Lecture 8: Who is Jesus?
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Jesus is the best known person in history. He has had more affect on world history than any other leader or philosophy or political movement. Many people know the name, but who is he? What did he say about himself? What did his followers say about him? And what is the significance and relevance of these questions and our answers?
Learning More About God
II. Who is Jesus?
A. Acts 2
B. Real human being
C. Jesus is Lord
D. Jesus is the Son of God
E. Jesus is God
F. Allowing for the Trinity
1. Fully Human
2. Fully God
H. Importance of the Incarnation
1. Important to our salvation
a. Christianity is exclusive
b. Evangelism must be radically Christ-centered
2. You must believe in the incarnation to be a Christian
I. Central question of life
Course: Life is a Journey
Lecture: Who is Jesus?
Who is Jesus?
This was the central question of the early church; it certainly was the central question of Paul’s preaching. Paul tells the Corinthians, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” The question of who is Jesus is the preoccupation of the first four books of the New Testament, as the gospels tell us about the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In fact, our very name as Christ-ians shows that we are not primarily about doctrine, fellowship, or religion, but we are first and foremost preoccupied with Jesus Christ and who He is. Who is Jesus is the central question of all reality and it is paramount that all Christians have a clear answer to this question and there are a lot of common answers to this question, aren’t there? If we were to go down and stand on the street and ask people, “Who do you think Jesus is?” We would get a wide range of answers. We would certainly hear someone say that He was a good man, He was a teacher, He was a prophet, or the founder of a religion. We may get someone that says that He was demon-possessed; that’s what some people of Jesus’ day thought. Perhaps we might run across someone who said, “Oh, He’s a lesser god—a created being and Satan’s brother.” If you asked Albert Schweitzer, supposedly the greatest Christian of the last century, he would say that Jesus Christ died a deluded, raving fanatic on the cross. If we were to ask others who Jesus was, we might hear something like, “Don’t know; don’t care.” There is a wide range of answers to the question of who is Jesus, and yet everything in life and in death hinges on this question, doesn’t it? This is one of those questions where there is a right answer and there is a wrong answer. As we stand before the Judgment Seat of God, there will only be one right answer to the question of who Jesus is.
A. Acts 2
The book of Acts tells the story of the early church. In Chapter 2, we get to read Peter’s first sermon. Peter’s first sermon was done to answer this question of who is Jesus. In Acts 2:22-24, Peter says, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified,” must have had some impact saying it that way, “and killed by the hands of lawless men. But God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it.” Then Peter goes into a discussion of a prophecy done by King David a thousand years previous, a prophecy about Jesus. Then in verse 32 he continues, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.” And Jesus, “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and,” you and I, “having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing,” the gift of the Holy Spirit. He continues in verse 36, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” Peter continued to preach for a while and three thousand people became Christians. So his preaching is all about this question, “Who is Jesus?” In verse 38, when he calls them to repent, certainly part of the repentance is repenting from sin, but first and foremost, Peter was calling them to repent of their misunderstanding of who Jesus is; that is what the whole sermon was about: “Who is Jesus?” The repentance is a call that they turn aside from what they had thought about Jesus and turn to Peter’s definition, Peter’s understanding of who Jesus is.
B. Real Human Being
Who is Jesus? Notice that Peter starts with the name, Jesus of Nazareth. Part of the Gospel message is certainly that Jesus was a real human being. He was born to Mary and Joseph, peasants without rank, fame, or fortune. He grew up in a small town called Nazareth, an insignificant wide spot in the road in an insignificant country, as far as the world was concerned. When Jesus was 30, He gathered twelve men around Him as His followers and for three-and-one-half years He preached. He got tired; He ate; He slept. He never got married, contrary to a popular lie. He never owned a house. He never traveled far from home. Yet He was seen as a religious rebel; He was seen as a threat to the religious establishment. After three-and-one-half years, He was deserted by His friends and killed by His own countrymen. Jesus of Nazareth was a very real human being that had to go through a lot of same kinds of experiences that you and I do.
