The Incomparable Christ: “Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord”
February 15, 2004
Who is Jesus Christ? Of all the questions that might be posed to modern men and women, none is more important than this. It is no exaggeration to say that this is the central question of history and the most important issue anyone will ever face. Who is Jesus Christ? Where did he come from? Why did he come? And what difference does his coming make in my life? In the end, every person must deal with Jesus Christ. No one can escape him. You can avoid the question, or delay it, or postpone it, or stonewall it, or pretend you didn’t hear it. But sooner or later you must answer it.
It’s certainly not a new question. It’s as old as the coming of Christ to earth. Once when Jesus took his disciples on a retreat to a place called Caesarea Philippi, he asked them, “Who do people say that I am?” They offered four responses: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets (see Matthew 16:13-16). Even when he walked on this earth, people were confused as to his true identity.
Across the centuries the discussion has continued to this very day. Visit any Internet religious chat room and you’ll find a bewildering array of opinions regarding Jesus. Here are some contemporary answers to the question “Who is Jesus Christ?” A good man … The Son of God … A Prophet … A Galilean rabbi … A teacher of God’s Law … The Embodiment of God’s Love … A Reincarnated Spirit Master … The Ultimate Revolutionary … The Messiah of Israel … Savior … A first-century wise man … A man just like any other man … King of Kings … A misunderstood teacher … Lord of the Universe … A deluded religious leader … Son of Man … A fabrication of the early church.
The Many Faces of Jesus
Which answer will you give? Before you answer, let me say that you can find people today who will give every one of those possible answers. Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t. It is said that in the days before Elvis Presley died, he had been reading a book called The Many Faces of Jesus. That title stands as a fitting symbol of the confusion surrounding Jesus in our time. Two thousand years have passed and still we wonder about the man called Jesus.
That takes us back to Caesarea Philippi. After Jesus asked for the opinions of others, he turned to his men and asked for their answer: “But you, who do you say that I am?” In the end, each of us faces the same question. We can’t get away with quoting the opinions of others. You have to make up your own mind.
So let’s go back to the original question. Who is Jesus Christ? And how does your answer stack up with the Bible? That’s an important second question because it is not enough to say, “I believe in Jesus.” Millions of people claim to believe in Jesus who don’t have a clue about what the Bible says about him. Which Jesus do you believe in?
It’s all about Jesus
Thankfully, we don’t have to wonder who Jesus is. For 2,000 years Christians have affirmed their faith in Jesus with these words from the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe … in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord.” With this phrase we enter the second major section of the Creed. The Creed itself is Trinitarian—with a section devoted to the Father, a section to the Son, and a final section to the Holy Spirit. Of the 110 words in the Creed, 70 occur in the section relating to Jesus Christ. That tells us something important. The Christian faith is all about Jesus! He is the heart and core, the touchstone of all that we believe. You can be mistaken on some secondary issues and still be a Christian, but if you are wrong about Jesus, you are wrong in the worst possible place. Our faith in Jesus must be more than just an emotional experience of “having Jesus in my heart.” Our faith must rest on the revealed truth about Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord.
If we take this clause from the Creed and examine it, we can see that it contains four statements:
· I believe in Jesus.
· I believe He is the Christ.
· I believe He is God’s only Son.
· I believe He is the Lord.
Each of these statements deserves close examination. J. I. Packer notes that when the Creed calls God the “Maker of heaven and earth,” it parts company with Hinduism and by extension, with all the Eastern religions. When it declares that Jesus is the Christ, God’s only Son, and our Lord, it parts company with Islam and Judaism. This claim for Jesus makes Christianity utterly unique.
These titles were commonly used by the early church to describe their faith. Sometimes they used the familiar symbol of the fish, which in Greek is IXTHUS. Those letters were an acrostic for four of the words found in this phrase of the Creed:
The letter I is the first letter of “Jesus” in Greek.
The letter X is the first letter of “Christ” in Greek.
The letters TH stand for the first letter of “God” in Greek.
The letter U is the first letter of “Son” in Greek.
The letter S is the first letter of “Savior” in Greek.
So the word IXTHUS (and the fish symbol) stood as shorthand for:
Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our Savior.
Who is Jesus Christ? The Apostles’ Creed gives us four answers.
