Who is Jesus to Whom I Would Give?
Last Sabbath we began this series, and took up a very important topic. As people who want to give our heart to Jesus we stopped to size-up the situation. We asked, What Is My Heart That I Would Give? taking time to seriously develop what inspiration says about the fall's impact on our race.
We observed that God is a holy Being, that He made man for Himself (Colossians 1:16); that He even made humankind for His pleasure (Revelation 4:11)
The second chapter of Genesis introduces a small test of man's faithfulness, the third tells the story of the temptation and fall into sin, and promise of redemption through Messiah to come. The fourth chapter shows us that God, knowing how Cain was wired
We saw how at the fall humankind lost strength to do good, experiencing a moral-reversal, bending him steeply toward sin and evil and away from righteousness and purity. But we also noticed that we are not born sinners as some have said. We are born broken, but not until we choose to sin within the sphere of moral responsibility and accountability do we become sinners. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Everyone has become a sinner but Jesus. Everyone needs salvation.
Finally, we observed that to meet our condition God unleashed all His infinitude of resources. We saw that He has "given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3). That is, He has made it possible for us to live for Him and for His pleasure
God Addresses the Problem
The Bible tells us that Jesus came to our world in human flesh with a very pointed and precise mission: "That He might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8). He is called the "Prince of Peace;" not casting His gaze blankly the other way, but because He addresses the sin problem head-on, removing it from His people and His universe. But how He does this is very important. If ineffectually addressed, no final solution to the sin problem is developed. At some future point it simply starts up again, and we've gained nothing while the universe has lost 6000 years of time-investment.
Some think that all God has to do is cook up some legal, mathematical scheme and that solves the problem. Jesus dies in our place and justice is satisfied. God snaps His fingers in a moment remaking everyone's nature, we are made holy and happy, all riding off into the sunset as credits role. But if such a solution could have worked, it could have been worked out 6000 years ago. God has something far-reaching in mind. He would show the power of righteousness now; He would demonstrate that the universe, in the long-term, can run successfully only on His plan of unselfishness. And He would involve His people in His plan of fixing what was broken.
It was in this context that Jesus came and tabernacled (pitched His tent) among humanity (John 1:1-3, 14).
Have you ever done some camping in a tent? How about a tent in a severe wind storm? We have. We had a terrific wind storm year before last up at Springville Utah campmeeting. Couldn't sleep at all. Thought the tent was going to blow away. As a matter of fact, during that storm several of the Conference's tents were damaged or destroyed. It all underlined for me the sometimes inferior and temporary nature of tent camping. (This past year at camp meeting we stayed in a motel.) To tabernacle is to pitch a tent. Look what this text in the first chapter of John says: "And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." Here is one of the ultimate and most sublime texts on the incarnation of Christ.
The Word who made all things now consents to be "made" flesh. He not only takes fallen human nature to Himself, but permits Himself to be taken to fallen human nature. He shrinks down as it were, entering His creation. He submitted to an inferior existence. He came in a mortal, temporary frame. He became flesh. To what purpose? So that He might come and dwell among His people. And what is the next thing that we see in the next part of the verse? "And we beheld His glory." Whatever Jesus became it was such that John could say that He beheld His glory. Divinity entered humanity and lived among the human population. His glory was filled with grace and truth. therefore, the humanity of Christ, the tent He tabernacled in, will be very meaningful to us. On the side of reality will be grace and truth, and on the side of falsity will be ungrace and untruth. The issues are pointed and important. The very sense of how we behold Christ is at stake.
The Jesus Who Offends
What was the first thing that happened at the fall? In a moment the noble Adam was changed to a responsibility-dodging being. When sin veiled the portal between the Creator and His creation, a strange new possibility for self-deception was introduced. By placing God too far away from man, He (God) became alien, other-worldly, far away, even unreal. But by placing God too close to man we lose our reverence for and dangerously remove the distance between Himself and us. Either trap opens the door for us to fulfill our hereditary bent toward the responsibility-dodge.
