December 4, 1994
Christmas stirs up questions for us: Who is Jesus? Why do we celebrate His birth? Is He really God? Alistair Begg examines the Scriptures to uncover if Jesus Himself ever claimed to be God. The people of Jesus’ day understood who He was claiming to be, and it’s important for us to understand who He is too—not just at Christmastime but all year round.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Let me invite you once again to turn to the Gospel of John and to chapter 1, the verses with which we began. I want to say to you that if you regarded last Sunday morning—and you would do so with some justification—as an opportunity for challenge and exhortation, then you should view what we’re about to share this morning in terms of careful instruction. Paul tells Timothy that he should approach the instruction of God’s people along certain lines: he should be doing the work of an evangelist; he should be doing the task of patient, careful instruction. And what we’re about to share this morning is far more along the lines of that instruction than it is of exhortation.
Indeed, if you do not this morning endeavor at some level to take notes, then I think that you will very quickly become hopelessly lost, and if you have come waiting for something to hit you, as it were—some sort of warm sensation to creep over you—then it probably won’t happen until sometime late in the afternoon, and it will have very little to do with what we’re about to study in the Bible.
So, let us pray together, and then we will turn to the Scriptures together:
Our God and our Father, we thank you for your Word—that we’re not left this morning to try and think up something to talk about, nor do we enjoy the freedom of being able simply to pontificate, but that you have made us servants of your Word, students of your Word, so that using our minds, we may understand, and in understanding, we may be able to articulate the truth we learn. So we pray this morning for the grace necessary to study as we should and to live as we must. And we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The songwriter says that Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year.” And of course, undoubtedly, it is for many of us our favorite season. But Christmas is also for many people a most disturbing and perplexing time of the year, because it highlights a number of questions which continue to bother and puzzle them when we think in terms of biblical faith. If you think in terms of the jigsaw puzzle of life, Christmas comes around, and some of the pieces that we recall from last year were missing, we hope somehow or another they will have been found; we dip into the box, begin to put it together again, only to discover that the same gaps are present as the last time. Or if you like to think in terms of the crossword puzzle, here we are again at twenty-nine across and fifteen down; we have no solutions for either of them, and consequently, we cannot conclude the puzzle.
Now, I’m thinking particularly in terms of the issue that is before us this morning, i.e., the question of the identity of Jesus Christ. The identity of Jesus Christ. Who was Jesus Christ, and why did he come?
Now, for some people, their answer to that is straightforward and speedy: Jesus was just a man. The problem comes because they realize that although they affirm that quickly, there is so much about him that seems to be so much more than a man. It puzzles, intrigues, disturbs. At the same time, they come to the Bible, and they discover that the Bible says that Jesus was actually God. But that just seems far too hard to swallow for many. And on the back of that, the idea, which is propounded, that Jesus could possibly be both God and man at the same time is really just beyond them. And it is not uncommon for people to say the idea that Jesus is both God and man is totally illogical.
We had some fun with this on Wednesday night at our elders’ meeting, because we were spending time in the study of the Scriptures together and in thinking and praying for the needs of the congregation. And in the course of that, we addressed the question with one another concerning this whole issue of saying that Jesus is both divine and Jesus is human and responding to those who say that such a twofold assertion is logically incompatible. We noted that the most notorious challenge to the issue of the incarnation, the deity of Jesus, has come in the last fifteen years from an English theologian who wrote a book entitled The Myth of God Incarnate. This is not an atheist writing to challenge Christianity. This is an apparent member of Christendom writing to try and make Christianity more appealing to the man in the street. And so the theologian determined that since it’s a bit of a large piece to chew and a large bite to swallow, this idea of Jesus both divine and human, he wrote, along with people before him, to dispense with what he regards is a piece of theological lumber—namely, the humanity and divinity of Jesus.
