God the Son

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord

 

The admiration of Jesus as teacher and philosopher is highly prominent within our increasingly pluralistic context. Even among those whose detestation for Christianity can barely be contained, many still maintain a respect for Jesus as a speaker of love and giver of mercy.

Sadly, this mentality is ever more bleeding into Christians’ understanding as well. Many today claim to follow and love Jesus, while rejecting any talk of doctrine or religion. Doctrine, they contend, divides, but Jesus unifies. Both statements are true, but not all divisions are sinful. Indeed, some unity simply cannot exist. To affirm Jesus as God means that we cannot be unified with Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Such divisions are necessary and even biblically commanded.

The stark reality is that Jesus was a teacher, and, since doctrine simply means teaching, Jesus taught doctrine. Teachers can only teach doctrine; it’s what makes them teachers. Jesus cannot be divorced from doctrine, and if we fail to view Jesus as He presented Himself, we will find ourselves following after an imaginary Jesus who often acts conveniently like we’d like Him to act.

As with the other doctrines, the Apostles’ Creed aims to condense the apostolic, biblical teaching of Jesus into a few easy-to-memorize phrases. Half of the creed will be spent upon the person and work of Jesus because He is the core of Christianity. As with our study of God the Father, we will address here the three statements made about Jesus within the first line of Article 2.

JESUS CHRIST

Christ is not Jesus’ last name; it is His title. It is the Greek version of the Hebrew derived title, Messiah. Both mean anointed one, so I will use them interchangeably. Throughout the Old Testament, God’s servants would be anointed with oil for particular tasks (i.e. David’s being anointed as king). The oil was a physical symbol of God’s Spirit being given to them in order to accomplish their purpose. In this way, David, as the anointed king of Israel, was a christ, a messiah.

Yet the Old Testament is also littered with prophesies that spoke of a coming king from David’s lineage. By the first century, this promised king was referred to as the Christ. The people of Israel awaited the Messiah, this Son of David, with great anticipation. In fact, Jesus (or Joshua, meaning the LORD saves) became a popular name by which the Jews expressed their hope and longing for God’s rescue from their oppressors.

Like in the first century, most Jews today still reject Jesus as being the Messiah because He did not accomplish the political revolution that they excepted. Yet the Gospels firmly assert that Jesus is the Christ. Mark’s Gospel begins by plainly declaring: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). In chapter eight, the center event of Mark comes when Jesus asks His disciples who they say He is. Peter responds by saying that He is the Christ (8:29). Jesus affirms Himself to be the Messiah in John 4 during His conversation with the Samaritan woman. Acts and the epistles declare this belief too by repeatedly referring to Jesus as either Christ Jesus or Jesus Christ.

But if Jesus’ disciples still believed that Jesus was the Messiah, why didn’t Jesus overthrow Rome and the other governments of the world? Although Jesus has promised to return again and establish His physical kingdom, His first coming was to free His people from a much greater threat than Rome. As the Christ, Jesus is the redeemer of humanity that was first promised in Genesis 3:15. He is the Serpent-Crusher who would destroy the power of sin in the world and free us from the curse of death. He came as the suffering servant, God incarnate, who died for the forgiveness of our sins (Isaiah 53) and to inaugurate the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31). To call Jesus the Christ, therefore, is to declare Him as the Savior, the defeater of sin and the mediator between God and man.

Thus, no one can believe in Jesus Christ without also believing in Jesus as Christ. Jesus cannot be received as a mere teacher whenever He explicitly claimed to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). As the Christ, Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, to rescue us from our sins. Believing in Jesus Christ means looking to Him for salvation, for the forgiveness of our sins that we could never earn.

Yet there is also an implied belief in the Scriptures that is also necessary for believing that Jesus is the Christ. The Messiah, after all, was foretold by the prophets of old as recorded in the Scriptures; therefore, the very significance of the Jesus being the Messiah hinges upon God’s revealed Word. The Gospel of Matthew, particularly, structures itself as a direct continuation of the Old Testament narrative, and its many citations all show that is the promised Savior. Therefore, just as Jesus cannot be separated from His role as Savior, neither can we divorce Jesus from the Bible. He was affirmed by the Scriptures, and He affirmed them as well. To accept Jesus as the embodied Word means also accepting the Bible as the written Word.

