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Luke's Christmas Liturgy - Jesus is God

Series: Christmas Series: Luke's Christmas Liturgy

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Dec 4, 2006

John 1:1

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The Lord's Day Evening

December 3, 2006

John 1:1, 14-18

Jesus Is God

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to John, chapter one.

Even as on the Lord's Day morning we're going to be working through three Christmas hymns, or psalms or songs, from The Gospel of Luke, so on Sunday evenings during the month of December we're going to be looking specifically at the person of Christ. We’re going to be affirming that Jesus is God, that He is fully divine, that He shares in the essence of the Godhead with His Father and the Holy Spirit, world without end. We’re going to be affirming that Jesus is fully and truly human: that He didn't just appear to be human, that He was human in every sense of the word. In fact, He was human in some ways that we ourselves have yet to realize, because He was man as man was meant to be...though He was man as he was meant to be, and yet in a fallen world.

And, we're going to affirm that Jesus was both God and man. We’ll affirm the truth of His incarnation. Now, this is an important thing to do, because the Lord Jesus Christ Himself in His person is the great story of the season in which we find ourselves, and His person — all that the Bible affirms about who He is — is essential to His work. The Lord Jesus Christ could not have performed the work that He performed on our behalf for our salvation if He was not who He tells us He was - if He was not fully divine, if He was not fully human, if He was not God in the flesh. And so it's appropriate that we pause on the Lord's Day evening and pose the questions, however we form them: Who is Jesus? Is He divine? What does it mean that Jesus is divine? In what sense is He God?

This is a vitally important question, because what a person thinks about Christ determines what he or she ultimately thinks about everything else. The issue of the person of the Lord Jesus Christ is absolutely essential for our assurance as believers, for our growth in grace, for our witness to the world, and for our delight in Christ Himself. Every true believer, as she or he grows in Christian maturity, grows in love for Christ; and just as a person who is in love with another person wants to know as much as he or she can know about that other person, so also the believer wants to know as much as he or she can know about Christ, that we might delight in Christ.

And of course, the person of Christ is at the very center of God's purposes for His own glory, even as we heard alluded to tonight.

Now what we're going to do is we're going to look at John's testimony to this truth in John 1:1-18, but let me point you specifically to the verses that we're going to concentrate on. Tonight we're going to look at verses 1-4, and then verse 14, and then verses 17 and 18. And out of these verses I want you to see nine specific ways in which John presses home the truth that Jesus is divine. Then what I want to do is pull back, and I want to observe that in the New Testament in general the New Testament writers testify to the divinity of Christ in at least four ways. We could name others, but four main ways - and that is that the New Testament writers apply to Jesus the attributes, the names, the works, and the worship that Old Testament believers only applied to God; and in the New Testament those things which have been exclusively and uniquely applied to the one true God of Israel, God Almighty — His attributes, His names, His works, and His worship — are all applied to the Lord Jesus Christ numerous times. It's one of the ways that New Testament writers gave clear testimony to who Jesus is.

Now as we begin to look at the Gospel of John tonight, I would simply remind you of what J.C. Ryle says about this Gospel. He says:

“The things which are peculiar to John's Gospel are among the most precious possessions of the church of Christ. No one of the four Gospel writers has given us such full statements about the divinity of Christ as we read in these pages.”

And that is certainly true, and I think you’ll see that even in the first 18 verses, or in the selection of the first 18 verses of this Gospel that we're going to study tonight.

As we look at John 1:1-18 in selected verses, I want you to see nine truths that John makes crystal clear. Using the tiny little words that he liked to use, he would express the profoundest truths of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, of the deity of Jesus Christ, of the humanity of Jesus Christ; and so let's give our attention to this great passage.

The points that I want you to see from this passage tonight and from the full study of the New Testament which we will undertake (at least in overview) are simple, and two. They are as follows: The Bible teaches that Jesus is divine, by applying the attributes, names, works, and worship of God to Jesus; His divinity is vitally important to us since it is necessary for our salvation. That's really all I want to press home tonight as we work through this passage together.

