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Is Jesus Really God?

 I’ve talked to a lot of people who say they agree with, and appreciate, the teachings of Jesus. It’s popular in our day to resonate with His teachings but not His Church. Many people who are troubled by the exclusive claims of Christianity don’t realize that it was Jesus, Himself who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

He also said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). He said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). The Jewish writer of Hebrews said, “He is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Hebrews 1:3). John 1:14 say that “the Word, (God) became flesh (Jesus) and dwelt among us.” Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh.

As we approach the question of His divinity, we need to realize that at the center of Christ’s teaching, His mission, His Message, His life, was (and is) His identity. The central theme and focus of His teaching was not a set of principles or commands; it wasn’t love or grace – per se – it wasn’t feed the poor, be kind to one another, or be a good citizen. At the core of His teaching was His identity. Who He was. And to be one with Him is not to do what He says, as much as it is to believe in HIM, who He is and what He has done.

This is why His definitive question still echoes forth into our hearts today:

“But who do you say that I am?” Matthew 16:15

This is what separates Jesus from every religious leader ever known. His message was not, “Do this, don’t do that”, but “Believe that I am who I say I am.” Think about it: Jesus was ultimately crucified, not because He talked about love or serving others or caring for the poor. No, His enemies crucified Him because of who He claimed to be. He claimed to be the Messiah, “the Liberating King”. And it is His identity that continues to be at the center of discussion, debate, belief and unbelief, heaven or hell.

The importance of this question cannot be overstated. How might we tackle such a massive question? We must get to the heart of the matter. What do you think is the central event of the entire Christian faith? In all of history? The Resurrection is everything. If Jesus rose from the dead, then we have to accept all that He said; if He didn’t rise from the dead, then we don’t need to worry about anything that He said. The central issue is not whether or not you like His teaching, but whether or not He rose from the dead. If the resurrection took place then He is exactly who He claimed to be. If He didn’t, everything is futile, we are still in our sins, and we need to pack it up, go home, and wait for death to come. This precisely the point that Paul makes: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

This appears to be the earliest statement of belief, a kind of creedal proclamation, doctrinal statement. In fact, we see elements of the Apostles Creed (widely accepted by the 4th Century), but this was written as early as 35-49 A.D. So we are looking at a statement of belief from within a few years after the Resurrection. Read it now.

Is Jesus Really God?  – Let’s corroborate Paul’s outline with historic documentation.

1. Christ died. (v. 3)

If you’re thinking it seems to be circular reasoning to seek evidence for the life, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Christ by using the Bible, then let me give you sources outside of the Bible: Tacitus, a 1st Century historian, writing about Nero’s blaming Christians for the great fire in Rome wrote:

“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome.”

These statements don’t prove that He was God, but they do prove that Christ lived (and when He lived), and that He died, through the “extreme penalty” (crucifixion), under Pilate. Celsus, a 2nd Century opponent to early Christianity, wrote the earliest known comprehensive attack on Christianity. He wrote:

Jesus accordingly exhibited after His death only the appearance of wounds received on the cross, and was not in reality so wounded as He is described to have been.” He says, after His “death”, He appeared with wounds.”

Liberal scholar, John Dominic Crossan (a part of the infamous, Jesus Seminar), concluded Christ’s death is indisputable, saying, “That He was crucified, is as sure as anything historical can be.”

2. Christ was buried. (v. 4)

In 1st Century Judaism, after a man died, someone had to claim the body and bury it before sundown. All four Gospels state that Joseph of Arimathea, a rich, dissenting member of the Sanhedrin, offered his tomb for Jesus’ body. Not one of disciples showed up to take, and care for, His body. This is what some scholars have noted, is a story of “embarrassment”, to the early followers. Not one of His followers believed Him enough to have the guts to go get His body. They all ran. They completely failed their Master, not a way to start a movement.