GOD’S ONLY SON

Next, Jesus is called God’s only Son. Having studied God the Father last week, we already somewhat addressed Jesus as the Son. The same rationale applies here too. Since Jesus revealed Himself to be the eternal Son of the Father, Jesus’ sonship is a core component of His identity. Hebrews 1:1-3 affirms this with undeniable clarity:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds all things by the word of his power.

As the Son, Jesus was the Word through whom the Father created the world, He is the visible and radiant display of God’s eternal glory, and He continues to uphold the cosmos with the sheer authority of His word. When Jesus is called the Son of God, these are the attributes to which the New Testament writers are pointing. Indeed, the Son is, as the Nicene Creed affirms with greater clarity, “the begotten of God the Father, the Only-begotten, that is of the essence of the Father. God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten and not made; of the very same nature of the Father, by Whom all things came into being, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.”

Jesus has eternally been God the Son, and He will forever be God the Son, which, of course, means that we cannot know Jesus as the Son without also knowing the Father. Furthermore, Paul states that no one can confess Jesus as their Lord without the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). Believing in Jesus, therefore, requires belief in the Trinity. It is not enough to believe solely in Jesus. Any who fail to believe in the triune nature of the Father, Son, and Spirit do not believe in Christ.

But believing in Jesus as God’s only Son has another glorious dimension for us as well. As the Nicene Creed clarified, we believe that Jesus is the begotten Son of God. He is the Son of the Father by being of the same essence as the Father. He is the Son by right, by the very nature of His being. Yet Hebrews goes on to describe the work of Jesus on the earth as “bringing many sons to glory” (2:10). By His suffering, Jesus brings His people to the Father as sons and as His brothers.

Consider the weight of this truth for a moment.

We were originally created to display God’s likeness. Although less glorious than the angels, we were given dominion over the earth and its animals. We were crowned with glory and honor by the Creator Himself, yet we threw His gifts back in His face. Like impulsive children, we broke God’s command, believing God to be a malicious and controlling dictator rather than a loving and selfless Father. When looking at the God’s fence of rules, we only saw our freedom being limited, not the busy highway on the other side.

But even when we learned evil by firsthand experience, we continued to sin, the Serpent’s lie still ringing in our ears, fueling our god complex. We, therefore, deserved death. We deserved judgment, the same that Satan and his angels received, condemnation without mercy. God, instead, chose to save us. To maintain His justice and righteousness, our sin required retribution, an eternal consequence since the sin was against the Eternal One. Rather than dooming all of humanity to damnation, God took our place. The Son, through whom the world was made, entered the world as a man. His sinless life ended on a cross, where He freely gave Himself to the grave in payment for our sins. Three days later, He rose back to life to triumph over sin and to give life to all those who believe in His name for salvation. We will spend the next five weeks walking through these elements of Jesus’ work because they are the very apex of all of history. Nothing else is more important than the truth that God died to save us. How could anything even come close?

The glory of this gospel is only magnified when we understand that God is not merely restoring us back to Eden, He is making things even better. In the garden, we were God’s stewards over the earth, His image. But now, in Christ, we are adopted as sons and daughters of God. God is not only the Father of Jesus the Son; He is also now our Father, since we have been made into co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). This, in no way, negates the truth of Jesus being God’s only Son, since He is still the only begotten Son. We, instead, are adopted, brought into God’s family, chosen by the Father before time began.

In Christ and as God’s children, we are also being made into “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). This, of course, does not mean that we become gods, but it does mean that we are able to experience the eternal and glorious love of the Triune God, that we are given the very essence of joy and peace.

Believing in Jesus as the Son of God, therefore, means believing that He has made us into sons of God by His death and resurrection.

OUR LORD

Ben Myers writes:

Even before the ancient baptismal confession had taken shape, perhaps the earliest Christian confession consisted of just two words: Kyrios Iesous, “Jesus is Lord” (Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3). That early statement remains the spiritual heartbeat of the baptismal creed. Everything else in the creed radiates like the spokes of a wheel from that hub: personal attachment to Jesus; total allegiance to him.

