Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Systematic Theology II Final, Part II: Fully God and Fully Man

Here's essay number two:

Pretend you are witnessing to a college graduate. As you move through the gospel presentation they stumble over the fact that you have claimed that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human. They have no problem believing that Jesus is human like us, but as for the claim that he is God, they find this claim quite unbelievable. In fact they question whether the Scripture even makes such a claim and as such they want you to demonstrate it from Scripture. Write an essay in which you respond to this person. Be sure to respond by not only giving specific biblical data regarding the deity of Christ (and remember be selective for you cannot give it all!), but also discuss the Scriptural presentation of Jesus Christ from within the Bible’s story line.

The writers of the New Testament clearly believed in Jesus’ divinity. They did not teach that He was merely a rabbi or a prophet, but that He was the very Son of God. Many have tried to argue that the apostles fabricated Jesus’ divinity and made up the resurrection story. But this claim doesn’t hold up under the reality that most of those same men were martyred for their faith. Why would someone die for a story he made up? We must conclude that Jesus himself convinced His followers that He was divine.

John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-2, 14). John is apparently convinced of two things: 1.) Jesus, the Word of God, is fully God. He has existed with the Father eternally and been party to the creation of the world (v. 3), and even though He and the Father function differently, they are a unified essence because Jesus bears the same glory as the Father. And 2.) Jesus was fully man. He came to earth not exclusively as spirit, but taking on flesh to “dwell among us.”

John is not the only New Testament writer to affirm the duplicity of this claim. The writer of Hebrews denies the claim that Jesus was just another of God’s prophets: “in the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets…but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, who he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe” (Hebrews 1:1-2). So the writer of Hebrews agrees with John that Jesus was present and active at creation. And He is not only God’s spokesman, but also “the heir of all things.” The writer of Hebrews is also adamant that Jesus is one with the Father: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3). Thus, Jesus images forth the Father to the world, and His authority over the world is supreme, just as the Father’s is.

Paul argues along the same lines “God…sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering” (Romans 8:3). Paul is not claiming that Jesus sinned—in fact, the whole of the New Testament argues emphatically that it was not the case (Hebrews 4:15, 2 Corinthians 5:21). He does insist with John and the author of Hebrews, however, in Christ’s humanity and divinity, writing that Jesus was “in very nature God…but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:6-7). Matthew and Luke’s documentation of the virgin birth is further confirmation of the early church’s belief in Jesus’ divinity. If the accounts they presented were fabricated or exaggerated, wouldn’t later writers, such as John, Paul, or the author of Hebrews, have questioned their credibility?

The reason these Biblical writers espoused Jesus’ pre-existent equality with God is because He Himself proclaimed it. John records his response to the Jewish leaders, “’before Abraham was born, I am!’” (John 8:58), an allusion to Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush in Exodus 3:14. There, God declared, “I am that I am,” (or “I will be as I will be”), thus deriving the sacred name YHWH. Similarly, when Jesus showed His disciples “the full extent of his love” (John 13:1) by washing their feet, John says that Jesus “knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God” (John 13:3). According to John, it was this knowledge that compelled Christ to serve His disciples in the mostly humble way, and to serve the world by dying the most humble death…“so he got up from the meal…” (John 13:4).

Further, Jesus himself claimed, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). As C.S. Lewis famously pointed out, Jesus Christ must either be liar, lunatic, or Lord. There is no other option. If Christ knew He was not the Son of God, but claimed to be, then He was a liar. If He was not the Son of God, but believed himself to be, then He was a lunatic. So we must either reject Him as a liar or lunatic, or exalt Him as Lord. He could not have been, as so many claim, just a good teacher or a prophet.

Jesus taught that He was the long awaited Messiah, the one who would usher in an everlasting Kingdom (Matthew 4-7) and the one who would act as the final Passover lamb. In Luke 22, Jesus eats the Passover meal with His disciples, telling them that the bread symbolizes His body broken for them, and the wine His blood spilled on their behalf. In this Seder meal, Jesus is foretelling His own death, just as the prophet Isaiah did: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

The Scriptures teach that God is holy and people are sinful, choosing our own way over God’s and stubbornly refusing to give Him the worship He is due. Sin presents an impossible predicament: with sin in the way, people cannot be united to a holy God. Christianity is the only world religion that insists that God came to earth to create a solution for the sin dilemma. Because Jesus died on the cross, satisfying the wrath of God, there is no longer a need for the ritual sacrifice that characterized so much of Jewish life. But as one writer has said, God will not ravish, He can only woo. In other words, God does not force us to come to Him; rather, He allows us the freedom to choose a life of love in the Cross (Ephesians 5:2). Such a life is the only way we can have fellowship with Him and experience true life, both in this world (John 10:10) and in the world to come (John 3:16).

1 comment:

mowens said...

Great Scripture selections; very well-written!