There are many religions in the world and if you were to research them all, no doubt you could find some good moral teachings, some element of truth in many of them. In fact, one of the things which attract many to false religions is the apparent external morality of those who adhere to their teachings. And living in the day and culture that we do, when people live more according to how they feel than what they know, it is easy to understand why so many are deceived by the feel good philosophies of our day. I got a call just yesterday from a fellow pastor who was concerned about one of his church members who was being led astray by a false teacher. No doubt each of you may know or know of someone who has been led astray by false teachings.
It is to this end that God's word is clear; we are not to live by bread alone, but by every word which proceeds forth from the mouth of God. That is, we are not to live by that which simply seems to satisfy our physical desires, but we are to live according to the truth God has given us in His word. We are not called to live according to our fallen sense of need, or by our fallen sense of right and wrong. The Christian, the one who has been transformed by the renewing of their mind, and who has been made a new creation in Christ Jesus, will see the world differently than the non-Christian. They will have a different outlook than they did before, they will possess a different worldview. As those who are indwelt by the Spirit of God Himself, we are called first and foremost to think biblically and then to filter our feelings through that truth.
Within the theological realm there is a word which you will hear tossed around quite a bit, the word, "orthodox." In the Greek language it is a compound word, the first part being "ortho," which literally means straight. You see it in the word, "Orthopedic," which describes a doctor who sets bones straight. The second word comes to us from the root word "dokeo," which primarily means to believe or think. So literally, orthodox means to think or believe straight. We use it to describe straight thinking or sound doctrine, as opposed to twisted or unsound doctrine. That is the reason we are focusing our attention during these weeks on the foundational doctrines of our faith. We need to think right if we are going to live right.
So far in our study we have considered the doctrine of the inspiration of scripture and we have looked at the nature of God Himself. This morning, as we continue our series entitled The Foundations of our Faith, we are going to take a look at what the Biblical record reveals to us about the person of Jesus. We'll start by examining His nature, then take a look at His work here and finally consider how that impacts your life and mine. The doctrine of Christ is known as Christology.
I. The nature of Jesus
The one thing which sets orthodox Christianity apart from all other religions and cults in the world; the one thing which determines whether or not we are really Christians or not; the one thing which is essential to our salvation is the unwavering belief that Jesus, a carpenter from Galilee, is also the only begotten Son of God and is therefore Jesus the Christ, the anointed one, the Messiah, the second Person of the triune God.
Our confessional statement, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, puts it this way.
This teaching about the nature of Christ is so very important because if Jesus is not both God and man; If He is not Who He says He is then He could not do what He said He could do. And if He could not do what He said He could do, we cannot become who He said we can become.
During the fourth and fifth centuries, the controversies surrounding the person of Christ seemed to crop up like weeds in a garden. Across the Roman Empire, which by this time had embraced Christianity, different teachers were teaching different doctrines about Who Jesus was.
There were the Docetists , as we have seen, from the Greek word dokeo, which means "to think" but can also mean "to seem." Thus they thought that Jesus merely seemed to be in the flesh. They affirmed the Divinity of Christ, but denied His humanity. They said His human body was nothing more than a phantasm, or ghost, and that His sufferings and death were mere appearance. Their creed was, "If he suffered he was not God; and if he was God he did not suffer."
Very close to them in their belief about the person of Christ, and probably the most dangerous of all early heresies, was Gnosticism. Gnostics' beliefs were rooted in a dualism that said all things spiritual were good, and all material things were evil. Thus they denied the incarnation, reasoning that if flesh was evil and Jesus was perfect and good, He could not have had a physical body.
There was Nestorianism, which taught that Jesus was sort of schizophrenic, that is that He was two different persons living in one body. The early church fathers rejected this teaching because it does not correspond to the biblical revelation. The scripture presents Jesus as a whole person possessing both a human and a divine nature.
Another errant belief was called Monophysitism, (Mono fist ti cizm) or Eutychianism (U tie key anism). It was propagated by Eutyches, who led a monastery near modern day Istanbul in the early part of the fifth century. He taught that the two natures were somehow mixed together and both of them being altered produced a hybrid nature of sorts. Of course the church rejected this belief because it diluted the truth that Jesus was 100-percent God and 100-percent man.
Then there was Modalism, also called Sabellianism. Modalists denied the trinity and said that God simply took on different modes at different times, but that there was no uniqueness between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. In our day Unitarianism continues to teach this heresy about the person of Christ.
Then of course there was the widespread heresy of the Arians. Arius was a teacher and preacher who lived in the third and forth centuries and was a pastor in Alexandria. He claimed that Christ was a created being. The ramifications of such a belief are profound. If Christ is a created being, then He is not God, if He is not God then He was not who He claimed to be and could not do what He claimed He came to do. If He was not 100-percent God and 100-percent man, then He could not be the sacrifice for our sins.
