Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Jesus Christ – Son of Man and Son of God – God over all : The Business of Chrisian Education XXXII

“Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.” Romans 9:5

The gospel of Matthew recorded the genealogy of Jesus Christ from Abraham, the first patriarch of Israel, until Mary. The gospel of Luke also recorded the genealogy of Jesus Christ from Joseph until Adam, who is the son of God. But one thing is clear in the gospel of Luke that Joseph is not Jesus’ real father, that’s why he added “so it was thought” (Luke 3:23). The gospel of John plainly shows that Jesus Christ is God (John 1:1-18). Our verse today is considered controversial due to different translations and interpretations. But the orthodox line always believes that Jesus Christ is God. Heretics such as Jehovah’s Witnesses argued strongly based on our verse today that Jesus is not God. That the designation “God over all” is not meant for Jesus but for the Father alone. However, we are not going into the technical detail of the argument against the doctrine of Trinity. But, following the Scripture itself, the apostles, church Fathers, theologians of all ages in the evangelical stream, we will not take this verse as controversial but we will simply take it as is, that Jesus
Christ is God.

Accepting the truth that Jesus is God is never easy, especially for the Jews. The concept of the Trinity was not recognized by the Jews at that time. The formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity was formulated hundreds of years after Jesus. But we can see clearly in the Scripture the evidences of the concept of a Triune God. Before we look at the evidences in the Scripture, I would like us to get acquainted with some theories of Trinity.

Many attempts have been used in order to explain the concept of Trinity, but none is satisfying. Some explained that God is one but assumes three roles, so just like a man with three different roles: 1) as a father in his family, 2) as a director in his office, and 3) as a driver in his car. So, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are actually one person. But the problem is that God is one God with three different persons: the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. Other tries to explain God using an analogy of the sun. Sun is one, but it can be experienced differently. We can see the sun bright and shiny. We can feel the heat of the sun. We can see things because of sunlight. So, the sun itself is like the Father, the sunlight is the Son, and the heat of the sun is the Holy Spirit. Different forms but one sun. The problem with this analogy is that sunlight is not sun, the heat of the sun is not sun. But the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God.

Some people just dismiss the idea of Trinity because mathematically it doesn’t make sense. 1+1+1=3. So if the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, then there are three Gods. Or, since God is only one, then the Son and the Holy Spirit are not God. Therefore, based on the mathematical equation either there are three gods or the other persons are not God. Frankly, the concept of Trinity is not an easy one to digest, even for Christians who believe in it. Simply because they could not put God in their box, many people reject God altogether. Among many explanations of the Trinity, for or against, I find the explanation of one church father to be much better.

Gregory of Nyssa was very keen in explaining the Trinity using the categorical theory by Aristotle. I think his explanation is the clearest of all other attempts. Without going through the technical philosophy, his theory is actually simple. In Aristotle’s philosophy, all things have attributes. The most important attribute is what he called as substance. There are two levels of substance: primary and secondary. Primary substance points out the uniqueness of the thing as it stands out among many. The secondary substance points out the essence of thing that is shared with others. Practically, Sam is different than Helen and their difference is due to their primary substance that governs their uniqueness. Sam is not Helen and Helen is not Sam. However, Sam is a human being, the same as Helen is also a human being. This is understood through the concept of secondary substance. Sam and Helen are both human beings, in which they share their humanity. In the same way, the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. Their uniqueness is understood through the concept of primary substance. Even though they are unique in their persons, they are One God. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. This is understood through the concept of secondary substance. Gregory added that the unity of the Trinity is the original that in the Trinity we find the perfect unity, since even though there are three persons in the Godhead, they are only One. In humans, we know that Sam and Helen share their humanity, but they are still counted as two humans, not one human. But in the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit IS ONE. Humans are united in their secondary substance but their unity is not as perfect as God. This can be explained through understanding that we are created in the image of God, so we reflect God, but we are not God.

In our verse in Romans 9:5, Paul was sad because the Jews rejected Jesus Christ the Son of God. He was very sad because Jesus was born through Israel, as was planned by God since the beginning. Jesus was rejected by his own people (remember John 1). No wonder Paul argued that Jesus Christ’s ancestry could be traced through the Jews. The genealogy by Matthew and Luke showed clearly Jesus’ ancestry rooted in Israel. So it was truly a very sad experience that Paul had to suffer. But in the midst of his sadness he pointed out that Jesus Christ is God. Paul acknowledged that Jesus Christ is God, the very truth that brought Jesus to the cross. In the gospel of John we see many times Jesus claimed that he was God and the Jews wanted to kill him. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds (John 8:58-59). In that passage, Jesus claimed that he is Jehovah. By using the term “I am!” he referred to Moses’ first encounter with God when he asked the name of God. In that encounter, God answered that his name is: “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be.” “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14). The same term “I AM” was used by Jesus on that occasion, no wonder the Jews picked up stones to stone him because they thought that Jesus could not be God.

“I and the Father are one.” Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken—what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp (John 10:30-39). Jesus’ claim that he was God’s Son brought him to the cross. The passage in Matthew 26:63-66 points that out: “The high priest said to him (Jesus), “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: in the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” “He is worthy of death,” they answered.” The heretics, especially Jehovah’s Witnesses, try very hard to disprove Jesus’ divinity. With the overwhelming evidence in the Scripture, the only way they can disprove Jesus’ divinity is by deliberately ignoring the evidence. The fact that Jesus was sentenced to death on the cross for the reason of blasphemy is powerful evidence that even the Jews understood Jesus’ claim that he was God. The Jews picked up stones to stone him many times (stoning is a death sentence ordered in the Law of Moses for breaking the Law and for blasphemy) for the sole reason of blasphemy.

Jesus said clearly: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44). “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.” From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:60-66). They have seen Jesus’ miracles, they even have experienced his miracles, but yet their hearts were so dull, they did not believe.

Let us look at the next passage. “The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:24-28). The reason the Jews did not accept Jesus was simply because they did not belong to Christ. Those who accept Christ belong to Christ. The Father enabled them to accept Jesus as their savior, Lord, and God. The Jews did not want to accept Jesus because if they were to accept him, they would have to deny the comfort they were enjoying (cf. John 11:45-53). Like the Jews, many people don’t want to accept Jesus, his salvation, and acknowledge his Lordship simply because their life as they know it will be turned upside down if they believe in him. This is not an easy challenge to respond to. If we reflect upon our own life, what are the things that stop us from believing in him? For the Jews, they could not bring themselves to leave their tradition, their security within the tradition, the comfort of knowing what’s next within the tradition, their belief in God according to their interpretation and imagination, and their control over the tradition that they have practiced for a long time. Jesus said: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better’”(Luke 5:36-39).

The question for us is: “Do we believe that Jesus is God?” Paul claimed that Jesus is God over all. The gospel of John also argued explicitly that Jesus is God, the Creator, the Logos. Again the question is: “Do you truly believe that Jesus is God?” Believing that Jesus is God cannot merely by our intellectual ability. When one believes that Jesus is God, then his entire life must be transformed. He must practice Jesus’ words (cf. Matthew 7:24-27). The Jews did not wish to change their way of life, their lifestyle, their belief system, and their life practice. They’d rather give up the truth that Jesus is God than changing their meaningless life. How about us? Would we give up our meaningless life in exchange of the fullness of life in Jesus Christ? Paul exhorted Christians: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8). If we believe that Jesus is God, then our life must be changed in accordance with His pattern.

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