Who Is Jesus Christ? Article D: The Person and Work of Jesus Christ
March 15, 1992
Tonight we are coming to the most critical doctrine in the Articles of Faith. Other doctrines are important as establishing foundational truth (the inerrancy of the Bible, the Trinity) or as explaining what we believe in a particular area (eternal security, the premillennial return of Christ), but no doctrine is as critical as the one contained in Article D–The Person and Work of Jesus Christ. It is the answer to the question, “Who is Jesus Christ, What did he do and Why is it important?”
My goal in this study is to say nothing new, nothing novel, nothing you haven’t heard before in one form or the other. In so doing, I hope to follow the path of orthodox theology that has been set out for nearly 20 centuries. If a person has something truly new to say about Jesus Christ–if no one else has ever said or thought it before in one form or another–his “new” truth is likely not to be truth at all.
Last Wednesday’s Theology
Thomas Oden brought the matter sharply into focus in a recent Christianity Today column called “Last Wednesday’s Theology.” In his first column as a contributing editor, he describes his own pilgrimage this way:
When I studied under Richard Niebuhr at Yale, my heart was attuned to every breeze of contemporary theology. For the first two decades of my work as a theologian, I attempted desperately to find some modern ideology, psychology, politics, or sociology that could conveniently substitute for the method and content of classical Christian teaching. That is what I sincerely understood “theology” to be, focused as I was on theology since last Wednesday.
For me the whistle has blown on that game. Over a decade ago, I committed myself to an orthodox agenda for theology…I am passionately dedicated to unoriginality…I am doggedly sworn to irrelevance, insofar as relevance implies a corrupt indebtedness to modernity. As I begin this editorial task, I renew my pledge to make no new contributions to theology…My solemn promise is to seek the one mind of the believing church, which has been ever attentive to apostolic teaching. This path was set forth in the fifth century by Vincent of Lerins. He offered a reliable threefold method for identifying orthodoxy: that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all. (Christianity Today, February 10, 1992, p. 10)
The deity of Christ certainly fits into that category. Long regarded as the touchstone of Christianity, it is “that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.” Although there is some variation in the way different thinkers have expressed this truth, if a person in the final analysis denies the deity of Christ, he has put himself outside the Christian faith. If he doesn’t believe this doctrine, he is, in fact, not a Christian at all–no matter what he calls himself.
Very God and Very Man
With that as background, let us consider the exact wording of Article D–The Person and Work of Jesus Christ:
We believe in the full deity of Jesus Christ, that He was begotten of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary and is very God and very man. Luke 1:30-35; 2:7; John 1:1-4; Phil. 2:5-11; Col. 1:13-19; Heb. 1:1-3.
It may be helpful to acknowledge that this is only part 1 of Article D. The full article is much longer, encompassing the death, resurrection and present ministry of Christ in heaven, as well as the second coming of Christ to the earth. Our focus tonight is entirely on the central and supreme question–Who is Jesus Christ? Unless that question be answered correctly, we cannot go on. If we are wrong about who he is, we will also be wrong about what he did. Our whole estimate of Jesus Christ is wrapped up in this simple, penetrating question–Who is he?
Article D offers a clear answer. “We believe in the full deity of Jesus Christ.” But what does “full deity” mean? For that matter, what does the word “deity” mean and why is it qualified by the adjective “full?” The word “deity” means “divine; possessing the attributes of God.” To say that we believe in the “full deity” of Jesus Christ means that we believe that he possesses all the attributes of God to the fullest extent possible. That is, whatever can be said about God can be said about Jesus Christ. To see Jesus is to see God.