When God is placed too far away, we introduce fictional go-betweens and mediators. Because they are said to be higher than us, they become responsibility-sharers with us and enable us to place blame or responsibility elsewhere than on ourselves while we live below our gospel privileges.
When He is placed too close we begin to forget He is God. He becomes an enhanced human, an advanced buddy. His sacrifices for us are forgotten, as is our culpability for our sins. And so we must be careful that at no point we fictionalize Jesus, create an alternative Christ, one standing in place of the biblical Jesus.
Our understanding of Jesus is central to the plan of salvation; by lifting Him up farther than intended, He loses His capacity to bridge the gap between humanity and a holy God; understanding Him to be altogether such an one as ourselves converts Him into an individual who cannot be God; either outcome becomes an opportunity for us to dodge responsibility, and for the sin problem to continue to manifest itself with no solution in sight. So we must begin by taking care. A Jesus who saves His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21) inevitably must be a Jesus who keeps us from falling into the responsibility-dodge. He must be a Jesus who offends because He up-ends sin and sinners.
How rightly may we ask the question, who is Jesus to Whom I would give my heart? How does Jesus destroy the works of the devil? The answers to these questions center in four different and mutually exclusive ideas about what nature Christ took. We might call the contending ideas (1) the unbruised Christ versus (2) the ungod Christ versus (3) the bruised Christ in Fallen humanity versus (4) the synthetic Christ.
The Bruised Christ
The unbruised Christ is a Jesus to whom nothing of which we spoke last Sabbath applies. He is God come to earth in unfallen flesh. Such a Jesus is not weak because of sin since the impacts of the fall do not attend Him. His nature has no weakness, being incapable of death except as a sham. Remember, Adam and Eve were conditionally immortal. Their untainted humanity was such that simply by consistently eating of the tree of life they would have lived forever. If Jesus came like that, then His experience would be so different from ours that we could scarcely say (as does Scripture) that He was "in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15).
The Ungod Christ
The ungod Christ is a Jesus who, it will be admitted, had an historical existence. But He was just a man. An extraordinary man, a genius, a surpassing human moral specimen; but a mere man (and NOT God) nonetheless. If this was all that He was, and even if somehow He was endowed with more, being perhaps at least half a god, still He is not God, still He brings to the cross only the character value of one extraordinary, even super-extraordinary man. And that's not enough to save us. It takes a character measuring with God's character to redeem all the believing individuals from the human race, numbering over six billion presently and stretching backward into time 6000 years. If Jesus were "altogether such an one as ourselves," He would be nothing more than human; there would be no divine component. There would be no salvation.
The Bruised Christ in Fallen Humanity
The bruised Christ in fallen humanity, unlike the other options, could really be tempted and really die. He would be really human. Being Christ the Messiah He is also really and truly God. He had to be God in order to have a character valuable enough to equal the broken law; He had to be human enough to be our Redeemer. In order to redeem us He had to be the nearest of kin. And He couldn't be near to us in this way if He didn't belong to our family. The family we belong to is the fallen race of Adam. Jesus had to start where Adam left us after the fall or He wouldn't be one of us. As was said so long ago, "What He has not assumed, He has not healed." And so He consented to be bruised that we might be healed. Second Corinthians 5:21 says it so well: "For He hath made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." No other Christ is sufficiently connected to us to embrace us and call us His brethren (Hebrews 2:11).
Is This A "Shallow" View?
Whenever we talk about sin or Jesus this way, someone will come along and say that we have a shallow view of sin, and since no one wants to be known as having a shallow view of sin, we may backtrack too quickly. The real question is whether our understanding of sin and Jesus is biblical
Playing with or acting upon the temptation is to sin. To be pulled is not necessarily to go along with the pull. Satan's trick is to get us to think of any temptation he throws at us as sin so as to lead us to give up. Some say that sin is more than outward acts. They are right. Sin includes all immoral acts of the mind, whether visible or invisible to others. As Jesus taught, to lust in the heart is the same as to express that in the outward acts. Both are actions of the mind
Actually, those who sense more clearly what sin is notice its presence in themselves more acutely. They long for holiness, for that which is spiritual, and seek for the victory, a coming into Christ-likeness. So sin is an issue to them and they want to overcome. This is what others so frequently find overly provocative in them, their desire to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).