The problem with the Arians, and with others who claim that Christ is a created being, is in their mistranslation of the word "Only Begotten," from John 3:16. They took it to mean that Jesus had a place and time of origin. But literally translated the word means, "Unique or Only one of His Kind." It carries with it the idea of the singular uniqueness of Jesus, of his being the "only Beloved one." It is used to speak of his prominence with God the Father, not his origin. This is the sense given to us by the HCSB translation which says, "His One and Only Son..."
These teachings continue to have their influence today. We have but to look around us and we see cults whose heresies are rooted in these ancient errors. For instance, the Mormons, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, deny the uniqueness of Christ's divinity. While they will say that Jesus is a son of God, they would go on to say that he was simply one of many sons, including themselves, teaching that they are sons of God, just like Jesus was. This leads to their false teaching that all of us can become gods just like Jesus.
The Jehovah's witnesses also deny the Deity of Christ, claiming that Jesus was a created being and nothing more than the manifestation of the archangel Michael in human form. And the Christian Scientists will teach about His divinity but deny His humanity. Seems the devil is telling the same old lies, he's just put them in new packages. As Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun.
While the mystery of His two natures is beyond our full comprehension it does not change the reality that this is clearly what the scripture teaches. He is not, as some would say, half God and half man. He is fully God and fully man. Jesus has two natures, one divine and one human, and yet, He is one Person. According to the John 1:1, Jesus is the Word who was God and was with God and was made flesh (vs.12). This means that in the single person of Jesus Christ these two natures both existed. It is important to recognize that the divine nature was not changed. It was not altered. He is not merely a man who "had God within Him" nor is he a man who "manifested divine qualities." He is God, second person of the Trinity. Hebrews 1:3 puts it this way, "He is the radiance of His (God's) glory, the exact expression of His nature, and He sustains all things by His powerful word." Jesus' two natures are not "mixed together," nor are they combined into a new God-man nature, as Eutychianism taught. They are separate yet act as a unit in the one person of Jesus.
To correct the errant doctrines surrounding the person of Christ, the church gathered in Chalcedon, a city near modern day Istanbul, in 451 to define the exact nature of Christ. At the end of the day the early Christians decided that Jesus was of the same essence as God and was recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division or separation. When the Council of Chalcedon defined the nature of Christ they said that the two natures of Christ occur in one person and one "subsistence." The Greed word translated "Subsistence" is the word Hypostasis, that's why you'll sometimes hear the union of both divine and human natures in Jesus called the Hypostatic Union. This is one of the foundational doctrines of our faith.
Now, predicated on our understanding of the nature of Christ, that is that, He is God and man and that as man He was tempted but as God He was able not to sin and therefore lived a sinless life, we move to the work of Christ. What did Jesus come to do?
II. The work of Christ
Perhaps the most plain and simple explanation of what Jesus came to do is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 where Paul summarizes for us the message of the gospel. Paul writes:
Notice several things he mentions here about the work of Christ.
Paul says that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures - This is the foundation of the gospel and the fundamental purpose why Jesus came. The angel told Joseph in Matthew 1:21 that he was to name Mary's child Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins. John 3;16 tells us that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have ever lasting life. Romans 5:8 says that God, "...proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us!" Then there's Romans 6:23, which says, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Jesus died for our sins. This was the primary reason He came to earth.
Jesus did not die simply to set an example of sacrifice for us. Jesus did not die because He was powerless against those who nailed Him to the tree. Jesus did not die because He was misunderstood and thus a victim of the system. Jesus did not die because people took His life from Him. To the contrary, Jesus laid down His life, willfully and in obedience to the will of the Father. It was the reason He came. In John 12:27, Jesus Himself tells us that He came to die. As Jesus was preparing to go to the cross He said, "Now is my soul troubled. What should I say - Father, save Me from this hour? But that is why I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!"
When we talk about Jesus laying His life down for us there are three terms with which you should be familiar.
The bible says Jesus died as a propitiation for our sins. Simply put that means that on the cross, Jesus died to satisfy the just demands of God against sin. Because God loved us and knew that we could not pay that debt ourselves, He gave of Himself and sent His Son to pay the debt in our place. We owed a debt we could not pay, and Jesus died to pay a debt He did not owe. The Bible says we are all sinners and that the wages of sin is death. Because Jesus lived a sinless life, He was an acceptable sacrifice for our sins. Therefore Jesus Christ died for you and me and with His blood; He met the just demands of a righteous God for sin to be punished.
The word atone means to cover over something and the word often carries the idea of reconciliation. When we talk about it in reference to the work of Christ we are saying that God overcame sin through Christ's obedience and death to restore believers to a right relationship with God. His blood covered our sins and made it possible for us to be right with God.
When we speak about the substitutionary atonement, we mean that He died in our place, paying the price for our sins. Sometimes you'll hear people talk about the vicarious death of Christ, which simply means that he died in our place.
