Is Jesus Really God?
John 1:1–18 – Explore God
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany – February 10, 2019 (am)
We opened this Explore God series addressing the question, does life have a purpose, saying that everything we do has a purpose; we can’t live without a sense of purpose. And the Bible’s explanation of our origin does a far better job than any other in explaining not only our deep sense of need to have a purpose, but why we humans have the particular sense of purpose that seems to be common to us all. It’s interwoven into our design by our Creator.
Then we asked, is there a God? And we answered, yes. The testimony of creation is irrepressible. The authority of that testimony is irrefutable. And the implications of that authority are inescapable. The God of the Bible is a living, talking, loving, wise, just, and judging God Who has revealed Himself clearly and provided for our redemption.
Next, we asked, why then does God allow pain and suffering?And we answered that it served His purpose better not to wipe out this world once it fell into sin due to the rebellion of us image-bearing creatures. Rather, He provided a way for us to be reconciled to Himself, restored into holy fellowship with Him. And now He is patiently waiting for all who will to receive His gift of salvation. Then He will surely judge every act of evil that has caused such pain and suffering in this world. And He will so richly bless those who trust in Him that they will barely remember even the most atrocious expressions of that suffering.
Last week we asked, is Christianity too narrow? And we answered: By no means. In fact, it is worldwide in its scope. We are guaranteed by God’s own revelation (Rev.5:9) that there will be some from every tribe and language and people and nation worshiping around His throne in heaven for all eternity. And from the very beginning (Gen.12:3) we were told that all the families of the earth [would] be blessed through the Savior He would provide. Christianity is not narrow!
But some might ask, why then did Jesus say (Mat.7:14): The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few? Isn’t He telling us that Christianity is narrow?
That’s a great follow-up question. It helps us see that last week’s question and this week’s are very closely related, like two sides of the same coin. So often when we ask the question: is Christianity too narrow, we’re really meaning to say, to assert, that there must be more than just one way to God! But if we immediately go that direction, we completely miss all that we said last week, all we learn in the Bible about how wide a saving net God has spread, and how many people will actually be rescued by it.
So, we needed to talk about the wideness first. Now we can talk more about what could appear to be narrow, namely, that reconciliation with God is available by only one means: Jesus. But why is that? Answer: it’s because Jesus is unique in all the universe. There is no one else like Him, so no one else is able to do what He can do.
But now we really are getting ahead of ourselves. Today’s question is actually, is Jesus really God? And at this point in our series we could be asking this question from a number of different angles. Several of them are demonstrable just be pressing each word of the question one at a time. Is Jesus really God? Is Jesus really God? Is Jesus really God? Is Jesus really God? Let’s just jump in and start addressing this big question.We’ll divide our inquiry into three parts.
Appreciating the Angles of Approach to This Question
If we emphasize the last word, God, we’re asking, is Jesus truly unique in the nature of His being? Is He divine? Is He deity? Is He fully God in addition to being fully man as we hear in the Nicene Creed? We’re asking not just, does Jesus speak for God, or is Jesus sent from God, or even does Jesus bridge the gap between us and God, but is Jesus Himself truly God, in the same way that the Father is God and the Spirit is God? Using specifically Christian categories, is Jesus truly the second Person of the holy Trinity in flesh—in the form of a man?
If we emphasize the third word, really, we’re asking not to be duped. We’re asking if the person who is telling us, Jesus is God, is telling us the truth. They’re not saying something equivalent to, I’m dying of thirst or we’re a million miles from home. Neither of these statements is an outright lie. And in fact, each is expressing something true in a very vivid way. But they’re not really true. Is saying, Jesus is God, like saying, Donald Trump is President? Or is it more like saying, Elvis is king or Muhammad Ali is the Greatest? Is it really true?
If we emphasize the second word, Jesus, we’re singling out Jesus from among others who also claim to have some sort of spiritual authority, spiritual influence, over others. We’re comparing Him to the holy men of other religions—Muhammad, Brahma, Buddha, and the like. Is Jesus set apart from others like these such that He outranks them? Does He rise above them such that He is truly unique?
If we emphasize the first word, is, it’s like were asking for a response. Say, someone affirms, Jesus is God, to others who are listening. So, they all discuss the possibility; they consider the evidence that Jesus is God. They weigh the arguments. And then comes the question to see whether this is an idea worth believing. Are we going to embrace it? The question must be posed, and then answered, is Jesus really God?
So, when we pose this question, we’re asking all of this. Is Jesus of Nazareth really God in the flesh? Is this answer a reality and not just a metaphor? Is Jesus uniquely worthy of being identified as God? And is it worth it for us actually to believe this is true, to trust Him as God and therefore to trust in everything He said and taught and commanded? All of this is wrapped together as the actual aim of our question today.
Addressing the Actual Aim of This Question
And once again it’s the Bible that provides the most helpful answer. This is not because we’re trying to ignore or displace other sources but because, regardless of how we feel about it, the Bible does contain the most thorough collection of eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry and teaching. If you’re concerned about whether these accounts are truly reliable, that’s actually next week’s question. This week we’re just going to assume that they’re reliable given the vast array of studies that have concluded that they are.
