One of the best ways to appreciate Jesus is to consider Frodo, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. In this great, sprawling story, the forces of good are trying to defeat the forces of evil. The Dark Lord Sauron had long ago crafted rings that he used to deceive humans and dwarves. He presented them as gifts to the nine human kings and seven dwarf kings, but they corrupted the mind and eventually made the wearers serve the Dark Lord. It was Sauron’s way of controlling the kingdoms. In secret, Sauron forged a master ring – the One Ring – which controlled all the others. But in a battle, the One Ring was cut from his hand, taken, but lost.
Now, the One Ring had been rediscovered. But the forces of good were torn over what to do. When they decided that the One Ring had to be destroyed in the volcanic fires of Mount Doom where it was forged, they couldn’t decide which person among them – wizard, elf, human, or dwarf – could handle the Ring without succumbing to its corrupting power. But Frodo, a hobbit, was sitting there, part of the conversation.
‘A great dread fell on him, as if he was awaiting the pronouncement of some doom that he had long foreseen and vainly hoped might after all never be spoken. An overwhelming longing to rest and remain at peace by Bilbo’s side in Rivendell filled all his heart. At last with an effort he spoke, and wondered to hear his own words, as if some other will was using his small voice.
‘I will take the Ring,’ he said, ‘though I do not know the way.’
From that point on, Frodo fought a long battle. The Ring wasn’t just this neutral object. It was filled with an evil force that tried to take him over and give himself away. The Ring drew dark forces to him. The Ring fought with him. It tried to make him self-centered, and filled him with delusions of grandeur. It tempted him to use its power over other people. But Frodo resisted. Even though he suffered for it. In the end, Frodo was not able to cast the Ring into the volcanic fires, even though he stood at the very edge, the power of the Ring was too great. The evil had taken him over.
The moment Jesus entered into the womb of Mary is like the moment Frodo took hold of the Ring of Power. He began a long battle. His human nature wasn’t just this neutral object, like clothing that he wore. It was corrupted by the same sinfulness that all of us have in our humanity, because we all inherit the problem Adam and Eve passed down to us. So Jesus had to fight it every step of the way, every moment of his life. And Jesus couldn’t put it down, like Frodo could share the burden of the Ring with his friend Sam. It was part of him.
‘For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.’ (Hebrews 4:15)
Jesus was ‘without sin’ in the sense of his actions, thoughts, and emotions – he never turned away from the Father in the Spirit. But if Jesus didn’t start out with the same human nature we have, weakened by sinfulness, then he could not actually have been tempted in all things as we are, because he would not have even felt it as a temptation. And if Jesus did not actually share in our human experience in our struggle against sin, then we could not possibly look to him as a source of encouragement and sympathy. As the letter to the Hebrews continues:
‘In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation…’ (Hebrews 5:7-9)
Notice: Jesus had to learn obedience, and become perfect. That took struggle. And do we know what that struggle was like for Jesus? C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, asked, ‘How much do we understand about fighting our own sinfulness?’ And he used a parallel. If you had to fight the Nazi German army, the only way to know how strong that army is, would be to fight it, all the way down to the last man. If you surrender, you don’t know how strong that army is, because you didn’t fight it. In the same way, we don’t understand how to fight our own sinfulness. Why? Because we give in. We give up. We cave to temptation. But Jesus never did. So Jesus is the only human being who knows how strong sin actually is, because he’s the only one who ever fought it, always beat it, and never gave in.
But where Frodo ultimately failed, and where each of us fail, Jesus succeeded. Frodo couldn’t throw the Ring into the fire. But Jesus took the corruption of sin lodged in his humanity all the way into its destruction. That is the judgment of God at the cross where Jesus plunged himself into death. It was a judgment against the thing in us that needed to be judged and cleansed out of us. Jesus wasn’t judged by his Father. Jesus carried out the judgment of his Father (John 5:27) against the corruption of sin within his human nature (Romans 8:3). It wasn’t a passive obedience of receiving a judgment. It was an active obedience of judging something in himself. Jesus’ victory revealed what he had done all along. His victory was his resurrection. When Jesus was raised in his resurrection, he had a God-drenched, God-soaked new humanity, which is what he had been fighting for the whole time. So now, Jesus shares himself with us by placing his Spirit in us, that he might be victorious over human evil in us and through us. The humanity of Jesus no longer resists him at all. So everyone can participate in God’s good and healing work in the world by participating in Jesus by his Spirit.
The great fourth century theologian Athanasius of Alexandria (who gave us the final form of the New Testament; defended the deity of Jesus against the Roman Emperor Constantine when Constantine fell into heresy; and is revered by Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant traditions) said:
‘Had it been a case of a trespass only, and not of a subsequent corruption, repentance would have been well enough; but when once transgression had begun men came under the power of the corruption proper to their nature and were bereft of the grace which belonged to them as creatures in the Image of God. No, repentance could not meet the case. What – or rather Who – was it that was needed for such grace and such recall as we required? Who, save the Word of God Himself, Who also in the beginning had made all things out of nothing?… Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father…This He did that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned to corruption, and make them alive through death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of His resurrection. Thus He would make death to disappear from them as utterly as straw from fire.’
Jesus deals with our corruption, our evil, our diseased humanity. He shared in our diseased humanity, that we might share in his healed humanity. Jesus didn’t just absorb some punishment from God that was otherwise headed our way. He paid the price of fighting our battle, throughout his whole life and death (1 Corinthians 6:19 – 20), to give us his victory. He didn’t change God’s mind; he changes us. He gives us a new identity in himself that is fully forgiven and fully reconciled to God and fully transformed and fully human. Who else can do that? It’s not just that we need better schools, better laws, and better systems, although those things help and are worth struggling for. We need a new humanity. And only Jesus deals with our internal issue, our very being. He gives us his new humanity – the fresh, healed, ‘full of resurrection power’ new humanity he has perfected in the love of God and brought to a full and glorious union with God.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (New York: Ballantine Books, 1965), p.354
 Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 2:8 – 9