Yes, there are nine truths to be learned from John 1 in the verses that we've read; yes, there are four ways that the New Testament testifies to Jesus’ divinity; but when it all boils down, what I want you to learn is that the Bible teaches that Jesus is divine. It's important for you to know that, because very often if you sit down in front of learned students of religion today they will assert to you something like this: that the original Jesus did not claim to be divine, nor did any of His original disciples think of Him as divine; that is a belief that developed over the years and was finally encapsulated in the teaching of fourth and fifth century theologians who lived hundreds of years after Jesus Christ. In fact, it will be asserted that the Bible, the New Testament, does not give us any unambiguous claim that Jesus is God; the disciples saw Him as one sent from God, one approved by God, one appointed by God, one on a mission from God, but they did not view Him as God, and Jesus did not claim to be such.

Now what we’ll learn tonight, even in our study of John 1, is that that kind of a claim is utterly erroneous. The New Testament writers — and remember, these are good Jewish Christians, and before they were good Jewish Christians, they were good Jews, and they cared a lot about the issue of idolatry. In fact, for Jews the thing that separated them from everyone else in the world was that they worshiped the one true God, and they did not worship anything else but the one true God. When devout Jews start telling you about Christ as the object of worship, and Christ doing that which the Old Testament teaches that God alone did, and that Christ has the names of God, and that Christ has the attributes or characteristics or qualities of God, they’re telling you something that would have shaken their generation. And they did shake their generation.

So let's give attention to this great passage tonight, and let's rifle through John 1:1-18, looking for what John is teaching you about Jesus.

I. John's testimony of the divinity of Jesus

The first thing I want you to see is that John tells you that Jesus is eternal. In the very first words of John 1, he says: “In the beginning was the Word....” Now, quickly look down to verse 17, because John is going to tell you who the Word is there:

“...The law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.”

Here, for the first time in the passage, explicitly the name of the Word in the flesh is given, and His name is Jesus the Messiah; Jesus the anointed One of God. He is the Word. But notice what John has told you in the very first words of the chapter: that this Jesus the Messiah who is sent from God as His appointed One is in the beginning. In other words, Jesus Christ is eternal. That's what John is telling you.

By the way, it's not the only time he tells you that. Look at verse 2:

“He was in the beginning with God.”

Now when any good Hebrew heard the words “in the beginning”, what were they expecting to be the next word? God. Because the Old Testament begins with the words, “In the beginning, God....” And so when the Apostle John opens up his Gospel and he says, “In the beginning...the Word...”, he's making a profound claim about Jesus Christ. That claim is that Jesus Christ is eternal. He is possessed of the quality of eternality. He does not begin and He does not end. And every Jew hearing that proclamation is going to know exactly what John is claiming about Jesus. There is no human being in the world that any self-respecting Jew would apply the quality of eternality to. No, that is something that belongs to God alone, and so the ascription of the attribute of eternality to Jesus Christ is one way that John is testifying to His — what? — to His divinity. It's John saying 'This Jesus that I'm about to talk about - you need to understand that He was in the beginning. When there was nothing else but God, this Word was there with Him.’ What a profound way of beginning his Gospel!

Secondly, John goes on to express clearly (again in verse 1) that Jesus is a person distinct from the Father. Jesus Christ is a person distinct from the Father. Here we have the beginnings of John's doctrine of the Trinity being unfolded, set forth in his Gospel, because there is only one God. John and Peter and James, and Paul, and the author of Hebrews, and the whole of the New Testament will affirm that truth emphatically. No matter what our Muslim friends think about us as Christians, we believe in one God and one God only. But the New Testament also makes it clear that that one God eternally exists in three persons, and here John begins to unfold this truth by showing us that Jesus is a person distinct from the Father.

