Trying to establish that Jesus Christ was a “self-centered Messiah may be a “stretch” for many Christians because so much of Jesus’ teaching centers around living a humble life.* Yet in the previous post entitled “Jesus Christ, the Self-centered Messiah” [March 10, 2021] I try to show that Jesus took that unique approach in His ministry [John Stott’s idea, not mine]. I attempt to argue that Jesus made bold claims that He knew were foretold by Scripture in the Old Testament. The Pentateuch, The Law of the Prophets and the Psalms and Wisdom Literature have prophetic passages that point to the coming of Jesus. When He arrived in this world, it was only natural for Him to say “I am the truth; follow Me.” Maybe instead of “self-centered,” John Stott (in his book Basic Christianity) could have described Jesus as forthright, determined or even courageous.
If there indeed is a problem with the pejorative nature of the words “self-centered” or not, Stott’s initial contention still stands: that if someone is wondering about the value of belief in Jesus Christ, they must make an effort to get to know the Man. Laying aside his comments about self-centeredness, Stott says “Essentially Christianity is Christ. The person and work of Christ are the rock upon which the Christian religion is built…Take Christ from Christianity and you disembowel it; there is nothing left.” For the seeker, who is Jesus Christ?
In “getting to know” Jesus, the biggest faith hurdle that one must accept is that Jesus Christ is divine. For seekers that is a big hurdle.
For one to accept this, Stott knows that evidence needs to prove that Jesus was the Son of God. “Vague divinity” will not suffice. Believers need to know that Jesus has “an eternal and essential relation to God possessed by no other person. We regard Him neither as God in human disguise, nor as a man with divine qualities, but as God-man” [Stott, 22].
I am reading the Book of Luke right now and Luke [the learned physician] begins his Gospel with these thoughts: “Since many have undertaken to put in order and draw up a narrative of the surely established deeds which have been accomplished and fulfilled in and among us. Exactly as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word.” Focus on the words that Luke uses: “surely established deeds” “fulfilled in and among us” and “from the beginning were eyewitnesses.” He is telling the reader that he saw the divinity of Jesus first hand, with his own eyes and Jesus’ deeds actually happened. In other words, he is not making this stuff up.
Jesus began His public ministry with the word “fulfilled.” He had gone into Galilee where He began to proclaim the good news of God: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the Gospel!” [Mark 1: 15]. What is the significance of these words? Stott comments that this is His acceptance of the title of “Son of God.” It is from one of Daniel’s visions in the Old Testament. It is also a title that is taken from Psalm 2:7. Jesus interpreted His mission on earth in light of the portrayal of “the suffering servant of Jehovah” in the latter part of the book of Isaiah. Did the Disciples come to believe in His divinity? Did they understand the idea that Jesus came to fulfill God’s plan for connecting with man? The first one to come onboard was Simon Peter.
In the Gospels this is referred to as Peter’s Confession at Caesarea Philippi. The Disciples had walked with Jesus for about three years, listening to His teachings and witnessing His miracles. They came to know Jesus as a man. However, Thanks to God, Simon had come to understand that Jesus was the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. Caesarea Philippi is on the northern edge of Israel and it had a popular reputation as a center for cult worship [even having a location where infants were sacrificed to appease the gods]. It is interesting that in this very dark place, God revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God.
With this background in mind, the words that Jesus spoke on this spot are even more meaningful. Here’s what happened as recorded in the book of Matthew: “When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His Disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But what about you?’ He asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven’” (Matthew 16:13-19).
The Disciples had walked with Jesus for three years before this had happened. He had instructed them and He had performed miracles before them. Finally a Disciple publicly acknowledged the divinity of Jesus.
Did His instruction make sense and if it did, does this prove His divinity? Turn to Mark 4 10-12 and see what He says about His parable instruction to His disciples. “When they were alone, the people around Jesus, along with the Twelve, asked Him about the parables. He said to them, ‘The secret of God’s kingdom has been given to you, but to those who are outside everything comes in parables. This is so that they can look and see but have no insight, and they can hear but not understand. Otherwise, they might turn their lives around and be forgiven.’” “Blessed are the eyes which see what you see!” Jesus says to His Disciples. “Many prophets and kings desired to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” [from the book of Luke].
Further instruction came in the fact that Jesus taught His Disciples to address God as Father. In His mind His Father was God but He also was trying to teach that men needed to have a closer relationship with God. He also wanted them to accept the idea that to know Him was to know God. Stott picks out several examples of Jesus trying to instruct the Disciples that He was God and God was also His Father. “To see Him was to see God; to believe in Him was to believe in God; to receive Him was to receive God; to hate Him was to hate God; to honor Him was to honor God” [from Stott, 27].
At the end of the eighth Chapter of John, Jesus makes another claim about His relationship with God. “Truly, truly, I say to you, if any one keeps my word, they will never see death.” Critics of Jesus could not stand this, rebutting this comment with a reference to the Jewish Father Abraham, who had died. “Abraham died as did the prophets…are you greater than our Father Abraham?” When Jesus said “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day” they saw that Jesus claimed divinity. He had seen Abraham: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” They took up stones to stone Him.
For some disciples it took extreme measures to prove that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. Let’s look at Thomas who did not accept the fact that Jesus was God until Jesus had undergone death and then resurrection. We know there were eyewitness accounts that Thomas was in the upper room with other Disciples when Jesus appeared. He still doubted. Jesus asked him to feel His wounds. At that point, Thomas went from doubter to believer crying out “My Lord and my God!” He had finally accepted Jesus’ divinity.
What does it take for one to accept Jesus as God? How many times does Jesus have to claim divinity? How may disciples have to declare it? Will reading the Gospels make the case? Maybe none of this is enough. Maybe the only way for a stubborn person to come to the realization that Jesus was God is to experience their own personal miracle. Something that has no worldly explanation comes about and the recipient of the miracle knows that it has to be God.
There are many doubting Thomases in the world. Thomas heard Jesus’ claims first hand, he sat at the foot of the Teacher, yet he never declared his acceptance of Jesus’ divinity until he touched His wounds.
Some come to Christ easier than others, but others remain skeptics, refusing to believe without direct personal experience. If that is what it takes…
You can be assured, God will provide.
* My first post on The Cross of Christ made reference to Basic Christianity so I am going to insert comments on that book in between posts on The Cross… I think readers may find this approach interesting. For my opening comments on Basic see the post “Studying Stott Again” on October 25, 2020. I have never worked on two books at a time but now is the time to do that. This post is based on comments from Basic Christianity.