3. Christ was raised from the dead. (v. 4)

The fact there was an empty tomb is undeniable. The theories started immediately. Some said, “the disciples stole His body.” This theory claims that they were on the run, hiding out scared, and suddenly became grave robbers, overpowering soldiers guarding the tomb. The “swoon theory” claims that Jesus didn’t die but instead, passed out, and the cool of the tomb brought Him back to life. Professional executioners knew when a victim was dead. They did not bury Jesus alive. Another theory is that the women went to the wrong tomb. Then, of course, everyone went to the wrong tomb. Why did no one go to the “right tomb” and produce the body? Another source of “embarrassment” for the early disciples would have been that the first eyewitnesses of the resurrection were women. Women were not even allowed to be witnesses in court. No one would try to make up or devise a story that included women as the key eyewitnesses to the most important aspect of the story, unless it actually happened. You don’t have theories on an empty tomb unless there’s an empty tomb. There was an empty tomb.

  • He appeared to over 500 people. (vv. 5-9)

Paul points out that He appeared to different people, at different times, in various ways. One person here, a few people there, small groups, large groups, and to 500 at once. He’s pointing out these were not hallucinations. Paul says, some who saw Him, “are still alive”. Archaeology proves that the four biographies of Christ were written within the lifetime of Christ’s contemporaries. Most scholars agree that by 70-80 A.D. the Gospels were written. There were people who knew Jesus personally. They saw Him risen. Others could have refuted the claims about Him. So, within 50 years, would be the same as if people claimed J.F.K. was the Messiah or that, after his assassination, he rose form the dead. What would happen? Those who knew Him would refute it. Not unlike Lloyd Benson’s famous quip to Dan Quayle in the 1988 Vice Presidential debate; he could’ve said, “I knew Jack Kennedy. And he was not God, nor did he claim to be.”

  • The disciples believed, preached, and died martyr’s death. (vv. 10-11)

All of the disciples, minus Judas, who hung himself previously, and John, who died in exile, died martyr’s deaths. For many, this is the ultimate proof. No one would die, knowing they were dying for a lie.

  • The Church was born.

You cannot explain the birth of the Church apart form the resurrection. In the written testimony of Pliny the Younger (carrying out the persecution of early Christians for Trajan), he states that the early Christians “gathered on a stated day before dawn and sang hymns to Christ as to a god.”

Here’s what we know (apart from the Bible): Jesus lived (and when He lived), He was crucified, He was buried, an empty tomb was commonly accepted and not disputed even by the enemies of Jesus, and His early followers claimed to have seen Him alive again, and from the very beginning, worshipped Jesus as God. All of this points to the central event of history: the Resurrection. N. T. Wright makes this important historical observation: There was no thread of resurrection in Jewish theology or in Greek philosophy. There was no formation of resurrection theology over time. It appeared fully developed over night.

Here I have not proven that Jesus rose from the dead. But I have forced the skeptic to give an answer for the facts. But at the end of the day you can only receive this truth by faith. Immediately, many are frustrated, wondering, “Why faith!? I have such a hard time with faith! I can’t just believe.”

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

Think about it: aren’t you grateful it’s faith. You don’t have to be good enough. You don’t have to be religious enough (because you can’t be). You don’t have to be smart enough. You can’t be. God is beyond your goodness and your comprehension. Praise Him for faith. Stop trying; stop working. Get off the treadmill of religion and believe.

Perhaps I’ve helped break some barriers that you have to have. But you must realize that belief precedes knowledge in spiritual matters. Faith always precedes reason as we approach a God who is bigger and more glorious than our minds can fathom. Eternity weighs in the balance. You must answer the question:

“But who do you say that I am?” – Jesus

Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering?

The problem of evil and suffering is so much a problem, there’s actually an entire area of theological study devoted to it, called theodicy. Pain is a problem only for those who believe that 3 things are true:

The Theistic Set

1. God is all-loving.

2. God is all-powerful.  

3. Evil and suffering exist.

The atheist has no problem (or shouldn’t), because without a God, life has no purpose- so there’s no purpose in pain, unless it’s somehow a part of natural selection , weeding out the weak. For Eastern Religions, Hinduism for instance, pain is an illusion, wrong thinking, you must try to look past it.

