CHRIST’S DEITY: WHY YOU MUST BELIEVE IT.
John 1:1 “The word was God.”
Romans 9:5 “Christ, who is God over all, forever praised, Amen.”
Hebrews 1:8 “Your throne O God is for ever and ever.”
2 Peter 1:1 “Our God and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
The early Christians began to spread and stand out in the Roman Empire and they were constantly checked and spied on by the Roman government. In the year 112, the Roman governor of a province called Bithynia (in what is today a part of Turkey), was a man named Pliny. He wrote to the Emperor Trajan for advice on the practice of killing Christians. It seems that Pliny didn’t have the stomach to execute all those accused of being Christians. He saw the little families, the bewildered children, weeping mothers and frightened fathers. He wanted to know if his new policy of leniency was acceptable.
Pliny had sent out spies to attend the church services, and he wrote to the Emperor with his findings. It is the first non-Christian description of a Sunday service. The Christians in his province, he wrote, “were in the habit of meeting on certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to do any wicked deeds . . .” So there were Christians who believed Christ to be ‘as a god’ as early as 112. Common sense would agree that Christians believed this earlier than 112, for it had to take some time to get to Turkey and then to get to Pliny’s notice, and for him to feel compelled to pay this religion some attention – let alone start executing its adherents.
So Pliny was dealing with a situation that was in full swing – Christians refusing to acknowledge the Roman emperor to be god, but instead worshipping a man called ‘Christ.’ Why am I emphasizing this? One little reason is that Dan Brown who wrote the Da Vinci Code says that Christians didn’t start thinking of Christ as God until the fourth century at a gathering of leaders of the churches in the Council of Nicaea. In fact, this famous letter of Pliny places belief in Jesus’ deity in the first century when a few people might still have been alive who could remember Jesus of Nazareth. How little do things change. We Christians also meet on the first day of the week, and we too sing hymns to Christ as God, as we’ve done today. Also there were a family of eight, a week today, in Gojra in eastern Pakistan, our fellow believers, and they were burned to death because they believe that Jesus Christ is God. Nothing changes.
There can be no greater question for anyone to resolve than the question, ‘Is Jesus of Nazareth God?’ How do we answer that question? How do we show that he is indeed God?
1. WE KNOW THAT CHRIST IS DIVINE FROM HIS WORDS.
We have to remind ourselves that this real person lived a flesh and blood existence in a family and in one village and many years later began a traveling ministry all over the land of Israel. He moved freely in human society; he got involved in men’s affairs; he lived in the closest proximity to all that is commonplace in our own existence. He was open to observation and inspection. We know that at many points he made a remarkable impression on the people who encountered him. He was outstanding morally being utterly without guile, totally honest and pure and loving and yet he was an energetic three-dimensional man, not a mamby-pamby at all, courageous and discerning.
He also made a remarkable impression on people by many extraordinary things that he did, but perhaps most of all his words were so striking and memorable. It was how he spoke, and what he said that gripped and captivated men and women. They said, “No one ever spoke like this man.” They had heard their rabbis speaking in their synagogues, and their political leaders could stir up a national spirit, but no one could remotely touch the Lord Jesus when he spoke. They could listen for hours to him, and then when he stopped and moved on somewhere else they simply followed him, wanting him to go on and on. They dogged his footsteps so that he found it hard to get away from them. There was an occasion when he had to get in a boat and sail across the lake to signify the end of his time with them, but then they simply walked all around the lake to meet up with him again, to hear his parables, and his entreaties and warnings and righteous teaching. They couldn’t hear him enough. What did they hear? There was the Sermon on the Mount:
“Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matt.5:1-9). Isn’t it so beautiful? Ghandi never said words like that. The Buddha never said anything remotely like that. Karl Marx or Freud or Shakespeare never wrote anything as wonderful as those words. I worship the Lord who said that.
