JESUS, THE GOD-MAN
By Will Graham
Let’s say you decide to go to church this Sunday morning. You get up, get breakfast, get washed, get dressed, get perfumed and off you. You pop in your car and head church-wards. On your way there, you see the same old crowds hovering about the supermarket, the same sports fanatics out and about jogging and the same group of elderly people nattering away to each other about the ‘good ole days’. It’s as normal a morning as normal can possibly be.
You get to the church car park and park your car in the same spot as always. You put the windows up, turn the music off and before locking the doors you grab your Bible and head off to the church whistling a happy tune. Once past the entrance, you loose your hand for the traditional evangelical handshakes. You greet a few brethren warmly (as you usually do); you take your seat in the church (as you usually do) and once the service kicks off you pray, sing a few songs, give your tithes and offerings and listen to the announcements (as you usually do). It’s just a perfectly standard run of the mill Sunday morning. Up until now, I suppose you’ll tell me that there’s nothing particularly outstanding worth writing home about.
Well, that’s all about to change. Here comes the sermon. Up to the pulpit steps a young thirty-something year old preacher who’s been on the itinerant preaching circuit for some years now. You recognize him. He used to live about your vicinity, but you’ve never had so much as a chat with him. You don’t know much about him; in fact, you didn’t even know he was a believer. The pastor presents him to the congregation and he is received with a brief but loving applause. The preacher draws near to the pulpit, perks up the microphone and takes a short breath. Let the message commence!
“Brethren,” says the visiting preacher, “many thanks for your kind welcome. I come to you today to preach with a burning flame in my heart about Eschatology (the End Times). I have been praying much to our Father and now I received a revelation from Him in my heart. I know that the Bible says that Jesus is soon to return. And yes, I also know that the Lord Jesus Himself said He was going to come back. But brethren, I say unto you that will never happen. I have received a new revelation from the Lord. I am His mouthpiece sent to this generation. We must stop with all this Jesus-centred thinking and start doing Eschatology on my terms.”
Oh, oh! Again I say, Oh oh…! A deafening silence pervades the Temple as every sanctified jaw in the pew simultaneously hits the floor. Even the toddlers have stopped crying! What did that preacher just say? Did he just usurp the authority of Christ and the Scriptures in the same sentence? Has he seriously presented himself as someone more knowledgeable than our precious Lord Jesus? What kind of thoughts would be going through your head if such a tragedy occurred? Who on earth is this fellow to be establishing himself as God’s revealed will to mankind? Would you throw a stone, a jacket or your chair at him? “Get that devil out of the pulpit! Cast him out! He has no place there! He is a disgrace to the Gospel! Show him the exit door!” I doubt the poor beggar would last thirty seconds up there.
Now, before I make my point, please don’t think I would be naïve enough to believe that a false prophet could be that blazingly open and direct. If Satan’s missionaries were all so plain speaking, the church would be rid of that rancid brand of vermin within the space of half-an-hour. I know the Sunday morning sermon illustration just depicted may verge on the incredulous; but bear with me, brethren, there’s a method to my madness.
The chief problem with the visiting preacher is that he usurped the authority of Christ in a social context that adores and magnifies Him i.e. the church. In a similar fashion, Jesus of Nazareth came to a society that had Moses’ name carved into every tree and his bearded image painted in multi-coloured graffiti on every urban wall. Moses was Israel’s hero. Every MP4 in Palestine back then was Moses-shaped. He was the max; the best; the bees-knees. No one had a bad word to say about Bro Moses. His word was Law. Every theological dispute in first-century Palestine could be definitively settled by the phrase: “Moses has said.” If you could prove Moses had sanctioned something, you were the debating club’s champion. Moses was omnipresent in Hebrew thinking and ethics. Nobody compared to him. Not you. Not me. Not any other itinerant preacher or Bible expositor.
So when we come to the Sermon of the Mount and Jesus says repeatedly, “Ye have heard that it was said” (i.e. by Moses), “but I say unto you” something remarkably revolutionary is taking place. Israel is the wrong place to usurp Moses’ authority. You can poke fun at the pagan philosophers like Thales, Parmenides and Heraclitus until your heart’s content; but no-one messes with Moses. No sir! That is a no go area. One of the gloomy disadvantages of not living in first century Israel is that we have lost something of the ‘shock factor’ that characterized all of Jesus’ dealings on earth. He wasn’t your everyday preacher. He made Himself out to be something (or someone) so great that not only did He receive applause and acclaim from plenty of folk but also hatred and spite from many others. You just don’t walk around Palestine making yourself out to be greater than Moses. “Only God is greater than Moses,” some die-hard Jews would reply. “Our point exactly,” answer the Evangelists. Jesus is God. It’s that simple.