The phrase “full deity” implies that there is some other kind of “deity” that is less than “full.” To wit, some might say that Jesus is “like God” or that he is “the image of God” or that he is “divine in every way but not equal with God himself.” Against all such lesser conceptions of Jesus, Article D proclaims that Jesus Christ is “very God and very man.” Here we arrive at the crux of the issue. We believe–with Christians of every age and every land–that Jesus Christ is God in human flesh. He is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Hebrews 1:3) who “being in very nature God did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Philippians 2:6), but being made in human likeness, “the word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), which is why John 1:1 plainly declares that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Who is Jesus Christ? He is God in human flesh, the God-man, fully God and fully man, 100% human and 100% divine. He is so fully divine that he is God as if he had never been man at all; he is so fully human that he is man as if he had never been God at all. Whatever it truly means to be God is true of Jesus Christ; whatever it truly means to be human is true of Jesus Christ. And these twin realities are fully true 100% of the time–whether we completely understand them or not. This is the orthodox doctrine of Jesus Christ.
12 Proofs of the Deity of Christ
One vital question now arises. How well does the orthodox doctrine of Christ square with what we find in the New Testament? Is this doctrine found in the pages of Holy Scripture or has it been added later by an overeager church desirous of protecting its Founder? Would Jesus recognize himself in these exalted terms? Granted that the term “God-man” does not occur in the Bible, does it nevertheless fit the evidence we find?
To answer that question, I turn to an article written over a century ago by Dr. John Stock, a British pastor who also wrote A Handbook of Revealed Theology. I found this article in a large book called The Fundamentals, published recently by Kregel. The book is an abridgement of a five-volume collection of articles by various writers defending the central doctrines of the Christian faith. In the spirit of Thomas Oden, I now summarize this century-old article because its arguments in favor of the deity of Christ are as compelling today as the day they were written.
Stock begins with these strong words:
Jesus of Nazareth was not a mere man, excelling others in purity of life, sincerity of purpose, and fulness of his knowledge. He is the God-man. Such a view of the person of Messiah is the assured foundation of the entire Scriptural testimony to him, and it is to be irresistibly inferred from the style and strain in which he habitually spoke of himself. (p. 279)
That’s a nice phrase–”irresistibly inferred”–because it suggests that the truth about Jesus is not to be found simply in a creedal statement but in the sum total of the things he said and did. That is, we do not believe in the deity of Christ simply because the Bible states the fact–although that alone would be enough–but we believe this doctrine because a fair reading of the Bible allows no other conclusion.
What, then, do we find when we examine the life of Christ? Specifically, what claims did he make for himself?
1. Jesus claimed to be the Son of God.
We can explain this point with several brief statements:
A. Jesus used the title “Son of God” to describe himself. John 3:16, 18
B. His opponents accused him of using this title. Matthew 27:43; John 19:7
C. When so accused, he said, “It is as you say.” Matthew 26:63-64
D. The Jews understood him to thus be claiming equality with God. John 5:18
E. They also understood that he was thus making himself one with God. John 10:33
“How easy it would have been for him to set them right. How imperative were his obligations to do so … Not a word did he say to soften the offensiveness of his claim… . Nothing can be clearer, then, than the fact that Jesus died without a protest for claiming equality with God, and thus making himself God.” (pp. 279-280)
2. Jesus claimed a divine supremacy in both worlds.
By the phrase “both worlds,” we mean the natural world we see around us, and the supernatural realm of the spirit. In all that he did, Jesus acted as Lord both of the seen and the unseen.
A. He claimed that the angels obey him. Matthew 13:41
B. He claimed to be the Universal Judge of men. Matthew 25:31-46
C. He claimed to possess all power in heaven and on earth. Matthew 28:20
“If Jesus is to be the universal and absolute Judge of our race–a Judge from whose decisions there will be no appeal, he must be ’God manifest in the flesh.’” (p. 281)
3. Jesus claimed absolute authority in dealing with every question of moral duty and destiny.
Here we are thinking of his sweeping claims as a teacher. When he had finished the Sermon on the Mount, his hearers said, “He speaks as one having authority and not like the teachers of thelaw.” (Matthew 7:29) Why is that? Because the others taught with derivative authority while Jesus taught with direct authority. It is the difference between the one who writes the law and the one who merely interprets the law.