I. He is the Savior
The name Jesus means “God saves.” Scholars tell us that it was actually a very common name among the Jews in the first century. There were at least ten other men named “Jesus” who lived in Judea at the same time as our Lord. There were at least five Jewish high priests who were named “Jesus.” The name itself is the Greek version of the Old Testament “Joshua.” It speaks of the fact that God has entered the human race on a rescue mission from heaven. That’s why the angel said to Joseph, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). When we say we believe in Jesus, we mean that he was fully human and yet fully divine—a man like us yet a man who possessed the very attributes of God himself. He was the God-man. And he came to save us from our sins.
II. He is the Christ
Let’s dispense with one idea very quickly: “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name. He didn’t grow up in the “Christ” family. Christ is not a family name; it’s a title. To be precise, we should call him “Jesus the Christ.” When you see President Bush on TV, you know that “President” is not his first name, it’s his title, the name of the office he holds. In the same way, the term “Christ” describes one of Jesus’ divinely-appointed titles. The word “Christ” comes from a Greek word that itself comes from a Hebrew word that means “the anointed one.” We often translate it as “the Messiah.” In the Old Testament, prophets, priests and kings were anointed when they formally began their service for God. The anointing was a sign that God had called them to their position. To call Jesus “the Christ” means that the he is the one whom God promised to send to deliver Israel and bring salvation to the world. At Christmastime when we sing, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” we are referring to this truth. A river of connected history flows from Genesis to Revelation, spanning thousands of years and hundreds of generations. Those who believe the Bible have long argued that although it contains 66 books written by many different people over 1,500 years, it has but one message: God’s plan to bring salvation to the world through Jesus Christ. In one way or the other, everything in the Bible fits around that great theme.
The Old Testament says, “He is coming!” The Gospels say, “He is here!” The book of Acts says, “He has come!” The Epistles say, “He is Lord!” Revelation says, “He is coming again!”
The Old Testament contains many promises of his coming:
1) He will be the “seed of the woman” – Genesis 3:15
2) He will be a descendant of Shem – Genesis 9:26
3) He will be a descendant of Abraham – Genesis 12:2-3
4) He will be a descendant of Isaac – Genesis 22:18
5) He will be a descendant of Jacob – Genesis 28:14
6) He will come from the tribe of Judah – Genesis 49:10
7) He will be a descendant of David – II Samuel 7:11-16
8) He will be born of a virgin – Isaiah 7:14
9) He will be born in Bethlehem – Micah 5:2
Who would fit all those qualifications? Many people could fit the first few on the list, but only one person in history fits them all: Jesus Christ. So we say to our Jewish friends, with love and with respect, “The One for whom you are waiting has already come to the earth. He came 2,000 years ago. He is your Messiah. His name is Jesus Christ.”
To say that Jesus is the Christ means that he is the One sent from God to bring God to us and to bring us to God.
III. He is God’s only Son
This phrase speaks of his relationship to God the Father. The little word “only” tells us something crucial about our Lord. In the King James translation of John 3:16, we are told that God so loved the word that he sent his “only-begotten” Son. What does the phrase “only-begotten” mean? It comes from the Greek word monogenas. The mono part means, “one” or “only,” as in the word “monologue,” one person speaking to many people. The genas part is related to the English words “gene” and “genetics” and “gender.” When both parts are put together, “only-begotten” means “one and only” or “absolutely unique” or “one of a kind and there can never be another of the same kind.” The term stresses the absolutely unique nature of Jesus Christ.
Because the Son shares in the same nature as the Father, Jesus could say, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). His Jewish hearers understood him to be claiming equality with God. To call Jesus “God’s only Son” means that he shares the same essential nature as the Father. From this truth comes the doctrine of the Trinity—one God eternally existing in three divine Persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One church father explained the relationship between the Father and the Son this way: As the spring is not the stream, and the stream is not the spring, yet the same water flows through both, even so the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father, but they share the same divine nature.
The Nicene Creed says it is very succinctly when it calls Jesus Christ “very God of very God.” He is not “similar” to God. To call him “God’s only Son” means that he is “God the Son,” and thus worthy of the same worship, adoration, praise, and reverence that we give to God the Father.