He relied—the author—on the work of a philosopher by the name of Spinoza that some of you will remember from your studies. And Spinoza had used a picture to dispel this idea of Jesus, human and divine, and the picture that he used was that of a square circle. And Spinoza said that to speak of Jesus as both human and divine is as illogical as speaking of a square circle. And of course, one of the things is that when our friends, our neighbors, or people across the laboratory from us—or, sorry, “lab-oratory” from us—challenge us in these things and perhaps say to us, “You know, the idea that Jesus is both human and divine is as illogical as a square circle,” very often we don’t know what to say.
And we were thinking about that, and we were greatly helped by the work of a fellow by the name of Alister McGrath, who, in responding to this, pointed out that the idea of a square circle is an absurdity. And the reason is that both the square and the circle are examples of shapes, and a single shape cannot be both a square and a circle at one and the same time. So that’s fair enough. But the application is not. Because the reason for the absurdity regarding square and circle is because square and circle are the same things. But to suggest the absurdity exists between godhood and manhood is not apropos, because godhood and manhood are two different things. God is Creator, and man is creature. So why is it not logical that both divinity and humanity should coexist?
Now, that doesn’t address the issue of whether they do or not; it just addresses the issue of to say that it is illogical—i.e., a square circle—is challengeable. For example, says Alister McGrath, “What about my friend Francis? My friend Francis,” he says, “has dual nationality. He is both British and Swiss.” Spinoza suggests that to say “Jesus is divine” and “Jesus is human” is logically incompatible. But, says Alister, what about Francis? For we may say of Francis, “Francis is British,” and “Francis is Swiss.” “A logical contradiction exists if, and only if, being British excludes being Swiss.” But since it doesn’t, what may appear to be contradictory in fact is possessed of no contradiction at all. So therefore, “why, at the logical level, should being human exclude … being divine?” Cannot Jesus be both a citizen of heaven and a citizen of earth?
Now, you see, we need to be thinking these things out in these days. And I’m addressing this with you this morning and for however long it takes to get through it because I feel a great sense of burden for the congregation that we do not simply wander into the thoroughfares of late twentieth-century America a bit like the Englishman trying to buy stamps in a post office in Paris, who, when he is encountering the man behind the counter, who speaks to him in French, the Englishman determines that he will just speak English a little louder and a little slower, believing somehow, in the pomposity of it all, that he may choose still to speak his own language louder and slower, and the individual will thereby respond to it accordingly.
In terms of Christian faith, some of us are living with the illusion that the way to speak into our world is just to speak a little louder and a little slower. So we continue to affirm certain things, and we think that simply to affirm them means that people buy them, believe them, understand them, accept them. And they don’t! And frankly, they shouldn’t. Because we are pompous to believe that we may simply bang on the same drum, do none of the difficult thinking, be unable to engage people in meaningful dialogue, and somehow or another discover that they enter into believing faith on the strength of that kind of thing.
Now, did Jesus ever claim to be God? That’s the question. That’s the bottom line. People say to us from time to time, “Well, I know that you say that he was God, but did he ever claim to be God? We have a sneaking suspicion,” say our challengers, “that the reason that you declare him to be God is because you need him to be God. Because if you don’t have him as God, then he’s just one of many on the plane of world religions, and therefore, Christianity has lost its dominant role in the world. Therefore, you want him to be God, so you read your conclusion into your presupposition, and you start from there.” Well then, what do we say in response to that?
What we have to do is go and examine the evidence. And the evidence to which we turn, at least within this context this morning, is the Bible. Let us start from the Scriptures and say, “Okay, let us go to the Bible and answer the question ‘Does Jesus claim to be God?’” If he does, then we need to respond to it in that way. And there are places where Jesus makes direct claims, to which we’ll come, and there are also ways in which Jesus makes indirect claims. I want to address with you four of these indirect claims to divinity made by Jesus.
First of all—and you’ll need to allow your fingers to do the walking here—Jesus made staggering claims about his ability to meet the spiritual needs of others. Jesus made staggering claims about his ability to meet the spiritual needs of others. If you take the Gospel of John, for example, and just read through it, you discover a great succession of “I am” statements made by Jesus: “I am the light of the world. [He who] follows me will [not] walk in darkness.” “I am the bread of life.” “I am the door.” “I am the good shepherd.” “I am the resurrection and the life.” “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” and so on.