This confession was not a frivolous thing. It was, for the early Christians, a matter of life and death. Beginning with Caesar Augustus, who called himself the son of god, Romans began to worship the emperor as another one of their gods. Temples and statues for emperor worship were quickly established throughout the Roman Empire. Given that nearly everyone in the ancient world already worshipped many gods, adding another to their collection was no great burden. Christians, on the other hand, refused to worship anyone but Triune God. Nick Needham describes the consequence of this collision:

The authorities saw this as a serious political offence. Worshipping the emperor was a sign of loyalty to the Empire; to refuse was to be a traitor. The chief test of whether someone accused of being a Christian was a real Christian, was for the magistrates to order him to worship a statue of the emperor and say, “Caesar is Lord”—that is, Caesar is a divine figure, a god. A faithful Christian would refuse, because for him or her, “Jesus is Lord”, not Caesar. One could not worship both Caesar and Christ. (84-85)

To declare that Jesus is Lord is an affirmation of His deity. It is a declaration of His authority, His supremacy, His glory. If Jesus is Lord, no one else is (at least not ultimately), not even Caesar. If Jesus is Lord, we owe Him our allegiance and our very lives. To be a Christian means submitting to the will of Jesus. It means becoming His slave.

The lordship of Jesus has never been easily received by the world, and today is no exception. Individual autonomy has never been valued more highly (with the notable exception, of course, of beliefs that are believed to be inherently hateful towards others). We glimpse it clearly in the abortion debate, where many who call themselves “pro-choice” are beginning to give the honest acknowledgement that babies in the womb are alive. Yet they still hold to abortion as a right because the mother’s choice overrides any right to life that her unborn child might have. The mother’s lordship over her own body stands as an infallible doctrine or, rather, as one of the dogmatic hydra heads of the religion of self.

In The Great Divorce, Lewis argues through the mouth of George MacDonald that every person who rejects Christ essentially declares the words that Milton gave to Satan: better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven (71). We are, he claims, like children who choose to miss playing with our friends because we obstinately refuse to apologize. We are each locked in constant battle for lordship; we must either choose Jesus or self.

To declare ourselves as Lord is a rejection of Jesus and of joy. We maintain our claim of supremacy, but we do so at the expense of our enjoyment and satisfaction. We do not diminish the glory of God, only our ability to bask in it with Him. Giving all glory as Lord to Jesus furthers our joy because it images the Trinity. We are most like God whenever we give ourselves selflessly to Him and His people. This is how the last are made first, and the first made last. Clinging to our life only guarantees that we will lose it. In the sacrificial shedding of our life, we find true life in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us. To empty yourself is to be like Christ, who emptied Himself for us and suffered the humiliation of death on the cross.

This is the way of Jesus, the narrow path of His kingdom. Humble yourself before Him and be exalted with Him, or exalt yourself before Him and be humbled by Him. There is no other way. The road forks here in two, and we each must choose. Jesus or self. Life or death. Wisdom or folly. Joy or misery.

To be a Christian is to proclaim, “Jesus is Lord”, to surrender ourselves fully into His hand. What we do, what we say, what we see, what we hear, what we taste, what we touch must all be done for the glory of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Nothing less will do. C. T. Studd, who left his life of wealth and privilege to “run a rescue shop within a yard of hell” by going to unreached places with the gospel, summarizes the entire message of this study well: “If Jesus is God and He died for me, no sacrifice I could make would be too great.”

Do you, therefore, believe in Jesus as Lord? Have you surrendered your life fully over to His lordship? Do believe in Jesus as God’s Son? Are you adopted by the Father through the substitutional death of the Son? Do you believe in Jesus as the Christ? Is your full confidence in Jesus as the defeater of sin and death?

All Christians believe in Jesus, who is the Christ, the eternal Son of God, and the rightful Lord of all.

Do you believe?

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God the Father

I believe in God the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

 

The Apostles’ Creed properly begins, where all things must begin, with the doctrine of God, and, although its statement on the first person of the Trinity may be short, it does not leave us with a belief in God as some sort of ambiguous and ethereal force. Instead, with clarity and precision, it affirms that God is the Father, almighty, and creator of heaven and earth. As we examine these titles and attributes from the Scriptures, we come to see that God is not an energy to be acknowledged but a Person to be known.

Entire libraries can be filled with books written about God the Father, and even then, the surface of His immensity has yet to be scratched. For simplicity and clarity, we will devote our attention to the three descriptions given in the creed: Father, almighty, and creator. We will begin by testing these attributes to validate that they are presented and taught in the Scriptures, and we will then move into how the truths of God’s nature apply to us.

