Sunday, November 29, 2015

Emmanuel: God With Us...Understanding The Divinity and Humanity of Jesus

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings... (Hebrews 13:8-9)

We celebrate Christmas because Jesus came to earth. He is “Emmanuel,” God With Us. While reading over Thanksgiving, I was troubled to come across the following statement about Jesus: “When He chose to come to earth, He laid down His divinity and picked up His humanity.” Now it is true that Jesus called Himself the Son of Man, emphasizing his humanity. But it is equally true that He is God. Colossians 1:19-20 and 2:9 tell us: 

“For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross......For in Him all the fullness of deity dwells bodily” 

God in the Flesh. This union of humanity and divinity in Jesus is a mystery called the “hypostatic union,” and it is a foundational teaching of the church, confirmed by the council at Chalcedon in 451 A.D.  

The incorrect doctrine that Jesus was not fully divine is a mistake easily made and it is being taught by more than one prominent figure today, accompanied by assertions that Jesus was incapable of doing anything without the Holy Spirit. The problem with this teaching is that it is a form of subordinationism, a mistake which views one member of the Trinity as inferior to the others. Yet, John 5:17-18 shows that Jesus is equal with the Father: 

My Father has been working until now AND I have been working.” Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him because He not only broke the Sabbath but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God. 

This new doctrine has also been called a form of “Neo-Arianism.” The Arian heresy and others denied the divinity of Christ. This new view is more subtle and easier for some to accept. It is not necessarily a heresy, since it acknowledges that Jesus was fully God, but then it denies His position as fully God and an equal member of the Trinity during His time on earth. One pastor has gone so far as to say that Jesus was completely emptied of divine capacity. [Insert: Now, during this summer of 2016 another version of subordinationism has blown up all over the internet, upholding Jesus' divinity, but claiming that Jesus, the Son, is eternally subordinate to the Father, and using this teaching to promote certain views about gender roles] Any teaching that questions the fullness of Jesus' divinity is dangerous because it is only 1 step away from the liberalism that plagued the church during the last century. Here is a brief summary of the evidence for Jesus' divinity:

Under His own authority, Jesus forgave sins, healed, healed on the Sabbath, made a covenant, performed miracles and cast out demons. He displayed His omniscience, telling the woman at the well everything she had ever done. He displayed power over life and death, claiming to have the power both to lay his life down and to take it up again, as well as raising Lazarus and others from the dead. He displays his creative power and control over nature and the elements by using the dust of the ground to give a man born blind His eyesight and turning water into wine. The disciples also healed and cast out demons in JESUS’ name, under His authority.

Rather than claim, that Jesus laid down his divinity and therefore relied on the Holy Spirit and the Father, I would submit to you, that it was Jesus’ divinity that allowed Him to work in full cooperation with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Each member of the Godhead was in operation through Jesus’ actions. It was the Father’s will that Jesus do these things. Jesus had the authority to speak these words and it is the Holy Spirit who caused the healing and miracles to take place. One verse that is misunderstood comes from John 5:19 where Jesus says The Son can do nothing of himself, but what He sees the Father do for whatever things He does, these also does the son likewise. Some translations say he can do nothing BY himself. This word, "apo," in Greek describes being separated or operating apart from the Father. This verse does not mean that Jesus is unable or lacking in divine capacity, but rather the opposite. It means that it is absolutely impossible for Jesus to be separated from the Father, that they operate as one. It is a powerful affirmation of his deity and divine capacity, not a denial of it. What we see here, is not Jesus without divine capacity, but rather, Jesus, operating as fully divine, just as He did in creation, in perfect cooperation and in relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus could not lay down His divinity because He IS divine. He could never be without the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit is HIS Spirit. He IS God. It is His very essence. He, The Father and The Spirit are separate persons of the same essence. John 10:30 reads “I and My Father are one.”

RELATIONSHIP is the key to  understanding it all. Jesus spoke to His Father often because He values relationship. The Father sent the Holy Spirit to Him because He values relationship. During His time on earth, Jesus was seeking the same relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit that He had always enjoyed. Christ also refrained from bringing judgement because He wanted relationships with people. He invites us into this relationship saying: “Abide in me and I in you…He who abides in me and I in him bears much fruit for apart from ME you can do nothing.”

Jesus has always been fully capable. In Systematic Theology, we discussed the fact that [Jesus chose not to exercise his abilities at times (such as not knowing what day and hour He would return), He did not give them up. This is self-limitation. He was fully God. It wasn’t that he only relied on God and the Holy Spirit because He was divested of His diety—He chose not to use certain abilities at certain times in order to have a relationship with us.] Throughout His ministry on earth, Jesus displayed His glory through patience, gentleness and self-control. As the God of angel armies He could have called upon legions of angels to do His will at any time, yet He chose not to for our sake. At any moment He could have destroyed His enemies with a word, but he refrained for our sake. He stayed on the cross and endured torture for our sake. At any time, Jesus could work any miracle that He wanted, but He chose to do them when people showed faith and did not do many miracles in places where faith was lacking. Three of Satan’s temptations to Jesus were temptation to use His power as God for a self-serving purpose and He refused. If He wasn’t divine, then there would have been no real temptation present because Satan would have been tempting Him to do things He was incapable of. Jesus, however, was fully capable. He is Able.

