of Christ’s body express the divine person of God’s Son. He has made the features of his human body his own, to the point that they can be venerated when portrayed in a holy image, for the believer “who venerates the icon is venerating in it the person of the one depicted” (CCC 477).
The Physical Jesus Christ
Scripture, history and meditation offer insights into the Physical Jesus Christ. Jesus:
- Is physically attractive – Jesus, in some way, reflected the appearance of His mother, the Virgin Mary, who in apparitions is purported to be beautiful (e.g. Our Lady of Guadalupe, Lourdes, etc.). From the Nativity, people’s reactions suggest that Jesus was physically attractive: the Magi (Matt 2:11); the Shepherds (Luke 2:8-20); Simeon (Luke 2:25-35); Anna (Luke 2:36-38). A woman interrupts Jesus, likely moved by His charm and beauty, and said “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that fed you” (Luke 11:27-28). The Shroud of Turin, potentially the burial shroud of Jesus, suggests that Jesus’ appearance was that of an attractive, robust Jewish man.
- Has a penetrating gaze – Jesus had a powerful gaze that attracts the attention of crowds (Luke 6:20) and that He uses to get His point across (Mark 3:34, 10:23-25; Luke 19:5). His gaze can be angry, silencing even those who hate Him (Mark 3:5) and it can be severe (Luke 20:17-18). Other times Jesus’ gaze offers compassion and love (Mark 10:21), projects powerful certainty (John 1:42) and has a poignancy that cuts to the heart (Luke 22:61-62).
- Wore attractive clothing – Jesus wore a cloak with colored tassels (Matt 23:5, 9:20-21) like an observant Israelite (Num 15:38; Deut 22:12). His tunic was expensive because it was seamlessly woven; at the Cross, the soldiers gambled for it (John 19:23-24).
- Has a powerful voice – Jesus preaches to thousands of people out of doors (Matt 5-7; John 6) without the need for amplification. Jesus raises His voice, rebuking Peter (“Get behind me, Satan!” Matt 16:23) and frightening people (John 2:13-16). He calls Lazarus from the dead in a loud voice (John 11:43) and cries out in loud voice at His own death (Mark 15:34).
- Is physically strong – Jesus worked long years as a carpenter (Matt 13:55, Mark 6:3; CCC 423), a physically demanding job in the 1st century (CCC 564). As itinerant preacher, Jesus walked many miles (one source suggests 25,000 miles, the circumference of the earth). Jesus walks across a stormy sea and lifts the sinking Peter out of the water (Matt 14:22-33). Jesus climbs mountains (Matt 14:23, 17:1-9, John 6:3). He violently cleanses the temple, physically intimidating the crowd of money-changers and traders (Mark 11:17). The Shroud of Turin wrapped a robust, well-muscled man.
- Has significant stamina – As a child, Jesus is toughened through the arduous journey to Egypt and back (Matt 2:14, 21). Jesus spends three years in a grueling ministry, traveling long distances, working long hours, often without time to eat (Mark 3:20, 6:31), constantly giving Himself to all who seek Him (Mark 1:36-37). Jesus sometimes prays through the night (Luke 6:12) and in the early morning (Matt 14:23; Mark 1:35). His last trip to Jerusalem (Luke 19:28) was a 6-hour hike with over 3000 feet in elevation increase.
- Is physically tough – Jesus survives for 40 days in the desert without provisions prior to the Temptation (Matt 4:1-11). He often is homeless, sleeping in the out of doors (Matt 8:20; Luke 9:58). He endures tremendous physical punishment during the Passion: Jesus sweats blood (Luke 22:44), is beaten (Matt 26:67 27:30), walks over 2 miles while being paraded before the Jewish leadership, Pilate and Herod, is scourged with 120 wounds, some to the bone, is crowned with thorns the size of 8-penny nails and carries His heavy Cross (200 pounds), ½ mile uphill to Calvary (Matt 27:27-50), falling three times and scraping the flesh off His knees.
- Has physical charisma – At 12 years old, Jesus impresses the teachers in the Temple (Luke 2:47). Jesus calls the disciples and they immediately leave everything behind (Mark 1:17; Luke 5:27). Jesus projects great authority (Matt 7:29, Mark 1:22-28, 6:2, 2:7). Large crowds are drawn to Him (Mark 3:7-12) and they seek to make Him King (John 6:15). The Centurion (Matt 8:6-8) and the Canaanite woman (Matt 15:22-28) called Him, “Lord”.
- Can be physically imposing – If the Shroud of Turin is Jesus’ burial cloth, He was over 6 ft. tall, above average in 1st century Palestine. Even weakened after the Temptation, Jesus commands Satan: “Be gone Satan!” and “the devil left Him” (Matt 4:10-11). He clears the Temple (Matt 21:12-16). He stands up against the Nazareth mob that tries to cast Him off a cliff (Luke 4:28-29) and the bloodthirsty mob that is going to stone the adulterous woman (John 7:53-8:11). He strikes fear in the hearts of His enemies and silences them (Mark 4:nn; Mark 11:18; Mark 12:18; Luke 20:27). He causes the Roman guards and temple guards to “draw back and fall to the ground” at Gethsemane (John 18:6).
- At times, projects a supernatural physical presence – When Jesus is transfigured on the mountain, the disciples “fell on their faces, and were filled with awe” (Matt 17:6) and “were exceedingly afraid” (Mark 9:6; Luke 9:34).