There is so much in that phrase “Son of Man.”
It’s the phrase Jesus invariably chose to describe himself. One translator suggested the term, “The Human One,” which, though sounding a little odd, does make the point: that Jesus identified with the whole race of humans.
So he didn’t use the phrase “Son of Abraham” or “Son of Joseph” (or Mary) or even “Son of God,” though one could argue the case for each one. And indeed, somehow Jesus translates into all cultures and times. all classes, age-groups and creeds. Somehow he is the child of every age and every nation. When those Rennaissance painters tried to paint him as “the highest idea which genius could conceive of glorious humanity,” he still ended up looking vaguely Italian! But how could it have been otherwise? How can you paint the whole human race?
Paul desired to be all things to all men. To the Gentile he became as a Gentile, that he might gain the Gentiles; to the Jew as a Jew. But it was a a conscious effort to do something for a time to achieve a specific result. And then he was Paul again, with all Paul’s personality and all Paul’s peculiarities. The point is that that which Paul was for a time, Christ is forever. That which Paul was by effort and constraint, Christ is by the very law of his nature.
He is “all things to all men.”
And so Jesus is the mediator, not between God and a nation, but between God and humanity. He was the Jew and the Gentile, and the Greek and the Roman, all in one. He can sympathize with every man because he has, as it were, been every man. There is no pulse in the heart of humanity which Christ has not felt. The drive of genius and the muddling of mediocrity, the bitterness of disappointment and the triumph of success, the poverty, the wretchedness of so many…
Jesus knew them all. He was heir to the human race. He was -and is- “ a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.” That’s the key verse in understanding Jesus, in Isaiah 53:
“He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces.”
So is that what it is to be truly human? Is it to be “ a man of suffering, and familiar with pain“? Certainly, when Jesus took the term “Son of Man” he took the role not of celebrity but of nonentity.
And if you feel very small in yourself right now, you can be sure that he understands perfectly. He was -and is- “ a man of suffering” in himself “and familiar with pain” in others. In Hebrews 4 puts it “We do not have [one] who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses.”
There’s two sides to that verse in Isaiah 53. It teaches us who Jesus is, but it also challenges who we are as human beings. The first half is about listening, the second about responding.
Sympathy and action.
Jesus was -like us- a “ man of sorrows.” No matter how much cotton wool we wrap around those we love, we can never prevent either cut knees or bruised hearts. And within our bodies, hearts and minds there’s an infinite capacity for pain and hurt. This is part of being human. A big part. And Jesus understood this completely. Even more than we do. He wasn’t immune: he suffered MORE than we do because he was more completely human than we are. We are so muddied and confused by sin that we don’t even notice when we are being tempted half the time!
So some of the things which rough and scornful people shake from them without noticing went sharp and deep into his own heart. The completeness of his humanity insured for him the completeness of endurance: “Is any suffering like my suffering?” (Lamentations 1:12)
Jesus came to do a work. It’s interesting that the first recorded words of Jesus (at twelve years old) were “Didn’t you know I had to be about my father’s business?” And, as a man, he said: “I must do the works of him that sent me.” And at the end: “I have finished the work which you gave me to do.” Jesus submitted to a work.
Now, in this, Jesus was a type of humanity. OK, there are the idle rich who don’t do anything (but their woes and issues are another story. And it’s not a story of unbroken blessing!) but we have to work . And it’s not curse but blessing. There is no health either for mind or body without it. Nothing good was ever done without toil. No book worth the reading was ever written without it. No work that was meant to last but cost something in human toil. And it can be tough. Jesus shared that.
He also shared in the poverty of the human race. “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” I have never experienced poverty. Hardly even discomfort. My son was thought rich in Tanzania because he had two pairs of shoes. It’s all comparative, sure, but John Wesley said “It’s no sin to be rich, but it IS sin to die rich.”
Jesus was a man of sorrows: he experienced all these things in himself, but also “He was acquainted with grief.” He was acquainted by sympathy: he was keenly alive to what was happening around him: “ He had compassion on the crowd.” The story of the rich man and Lazarus speaks of a fierce indignation against the uncaring rich, twinned with a compassion for the forgotten poor.
Jesus had compassion as if he was walking all his life through the wards of a vast hospital, reaching out to those in the beds around him. At evening “they brought unto him many that were sick;” and, it is written, again and again, “he was moved with compassion.”
It was an acquaintance with grief which most of us don’t wish to share. It’s like pressing the mute button so you don’t hear the NSPCC advert. Closing my ears to the appeal of the needy. The Bible says, “Listen to the voice of the refugee.” But what will it say? It will not be nice. Are you ready to be “acquainted with grief“?
This is where Jesus lived.