Now, why are all these things significant? Well, it’s important to realize that when Jesus makes each of these statements, he is claiming that he and he alone could meet every individual’s need for forgiveness, peace, security, direction, and he alone could bring them into a living, eternal relationship with God. That’s what he’s saying when he says these things. He is not simply making interesting statements; he is actually affirming certain convictions about who he is. “Follow me,” he says, “and you’ll never walk in darkness.” “Eat the bread of life, and you’ll never hunger again.” “Follow me, walk with me, and I’ll take you directly into heaven.” It is impossible, it is difficult, to imagine how anyone in his right mind could make even one of these claims without believing himself to be God. How in the world would anybody ever walk onto the stage of human history and say, “I am the way, the truth, the life; nobody comes to the God the Father but through me”? He is either a bad man telling lies; or he is a madman, totally deluded; or he is the God-man. He is actually who he claims to be.
And so we need to be able to engage our friends at this level of dialogue and tell them, say, “Well, I’m glad you mentioned that, because when you listen to the claims of Jesus, they’re quite incredible.” We say to our friends, “I know that you’ve got a problem with this idea of Jesus being divine, but look at what he said. Now, why did he say that? He either said it ’cause he’s a liar. Do you believe him to be a liar?”
“No, well, I don’t think he’s a liar.”
“Well, he either said that, then, because he was crazy. Do you think that Christ was crazy?”
“No, I don’t think so, because I see him heal people, and I see him welcome people, and I see him talk with people, etc. So I don’t think he’s crazy.”
“Well then, who do you think he is?”
And the standard answer is, “I think he was just a good man.”
“Well, how can you have a good man who tells lies like this?”
He did not leave us the option of being a good man. He was either who he said he was; or, as C. S. Lewis says, he was on the level with a man who claimed to be a poached egg; or he was a liar; or he was something worse.
So, when we examine the evidence, we see that he made these staggering statements and claims concerning how he alone could address the spiritual needs of others.
Secondly, he made astonishing claims about his teaching. Turn to Matthew chapter 5, if you would. Matthew chapter 5. And addressing in the Sermon on Mount the question of the Old Testament, he says in verse 18, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” Jesus is affirming the authenticity of the Old Testament. He is simply saying what others would say of the Old Testament Scriptures: that they are from God, that they are factual, that they cannot be tampered with.
Now, when you actually turn forward a number of chapters—some nineteen chapters—into Matthew chapter 24, you discover that he says the same thing about his words. Matthew 24:35: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” “Excuse me? We understand that about the Old Testament, Jesus—that the words of the Old Testament will never pass away. But now you’re actually claiming that your words will never pass away? You mean like your words being like the Old Testament words?” That’s exactly what he meant! “The words that I speak are the very words of God. They will never, ever pass away.” And interestingly, two thousand years later, here we are in the second morning service, studying the very words of Jesus which he said “will never pass away,” despite the fact that centuries have tried to grind into the dust of oblivion the very truth of the Scriptures.
Go back to the Sermon on the Mount, and listen to him as he takes false interpretations of the Old Testament and he corrects them. Matthew 5:21, he says, “You[’ve] heard … it … said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone … murders will be subject to [the] judgment.’” Verse 22: “But I[’m] [going to] tell you that anyone who[’s] angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” Verse 27: “You have heard that it was said,” speaking of the Old Testament, “‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Verse 31: “[You’ve heard that it was] said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife…’” Thirty-two: “But I[’m] [going to] tell you....” Verse 33: “You[’ve] heard it said long ago not to break your oath.” Verse 34: “But I tell you…” And so on. Thirty-eight: “You’ve heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’” Verse 39: “But I tell you…” Forty-three: “You[’ve] heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you…”
Now, what’s the point here? You find yourself saying, “Who in the world do you think you are?” I mean, who’s going to stand up and take the Bible and say, “You’ve heard that it was said in the Bible… But I’m telling you… You know that this is what you were supposed to do, but I’m going to tell you…” What was Jesus doing? He was clearly making astonishing claims about his teaching. He was putting his teaching on a par with the rest of biblical instruction.
