Who Is Jesus? — Part Two
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Who Is Jesus? — Part Two

Selected Scriptures  (ID: 1766)

If Jesus was not the Son of God, then He was just a man hanging on a cross, and the foundational cornerstone of Christianity is a myth. Alistair Begg examines Scripture to find out who Jesus really is. In the Gospels, Jesus made six direct claims that He is both God and man. It is imperative that we understand that it was indeed the Son of God who hung on the cross.

Series Containing This Sermon

Who Is Jesus?

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 21301

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to take your Bibles and turn with me to the Gospel of John and to chapter 10. And we’ll begin there this morning as we continue to address the question began last time: Who is Jesus Christ, and why did he come?

I said in introducing this last time that if people had come in order that they would be emotionally stirred as a result of something happening in their hearts, that they probably would be disappointed. However, if they came in order that their minds might be stimulated, then the by-product may be that they discover their hearts to be stirred. In other words, we find ourselves in these Sunday mornings in the classroom, looking together at biblical evidence, in order that from the perspective of faith we might be better equipped to answer the questions of those who do not believe and that from the perspective of unbelief we may be considering some evidence which would be important to any who are involved in a spiritual quest.

So before we look at the Scriptures before us this morning, let us pause again in prayer:

Father, we ask that you will speak to us through your Word, that it may be your Word that we hear and your Word to which we respond. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Did Jesus Claim to be God?

We said last time that the fundamental question was “Did Jesus himself ever claim to be God?” People will respond to our affirmations and protestations by saying, “Well, we understand that you believe him to be God, but we’re not sure that he himself regarded himself as God.” And so, taking up the challenge, we addressed it, looking first of all, last time, at a number of the indirect claims which Jesus made to deity. We then proceeded from there to begin the first two of six direct claims made by Christ in addressing the whole question of the fact that he was both God and man.

And having dealt with one in chapter 5 of John’s Gospel and then in the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel, we come now to the tenth chapter and particularly to verse 29 and the declaration which comes, just in one simple sentence, in verse 30. Jesus is speaking of the fact that he has sheep who listen to his voice,[1] and in verse 29 he says of them, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

Now, the word which is used there for “one” is not in the masculine. It is in the neuter. And it is significant insofar as the claim which Jesus was making was simply this: to be one in substance and essence with God the Father. And as a result of making that affirmation, he was met with a quite violent reaction. In verse 31, the Jews again “picked up stones to stone him,” and “Jesus said to them, ‘I[’ve] shown you many … miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’” It was almost as if he wanted to elicit from them this response so as to underpin the claim which he had so clearly made.

And he could not have been disappointed, for they reply in verse 33: “‘We are not stoning you for any of these,’ replied the Jews, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’” And still people walk the streets of Cleveland and say, “Well, I’m not sure that Jesus himself ever claimed to be God.” And to that we should answer quite kindly and sincerely, “Well then, let us look at the evidence together and see whether in fact he did.” And in opening up the Scriptures and in going through them, we come to these straightforward statements. The Jewish mind was in no way misled concerning what Jesus was claiming, hence their response. Stoning was the justifiable reaction to blasphemy, and blasphemy was the claim on the part of any mere man to actually be God. And because they regarded Jesus as merely a man, they regarded his claim of oneness with the Father to be nothing other than blasphemy. Nevertheless, it is a direct claim on the part of Jesus. That’s why we turn to it.

In John chapter 14, turning forward—and you will need to be agile with your Bible this morning, and there are pew Bibles if you want to follow along. You probably want to take one or two notes, or you’ll never get ahold of this at all. John chapter 14, Jesus has declared to the disciples that he is “the way and the truth and the life,” and no man can come to the Father but through him.[2] He then follows that up in verse 7 by saying, “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. [And] from now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Now, clearly Jesus is making some reference to himself. Even a cursory glance at this makes that obvious. And while we might like to think that we would have immediately been tuned in to it, the chances are that we may also have been responding as did Philip. Because Philip responds and says, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” And “Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip …?’” Now, Philip’s response, of course, was “Yes, I know you.” He didn’t really understand. “Don’t you know me, Philip, … after I have been among you for such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”[3]