Or again he said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 1:28-30). Or again Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (Jn 14:3). A friend of mine was a complete atheist, and one day he picked up a book in a second hand shop with the title on the jacket, Good News For Modern Man. He bought it not knowing it was the New Testament, and as he read it, this is what he says, “I was drawn more and more deeply into the heart of its teaching until I reached a definite point where an event of recognition occurred. Without the aid of any other human, immediately and comprehensively, I was granted the realization that what I was reading was absolutely and eternally True. The impact this recognition made upon me was life-changing, and brought a feeling of joy combined with wonder and awe. For me there could be no going back; from that moment on, I knew that I was reading words that for ever were true, and must be lived by, and if need be, died for” (Michael W.J. Phelan, The Inspiration of the Pentateuch, ISBN 0-9547205-6-3, 2005, p. 17).
Here is a man who reads a book and he is gripped by it. He holds in his hand a New Testament and becomes conscious that he is holding a miracle, something absolutely and utterly unique, in its independence of thought, in its compelling tone, in its utter and invincible confidence that it is relevant to his life and mine and yours, that in moments of doubt his mind can rest in this, “I’ve got the Bible. I’ve got words of absolute and eternal truth. I have a book that comes from another world in which I can hear the unique utterances of the Son of God.” Some of you have studied literature at university and at school. Some of you have read much that is its best, but here is something discontinuous, something splendid and unique, words that know me, and describe me, and search me, and find me. They speak to my need. They are unsurpassable in their grandeur and uninventable in their originality, and there are times w
hen we say, “I worship the Lord who wrote this book.”
Now you understand that I have moved on in my quotations. I began with the beauty of the beatitudes beginning the Sermon on the Mount, and they are echoes of the Spirit-inspired psalms. But I have progressed to words with which the Lord Jesus invites people to come to himself, that he promises that he will give them rest. Whoever they are, he can cope if they simply come to him. He can handle their problems and they will find the peace that passes all understanding that they are longing for. He, and he alone can give it. Or again he urges men and women to trust in God but also to trust in him. He conjoins himself to God! He adds that one day he is going to come again to this earth. Death will not annihilate him or his links with them. He will return to take them to himself that they might be for ever where he is.
Christ’s words are absolutely staggering, but he makes many, many more. For example that one day he will judge the world, that we all must stand before him and he will assign each one of us a destiny. Now we are facing a self-consciousness of staggering proportions. There is nothing ordinary about a man who makes a claim like that, but what is more extraordinary is this. That the standard by which he will judge them is this, how men are related to him. He will say to many, “I never knew you.” The decisive thing in a man’s destiny is his relationship with Jesus Christ. He says, “If a man is ashamed of me then I shall be ashamed of him.” Again he tells them that how they treated his disciples will be a great mark of what they felt about him. If they fed and visited and nursed his disciples then it is as if they were doing it to him. Here he is in all his frailty; they knew his mother; they knew the family he had grown up with; they even knew Nazareth, and yet he is saying these things, making these claims about himself as the key to eternity.
But there are other claims; he said that he was the way and the truth and the life, and that no one could come to the Father but by him. By Jesus alone we come to God, that he is the sole mediator with God. What staggering words. Or again, he claimed pre-existence; “before Abraham was I am.” “I go right back; I go back before Abraham; I go back into eternity. I belong to another world entirely.” Or again he claims to be absolute God. “I and my Father are one,” he says. Now it doesn’t matter where you probe the Bible, the first three gospels or the gospel of John, or the letters of the apostles, the only Jesus you will find is a divine Christ. The man we meet is one who makes the most astonishing and awe-inspiring claims, that he can give the whole of mankind rest, that he is the Judge of the earth, that he is the only way to God, that he existed before the world began, the claim of utter and absolute deity.
We are confronted with the tremendous challenge of our Lord’s assertion of his deity, that the child in the manger, the infant of Mary in all his frailty and humanness and apparent ordinariness is the incarnate God. In many ways that is the challenge of God’s gospel, the challenge of the self-consciousness of the Lord Jesus, his claim to be God, the one who made the universe, the one who upholds the universe, the one who will judge it. That is his claim, that he made you, that he is your Lord, that he is your God, and I am saying that you must believe this and bow the knee to him if what he says is true, because if what he says is truth then it has the most momentous consequences. If what he says is truth and we reject it then we go to hell. If what he says is truth and we accept him then he becomes our Saviour.
