Saturday, August 20, 2011

Christian Unity and Boundaries in Christian Fellowship, Part 8

So far, I've tried to keep the focus of this series of posts “positive” - focusing on things that unite (or that should unite) Christian believers. But these things are also things that divide Christian believers from non-believers. I have what I call the “Ham-and-Swiss-on-Rye Sandwich Test”. On what bases and by what authority do I dispute some one claiming that Christianity is a ham-and-Swiss-on-rye sandwich? If Christianity can be anything anyone wants it to be, then Christianity can be a ham-and-Swiss-on-rye sandwich if some one wants it to be! In that sense, the fundamentals, the foundational teachings, of Christianity divide Christian believers from non-believers.

Reviewing and summarizing some from that perspective, there are three major things that bring this division:

  • Jesus;

  • Salvation;

  • Scripture.

These are the bedrock on which Christianity is built, as a faith and as a “movement” of believers. While I've given considerable attention to all three in previous posts, I'd like to “revisit” Jesus. Part 5, posted back on July 3rd, speaks to both Who Jesus was and what Jesus did, with emphasis on the latter. Without what Jesus did salvation is not possible. In this post I'd like to focus a bit more on Who Jesus is – what Scripture says about Him and what He said and did that point to Who He is.

Setting the scene, why is this important?

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6, ESV)

On what basis could Jesus make such grand, sweeping, absolute claims? If I were to make those claims I would be placed in a mental hospital!

For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. (2 Corinthians 11:4, ESV)

If Jesus' Own comment weren't enough, Paul brings it to a fine, hard, point. Who Jesus is matters! Jesus nature and identity is the very core of the Christian faith. If “your Jesus” is other than what Jesus is, you may not be a Christian believer!

While millions of people – through time and currently – who call(ed) themselves Christians believe(d) Jesus to be just a man or some other created being, Scripture makes clear that Jesus is much more.

Scripture identifies Jesus as God:

"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel"(which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:23, ESV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1, ESV)

who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped (Philippians 2:6, ESV)

But of the Son he says, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. (Hebrews 1:8, ESV)

Scripture identifies Jesus the Creator of all things:

All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:3, ESV)

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17, ESV)

Jesus identified Himself as God:

Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." (John 8:58, ESV)

The significance of John 8:58 is easily missed. It sounds like Jesus used poor grammar. But in reality, Jesus ascribed to Himself one of the names by which God identified Himself to Moses, the I AM (Exodus 3:14). It's a name that emphasizes the fact that God is eternal, not subject to time, which God created. Thus Jesus proclaimed Himself to be eternal, uncreated! Verse 59 shows that the Jewish people around Jesus when He said this understood exactly what he meant. They started to pick up stones to use to kill Jesus. Claiming to be God was blasphemy, punishable by being stoned to death! And, speaking of things blasphemous ...

Jesus accepted people's worship:

Matthew 8:2; 14:33; 28:9; Mark 5:6; Luke 24:52; John 9:38

Because of the number of verses (and I could have listed more from the book of Matthew) I won't quote them. These all use one of the main Greek words translated “worship”. It means to bow before some one, face to the ground. It's easy to miss the meaning embedded in these and similar verses. Any Jew who had received basic instruction in the Law knew that only God was to be worshiped. And as Matthew 4:10 and Luke 4:8 show, Jesus knew this well. Thus, for these Jewish people to worship Jesus was to commit blasphemy (though excessive emotional reaction could be a defense); for Jesus to accept their worship, without correcting them, was blasphemy, with no defense. By accepting their worship, Jesus implicitly and intrinsically said, “Yes, it is proper to worship me. I am God.”

So, why is it significant that Jesus is the Creator, God? First, of course, is that this is what Scripture teaches. But there are practical significances as well.

Were Jesus just a creature, sinless, He would not have been able to atone for as many as believe in Him - a one-for-one trade, maybe, but not for as many as believe. Being God, Jesus' sinless death was of unlimited worth. Another Jesus, one who is not God, could not save all (possibly not even one) who believe in him. Jesus, God the Son, being real, did and does; Jesus the archangel or Jesus-the-really-good-man is not and cannot.

One comment made in the Gospels is that people Jesus spoke to were surprised that He “spoke as one having authority” (Matthew 7:29). If this seems something less than significant, consider James 3:1 (ESV): Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. The Jews of Jesus' time understood the seriousness of teaching spiritual matters. Their teachers qualified their teachings by citing others who had taught the same understanding. Jesus taught from His own authority, an authority Scripture reveals to be Divine. Thus, Jesus' teachings are not merely nice and “inspiring”, they are God's words!

Because Jesus is God, believers can rely on His promises to be with us, to dwell in us, to provide power to live the Christian life, that he will return, that we will spend eternity with Him. The promises of a merely human or archangelic Jesus could not be relied on. A merely human or archangelic Jesus could not do all the real Jesus promised for his followers. The real Jesus did, does and will.

Jesus, the real Jesus Who is God the Son, is the core of the Christian faith. Believers' salvation, Scriptural authority, Jesus' involvement in believers' lives, purpose and destiny all hinge on Who He is. The nature and identity of Jesus are non-negotiable, fundamental to the Christian faith.

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