By John Caldwell
The first song I ever learned was “Jesus Loves Me.” The first Bible verse I memorized was John 3:16. I preached my first sermon on that same text; it lasted 10 minutes. When I began my ministry with the infant Kingsway Christian Church, my first sermon was simply entitled “Jesus.” When I retired from that ministry 36 years later, my sermon was “It’s Still Jesus.” If you call me a “Jesus freak,” I’ll consider it a badge of honor.
But who is this Jesus? The answer to that question is more important than anything else. Jesus raised the same question with his disciples: “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15*). Back then several answers were suggested. That is still the case today.
A study by the Barna Group found that a majority of Americans believe Jesus was a real person. However, the study also found that younger generations are increasingly less likely to believe Jesus was God. Does it matter? Of course, it does—and not just because that fact (Jesus is God) has been the historical position of the Restoration Movement and other evangelical movements, but because it is the basis for both Jesus’ authority and his ability to atone for our sins.
This article is not a study on the Trinity—how Father, Son, and Holy Spirit can be three in one (although that is worthy of study). This is a study of how the One we know as Jesus existed from eternity as one with the Father. Indeed, the apostle John testifies, “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . So the Word became human and made his home among us” (John 1:1, 14). Notice that neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit became incarnate; it was the Son.
JESUS CLAIMED WHAT ONLY GOD COULD CLAIM
Consider a few of Jesus’ claims:
“The Father and I are one” (John 10:30).
“The Father judges no one. Instead, he has given the Son absolute authority to judge, so that everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son is certainly not honoring the Father who sent him” (John 5:22, 23).
“I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
“I am the resurrection” (John 11:25).
“I have come down from heaven” (John 6:38).
“Before Abraham was even born, I am!” (John 8:58).
“I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).
“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father!” (John 14:9).
“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am” (John 13:13).
“Now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began” (John 17:5).
Consider also the apostles’ claims concerning Jesus. They spent three years with him, were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and all but one of them were martyred for these claims to which they held fast. The apostle Paul declared,
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. . . . He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything. For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross (Colossians 1:15, 16, 18-20, emphasis mine).
Paul also wrote,
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father(Philippians 2:5-11, emphasis mine).
Think on that for a while: “Though he was God . . . he gave up his divine privileges . . . died a criminal’s death on a cross . . . that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord!”
Peter spoke of Jesus Christ as “our God and Savior” (2 Peter 1:1). Thomas referred to the risen Christ as “my Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Paul referred to Jesus as “our great God and Savior” (Titus 2:13). Matthew quoted Isaiah 7:14 in reference to Jesus: “They will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us’” (1:23). There was absolutely no ambiguity on the part of the New Testament writers in their understanding of who Jesus was, especially after his resurrection from the dead.
JESUS WAS WHAT ONLY GOD HIMSELF IS
In John 8:46, Jesus turned to his critics and asked, “Which of you can truthfully accuse me of sin?” Jesus was, in fact, sinless. The writer of Hebrews says of Jesus, “He faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15, emphasis mine).
You can study the many billions of people who have inhabited this planet and find no one else like Jesus. Even his enemies saw in Jesus of Nazareth one who was altogether sinless and pure. After examining him, Pontius Pilate declared, “I find no fault in him” (John 19:6, King James Version). Pilate’s wife told her husband, “Leave that innocent man alone” (Matthew 27:19). Judas, Christ’s betrayer, concluded, “I have sinned . . . for I have betrayed an innocent man” (Matthew 27:4), before he went out and hanged himself. Even the Roman officer who oversaw the crucifixion of Jesus exclaimed, “This man truly was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39).
The sinless Lamb of God alone could atone for our sins through his death on the cross.
JESUS DID AND DOES WHAT ONLY GOD CAN DO
When I say Jesus did and does what only God can do, I could be referring to many things. He creates, he controls, he heals, he answers prayer, and he provides for our needs. While walking this earth, he even performed miracles. He said to the storm-tossed sea, “Be still,” and it became still. He said to eyes that had never seen, “Be opened,” and immediately the blind man could see. He said to the deaf man, “Hear,” and he could hear; to the leper, “Be clean,” and he was cleansed. In Mark 2, Jesus healed a paralyzed man who was lowered to him by four friends who first dug a hole in the roof of a house. Jesus’ healing of the man did not cause an uproar, but his words did: “My child, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). The religious teachers accused him of blasphemy, rightly declaring, “Only God can forgive sins!” (Mark 2:7). They did not realize they were affirming the deity of Christ. It was Jesus’ greatest miracle of all, the resurrection, however, that proved his lordship and power over death, Hell, and the grave.
The purpose of the incarnation was to create a way for the sins of man to be forgiven . . . to provide a method for atonement. This brings us back to John 3:16 (as I learned it): “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (KJV). Our sin created so great a gulf between God the creator and his creatures that only someone who is fully God and fully man could bring the two together.
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Peter proclaimed, “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name [than Jesus] under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
JESUS’ LORDSHIP IS RELEVANT TO THE CHURCH OF TODAY
There was a time when most preaching in churches was Christ-centered, and rightly so. These days, however, in my rather broad exposure to Restoration Movement churches, I find the preaching to be more and more human-centered. Much of what passes for preaching in many churches could be presented in a secular seminar or a church of the most liberal persuasion. Our church services have become more entertainment-focused and spectator-driven.
Some of us have become too sophisticated to talk about sin, repentance, Heaven, Hell, grace, or salvation through the blood of Christ. Biblical terms such as being “saved” or “born again,” along with the clear invitation to come to Christ, have been all but abandoned by many. But remember, the primary purpose of the church is to proclaim the message of reconciliation between God and man through him who was both fully God and fully man. That message is as relevant today as it was to the church on Pentecost; it will remain relevant until Christ returns.
So, let’s preach Jesus. Let’s exalt Jesus. Let’s focus on Jesus. Let’s point people to Jesus. For as the great apologist C.S. Lewis pointed out, Jesus was either a lunatic, a liar, or Lord. Lewis said, “You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him for a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God” (Mere Christianity).
Who do you say he is?
I believe he is who he said he is: Lord, Master, Savior, Redeemer, Messiah, and the God who became flesh so he could save us from our sins. A person can go to Heaven without health, fame, education, money, culture, friends, or a thousand other things. But a person cannot go to Heaven without Jesus.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.” . . . “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave” (Revelation 1:8, 17, 18).
*Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New Living Translation.
John Caldwell served as senior pastor of Kingsway Christian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana, from 1974 to 2010. He remains involved in ministry as a guest speaker and interim minister, and he serves with three mission boards as well as a part-time field representative for Christian Arabic Services.