I am standing today in the midst of the New Testament with all its streams flowing around me and whenever I probe I find these claims of the Lord Jesus, a divine Christ, what men must describe at length as a ‘megalomaniac’ if what he says is a lie. I am asking you whether you have reflected on the words of Christ? Have you considered his claims? Have you thought that what he says is true, the possibility that Christ is God. There is never going to be a more important question that will rise up and confront you than this.
You say, “I don’t feel anything.” But I am not talking about feelings. I’m talking about the historical fact that the Lord Christ has laid it on our consciences that God and he were one. Either they are the words of very confused, sick and a rather evil man or they are the words of the living God, and if they are the words of God then you must bow before him because the Christian faith is true. It seems to me that very often people are looking for reasons other than that for being Christians, but to me there is one great reason for becoming a Christian and that is that it’s true. When it is true then it has the right to my allegiance. I could say to you that the Christian message will help your marriage, and give you hope in death, and enable you to meet a wonderful circle of friends, and it will give you inner peace. But before any of that is true when Jesus spoke the winds and waves obeyed him. It is true that the grave was empty and Christ arose. It is true that he is God, and I am urging you to believe on him in the name of the objective reality and veracity of that. Christ claimed to be God, and if that is true it transforms all my life. It commands and deserves my allegiance
2. WE KNOW THAT CHRIST IS DIVINE FROM HIS ACTIONS.
You find a certain pattern in the gospels. The Lord Jesus speaks and makes some incredible claim, something that is barmy is he is a mere man like you and me. But then he will do something utterly breathtaking and supernatural that will confirm that what he claims is true. For example, Jesus said that he was ‘the living bread from heaven that gives life to the world.’ Incredible! Then he prays and breaks up five loaves and two fishes and he multiplies them, in other words he keeps breaking them and distributing the bread in baskets held by his disciples and keeps doing that for, I guess, an hour or two so that ultimately over five thousand men are completely fed, and there are actually twelve baskets full of fragments left over. There was another occasion Jesus claims that he is the resurrection and the life. Incredible! Then he raises Lazarus from his grave after he has been dead for three days. Or again Christ says to men and women that if they believe on him they will enjoy eternal life, and then what does he do he gives life to sick and dying people, to every single ill man and woman without exception who come to him. He gives sight to the blind; movement and flexibility to the paralyzed; cleansing to the leper; the lame walk; the deaf hear. There is no diseased person brought to him, even if they are in the last stages of cancer or heart disease, that Jesus does not give fullness of life to. “I am the life,” he says. “I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly,” and then he shows his power over disease and over death.
He makes predictions about his own end, that he will be betrayed and crucified, but that on the third day he will rise from the grave. That phrase is a great refrain in the gospels, “the third day” and then we discover that this was exactly so. He who was put to death so thoroughly and officially rises on the third day. The grave stone is removed; the grave-clothes are still there but the body is gone, though we know that no one wanted it. Then he appears again and again, to Mary in the garden, to the eleven in the upper room, to his half brother James, and to his disciple Peter, to two on the road to Emmaus and to the disciples by the side of the lake at a fire he has made, to five hundred of them on a mountain, many of whom lived for years after this event and talked of it to all who would listen to them; “we were with him . . .
we ate and drank with him . . . we saw him finally ascend to heaven.” They laid down their lives for that fact. Not for a revolutionary ideology but for the fact that he rose and lives and he is God. So we know that he is God from all that he did. Let me hurry on . . .
3. WE KNOW THAT CHRIST IS DIVINE FROM HIS LIFE.
Jesus could have been an inspiring teacher, and he could have done these sensational actions, but then he might have also been bit of a handful, a one man band, an awkward individual, a bit intimidating, austere, or even given to bouts of rage if anyone crossed him. In fact he was nothing at all like that. When he was 18 he didn’t think, “That’s enough. I have been here in this one donkey village long enough. It’s time for someone with the gifts and vision that I have to get away and show people what I can do.” He stayed there for twelve more years, all through that long decade of our twenties he was making doors and fence posts and ploughs with his father, sharing a bedroom with a few brothers, looking after his mother. Is that important? It is obviously important to the only God there is. Is family life important to you? Is it more important than your getting off and doing your own thing? The incarnate God spent years caring for his mother and his family. What is more important for us than doing that? Would you want a God who said, “Family is nothing. All that matters is me.”