Epicurus summarized the problem this way, “Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or He can, but does not want to. If He wants to, but cannot, He is impotent. If He can, but does not want to, He is wicked. If God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?”

The Problem of Pain (four questions):

1. Is God all-powerful?

“For He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm. The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations.” Psalms 33:9–11

Is God all-powerful? Can He do anything? Think deeply about this question: Can He make a rock so big He can’t move it? Can He create two mountain peaks without a valley between them? Some things can’t be done. God can do anything that can be done. Can He create a world in which there is free will where evil and suffering do not exist? Evidently not, or He would have done it. Can God be loving and evil at the same time? God is all-powerful but God cannot contradict Himself. He cannot sin. Pain is the result of our sin. Think about it: How much of your pain is self-inflicted? How much of your pain is caused by other people’s sin? If you purchase and use drugs, you’re part of causing the murder and pain of the drug cartels along the Texas boarder. If you look at porn, you’re part of the abuse of sex slaves and trafficking around the world. Our sin has far-reaching consequences.

2. Is God all-loving?

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8

We have a different definition of love from a personal perspective. We think that all things loving will always be good for us, or always make us feel good. I remember taking each of our kids to the doctor for shots. The child thinks, how can you do this to me? You know that it is because you love them. It will be better for them in the long run, some vaccinations may very well save their lives.

3. Is God all-knowing?

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son…” Romans 8:28–29

God can see the present and the future. He’s outside of the time-space continuum. Have you ever noticed that you often grow through pain? God is at work. Job serves as the great story of pain and suffering in the Bible. We must have faith that God is accomplishing something through our pain. Can you say with Job?

“Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” Job 13:15

Paul explained further:

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3–5

So God is all-loving. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, there’s a purpose and a hope.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18

It seems of the three questions we’ve addressed, the one people struggle with the most is the second one: Is God really all-loving? What you need when you are in pain is not an explanation, you want the one you love to come and meet you there in your pain. If I’m hurting or if Stacy is hurting, or one of my children are hurting- when someone in our church is hurting… you don’t simply want good advice, or solid theology, (those things can be helpful) but what you really want is someone who can simply be present and share in your pain (the ministry of presence).

In The Reason for God, Tim Keller writes, “If we again ask the question: ‘Why does God allow evil and suffering to continue?’ and we look at the cross of Jesus, we still do not know what the answer is. However, we know what the answer isn’t. It can’t be that He doesn’t love us. It can’t be that He is indifferent or detached from our condition. God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that He was willing to take it on Himself.” Jesus knows our pain at the deepest level.

“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to His own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:3–6

Whatever your pain, Jesus knows it. He cares so much that He came. Psalms 23:4 says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” God sees and feels every human tear. There is no pain that you have ever experienced that Jesus Himself did not experience.

John Stott, in his book, The Cross, wrote this:

“I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the one Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross.’ In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in my imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside His immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of His. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross that symbolizes divine suffering. The cross of Christ … is God’s only self-justification in such a world as ours…”

God is not sitting back, cross-legged, smiling, He’s agonizing, slowly dying on the cross, in the face of complete and utter injustice. But watch what He is does. On Friday, His family and friends were saying, “This is the worst thing that has ever happened.” On Sunday they were saying, “This is the greatest thing that has ever happened.” He’s doing the same thing in your life right now.

4. Do you trust Him?

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” 2 Corinthians 4:8–10

The Cross shows us that our pain is not meaningless. The Cross also reminds us of God’s unconditional love for us in Christ. We live in a sinful world; our bodies are breaking down and some day they will shut down altogether. Only Christ brings us hope in our suffering, Christ alone gives hope is our dying. Only as we die to ourselves, is He able to live in and through us.

The American Dream is derailing the American Church.

