No mere angel
I have a friend who’s been talking with some Jehovah’s Witnesses for a while. As it inevitably had to be, the conversation eventually found its way to the divinity of Christ.
When she had first become a Christian a few decades ago, my friend had come into contact with JWs on this same issue. As a result she became very confused and distressed for a period of time. After all, Christ’s nature is central to the faith. Now, by her own admission my friend hasn’t had too much experience with visions and manifestations. But one night back during this period God woke her up and spoke into her mind. And though my friend is usually a non-assertive person, she adamantly insists that it was God who spoke to her.
The worship conundrum
God asked her what the First Commandment is. Of course it is “I am the Lord, your God… you shall have no God’s before me.” Then, with elegant simplicity, He took her to Philippians, where it says:
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. -Phl 2:9-11
If Jesus is not God, these two passages are incongruous. First, we mustn’t worship anyone other than God. But then every knee is going to bow at the mere mention of the name of Jesus! On the day He is revealed, there will be people who don’t even want to bow to that name but who simply will not be able to keep their knees unbent. It will be like the squadron of soldiers who came to arrest Jesus, who at Jesus’ mere spoken words “I am He”, fell backward to the ground. The unlimited power that raised Christ from the dead is present in that name, and just as the sweetness of that name is irresistible to the hearts of those who love Him, one day its power will be irresistible against those who don’t.
The only way to reconcile the supreme tension here is to conclude that Jesus Christ is, just as the scripture here attests, Lord. And that is to say, quite inescapably, that He is very God.
Time and again in the gospels, Jesus accepted worship without protest (see Mt 2.11, 14.33, 28.9, 17; Lk 24.52; Jn 4.20, 9.38, et al). Yet just as many times throughout the Bible the holy angels absolutely refused worship (note the dramatic contrast in the book of Revelation where John falls first before Christ, 1.17, and then before an angel, 22.8-9). Indeed, the only angel who desired worship in the Bible was the fallen archangel, satan himself, when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. And we know that was unmitigated unholy rebellion.
Very bluntly, if Jesus is not God he had no business being within a country mile the way he acted. God considers this worship business to be very serious indeed. He is supremely intent on maintaining the purity of His glory. He requires perfect holiness of those who would approach Him (thank God believers partake in Christ’s holiness!), and will not share worship with anyone.
A matter of reputation
The implications of the worship conundrum are categorically sufficient to prove Christ’s divinity. But there’s another proof that Jesus is God that deserves our attention. It hearkens back to the temptation of Eve in the Garden. There, by the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which in essence was the Tree of Independence From God, the devil became the accuser by slandering God:
And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden
“but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'”
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.
“For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Gen 3:2-5
Here satan was basically making the charge that God was ruling over man not in loving kindness, but manipulatively for His own selfish uses. He wanted Eve to believe that God was trying to keep man in an inferior, exploited position.
As an aside, the nature of the spiritual battle has not changed. The victory by which we overcome the world is, according to 1Jn 5.4, our faith. And Paul makes it clear that faith is established by love (Gal 5.6; 1Cor 13). As we learn of God’s love we enter into a relationship with Him based on faith, leading to salvation. The devil is still trying to get man to doubt God’s word and loving nature and go his own way. He knows that God’s love for us is our lifeline, and that without it we falter.
Back to the slander. Man ate the forbidden fruit and fell into satan’s trap. Now, to redeem man, God needed a perfect man to give in exchange. But whom to choose to be the ransom sacrifice?
I have no doubt that had God asked, say, Michael the archangel (who, by the way, JWs believe Jesus is), he would have been willing. I’m not sure if that would have been possible either theologically or physically, but for argument’s sake let’s say it would have been.
The problem is that even if the value of Michael’s life could have paid the price of man’s release, satan’s original slander would have gone unanswered. God would have “farmed out” the dirtiest job in history, while He sat comfortably on His throne and watched. satan’s accusation of selfishness against God would have stood, and indeed it would actually have been substantiated by God’s withholding himself at the most critical moment.
But no! It was God himself who became man, and who suffered and died a death that was horrible not only physically and soulically (mentally and emotionally), but also spiritually, as the punishment for the sins of the entire world – total separation from God – was undeservedly poured out upon him.
This was absolutely necessary “so that in all things” – in suffering and sacrifice as well as in glory and exaltation- “Christ would be preeminent” (Col 1:18). On that day when all things are revealed, no one will outshine Christ. But it would also be impossible, if Christ were distinct from God, that He would be the greatest example of sacrificial love, actually outshining the God Whose nature is love, Himself. It necessarily follows that Jesus Christ Himself must be, and indeed is, fully God.
Exactly because God Himself paid the price, His love is forever proven in the supreme court of the heavens. Exhibit A are the scars that Christ chose to retain on the hands, feet and side of His glorified body. Never again will the Edenic slander be raised or tolerated. satan’s accusation is exposed as a malicious lie, and God’s character is forever gloriously vindicated.
Here we must break into Charles Wesley’s immortal song:
And can it be that I should gain; an interest in the Savior’s blood!
Died he for me? who caused his pain! For me? who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be; that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be; that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
The only possible way to resolve the worship conundrum and the reputational issue is to reach the conclusion – the amazing, scandalous, glorious conclusion – that God Himself became man and died to pay our debt. And it then follows that since He was raised up we are destined to reign with Him on the very throne of the heavenlies.
God’s solution to the problem of satan’s rebellion was well-thought-out and perfect in every way (see my piece The Master Strategist). He left no questions unanswered, no detail undone, because the Cross had to be, the perfect, once for all antidote to the fatal chaos into which satan had plunged creation. And the inescapable conclusion we must reach is that the Jesus who accepted worship and who thoroughly vindicated God’s reputation is, just as the Bible clearly states, Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Amazing love indeed! Hallelujah!
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