Now, the interesting thing is that back in the Old Testament, in Exodus chapter 33, when God had spoken to Moses, he had made it clear to Moses, in verse 20, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” He then went on to say, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. [And] when my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. [And] then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” And so the Jewish mind grew up understanding this: “There is no possible way that we will be able to actually see God face-to-face. We may understand manifestation of his glory. Me may, as Moses caught a glimpse of his back, get that. But we will not be able to see the Father face-to-face.” And yet here is Philip saying, “Oh, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”

“Now,” says Jesus, “understand this, Philip, and all the other Philips who come after you: in my own life and in my personality, I am revealing all of the nature and character of God that it is possible for a human being to see and to know.” That’s what he’s saying. “In me, Philip. If you’re wondering about God, look at me. If you’re wondering about the character of God and the nature of God, look at me. For I and the Father am one, and anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”

And down through the corridors of time, Jesus addresses all who are interested to know God, and he says, “So you want to know God? Well then, look at me.” And it is a surprise to me how many people have rejected Christianity not as a result of having examined its claims and found them wanting but as a result of never having examined its claims and simply rejecting it out of hand on the basis of conjecture and various pieces of scientific jargon. But the honest man, the real scientist, the genuine skeptic, the honest seeker, in looking for spiritual reality, must come against this eventual statement by Jesus: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father [also].”

Turn forward to John chapter 17, and in his High Priestly Prayer, Jesus, in addressing the Father, says in verse 5, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” It’s an interesting statement if it was made just by a man, isn’t it? Here’s this man, and he gets down, and he says a little prayer, and in the midst of his prayer, as he speaks to the Father, God, he says, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory that I enjoyed and had with you before this world even began.” Jesus is there speaking of a glory that he’d known not just at some time in the past but as part of his eternal possession before the world even began. I mean, the inevitable reaction to this is to say, “Who does this person think they are? I mean, who do you think you are? The glory you had before the world began? You mean you were there before the world began, in the presence of God the Father? You were there, Jesus?” “Yeah, I was.” John Blanchard says of these verses, “The picture is so amazing that either [he] is speaking blasphemous nonsense or he is addressing God on equal terms.”[4]

The sixth direct claim—and I’ve only chosen six; we could go to other places—the sixth takes us into John 18, where we have the record by John of the arrest of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Actually, in this “olive grove,” in verse 1, Judas, knowing the place, in verse 3 “came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and [the] Pharisees,” and “they were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons. Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, ‘Who is it you want?’ ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied.” And then Jesus responds in just two words: “egō eimi,” which actually does not have in Greek the word “he.” He simply responds by saying, “I am.” And verse 6 records that when Jesus declared himself as “I am,” “they drew back and fell to the ground.”

Well, you read that, and you say, “Well, that’s a very interesting little note there, a very interesting little vignette.” Yeah, but think about it for a moment. What in the world is going on? Here is an emotionally spent, unarmed individual in an olive grove. A crack detachment of troops are sent for his arrest—men who are routine in this process, as routine as a doctor giving an injection or a schoolteacher putting something up on a blackboard. It was as routine to them as that. And they come to the garden in the prospect of just another arrest in the course of their days. Surely they all knew about this Jesus of Nazareth. Certainly he had been a troublemaker in the city for some time. There were all kinds of statements being made against him, about him.

And so finally they come to the garden, and instead of having to go scurrying for the individual, as we might have expected… For example, if you thought you were within the prospect of crucifixion, do you think you would be walking out to the group as they came to find you saying, “Excuse me, were you looking for somebody?” No, you’d be buried somewhere. You would be hidden. I would be hidden—up a tree, behind a tree, in a vault, in a tomb, anywhere to get away. But he walks forward, and he said, “And who is it that you want?” And they say, “We want Jesus of Nazareth.” And he says, “I am.” “I am”—which was the same declaration, we noted last week, which caused the Jews so much of a problem, because that was one of the words that God used to define himself and to reveal himself in the Old Testament. God speaks to Moses. Moses is going to go to Pharaoh. Moses asks God, “Who will I say sent me?” And God says, “Tell Pharaoh ‘I am’ sent you.”[5]

We can only and ultimately discover what God is like by looking at Jesus.

And Jesus takes this designation. It’s the same revelation that he uses with the lady in front of the well in John chapter 4. She says, “I know that when the Messiah comes, he will tell us all these things.” And Jesus says, “I am…”[6] And it changed everything. And now, in this instant, he says it again, and the marines fall “to the ground.” Why? They didn’t believe any of this stuff. They weren’t predisposed. They weren’t hallucinating. They were just guys going about their business as usual. And in an encounter with this Jesus, they “fell to the ground,” and he gave himself into their care.