The American Church is losing her way. I write this in hopes of helping some of us get back on track. In recent days our passion, even anger, around non-core issues has revealed that we’ve forgotten who we are and Whose we are. Our early brothers and sisters knew that they were “aliens and sojourners” (1 Peter 2:11) in a foreign land. Not once do we see them demanding that the Roman government get on board with their agenda. I can’t imagine Paul thinking, “If we could only get the right emperor on the throne in Rome we could finally advance this Gospel.” Instead, he taught what Peter, and every other apostolic leader taught, that in Christ we now belong to “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36). I think Jesus would tell us we’ve been fighting the wrong battle, with the wrong weapons.

If our deepest emotions reveal our idols, then the current anxiety, and anger of some, has exposed our misplaced values. Augustine defined sin as “disordered love”, having highest affections for good things, but not the Supreme thing. Instead of a passion for Christ as Lord and a devotion to love as He has loved us, it seems we’ve come to believe that the kingdom will be ushered in through the White House, rather than through God’s House – through God’s people.

We’ve baptized our own version of the American Dream, with our own American Jesus. The American Dream, that has produced (in my view) the greatest country on earth, has created a national ethos founded on the wonderful ideals of freedom, prosperity, and success for all. Driven by a desire for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, Americans have opportunities that others around the world can only imagine. Today, we pause to thank God for those who have gone before us who have established the God-given principles that guide us. But let’s be sure that we separate the Bible (that helps us live as “aliens and sojourners”, following Jesus every day) from the Constitution (that helps us live as law-abiding Americans everyday).

In his book, “On Two Wings”, Michael Novak explains the context out of which the “American Experiment” was born. Novak states that the way American history has been told for the last century is incomplete. Secular historians have “cut off one of the two wings by which the American eagle flies.” The founding generation established a compact with the God of Israel “and relied upon this belief. Their faith is an indispensable part of their story.” But, as aliens and sojourners, we must remember that there were two wings that established the greatness of America. If one wing was a Judeo-Christian (mostly Christian) ethic and biblical worldview, the other was driven by the Enlightenment, with an emphasis on reason, a secular point of view detached from God. John Adams and others, representing the Christian wing and James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and others representing the secular wing, hammered out through compromise, a constitution they could all agree upon. Indeed, history has proven it was brilliant and unmatched.

Christians today need to remember two things: First of all, the Constitution is not our Bible. The Constitution governs our nation while the Word of God governs our daily lives. Secondly, we need to recognize that diversity was a central part of our Constitution from the beginning. Therefore, everyone has a seat at the table. The atheist, the Muslim, the Buddhist, the homosexual, the straight, the Christian, the agnostic (you name it), all have a seat at the table. If we pause to consider what we love so much about America and what true religious freedom really is, we realize it must be this way. Christians today need to understand the rules of the game. The great tragedy in our nation today is that we can’t sit down with tolerance and enter into conversation. This is true on all sides of the table. Christians should model a different way, one that James described as being “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). In fact, it’s possible to agree constitutionally with a decision made by the Supreme Court and at the same time, disagree with it biblically (again, the constitution is not our Bible). The frustration for many Christians today is that it seems we’re no longer able to leverage political power to help make substantial decisions that sway public policy and opinion. But we need to recognize that it’s never been that way, not regarding decisions that will ultimately change the course of our nation and the advancement of the Gospel. The Gospel will advance (as it does in every nation) as followers of Jesus live their lives fully devoted to Him, sharing His Gospel with a lost and dying world. We need to be able to move into the new normal with a balance of grace and truth. Only Jesus, Himself “full of grace and truth” lived this out perfectly. So, as we fail to do so, may we constantly point to the One who did so perfectly on our behalf. Let’s point them to Jesus who is not simply our Example but our Substitute. He alone has lived the perfect life for us, taking on our sin and shame upon the cross, and rising again so that we too might live as a resurrected people, all to His glory.

Anne Lamott wrote, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” May love be the supreme descriptor of God’s people, in America, and in every nation on earth. Today is a good day to celebrate our freedoms and the founding fathers who made them possible. It’s also a good day to think deeply about where our faith truly lies. I am very hopeful for the American Church. I just returned from a week with hundreds of students who are carving out a new path for the advancement of the Gospel for this emerging generation. I see young people who, like their counterparts of the early church, refuse to allow the emperor his preeminent place and instead call Jesus alone, Lord and King. Let us live as He truly is.