The Fall's Impact on Jesus and Us
How did the fall impact us? Last sabbath we went over that. Let us go to the next step then. How did the fall impact Jesus? Did it impact Him just as it impacted us? According to the testimony of Scripture, were there any differences physically between Jesus and us? No. Were there any differences intellectually? No. Jesus had a brain just as we do, had capacity to think and compute as we do. Were there differences between ourselves and Him spiritually? I'm going to say no, but let me explain.
Jesus was born, as were we, lacking strength as in Romans5:6 That lack of strength was more than merely a physical decline. Remember, "Their nature had become depraved by sin; they had lessened their strength too resist evil and had opened the way for Satan to gain more ready access to them" (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 62), and "By his [man's] own course of sin, he would deteriorate . . . in moral and intellectual power" (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 68). Unless He was born with some exceptions from our fallen nature, He too was born "without strength" within Himself to resist temptation. He was born in a nature depraved by sin, with lessened strength to resist evil, in deteriorated moral state, as were we.
Yet because of the Scripture that says He "was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin," we reject categorically any theories of exemption or exception.
In short, we must say that all of the ways we were impacted by the fall (as discussed last week) are the same ways that Jesus was affected. Nowhere in the Bible is man held guilty for the ways in which the fall has impacted him; always we are held accountable for the decisions we make in our nature as it is.
What then we asked, of the spiritual in Jesus? Was it somehow different or separate from what we are born with? Let's see. What are the "spiritual" components of our nature? Remember, all of it has been numbed by the fall. We are moral beings after the fall still. We still want to worship someone or something too; its built into our very nature. Remember, God intervened so we still have the capacity to choose even while on our own we lack the strength to obey. Don't forget: after the fall, Adam and Eve still had a moral nature. They sewed fig-leaf garments to cover themselves because as they stood naked they had a sense of shame. They couldn't morally cover-up their sin and so they experienced a moral "nakedness of soul" (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 57) before their Creator.
I can't think of one way that Jesus' nature could be different from yours or mine, and He still be my Savior. Now its true that Jesus had a highly developed spiritual nature. His character was the character of God. He Himself was God. And what did we find? That God is a moral Being desiring holiness and taking pleasure in righteousness. These, friends, were the very things that Jesus desired and took pleasure in. In fact, in the Spirit of prophecy we find this statement:
"In His humanity, Christ lived a perfect life, thus elevating humanity in the scale of moral worth with God. With His human arm, Christ lays hold of man, while with His divine arm He grasps the throne of the Infinite. Thus He imbues man with His own spiritual nature, and lifts him to His side, to be cherished and loved as the Father loves the Son" (ST 26 August 1897).
Friends, if we can have the same spiritual nature that He has, then it is very plain: there needn't be even the slightest difference between our humanity and His humanity. End of argument.
The Synthetic Christ
There is another variant on Jesus out there, one we might designate the "synthetic" Christ. He is a combination of the unbruised and the ungod Jesus. He continues to find a home in Seventh-day Adventism. He owes his existence to a combination of circumstance and logic.
The linch-pin in the logic is a false understanding of what sin is. If (as so many hold) sin is our nature (an idea descending from misunderstandings of the Roman Catholic teacher Augustine), then obviously Jesus can't be like us. If we are automatically, the moment we are born, guilty of sin, then were Jesus born just like us He would be guilty the moment He was born. Then we would have no Savior. Therefore He cannot be like us. He must be different from us. He must be born without any taint of sin. This is where we get the unbruised Christ, a conception of a strange Jesus who was born without human frailty, who walked through this world more a dramatist than a God. Such a Jesus, coming to our world and our situation full of exemptions from our nature and our experience would not be one of us and could not rightly die for us.