How does he do this? Look at the words in verse 1: “And the Word was with God....” Yes, he will identify the Word and God in the very next phrase, but here he can say that the Word was with God, was dwelling towards God; they were in relationship with one another. With is a preposition expressing proximity and relationship: “I was walking with my wife through the park.” Here the Word is said to be with the Father; towards the Father, dwelling with the Father. And so Jesus Christ is a person distinct from the Father

And yet, thirdly, John will make it clear that Jesus Christ is very God; that Jesus Christ is divine. And he says it point blank in both verse 1 and in verse 18. In verse 1, notice what he says: “...and the Word was God.” And if you missed it there, he says it again, and he says it so emphatically that many scribes later on thought surely John didn't mean to say that. Look at what he says in verse 18:

“No man has seen God at any time...” (and now look what he calls Jesus)
“...the only begotten God....”
 

Now, that played with the minds of some scribes later on. They thought, well, surely he means the only begotten Son. That's a beautiful Joannine phrase. Yes, John uses that phrase “the only begotten Son.” And it also played with the minds of later translators because they thought, well, what do you mean about a “begotten God”? How can a begotten God be an eternal God? Begetting sounds like there was a time when He didn't exist, and then He did exist. But that's beside John's point. John's point is that the only begotten Son is God, to the point that He can be called “the only begotten God.”

By the way, that's the source of that language that is used for Mary from the early days of Christian history — that she is theotokos, that she is the God-bearer. That's not language exalting Mary, by the way. That's language affirming the fullness of the deity of Christ: that she's not simply the Christ-bearer, but that she is the God-bearer; that the One that she bore was fully divine. And John is making that same assertion: “The Word was God.” He is the only begotten God. It is an unambiguous declaration that Jesus is God. So if anybody ever tells you there is no unambiguous claim that Jesus is God in the New Testament, flip your Bible open to John 1 and look at verse 1, and look at verse 18.

Fourthly, Jesus is the Creator of all things. John is not finished with telling you by different ways and means that Jesus is divine, because the next thing he's going to tell you (and you see this in verse 3) is that Jesus is the Creator of all things. Notice what he says:

“All things came into being through Him; and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”
 

Every good little Hebrew boy that had been to Hebrew school knew that God made the heavens and the earth. Now, “In the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth” is a Hebrew way of saying that God made everything. For the Hebrew, you could sum up everything in two categories: the heavens and the earth. Everything falls into one of those two categories. So when the Hebrew said “In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth,” it was the Hebrew way of saying that God made everything.

Look how John attacks that question here:

“All things came into being through Him; and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”
 

That's how John gets at that same issue. Is there anything made that the Word has not made? No. It doesn't exist if the Word has not made it, because all things were made by the Word. This is an assertion of the deity of Christ by saying that the Word Himself was the agent of God's creation.

And you go back to Genesis 1, and it floods your mind with light when you think of this truth in light of the words that you find there. What happens on each of the days? “And God said, ‘Let there be light’; “And God said...and God said...and God said.” What does the God Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth do? He speaks the world into being. And John says 'Let me tell you, the Word that brought the world into being has become incarnate in the person of Jesus, the Messiah.'

Five. Jesus Christ is the source of all spiritual life. But John's not finished with his testimony to Jesus’ divinity. Again, in verse 4, he’ll tell you that Jesus Christ is the source of all spiritual life. Look at his language: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” His life was not given to Him: life was in Him inherently, innately, un-derivedly. He was life. And from His life flowed the light of men. He is the source of all spiritual life, so that John can later on say, recording Jesus’ words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” And he can say, “I am the resurrection and the life. If any man believes on Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” Why? ‘Because I am the life. And anyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die, because I am the life.’ And again, every good Hebrew sitting under the teaching of the Apostle John knows exactly what John is claiming about Jesus, because who is the source of all life? God: The one true God.