The Silence of God – Andrew Peterson

It’s enough to drive a man crazy; it’ll break a man’s faith

It’s enough to make him wonder if he’s ever been sane

When he’s bleating for comfort from thy staff and thy rod

And the heaven’s only answer is the silence of God.

 

It’ll shake a man’s timbers when he loses his heart

When he has to remember what broke him apart

This yoke may be easy, but the burden is not

When the crying fields are frozen by the silence of God.

 

And if a man’s got to listen to the voices of the mob

Who are reeling in the throes of all the happiness they’ve got

When they tell you all their troubles have been nailed up to that cross

Then what about the times when even followers get lost?

‘Cause we all get lost sometimes…

 

There’s a statue of Jesus on a monastery knoll

In the hills of Kentucky, all quiet and cold

And He’s kneeling in the garden, as silent as a stone

All His friends are sleeping and He’s weeping all alone

 

And the man of all sorrows, He never forgot

What sorrow is carried by the hearts that He bought

So when the questions dissolve in to the silence of God

The aching may remain, but the breaking does not

The aching may remain, but the breaking does not

In the Holy, Lonesome echo of the silence of God.  

 

The Diverse Excellencies Of Christ

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One of the greatest sermons every written and preached, was delivered by Jonathan Edwards, in 1738. The sermon was entitled, “The Admirable Conjunction of Diverse Excellencies in Christ Jesus“. In it Edwards expounds upon, what he called, Christ’s “diverse excellencies”. His imagination was captured by the prophetic vision in Revelation 5:5-6:

And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.”

Edwards realizes that John was looking for a Lion, but instead he saw a Lamb. Edwards notes that the lion excels in strength and in majesty of his appearance and voice. The lamb excels in meekness and patience and is sacrificed for food. But Christ is compared to both in the text. In Him is infinite majesty yet utter humility, perfect justice and boundless grace, absolute sovereignty yet complete submission, all sufficiency in Himself, yet entire trust and dependence on the Father.

Spend time meditating along with Edwards on the beauty of Christ in His diverse excellencies. Consider the paradoxical excellencies of Christ. Consider these qualities of Christ and how they might manifest themselves in your life, as you are conformed into His image by His grace.

There, in Jesus Christ, meet:

1. Infinite highness and infinite condescension.

2. Infinite justice and infinite grace.

3. Infinite glory and lowest humility.

4. Infinite majesty and transcendent meekness.

5. Deepest reverence towards God and equality with God.

6. Infinite worthiness of good, and the greatest patience under sufferings of evil.

7. An exceeding spirit of obedience, with supreme dominion over heaven and earth.

8. Absolute sovereignty and perfect resignation.

9. Self-sufficiency, and an entire trust and reliance on God.

On the cross:

1. Christ was in the greatest degree of His humiliation, and yet by that, above all other things, his divine glory appears.

2. He never in any act gave so great a manifestation of love to God, and yet never so manifested His love to those that were enemies to God, as in that act.

3. He never so eminently appeared for divine justice, and yet never suffered so much from divine Justice, as when He offered up Himself a sacrifice for our sins.

4. His holiness never so illustriously shone forth as it did in his last sufferings, and yet He never was to such a degree treated as guilty.

5. He never was so dealt with, as unworthy, as in His last sufferings, and yet it is chiefly on account of them that He is accounted worthy.

6. In His last sufferings suffered most extremely from those towards whom He was then manifesting His greatest act of love.

7. Christ’s last sufferings, above all – that He was delivered up to the power of His enemies; and yet by these, above all, He obtained victory over His enemies.

No wonder Paul calls Him preeminent. No wonder we call Him Savior. No wonder we worship Him as the Servant King, the Suffering Servant, the High Priest, the Lamb of God, the Lion of Judah, the Righteous Judge, the Risen King, the coming victorious Lord of all.

Oh the glory of Jesus Christ!