Many people today, including some theologians and many liberal Christians, fight against this truth. They want a Christ who is somehow divine but is not truly God. They want a Jesus who is a good role model but they do not want him as their God. A good man? Yes. The Son of God from heaven? Absolutely not. But that is not possible if we take the Bible seriously. C. S. Lewis explained our options this way:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him or kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)
IV. He is our Lord
The final title given to Jesus relates to you and me. He is “our Lord.” The Greek word is kurios. This word occurs many times in the New Testament, and it was also common throughout the Roman Empire. Its basic meaning is “absolute ruler.” To call Jesus “Lord” means that he is sovereign over the entire universe, and he has the right of sovereign rule over you and me. Romans 10:9 says that “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Notice how simple that phrase is—”Jesus is Lord.” To confess with the mouth means more than simply saying the words. It means to agree from the heart that you believe what you are saying. In order to understand this properly, we need a bit of background on how the Romans ruled their vast empire. Because the empire stretched from Europe into the Middle East and across the northern coast of Africa, it encompassed many provinces and thus included many local religions. Scholars speak of the “mystery religions” that were found in many parts of the empire. Each of the various religions has its own code of conduct, its own sacred scriptures, its own pattern of worship, form of sacrifice, sacred rites, priesthood, and so on. Because these religions tended to keep people pacified, the Romans left them alone as much as possible. Rome required only that taxes be paid and that everyone be required to say, “Caesar is Lord.” That’s all—just three simple words. Say “Caesar is Lord,” and then go on about your business. Affirm that Caesar was sovereign and then follow whatever religion suited you. For many people in the Empire, that was no big burden. But Christians steadfastly refused to say, “Caesar is Lord.” They simply wouldn’t say it. How could they say, “Caesar is Lord” when their faith taught them that “Jesus is Lord?” They could not and would not deny Christ. And that is why during the days of persecution, Christians were slaughtered, murdered by the thousands, crucified, burned at the stake, run through with the sword, and thrown to the wild animals. This was the great dividing line that Christians would not cross.
Chuck Colson notes that in the first century, if you stood in a public gathering and cried out, “Jesus is God!” no one would be upset. But if you shouted, “Jesus is Lord!” you would start a riot. Let us be crystal-clear about this. Rome did not persecute Christians because they believed in the deity of Christ, or that Jesus was the promised Messiah, or that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead. Rome did not kill Christians because they said Jesus is the only way of salvation. Those were “religious beliefs” that did not threaten the state. But when Christians declared, “Jesus Christ is our Lord, and there is no other!” that was a direct attack on Caesar-worship, and thus punishable by death.
That is why the Lordship of Christ matters so much. To call him “Lord” means that we surrender all we have to him, and we follow him gladly wherever he leads, whatever it costs.
Let’s return to our original question for a moment. Who is Jesus Christ? As this study makes clear, halfway answers will not do.
He is the Savior!
He is the Messiah!
He is God’s Only Son!
He is our Lord!
What shall we say about all of this? First, that it is biblical. Second, that it is historic. Third, that it is true. This reflects what the Bible says, what the church has always said, and what is in fact true about Jesus Christ. I know that it is not popular to make such dogmatic statements today. Most people—even some Christians—prefer not to emphasize the defining issues of the Christian faith. It’s certainly not Politically Correct to talk about Jesus in these terms. “You are trying to divide people,” someone says. Well, yes I am. Sometimes we need to be divided. It is better to divide over truth than to unite around error.
When we say, “I believe … in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,” we declare to the world that this is what we firmly believe and hold dear in the core of our hearts and minds. We confess this to be true without regard to what others may choose to believe, and we do it regardless of any opposition that may come our way.
The Name Above Every Name
“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2: 9-11).
God has given Jesus “the name that is above every name.” God has ordained that one day his Son will be universally recognized as the Lord of heaven and earth. Many people didn’t recognize him when he walked on the earth. People today still don’t know who he is. But a day is coming when that will change forever. When that day finally arrives, “every knee will bow” and “every tongue confess” that Jesus Christ is Lord. All creation will physically bow before the Son of God and acknowledge his lordship. Note how universal this will be. It will include all creatures “in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” That would include angels and saints in heaven, all those living on the earth, and the dead and the demons and Satan himself under the earth. No one will be left out—all will be included in the universal declaration that Jesus Christ is Lord. Bowing the knee means submission to him as Lord. Confessing with the tongue means that there is no other Lord but Jesus.