Look on in verse 4 (1 Corinthians 15:4) where it says that He was buried and raised on the third day. The work of Jesus did not end at the cross. It is the empty tomb that tells us our Lord conquered death, it is the resurrection that gives us hope and assurance that death is not final and that the life we have in Jesus is eternal. The cross was where Jesus paid the price, but the empty tomb is where Jesus defeated death and demonstrated His victory as Lord over life and death.
And Paul drives home his point that Jesus did rise from the dead, by listing off all of the people who saw the risen Lord. It must be remembered that when this letter was written, probably in the first half of 55 A.D. only 22 years after the resurrection. Many of the people listed as eyewitness to the resurrected Christ, were still living. Paul is saying, "Hey, this is true and here's the proof. Many of the folks who saw Jesus are known to you and are still alive." Paul wants them to clearly understand that the resurrection was no myth; it was not simply some fanciful dream of starry-eyed disciples. The resurrection is central to our faith. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then He was not Who He said He was because He said He was going to rise. The resurrection was not merely the transcendent faith of people who wanted to believe something that was not true. The resurrection of Christ was a verifiable fact that could be corroborated by eyewitness still alive at the time this letter was written.
Furthermore, Jesus ascended into heaven and someday will come again in glory to take His believers home to Heaven with Him. As the angels told the disciples in Acts 1:11, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen Him going into heaven."
The New Testament refers to the second coming of Christ more than 380 times, making it one of the most clearly taught and yet sorely neglected doctrines in scripture. We don't hear a lot about the second coming of Christ these days but in the first few centuries of Christianity the second coming was anticipated with great fervor.
Jesus is coming again, and because we don't know when, we should live as if it could be any day.
So there you have it. Jesus, both God and man, born of a virgin and yet the eternal, the Alpha and the Omega, came to earth, lived a sinless life, died a vicarious death and rose in a glorious resurrection. And He offers the free gift of salvation to all who will receive it. Someday He will come again in glory with His Holy angels to judge all the earth.
This is what we believe but where does that leave us? What are we to do with Jesus?
III. What will you do with Jesus?
A. Believe Him
That is, you have to take Him for Who He said He is.
If you want to be a Christian you have to believe He is who He said He is. You have to believe that He is God and man.
In chapter three of his classic book, Mere Christianity, the celebrated Christian author, C.S. Lewis is making a case for the person of Jesus Christ. He sums up his chapter with words that have, by now, become familiar to most Christians involved in defending the faith. Talking about Jesus Lewis says:
"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people say about Him: ‘I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God.' That is one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make a choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and god. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
Jesus gives us no choice but to accept Him as the Son of God, the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah, or to totally reject Him. There is no in-between, there is no compromise. He is either Lord of all or not Lord at all.
James tells us that even the demons believe and tremble, so it is not enough to merely believe that He is God, you've also got to receive Him as your Savior and your Lord. That's the second thing I want you to see.
B. Receive Him
That is, each of us must individually trust Him for forgiveness of sins and for eternal life -
If Jesus is who He says He is and only He can do what He can do, it is imperative that you place your trust in Him and in Him alone. He is the only person who can save you.
Jesus Himself tells us in John 14:6, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."
Acts 4:12 says of Jesus, "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved."
I am not worried this morning that very many of you are going to go out and worship some pagan idol. I am not concerned that many of you might leave this place and decide to become atheists. The greater concern I have as a pastor is that some of you would become so acclimated to church life, that you would be around the things of God and the people of God so much that you would somehow be deceived into believing you are a Christian when in fact you may not be. You see, the great danger for people who are raised around Christianity is for them to become so familiar with the things of God that they are fooled into thinking that they are part of the people of God.
That is why Jesus says that not everyone who says Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of His Father who is in Heaven.
In each of your lives there must come a point and a time when you ask Jesus to forgive you of your sins and to give you eternal life. A time when you allow Him to transform you from who you were and begin the process of changing you to become like Him. There must be a time when you surrender control of your life to Him and allow Him to be the Master, the Boss, the One who has authority over your life.
If you will ask Him He has promised to forgive your sins, to give you eternal life, to place His Spirit within you and to never leave you or forsake you.
C. Share Him
The good news of Jesus is something far too precious to keep to ourselves. It is meant to be shared.
Knowing who Jesus is and realizing that there is salvation in no other except Him, we have been entrusted with a grave responsibility. We have been given the job of telling others about Jesus Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul tells us that we have been entrusted with the word of reconciliation and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. He says we are ambassadors for Christ. Jesus tells us that if we are truly His disciples that we will seek first His kingdom, and that we will take up our cross, the instrument of death which spoke to His total surrender to the will of the Father, we will, in like manner, subordinate everything else to His kingdom's cause and we will follow Him.
I wonder this morning Who Jesus is to you? You see, at the end of the day while it is important to know about Jesus, it is more important to Know Jesus. You can know a lot about Jesus and still miss out on eternal life, what's important is that you know Him personally. Who is Jesus to you this morning? If He's not your Lord and Savior, you can change that today.