Again, Jesus was angry when his disciples prevented mothers bringing their children to him for him to pray for them. “Let them come to me. Don’t forbid them,” he said and he held them and he called for blessings to fall on them. God is someone who has time for children. When you first know you are pregnant you start to pray for that tiny life within your womb and God is pleased. Our Lord was once in the womb of Mary himself. He was once a little boy and he’s experienced the trials and pain that boys must experience. Our God knows this and he is touched by this – when you cry and say, “I don’t want to go to school again.”
Or again when he noticed that none of his disciples was prepared to do what the most menial servant should have done, and washed their feet of the donkey dung and dog dirt and mud that they had brought into the Upper Room. Jesus did it. He got on his knees and he washed their feet one by one – twelve of them – and then dried their feet with a towel, drying between the toes. Sometimes you want to have a picture of God in your minds, Maybe you see him as an old man with a white beard, and that is a nice picture, but here is a better picture of God. He’s like a young man kneeling down and washing men’s feet, and that is what God is like.
Or again, when they nailed him to a cross, driving the nails with a sledge hammer right through the palms of his hands into a cross and then lifting him up suspended by those nails. He didn’t only cry and scream with pain but then he prayed for those men who did it, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” One day we will all meet God, and this is the Lord we’ll meet, the one who know what we’ve done against him but has prayed that we might be forgiven. I am so glad that that is the Jesus who is God, kind, merciful, loving, full of patience, approachable, understanding little boys, one who has washed the feet of proud men.
4. WE KNOW THAT CHRIST IS DIVINE FROM THE WORDS OF THOSE WHO KNEW HIM BEST.
What did his friends and his half-brother think of him? You know that they were nearly all Jews, and that their great watchword and war-cry was, “Behold O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.” They hated idolatry. They opposed any rival to Jehovah, the one true and living God. They had spent 70 years in exile in Babylon and had almost been wiped out as a nation through succumbing to the seduction of other gods. God was one! There is only one God. They had finally learned that. They would lay down their lives for that. Caesar was not their God.
Yet Jesus speaks to them for three years. Jesus lives among them for three years. He is so exposed to ordinary people like you and me, watching, noting, making judgment. They see him healing the sick and he walks on water, and multiplies loaves and fishes and raises the dead. So, even before his resurrection, Peter realizes who this is. He says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Seven days after his resurrection Thomas is saying, “My Lord and my God.” When Matthew writes his gospel he begins by calling Jesus ‘Emmanuel’ God with us. When Mark writes his gospel he starts it with the words, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” When Luke begins his gospel in the first chapter he tells us the angel said to Mary, “The holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” He also tells us that Elizabeth said to pregnant Mary, “The mother of my Lord has come to me.” And when John begins his gospel he says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
Or consider Saul of Tarsus, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a man who considered Jesus to be a blasphemer for claiming to be the Messiah. After his conversion, what a change! Still a hater of idolatry, but now worshipping Jesus as God. He says in Romans 9 and verse 5, “Christ, who is God over all, forever praised, Amen.” The monotheist Paul addresses Christ directly as God. Or he writes to Titus and he says to him that he is waiting for “the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (Tit. 2:13). Or there is Peter who spent three years with Jesus and was scarcely absent for a day from him and he speaks at the beginning of his second letter of, “the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Or there is the writer to the letter to the Hebrews and he says about Jesus, “Your throne O God is for ever and ever” (Hebs. 1:8). I am particularly impressed with the beginning of the letter of James. James was the half brother of Jesus, sharing a bedroom and sitting next to him at the table for thirty years, knowing him like no other man of his age. You know about sibling rivalry of a younger brother for an older brother, of the tensions and the jealousies that sometimes can rise. Yet he begins his letter like this: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” He is God’s servant; we can appreciate that, but he adds that he is also a servant of the Lord – that is what he calls him – the Lord who is Jesus, the Messiah. He joins God with his brother and says he serves both of them.