CREATOR OF HEAVEN AND EARTH

We will begin in reverse since this description of God is the first attribute of Him found in the Bible. Genesis 1:1 reads, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The phrase the heavens and the earth, both here and in the creed, is a merism that refers to the entire cosmos. Everything that exists came into existence because of God. He is the Creator and the only uncreated being. He gives matter itself its beginning, yet He has no beginning. Before the beginning ever began, He was. This means that, as Creator, God is also holy. He is uniquely distinguished from all other things in existence. Black holes, dandelions, quarks, ocelots, and humans all share the common trait that we were made. We were designed, and God is the designer. He is other, outside of creation. He is holy.

Also, as Creator, God maintains ownership over all things. In Psalm 50:10-12, God declares, “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.” Similarly, Psalm 8:3 calls the heavens the work of God’s fingers and that He put the moon and stars into place. As the creator of heaven and earth, the universe itself is His possession.

What then does it mean to believe that God is the creator of heaven and earth? Or perhaps more to the point, how do we know that we believe that statement? If He is the Creator, then we are not of supreme importance; He is. As the author of life, all living creatures owe Him their very being, including us. Believing this must, therefore, result in a life of active and willing obedience, a life modeled after Him. After all, when the Creator commands something of His creation, it would be best for us to obey. As the supreme being above all others, we should obey Him, if for no other reason, out of fear. That’s why Proverbs calls the fear of God the beginning of wisdom; it points us down His patterned path. Yet He is also a good God who wants what is best for His creatures, so we can trust that obedience will always be in our best interest. Our obedience to His commands displays our belief that He is the Creator who is worth obeying, while on the contrary, disobeying God is a declaration of our independence from Him.

Adam and Eve did that very thing. They rejected God as their authority, as their designer, and they asserted themselves into His place. All sin follows this same pattern. Every act of disobedience is an act of idolatry because we elevate ourselves above the Creator.

Consider an example. Viewing porn is a rejection of God’s pattern for sexuality. It is a declaration that the instant gratification of ones’ desires is better than sex within the institution of marriage. The same can then be said for every sin. Sin itself is an act of defiance against God as the Creator.

Do you believe that God is the creator of heaven and earth? If so, obey Him. Read His Word in order to hear and understand how He has designed the cosmos to function, and then conform your life to His pattern. Be holy as He is holy. If you are not actively attempting to shape, order, and structure your life around God’s revealed patterns and designs, I would challenge that you do not yet believe that God is the Creator. Sin will, of course, never be overcome fully in this life, yet our lives must reflect a steady growth in being conformed to the image of Christ, who is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15).

ALMIGHTY

What exactly is meant by describing God as almighty? Might, of course, is synonyms with force, power, and strength is being modified by the word all. So, almighty means that God possesses all might. He is all powerful, omnipotent, sovereign. The Bible makes this point very clear. Psalm 115:3 declares, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” Psalm 103:19 is similar: “The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.”

Or consider a few examples from Proverbs. “The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble” (16:4). “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (16:9). “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (16:33). “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (19:21). “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (21:1).

This attribute of God naturally flows from the first. If God is the Creator, it would stand to reason that He is the only being worthy of being called almighty. David affirms this connectivity in 1 Chronicles 29:11-12, where he prays: “Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.”

Our God, indeed, is almighty, and there is none like Him.

But again, we must now ask: what does it mean to believe that God is almighty? First, if God is almighty, then we are not. While nearly everyone would admit the hard reality of our non-omnipotence, our lives often reflect a different view within our hearts. Our culture’s not-so-secret, love-hate relationship with busyness is one evidence of this. Many of us like the rush of being busy because it makes us feel in control, like we can order things how we like, and, since we are governing things, we cannot cease without everything collapsing into chaos. Our lives then proclaim the belief that we are almighty.

Yet our rejection of God’s omnipotence is most often seen in a subtler, but just as insidious, form: prayerlessness. The very essence of prayer is calling upon God, particularly to accomplish what we are unable to complete. Failing to pray, on the other hand, reflects a belief that we are all-sufficient and, therefore, do not need God’s aid. Prayerlessness is the rooted habit of a prideful heart, and it effectively amounts to a denial of, or at least rejection of, God’s supreme might. Prayer, however, is the opposite. It is a joyously freeing affirmation of the omnipotent God.

Do you believe that God is almighty? If so, do your prayers reflect that belief?

FATHER

Now we come to the third title of God within the Apostles’ Creed: Father. The burden of explaining the fatherhood of God here is lightened slightly by my plan to return to this doctrine in both the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments. Hopefully the three sermons across these three series will form a sort of trilogy around this fundamental teaching.