Had the Father ventured to format the plan of salvation like that, Satan simply could have said, "Was Jesus really tempted as humans were or not? If not, then what He's done for them is meaningless. You made Him so that He couldn't be tempted and couldn't break the law. You've cheated in the great controversy." Obviously, if God took a shortcut anywhere in the conflict between good and evil, or cheated, it would only be because He couldn't successfully defend His moral plan against Satan's charges; such a situation would be manifest evidence that God had failed to defend His case, and that the devil had won the war!
Augustine and others didn't understand the great controversy. Caught up in their dogmas, out of thin air they theologized a fictionized Christ. They focused on His divinity and diminished His humanity. They believed in predestination anyway, which said that people were predestined to salvation or destruction apart from their own choices to sin. Sin was a condition and everyone had it, so the task left to theologians was to explain why some would be saved while others would be lost. With that perspective the problem of sin went to the back burner and a mystical Christ was set to cooking on the front one. For long, painful centuries this was the food of Christendom. The result was the incorporation of additional mediators into the salvation schema. Mary and other saints were invoked to bridge the gap between us and Jesus.
Seventh-day Adventists however, faced a peculiar problem. Among us as a people God manifested His gift of prophecy. Ellen G. White received this gift. Born in 1827 and dying in 1915, her first vision occured in December of 1844. She became a prominent Christian speaker and writer. Seventh-day Adventists had (and still have) a creed: the Bible. And when they compared what she had written to the Bible, they were caught in a dilemma. Everything they found was sound; it matched the Scriptures all the way through. By means of this gift we were aided in digging-out from centuries of error. Layer after layer of unbiblical teaching had been piled-up to distract us and deceive us and move us onto the wrong pathway. But through God's intervention His people were warned.
Satan's plan as uncovered in the book of Daniel is to take away the "daily" (See Daniel chapter seven). That is, he wants to make Christ's sacrifice for us of none effect so that we won't embrace the life-changing part of the salvation plan. Ellen White experienced visions and dreams and shared them. And when she wrote on the nature of Christ she shared numerous statements that could never be reconciled with the tainted teachings about Jesus that had been infused into Christendom over the years.
Three Brief Examples
Let me share just three of these remarks from Ellen White (we could here unload dumptruck-fulls of them!):
The story of Bethlehem is an exhaustless theme. In it is hidden "the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God." Rom. 11:33. We marvel at the Saviour's sacrifice in exchanging the throne of heaven for the manger, and the companionship of adoring angels for the beasts of the stall. Human pride and self-sufficiency stand rebuked in His presence. Yet this was but the beginning of His wonderful condescension. It would have been an almost infinite humiliation for the Son of God to take man's nature, even when Adam stood in his innocence in Eden. But Jesus accepted humanity when the race had been weakened by four thousand years of sin. Like every child of Adam He accepted the results of the working of the great law of heredity. What these results were is shown in the history of His earthly ancestors. He came with such a heredity to share our sorrows and temptations, and to give us the example of a sinless life. (Desire of Ages, p. 48).
Oh yes; all Christendom marvels at the Savior's sacrifice in exchanging the throne of heaven for the manger. "Yet this was but the beginning of His wonderful condescension." Adventists are privileged to know the other aspect of His condescension since we are digging out from the "doctrines and commandments of men" and into the light. What does it say of Jesus? "Like" how many children of Adam? "Every!" "He came with such a heredity" to do what? "To share our sorrows and temptations." Oh what a Savior! But it is even better. He came also "to give us [fallen human beings] the example of a sinless life." What use is the example of a sinless life, or how could a sinless life even be an example, unless the plan is that He would produce a sinless people?!