Perhaps the most surprising issue regarding the defence of Jesus’ divinity from the Sermon of the Mount is that it is a text only found in the Synoptic Gospels. Why should that be significant? Because over the years liberal theology has constantly lay a hold of Matthew, Mark and Luke to support their view that Jesus of Nazareth was only a mere man, an elevated moral teacher who had enjoyed a unique God-consciousness. In liberal circles, Jesus is not the eternal Son of God manifest in the flesh; He is just another religious superstar with a happy-go message for unhappy-go men. Make no mistake, saints- liberal theology wasn’t birthed under Schleiermacher in eighteenth century Prussia- it was there in Eden. Dr. Satan the Serpent was the worlds’ first liberal theologian. Needless to say, those liberal vipers don’t like John and Paul because they are both so explicit in their Christology. To any denier of Jesus’ divinity, the texts of John and Paul dust their opponents off and wipe the spot where they were standing.
But why stop with the Sermon on the Mount? The Synoptic Gospels offer us a whole spectrum of ways to contemplate the deity of Christ. Let me remind you of some: He forgives sins, He proclaims Himself Lord of the Sabbath Day, He knows the thoughts of men, He multiplies food in abundance, He calms storms with His word of authority, He judges, He is designated as Lord, He is well-known by the demons as the ‘Holy One of God’, He is the Lord of David (Israel’s greatest King), He has an intimate knowledge of the Father that no mortal can grasp but by direct divine revelation, He is more powerful than 6,000 devils (Legion), He is worshipped, He makes demands of His followers that not even Bro Moses would have ventured to utter- “take up your cross and follow me” and He proclaims Himself openly as the fulfilment of Daniel 7:13-14 (after all, that’s the very reason the High Priest handed Him over to Pilate). Elisabeth calls Mary the mother of her ‘Lord’. The child born from her, according to Isaiah 9:6’s prophesy, shall be called ‘mighty God’. The shepherds learn from the angels that the ‘Lord’ is born. Thirty years later, John the Baptist prepares the way of the ‘Lord’ with reference to Christ. Christ also professes His own omnipotence in Matthew 18:20 and 28:20 (a bit cheeky if you’re only a mere mortal). In sum, Jesus is not your average Joe Bloggs. He is Emmanuel- God with us.
In the light of all this data, I wonder how it is that the liberals ever thought that the Gospels belonged to them. Every pore of the Synoptic Gospels perspires with the warm truth of Jesus’ divinity. You can’t explain a man like Jesus in merely human terms. He is too mighty, too unique, too God.
So what are the practical aspects of Christ’s divinity? It is fine and dandy to defend our doctrinal creed; but how should this teaching impact our Christian praxis. Let me suggest two ways.
Number one, Christ’s divinity should lead us to see Jesus as Lord. That means that our whole life is to be subjected to His service and His will. Everything in our existence must revolve around making much of the Almighty Christ. Every breath is Jesus. Every blinking of the eye is Jesus. Every act is Jesus. Every word is Jesus. He is sovereign over every single aspect of our human lives. There is no sphere where Christ is to be vacant from our lives. Every true Christian is Christologically stamped. Our goals must be Christological. And the same truth applies to the church. If Christ is Lord then the ruler in the church is neither Pope Francis nor evangelical committees nor tyrannical neo-Pentecostal dictators. The church is under the exclusive lordship of the Lord Jesus and the breath of His Spirit. That means every affair in church must be Christologically constituted. The pews exist for Christ as do the loudspeakers, the praise instruments and above all, the pulpit. God created the sun to shine upon us; but He created the pulpit to shine on Christ. Therefore our preaching must be Jesus-centred; not me-centred.
Number two, Christ’s divinity must help us to understand that Jesus is Saviour. Back in the days when the Council of Nicea was still fresh on everybody’s mind, orthodoxy’s champion Athanasius explained that Jesus is God because only God can save. If Jesus were not God, He could not save souls eternally. But He can, therefore He is Lord and Saviour. If Jesus is Lord we must serve Him. But if Jesus is Saviour we must serve Him joyfully and thankfully. Joy is Christianity’s official language. Jesus’ extravagant goodness makes us burst from the seams with gratitude and thankfulness. How could God ever give His life for us? It doesn’t make any sense. But the wonderful thing is that it doesn’t have to! We can never unscrew the inscrutable! So let’s praise Jesus for His precious worth.
This thinking about Jesus’ divinity, then, is of much practical use. The Gospel is good for our brains as well as our lives. So let’s keep Jesus high and lifted up within our hearts and minds. And if any brain dead liberal false prophet steps up into the pulpit with any other message, let’s be generously swift to show him the ‘exit’ door of the church. And don’t worry! If you don’t fancy going alone, give me a call. I’ll only be too glad to be of assistance.