WORDplus, 21st September 2001: Deity of Christ

3rd September 2001

1. Introduction: the centrality of Jesus
2. Jesus is God
        2.1. His claims about himself
        2.2. What the bible says about him
        2.3. Receiving worship
        2.4. What it means that Jesus is God
3. Jesus is Man
4. Jesus is God and Man
5. Addendum: Prophet, Priest and King
6. Appendix: The Beckham Joke

1. Introduction: the centrality of Jesus

Annie Lennox is quoted as having said, ``Christianity has survived two thousand years of Christians, so there must be something in it.'' I don't know if she really did say that, but it's a great quote (and if she didn't say it, it's time someone did.) The ``something in it'' is Jesus. Everything we have stands or falls by him, so I'm delighted that this year's curriculum begins with the utterly central issue of who Jesus is.

The notes you've been given for this session don't talk only about the deity of Christ, but also his humanity, his sinlessness and indeed his whole indentity. Checking the whole-year program shows that none of the other sessions look at these other aspects of who Jesus is, so I'm going to try to cover all these aspects in sixty minutes.

Here's Josh McDowell's thumbnail sketch of Sikhism:

Sikhism, founded by Nanak in the late 1400s, is a branch of Hinduism. God is considered formless, sovereign, unknowable and absolute. [...] The final goal of life is to be absorbed into God.
- Jesus Christ, A Biblical Defence of his Deity,
Josh McDowell & Bart Larson, Here's Life Publishers Inc., 1983.

How tragic to be trapped in a belief system that offers no hope of knowing God. The central truth of Christianity is Christ: a real, personal flesh-and-blood human who is also God. What a contrast! What could be further from a ``formless, unknowable'' God? That's like being married to a formless, unknowable wife. (Get up, do the kids' breakfast since the wife's formless; at work, someone asks how she is, and I answer ``I don't know, she's unknowable.'')

The challenge for us is to make sure that we don't relate to our knowable God as though he were unknowable and formless.

In fact, it's not even really right to talk about a central truth of Christianity at all: it doesn't have a central truth, it has a central person in Jesus. You could make a good case that the key verse in the whole bible is:

Jesus said, ``I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well.''
- John 14:6-7

There's absolutely loads we could say about Jesus' sinlessness, his roles as prophet, priest and king, the sort of relationships he had with people, and so on. But the basic issue of his identity boils down to two things: that he was God, and that he was Man.

2. Jesus is God

2.1. His claims about himself

First, can we deal with the popular but untrue factoid ``Jesus never claimed to be God''? Matthew 26:63-64 tells us: ``The high priest said to him, `I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.' `Yes, it is as you say,' Jesus replied.'' (also in Mark 14:61-62)

And what else could he possibly have meant by ``I am the way and the truth and the life''?

Less directly, we also have:

2.2. What the bible says about him

2.3. Receiving worship

The ``clincher'' is found in Jesus' post-resurrection appearance to Thomas:

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ``Peace be with you!'' Then he said to Thomas, ``Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.'' Thomas said to him, ``My Lord and my God!'' Then Jesus told him, ``Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.''
- John 20:26-29

Here, Jesus receives worship - something due only to God - and implicitly accepts Thomas's recognition of him as ``Lord and God''.


2.4. What it means that Jesus is God

This list of evidences is all very well as a sort of apologetics primer, setting you up to argue effectively with JWs. But what we really want is to go beyond the mere accumulation of proof texts into an understanding of the Godhood of Jesus that will draw us into worship. This is deep, deep stuff!

By [the Son] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
- Colossians 1:16-20

Breaking this down (and omitting some great stuff!) we have:

There is a whole series of sermons here!

3. Jesus is Man

There's a lot we could say here in terms of showing from the bible that Jesus was human. For example:

But these are all ``merely human'' issues. I want to focus on ``fully human'' issues.

- the fullest, most complete, human experience.

When we consider humanity as Jesus expressed it, we begin to realise what poor shadows of what a human being should be we often are as a result of our sinfulness. As one theologian has put it, the real question is not whether Jesus was fully human but whether we are!
- The Christ of the Bible and the Church's Faith,
Geoffrey Grogan, Christian Focus Publications, 1998.

4. Jesus is God and Man

This is the crux of the whole matter. If Jesus is God but not Man, then he cannot bear the burden of man's sin. If he is Man but not God, then he does not have the power to deal with that burden.

In the space of the first two chapters of Hebrews, we see a clear and powerful exposition of Jesus's divinity, immediately followed by a consideration of his humanity. In Hebrews 4:14, we find the economical phrase ``Jesus, the Son of God'', in which his human name and divine nature are juxtaposed.