Can you imagine when they went home and spoke to their wives or to their girlfriends, and their girlfriends asked them, said, “Hey, how did you get on today?”

Said, “Well, in a sense, it was business as usual, except when we went to the olive grove.”

“Well, what happened in the olive grove?”

“Well, we picked up that guy Jesus of Nazareth—you know, the one everyone’s talking about? We got a detachment, and we went up there to get him. When we went to get him, we asked for him. We said we were looking for Jesus of Nazareth, and he came forward, and he said, ‘I am he.’ And before we knew it, we’re all flat on our backs.”

His girlfriend says, “What do you mean flat on your backs? You mean you threw yourself down or something?”

“No,” he said, “I can’t explain it.”

So what happened? Something of the divine glory and power and majesty and wonder of who Jesus is emanated from him even in that moment, and they asked a routine question, and he gave his reply, and they were flat on the ground.

Well, those are some direct statements. You can find more.

What Do Jesus’ Claims to Deity Mean?

Let me go on from there, though, and ask a second question. Because the first question we asked was “What did Jesus say?” And we’ve looked at some of that—selectively, not exhaustively. The second question is “What does it mean?” Because we can read this, but how do we understand it? How do we process it and assimilate it?

Now, let me give to you a number of statements. I’m going to give you now, in the next few moments, a crash course in historical theology, and I will give you stuff now that took me ages to try and understand. I do understand it. I hope I can say it, having understood it. But for you, you’re getting the benefits of all my blood, sweat, and tears throughout the years so that you can get it in one or two phrases that are understandable.

What does it mean that Jesus made these claims to deity? Well, when we take all that we’ve looked at in John’s Gospel—and we might just go back to the first place of beginning in John chapter 1 and the opening couple of verses—when we piece it all together, we begin to realize that Jesus is speaking of the fact of his eternity. Hence the opening phrase of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word.” And this logos was understood both by the Jewish and Greek mind to be this essential creating principle. “And,” says John, “the Word”—whom he is going to identify as Jesus—was present “in the beginning.”[7] He existed before all creation.[8] He was thereby uncreated, and he was eternal.

Now, when people come to you and say, “Well, Jesus was just another religious figure; he was just a Gandhi or a Buddha or something,” you say, “No, no, no, no, no. He wasn’t.” And they’ll say to you, “Well, in what way was he not?” Well, in one way, you can point out from the evidence that Jesus actually made claims that none of these other individuals made, and he claimed to have existed from all of eternity. So he is identified as being marked in and by eternity.

Secondly, it reveals to us his personality. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God”—“was with God”—so that within the Godhead, he existed in living, active, intimate fellowship. He was not the Father, and he was not the Holy Spirit. He was the Son. He was distinct within the triune God.

So we have his eternity, we have his personality, and we have his deity: “In the beginning was the Word.” That’s eternity. “And the Word was with God.” That’s personality. “And the Word was God.” That’s deity. Although he was a separate person from the Father, he was not a separate being. That’s the kind of phrase you should write down, because it is essential in debating with Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. If you don’t understand that, you can’t talk to these folks. And I’m not saying writing it down will help you to understand it, or you will understand it just because you wrote it down, but if you don’t write it down, there is no way in the world you will even ever remember it; and if you don’t remember it, there is no way you will be able to bring it to recall; and if you can’t bring it to recall, you won’t be able to use it in a conversation.

The divinity that belongs to the rest of God belongs to Jesus. The divinity that belongs to the rest of God belongs to Jesus. It means that we can therefore discover what God is like by looking at Jesus. And we can only and ultimately discover what God is like by looking at Jesus, so that when twentieth-century man says, “Well, you know, there is something within me that thinks there is a something, that there might be a God, that there might be some creative principle, but I’m not sure where I should look, or I’m not sure what I should do,” the answer is “Consider Jesus.”

You know the story of the little boy who is painting at the afternoon art class at school, and as the teacher comes around and looks at the various creations, works of art, by the children, she comes on this boy, and he’s just painting away, and she looks down, and she says, “And what is this?” And he said, “I’m painting a picture of God.” And the teacher says, “Come now, son, we don’t know what God is like.” And the wee boy says, “Well, if you come back when I finish, you’ll have a better understanding.”

