We have probably all had the experience of searching to find our little child just the perfect toy. We wait with eager anticipation as the child opens their gift. Our eyes become moist with joyful anticipation as we pull the toy out of the box for the child to enjoy . . . only to have them want to play with the box!
God must feel the same way sometimes at Christmas. It is easy to become so fascinated with the wrappings of Christmas that we miss the true and wonderful gift that is before us. We spotlight the programs, the songs, the family gatherings, the great gifts and warm traditions and miss the real gift of Christmas: Jesus!
For this reason we want to shine the spotlight these next few weeks squarely on the person of Jesus; the true star of the season.
To do this we are going to turn to Philippians 2. In this passage Paul records what many believe was a very early hymn of the church. It likely was written by Paul (since it fits the passage so well) but could have been written by someone else and used by Paul. Either way the section from verses 6-11 contains rich words about the person of Christ. It contains an early declaration of the nature and purpose of Christ. Over the next several weeks we will look at it phrase by phrase. This morning we look at just the first part of the first sentence.
Who, being in very nature God,
Why Is This Significant?
This passage makes a bold claim about Jesus: Paul says Jesus was more than an ordinary man. He was more than simply a good man or even a very good man. Jesus was God in human flesh. It is this statement that sets Biblical Christians from the rest of the world. Almost everyone agrees that Jesus was a special and unique man. Some even believe He was a prophet or a great leader. However, these people all stop short of calling Him God.
The biggest source of conflict between Muslims and Christians is this declaration that Jesus is God. Jews also are offended by any notion that Jesus is God. Both of these religions (like Christianity) are “monotheistic” meaning they believe there is only One God. Muslims and Jews consider Christians to be blaspheming when they call Jesus God. To them it sounds like we are worshipping more than one God.
Christians do not believe in three Gods! Hang with me here because you need to hear the distinctions being made. We believe in One God who has manifested Himself in three persons (or perhaps dimensions). We call this the doctrine of the Trinity. Admittedly the doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most complex doctrines in the Bible. The Bible clearly teaches
- There is one God.
- The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
- These are not different “roles” that God plays (i.e. at one time he manifests Himself as Father and the next time as Son).
- There are three distinct aspects of God that all exist at all times (for example Jesus the Son prays to God the Father).
Obviously, this goes beyond our experience and the categories of our understanding. God is unique and therefore we have trouble grasping the complexity of His nature. How is it possible for one God to consist of three persons? St. Augustine used an analogy that may be helpful. He said you can look at the human mind and find in it three dimensions (Memory, intellect, and will). These aspects of the mind are all different yet they need each other to be able to function. They are separate yet one. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three and yet one in somewhat the same way.
The doctrine of the Trinity can never fully be explained because God cannot fully be comprehended. He is beyond our categories and consequently language will always fall short in describing Him.
Even among those who call themselves Christians today there are those who deny the Trinity and embrace some of the earlier heresies about the godhead. Many others who lead and Pastor churches diminish the authority of Scripture and focus on Jesus as a great man but they do not believe He is God! It is important to understand what the Bible teaches about Jesus.
The Bible Claims Jesus Is God
The Significance of the Philippians Passage. In this passage Paul makes a bold claim, “who being in very nature God”. All modern versions state this clearly. The statement is even bolder in the Greek. The word translated “being” actually describes “that which a man is in his very essence and which cannot be changed. It describes the part of man which, in any circumstances, remains the same.” In other words the passage is teaching that Jesus is unchangeably God. He always has been God and always will be God. The word translated “nature” in the NIV carries a similar connotation. The Greek makes it clear that the claim is that Jesus is indeed God.
Other Passages. If this was the only passage in the Bible where such a claim was made you could argue that we do not understand the passage correctly. However, the claim is made again and again. As we read the Christmas story in Matthew 1:23 we are told that Jesus would be called “Immanuel” or “God with us”.
At the beginning of the Gospel of John (1:1) we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In verse 14 of the same chapter we learn that “the Word” was a code name for Jesus.
In Colossians 1:16 and 17 Paul wrote,
15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, …Everything was created through him and for him. 17 He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.[NLT]
In Hebrews 1 (Paul or one of the other early church leaders) wrote,
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
This is just a sample of passages. We can add to this the times when attributes of God were ascribed to Jesus (eternality, being Creator, knowing all things, being the One before whom we will be judged, being all-powerful).
Jesus Claimed to be God
Is it possible that the followers of Jesus were mistaken? Is it possible that they made Christ into something he never intended to be? There are many today who say this is exactly what happened. They believe Jesus was simply a great teacher and his reputation among His followers expanded until people made him into a God. (Think about historical figures like Elvis, John Kennedy or even FDR and how their reputations took on a super-human nature.) If we look at what Jesus said himself I think we can quickly see that Jesus proclaimed that He was God.
John 10 (speaker is Jesus)
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”
In John 8:58 Jesus said, “Before Abraham was born, I AM”. Jesus claimed not only to exist for all time but He also called himself by God’s revealed name (I AM;) This is exactly the way the people understood his words because they wanted to kill him for blasphemy (“calling himself God”). Of course, it is not blasphemy to call yourself God if you ARE God.