God as Father is a concept that is rooted in the Old Testament. Isaiah, when viewing the horror of his sin in comparison to God’s holiness, cried out, “But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (64:8). Or again the prophet wrote, “For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name” (63:16).

While there are other occasions in the Old Testament where God is described as fatherly toward His people and His creation, the New Testament takes this concept much further. Jesus, of course, teaches us to pray to God, calling Him our Father (Matthew 6:9). This is astounding since Jesus repeatedly refers to God as His Father throughout the Gospels. Indeed, particularly in the Gospel of John and the First Epistle of John, the apostle labors to make Jesus’ distinct and unified relationship with the Father known to us. Jesus is God’s only Son, the one who has eternally existed alongside the Father. In fact, Jesus states in John 17:24 that the Father was loving Him before the foundations of the world were established.

Jesus’ revelation of the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son is beyond significant. Both God as creator and almighty are attributes that can be discerned, to at least some degree, without special revelation. We can study creation and conclude the necessity of a creator, and, from the immensity and complexity of creation, we could also come to the assumption that the creator is also almighty. While we could then view the creator as having a fatherly relationship with his creation, it would be presumptuous to make that metaphorical picture into his defining quality. Indeed, to refer to God the almighty creator primarily as Father requires special revelation, which is what Jesus did.

Jesus displayed to us an attribute of God that transcends even His designation as creator. Even though God first reveals Himself as the Creator, He became the Creator whenever He created. Therefore, if being the Creator is the primary aspect of His character, then God needed to create in order to be what He is. He needed us. But Jesus reveals that the central attribute of God is His fatherhood because He has eternally been the Father of the Son, Jesus. In Delighting in the Trinity, Michael Reeves walks through how this eternal relationship is necessary for the statement “God is love” to be true. Just as the Father is eternally with the Son, He has also eternally loved the Son. To say that God the Father is love is an eternally true statement because He has always and will always be the Father to the Son and He is eternally loving the Son. God cannot, therefore, be love without also being Trinity.

We also depend upon the Trinity to know God as the Father and as love. Of course, we’ve already said that Jesus revealed the eternal nature of God the Father alongside His eternal nature as God the Son. But Jesus further clarifies that the Father cannot be known apart from the Son: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). It is impossible to know God as He is (that is, as the Father) without also knowing the Son because Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father… Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (John 14:9-10). The Father can only be known through the Son who is the exact imprint of His nature (Hebrews 1:3).

But we still could not know the Father or the Son fully without the Spirit. Considers Jesus’ words to His disciples:

John 16:12-15 | I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

These roles are further deepened when we recall the gospel. Our rejection of the eternal Creator bore upon us an eternal judgment. We separated ourselves from His love, choosing instead His justice and wrath.[1] But thankfully, “for God [that is, the Father] so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus, the Son of God, accomplished this exchange of death for life by taking death upon Himself. He substituted Himself for us, transferring the eternal debt of our sin into His account. In this way, Jesus fixed the problem of sin. He bridged the chasm that separated us from the Father.

Yet the Holy Spirit also has an essential role in our redemption. In John 16:7, Jesus tells His disciples that His ascension back into heaven is for their benefit. How can this be? His ascension fulfilled the work of the gospel, which the Holy Spirit was then sent to teach and bring to remembrance everything that Jesus had told them (John 14:26). Indeed, the Spirit instructs each believer in the gospel by indwelling them and teaching them to glorify the Father and the Son. In fact, twice Paul emphasizes that without the Spirit interceding in our prayers we could not call God our Father (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6).

How then do we know that we believe in God the Father?

First, to believe in God the Father requires belief in the Son and the Holy Spirit. No one can reject the Trinity and still cling to Christianity. To deny the Trinity is to reject the God of the Scriptures. Indeed, Jesus says about Himself, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29). Therefore, our belief in God the Father is proven to be valid by our belief in the Son and the Spirit.

Such a statement may sound counterintuitive, but that impulse only reveals how much the Fall has alienated us from God’s ways. As Trinity, God is utterly selfless. The Father is constantly glorifying the Son and Spirit, just as the Son is always glorifying the Father and the Spirit and the Spirit is always glorifying the Father and the Son. They are eternally giving, which is why it truly is better to give than to receive. Giving imitates God. Likewise, in Philippians 2:3-5, Paul called for the Philippians to count others as more significant than themselves by being rooted in the mind of Christ. The sinful, human impulse is to seek and claim glory for self, while God (the only truly glorious being) is constantly pouring His glory upon others, particularly upon the Son and the Spirit.