C. Jesus is Lord
Peter makes it clear that He is not just Jesus of Nazareth. As Peter preaches, we realize that this Jesus is much more than a mere human being. In verse 36, Peter makes the point that by means of the resurrection, God has made it clear that this Jesus is also Lord. Now, what does Lord mean? In the Greek, it is kurios; you may have heard it before. Kurios is a difficult word to translate because it has a very wide range of meanings. Kurios can mean sir, a term of polite address. Kurios can mean master; when a servant would talk to his master; the servant would most likely call his master kurios. There’s another use of kurios that is more significant here. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Greek word kurios was used to translate the most holy name of God in the entire Old Testament, the name of Yahweh or the name of Jehovah, two different ways of pronouncing the same thing. Kurios is the name that Moses gets in the story of the burning bush in Exodus 3, a story in the Old Testament. Moses walks by a bush that is burning and it’s not burning up, so he walks over to see it. God speaks out of the burning bush, and in the course of the discussion Moses says, “Well, what’s your name?” God replies out of the burning bush, “I AM who I AM”; it’s that name I AM that comes into English as Yahweh or Jehovah; it’s that name that was translated with kurios in the Greek Old Testament.
D. Jesus is the Son of God
What Peter is preaching in Acts 2 is Jesus is God and Jesus is the great I AM of the burning bush in Exodus 3. The theme of Jesus’ being God runs all the way through the New Testament. Beginning at Jesus’ birth, when we read the birth narratives in the gospel of Matthew, you can see Matthew reminding us that about 700 years before the time of Christ, Isaiah made a prophecy that a virgin would conceive and have a child. 700 years later, the Virgin Mary did conceive and did have a child. When the angel came to tell Mary that this was going to happen, she was understandably a little confused as to what was going on. In Luke 1:35, the angel explains how this is going to happen: “And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.’” So even at the announcement of Jesus’ birth, the phrase, Son of God, is being used to describe Him. The phrase, Son of God, is used all the way through the New Testament to continue to describe Jesus. For example, why did John write the fourth gospel? What was the purpose to his writing? Well, he tells us at the very end in chapter 20. John says, “...these things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” Also, the title of the gospel of Mark, in 1:1, is “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”; that functions as Mark’s title for the gospel. Mark is writing to let us know that Jesus was not just a man, He was not just a human being, but He was, in fact, the Son of God. What is interesting as we read through Mark, the title, Son of God, only occurs two other times: In Chapter 5, the demons say, “We know who You are, You are the Holy Son of God.” Then most importantly, after His death a centurion says, “This surely is the Son of God.” We might ask, “Mark, if your purpose in writing is to prove that Jesus is the Son of God, shouldn’t you say it a little more often?” Mark would say, “Oh Bill, not everything has to be taught in explicit theological statements. If you want that, go to the gospel of John; that’s what he is about.” What Mark does is he teaches Christ’s divinity implicitly in the stories he tells. When we read the stories in Mark of what Jesus did and what He taught, we realize that this is the Son of God. We don’t have to get very far into Mark to realize that Jesus has power over sickness, He has power over demons, and He has power over the natural world; He can even calm the troubled Sea of Galilee. Jesus has power over death; He can raise Jarius’ daughter from the dead. Jesus has authority to forgive sin—something that belongs to God and to God alone. As we read the initial chapters in Mark, we will realize very quickly that we are reading about someone who is no mere person, but that He must be much more than a person in order to do what He does—He must be the Son of God. I need to mention that when you and I, as English speakers, hear the phrase, Son of God, it’s really easy to misunderstand what that phrase means. The Bible can use “son” in the way that Tyler and Hayden are my sons, but the Bible can also use the phrase “son” in a significantly different meaning, and it’s easy to misunderstand it. For example, the Mormons have misunderstood this phrase. For a Mormon, Jesus is a created lesser being—Satan’s brother; that is not what the phrase means in the Bible. We have got to understand that Jesus lived in a tremendously monotheistic culture; there was one God, and one only God, and everything fit under the rubric; they had not figured out the Trinity yet. When Jesus starts using language such as, “I am the Son,” or “I am the Son of God,” or “God is my Father,” when Jesus used that kind of familial language the Jews of His day understood exactly what He was saying. They understood that He was claiming to be equal with God. The best passage to see this is in John 5. All that Jesus said in verse 17 was, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” Jesus had healed someone on the Sabbath, which was a big no-no in Jewish ritual. In verse 18 we read, “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because not only was He breaking the Sabbath,” He wasn’t following the little rules, “but He was even calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.” So in Jesus’ original context, when He talks about Himself being the Son and God being His Father, and when the Bible talks about Jesus being the Son of God, it’s not some lesser created being; Jesus is claiming to be God Himself.