A. In Matthew 5, he explains the deeper meaning of the law of God.
Seven times he quotes the law and then says, “But I say to you.”
B. In Matthew 6 he teaches his followers how to pray.
C. In Matthew 7 he calls the man wise who builds his life upon his (Jesus’) words. (7:24)
“He ever speaks as if he were the Author and Giver of the law; as if he had the power to modify any of its provisions according to his own ideas of fitness; as if he were the Supreme Lord of human consciousness.” (p. 282)
D. He asserted his right to declare the true meaning of the Sabbath. (Mark 2:28)
E. He commanded his followers to baptize in his name. (Matthew 28:19)
F. He affirmed that he would one day sit on a royal throne. (Matthew 19:28)
“But surely he who claims supremacy, absolute and indisputable, in morals, in divine institutions, in the Church on earth, in heaven, and in the consummated universe forever, must be Lord of all, manifest in human form.” (p. 284)
4. Jesus claimed the power to forgive sin.
This is the fact that got him in trouble early in his ministry when he forgave the sins of the paralytic who was lowered through a hole in the roof. The Jews, incensed, accused him saying, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21) It was a good question. If Jesus were a mere man, he could not forgive sins. But if he claimed to forgive sins, that was tantamount to claiming to be God. The Jews got that part right, but they missed the conclusion because in their minds it was impossible for Jesus to be God. But give them credit. They saw the issue clearly.
The miracle that Jesus worked when he healed the man of his paralysis was an incidental miracle. The real miracle was the miracle of forgiveness. He only did the miracle they could see (physical healing) so that they would believe he had done the miracle they couldn’t see (forgiveness).
Let every other point be dropped, and let this one remain in the mind. By claiming to forgive sins, Jesus was implicitly claiming to be God.
5. Jesus claimed the power to raise his own body from the dead and to ultimately raise all men–the good and the bad–physically from the dead.
This is a stupendous claim–the ability to raise the dead. Only God could do a thing like that.
A. Jesus claimed the ability to raise himself from the dead. (John 2:19-21)
B. He said he had the ability to lay his life down and to take it back up again. (John 10:18)
C. He claimed the ability to raise men–both the good and the bad–from the dead. (John 5:25-29)
“How could he raise the dead from their graves, if he were not the Almighty Creator?” (p. 285)
6. Jesus declared that he had the ability to do all his Father’s works.
When Jesus healed the impotent man at Bethesda, the Jews accused him of sin for healing on the Sabbath. In a most memorable reply, Jesus justified healing on the Sabbath by saying, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” The Jews clearly understood this as a claim of equality with God and began plotting to put him to death. (John 5:16-18) To put it clearly in one sentence, Jesus not only called God his “Father” but also claimed that he (Jesus) had the absolute right and authority to do whatever God had the right and authority to do.
“He who can do all the works of God must be God!” (p. 286)
7. Jesus spoke of himself as the greatest gift of infinite mercy.
When explaining the truth to Nicodemus, Jesus uttered the words which have become the most loved words in all the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) But what did he mean? He meant that in sending him (Jesus) to the world, God was sending the best that he had. To say it another way, if God had sent an angel–even a very powerful, very great, very glorious angel–he would not have been sending his best. But by sending Jesus, God sent the greatest gift of infinite mercy and love.
What a claim to make for oneself! Sometimes women will say of a certain egotistical man, “He thinks he’s God’s gift to women.” In a similar sense, that’s what Jesus is saying in John 3:16–”I am God’s gift to the world.” No mere man could ever make that statement. Either it is true or Jesus is the greatest egotist the world has ever seen. “If Christ be greater than all other divine gifts combined, must he not be the God-man?” (p. 286)
8. Jesus announced himself as the center of rest for the human soul.
A. Jesus invited the weary to come to him for rest. Matthew 11:28-30
B. Jesus promised peace to his followers. John 14:27; 16:33
C. But God alone is the resting-place for the human spirit and the only source
of lasting peace.