Second, to believe in God the Father means trusting His love us. John Owen writes, “The chief way by which the saints have communion with the Father is love—free, undeserved, eternal love… Have no fears or doubts about his love for you. The greatest sorrow and burden you can lay on the Father, the greatest unkindness you can do to him is not to believe that he loves you” (12-13).

In contrast to Owen, the common view today is that God the Father is angry and vengeful, while Jesus is loving and gracious. But it was the Father who blessed us with Jesus (Ephesians 1:3). It is the Father who is called by Paul “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). It was the Father’s love that sent Jesus for us (John 3:16). When John states that “God is love,” the Father is particularly in view (1 John 4:16). And in the trinitarian benediction of 2 Corinthians 13:14, grace is attributed to Jesus, fellowship to the Spirit, and love to the Father.

Michael Reeves ties all of this together in how it beautifies the gospel:

And therein lies the very goodness of the gospel: as the Father is the lover and the Son the beloved, so Christ becomes the lover and the church the beloved. That means that Christ loves the church first and foremost: his love is not a response, given only when the church loves him; his love comes first, and we only love him because he first loved us (1 Jn 4:19).

Do you, therefore, believe in God the Father? Do you believe in His Son that He sent to die for you? Do you believe in His Spirit that He has sent to guide in you in all truth? Do you believe in His vast love for you?

This is the God all Christians believe: the holy, Triune, almighty Creator who is also our loving and merciful Father.

Do you believe?


[1] Despite what many proclaim, His justice and wrath are essential to His fatherhood and love. The work of a father is to discipline his children, to shape them into men and women of character and integrity, which often requires a strong, firm hand. Fatherhood should also invoke a certain degree of wrath as necessary for defending children from insidious threats. Likewise, God cannot look upon sin without His justice and wrath. Sin is not only a blight against His goodness; it is also a corrosive plague that consumes us from the inside out. If God did not hate our sin, He would not be our Father.

The True Light | John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, the gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

John 1:1-18 ESV

 

After spending three weeks in the Old Testament studying the hints and promises of Christ’s coming, we now focus our attention upon the incarnation of Jesus. Although the life of Jesus is told four times in the Gospels, each brings a unique and complementary perspective on the long-awaited Savior. John’s Gospel is particularly interested in the glorious truth of Christ’s eternal divinity becoming human. Our text, John’s prologue, turns our attention toward this wondrous mystery.

THE STORY CONTINUED…

In our previous study, we briefly explained the timeline of events between Isaiah’s lifetime and the coming of Jesus; however, it can’t hurt to rehearse them again.

After being used to foretell Israel’s destruction by the Assyrian Empire, Isaiah most likely lived long enough to see the LORD’s promise fulfilled. Known for their terror tactics, the Assyrians left the northern kingdom in ruins with much of the population either slaughtered or forced into slavery. While Judah manages to postpone such a defeat for a few more generations, the Babylonian Empire eventually leaves Jerusalem as little more than rubble.

But just as the Babylonians replaced the Assyrians, so the Persians conquered the Babylonians. Providentially Cyrus the Great issued an edict authorizing many exiled Jews to return to Jerusalem for the purpose of rebuilding the city and the temple.

Soon Persia fell to the military brilliance of the young Alexander the Great. After conquering the known world, Alexander died suddenly without leaving a successor to his throne; his empire, therefore, was divided into four kingdoms led by four of his generals (the Kingdoms of Ptolemy, Cassander, Lysimachus, and Seleucus).

For nearly three hundred years, Jerusalem is captured and recaptured by Seleucids (basically Persia) and the Ptolemies (Egypt). This tug-o-war ended when Rome began its lengthy time as king of the hill. Despite appointing Herod the Great as king of the Jews (although raised under Judaism, his Jewish lineage is pretty questionable), the Hebrews repeatedly revolted against the vastly superior might of Rome.

Yet empires don’t stand for hundreds of years by being nice, and Rome was no exception. To the Romans we owe much of our Western heritage, yet their brutality should not be quickly ignored. Many historians argue that Rome’s endurance was largely the result of two implementations: roads and crucifixions. The cross was as much a warning as it was an instrument of torture, an easily arranged punishment for any dissent against Roman security.

