Friday, April 15, 2011

Who is Jesus? – From the Facts presented in the Gospels, Part 1

The Triumphal entry, Jesus is welcomed to Jerusalem as KingGiven that Holy Week begins this Sunday, we thought it best to focus on themes centering on Christ and His Gospel message over the next week or so. This post is the first of three scheduled over the next week concerning the person of Christ and the events of His life, as we know of them from the facts presented to us in the Gospels. Today's post focuses on the facts of the person of Christ – beginning with man's need for a Saviour, God's promise that He would send a Saviour, the prophecies concerning His coming, and the facts of His life demonstrating that He is this promised Messiah, both God and man. The remaining two posts, scheduled for next week, will cover the facts of His Crucifixion and Resurrection, respectively.

This post is taken from a series of posts on Law & Gospel, begun in October 2010 (a series which is awaiting the completion of two more essays, before being finished). It combines two posts from that series, Law and Gospel: What do they teach? – Part 3.1, The Events of the Gospel Accounts (The Prophecies and God's Love) and Law and Gospel: What do they teach? – Part 3.1, The Events of the Gospel Accounts (The Person of the Messiah).

Adam and Eve Expelled from EdenPart One of this series on Law and Gospel was posted back in October of 2010, and was addressed to the Lutheran layman who rightly, and probably often, asks, “What is Law and Gospel, anyway? Why is it so important to Lutherans?” I’ve heard some Lutheran laymen answer these questions by criticizing “Lutheran obsession” with “slavish adherence” to this “Lutheran preaching formula,” as much and in the same way as I’ve heard them criticize the historic liturgy of the Divine Service: it’s boring, it’s predictable, it’s not practical, it’s not culturally relevant, etc. And I’ve observed many who criticize Lutheran preaching suggest and turn to various sectarian ministries for advice on “spicing up” Lutheran preaching by making it exciting, unpredictable, practical and relevant. As a result, the Second Use of the Law is abandoned, and the Gospel becomes the basis and recipe for living a wholesome and fulfilling life; emphasis is taken off of the Saviour and His work on behalf of all mankind, and is instead focused on man himself; Justification is not preached, while works righteousness enters in its place. In answer to this, Part One of this series brought the necessity and centrality of Law and Gospel to bear:
    There is no teaching of Lutheran Doctrine – that is, of true Christian doctrine – that can be taught apart from also teaching Justification. And only the message of Law and Gospel teaches Justification. Thus, Law and Gospel, properly divided and properly used and applied, is not only central to all Lutheran preaching and teaching, it is necessary to all Lutheran preaching and teaching.
So, when we speak of “Law and Gospel,” what is the “Law,” itself? And what is the “Gospel,” itself? Part Two of this series, published just prior to Christmas 2010, started to answer these questions by addressing the Law, showing that while God reveals His Law to us Generally and Specifically, it is only in His Special Revelation that the Law is fully revealed to us in its searing reality. The wrath of God rests upon all of mankind as a result of his sinfulness. It would be impossible for God, being righteous and holy, to overlook sin or to waive the punishment for sin that is dictated by His divine justice; and the just punishment for sin is death and eternal separation from God. If God is to be reconciled with mankind, then man's guilt must be removed and God’s justice must be satisfied. Fallen man cannot accomplish this. It is impossible for anyone to perform the works required of him under God’s Law, and consistent with our fallen nature, we actively struggle against it. We cannot save ourselves from His righteous judgment; we deserve His eternal wrath and punishment, and there is nothing we can do to avoid it. The Law tells us most forcefully: we need a Saviour.

But... there is Good News!
God also loves sinners, and promised that He would send a Saviour

