We’re nearing the end of the school year, with never-ending sports events and field trips. Who thought it was a good idea to hold so many field trips at the end of the year? “Hey, let’s go on a field trip!” NOPE.
But one thing I really enjoy during a field trip is the time in the car with my kids. A mentor told me to never neglect a car ride. One day this week, I was driving with my son, Jude, to a soccer game. We usually try to talk about spiritual things, but that day, he was really into his game. I put on an audio book to catch up on my “reading” (hey, it counts! I’m a busy guy!) A few minutes later, Jude looked up from his game and said, “Hey Dad – you should use that on Sunday.”
“What – something on your game?”
“No. What the guy just said….you should use that in your sermon.”
And what the author said that resonated with my son (who I thought was totally tuned out) is this: Jesus takes us to places we’ve never dreamed of. Yep, even on car rides with kids, He is there.
Jesus as God
Today we’re tackling Jesus: who He was, what He claimed, and how that changed everything else in the world. One of the most wrestled-with things in Christianity is whole “Jesus is God” thing. You might have heard someone say, “Jesus never claimed to be God.” When people say this they really mean Jesus never actually put together 3 words in a specific order to say, “I am God.” This is true. We don’t have a written record of Jesus saying those words in that order.
But, it’s pretty far-fetched to say that Jesus never claimed to be God. Jesus actually spoke directly into the cultural context of His time period to claim clearly and directly to be God.
We have to be able to view Jesus in His historical/cultural context to understand fully what He is claiming about Himself. For example, if Jesus would have just said, “I am God”, which many as skeptics would want him to say, His claim wouldn’t have been very scandalous religious worldview of His time. That’s because many believed that all human beings are, to some degree, divine. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said pantheists – or people who believe the universe is a god — said they were part of god or one with god. As Lewis points out, there would be nothing odd about that statement.
Jesus as YHWH
Jesus went much further than stating “I am God”. He didn’t claim to be god, or a part of god, or at one with god, but instead identifies himself as God. Israel’s God. The creator, the God of the entire cosmos, the one and only God of the whole world.
Claiming to be Israel’s God in first-century Judaism guaranteed that you would be killed.
In contrast to every other religious system of that cultural/historical time period, the Jews believed that there is only one God. Every other religion had a pantheon of diverse gods they worshiped in different ways for different reasons, but Judaism never wavered from believing in the one true God – YHWH.
To claim to be Him — YHWH — was to blaspheme, and the consequence of doing so was death. Jesus claimed there is only one God in the whole universe and He was it.
John records Jesus praying this prayer in John chapter 17, This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and the One You have sent—Jesus Christ.
Such a claim was reason enough for the Jewish elders to request capital punishment under the charge of blasphemy when they brought Jesus to trial.
Mark records this exchange in Mark chapter 14 verse 60, Then the high priest stood up before them all and questioned Jesus, “Don’t You have an answer to what these men are testifying against You?” But He kept silent and did not answer anything. Again the high priest questioned Him, “Are You the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus, “and all of you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses?64 You have heard the blasphemy! What is your decision?”
The religious leader’s response reveals they know exactly what Jesus was claiming. You have heard His blasphemy.
Blasphemy means the act of claiming for oneself the attributes and rights of God. So, why did the Jews come to see Jesus’ life and teaching as blasphemous? In the recordings of Jesus’s life, The Gospels, it makes it clear that Jesus said that He is God in both word and action.
Jesus is I AM
The scandal with Jesus is not that He was another person claiming to be God—that was pretty normal. The scandal was that Jesus claimed He was the one true God.
C.S. Lewis noted, “among these Jews there…turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God. And when you have grasped that, you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.”
In a heated debate with His fellows Jews recorded by John, a disciple of Jesus (John 8) they asked Jesus “Who do you think you are?” Jesus response is culturally and religiously scandalous:
Jesus said, “Your father Abraham was overjoyed that he would see My day; he saw it and rejoiced.” The Jews replied, “You aren’t 50 years old yet, and You’ve seen Abraham?”
(That’s a little Bible sarcasm for you.)
Jesus said to them, “I assure you: Before Abraham was, I am.” At that, they picked up stones to throw at Him. But Jesus was hidden and went out of the temple complex. (John 8:56-59)
Jesus affirms that He existed as God before He was born in Bethlehem and even before Abraham. Abraham had lived more than 2000 years before Jesus was born but still Jesus claims to have existed before him.
Jesus repeatedly speaks of himself as coming from heaven. He said, “No one has ascended into heaven except the One who descended from heaven—the Son of Man.” In John chapter 3…in the writings of John alone, Jesus said that He was sent from heaven to earth 39 times.
But, He didn’t stop there. Notice that Jesus also claims here again that He was Israel’s God specifically. He used the phrase “I am”. To most people like me who don’t know Hebrew, we think…”Jesus and his weird grammar.”
YOu see, when Jesus says, “I am”, He is connecting Himself to God. When God appeard to Moses in a burning bush, Moses said to God: “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me’ and they ask what is his name? What do I say?”
God said to Moses,”Tell them, ‘I AM who I Am’ sent you. “
This is critically sacred wording: I Am was one of the most sacred names for God in the Old Testament, and now Jesus scandalously takes that name and applies it to Himself.
He basically told them that HE was God who appeared to Moses and Abraham. IN that culture, there was only one way to respond to that level of blasphemy: “They picked up stones to throw at Him.” Jesus’s contemporaries didn’t just pick up little pebbles to show your contempt; They picked up stones to murder. This particular stoning wasn’t even the first time it happend to Jesus; it happened several times with Jesus because He claimed to be the one true God. And In all the examples the Gospels of people accusing Jesus of claiming to be God, Jesus never once recanted, apologized, or corrected them. That’s bold.
Paul, an early church leaders and writer of the earliest of Christian letters wrote like this:
Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage.
Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.
For this reason God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is about every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee with bow—of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
Paul aligns Jesus with the Jewish Scripture’s concept of God. “Jesus is Lord. Form of God. Every knee bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.” This is the strongest possible statement about the deity and divinity of Jesus.
All of Paul’s statements are amazing in light of the fact that Jews are the last people in the world who would believe that God became a human being. Greeks, Romans, and other Eastern religions of the time could have easily justified a God Man…but, not the Jews.
I pray you’d be willing to go where the evidence leads, not just take my word for it. Question your questions and doubt your doubts. Because being skeptical, asking questions will lead you to follow Jesus to places you never dreamed of, to places that He wants to lead you.