Was Jesus Handicapped?
I have a handicap tag for my car. I rarely use it, but when I need it, I have it. I walk with a limp and most days I forget I even have a limp, but there are those days I can’t walk at all without pain. I’ve struggled to accepted the title “handicap" and I’ve refused to allow it to hold me back or limit me physically in anything I've attempted, whether sports, slalom skiing on the lake, or riding a bike. But my refusal hasn’t changed the fact that I am limited. And it hurts.
The truth is we all have handicaps. A handicap is simply a limitation. If you are limited in any way you have a handicap. I cannot run or bend my leg. I am limited in that way. Also, I cannot play the piano. We all have handicaps. Mine just may be different than yours. When we think about it, being limited or having limitations can be a form of suffering, more so for some than others.
Having limited opportunities while others seem to have countless opportunities is disheartening. Being limited physically, having to sit out and watch others have fun, hurts. The flip side to this is being the parent of a physically limited child and being completely limited or handicapped in your own power to help them not hurt; to give them a “normal” life. As parents, many of you face the daily struggle of your handicap to relieve the hurt of your physically challenged child.
When we think of the suffering Jesus endured, we tend to automatically think of the cross. The cross, no doubt was the epicenter for shame and physical pain. And if that weren’t enough it is where Jesus took on the full weight of God the Father’s wrath for our sins. Another way Jesus suffered, that we tend not to think about, isn't His death, but in His birth; the incarnation.
When the Word became flesh the Word willingly handicapped Himself; He handicapped Himself by becoming flesh, human. To be God, with all His privileges, then to not seize those very perks and not to hold onto them, but rather to willingly set use of them aside, taking the form of, not just a man, but a slave, was to handicap or to limit Himself in a major way.
Let me be very clear: Jesus did not set aside being God when He became a man. He didn’t even set a little aside. When He entered the world He entered fully man and fully God.
There are a number of ways Jesus stepped out of heaven into suffering by handicapping Himself in becoming human. We will briefly look at just three and then see what this means for us.
Limited in Glory
The first one is obvious, He was limited in His glory revealed. He set aside His privilege to display His glory fully, by limiting it in becoming a man. We see this in His desire to once again share in display of this full glory He had with the Father before His incarnation (John 17:5).
I have a hard time picturing God’s glory. I can talk about His glory theologically, but I don’t fully comprehend it. I can’t picture it entirely.
I do know, however, that glory is something we all seek to some degree and feel in a real way our limitation of it. Most likely there are no shirts with your name on the back. No stadium of people chanting your name either. You work extra hours for that promotion but no one sees or appreciates you. You do the endless job of laundry, clean the house, fix dinner and get no thank you or “I love you." You pick that degree and work hard for that career just for a little praise from mom or dad and all you get is criticism. You are always doing the right thing and finishing last. Being limited in glory hurts. No one understands more than Jesus what it feels like not to get the attention, respect, and recognition you deserve. So, when you feel unappreciated or invisible - maybe even irrelevant or obscure - Jesus knows exactly how you feel.
Not that Jesus ever wanted to be rich but he did feel the limitations of not having money. Sure, Jesus could have had Peter fish up some coins out of a fish’s mouth, but as far as we know He only did this once and it wasn’t for His own wealth. But Jesus did say this of Himself, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20).
We all know what it feels like to be handicapped in the wallet. We’ve all lacked money at some point. Not all of us can afford the nice trips that we "hate like" on Instagram. Not all of us can afford the new and latest iPhone or trendiest clothes. Some of us live pay check to pay check and worry about this month’s bills. Some are desperately trying to figure out a way to pay off debts.
Luke 8:1-3 tells of women who followed Jesus and probably financed a lot of His ministry. So Jesus knew what it meant to be limited economically and financially dependent on others, which for many is a real, humiliating thing. It’s a blow to one’s pride and a mark of shame to depend on others financially who have more because it leaves us feeling not just that we don’t have enough, but we ourselves are not enough.
Now, I don’t think Jesus was humiliated by this, but I do believe He knew what it felt like to be limited in a way we can’t even imagine, having no need or want for all eternity past in heaven and then to have to depend heavily on others for the basic needs of life on this earth in a real human way. Being limited economically and financially is a real human hurt and Jesus - fully human - fully felt that hurt. So when the stress and worries of not having enough money keeps you up at night, know Jesus felt those same worries, but depended on the One who has it all to richly supply all He needed.
Limited by Death
The last constraint we will mention that Jesus endured by becoming human was death. There is no man or woman who is not limited by death. Death isn’t just an event that is waiting around for us, it is something we are all moving towards every moment of each day. It’s like we are all in a very slow free fall with no parachute. Death is inescapable.