Abraham and IsaacIn addition to being perfectly Righteous and perfectly Just, God is also perfectly Loving. Knowing that Adam and his descendants could never regain fellowship with God by their own effort1, not desiring that any should fall into eternal death (Ez. 18:23,32; 33:11) but that He would be reconciled with man, God, as He cursed the serpent for leading Adam into sin, promised humanity's first parents that He would send a Saviour through the Seed of the woman (Ge. 3:14-15); He promised to Abraham that the Saviour would be the descendant of his son, Isaac (Ge. 17:6-8,19; 21:12), and that through this Saviour all nations would be blessed forever (Ge. 17:7,19; 22:18). This promise was repeated to Jacob, the second born of Isaac, through whose descendants all the families of the earth would be blessed (Ge. 28:14; Nu. 24:17) – through Jacob’s son, Judah (Ge. 49:10), and later descendants Jesse (Is. 11:10), and his son, King David (Ps. 132:11; Je. 23:5-6; Is. 9:7). The Saviour would be fully man, born of a Virgin (Is. 7:14), in Bethlehem – the "City of David" (Mi. 5:2). More significantly, the Saviour would also be God (Je. 23:5-6; Is. 45:18-25; Ze. 12:10), through Whom all nations would receive the forgiveness of sins, to Whom they would be eternally reconciled and with Whom they would enjoy eternal peace and fellowship (Je. 31:31-34; 32:36-42; Ez. 37:21-28). To accomplish this, the Saviour would bear and die for, not His own sins, as He would be perfect, but for the sins of the world (Is. 53:4-10; Da. 9:24-26). In all, there are on the order of three hundred Old Testament references to the Messiah2, or the Promised One of God. The perfect Love of God by which He promised a Saviour, through Whom the promise of eternal blessing would be extended to the whole world of sinners – this perfect Love of God which is merited by no man but which is nevertheless extended by God to all men – is called Grace.

The Person of the Messiah, Jesus Christ

Nativity of ChristJesus Christ is that Messiah – the One in Whom all the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the Messiah, are exactly fulfilled3,4. For example, at the appointed time, He was born of a woman (Ga. 4:4) – a Virgin (Lk. 1:26-31; Mt. 1:18-25) – from the lineage of King David (Mt. 1:1-17; Lk. 2:4; 3:23-38), in the town of Bethlehem (Lk. 2:1-7; Mt. 2:1-2).

The New Testament confirms that Jesus Christ is fully man: He was born of a woman (Ga. 4:4), has a real body, being made of flesh and bone (Lk. 24:39), that suffered fatigue (Jn. 4:6), hunger (Mt. 4:2), and thirst (Jn. 19:28); He physically grew up (Lk. 2:52) in a family (Mt. 13:55-56); He has a mind which matured as He grew (Lk. 2:52); He has a soul (Jn. 12:27); and expressed emotions like grief, anger (Mk. 3:5), joy and love (Jn. 14:9-12). Jesus Himself testified to His human nature on numerous occasions, referring to Himself as the Son of Man (Mt. 8:20; 9:6; 16:13; 18:11; Mk. 8:38; Lk. 18:8; Jn. 5:27). Like all men, He faced temptation (He. 2:18; 4:15; Mt. 4:1-11).

Jesus raises Jairus' daughter back to lifeThe New Testament also testifies that Jesus Christ is fully God. The Greek New Testament uses the term theos, or God, in direct reference to Jesus numerous times (Rom. 9:5; Ti. 2:13; 1 Jn. 5:20). In addition, Jesus is referred to as the Eternal Word, who was with God and was God from the beginning, through Whom all things were made (Jn. 1:1-5,14). The "Voice from Heaven" that was heard at His baptism claimed Jesus as His Son (Mt. 3:17). Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of God (Jn. 3:18; 9:35-37; 10:36), and publicly testified that He and God were united as one (Jn. 10:30). The Scriptures state, "In Him, the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily" (Co. 2:9). Though He was made in the likeness of man (Ph. 2:7-8) and born of a woman, His Father is not human at all, but God the Holy Spirit (Mt. 1:20). Jesus, as God, did not inherit man's fallen nature, and though He was tempted like every other man, unlike any other human since Adam's Fall into sin, "the last Adam" (1 Co. 15:45) remained both holy and sinless (1 Pe. 2:22; Is. 53:9; 2 Co. 5:21; He 5:26).

These are all declarations of Scripture concerning Jesus. That Jesus was a man who really lived and faced the same temptations we all face cannot be questioned. But God? And Sinless? Really? In addition to declarations concerning His humanity and deity, Jesus, through His miracles, demonstrated that He possesses divine attributes of God, and therefore is God. For example:Jesus displays his Omiscience to the Samaritan WomanJesus heals the ten leapersThe demonstrative power of these miracles is not to be underestimated. They were all done in public, often with hundreds, even thousands of onlookers – both skeptics and devoted followers, and even His enemies. Those He healed were healed in the presence of those who knew them (Lk. 5:18-25), who knew their families and their various maladies (Jn. 9:8,20). They were healed publicly, immediately and fully – no, the blind, the lame, and the leprous were not known to suffer relapse – and all who witnessed these miracles testified to what they had seen and heard, and many believed on Him as a result (Jn. 9:1-34; 2:11; 3:2; 7:31). The validity of His miracles were undisputed by His contemporaries. Indeed, it is on the very basis of the testimonial strength of His miracles that His enemies among Jewish religious and political leadership conspired to have Him killed (Jn. 11:47-54). What fools they were. In point of fact, the events surrounding His crucifixion are those which supply the greatest and most indisputable witness to His deity as man. Jesus Himself pointed to these events when, after driving the money changers from God’s Temple, a sign was demanded of Him that would establish His authority to do and say what He did. Speaking of Himself, He offered the following prophetic sign, fulfillment of which would serve as a factual basis for recognizing His authority and for hearing the message He brought to mankind: Destroy this Temple, and in three days, I will raise it up (Jn. 2:13-22). And this is exactly what happened – at many points in specific fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy concerning the Messiah's death (Ze. 6:12-13).