The other gospel writers also affirm His deity. One of the favorite titles of Jesus was “Son of Man” (recorded in all the Gospels). Today people read these words and think Jesus was merely saying He was human. But Jesus didn’t say he was “a son of man”, he always said he was THE Son of Man. Jesus was making an indirect statement about His divine nature. Jesus is referring to a passage in the book of Daniel 7:13-14 where we read these words,
13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
Are we reading too much into this title, “Son of Man”? How do we know Jesus was referring to Daniel? Listen to these words from Jesus
27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. 28 I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:27-28)
Lots of people have claimed divine authority for their lives: Jim Jones, David Koresh, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and even Joseph Smith. In many mental institutions there is someone who thinks they are God. Making the claim does not make you God.
Jesus declared and backed up His claim to be God by what He did
- Claimed to be able to forgive sin (the only person who can forgive an offense is the one who was offended . . . in this case, God. In Mark 2 we read the story about a paralyzed man who was brought to Jesus for healing. The first thing Jesus said to the man was, “Your sins are forgiven.” Everyone knew the implications of what Jesus was saying. We read,
8 Jesus knew immediately what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts? 9 Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’? 10 So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, 11 “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” [NLT]
He healed people
He raised the dead to life (the widow of Nain’s Son (Luke 7) and Lazarus (John 11))
He claimed an authority equal to the Law (Sermon on the Mount “you have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you”.)
He claimed He was the Only way to the Father (John 14:6)
He claimed to be omnipresent (present everywhere) when He said He would be “with you always” and “wherever two or three are gathered in his name He would be present with them.”
He said the Holy Spirit would testify to who He is (John 16)
He pointed to Himself as the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy
In His garden prayer he said, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (John 17)
He told the disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
He seemed to be in control of His death
He rose from the dead
The point of all of this is pretty simple: we believe Jesus was God who took the form of man (which we will talk about more in the weeks to come) because that is what the Bible teaches and it is what Jesus taught. Let’s get to the question that may be uppermost in your mind: “Who Cares?” Does this really matter? I think it does for at least five reasons.
Those who do Not affirm the unique deity of Christ are not Christians. If we are not coming to the God-Man Jesus, we are not coming to the biblical Jesus. Only this Christ can save. Only the sacrifice of someone of such worth could pay for our sin.
Jesus did not claim to be God and invite us to become God also. He never implied that we could attain God status. We are to bow down to Him, serve Him, and follow Him because He is unique. I say all this because Mormons claim to be Christians and declare that Jesus was God. However, they also say that those who follow the principles of Joseph Smith can also become God. That is not what the Bible teaches!
Those who Pastor churches, teach in seminaries, or become popular Christian authors and do not confess that Jesus is uniquely God in human form are not true believers. The Bible is clear: Jesus was the “Son of Man” the one who existed with the Father through all eternity. He was involved in creation with the Father.
If Jesus is God . . . It means God loves and cares for us. When we look at the whole story of Jesus (His birth, life, death and resurrection) we see that God sure went to a lot of trouble to establish a line of communication with us. He went to staggering lengths to provide a way for us to have a relationship with Him. God was working in the events of history for thousands of years to prepare for His entry into the world. Why? God wanted to reach out to you and me.
Think about it. If Jesus is God it means we aren’t all alone here in the world. Things are not meaningless. There is a purpose and a goal to living. In this vast universe of creation God still knows us and cares what happens in our lives. If Jesus is God, then we have supernatural strength from which to draw in the hard times of our lives.
If Jesus is God, the forgiveness He offers is real. If Jesus is God then He has the right and authority to offer us real forgiveness. He really can deliver us from what we deserve because of our sin. Even though we know we do not deserve forgiveness, we can be forgiven because of what He has done. When Jesus says we are forgiven – the highest authority has spoken and we are set free from the baggage of wrong that has weighed us down over our lives.
If Jesus is God then the words He spoke carry divine authority for our lives. If Jesus is God we should pay attention to what he says. If Jesus is God then His Word becomes our authority (since He viewed it as authoritative).
Think about it this way: you may appreciate (or not) suggestions from a co-worker. However, instructions that come from the boss carry a different kind of weight. If the boss tells you to do something you know that you should do what he says or risk losing your job. A command from a commanding officer in the military should result in a quick response. In the same way God’s commands should bring a quick response from us.
If Jesus is God, eternal life exists and is found in Him. Finally, if Jesus really is God then we can know that we will “live even though we die”. His resurrection verifies that there is life beyond the grave. When He says that He has gone to prepare a place for us we can trust Him.
Jesus gathered His disciples once and asked this question, “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples listed the various “opinions of the week”. Jesus followed that with another questions “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29)
This is the key question of Christmas? Who is this Jesus who is the focus of the historical events remembered? Was he just part of an impressive story? Was he a teacher who won the hearts of those who followed him? Was he a crazy man with a God-complex? Was he a charismatic leader that provided hope for the masses? Or is He who He claims to be – God become man? Which Jesus are you following: God become man or an inspiring teacher? The answer to that question will determine whether you see Christmas as a secular celebration with a cute story behind it, or as a time of devotion and celebration that God has entered the world and changed us forever.