Thirdly, Jesus not only made staggering claims concerning his identity and his ability to meet the spiritual needs of others—he made astonishing claims about his teaching—and also, he claimed that he would be directly involved in all the major aspects of the end of the world. John 14:3: he says to his disciples, “I’m going to go away and prepare a place for you, but I’m going to come back.” “I will come back.” “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me [so] that you also may be where I am.”
Who is this man who stands in a moment in time-space history, and he says, “I’m going to be involved in wrapping the world up”?
They said, “Aren’t you the son of Joseph the carpenter?”
“And you’re going to be involved in wrapping the world up?”
“Yeah. I’m going to go away, and I’m going to come back.”
Now, is that not an immediately applicable, relevant statement in our twentieth-century culture? The whole world is consumed with people who have gone away and come back. Go to the average bookstore, and what do you see? Book after book after book about people who had near-death experiences and came back. You want to make a million bucks? Nearly die, come back, and write a book. It’s easy!
Do you want to have one book totally avoided? This book!
Say to people, say, “I hear you’re interested in out-of-body experiences.”
“I believe you’re interested in people who nearly died and came back.”
“Well, what if I could introduce you to somebody who had an out-of-body experience and who didn’t just nearly die but actually died and definitely came back?”
“Oh yeah, please. Who is it?”
“Jesus of Nazareth.”
“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me. Square circle! Don’t give me that stuff. I thought you were going to tell me about a real person who went away and came back.”
See the way men and women’s minds are totally predisposed to error? They totally live in the realm of error, so that they are prepared to believe the most unbelievable things and are at the same time unprepared to accept that which is explicit in the statements of Jesus. “I’m going to go away. I’m going to come back.” In John chapter 5, he says in verse , “I am going to be involved in the judgment of the world.” John 5:: speaking of the Father, he says, “And he”—the Father—“has given [to the Son] authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.” Realizing that people’s faces are going to be totally—their jaws are going to be hanging down in response to this—he says,
Do[n’t] be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.
Matthew chapter 25, Jesus says, “I’m going to sit on my throne, and I will put the sheep on the right, and I will put the goats on the left.” “When the Son of Man”—Matthew 25:31—“comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory,” and “all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,” and “he will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”
And people say to us, “Well, isn’t Jesus just like Buddha? Isn’t Jesus just like Krishna? Isn’t he just like another Hindu avatar?” The answer is no, he’s not. So when we’ve said, “No, he’s not,” and then they say, “Well, how is he not?” and then we start, “I don’t know how he’s not. I just know he’s not”—well, the person who has got genuine questions is not going to be prepared to put up with that nonsense! You go in there to sell software, and they say, “Now, is the software for this package the same as the software for that package?” You say, “No, it’s not.” They say to you, “In what way is it not?” And if you then can only dribble down your chin for the next five minutes, they have every right to throw you out of the door and get somebody who knows what they’re talking about. And in the same way, we say, “Well, no, Jesus is not like that.” “Well, in what way is he not like that?” “Well, I don’t know in what way he is not like that, but I just know that he’s not, so he’s not, not, not. Therefore…” He says, “Well, thank you very much. You don’t know anything. You are an ignoramus. You are a Christian ignoramus, and you are annoying me. Don’t stand there and shout in my face. Listen to my questions, and go home and do your homework till you know the answer.”
One of the answers is Buddha never, ever said that he was going to sit on a throne and be involved in the judgment of the world. One of the other answers is that Buddha never, ever claimed to be the very one who spoke the very oracles and words of God. And so we might go on. But it takes some Sunday afternoons with a concordance. It takes some evenings with my Bible and a pencil. It takes some thinking. It takes some discovering. It takes some diligence. And all that I or a teacher might do for you is what any other reasonable teacher may do, and that is to stir within you the desire to become a student of this book. Neither I nor the cumulative effect of the leadership of Parkside Church can spoon-feed the whole congregation into being able to articulate their faith. We can help, but we can’t do it. It takes a lot of hard work.