Jesus Walks on the Water

More to come...


  1. See Law and Gospel: What do they teach? -- Part 2, The Teaching of the Law
  2. McDowell, J. (1999). The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers. pg. 164.
  3. McDowell, J. (1999). The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers. pg. 164.
      A significant portion of Chapter Eight (pp. 164-192) provides a detailed listing of 61 of the nearly 300 prophecies, and their direct fulfillment in the New Testament. Other such lists exist on the internet: here is one resource; here is another.
  4. Montgomery, J. (2005). Tractatus Logico-Theologicus (3rd ed.). Bonn: Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft. pp. 131-133
      Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, in 4.13 through 4.15 of his Tractatus, demonstrates the significance of the Old Testament prophecies:
        4.13 : The force of the Messianic prophecies can be specified mathematically, employing the statistician's "product rule."
        4.131 : The product rule states that the probability of the common occurrence of several mutually independent events is equal to the product of the probabilities that each of those given events will happen...
        4.132 : If one arbitrarily sets the probability of the occurrence of a single valid Old Testament prophecy of Christ at 50% (1/2), then the probabilities against 25 of them happening by chance is 1/225, or 1 in 33 million. But since the likelihood of any one of these prophecies succeeding is considerably less that 1/2 ("Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son," etc.) we can legitimately lower the probability of one occurrence....
        4.133 : "Since there are many more than 25 prophecies of events surrounding the birth and life of Christ, and a compromise chance of success is undoubtedly less than 1 to 4, then the chance of success, if these predictions were mere guesses, would be so infinitesimal that no one could maintain that these prophecies were mere guesses! The alternative must be true – these prophecies were all foreseen events, in which 'holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.' The prophecies were given by revelation – divinely inspired" (H.O. Taylor).
        4.134 : Can it be said that this application of the product rule is improper, owning to the fact that the rule should only be applied to "mutually independent" events? No, for
        4.1341 : The prophecies of the Old Testament are indeed mutually independent, in that they were set out by diverse authors at diverse times, and their fulfillments were recorded by more than one Gospel writer.
        4.136 : Is it not logically the case ...that the success of what we have regarded as predictions could be due, not to divine inspiration but to (1) Jesus having conformed his life to the prophecies to "make" them come true, and/or (2) the new Testament writers having "fudged" the life of Christ to fit the Old Testament prophecies?
        4.1361 : These arguments face overwhelming difficulties:
        4.13611 : As for Jesus' making his life fit the prophecies, he might have been responsible personally for the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy when he said on the cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?", but he could hardly have set up the time, place, and manner of his own birth, the number of pieces of silver for which he would be sold, etc.
        4.13612 : As for the Gospel writers' making the life of Jesus fit the prophecies, had these writers altered the facts of Jesus' life to accord with Old Testament predictions, they could never have gotten away with it.
        4.136121: We have already stressed that the preaching of the facts of Christ's life, death, and resurrection, as well as the circulation of the Gospel narratives of these events, took place while hostile witnesses of Jesus' career were still alive (the very Jewish religious leaders who had brought about his demise); it is unthinkable that they would not have easily refuted such claims to fulfilled prophecy when (a) they knew the Old Testament and (b) they knew the actual facts of Jesus' life.
        4.14 : The presence of statistically significant numbers of highly specific prophecies across the span of the Old Testament which come to concrete fulfillment in the New lends powerful support to the contention that the bible is a collection of books having a divinely revelatory character.
        4.15 : And since the most significant of those prophecies, both quantitatively and qualitatively, refer to Jesus Christ himself, they also provide powerful reinforcement to the case for his Divinity.

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