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Theology

Why Must Jesus Be God?

Over the course of church history, every heresy finds its end in one of two places: the person of Jesus (as God and Man) or the Trinity. A truly historic, orthodox faith holds to both Jesus being fully God and fully Man and a Trinitarian God who is one yet three: Father, Son, and Spirit.

In two brief posts, I want to address these two doctrines. My goal is simply to summarize why Jesus must be God and why God must be Trinitarian. Let’s start with Jesus. Why must Jesus be God?

If Jesus is not God, then he cannot die in our place on the cross. It simply boils down to this. There can be no substitutionary atonement if the substitute has to pay for his own sins. Jesus must be God because only God can satisfy his own wrath and pay the wages of sin (death). No mere human could. Yet at the same time, Jesus must be human because only a human deserves to die, for humans are the ones who have sinned against God.

If Jesus were not God, he would be another sinner (by definition) dying for sinners. Thus his death on the cross would be a wonderful example of love, but all it would be is an example! It would not be efficacious (i.e. it couldn’t produce the desired result, namely the redemption of sinners). Christ’s death would be stripped of any working power. It would be a great lesson in how we should live our lives. But that would actually not be loving, because it would crush us. No one can live up to that example (at least not me)! And what is it if a mere sinner dies for another sinner? Nothing. But this is not the essence of the gospel story. The essence of the gospel, indeed the whole Bible, is that everything in this world (including the world itself) is so messed up because of sin that only God himself can redeem you, me, and the whole cosmos. God himself must do for us what we could not do for ourselves.

That’s what we get when we meet Jesus. This is why Jesus must be God.

Scriptures to consider: Genesis 3:1-24 (esp. v. 15); John 1:1-18; 10:22-42; Colossians 1:15-23; Hebrews 1:1-14; 7:11-28

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Theology

The Offense of Christmas

How often do you hear about people toasting to “world peace” or “peace and goodwill to men” during this time of year? Maybe not often in real life, but certainly in movies! This desire isn’t wrong, after all, for in Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth, it is clear that Jesus came to bring peace to the world (2:14). What kind of peace? Our most basic need is peace with God, not peace between nations or families. Because of our rebellion against God, we are at odds with him. We are his enemies. We need to be reconciled to him. The good news of Christmas is that Jesus brings that reconciliation. When reconciliation between God and men happens, other relationships will fall into place.

But we don’t just get peace by gawking over baby Jesus at Christmas. You can’t go to Bethlehem’s manger without going to Jerusalem’s cross. Jesus did not stay in Bethlehem and neither should we. The truth is, no one is offended by baby Jesus. Everyone loves baby Jesus. Who would be offended at a cute new born who coos and yelps and yawns?

What is offensive is that this baby grew up to be a man to live the life I should have lived. What is offensive is that this man absorbed the holy wrath of God as he died the death I should have died. What is offensive is that only by trusting in Christ’s substitutionary work—not my own works—can I have peace with God.  That is why God gets “glory in the highest,” as the angels sang, and precisely why I cannot boast before God. O how much Jerusalem’s cross offends! This stomps all over my ego. I need someone to save me? Yes. And God alone has provided the salvation!

At great risk to our small view of God, think about it this way: the Father went to war with Jesus so that we might no longer be at war with him. Jesus, however, did not remain as the Father’s enemy. He was rewarded because of his perfectly obedient life: the Father raised him from the dead. Now all those who are connected to Christ by faith belong to him and the Father, and all of them will live together in perfect peace and harmony forever.

That’s why Jesus was born. That’s what Christmas is all about. Now, that’s something worth toasting to.

Categories
Theology

My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

Why did Jesus cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” on the cross?

Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). He is called “lamb,” of course, because of the Old Testament where lambs were designated to be the sin-bearers for the people on the day of atonement (see especially Lev. 16 for the “day of atonement,” what Jews call today “Yom Kippur”). When John the Baptizer called Jesus the Lamb of God in John 1:29, he was prophesying and essentially saying, “There aren’t going to be any more sacrifices after this man. He’s the last lamb.”Isaiah picks up this theme of atonement for sin from Leviticus 16 in his “Suffering Servant” passage in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. He says,

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes 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. He was oppressed, and was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away…Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief (vv. 4-8a, 10).

So Isaiah shows us that not only were lambs–and the Ultimate Lamb–sacrificed for sin, but that their sacrifice was actually punishment for the sinner (his language makes that clear). Lambs, and thus Jesus, received punishment, for what we deserved. Jesus, then, not only paid the debt for sin, but also took the punishment that sin deserved. We see this throughout the New Testament in different vocabulary:

  • Christ became a curse for us (Gal. 3:13).
  • Christ became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21).
  • Christ saves us from wrath by taking wrath for us (1 Thess. 1:10).
  • Christ was condemned in the flesh so that the righteous requirement of the law would be fulfilled in us (Rom. 8:3).
  • Christ was put forward as a “propitiation,” which is a theological word that means Christ was given to satisfy God’s wrath (Rom. 3:25).