So, Jesus, then, made staggering claims concerning his ability to deal with the spiritual needs of men and women. He made astonishing claims about his teaching. Thirdly, he claimed that he would be directly involved in all the major aspects of the end of the world. And fourthly, he made it clear that the reaction of men to him was an indication of their reaction to God.
Now, these are all indirect claims still. John chapter 14—we’ve been there already. After Jesus has said that he is going away and he’ll come back and receive them unto himself, Philip—who’s a great guy to have in a class, ’cause he always asks the dumb question that you were afraid to ask, and so you get the answer, but you don’t have to be the dummy that asked it—Philip steps up, and in John 14:8 he says, “‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip …?’”
Now, just let that settle in your mind for a minute. Here’s a guy, and he says, “Show us God and that will be enough. Just give us a foundation for our belief. Just show us God, Jesus.” And Jesus looks at him, and he says, “Don’t you know me, Philip?” Now, what’s he saying? He’s saying, “You’ve seen him.” “You’ve seen him.” People say, “Jesus never, ever claimed to be God.” What is this?
Go back two chapters to 12:44—Jesus, addressing the Jews in their unbelief, preaching out of the Old Testament, showing how the Old Testament ties in with the New, speaking of Isaiah, and so on. And these [authorities], it says in verse 42, “would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.” They wanted it both ways, and they couldn’t have it. And in verse 44, “Jesus cried out.” The word there is a graphic word. It actually just came right out from inside of him, just an impassioned release from within him. He says, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me.” “When a man believes in me, Jesus,” he says, “he doesn’t believe in me alone. When a man sees me, he doesn’t just see me. He sees the one who sent me.”
You have the exact same thing when he welcomes the children in Mark’s Gospel and in chapter 9. Mark 9:36: “He took a little child … had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me.’” So far, so good. “Big deal,” says somebody. “That’s nice.” Here comes the kicker: “And whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” And that, you see, is what the religious establishment couldn’t stomach. And that is still what religious establishment cannot stomach.
I don’t expect you folks to read the books that reveal this, or even to understand this, but I expect you to be sensible enough to be able to adjudicate on what I’m suggesting to you and to be able to go away and verify the facts. Believe me when I tell you that in pulpits all around us here, there are congregations sitting this Christmastime, deluded into believing that their pastor and their teacher affirms the orthodox view of Christianity because of the language he employs, but in personal dialogue with him, he will be honest enough to tell you that he believes that the idea of an incarnate God is a mythology. And still they’ll sing the carols, still they’ll go through the thing, still they’ll light the trees, still they will embrace “the faith,” but there is no substance and foundation to the faith that they affirm. “He who welcomes me doesn’t welcome me,” he says, “but welcomes the one who sent me.”
Back into John chapter 5, the flip side of it is also very clear. John 5:: “The Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son.” Why? Verse 23: “That all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.” Do you find that hard to understand? It’s straightforward.
So our friends come to us and say, “Well, you know what? I am a believer. I believe in God. I believe in Jehovah, and I honor Jehovah. I just don’t honor Jesus the Son. I don’t actually believe that he is the incarnate Son of God. I believe that to speak in that way is to speak about a square circle. But you can just leave me on my own, because I honor the Father.” Well, what does Jesus say? “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.”
Now, think this out, folks. So here we have very lovely Mormon people, really committed to the family, really committed to doing well in business, really strong in certain foundational principles. And in dialogue with us they will say, “We honor the Father. We do not honor Christ as the incarnate Son of God.” Those who tell you they do are either deluded and have not understood the teaching, or they’re lying to you. But orthodox Mormonism does not honor Christ as the coequal, coeternal Son of God. Okay? “But,” they affirm, “we honor the Father.” Okay, well, then let’s put that against what Jesus says: “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.”
So what, then, is the spiritual power which impels Mormonism? If it is actually impossible not to honor God the Father except in the righteous honor of the Son, then those who claim to honor the Father and ignore the Son do not honor the Father. Therefore, they must have spiritual power from somewhere. Where? See? And that will get you crucified in the late twentieth century, talking like that. Because the issue now is tolerance, not truth. And we start to put on our little cheery faces and say, “Well, how could such a nice person possibly...?” Think it out.