Fix this thought clearly in your mind. Jesus will have the last word! He will be vindicated before the entire universe. Even his enemies will bow before him. In the end no opposition against him will stand. This is not universal salvation, but it is universal confession. Not all will be saved but all will confess that Jesus is Lord.
The Pastors’ Roundtable
Three days before Christmas I took part in a “Pastors’ Roundtable” on a local Christian radio station. When I accepted the invitation, I thought we would talk about the meaning of Christmas. A nice, friendly affair. Then they told me that there were three people on the panel—a Messianic Jewish Rabbi, me, and a Muslim cleric. I took a deep breath when I heard that. Gone were my visions of eggnog and candy canes. They seated us side by side at the table that day—the Messianic Jewish Rabbi, me, and the Muslim cleric next to me. The Muslim cleric came in typical Middle Eastern garb. He had a beard and wore a long, flowing robe. We spent the first hour talking about politics and the situation in the Middle East in the light of 9/11. In the second hour the discussion turned to spiritual issues. The host wanted to know if Jews, Muslims and Christians all worship the same God. The Messianic Jewish Rabbi and I both said no, the Muslim cleric said yes. Then he went into some detail trying to prove that we all worship the same God. I countered by saying that Christians believe you cannot speak about God without speaking of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We do not believe it is right to say, “We have God with Jesus, and you have God without Jesus,” as if Jesus is some kind of optional equipment, like a padded steering wheel or extra chrome on your hood—nice but not necessary. You cannot speak about God without also speaking of his Son.
Back and forth the discussion went. Eventually the Muslim cleric said that Muslims love Jesus too. They appreciate him and revere him as a prophet of God, and they even believe in his Virgin Birth and in his miracles. But they don’t believe he is the Son of God because God cannot have a son. And they don’t believe he died on the cross, they believe he only appeared to die. Therefore, they don’t believe in the resurrection. But (these are my words, not his) except for those “details,” they love Jesus too. Of course, those “details” (my word, not his) comprise the heart and soul of who Jesus really is. At that point the host turned to me and said, “Pastor Ray, I guess in the end it all comes down to Jesus, doesn’t it? He’s really the central issue. Do you agree with that?” I not only agreed with that, I said that in the end, Jesus is the central issue of the human race. Each of us must one day give an account for what we have done with the Lord. Did we love him and serve him as Savior and Lord? Or did we choose to go another way? Then on the spur of the moment I began to quote Philippians 2:9-11. “A day is coming when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. That doesn’t just include Christians, that includes everyone, everywhere. We will all bow down and proclaim him Lord to the glory of God the Father.” If we are going to someday bow down and worship him and proclaim him Lord, I don’t want to wait. I want to bow my knee right now and worship him as my Lord.
Here are your choices:
A) You can confess him now with joy as your Lord and Savior,
B) Or, you will someday confess him as Lord in shame and terror.
We must declare this, especially to those who don’t want to hear it. Recently a friend told me about a family member who said in all seriousness, “If you ever mention Jesus to me again, I will never speak to you again.” When such moments come, we need to respond with words like these: “I don’t want to lose your friendship but I must tell you the truth. You were made by Jesus Christ. You owe your life to him. One day you will stand before him as your Judge. Sooner or later every knee will bow before him and confess that he is the Lord. You can bow before him today as your Savior or you can face him one day as your Judge. But you cannot escape him. The choice is yours.” Every knee will bow and every tongue confess. That includes your knees and your tongue. Will it be in love and adoration or will it be in abject terror moments before you are cast into eternal hell?
Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He is your Savior. He loves you. He invites you to come to him. He gave himself for you. Today is the day of salvation. Tomorrow is the day of judgment. Won’t you come to him today?
“I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord.” This is the Jesus of the Bible. This is the Christ we worship today. This is the Jesus we call Savior and Lord. This is the true Christ of the Christian faith. There is no one like him for he alone is God incarnate. His words have divine authority because they are the words of Almighty God. One day the entire universe will bow down and worship him. We have no other Savior and we follow no other Lord. The martyrs died because they would not worship anyone else. We will not exchange the Lord Jesus Christ for anyone or anything.
He alone is the Lord. Oh, that our hearts would sing his praise. God hasten the day until every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Amen.