Death, too, awaited Jesus. He sealed His fate with mankind’s when He became fully man. On the night of Jesus’s arrest and eventual execution, John 13:1 says, "Jesus knowing that His hour had come” in verse 21 it says that Jesus “became troubled in spirit” which means he started suffering inward chaos. He felt the dread of what awaits us all - our ultimate handicap, our ultimate limitation in life - death. But He courageously faced it, endured it, then conquered it. After He was raised, death was released of its limiting power over Him. Now, having complete authority over death and hell (Rev. 1:18) He can be trusted to give eternal life and eternally keep anyone who believes in Him for it. Jesus said in John 10:28, “I give eternal life, and they will never perish.”
By becoming human He sealed His fate with ours - death. But now, because of His resurrection by grace He seals our fate with His - life. Though we too will die, we too will be raised. Death is released of its limiting power over us. All because Jesus first chose to suffer the incarnation for the purpose of facing and defeating the ultimate human limitation of death. A victory we all, by faith, can share.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR US?
Jesus does not only empathise with us in our emotional hurt and physical pain; He empathises with us in all our limitations. He knows what it is like not to receive the attention, recognition, respect and the glory He deserved. Yes, Jesus had a rock star following bigger than the Beatles of His day, but John tells us that they were really in it for the food (John 6:26). Once Jesus’ teaching got too tough they stopped following Him (6: 60).
Jesus was limited economically. He went from needing nothing as God in heaven, to being dependent of others as the God who left heaven to become a man. As a man, Jesus also knows that dread and anxiety that comes from fearing the inescapable fate of us all - death. By His defeat of His handicap, we too who have believed in Jesus, share in that win. And, because we now live in Him, we should no longer live defined by our handicaps.
You are not your handicap. You are not a nobody. You may feel invisible at work or unappreciated at home, but You are a son or daughter of God. You are significant. You are loved. You don’t need the glory bosses, parents, or fans give when you have the glory and praise that your heavenly Father gives. And still a glory that, Romans 8:18 says, is to be given to us at a later time.
You are not poor. You may not have a lot of possessions. You may be struggling in debt due to unplanned bills or a busted car, but you are rich with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:3). You are enough, not because you have enough, but because God has created you in His image, full of significance, worth, and value, fearfully and wonderfully made. And He is ready and able to supply your every need (Phil. 1:19).
Jesus was handicapped, but He was not a handicap. He was not defined by His limitations, but overcame them. He courageously faced them, faithfully endured them, and ultimately defeated them. Whatever your handicap, whatever limits you; lack of significance, lack of money, physical limitations, mental health, or as parent your limited ability to completely help your suffering child. You are not defined by these, you are defined by the one who overcame them. We have a Saviour who knows exactly how we feel and what we are going through. He, being fully human, knows exactly what it is like to feel the real human limitations we all feel. And He, being fully God, stepped into them willingly, for you and me, so we would no longer live defined by them but live in His victory over them.
HOW DO WE LIVE IN LIGHT OF OUR LIMITATIONS?
We live in light of His resurrection power to courageously face our limitations, faithfully endure our limitations, and by doing so our limitations become our greatest advantage. They will become the very platform God uses to display His unlimited power. God uses our limitations so that through our limitations we would be conduits of His limitless power.
If you lack glory or significance, courageously face it, faithfully endure it and watch your desire to see you become significant turn into a desire to tell and display to others God’s significance. Jesus will become the preeminent one in your life.
If you lack money, courageously face it, faithfully endure it, and watch God richly provide for your every need. In doing so you will become radically altered and others around you will see something supernatural in you. They’ll see a trusting, peaceful, content person unquestionably dependent on Jesus.
The things that limit us, let’s trust God to show us how to use to our advantage for His glory. Whatever our handicap, whatever our limitations, let’s leverage them for God, so that He will demonstrate His power. Remember, in our limitations God displays His limitless power.
Eric Austin holds his Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas, USA. After almost seven years as a pastor he stepped out of vocational ministry to support his wife in her recovery of Borderline Disorder (BPD). Eric was born and has lived his life with an extremely rare bone disease, a disease which has profoundly impacted his personal views on suffering. In recent years, as a result of walking alongside his wife’s own suffering, he has learned the emotional and psychological pain that often comes from living with a loved one having a personality disorder. Eric is passionate about teaching the Bible and seeing the grace of God radically alter people into looking more like Jesus through the suffering that has drastically altered their lives. He is the host of The Altered Podcast a podcast in which he attempts to do just this. Eric lives in Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA with his wife Heidi and three children.