John 15:23: “He who hates me hates my Father as well.” Say, “I don’t hate God. I just hate Jesus. I just hate anybody,” says the individual, “who tells me that Jesus is God, because nowhere does the Bible suggest that, and so therefore, I resent it, and I find it very distressing.” “Well,” Jesus says, “well, let me just put it to you straight. You say you hate me? You hate my Father as well.” Why? Because—anticipating a verse to which we will not get this morning, John 10:30—Jesus says, “I and the Father are one.” “You can’t talk about me without talking about my Dad, and you can’t talk about my Dad without talking about me. So don’t say that you can love my Dad and hate me.” And on a far more superficial level, it is an interesting thing that you can tell a lot about what people feel concerning you as the dad by the way in which they treat your kids. And the Father looks from heaven; he says, “You honor my Son. You listen to his words.” People say, “No, we don’t want to listen to his words, but we’d like to honor you.” Jesus says, “You can’t honor the Father unless you honor the Son. You hate me, you hate God.”
Now, you see, the Jewish people in Jesus’ day, they couldn’t stomach that. They said, “Listen, we have Abraham as our father.” John chapter 8. “We don’t have to listen to this stuff, Jesus. We have Abraham as our father. We can go to the real source.” Do you remember what Jesus said to them? He said, “You’ve got the devil for your father.”
How to Make Friends and Influence People, chapter 6, page 27: “We have Abraham as our father. We are nice, upright, religious people, Jesus. Don’t you think that’s nice? Shouldn’t you just say, ‘Well, I know you don’t really believe what we believe, but you know what? You’re okay. You do have Abraham as your dad, and that’s fine. We won’t worry about it.’” Jesus said, “You’ve got the devil for your dad. He was a liar, and you are liars too.” Who’s going to say that? A madman? A bad man? Or the God-man?
Now, some of you have already glazed over into a measure of oblivion this morning. I can see it in your eyes. And on the strength of those four indirect claims, I then actually, in my notes, have six direct claims. So let’s just turn this sermon into a series right now, officially—that will allow you to relax a little bit—and let me turn just to two of the direct claims out of the six that I have in front of me. I’ll come back to them next week, all being well, which will create a sense of expectation in you, I’m sure.
Six direct claims. Although Jesus never actually anywhere in the record of the New Testament says, “I am God,” he actually makes the staggering claim, albeit using other words. Now let me show you where and how.
John chapter 5. And you need to learn these things. You need to write them in your Bible. You need to write them down until you know them, so that you can turn to them, so that you can meaningfully respond to your friends.
John 5 is the record of a healing which takes place at the pool of Bethesda, surrounded by five great covered colonnades. And a number of disabled people, it says in verse 3, “used to lie” there—“the blind” and “the lame” and “the paralyzed.” And one who had been there as “an invalid for thirty-eight years” was healed by Jesus.
It’s interesting to ponder the response of established religion to his healing. You’ll see it there in verse 10: “The day on which this took place”—that is, Jesus goes to the fellow, and he says, “‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath; [you’re not allowed] to carry your mat [on the Sabbath].’” What a nice bunch of people, eh? That’s the appeal of the face of established religion so often. Here is a man who for thirty-eight years has lain on his back. He is instantaneously healed. He picks up his mat, and he starts walking, and all that religion can say is “Hey, you’re not supposed to carry the mat. It’s Sunday!” “Well, you mean even though I have been lying on my back for thirty-eight years, I can’t even carry the mat on a Sunday? Lighten up, please!” And that’s exactly what Jesus says.
They said, “Who in the world told you you can do this?” The guy says, “I don’t know, some guy”—verse 11. “He says, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’” Incidentally, that must have been an event, eh? If you’ve been lying there amongst blind, lame paralyzed people for thirty-eight years of your life, you’ve heard it all. You’ve seen it all. You’ve met everybody. You’ve watched. As long as your eyes work, as long as your ears work, you’ve heard it all. And then one day, a total stranger walks up to you, and he says, “Hey, buddy, you just pick up that mat, and you walk.” The guy says, “Well, let’s try it.” Then he says, “This is working.”