And twentieth-century men and women today are prepared to talk about God in the most remote terms, but when you get to it, they’ll say, “But we don’t know what God is like. We can’t know what God is like. At best we can have conjecture and hope.” But the doctrine of the incarnation—the fact that Jesus is the God-man—means that we can therefore discover who and what God is by looking at and listening to Jesus. So when we say that God is eternal, we look at Jesus and find out what that means: that he is holy, that he is everywhere, that he knows everything, that he is all-powerful, that he is unchangeable, that he is independent. When we take all those characteristics of God, and we say, “Well, what does that mean?”—well, then we look at the life of Jesus, and we begin to put it together.

It also means that there was a time when Jesus was God but not man, but there never was a time when he was man but not God. That’s another one you’d better scribble down. There was a time when Jesus was God but not man, but there never was a time when he was man but not God. That is historical biblical orthodoxy. And that is what was taught to me as a small boy and for which I’m very grateful, so that by the time I became a theological student, I knew the answers to the questions. I didn’t know what they meant, and I didn’t even know why I knew them, but I just knew them, because somebody somewhere in my past whose name I don’t even know must have labored hard on Sundays to make it clear to me: “Listen, Al: there was a time when Jesus was God but not man, but there was never a time when he was man and not God.” And so I’d be walking around saying, “Hey, he was God but not man, but he wasn’t man but not God.” I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t know it was going to be that important. I certainly didn’t know I would have to teach it to thousands of people in the hope that they might be able to understand it. Colossians 2:9: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity,” says Paul, “lives in bodily form.”

Now, the theologians speak of this in very clear terms. When they address this issue—and this is volumes I’m going to reduce for you—they say, in speaking of the incarnation, that what we have is not subtraction. So, actually, subtraction, division, and addition are three key words used in theological terms. What do we have in saying that the God became man? Was it subtraction? Answer: no. Because in becoming man, he remained God.

Every so often in a discussion someone will say, “Oh yes, we believe that there was a divine Son who was coeternal with the Father. That was the Christ,” they might call him, or “That was the Son. But when the Christ came, the Jesus-of-Nazareth Christ, he was not the same one as was eternal with the Father.” And they play all these kind of games. And so we need to be able to say, “No, in the incarnation, we do not have subtraction. In becoming man, Jesus remained God”

In his incarnation, Jesus became what he had not previously been—namely, man—without ever ceasing to be what he had always been—namely, God.

Nor do we have division, so that he was split up and mixed up. He did not become a combo of God and man. You go out for a meal, and someone says, “Well, would you like the steak fajitas or the chicken fajitas, or would you like the combo?”—which essentially means that they just mix it all up and bring it to you. It’s okay. It tastes fine. But it is a combo: it’s neither one thing nor the other. And some people’s understanding of the incarnation is—if I might say so reverently—is that Jesus somehow became all combined and mixed up as part God and part man in this one person. And some of you are sitting there, saying, “Yeah, and I thought that was orthodoxy.” No, you’re wrong. You see, it isn’t. And you’ve been telling people that he was a little bit of God and a little bit of man. He was kind of one part God and two parts man, or two parts man and one part God, you know—like that H2O that I knew from last week.

Here is a statement that you will want to write down: his deity was not humanized nor his humanity deified. His deity was not humanized nor his humanity deified. In other words, he remained fully divine through his earthly life. He chose at times to limit his knowledge. He chose at times to do certain things. But he remained completely divine throughout all of his earthly life. And even we see that in his death, because he just agreed to die. He said, “No one takes [my life] from me …. I have [the power] to lay it down and [I have the power] to take it up again.”[9] Men, ordinary men, have got no option in that matter. Even when we think we have, we don’t.

So if it wasn’t subtraction and it wasn’t division, what was it? Well, it was addition. You’ve already worked that out. Jesus became what he had not previously been—namely, man—without ever ceasing to be what he had always been—namely, God.

Now, for those of you who are beginning to count the number of lights, hang on just a moment, ’cause I’m going to show you how important this really is. ’Cause some of you have already gone ahead of me. You’re saying, “So what?” Right? “I mean, get on with it, Al. You’ve made the point. Now let’s have the application.” It’s coming. Just hang on one second.