For Jesus to invite all mankind to come to himself is ludicrous if he is a mere man. Either he is far more than a man or he is a deceiver or is himself deceived. “Thus ever does our Lord concentrate our thoughts upon himself. But what must he be to be worthy of such supreme attention?” (p. 287)
9. Jesus permitted Thomas to adore him as his Lord and his God.
The scene: The Upper Room eight days after the resurrection. Thomas the doubter sees the risen Christ for the first time. Previously he had demanded the right to reach out and touch the wounds—to see for himself that it was really Jesus, to find the empirical proof needed to convince his wounded heart. When he sees Jesus, that first sight convinced him so completely that no touch was needed. Falling to the ground, Thomas cried out, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)What will Jesus do? He has only two choices. Either he must rebuke Thomas for his enthusiastic blasphemy–for that is what it is, if incorrect–or he must accept it as the sober truth. The text is clear: Jesus accepts the praise of Thomas. It is as if Jesus is saying, “Yes, indeed, it is true. That is who I am.” But more than that, Jesus even pronounced a blessing on those who share his faith: “Because you saw me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:29) The conclusion is inescapable: Jesus accepted Thomas’ praise because it was true. He was his Lord and his God. “He thus most emphatically declared his Lordship and Godhead.” (p. 288)
10. Jesus demands of us an unhesitating faith in himself; such faith, in short, as we should only exercise in God.
A. We must believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven. John 14:6
B. Faith in Christ is in the same category as faith in the Father. John 14:1
C. He said that he could give living water. John 4:10-14
D. He said that belief in himself produces eternal life. John 6:47
E. Those who trust in him shall never perish. John 3:16; 10:28
F. Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” John 10:30
G. Jesus claimed that spiritual life was impossible without a living and vital
connection to himself. John 15:1-5
These are stupendous, shocking claims for a mere man to make. Only someone who knew himself to be the Son of God could dare to say such things. Either these are the words of an egomaniac or they are the words of the Son of God from heaven. No one should trust a man who said such things … unless that man be the God-man from heaven.
11. The affection and devotion Jesus demands are such as can properly be yielded only to God.
Again and again Jesus demanded total, unhesitating sacrifice on the part of his followers. For him there could not be halfway discipleship. He demands such total devotion that it can only be proper when yielded to God himself. “Father, mother, son, daughter, wife, and even life itself are all to be sacrificed, if devotion to Christ necessitates the surrender.” (p. 289) What more could God require of his people? Yet this is what Christ demands of his people. “I could not love Christ as he requires to be loved, if I did not believe in him as the Incarnate God.” (p. 290)
At one point, Jesus even says that our eternal destiny depends on our confessing him before men–Matthew 10:32; 25:45-46. If he is only a man, such a statement is nonsense and worse–it is blasphemy and dangerous to the soul. If we are to submit every thought and desire, even the highest and best to him, then he must be God.
12. Jesus promised his continuing presence to his disciples after the resurrection.
A. Jesus promised to be with his disciples whenever they gathered together. Matt. 18:20
B. Jesus promised his perpetual presence with his disciples. Matthew 18:20
“No perverse criticism can explain away these assurances; they guarantee the perpetual, personal presence of Jesus with all his disciples to the end of time.” (p. 290) How can we explain such promises if Christ be a mere man such as we are. When we die, our personal presence leaves this earth and our loved ones are left with nothing but memories. But most assuredly, our Lord was promising something more substantial than fading memories. He promised that after he was gonebodily, he would remain “with them” in some wonderful and very real way. “Who is this that is always with his disciples in all countries at the same moment, but the Infinite One in a human form? We feel his presence; we know he is with us; and in this fact we have evidence that he is more than a man.” (p. 291)
The Christ We Need
When John Stock came to the end of his article, he concluded with a statement that to me sums up the case for Jesus Christ in an unanswerable fashion. For those who doubt the importance of this doctrine, ponder these words carefully:
The times demand of us a vigorous re-assertion of the old truths, which are the very foundation of the gospel system. Humanity needs a Christ whom all can worship and adore. The mythical account in Strauss’ “Leben Jesu”; the unreal and romantic Christ of Renan’s “Vie de Jesus”; and even the merely human Christ of “Ecce Homo” can never work any deliverance in the earth. Such a Messiah does not meet the yearnings of fallen human nature. It does not answer the pressing query, “How shall man be just with God?” It supplies no effective or sufficient agency for the regeneration of man’s moral powers. It does not bring God down to us in our nature. Such a Christ we may criticize and admire, as we would Socrates, or Plato, or Milton, or Shakespeare; but we cannot trust him with our salvation; we cannot love him with all our hearts; we cannot pour forth at his feet the homage of our whole being; for to do so would be idolatry.