We need to understand that it's not a case of Jesus switching between two ``modes'', like a computer user going in and out of ``administrator'' mode where extra power is available to him; or like one of the models of papal infallibility, in which he is not always infallible, but sometimes goes into ``infallible mode'', in order to make an infallible statement. We must never say of Jesus ``In this verse he is acting as God, in this verse Man.'' It's not as if Jesus had a split personality.

He is both God and Man simultaneously. This is hard for us to understand - much like the trinity - because it's to do with a complexity and degree of reality in Jesus that is simply not in our own experience; but the example of a cylinder may help. Viewed from one angle, it is a circle; from another, a rectangle. But whichever view we take at any particular moment, it is always both.

Please understand, this is not the same thing as ``balance'' between the Godhood and Manhood of Jesus, any more than his attitude to us is a ``balance'' of holiness and mercy. It is, simply, both God and Man, both to the perfect degree, just as he is both perfectly holy and perfectly merciful.

Digression: Balance in the Bible

I have the NIV on my computer, which makes it easy to do word-searches with 100% accuracy. The word ``balance'' occurs only four times in the whole of the bible, once in the sense of difference, and three times in the sense of scales:

The ``virtue'' of balance is never promoted in the bible. So let's not, for example, waste our time trying to find a balance between the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit; or working out theology that's a balance between sovereignty and free will.

In fact, the closest the bible comes to talking about ``balance'' in this sense is in Revelation 3:16 - ``Because you are neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.''

So now we can see the centrality of the incarnation. This is the reason I'm happy with Christmas being the biggest holiday of the year, despite Easter's more obvious claims. It's why O Little Town is one of the best of all the Christmas carols:

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
The images is of heaven touching earth, and the earth not realising it. Resonant phrases spring to mind: ``The eagle has landed!'' I'm pretty sure C. S. Lewis has used phrases like ``the eternal touches the temporal'' and ``the spiritual invades the material.'' He certainly wrote ``God has landed on this enemy-occupied world in human form.''

Philippians 2:6-7 spells out the nature of Jesus: ``[He], being in very nature God [...] made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.''

What's this like? What does it mean? How can we understand what Jesus did in becoming a man? The brutal truth is, it's impossible to find good analogies - even C. S. Lewis couldn't do it, and ended up taking about rebellious tin soldiers, and a toymaker who becomes a tin soldier! That's because this is completely outside our experience. Of course it is! We're not omnipotent creators who've made intelligent life! What God has done in the incarnation is utterly beyond us.

5. Addendum: Prophet, Priest and King

(If we have time left over)

In the Old Testament, the relationship between God and Man is mediated by three classes of people:

But in the New Testament, that changes completely as all three roles find their perfect fulfillment in Jesus. 1 Timothy 2:5 tells us: ``There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.''

In all these ways, Jesus is the greatest mediator because he is both God and Man.

6. Appendix: The Beckham Joke

For anyone who was at Drummond on 21st September, and can't quite remember how the opening joke went, here it is.

Apparently, a couple of years ago, after a hard-fought match between Arsenal and Man United, the managers were having a chat. Arsene Wenger, Arsenal's urbane, intellectual French manager suggested to Alex Ferguson that foreign players are more intelligent than English players. Fergie's not convinced, so Wenger calls Dennis Bergkamp across.

``Dennis'', he says, ``your father's son is not your brother. Who is he?''

Bergkamp thinks for a couple of seconds and says, ``Easy boss, it's me.'' Wenger nods and smiles, and Fergie goes away, impressed.

But the next day, in training, Fergie finds himself thinking that English players are just as bright as Johnny Foreigner, so he goes over to talk to David Beckham.

``David'', he says, ``your father's son is not your brother. Who is he?''

Beckham goes quiet, and eventually says, ``Well that's hard, boss. Give me a day to think about.'' Alex agrees, the training session continues, and that evening Becks gets on the phone to Jaap Stam. (Yes, this joke is a period piece.) He asks Stam the question, and Stam says, ``It's me.''

Next day in training, Becks goes up to Ferguson and says, ``I've worked it out, boss. It's Jaap Stam!''

And Ferguson says, ``David, how can you be so stupid? It's Dennis Bergkamp!''

What do you mean, you've already heard it?

If you're reading a paper copy of this document, the soft-copy can be found at http://www.miketaylor.org.uk/xian/jesus.html

Feedback to <mike@miketaylor.org.uk> is welcome!