He became what he had not previously been—a man—without ceasing to be what he had always been—namely, God. He added humanity to his deity, and from then on, he remained both God and man, with two natures in one personality. This is a great wonder in the incarnation. In the doctrine of the Godhead, you have the Trinity. You’ve got this great, amazing wonder of three distinct persons in one unique being. There is a distinction of persona; there is no distinction of ousía. And within the person of Jesus Christ, you have the distinction between his divinity and his humanity, so that you have two natures in one personality.

Why Do Jesus’ Claims to Deity Matter?

And if you think that that is somehow marginal, let me come to the third and final point. Because our first question was “What did he say?” And we laid out some of that. Our second question was “Well, what does it mean?” And I’ve tried to show you what it means. The third question, and perhaps the most pressing question for many of us this morning, is “What does it matter?” “What does it matter?”

Thomas Carlyle, the historian, once wrote, “If Arianism”—and I’ll explain that in a moment—“if Arianism had won,” Christianity “would have dwindled [to] a legend.”[10] Imagine you got that on a history paper: “‘If Arianism had won, Christianity would have dwindled to a legend’—Thomas Carlyle. Please write five thousand words on the significance of this quote.”

Well, you need to know what Arianism was. You need to know that Arianism stemmed from a guy called Arius. And you need to know that Arius argued in the early centuries that there was a time when Jesus did not exist—so that when you go to John 1:1, and it says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” Arius says, “No, absolutely not.” Now, who have you ever heard like that? Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Christian Scientists—all say the same thing. And, says Thomas Carlyle, if Arius had managed to convince the fourth-century world that there was a time when Jesus did not exist—in other words, that he was not the incarnate God, that he was simply a created being—he said by now Christianity would have been like Greek and Roman mythology. It would have descended to simply being a legend.

Now, the point of departure last Sunday morning, where we left it off, I want to bring in again right now and say this to you: that is what I was laboring to say at the end of last Sunday. If in this New Age world in which we live at the end of the twentieth century the Christian church does not affirm and reaffirm the centrality, the priority, the necessity, the fundamental orthodoxy of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, then Christianity, in Western culture, will dwindle to a legend. We will become totally marginalized, and we will become absolutely irrelevant. “Oh,” says somebody, “I think you’re overstating it.” Well, then track with me for just a moment.

The people who today argue that my forceful endeavor to communicate this truth to you is really a dreadful waste of time do so because they think of the incarnation as a kind of theological appendix. Doctors for years have told us that we can live without our appendix. I still have mine, and I’m planning on keeping it. Very hard to get a Scotsman to give up very much that is as close to him as that. But I believe that if you take it away, I’ll still be around. That’s what they tell me. But if you take away my heart, I won’t be around. So better be sure that what you’re planning on taking away is something I can live without, because if it’s something I can’t live without, it better not go. And so the argument is that the incarnation is to Christianity an appendix theologicus. In other words, you can take it out and ditch it, and the body of Christianity will go on by itself.

So what do you say to somebody like that? You say, “Well, let’s look at the evidence. Let’s look at the evidence and see whether the incarnation is an appendix or it’s a heart.” And the very cursory glance that we’ve given to the New Testament evidence makes it clear to us that there is no way in the world that we can regard it as an appendix. C. S. Lewis, writing on this, says, “The doctrine of Christ’s divinity seems to me not something stuck on which you can unstick but something that [peeks] out at every point so that you’d have to unravel the whole web to get rid of it.”[11] In other words, when you start to think realistically about Christianity, you cannot say, “Now, let’s take the incarnation, and we’ll just put it over there, because frankly, it doesn’t really matter. It’s not substantive to the issue.” What you do is, when you start to examine Christianity, you come across it all the time. The very first verse of the book that was written by John so that people might come to believe in Jesus[12] hits us straight up with the incarnation: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” So we’ve got the incarnation the very first verse. That doesn’t seem like an appendix to me, does it?

Now, what does it matter? Let me give you three things, and then we’ll wrap it up. Think this out; you’re sensible people.

Without the incarnation, we do not have God upon the cross, just a man. Right? If Jesus of Nazareth is not God, then Jesus of Nazareth on the cross is just a man. If we have simply a man on the cross, how then can we describe what happened on the cross, as the New Testament describes it, in terms of a self-giving divine act demonstrating the love of God for humanity? We can’t, because it isn’t that. If it was just a man on the cross, then wherein lies the significance of his death? Who cares?