I am saying that the men who knew him best and had watched him for years – men who hated idolatry, who knew that there was only one God, they worshipped him as God. Why? His life and personality, his teaching, the great miracles they had seen him perform, his resurrection from the dead, the Spirit he had poured upon them at Pentecost. They put all that together and they saw, by a revelation to the hearts and souls, that he was God. There is another reason. They were prepared for his appearance by the Old Testament Scriptures. They had light on the Bible that they had not had before. The Bible had not changed but their hearts and minds had. They read the prophecy of Isaiah in a new light, “And his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace.” The Messiah would be the Mighty God. They read Daniel’s prophecy of the great Son of Man coming in clouds of glory, and then Jesus told them that he was the Son of Man. The Psalmist said in Psalm 45, “Your throne O God is for ever and ever.” Jesus quoted Psalm 110 to the Pharisees, “The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand till I pu
t your enemies under you feet.” When the Lord Jesus came and preached and lived and did his mighty wonders then they knew that he was the Son of the living God, equal to his Father in power and glory. The Father is God; the Son is God and the Spirit is God and these three are one God.
5. WHEN WE KNOW THAT CHRIST IS GOD WE CONFESS HIM AS SUCH.
Consider these words of Paul; “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. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’” (Roms. 10:9-11). I am not saying that faith is automatic. There were people who heard the Lord Jesus teach and saw him heal and raise the dead, but still they did not believe. It seems to me incredible until I realise how deceitful man’s hearts can be. There were some who would not give it a moment’s thought. For them it was unthinkable that Christ was God, and today that is the case with the vast majority of men and women around us. They simply dismiss it all as ‘religion.’ They’ve never given it a moment’s thought that it could be true, that he rose again the third day. It is something so self-evidently false. It is absolutely irrelevant and not worth examining.
Some asked the question, “Have any of the leading men gone after him?” They are the people who want to know who’s going to your church? Can you quote me some sportsman, some member of the Lions, of the English soccer team who actually believes these things? They want to be where the big names are. Others were simply full of prejudice and said, “He comes from Galilee.” End of the argument. Nothing good could come from such an obscure place. They could dismiss the whole thing.
Then there was Nicodemus and he was very tactful and he said, “Let’s wait a little longer before we come to any conclusion.” He admired Jesus, and admired his followers but he remained uncommitted. “The jury is still out,” he said. Think of it! He had heard the Sermon on the Mount; he had seen a beggar blind from birth now seeing better than he could; he looked at Lazarus alive from the dead, he had met with Jesus Christ and been impressed by his beautiful character and steely wisdom, but he wanted more, more proof, more evidence. He would sit on the fence. It is amazing how long people will do that.
Then others said, “He is the Christ the Son of the living God . . . My Lord and my God . . . Surely this man is the prophet . . .” This is how Jesus spoke, and this is what he did, and how he lived, and this is how the people who knew him best responded, and so you must also bow before him. He has the right to your mind, your emotions, your will, your talent, your life and all that you have. You are thinking at this moment that Jesus cannot be a simpleton. No, he is the most sane man this world has ever seen. You are thinking that he cannot be evil; he can’t be a con-man and also preach the Sermon on the Mount. He cannot be so pure and good and ready to lay down his life and yet also tell a string of enormous lies.
Then he is God. Jesus is God. The only God there is is Jesus. He is the form of God and has the titles of God, and the names of God, and the attributes of God, and he does what God alone can do. Maybe you’ve come to this conclusion after months and years of indecision. God has finally brought you to say, “Jesus is the God whom I worship.” Then you have no right to wait for feelings, for the hairs on the back of your neck to stand on end. The moment you know he is God then get down on your knees. I know he is God and I worship him. You too bow before him. You give him your heart. You give him your life. If you know today that he is the Son of the living God then you believe on him with your heart and confess him with your lips. That is a Christian. You know the truth. Then you yield to the truth. You bow to the truth. My Lord and my God! And you fall before him and begin to serve him all your life.
9th August 2009 GEOFF THOMAS