E. Jesus is God
The Bible also explicitly calls Jesus God. The Bible doesn’t always use the phrase “Son of God”; sometimes it just calls Him God. John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” As you read on in John 1, we realize that the Word is a philosophical concept that is being applied to Jesus. Jesus was God. By the way, when the Jehovah Witnesses come and say there’s no “the” in front of “...was God...” and they say God is with a small “g,” just ask them to repeat the Greek alphabet—they don’t know Greek. The Bible does not say Jesus was a god, it says Jesus was God, capital “G.” If they want to argue, I’ve got a great Greek grammar book they can look at written by Dan Wallace and he will show them why. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God”; capital “G,” if you know Greek. Just eighteen verses later John says, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, He has made Him known.” The “only God” is not God the Father because the “only God” is at the Father’s side. Follow that? So the “only God” is Jesus the Only God. Jesus Himself claimed to be God, didn’t He? He was arguing with the Jews once again, and in John 8, He says, “...before Abraham was,” before Abraham even existed, “I am.” I know if we’re reading in English and if we’re not familiar with the Old Testament, we would simply say, “I am...what?” However, the Jews understood exactly what He was saying, because they tried to kill Him for it; that was the penalty for blasphemy. Jesus said, “Before Abraham was ‘I am.’”
“I am the great I AM”
“I am the Yahweh”
“I am the Jehovah of the burning bush who spoke, ‘I am Kurios.’ I am God.” Later on Jesus says in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” Thomas was one of Jesus’ disciples, a Jew, and was intensely monotheistic. Yet when Thomas sees the risen Lord, his response was “My Lord and my God.” Paul, talking to his friend Titus, refers to “...our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Peter talks about the righteousness of our “God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” There are many more verses and many more arguments that I could bring, but it is very clear that the Bible claims that Jesus claimed, that His disciples claimed, that His apostles claimed that Jesus was, in fact, God.
F. Allowing for the Trinity
Now, one of the interesting things in this whole mix is that the biblical writers are having to allow for the Trinity; remember our discussion on that? We are monotheists: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” We believe in one God; right? Yet we believe in the Trinity—a Godhead: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. All three are fully God and yet all three together are God; it’s a mystery; right? We can’t expect to understand fully the things of God. So what we can see in the way in which the words are used in the New Testament, the writers are trying to make allowance for the fact that there is a Trinity. For example, Jesus doesn’t say, “I and the Father are exactly the same thing.” They are not, are they? There’s God the Father, God the Son, and there’s God the Holy Spirit; and yet, there is one God. The language has to deal with the reality of the Trinity, and yet these are all explicit claims that Jesus is God. With that as background, we can come back to the use of the word Lord in Acts 2, and we can see what Peter’s preaching. Peter is preaching that by means of Jesus’ resurrection, God has made it explicitly clear that Jesus is Lord, He is Kurios, He is Yahweh, He is the great I AM, He is the Son of God, and He is God; that’s the amplified version of Acts 2:36.
1. Fully Human
What we’re dealing with here is the doctrine of what is called the incarnation of Jesus. The doctrine of the incarnation is the doctrine that God became incarnate; that God became flesh. Stated another way: the incarnation is the doctrine that Jesus was fully God and fully human. Both sides to that equation are very important because on one hand, Jesus did not just appear to be a human being, but Jesus was fully human. In John 1:14, he says, “And the Word,” Jesus, “became flesh and dwelt among us”. John uses the most basic word that He can in Greek to describe this stuff that is hanging off our bones; Jesus became flesh. There’s no concept in the Bible that says He is kind of like a God inside, or He’s inside this human shell; no such things like that. Jesus was every bit as human as we are human. Yet Scripture does point out that while He is fully human, He nevertheless lived without sin. In the book of Hebrews, chapter 4, the author is talking about the fact that Jesus is our high priest. Jesus stands between God the Father and us, interceding for us. In Hebrews 4 starting in verse 15 it says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” That’s one of the beauties of the doctrine of the incarnation. When we pray to God, we understand that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is always before the throne interceding for us. We know that Jesus can sympathize with every thing that is happening to us, because He was fully human and He went through the same kinds of trials that you and I did, and yet He did so without sin. Later on in Hebrews chapter 7, he’s talking again about Jesus’ being a high priest, and he uses words like holy and innocent and unstained and separated from sinners. Jesus didn’t just appear to be human, He was fully human, and yet He was fully human without sin.