Sixth, John goes on to make it clear that Jesus is God in our flesh. Look at verse 14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Now, we’ll contemplate the humanity next time we're together, and we’ll contemplate the truth of Jesus’ being fully God and fully man after that. But here John is emphasizing the enfleshment of the Word. Notice that he does not become human by ceasing to be what He was. The process of incarnation is not the process of metamorphosis. It is not a process of His losing the essential property of His deity. Who is it that becomes flesh? It is the same Word that brought the world into being: the Word becomes flesh. And so the incarnation is not an act of the subtraction of Christ's deity and the addition of an alien humanity. The old theologians put it like this: “He became what He was not, without ceasing to be what He was.” What was He? He was divine. He was fully divine. He was the Creator God, and He became what He was not — fully human — but not by laying aside what He was, but continuing to be what He was. If He laid aside what He was, it wouldn't have been God in the flesh. It would have been something else in the flesh. But here John makes it clear: the Word was enfleshed. God was enfleshed.

And then, seventh, Jesus shares the Father's glory. Notice again in verse 14 that John says ‘OK, if you haven't gotten it yet that this Person that I'm talking about is fully divine, let me tell you one more thing about Him. Jesus shares the Father's glory.’

Now, if you’re a Hebrew, you know this one truth if you know no other truth: No one shares God's glory. God's glory is God's glory. Nothing that is not God enters into that fullness of glory that He is in and of Himself, but John says — notice — “We saw His glory...” Whose glory? Jesus’ glory. “...glory as of the only begotten from the Father.” Do you see what John is saying? He's saying ‘This Jesus, He shared the Father's glory. Jesus’ glory was the Father's glory. When Jesus came down, it was the Shekinah glory coming down, full of grace and truth.’

Eighth, notice he goes on to say that Jesus in word and action accomplished the Father's will. God created Adam to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. In the doing of His will, he would glorify Him. And Adam fell, and God spoke His will clearly to the children of Israel as His elect, His chosen, His redeemed people. He gave them His ten words — His moral law — and they broke them. But Jesus fulfilled the Law that was given through Moses. He realized the grace and truth set forth in God's word.

Again, this is a testimony to the perfection of Jesus Christ: that He alone among all mankind ...He alone fulfilled God's will, did God's will, did God's work, did God's instruction, did God's truth. He alone. On that Last Day, not Peter, not John, not Paul, not Moses will be brought forward as the one human being that perfectly fulfilled the will of God; but Jesus, God and man, alone fulfilled the word of God.

And ninth, Jesus is the only begotten of the Father. John tells us that Jesus is the only begotten of the Father, and He is the only revealer of God the Father. Notice:

“No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”
 

You see what John is saying there. John is saying that if you want to see God, if you want to know God, if you want to understand God, if you want to commune with God, if you want to fellowship with God, then there is only one way that you can do this. It's through Jesus Christ, because He is the only, the unique, revealer of the one true God. In other words John is making it abundantly clear that all roads do not lead up the mountain...that there are not many ways to God. There is one way to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. He is the only Redeemer.

Now in all of those ways notice that what John is doing: that he himself is applying the attributes, the names, the works, and the worship of the one true God to Jesus Christ — the Word made flesh.

II. The New Testament affirms that Jesus is divine.

But very quickly, in the time remaining to us tonight, I want you to see how the rest of the New Testament does this same thing. What we're going to do very quickly is look at some passages that explicitly speak of Jesus as divine, and then we're going to look at passages that ascribe the attributes of God to Jesus, the names of God to Jesus, the works of God to Jesus, and the worship of God to Jesus. And then we're going to draw a very brief conclusion by way of application.

As I said, sometimes you’ll run into people...and, young folks, by the way, who are heading off to college or who are already in college and have to take a religion course, very frequently you will hear the claim made by religion professors that there is no verse in the New Testament that says Jesus is God, with the implication that there is no straightforward claim to His divinity on the pages of the New Testament. But as we've already seen from John 1, this is not the case. But this is not the only place that we can go.

Think of Titus 2:13, where Paul speaks of “...the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Or think of Peter and the way he opens his second epistle, II Peter 1:1, saying “...those who have received the faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Think again of Thomas’ confession at the end of The Gospel of John. He’ll be before his Savior, and what will he say? “My Lord and my God,” in John 20:28. Or think of the author of Hebrews, where he identifies Jesus the Son as the person about whom Psalm 45:6 is speaking when it says “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever” - and then the author of Hebrews says that's speaking about Jesus.