But the massive construction of highways also proved threatening to the Jews. As travel became easier so did the spreading of ideas. Religious pluralism was the sign of the times, one which the Israelites repeatedly rejected to their sorrow.

This was the setting of the birth of Christ. As the Son of God came into the world, Augustus sat upon a global throne proclaiming himself the son of god. Physical and spiritual oppressors circled about them. They were shrouded in darkness. Where was the light God promised, the Savior-King, David’s son? No prophet had uttered even a word in four hundred years. Perhaps God had forgotten them altogether. Maybe the light would never come.

IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD (WHO IS JESUS?)

John’s Gospel is unique to say the least. Matthew, Mark, and Luke bear so many similarities that they are often called the Synoptic Gospels. John is the odd duck of the bunch, and the evidence for this can been seen from its opening words. The Synoptics begin by grounding Jesus in reality. Matthew opens with Jesus’ Davidic lineage. Mark dives straight into the ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist. Luke cites his journalistic intensions for composing a biography of Christ.

John, however, doesn’t so much ground Jesus in reality as ground reality in Jesus. Verse 1 makes this clear by pointedly tying the story of Jesus to the first verse of Genesis. The words in the beginning should ring through our ears with awe at the God who formed all of existence out of nothing. He who made the heavens and the earth must rightfully be worshipped as the Creator of all things.

But that’s the end of that story, right?

Didn’t we, after all, already tell that story?

What more is there to say about creation?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. We could spend an entire sermon (and may one day) attempting to mine the depths of this verse, but let us attempt to be brief at the present.

As John’s Gospel continues, it becomes quite clear that Jesus is the Word being described in this verse. This designation is important in several ways. First, the Greek word for Word is logos, which was an essential concept for many Hellenistic philosophies. Gregory Hays attempts to explain logos as such:

The term (from which English “logic” and the suffix “-logy” derive) has a semantic range so broad as to be almost untranslatable. At a basic level it designates rational, connected thought—whether envisioned as a characteristic (rationality, the ability to reason) or as the product of that characteristic (an intelligible utterance or a connected discourse). Logos operates both in individuals and in the universe as a whole. In individuals it is the faculty of reason. On a cosmic level it is the rational principle that governs the organization of the universe. (Meditations, xx)

Such a belief would be impossible for John to be ignorant of, so there seems to be a sense in which he is pointing to Jesus as the true logos, not a passionless principle but a person.

Second, Jesus as the Word provides greater revelation (although, crucially, not a different one) of how God created all things. In Genesis 1:3, God formed light by speaking it into existence. The pattern continues through day six. Creation is created by the words of God or, as John now reveals, by the Word of God. God the Father ordained an item of creation, which then came into being through Jesus.

What then does this tell us about who Jesus is?

Jesus is both the same as and distinct from the God the Father. That is the paradox of the second and third phrases of verse 1. Jesus was both with God and was God. Before the universe was formed, Jesus existed alongside God as a distinct person, yet He was eternally God as well. Jesus is not the same person as the God the Father, yet He is also not a second God. Only one God exists (Deuteronomy 6:4), and Jesus and Father (and the Holy Spirit) are that singular God. Welcome to the mystery of the Trinity, ladies and gentlemen.

In no uncertain terms, John is magnifying the divinity of Christ. Jesus is God. Period. Any attempt to grasp the significance of Jesus’ life must begin with this fundamental truth. Jesus is the Word through Whom the world was made. He is the Creator, with all its rights and privileges. Jesus is the God we described in Genesis 1.

THE TRUE LIGHT (WHAT DID JESUS COME TO DO?)

Yet John is not content to simply tell us who Jesus is; he also reveals why Jesus came to earth: to pierce the darkness as the true light. Like the Egyptians and the Israelites, humanity has long been under the darkness of God’s judgment because of sin. This darkness can easily be felt, a darkness so thick that it seems to overcome light. We see such darkness in people being left to their own devices. We see it in systematic pillaging and raping of villages and villagers. We see it in the abduction of toddlers for organ harvesting or sex slavery. We see it in the crushed skulls and dismembered bodies of late-term abortions. It’s visible in parents who abandon their families or abuse their children. It floods the Internet with the defilement and slander of God’s images. It cries out of every heart for more, more gossip, more things, more money, more sex, more food, more drink. The world is dark. If you don’t think so, it’s probably because you haven’t glimpsed the light in order to know the difference.