A so-called Savior, whose only power to save lies in the excellent moral precepts that he gave, and the pure life that he lived; who is no longer the God-man, but the mere man; whose blood had no sacrificial atoning or propitiatory power in the moral government of Jehovah, but was simply a martyr’s witness to a superior system of ethics–is not the Savior of the four Gospels, of or Paul, or Peter, or John. It is not under the banners of such a Messiah that the Church of God has achieved its triumphs.
The Christ of the New Testament, of the early church, of universal Christendom; the Christ, the power of whose name has revolutionized the world and raised it to its present level, and under whose guidance the sacramental host of God’s redeemed are advancing and shall advance to yet greater victories over superstition and sin, is Immanuel, God with us, in our nature, whose blood “cleanseth us from all sin,” and who is “able to save, even to the uttermost, all that come unto God through him.” (pp. 291-291)
The Three Alternatives
In the end the decision about Jesus Christ must become very personal. Who do you think he is? Is he the Son of God? Is he the Messiah from heaven? Is he a misunderstood Palestinian rabbi? Is he who he claimed to be? Or is he something else altogether?
May I submit to you that when all the alternatives are fairly considered, we are left with only three options concerning Jesus Christ:
1. He might be a Liar. Perhaps he wasn’t telling the truth at all. If so, then he falls in the category of those religious charlatans who come along from time to time selling spiritual snake oil to the gullible. But note this. If Jesus is a liar, then he is the biggest and most successful liar in history since to this day over 1 billion people have followed his lies.
2. He might be a Lunatic. Let us suppose that you desire a more charitable judgment on Jesus. Is it possible that he was well-meaning but deluded? Could it be that he thought he was telling the truth, but like those poor souls who think they are Napoleon, deserved to be locked way in an asylum? Is that your judgment on Jesus? If so, the question remains: How could so many evidently normal people follow a madman for so many centuries? Madmen gain a following for a time but are eventually found out. How has this madman from Galilee continued to trick people after 20 centuries?
3. He might be the Lord. If the first two alternatives do not suit you, then perhaps you will consider this one. It really is the only option left. A man who said the things Jesus said was either a liar, a lunatic or he was (and is) the Lord from heaven. But if he is the Lord from heaven, then you dare not remain neutral. You must give some account for how you respond. If he is the Lord, then you must yield your life to him. No other response will suffice.
C.S. Lewis on Jesus
Does this scenario seem unfair to you, as if perhaps the deck has been stacked to force you to a predetermined conclusion? It is possible that you wish to consider a fourth alternative, one that is popular with many, many people? It is sometimes said this way: “When I look at Jesus, I see the greatest moral teacher the world has ever known. He may or he may not be the Son of God–to me that doesn’t matter–what’s important is that I recognize and follow his moral teachings.” Is such a view compatible with the New Testament picture of Jesus Christ? Does it present him as a great moral teacher or as the ultimate example for mankind?
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis considers this very common viewpoint and concludes his chapter “The Shocking Alternative” with these penetrating words:
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. (pp. 55-56)
Implications of the Deity of Christ
After all is said and done, this doctrine has great implications for the life of the church. From the many things that might be suggested, we can focus on three crucial areas.
