As I worked to demonstrate last week, Jesus is a hero. More than that, he is an epic hero. Through his life and work he brings to pass the epic movement in the life of Israel and in the life of the church.
According to Dr. Louise Cowan, there are four "essence" characteristics of epic, which I've simplified with the terms Space, Time, Balance, and Motion. Jesus' life and work exemplifies and embodies each of these essence characteristics. Today, I intend to focus only on how Jesus life and work exemplifies the epic essence of Space.
The term Space refers to the space in which mankind lives. In epic, this space is opened up or broadened. The "veil," which separates the natural and supernatural, the material and immaterial realms, is torn or lifted, allowing the hero to see and/or directly interact with the divine. Thus a more intimate relation between the hero and the divine is experienced, and the hero (and mankind by way of the hero) is thus able to see and understand and experience more than his typical space or region of habitation within the created world. In other words, his perception is broadened. In seeing the heavenly realm, the hero (and his people through the hero) is better able to understand and interact within the events and happenings of the physical realm.
We see this breaking through of the veil between mankind and the divine time and again within the life of Jesus. Given the fact that Jesus is divine, this is obvious, but it is no less true in terms of his incarnation as a man as well.
The events leading up to and surrounding his birth and the first couple years of his life demonstrate this opening up of space conclusively. Time and again, angels--heavenly or supernatural beings--appear in dreams, orchestrating how the arrival of the infant hero should be interpreted and handled, as well as how this new-born baby's life ought to be preserved. First, Jesus' earthly "father," Joseph, dreams before the baby is even born: the angel of The Lord appears to him and says, "do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:20-22). Just in this brief interaction we hear divine intervention (the angel's message) and we see that there has been some sort of physical divine intervention as well, for Mary is a virgin yet she is with child by the work of God in the Holy Spirit.
Matthew, the narrator of these events, goes further in demonstrating that this is a unique rending of the barrier between God and mankind when he explains that this birth is a fulfillment of prophecy: "'Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,/and they shall call his name Immanuel' (which means, God is with us)" (Matthew 1:23). So this birth itself is a divine intervention, for in the form of this baby God himself is coming to dwell with mankind. The supernatural is going to be enfleshed in a natural body.
To ensure that this baby's significance is rightly understood and that he is allowed to live, more intervention is required. A star guides the wise men's way to this new-born king that is worthy of actual worship (Matthew 2:2). Herod, the current king, will have none of this, though he'll play along; he intends murder. To keep this from happening, angels appear in the wise men's dreams, indicating that they must not return to Herod. When Herod realizes he's been deceived by the wise me, he goes into a rage and kills all children under the age of two that have been born in the region where this new king has been born. Angels appear three times to Joseph in his dreams, first directing him to take the child and his mother to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15), then directing him back to Israel (Matthew 2:19-21), then directing him to Galilee (Matthew 2:22-23).
So we see that without divine intervention and a breaking of the veil or barrier between the supernatural and the natural, Jesus' birth would not have happened, nor would his life have been preserved. So space is opened up, and people--Joseph and the wise men and Mary (if we remember that she, too, had dreams--see Luke 1:26-38)--are able to understand more fully what is happening here on the earthly plane because they've had direct contact with the supernatural or heavenly plane of existence.
And this divine interaction between God and man doesn't let up all through the life of Jesus. At Jesus' baptism, John the Baptist declares the coming work of the coming Messiah and then God the Father declares that this Jesus is that coming Messiah indeed (Matthew 3:1-17). Months later at what we call the transfiguration, Jesus will meet with God the father and Moses and Elijah (men who should be dead); God will again declare Jesus' identity (Matthew 17:1-13). Jesus himself will pray time and again, directly interacting with the divine (see Matthew 11:25-26; 26:36-44; John 11:41-42; 12:27-28; 17; etc.). His miracles show that he's connected to the divine--that he is divine. In Matthew 8-9 alone he shows he has control over sickness, the supernatural, the natural, sin, death, uncleanness, and physical deformities or birth defects. All these acts or miracles show that he has authority from beyond the pale of man. And let's not forget his death. The literal veil is torn when he dies (see Matthew 27:51-54), demonstrating this break in the barrier between God and man, the immaterial and the material realm. And, upon dying, Jesus goes to the "underworld," hades, surely a place mortals can't tread.
And then Jesus returns from Hades, from death, from the tomb. So not only does Jesus have a running communion with God the Father, not only does he speak and act with an authority given him from the supernatural (that is, God the Father), not only does he venture to the land of the dead, he actually returns. He is able to pass between the material and the physical, for all of space, all realms, are opened up to him.
All this demonstrates conclusively that the life and work of Jesus demonstrates the epic essence of Space. And, as we continue this study of how Jesus is epic, we'll see that his mission is to do the same for us: open up space, open up reality, open up understanding.