Or think of James 2:1, where James, the half-brother of Jesus, calls Jesus “the glory.” Now, you know, I've never met a brother who called his brother “the glory,” and I've certainly never met a devout Jew who called a mere human “the glory.” But James, a devout Jew and half-brother to Jesus can call Him “the glory.”

In all these ways (and we could look at dozens of other passages) there are numerous passages which explicitly assert and strongly imply the divinity of Christ, but let's look at how Christ's divinity is set forth in Scripture in numerous other places, and in four distinct ways.

First, the New Testament applies the attributes of the one true God of Israel freely, clearly, and without apology, to Jesus Christ. We don't have time to look at every passage, but let me just rifle through a few of them.

In Hebrews 1:11-12, the author of Hebrews applies Psalm 102:25,26 to Jesus. Now in that passage we are told “You are the same, and Your years will not come to an end.” That psalm about the God of Israel is applied to Jesus Christ, indicating His everlastingness if not His eternality.

Then again, in Hebrews 13:8, we're told that Jesus Christ is — what? — “...the same yesterday, today, and, yes, forever.” What's that? That is the unchangeableness of God, and every good Jewish person knew that there was only one being that was unchangeable, who was immutable: God.

Or again, in Matthew 28:20, Jesus Himself will say to His disciples, “Lo, I am with you always.” No human being can make that assertion. That is only possible if Jesus is possessed of what theologians call immensity: an attribute of God alone. He is omnipresent.

Then again, in the Gospels we constantly see Jesus’ all-knowingness asserted...His omniscience. So John, just one chapter after the passage we've been studying, in John 2:24 and 25 will say that Jesus “knew all men, and He knew what was in man.” And Luke will tell us in Luke 6:8 at one point that Jesus even knew what the Pharisees were thinking.

But then again, in Matthew 28:18, Jesus will say, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me.” And Paul will echo that when he says that Jesus has been made head over all rule and authority, in Colossians 2:9, 10.

So to claim that a person is eternal and immutable, and omnipresent and omniscient, and omnipotent is to claim that that person is divine; and that is precisely what the New Testament asserts about Jesus Christ, and so His attributes bear witness to His divinity.

Now very quickly, we’ll also see the names of the God of the Scripture applied to Jesus in the New Testament. Many of you know that the covenant name of God in the Old Testament is often translated in your English Scriptures with a capital “L-O-R-D” — when you see a capital LORD in your Bible, it's an indication that that is a translation of the covenant name of God. We used to use the word Jehovah to translate that word. Now you hear people saying it various ways. Yahweh is one way you hear it today, but that word itself was translated into Greek in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, using the word kurios. And it was used of God over 7,000 times in the Old Testament. And guess what name is given to Jesus in the New Testament. In fact, the Apostle Paul says that the basic confession of the Christian (Romans 10:9) is - what? “Jesus is LORD.” Jesus is kurios. Jesus is the covenant God of Israel. In fact, the Apostle Paul says that there's going to come a day when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that — what? — that Jesus is LORD, to the glory of the Father. He’ll be given the name which is above every name. What name is that? The name of LORD.

We could study “I Am” passages in the New Testament, where Jesus uses that formula “I Am” that God used in the Old Testament: “I Am that I Am.” In the Book of Revelation, Jesus will say, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” And with dozens of other examples we could see all of the divine names applied by the New Testament to the Lord Jesus. What are these? They are testimonies to the divinity of Christ.

Third, the New Testament writers also announced that Christ does divine works, activities which God alone does in the Old Testament. Let me just mention a few — four.

One, the New Testament teaches that Christ is the agent of creation. If there was ever a miracle, it was the miracle of creation — God speaking the world into being — and we've already seen here in John that it's also emphasized in Colossians 1 and in Hebrews that Christ is the agent of creation. He is the one who brought this world into being.

The Gospels also indicate that Jesus performed miracles. Now, prophets performed miracles, but they did it because God gave them power. The Gospels go out of their way to make it clear that Jesus didn't have to have power given to Him; He inherently had power. He innately had the power to do miracles, and so He could say in John 5, “The Son gives life to whom He wishes.” He doesn't have to ask for someone to give Him the power of life. He gives it to whom He wishes.