2. Fully God
Now, the other side of the incarnation equation is just as true, which is while Jesus was fully human, He also was fully God. How many times have you heard someone say, “Oh, I just believe Jesus was a good man”? Have we not heard that more times than we care to hear? I certainly have. The fact of the matter is that good people don’t say the things that Jesus said. If Jesus were only human and nothing else, we can’t call Him a good person, can we? Good people don’t go around saying things like, “I am the vine and you are the branches. Unless you abide in Me and I in you, you can’t bear any fruit.” I feel so bad for Jesus’ brothers and sisters! “Mom, He’s doing it again: He’s telling everyone He’s the vine.” We’ve got to have patience with His brothers and sisters; talk about having a perfect big brother! Good people don’t go around saying things like “I and the Father are one”; you know, we lock them up when they do that. It’s sad how many of our institutions are full of people who think they are Jesus, who think they are Christ, and who think they are God. People in control of their mental facilities, and if they’re good people, don’t say the kinds of things that Jesus said. Anyone who says, “Well, I believe that Jesus was a good man,” simply hasn’t read the Bible; you can’t read the Bible and come away with that understanding. As has often been said, either Jesus is a liar of pathological proportions, or He’s a lunatic, mentally unstable, or He is exactly who He said He is—He is God; there is no fourth option.
H. Importance of the Incarnation
Jesus is fully God and fully human; that’s the doctrine of the incarnation. The questions are: Is it important to believe this? Is it important to understand it? The answer, obviously, is yes. The incarnation, if nothing else, is the greatest miracle that ever happened; it’s the miracle of God becoming human. I think there are, at least, two good reasons why we need to be focused on the incarnation and to believe and understand it:
1. Important To Our Salvation
The first reason has to do with our salvation. The only way that salvation could be a possibility for you and for me is for Jesus to have been the God-man, which is a term that theologians like to use. If Jesus were not the God-man, He could not have provided salvation, and you and I would still be dead in our trespasses and in our sin. On the one hand, the Bible says that He had to be fully human if He was going to be the sacrifice for human sin; there is something in the justice of God that requires human death for human sin. The book of Hebrews again expounds on this in 2:17 where he writes that Jesus, “had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that He,” Jesus, “might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God,” if He was not human He couldn’t be our high priest, “to make propitiation” a sacrifice, “for the sins of the people.” Jesus had to be like you and me if He was going to be the sacrifice for our sin; I don’t know why that’s the case, but it has to do with the heart of God and His justice. Jesus had to be fully human, and if Jesus were not fully human, then there would be no sacrifice, which means you and I would still be in our sin on our way to hell. Are we not glad that Jesus was fully human? Also, in order for salvation to be a reality, Jesus had to be fully God. No human being could have carried the weight of all the world’s sin (past, present, and future) for those hours He hung on the cross; none of us are capable of bearing that kind of weight. Jesus had to be fully God because no human being could live a perfect life. If Jesus had not lived a perfect life, there would be no perfect death that could be given sacrificially for you and me. No human being’s death could be applied to our sin. If somehow we were enabled to live a perfect life, why would we think that our death could pay the penalty for someone else’s sin, much less the whole world’s sin? Jesus had to be fully God in order for these things to happen because ultimately, salvation belongs to our God; therefore, Jesus had to be God. The refrain comes from Psalm 3:8, and it’s elaborated in Revelation 7:10 that “salvation belongs to our God.” Our salvation is absolutely dependent upon the incarnation, the full humanity of Christ, so that His death would be a human death and the full divinity of Christ, so that His death could be applied to you and to me. Without the incarnation, we’re all dead and on our way to hell; there are some amazing ramifications that come out of this truth, aren’t there? Let me just mention two in passing:
a. Christianity is Exclusive
If you and I can come to grips with the incarnation and what it means, then at a very deep level, we will understand why Christianity is so exclusive. Throughout history, Christians have been accused of being prideful and arrogant because they think that they are the only way to God, that they’re better than the Hindus, and that they’re better than the Muslims. Let us not forget the fact that it was Jesus who said, “...I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me.” The reason for that is that there has never been another God-man. There has never been a God-man who is the single mediator between God and humanity (I Timothy 2:5). There was no other time in which God became a human sacrifice for human sin applied to all people. Yes, we are incredibly exclusive; all roads do not lead to God; all but one road leads straight to hell. It’s not because we’re prideful and arrogant people, it’s because there’s only one God-man, Jesus Christ, and there is no other way to God.
b. Evangelism Must be Radically Christ-Centered
The other ramification I want to just mention is that this doctrine of incarnation must have a phenomenal impact on our evangelism. It means, among other things, that there is no other name given among men whereby we must be saved. If people do not hear the good news of Jesus Christ, they will die in their sin and spend an eternity in hell; there is no other way to get into the presence of the Father. We must take that seriously, all the way from our offerings and our church budget, to what we say to our neighbors and how we talk to our friends; there is no other way to get to heaven other than through Jesus Christ, the one God-man. It also means that our evangelism must be radically God-centered, must be radically Christ-centered. People love to pull us off track; don’t they? “What do you think of Jesus?” “I don’t know. I don’t know if I can believe in a religion where God sends people to hell.