One person cared, and his name was Barabbas. If it was just a man on the cross, he died for one man: Barabbas. Because Barabbas was the criminal who was about to be crucified, and the Roman law was such that at the time of the feast, it was customary for the governor to offer a pardon. And so he had to wrestle with the decision, “Should I pardon Jesus Christ?” And Pilate realized that there was no legitimate claim against him, so a pardon was almost a strange nomenclature. “Should I pardon Jesus, or shall I pardon Barabbas?” And he decided on the strength of the death of Jesus that he would pardon Barabbas. So Barabbas should have been really pleased that Jesus died, but no one else. Because what significance is there in the death of a Galilean Jewish peasant two thousand years ago if it was just a man hanging on the cross?

See, people haven’t thought this stuff out. They frankly have not thought it out. And they want to pin me and you back in a corner this Christmastime and make us dribble down our chins on the strength of Life magazine’s sorry treatment of who Jesus is in the December edition? Get out of town! You’re not going to do that to me. You are not going to do that. I’m going to try and be nice. I’m going to try and be kind. I’m going to try and be sensitive. But if you think I’m going to sit back and listen to more of that silly stuff wash over my head without at least saying to you, “Come on, let’s examine the evidence,” you’re crazy.

And what are you going to do, congregation, class? What are you planning on doing in the office? What are you planning on doing in the lab? What are you planning on doing in the school hall when your friends hit you up with the same old stuff? “It’s illogical, a divine and human Jesus. It’s as illogical as a square circle.” You going to go running for your locker? Running for your car keys? Or are you going to say, “You know, you want to go get a cup of coffee? Let’s talk about this.”

If all we have on the cross is just a man, we are left to conclude that his death was somehow or another simply to make a religious point. And that’s what liberal theologians say: “You know, the death of Jesus was to make a religious point which will somehow or another enrich our spiritual lives.” I’m not grabbing that, are you? The death of an ordinary Galilean peasant made a religious point which enriches my life. Uh-huh? Okay, now, let me think about that for a moment. Okay, I’ve thought about it. I’m not getting it.

Let’s look and see what the Bible actually says. What the Bible actually says is that it was God on the cross, and he was redeeming sinners; and that only God could do it, since only God was perfect; and that only man could do it, since only man must pay; and since it must be God and it must be man, it could only be a God-man that could make an atoning sacrifice for sin—that “God was,” in Christ, “reconciling the world to himself”;[13] that he entrusted himself into the care of his Father as he offered up his life as an atonement for sin.[14] But you see, twentieth-century America has no place for sin. The average self-made man has no place for sin. He has clean fingernails and nicely starched cuffs. He doesn’t need a Savior, and so it’s irrelevant to him, the incarnation. As soon as he decides he needs a Savior, then he might be prepared to think about the incarnation. But for now, it’s an appendix.

So without the incarnation, we only have a man on the cross. If we only have a man on the cross, then we have no solution for sin.

Secondly, without the incarnation, God is removed from all the pain and all the suffering of the world at its worst. Without the incarnation, God doesn’t know about suffering, experientially. So we’ve nothing to say to the Jew who reflects on the Holocaust. We have nothing to say to the mother who looks at the burning bodies of her children as she comes crashing down the road to find that in the momentary absence, her children have been engulfed in flames, and they have been ushered into eternity. We have nothing to say to the person who lies, increasingly gaunt, suffering from the encroachment of cancer. We have nothing at all to say if Jesus Christ is not the incarnate God. Because if he is not the incarnate God, then what we have in Jesus is that he simply sends his condolences through a representative, but he doesn’t enter in and share his people’s sufferings.

The third and final thing I want to say is this: without the incarnation, Jesus has no permanent significance and no immediate benefit. Without the fact of the incarnation, Jesus has no permanent significance and no immediate benefit.

Why is Jesus so important to the Christian faith here and now, some twenty centuries after his death? The Bible says because God assumed human nature, came down to our time-space capsule. He came historically, vitally, relevantly, and savingly. However, if Jesus is not the incarnate God, then we’re forced to ask what possible relevance his teaching and lifestyle has for us today.

If Jesus is not the incarnate Son of God, why am I spending my life teaching this Bible? Why would you ever show up on a Sunday morning, or any time? If Jesus Christ is not the incarnate Son of God, we are involved in the greatest con trick that the world has ever known. Do you understand that? We’re living in the realm of total mythology. We’re crazy people. We’re daft. Why would we pay attention, twenty centuries later, to a Jewish, male, carpenterlike Galilean peasant figure? And the answer is there’s no real reason at all—and you’re perfectly right.