The Bible, and most particularly the four gospels that open Part 2 of the Bible (NT), present Jesus as God Who has come in the flesh. And the most extended and directed statement on this essentially important truth is found in the introduction to the fourth (John’s) gospel. We just read it together.
The very opening words remind us of the opening of the whole Bible (Gen.1:1): 1 In the beginning…. Then John also proceeds to talk about creation and light and life. In John, however, we read less about God’s act of creation and more about His Agent. 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Now, this Word-with-a-capital-W seems kind of vague to us at first, but that doesn’t last long. This Word was very familiar at that time in history as a philosophical concept: ὁ λόγος. Word or reason, the rationality of God, the ideal world in the mind of God of which the real world is just a copy; these are some of the potential meanings of λόγος in the intellectual world of that day. But in none of these was there any sense of distinct personhood for ὁ λόγος, as in John (cf. Carson, 114-115).
Here we immediately know that 2 He was in the beginning with God. He was a Person! And: 3 All things were made through him—He was the Agent of God’s creation—and without him was not any thing made that was made. So, this means the Word Himself wasn’t made. He was eternal. 2 He was in the beginning with God. There was no time when He was not, as the ancient debaters said. He was God (1).
Some want to make much out of the fact that there is no definite article before God here (1); in Greek there generally is when referring to the God of the Bible. The Jehovah’s Witness’New World Translation renders v.1: the Word was a god, meaning He was special, but something less than God. D. A. Carson has addressed this issue thoroughly and well (John 115-117). To summarize, he wrote (117): [T]he effect of ordering the words this way is to emphasize ‘God’, as if John were saying, ‘and the word was God!’ In fact, if John had included the article, he would have been saying something quite untrue. He would have been so identifying the Word with God that no divine being could exist apart from the Word. In that case, it would be nonsense to say… that the Word was with God. The ‘Word does not by Himself make up the entire Godhead; nevertheless the divinity that belongs to the rest of the Godhead belongs also to Him’ (Tasker, p. 45).
So, the Word is God. He is a personal Being Who has been with God from the beginning. And He served as God’s Agent of creation, stated by John in such a way that we recognize that the Word Himself is not made; He is an eternal Being.
But there is one more important step to include in answer to our question this morning: 14 … the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…. The Word became and human Being and came into our world to live with us for a time. God became a man and dwelt among us! Why? John tells us straight out: 316 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.There it is. Yes, Jesus is God, coming to rescue His people.
Adjusting to the Affirmative Answer to This Question
We need to let this sink in, not just that God has visited us in the form of a man, but that He has done so to provide a way for us to be reconciled into relationship with Him, both here and now, today, and for all eternity. These are both amazing statements that we’re saying are entirely true.
But there’s still more. Once we’ve said that Jesus is God Who has come to live among us in the form of a man—to live the life we were called to live, in perfect obedience to God—but then also to die in our place—the death we were sentenced to die because of our sin—thus, to reconcile to God all who will trust in Him, we absolutely have to conclude that He is the only way to God. Why? Two reasons: 1) This way is too drastic. If there were any other way to be reconciled to God, it would have been utterly offensive for God to have done this. It would render the sacrifice of Christ unconscionable. Just choose the other way of salvation and let Christ live! Let Him stay in heaven! 2) This way is too demanding. If what Jesus did was truly necessary for our reconciliation to God, then any other option would need to measure up to His work. It would have to be equivalent to God becoming flesh, etc., or else Jesus overpaid unnecessarily, foolishly.
But once God Himself accomplishes such a miraculous and mind-blowing rescue, such a demanding and drastic, one-of-a-kind expression, so drenched in blood and barbarity and suffering and sacrifice—once God Himself accomplishes this, knowing by definition that only God Himself would be able to do it, why would He ever do it again a second time?
Even if all the world religious are actually serving the same God, as so many like to say, why would that God provide different ways of reconciliation for each of them, and so perpetuate their divisions into eternity?
One way of salvation is not narrow, its best. It’s clearest and simplest. It’s surely the best way to achieve the peace and harmony we all say we’re seeking. It’s the very thing that draws humanity together. It’s provided by Jesus, God in the flesh. And once God Himself has made such a way, no other way needs to be made!
Imagine being in prison for a crime you know you committed. Then imagine that, for reasons beyond your understanding, the President of the United States shows mercy and commutes your sentence. Can you even imagine arguing with the messenger he sends to communicate His decision? Can you imagine saying: Wow, this is it? This is the only way out? This is a pretty narrow offer. Are there really no other ways for me to be freed from my bondage?
Don’t quarrel with God this morning. Don’t quarrel with the One Who made you, then didn’t give up on you even when you rebelled against Him, the One Who provided for your salvation not only at His own cost, but at the cost of the life that He took on only to lay it down in death as a sacrifice for your sin, and then take it up again in the promise of your resurrection (Joh.10:18).
Jesus really is God. He really did die for the sins of all who will believe. And He really is our only way back to God. Don’t keep on living your life as though all this isn’t true, or as though it’s not unique, unparalleled in magnificence! Today is the day of salvation. Receive it!
Carson, D. A. The Gospel According to John. In Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991.