Monday, 13 July 2015

Just who does He think He is?!

I had a chat with a young man recently about the evidence for Christianity, and we focussed on Jesus Christ.

I asked him what he thought of Jesus, and he said that there was no doubt He was a good man, a great leader and a wonderful teacher, but He wasn't the Son of God. Using C.S. Lewis's trilemma argument, I pointed out that this wasn't an option. A good man, great leader and wonderful teacher doesn't claim to be the Son of God if he actually isn't.

The man I was speaking to then said that in a sense Jesus was the Son of God, but in the way all of us are sons and daughters of God.

Could this be true? Is it the case that we are taking what were modest and insignificant claims about Jesus of Nazareth and elevating and extrapolating them to divine dimensions? I don't think so.

It is clear from the New Testament that Jesus was making radical and unique claims about Himself. Someone might say that those claims are only found in John's Gospel, which, they would say, is late and legendary. There are several things to say on this point, the first of which is that the ancient testimony to John's Gospel being written by the apostle John is unanimous. It is only those who are centuries removed from the events that doubt it, but surely those who lived at the time are in a better position to know than we are today. So given that John wrote the Gospel that bears his name, are we really to believe that this Jewish man elevates Jesus of Nazareth to the level of the one true, eternal, Creator God, and says that He is the only way to heaven? To do so would be the ultimate blasphemy. There's no way John would have written such things unless he was sure of them.

The second point to make is this, we have the deity of Christ clearly taught in the New Testament in documents that pre-date the Gospels. In the letters of Paul we have the deity of Christ asserted (Romans 9:5; 10:9-13; Colossians 1:16-17, etc.), and in several places (e.g. Romans 1:3-4; Philippians 2:5-11; 1 Corinthians 8:6; 16:22) it appears that Paul is taking material that was in common parlance amongst the Christians (thus pre-dating his writing by quite a bit) that unambiguously proclaim the deity of Christ. How did such early and elevated teaching about Christ ever get off the ground if Christ never actually made such claims about Himself?

The third point is that Paul teaches that the resurrection of Christ is God powerfully declaring Him to be the Son of God (Romans 1:3-4), but you would have to ask yourself, why does His resurrection declares any such thing? After all, His resurrection is the prototype of ours, and us being raised from the dead doesn't mean we are deity, why would it mean He is? The only answer that makes any sense is because He claimed to be. If He wasn't the Son of God then He was an imposter and a blasphemer, and so God would not raise Him from the dead, and He could not raise Himself from the dead. His resurrection is God's vindication of His personal claim to be the Son of God.

Fourthly, we have, in the synoptic Gospels, claims Christ made to be the unique Son of God that can be verified using the criteria historians use to establish authenticity. For example, there is a statement in Matthew 11:27 and Luke 10:22 in which Christ claims to be the unique Son of God, the One who has the sole authority of choosing to whom the Father is revealed, and the One who is actually inscrutable! He says that no one knows the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him, but He said that no one knows the Son except the Father; He doesn't say anything about "and anyone to whom the Father chooses to reveal Him". What does this show? It shows that there is something unique about Christ that makes Him beyond human understanding, even more so than the Father! In what way can the Father be know, but the Son can't? It is because of the fact that in the Son there is combined true deity and perfect humanity, and the union of these two whole, perfect, and distinct natures in one person is something that none but God can understand.

Another historically established claim to deity is found in Mark 14:61-64, at His trial before the high priest. The Lord was asked if He was the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One. The Lord answered that He was, and that He was the Son of man prophesied by Daniel. At this, Caiaphas tore his robes, condemned Him for blasphemy and he, along with the others, said he was worthy of death. Notice that the Lord didn't say, "No, no! You've got this all wrong! We all are sons of the Blessed One!" Not at all! He accepted the title of God's unique Son, and to make matters worse (in the eyes of the Sanhedrin) claimed to be the divine / human figure of Daniel's prophecy who takes universal dominion and worldwide worship.

There are other places where even liberal and unbelieving scholars agree that Jesus claimed to be the unique Son of God (e.g. Mark 12:1-12; 13:32), so there is no doubt about who He thought He was; is there any doubt about who you think He is? Do you think He was mistaken? Having an identity crisis? Really believing He was the unique Son of God, equal with God, the only way of salvation, but just wrong - a maniac? Or do you believe He was deliberately misleading people away from the God of Israel - a demoniac? Or do you agree that neither of those two options are even remotely possible or slightly feasible? He really is the Son of God.

But what is the relevance of that? Well, if He is the Son of God then it tells us something about the authority of His statements. His verdict on sin, His warnings of hell, His claims to be the only Saviour, cannot be dismissed - they come with all the authority of God Himself.

It also tells us something of the acceptability of His sacrifice. If He is the Son of God then His death was no accident. He was there to do what He said He was going to do - to give His life as a ransom (Mark 10:45), i.e. to pay the penalty for sin so that we can go free. If He's the Son of God then it tells us His sacrifice is of infinite value and limitless potential.

That brings us to the third implication. If He is the Son of God then it tells us something of the availability of His salvation. He has made salvation available through His sacrifice on the cross, and any who trust Him for salvation will be saved.

It matters what you think of Jesus. If He's not the Son of God then you can afford to ignore Him, but if He is the Son of God (and He is!) then you dare not ignore Him - He is your only hope, and you need to bow to Him as Lord and receive Him as your Saviour.