Because after all, we live in a different cultural environment, do we not? For example, why should women be forced to listen to a male religious teacher? Isn’t that the way contemporary feminism argues? “You’re not going to bring me into that church and ask me to listen to the teaching of some male from twenty centuries ago who was Jewish and had some strange ideas. No chance. All of that stuff,” they say, “is culturally conditioned by the first century, by Palestine, by the Greek world and the Roman world, and they were all wrong.”

Well, there’s great validity in that if Jesus was not the incarnate Son of God. Because if he was not the incarnate Son of God, he may be the historical point of departure for Christianity, but he is not the anchor at the center of Christian faith for every generation. And that, you see, is exactly what people are arguing today: “Jesus is not who he claimed to be. We have voted him out. Therefore, we can negate him perfectly.” However, if he is the incarnate Son of God, then he transcends all time barriers, he transcends all gender, he transcends all race, and his Word is abidingly, savingly, significant. You see, that’s where we end up. This is not theological lumber.

Now, let me just illustrate from a song in conclusion, as you would expect. People say to me, say, “You know, this is all kind of rarefied stuff—you know, up there in the theological stratosphere.” No, it’s not. Jesus Christ Superstar is arguably the most significant thing that happened in the development of the last fifty years in terms of a step forward in the whole musical notion, taking us into a realm that was not just kind of candy floss and “White Christmas” stuff, but taking us into an art form that merged thinking and philosophy with entertainment.

Now, let me read to you the words from the “Gethsemane” song in Jesus Christ Superstar, where Jesus sings in prospect of his death. It goes like this: “I only want to say”—this is Jesus speaking to his Father—[reads lyrics to “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)” by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice].

The song ends in a great orchestral, swelling, rising chorus, and the people look on and say, “Oh, what a dreadful thing that that mean God did to Jesus! Man that ticks me off!” That is the implication of a view of the incarnation which is devoid of orthodoxy. If he is not the God-man, he is a bad man telling lies or a madman living with delusion, but he is not a good man whom we can set aside and carry on with the apparently main business of Christianity, hanging lights and tinsel and buying presents with money we don’t have for people we hardly know so they can take them back for a cash refund.

I’m about to leave here and drive to Pittsburgh with my colleague. I’m going to walk in the room of a man whose life is now held in the balance by modern technology. Every likelihood is that that situation will come to an end very soon. “Well then, why would you just spend the previous two hours of your life talking to this extent about the incarnation of all things?” Because, loved ones, don’t you understand? If Jesus is the person he claimed to be, you’re going to meet him. You’re going to stand right up and look in his eyes. And he’s going to ask you, “When that Scottish joker tried his best to explain about why I came and why I died, why did you think you could brush it off and walk out and turn on the ballgame as if nothing matters?”

We can either bow at his feet and call him Lord and God; we can spit at him and call him a demon; but we can’t come to him with any patronizing nonsense about his being a good man. He never left the option open to us. He never intended to.[15]

“Today, if you hear [God’s] voice, do not harden your hearts.”[16]

Let us pause in a moment of prayer:

And now may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God our Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore. Amen.

[1] See John 10:27.

[2] John 14:6 (NIV 1984).

[3] John 14:8–9 (NIV 1984).

[4] John Blanchard, Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? (Darlington, CO: Evangelical Press, 1989), 137.

[5] Exodus 3:13–14 (paraphrased).

[6] John 4:25–26 (paraphrased).

[7] John 1:1–2 (NIV 1984).

[8] See John 1:3.

[9] John 10:18 (NIV 1984).

[10] James Anthony Froude, Thomas Carlyle: A History of His Life in London, 1834–1881 (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1884), 2:462.

[11] C. S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves, Magdalen College, December 11, 1944, in They Stand Together: The Letters of C. S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves (1914–1963), ed. Walter Hooper (London: Collins, 1979), 503.

[12] See John 20:31.

[13] 2 Corinthians 5:19 (NIV 1984).

[14] See 1 Peter 2:23.

[15] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952), bk. 2, chap. 3.

[16] Psalm 95:7–8; Hebrews 3:7–8, 15 (NIV 1984).

Copyright © 2024, 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.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.