I glanced around the pool at my classmates, gauging the athletic prowess and likely endurance of each. I’d be fine — if these guys can do it, I can do it. I was a freshman at Auburn University, enrolled in my first life-guarding class. The requirement was that we swim 500 meters in under 10 minutes. I grew up swimming in everything from pools and rivers to the Gulf of Mexico to church baptistries. I wasn’t worried a bit… until I heard these three words: freestyle, breaststroke, and sidestroke. I glanced at my classmates once again, this time to see if any of THEM had confused looks on their faces. None did. I had no idea how to swim those strokes — I only knew of two ways to swim: on top of water and under water. Up until this course, every time I had swam, it had been in order to get from one side of the river to the other, from the boat to the bank, or from a pool of angry alligators to safety. No one ever taught me HOW to swim — and especially not three different hows.
If it had not been for a guy named Chris Wilbeck, I probably would have failed my first college course (not my only, mind you, but my first). Worse than failing, though, I would have thoroughly embarrassed myself in front of all those classmates I’d glanced at on numerous occasions. I had asked around a little about these various strokes, and several friends tried to explain in words how my legs, arms, face, and head should be interacting with one another when swimming properly. You can guess how effective that was. Others had attempted to “air swim” for me, but I just couldn’t visualize well their actions in water. And these were knowledgeable swimmers we’re talking about, some of them competitive at the state level in high school. I was completely lost as to what to do. The night before the big swim test, my best idea was to swim really slowly in the beginning, in order to watch others, and then try to emulate their moves. [The internet was not then nearly what it is now, though I don’t know if a blog or youtube video would have helped me at this juncture…]
That’s when Chris Wilbeck stepped in. Chris offered to meet me at the pool the next morning before our 8:00 class, in order to teach me how to swim. He demonstrated each stroke for me, and after a half-hour I felt comfortable enough to shower and take the test later that day. I passed… though it was not pretty.
Chris Wilbeck a Type of Christ
There is a life which God desires for us — an obedient life, one in which we act in keeping with his very character. Laws were given under the old covenant, and when followed, Israel would be seen by other nations who would, in turn, glorify God. In essence, Israel was supposed to look like their God, behave as he would behave, and even share his attributes. And they were given laws… “air swimming” if you will — with no real idea what it would like like in water.
And then Jesus arrived on the scene, in human flesh, to show us what God looks like. From that point on, men have been able to know God, and have seen him. In fact, anyone who has seen Jesus has seen the Father (Jn 14:7,9). Because “in Christ, all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col 2:9). Jesus came to model for us perfection, demonstrating life as it was intended. He showed us a life free of sin (2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 2:21-22) and a life of doing the Father’s will (Jn 6:38).
And Jesus didn’t come to abolish those laws given under the old covenant, but rather to fulfill them (Mt 5:17). He explained and demonstrated more clearly the desires of the Father. He didn’t “raise the bar” for us, as much as he gave us a more clear explanation of what life in the kingdom would look like. He described what God had desired of his people all along. It wasn’t that God drew the Old Testament line at murder, and in the New Testament decided to redraw it at anger; God had desired all men for all time not to hate one another. And Jesus, in flesh, put all this together for us.
This explains why Jesus gave a “new” command in John 13:34: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” To love one another wasn’t a new command. But the highest manifestation of love, prior to Jesus’ coming in the flesh, was the love we could have for ourselves (hence, “love your neighbor as yourself”). Only now, after seeing God in the flesh, can we truly understand love — and in Jesus we find both message and messenger. He is both the perfect demonstration of this higher love and the individual who explains to us it’s what the Father had in mind all along. Jesus Christ is the complete embodiment of the Father in the flesh, and he calls us to know that Father through him. He is both the savior and he who invites us to be saved.
Praise be to God for coming in the flesh to call us to abundant life, and to demonstrate that life for us.