“That’s an interesting question, but what about Jesus.” “Oh, I’m not sure I can believe in a God who, supposedly, is all good and all powerful but let’s evil exist.”
“That’s a good questions, but what about Jesus.” “Oh, I can’t believe in a God. The Bible is full of mistakes.”
“Interesting question, you can point them out to me later. What about Jesus?” Our evangelism, our talking with neighbors and friends and co-workers, has to be radically centered on the person of Jesus Christ because that’s the question that matters. It’s the answer to that question that will get people in heaven and paradise and glory forever or will send them to hell forever. Who is Jesus? He is the incarnate God. He is God. He is man. Because He is the only God-man, He’s the only avenue to God or access to living with Him forever in heaven. The doctrine of the incarnation is anything but academic, isn’t it? It pervades and controls our very lives, our salvation, and the offer of salvation to other people. The doctrine of incarnation is important when it comes to salvation.
2. You Must Believe in the Incarnation to be a Christian
The second reason why the doctrine of incarnation is so important is because if you don’t believe it, you’re not a Christian. Let’s talk about the minimum amount that we need to share in the gospel presentation, so that if someone responds to it, he or she becomes a Christian. I’ll ask people, “What is the minimum it takes to get into heaven?” You say, “I don’t like that question.” No? You’re at the bus stop, and you’ve got two minutes. You can see the bus coming and you’ve got this person who’s asked you about Jesus, and the clock starts ticking. (It happened to me once—I didn’t have an answer.) We see the bus coming, and all of a sudden it becomes a very relevant question, doesn’t it? While some of us are sitting here saying, “Well, that’s not a good question! We shouldn’t be asking that question.” the minutes are ticking and the bus is getting closer. To be a Christian, we must believe in the incarnation. We must believe in the full humanity of Christ. In 1 John 4, John is talking about the false teaching that was going on; the false teachers denied the humanity of Christ. They were struggling with the idea of God’s dying, but John says in 1 John 4:2, “By this you know the Spirit of God,” by this you know if someone is a Christian, “every spirit,” or every person, “that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist.” So John says that one of the minimal required beliefs in order to be a follower of God is to believe that Jesus is fully human. If we are Christians, we also must believe in the full divinity of Christ, so we’re back to the word “Lord.” Paul is talking to the Roman church, Romans 10: 9: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is,” Kurios, “and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” In Romans 10:9, we have this neat mixing of both halves of the incarnation: we have to believe that God raised Him from the dead; that’s a physical resurrection of a real human being, and yet we also must confess that Jesus is Kurios; that He is Yahweh. So the doctrine of the incarnation is extremely important.
I. Central Question of Life
The central question of life is who Jesus is; it should pervade everything that we do. If our understanding of who Jesus is, is different from Peter’s; if our understanding of who Jesus is, is different from what I’ve explained, then in the words of Peter, we are called to repent; we are called to repent of our false understanding of who Jesus is. We know once we do that, then repentance from sin and all the other things will follow. If we do believe in the incarnation, Jesus is fully God and fully man, then the challenge of the incarnation is to allow that truth to pervade everything that we do. Because that means there’s only one God-man, there is only one way to God, and there is only one means to salvation, all the other roads of religions, sincerity, and religious activity lead to the gates of hell. Only the road through the God-man goes to heaven; may that be our challenge in the doctrine of the incarnation.
Before you became a Christian, who did you think Jesus was? Based on your conversion, who do you think he is now? What led you to think differently?
When you think of Jesus being fully human, as human as you and I are, what does that make you think of?
Read Peter’s sermon in Acts 2. What does Peter tell you about who Jesus is? List as many as you can see.
Write out and memorize these two verses: John 1:1, Romans 10:9
Read Philippians 2:5-11. It is a discussion of Jesus’ humility, how being God he condescended to become a human being for our sake. Identify what you learn about Jesus as God and about Jesus as human in this passage.