1. For Doctrine
The major implication is simple: There can be no “give” in this area. The deity of Christ is not an article of faith we wish to discuss or debate. It is a doctrine to be proclaimed. When Paul said, “If any man preach any other gospel, let him be accursed,” he meant that there are indeed “other gospels” based on other views of Jesus Christ. How terribly sad it is to see all around us formerly-great churches that once believed in the deity of Jesus Christ. But somewhere along the way, in a misbegotten attempt to be relevant, they began to lower the bars. They began to listen to the siren songs of modernity and to revise their orthodox theology to make it palatable to the refined tastes of the community. Let us be warned. Such a thing can easily happen to us if we begin to “give.” Please understand. I am all for dialogue and discussion. I am even more for proclamation. But we must not ever give the impression that this doctrine is up for grabs or that we don’t really care whether our people believe it or not. We do care and it does matter. The deity of Jesus Christ is the central doctrine of our faith.
Beyond that, we may simply say that it is impossible to overemphasize Jesus! He who is our Lord is also the center of life for us. All our doctrine, all our teaching, all our learning, all our study, must lead to him.
2. For Worship
If Jesus Christ is God, then he must be the center of our worship. “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto myself.” (John 3:15) It is not enough for us to have great preaching, inspired music, uplifting prayers, awe-inspiring choir numbers, joyful choruses and thunderous preludes. We must worship Jesus! He must be lifted up! Everything we do must lead to him! Truly Christian worship is Christ-centered. He must be the beginning, the end, the goal and the focus. If our people come Sunday after Sunday and leave knowing the Bible but not knowing Jesus Christ, then we have established not a church but a seminary. Let us lift up Jesus on Sunday and the rest will fall in place. But should we fail to exalt Jesus the rest is sounding brass and tinkling cymbals.
On a personal level this truth means that knowing Jesus better must be our daily goal. “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection.” (Philippians 3:10) It is never enough to simply read the Bible so that we can learn more facts. Our greater need is to know Jesus Christ our Lord. Let us pray fervently to know him. Let us seek his face early in the day. Let us focus our thoughts on him. Let us say, “Lord Jesus, may your love be seen in my life today.” Let us ask God to reproduce the life of Christ in us.
3. For Evangelism
Here is the final implication. He must be the center of our message. What else do we have to offer the world? If people are looking for something to join, they can join the PTA. If they are looking for a place to go, they can buy a ticket to see the Cubs at Wrigley Field. If they want good music, they can listen to the Chicago Symphony. If they want to listen to a lecture, they can take an evening course at Triton College. If they want to meet people, they can join a bowling league.
But if they want their sins forgiven, where else can they go? If they want to find a lasting purpose in life, where else can they go? If they want eternal life, where else can they go? If they want their guilt removed, where else can they go? If they want answers to their deepest questions, where else can they go? If they want to know what happens after death, where else can they go?
As Peter said to Jesus, “Where else can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” In Jesus Christ we find the answers to the deepest needs of modern man. What our friends are looking for they can find in Jesus. For he is “fullness of God in bodily form.”
We have the answer. His name is Jesus Christ.
We have the hope of the world. His name is Jesus Christ.
We have the Savior of mankind. His name is Jesus Christ.
We have the One who lifts every burden. His name is Jesus Christ.
We have the way, the truth and the life. His name is Jesus Christ.
We have the Alpha and the Omega. His name is Jesus Christ.
We have the water of life. His name is Jesus Christ.
We have the bread from heaven. His name is Jesus Christ.
We have the giver of eternal life. His name is Jesus Christ.
We have the One who was, and is, and is to come. His name is Jesus Christ.
We have the Savior who died for the sins of the world. His name is Jesus Christ.
We have the victor over the grave. His name is Jesus Christ.
We have the risen, ascended Son of God. His name is Jesus Christ.
We have the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. His name is Jesus Christ.
Let us exalt him, let us praise him, let us proclaim him to the ends of the earth! Amen.