Friday, February 4, 2022

Thoughts on the Divinity of Christ

The Good Shepherd - Coptic Icon

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:11-16).

The confession of Christ's divinity is the rock upon which the Church is founded, the confession which gives eternal life (Pieper, 1951).

Rationalists deny the true deity of Christ. Jesus is God, they might argue, only in the sense that the Father's will was active in Him. Worship of Jesus as God, therefore, comes from "pious sentiment" rather than the scriptures, since Jesus didn't really claim to be God or command worship (Pieper, 1951). Rationalists, generally, object to the literal deity of Christ. This is because they generally discount anything supernatural or miraculous. And, if the deity of Christ is figurative, we don't have to accept the miracle of the God-man (Pieper, 1951).

But, Jesus does call Himself God.

We might not be able to recognize it immediately. Those people with whom Jesus directly interacted sure did. That's why the Jews wanted to stone Jesus to death when He told them, “I and the Father are one.” This is Jesus Himself claiming literal union with God the Father. Jesus says that He and the Father are made of the same material (Pieper, 1951). To claim to have a divine nature is to claim to be God. Scripture also calls Jesus God in other ways. It says that He is before all things. It says that Jesus is the creator of all things. It describes people worshiping Jesus as God, and He does not stop them. The opening verse of John's Gospel call Jesus God: In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God (John 1:1). Jesus is the word of God incarnate. John says here that Jesus, the Word, was God. Whether or not you believe what John writes is another matter entirely. You cannot dispute the plain meaning of what he wrote.

In John 10, Jesus says, "I am the gate for the sheep," and "I am the Good Shepherd." Speaking in this way, Jesus intentionally applies God's name to Himself. This is a name so sacred to the Jews that they would not even say it out loud in order to avoid unintentionally misusing the name of Lord. It shocked them to hear Jesus describe Himself in messianic terms while using God's name.

He was essentially saying that the Messiah was God Himself, and that He, Jesus, was the Messiah (Baumler, 1997).

Jesus is simultaneously the Good Shepherd and the Passover Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (Baumler, 1997). If Jesus is just a man, His death can be described as a tragic but notable example of self-sacrifice for people to copy. If Jesus is God, then His death is the propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of the world. It is the Good Shepherd dying for His sheep.

Moreover, the title Good Shepherd says to us that Jesus is God. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God said that He Himself would rescue His sheep. When Jesus says that He is the Good Shepherd who will die for His sheep, He is making two very important statements. First, He is saying that He is the fulfillment of Ezekiel's prophecy. Second, He is claiming to be God and asserting His authority over all the earth (Englebrecht, et. al., 2009).

Jesus is also calling the Pharisees, the religious leaders of His day, the bad shepherds whom Ezekiel describes. They were being removed and replaced by God Himself (Englebrecht, et. al., 2009).

Ezekiel wrote that God would get rid of the bad shepherds who do not care for God's flock. God would not, however, replace them with earthly rulers, as the people of Jesus' day perhaps expected. Those bad shepherds would be replaced with David. God Himself would enter humanity to rescue His flock. He would lay down His life to redeem them. He would unite all His sheep into one fold. He would rule them by His servant David. All this was accomplished in Jesus, God in human flesh, great David's greater Son (Englebrecht, et. al., 2009).

Without the literal deity of Christ, Jesus becomes a mythological object lesson teaching people to be nice. Being nice is great, but if there are eternal consequences for our sin, then some more is necessary. Nice won't take away the guilt of our sin. And, Jesus' words can be twisted so that “nice” means whatever you want it to mean. It also means that nothing is required of us. Or, at least, we are able to do whatever God requires of us. Men like that idea. It makes them responsible for their own destiny. It makes us all our own god.

If, however, mankind's salvation can only be completed by God becoming human to be the propitiation for the sins of the world, then our own efforts to earn God's favor, or to appease His wrath are worthless.

Thanks be to God that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep. ###
Works Cited

Pieper, Francis. 1951. Christian Dogmatics, vol. 2 of 3. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Baumler, Gary P., 1997. The People's Bible Commentary: John. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Englebrecht, Edward, et. al., eds. 2009 The Lutheran Study Bible. Notes on the Book of Ezekiel. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.