And just as you’re going home to tell your mom, your brother, the guy says, “Hey, you shouldn’t be carrying that mat on a Sunday. Who told you to do that?” The guy says, “I don’t know. A guy came up to me, said, ‘Pick up your mat and walk,’ so I just figured, hey, might as well give it a try. I’ve been there for thirty-eight years and nothing happened. So I picked up my mat and walked.” He didn’t know who it was. In verse 13: “The man who was healed had no idea who it was.” This is great! Jesus didn’t come up and say, “Good morning. I am the incarnate Son of God, and I want to do a miracle.” No, he just came up, said, “Hey, get the mat. Let’s go, buddy.”
“For Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.” What a wonderful picture of ministry as well, just in passing, in a self-focused world where we all want to get the attention. Good night! We’d be standing up in the pulpit going, “It was me! I did it. I did it.” But they looked for who did this, and they couldn’t find him. He was gone through the crowd.
And later Jesus finds him in the temple, and he says, “Hey, see, you’re well again. Stop sinning. Something worse might happen to you.” And the man went away, and he told the Jews; he said, “Hey, I met him at the temple. The guy who did this was Jesus.”
“So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him.” And “Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.’” So Jesus looks him in the eye and says, “Listen, God is at work. He is not bound by your understanding of the Sabbath law. And I am working as he is working, and he works in me and through me, so I am not bound by your Sabbath law either. So a flea in your ear about the mat business,” essentially. Verse 18: “For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was … calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” You see, they understood what was happening. They said, “He is saying he’s God.” And Jesus does nothing to correct their interpretation. Isn’t that interesting?
Later on, in the Acts, when people come to Paul and his companion and begin to worship him because of a great miracle of healing that has taken place, and they begin to fall down before him in worship, and they say, “Oh, the gods have come down to us,” Paul tears his clothes, and he says, “Don’t do this.” He says, “I’m not a god. We’re not gods. There’s only one God. Worship God.”
So the people come to Jesus, and they say, “This guy is making himself equal with God.” If he was not, he would have said, “Hey, you’ve got it wrong. I’m not saying that. I’m just a good guy. I’ve just got some powers. I don’t know where they came from, you know? Funny things happened in Nazareth years ago. There’s a lot of different things, you know?” Uh-uh. That’s what people want him to say, but he’s not prepared to.
Now, let me tell you one final thing, for this morning at least, in terms of a direct claim. Go to John chapter 8. Just turn forward to John 8. All the way through John’s Gospel, twenty-five times or so, Jesus introduces statements with the words “Verily, verily, I say to you…” It doesn’t come out in the NIV, which is a bit of a shame. Verse 56: “Your father Abraham,” he says to the Jews, “rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” The Jews said, “Hey, wait a minute. You’re not yet fifty years old, and you’ve seen Abraham?” “‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’”
Now, was he, as some have wanted to suggest, simply claiming to be over two thousand years old—in which case he must have been wearing particularly well, wouldn’t you say? Especially when they were able to identify the fact that he wasn’t yet fifty years old. Was he simply just claiming to be older? Was he claiming simply to have been around before time existed? Was he simply saying that he was an angel or that he was a created being, which was the heresy of Arius in the fourth century and the heresy of every cult since?
No. The question which had spurred this response is in verse 53: “Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, … so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” It’s a great question. It’s a great setup. “Do you think you’re greater than Abraham?” Because a Jew could conceive of nobody greater than Abraham. In the economy of God, apart from God himself, Abraham was at the top of the list. He says, “Are you greater than Abraham?” They didn’t ask him, “Are you older than Abraham?” And the kicker, which they got, is in this great statement: “Before Abraham was born, I am!”
Now, what was the problem here? Why did it hit them so hard? Well, because they knew that that was one of the key names in the Old Testament that God used to identify himself. Exodus chapter 3, God says to Moses, “I want you to go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Let my people go.’” And Moses responds, and he says, “[Well, you know,] suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” And “God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am. This is what you[’re] to say to the Israelites: “I am has sent me to you.’”