Sin is self-destruction, and God often judges sin by simply not interfering. After all, the fruit of sin is death, and we each deserve it. We constantly reject God in order to follow our own desires. We exalt ourselves as supreme, relegating God to being our sidekick at best and our enemy at worst. We attempt to force the Creator to submit to our will instead of submitting to His. This prideful arrogance is the human condition; no one is the exception. We deserve to be abandoned by God. We deserve death. We deserve the darkness of His judgment.

Yet God did not abandon us. Jesus, the eternal Word and the true light, came to pierce the darkness of sin. He came to give life in the midst of death’s reign. Like God saved the Israelites from the Egyptians, Jesus came to rescue His people. He came to break the rod of their oppressors, to bring joy and peace, to dispel the darkness with His light. Jesus came to save those who committed treason against His throne.

THE WORD BECAME FLESH (HOW DID JESUS DO IT?)

Jesus is God Himself, who came to save those who repeatedly rejected and rebelled against Him. That is gloriously good news, but we must still ask the question of how. How did Jesus save His people from their sins?

He did it by becoming flesh and dwelling among us. The eternal Holy One became human. Divinity became (literally) personified. God became man. Consider the anew the wonder of the incarnation. At His conception, Jesus did not cease to be God. The fullness of His deity was maintained, which is good for us since the unraveling of the cosmos is not exactly ideal. And yet Jesus was also entirely human, flesh, blood, neurotransmitters, and all.

This incarnation was absolutely necessary for solving the problem of sin. Since our sins were against the eternal God, they necessitate an eternal judgment. Physical death does not wipe our slate clean, only an eternal, spiritual death can achieve that. Our doom, therefore, is everlasting, an infinite debt to which we must continue making payments. The glory of the God-man enters this bad news. As man, Jesus was able to do what we could not: live in perfect obedience to God. As God, when Jesus was crucified in our place, His infinite worth paid entirely our infinite debt. This substitutionary atonement pulls us from the darkness of God’s judgment into the marvelous light of His grace. Indeed, from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

Verse 12 gives us the unbelievable application of that grace: those who believe in Christ’s name have the right to be become children of God. Because of Jesus, the only Son of God dying in our place, we are now adopted as God’s sons and daughters. We who attempted to usurp His throne are now welcomed into His family, the family of the Creator! The overwhelming terror of being the sovereign God’s enemy is now transformed into the incomprehensible joy of being His beloved child.

Notice also the emphasis of verse 13. God alone accomplish our transformation, our new birth. No flesh, no blood, and no will of man can save sinners from the righteous wrath of God. Only the broken flesh, spilled blood, and gracious will of Jesus Christ is sufficient. No amount of effort, good works, or good intentions can save us. We contribute nothing; Jesus did everything. This is good news. This is the good news.

But if Jesus did everything for us, why is the gospel so hard to believe?

Why does the world continue to reject the Word through Whom it was made?

One reason is that people love darkness instead of the light. Jesus told Nicodemus this very fact in John 3:19-21:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

The sad reality is that we are not forced to sin. We sin because we love sin. We love darkness, not the light. The human heart will often gladly live in hell so long as it bows to no one. We each chose hell, and we continue to do so whenever we sin. We willful reject God’s light in favor of the darkness of our own desires. Many, therefore, reject the light of the gospel of Christ because they will not be parted from their sin.

Another reason is that we want the glory of saving ourselves. Michael Lawrence identifies three ideas that actually form a false gospel: “an optimistic view of human beings, a domesticated view of God, and a view of religion as a means of moral self-reform” (Conversion, 19). Or to say it another way: “I can be good. God will be impressed. Religion will help” (20). Deep down, we desire self-help of religion because we want to save ourselves. Any honest person knows that they are sinful and broken, but even still, we often fail to see the utter hopelessness of our situation. With a little more discipline and control, we can change ourselves. We can grit our teeth and make ourselves good. Of course, we then get the glory of being the self-saved man. It’s the classic story of rags-to-riches only on an eternal scale.

But the gospel rejects that notion fundamentally. We are entirely incapable of saving ourselves, which is why Ephesians describes us as being dead in sin. The challenge of the gospel is to reject self, to lose your life in order to find it, to believe in Jesus’ name and become a child of God by walking away from the darkness of sin and into His light. May we walk in the light of His glorious grace, for it pierces the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.