We can sum up the judgment of God this way: Everyone will be judged for their sins. No one anywhere at any time gets away with anything. Every sin will be punished–either in hell or on the cross.

All of this evidence leads me to believe that when Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” he was saying, “I am being forsaken for the sins of many. I am experiencing the punishment for sin that everyone who believes in me should bear.” Now this is tricky. Can God turn his back on himself? Does he not see what’s happening? Of course, the answers are no and no. He cannot turn his back on himself and he does see everything. However, in a mysterious, cosmic way, at that moment, all of the sins of the God’s people were poured onto Jesus. In order for redemption to be possible, God, indeed, had to forsake Jesus. Jesus needed to be judged. Jesus needed to face the wrath of God that we deserved for our sins. So while God did not turn his literal back so he did not see, the meaning is that Jesus really and truly experienced the absence of fellowship and union with the Father because of sin. Because Jesus was abandoned by the Father for those precious moments before he died we can be sure that he will “never leave nor forsake” us.

In saying, “My God, my God…etc,” Jesus is quoting Psalm 22:1. In those days, when a rabbi quoted the first verse of psalm, the whole chapter was being alluded to. Jesus then implies that he is the true author of Psalm 22–the only truly righteous person who can faithfully sing that song. God will eventually restore Jesus: “For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him” (Ps. 22:24). The Father has heard the cry of the Son. Why could the Father hear the cry of the afflicted One? Because Jesus is the only truly innocent sufferer who does not deserve to suffer. The evidence of this fact is that the Father raised the Son from the dead. The resurrection was Christ’s reward for a perfectly obedient life. God did not simply forsake Jesus in some form of divine child abuse (which some wrongly assert I am implying). He punished and chastised him, only to bring him through death after hearing his cry of affliction in order to bring in “all the families of the nations” to God (Ps. 22:27-28). The promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 was being fulfilled in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Christ took our punishment so that we will never face punishment in eternity.

Finally, was Jesus being punished until his resurrection? Did he go to hell after he died? No and no. He said on the cross, “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit,” (Luke 23:46); and to the thief he said, “Today, you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Christ’s victory was not fully realized until his resurrection, but he certainly was not overcome by death: “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (Ps. 16:10).

Categories
Theology

The Incarnation (Spoken Word)

HT: Justin Taylor

Categories
Theology

Praying the Gospel Over Your Life

From J.D. Greear on the Resurgence:

One of the revolutionary ideas of the gospel is that we begin to do what we ought for God as we are captivated by the story of what he has done for us.

Spiritual fruits do not develop in us as we focus on them; spiritual fruits come as we abide in Jesus (John 15:5). Spiritual “fruit” is much like physical “fruit.” When a husband and wife conceive physical “fruit” (i.e. a child), they are not thinking about the exact, scientific mechanics of making that child. They get caught up in a moment of loving intimacy with one another, and the fruit of that loving intimacy is a child. In the same way, spiritual fruits do not grow by focusing on fruit production, but by becoming intimate with the doctrines of the gospel.

Grow Your Fruit with the Gospel
Jesus said that saturating ourselves in the gospel, or “abiding” (lit., “making our home”) in it, is the way to abundant fruit. Sanctification is the daily process of pulling up the roots of our hearts from the flesh and grounding them in the soil of the gospel. Or, to change metaphors, we must send out missionaries to the unreached parts of our heart to preach the gospel and bring our heart under the subjugation of the gospel.

Things like radical generosity and audacious faith are not produced when we focus on them, but when we focus on the gospel.

 A Prayer of God’s Righteousness
About four years ago, I wrote a prayer for our church to help to this end. We often talk about “preaching the gospel to ourselves daily,” but how can you do that? This four-part prayer confronts us with the reality of God’s gift-righteousness and love:

“In Christ, there is nothing I could do that would make you love me more, and nothing I have done that makes you love me less.” Pray about this “gift righteousness” of the gospel (2 Cor. 5:21) and go to war against the incipient works-righteousness hardwired into our hearts.

“Your presence and approval are all I need today for everlasting joy.”  Pray about this value of God’s presence in our lives. It’s one thing to know that Jesus is your possession; it’s another for that approval to have such weightiness in our hearts that our captivity to other idols is snapped.

“As you have been to me, so I will be to others.”  Pray about and consider the extravagant generosity of God toward us. His generosity toward us leads us to radical generosity toward others.   

“As I pray, I’ll measure your compassion by the cross and your power by the resurrection.” Pray that God would help you view the world through the lens of the gospel. Seeing the compassion and power of God revealed in the gospel produces bold, audacious faith in our hearts. 

Focus on What Jesus has Done For You
Things like radical generosity and audacious faith are not produced when we focus on them, but when we focus on the gospel. Focusing on what we ought to do for God creates only frustration and exhaustion; focusing on what Jesus has done for us produces abundant fruit. Resting in what Jesus has done for us releases the revolutionary power of the gospel.


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