Now, from Desire of Ages, p. 117:
Satan had pointed to Adam's sin as proof that God's law was unjust, and could not be obeyed. In our humanity, Christ was to redeem Adam's failure. But when Adam was assailed by the tempter, none of the effects of sin were upon him. He stood in the strength of perfect manhood, possessing the full vigor of mind and body. He was surrounded with the glories of Eden, and was in daily communion with heavenly beings. It was not thus with Jesus when He entered the wilderness to cope with Satan. For four thousand years the race had been decreasing in physical strength, in mental power, and in moral worth; and Christ took upon Him the infirmities of degenerate humanity. Only thus could He rescue man from the lowest depths of his degradation.
In who's humanity was Christ to redeem Adam's failure? "In our humanity." For four thousand years what had been happening to our race? "The race had been decreasing in physical strength, in mental power, and in moral worth." What did Jesus do then? Hit the rewind button and get Adam's nature before he had fallen? No. Instead, "Christ took upon Him the infirmities of degenerate humanity." And why? Pay attention here: "Only thus could He rescue man from the lowest depths of his degradation." "Only thus." Perhaps the title of today's message should be "Only thus." In order to save us "from the lowest depths" of our degradation, Jesus became as human as we are.
Christ's overcoming and obedience is that of a true human being. In our conclusions, we make many mistakes because of our erroneous views of the human nature of our Lord. When we give to His human nature a power that it is not possible for man to have in his conflicts with Satan, we destroy the completeness of His humanity. (Selected Messages, bk. 3, p. 139).
And I don't know what we can add to that. So we won't.
The Bible itself was more than enough to show us what Jesus was like. It presents a very full and precious view about what He was like and what nature He took. But at the late edges now of the closing epoch of time, God gave us a jump-start on this to point us back into His Word. We can be very thankful for the guidance He has given through Mrs. White.
Because the Holy Spirit caused Mrs. White's writings to be spread through the church, the proponents of the new views of the nature of Jesus had to turn the meaning of very plain statements from her pen into something else. Eventually it was generally settled that it would be admitted that Jesus experienced part of what we experienced. Hunger, weariness, etc., were allowed and labeled "innocent infirmities." But spiritually they said, He was different from us. Still, they insisted and insist there was something in our physical nature that was not transmitted to Him. Still, back in there somewhere, sin was understood to be in human nature and so still Jesus had to be protected from that at birth. Since that time, it has been the synthetic view receiving strong promotion.
But How Did We Get There?
I needn't remind you that in the 1950's a strange development came into SDA thinking on the nature of Christ. A man who had been authoring influential books telling which groups were and weren't "cults" was preparing to apply himself to the task of evaluating the teachings of the bible as understood by Seventh-day Adventists. An Adventist minister heard a radio broadcast on the topic of the gospel and sent in a letter stating how much he appreciated that program. In short order, the news travelled to Dr. Barnhouse (an associate with Walter Martin). He was astonished. It had not been known that anyone in Adventism thought that way. These initiating events led to the dialogues between a high ranking group of our church leaders and these Calvinist-steeped evangelicals and eventually the production of this book not many decades ago [holds up Questions on Doctrine], which unfortunately misrepresents the teaching of the Bible and of Seventh-day Adventism on this point. Fortunately, this book is out of print. This book sporting no author's name was influential, as was an individual at the Seminary named Edward Heppenstall who strongly promoted this viewpoint on Jesus to a whole generation of our ministers passing through that institution.
This view has now become the common track. Notwithstanding the fact that the key players in this unfortunate chapter have passed off the scene and into the pages of history, and that many among us have recognized that things were stretched along the way, and that not only the self-supporting ministries have published on this, but that pastors formally employed and representing the SDA church have published in favor of the correct view, notwithstanding that a powerful work was recently published by Review and Herald from a church leader and a member of the Biblical Research Institute showing the development of the historical aberration on this [holds up J. R. Zurcher's Touched By Our Feelings, publshed in 2000], little today is said about it. We know the facts. That teaching of the synthetic Christ has been one of the most divisive teachings in the history of this church. Why? Because it takes away the Jesus who is close to us, compassionate, as human as we are, and yet separate from sinners: a Jesus with the capacity to save is traded for one who only can forgive; all that, for the dubious benefit of being able to identify ourselves with the fallen churches.