So he goes to the Israelites, and he says, “I am’ has sent me. God has sent me.” So they say, “Are you greater than Abraham?” Jesus says, “Greater than Abraham? Before Abraham was, I am.” Could mean only one thing—and the Jews understood it. “At this, they picked up stones to stone him.” They weren’t about to stone him on account of a claim that he was two thousand years old. They weren’t about to stone him because he was an angel. But claiming to be God would be blasphemy, and the penalty was stoning.
If you think about it, it is very apropos to the world in which we live. This morning, men and women in secular America are not about to stone Jesus because he claims to have been around a long time. They won’t crucify Jesus because he is propounded to be an angel. They won’t crucify Jesus because he says that he has existed from before time began. And guess what? They won’t crucify you or me for maintaining that, ’cause that’s okay. That fits in our New Age world. “You go your way; I’ll go mine. You believe what you believe; I’ll believe what I believe. Just don’t confuse me with facts. Just let me experience it. My experience is as valid as your experience; therefore, let’s all have an experience. But don’t ever come and try and maintain that Jesus Christ is human and divine, the incarnate Son of God, the only way to get to heaven, the only possibility of forgiveness. I am unprepared to accept that.”
And let me tell you something: the two great issues of Christian faith in articulating the faith in our postmodern world are the resurrection and the incarnation. The resurrection is constantly denied as fact by those who propound to speak for Christianity. The incarnation is constantly denied as fact—e.g., The Myth of God Incarnate. Late twentieth-century Western culture has a place for Christ and has a place for the Christian, providing we do not affirm the resurrection and the incarnation.
Untaught Christians are dangerous. And we will be responsible, if not careful, for ushering in a subsequent generation or two in the continental United States where Christianity has long since ceased to be any kind of meaningful force, long since ceased to have any impact on our culture—not because people were unprepared to affirm the validity and the benefits that accrue to us as a result of wanting to be these kind of people but because we let go of essential territory and were backed into a corner by people telling us: to suggest that Jesus is both human and divine is as illogical as asking me to believe in a square circle.
You are sensible people. Let us think it out together.
Let us pray:
O God our Father, we thank you for your book, and we thank you for your Son. And we pray that we might use our minds and think clearly through them, that you will take our hearts and fill them with love for you, and that you will take our wills and harness them in obedience to your truth. May grace, mercy, and peace from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be the abiding portion of all who believe, today and forevermore. Amen.
 See 2 Timothy 4:1–5.
 Edward Pola and George Wyle, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” (1963).
 See John Hick, ed. The Myth of God Incarnate (London: SCM Press, 1977).
 Alister E. McGrath, Intellectuals Don’t Need God and Other Modern Myths: Building Bridges to Faith through Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), 126. Paraphrased.
 McGrath, 126.
 John 8:12 (NIV 1984).
 John 6:35, 48 (NIV 1984).
 John 10:7, 9 (KJV).
 John 10:11, 14 (NIV 1984).
 John 11:25 (NIV 1984).
 John 14:6 (KJV).
 John 6:35 (paraphrased).
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952), bk. 2, chap. 3.
 Lewis, bk. 2, chap. 3.
 Matthew 5:33 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 5:38 (paraphrased).
 John 14:3 (paraphrased).
 John 14:3 (NIV 1984).
 Matthew 25:33 (paraphrased).
 See John 14:3.
 See Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35.
 John 8:39, 44 (paraphrased).
 John 5:8–10 (NIV 1984).
 John 5:11–12 (paraphrased).
 John 5:13 (NIV 1984).
 John 5:14–15 (paraphrased).
 John 5:16–17 (NIV 1984).
 Acts 14:15 (paraphrased).
 John 8:57 (paraphrased).
 John 8:58 (NIV 1984).
 Exodus 3:10 (paraphrased).
 Exodus 3:13–14 (NIV 1984).
 John 8:59 (NIV 1984).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.