He’ll say in John 6:40, that “I Myself will raise them up in the last day.” Not even the most exalted prophet in Israel ever made such a claim.

He said in John 2:9, “Destroy this temple and I’ll raise it again in three days.” No prophet of the Old Testament ever made such a claim. Christ's power was not only of a different order of magnitude than His apostles, but it was intrinsic and underived because He was divine.

Thirdly, the Gospels depict Jesus as unilaterally forgiving sin. You remember the Pharisees were chagrined by this, and they said ‘What do you mean, forgiving that man's sin?’ And He said, ‘Is it easier for Me to say to that man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Get up and walk’?’ — even though the man had never walked. What was the point? That He had the power to forgive sins. And to show that He had the power to forgive sins, He did a miracle that no one could duplicate.

And fourthly, the New Testament alone ascribes the right of the final judgment of men and angels to Christ. What is it the Apostle Paul will say in II Corinthians 5:10? — that “We must all appear before the judgment seat of...” (and every Hebrew is waiting for the next word, “God”, and that's not the word that Paul uses. “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.”

And so by applying works or activities that are ascribed alone to God in the Scriptures to Jesus, the New Testament writers testify to His divinity.

The New Testament speaks of the worship of God being freely offered to Christ by His disciples. And then finally and very quickly, the New Testament speaks of the worship of God being freely offered to Christ by His disciples, all of whom were Jews and all who knew that to worship one other than God constituted idolatry and blasphemy. Think of how many doxologies are given to Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Think of how often prayer is offered to Jesus Christ in the New Testament. But you remember what Matthew tells you in Matthew 28:17? When the disciples come to the mountain in Galilee that Jesus had told them, right before the ascension, what do they do? (Matthew 28:17). They worship Him.

You know, one of those poignant scenes in the New Testament is that scene when John encounters that mighty angel in the vision, and he's so overcome that he falls down and he begins to worship. And he says, “Don't worship me; worship God.” When the disciples fall down at Jesus’ feet in Matthew 28:17, He doesn't say ‘Get up on your feet. Don't worship me. I'm a man like you.’ He accepts the worship.

No, in all these ways the New Testament testifies to Jesus’ divinity.

Now what does it matter? Well, it's simply this, my friends. It matters everything. Your salvation depends on the deity of Christ. When the great old theologians said — and it's been echoed down through the ages — that “the unassumed is the unhealed”, and by that he emphasized that if Christ had not taken up the fullness of our humanity, our humanity could not have been saved. But it's so important that we understand that Jesus’ divinity was essential to that process.

Our own Larger Catechism speaks to this exquisitely in Question 38. It asks this:

“What was required that the Mediator should be God?”

[Or, why was it required that the Mediator should be God?]

And it answers beautifully:

“It was required that the Mediator should be God, that He might sustain and keep the human nature from sinking under the infinite wrath of God and the power of death; give worth and efficacy to His sufferings, obedience, and intercession; and so satisfy God's justice and procure His favor and purchase a peculiar people, give His Spirit to them, conquer all their enemies, and bring them to everlasting salvation.”

Why was it necessary that Jesus be fully divine? So that you might experience the fullness of salvation.

Athanasius was in a great contest with a theologian named Arias and his followers. They said that Jesus was the highest of creatures, the first of creatures, the greatest of creatures; that He was almost like God, that He was very much like God, but not of the same essence. And Athanasius said, “If He is not of the same essence as God, then we are still in our sins, and we are without hope in this world.”

Athanasius was right. The divinity of Christ is necessary for our salvation.

Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, grant us a full and ever-growing embrace of the truth of the deity of Christ for our assurance, for our growth, for our witness, for our delight, and for Your everlasting glory. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.

Would you stand and receive God's blessing.

Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith through Jesus Christ our Lord, until the day break and the shadows flee away. Amen.

© First Presbyterian Church.

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