I don't buy it, I won't support it, I stand against it, and that's that. Why? Because I serve a Jesus who came to destroy the works of the devil, whether false teachings or sin in my life. And I want that sin out, here and now. I'll accept nothing less. It is Jesus' good pleasure to give us the kingdom (Luke 12:32), and there's no sin in the kingdom (Revelation 21:27)! Christ is a Redeemer, and He redeems completely! How could Seventh-day Adventists become confused about who Jesus is?
The Common Humanity of Christ and Us
Are we born needing a Savior because of our fallen humanity? We do come into our world bearing a broken nature. It is a humanity warped, distorted, cleaving toward the evil, biased toward the evil. No, we are not morally culpable
He is God who emptied Himself and came down to needy man. Philippians 2:7 tells the story that is not often told about Jesus. In the King James Version it says that when Jesus came He "made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant." The literal Greek reads that He "emptied Himself." Of what? Of anything that He could do that we cannot do. He laid aside His divine powers and took the form of a servant. He became just like us. The fallen body is, after all, the form of a servant. But instead of serving God it turns its attentions inwardly to self-serving and indulgence. Constantly arising from within ourselves is the urgent provocation to follow in the path of Satan.
While Jesus took our form He never ceased from serving His Father. In the broken flesh of fallen humanity He served His Father. The members of His body of sin He turned to serve as instruments of righteousness. And we may do the same. After all, the very same passage that describes Christ laying aside His power also commands, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5)
He is God who came close, who tabernacled with humanity. We have no share in His divinity, which is His alone; we are not gods in waiting. But He does have a share in our humanity, for He took our flesh
A bruised Christ has been in battle; an unbruised Christ faced no deep trial. A bruised Christ was bruisable; an unbruised Christ was unbruised because it was no contest. A bruised Christ was human; an unbruised Christ was superhuman; hardly a meaningful example for you or I.
Who is this Jesus to whom I would give my heart? He is God come into human flesh, even fallen human flesh. He never sinned, but He was "tempted in all points" like as you and I are. He came indistinguishably close to our humanity. There is, biblically, no difference at all, none whatsoever, absolutely, unequivically not the tiniest variation between the humanity that He took and that which you and I have. He became as human as we are, that we might be enabled to be as obedient as He is.
And why does this matter? Because the Bible says He is our example. And If He isn't one of us, He can't truly be our example. And if He is truly one of us, then we can truly obey even as He did, in spite of our fallen human habitation and situation. Jesus said, "I do always those things that please Him" of His own walk with His Father (John 8:29). This is to be our experience, here and now.
Who is this Jesus to whom I would give my heart? One who became one of us, one with us, who stands beside us, who helps us, empowers us, heals us, forgives us, who saves us, who knows us intimately because He is one of us. To save us He became one of us. He was tempted in all points like as we are. Yet without sin. He didn't have to do that. But He did it for me and for you. Can really truly begin to imagine the humiliation of His descent from infinitude down into His creation? But He loved us, and today in heaven bears our form. He went through our experience, and so we may successfully go through our experience and have His image restored in us. We can become like Jesus. We will never match Him; He is matchless! His character is divine. However, He will be true to His promise to save His people FROM their sins. This is the Jesus to whom I would give my heart. And I wouldn't have it any other way because He wouldn't. Thank God for Jesus, our sinless Savior who now works to finish the conflict between good and evil once and for all, and to lead His own precious people out of sin forever.
Next week, our third of the four presentation takes up the question of salvation, in I want To Give My Heart To Jesus #3: Salvation in the Old Testwament. God grant us all a love now for this Jesus who came so close to us, linking humanity with Himself in a manner never to be taken from us through all eternity.
Mentone CA SDA 2001-07-21