So where does that leave us? It is important to maintain the mystery, the tension and balance between Jesus’ humanity and His divinity. He is fully God. He is fully man. Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23 show the prophecy and the fulfillment that Jesus would be the God-Man:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and give birth to a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which translated means, GOD with us”  (Matthew 1:23, Isaiah 7:14)

Here is a look at a few verses that speak to Jesus humanity:

Philippians 2:6-7 has been the basis of this mistaken theory that Jesus was emptied of divine capacity because it says that He emptied Himself.

“Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death--even death on a cross!

The KJV translates this passage as, made himself of no reputation, which is a faithful and good understanding of what is being communicated. One of the meanings of the word “emptied” is also to describe being emptied of wealth. 2 Corinthians 8:9 provides a very helpful commentary on this concept telling us: 

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

Jesus never stopped being divine. He left heaven and came to earth to suffer as a man. But Jesus’ circumstances did not dictate His true identity. He came in the form of a slave, but He WAS God. Jesus, whom all things were created through and for, came as a poor servant. Jesus, who had every right to be worshipped, honored and respected as God, humbled himself to save and redeem US. That is Powerful. Humbling. Shocking. Scary. Awe-inspiring. When we realize that the Sovereign God of the Universe came to earth and was despised, rejected and murdered, we have no right to expect anything but judgement and punishment, yet He offers forgiveness instead…Astonishing. Instead of destroying us, He chose to show mercy:

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.(Hebrews 2:17)

Here are a few verses that speak to Jesus’ divinity:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-- all things have been created through Him and for Him.… Colossians 1:15-16

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me…Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. (John 14:1.9)

I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down AND I have power to take it again. (John 10:17-18)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created. Life was in Him, and that life was the light of men….And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1)

In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son. God has appointed Him heir of all things and made the universe through Him. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. –Hebrews 1:2-3

Isaiah 9:6 sums it all up nicely, describing both Jesus’ humanity and the fullness of His divinity, with the verse, so fitting to the Christmas season:

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

Most importantly, we can now receive this divine nature within us. The very power that Jesus had within Him is available to us if only we will ask and receive it through faith:

His divine power has given us everything pertaining to life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 2 Peter 1:3-4

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Helping Refugees and Immigrants: A Biblical Perspective

It is vile to separate young children from their parents whose only "crime" is crossing a man-made border, seeking a better life for their family. If even one family is destroyed in the quest to secure our borders, then the price is too high. I originally wrote this piece about the Syrian refugee crisis, but it speaks just as clearly to the situation we are facing today with families being ripped apart crossing the border into the United States from Mexico. America is not a Christian nation, but it is a nation with a lot of Christians in it that has been richly blessed by God and we need to act accordingly. 

Sometimes the Bible tells us EXACTLY what to do. How should we treat foreigners and refugees in need? Politics aside, God has made His position crystal clear. As Christians, we must show the love of Jesus to the huddled masses yearning to be free. And that means speaking out in opposition toward government officials when they act wrongly. It also means finding meaningful and practical ways to help. I understand the concern that children could be trafficked over the border. Fortunately we have DNA testing to confirm identities if necessary. But this issue is a political stunt, just like the mistreatment of "Dreamers." While the United States does not have a covenant with God the way that Israel did, His perspective toward refugees is made abundantly clear in the instructions they received and we would be wise to learn how God views foreigners and adjust our actions accordingly. 

And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. -Deuteronomy 10:19

Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. -Exodus 22:21

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God. -Leviticus 19:34

Innocent Families are trying to escape poverty and oppression and while they are to be expected to follow every law of the United States, Here is what God says about people who have escaped oppression and are seeking refuge:

If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand them over to their master. Let them live among you wherever they like and in whatever town they choose. Do not oppress them. -Deuteromony 23:15-16

And...churches should pay for their keep out of the tithe because God established the tithe to take care of them:

At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town. The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the foreigner, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.... (Deuteronomy 14:28-29)

Give them what God says belongs to them. It is true, that there is nothing new under the sun. Ancient Israel was repeatedly harmed by a nation full of terrorists, the Assyrians. Jonah was given the task of preaching to them. He was reluctant, in part because of their evil and the harm they had done. But God had a different viewpoint:

"Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?"

By ministering to them, not only was the city, including their many children who didn't know right from wrong, spared because they repented, but we do not know how much relief and protection Israel may have received in the short term as a result of Jonah's actions. Only God knows. The fact is, that God cared for those people and the children of the terrorists, just as he cares for the refugees, especially the children and we should have compassion.

If you are concerned about terrorists sneaking in with and as refugees or immigrants, then Pray. Witness. Show them the love of Christ. Keep wary eyes open, but show them kindness and the love of Christ. In the case of immigrants, show them the promise of America. In the case of Muslim refugees, prove that they have been told lies about not only our nation, but about the Christians who live here and the God that we serve. I am not saying that America is a Christian nation, but God has promised His blessing to Christians for our obedience and if that promise overflows to bring blessing and protection to our nation, then all the better. It is HIS job to protect us. It is OUR job to protect those refugees and to care for them. If the government refuses to allow a family to enter the U.S., then they should be turned away or sent back with their family intact. No just law separates families this way. Of course, the Christian perspective is to welcome them with open arms. Whatever position our government takes, Christians must be compassionate. I encourage you to meditate on the following verses today, especially if you live in America, perhaps the most blessed nation on earth:

"Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same." Luke 3:11

Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge". (Deuteronomy 24:17) 

You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor, and your needy in your land. -Deuteronomy 15:11