Which Jesus Do You Worship? (Machen)

 Many people will say something positive about Jesus.  I’ve heard someone who didn’t profess to be a Christian tell me he thought Jesus was a good guy.  I also had a Mormon get upset with me because I told him the Mormon religion and the Christian faith are worlds apart.  He got in my face and passionately told me loved Jesus in his heart.  I was wondering “which Jesus?”  J. Gresham Machen wrote well about this in chapter two of The Person of JesusHis argument was that the Christ who walked among us long ago, Jesus of Nazareth, is who Scripture says he is: God-in-the-flesh, truly man and truly God.  Here’s Machen:

“…It is not a sin to worship Jesus.  On the contrary, it is the highest and noblest privilege and duty ever given to man.  It is not a sin to worship the real Jesus.  It is not a sin to worship the Jesus who is God and man.  But it is a sin to manufacture a Jesus who was man only and not God, and then after you have manufactured that purely human Jesus to bow down and worship him.”

J. Gresham Machen, The Person of Jesus, p.24.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

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Jesus: A Contentless Banner?? (Schaeffer)

 Many Christians have noted a dichotomy in modern thought.  On the upper level is value; on the bottom level is fact.  On the upper level is faith; on the bottom level is reason.  On the upper level is religion; on the bottom level is science.  On the upper level it is non-rational; on the bottom level is rational.  In other words, the upper level is about personal feelings and beliefs and the lower level is made up of more solid and real things like reason, science, and facts.  Francis Schaeffer discussed and critiqued this modern view in his excellent book, Escape from Reason.  In this book he gives a good Christian and biblical answer to modernity’s false dichotomy.

One area where this false dichotomy shows up is in how people today think of Jesus.  For most people, Jesus belongs to the upper level of religion and faith but he does not belong to the bottom level of fact and reason.  For many Westerners, Jesus can mean anything to anyone – what Francis Schaeffer called a “contentless banner.”  Here’s Schaeffer:

I have come to the point where, when I hear the word “Jesus”—which means so much to me because of the Person of the historic Jesus and his work—I listen carefully because I have with sorrow become more afraid of the word “Jesus” than almost any other word in the modern world. The word is used as a contentless banner, and our generation is invited to follow it. But there is no rational, scriptural content by which to test it, and thus the word is being used to teach the very opposite things from those which Jesus taught. …It is now Jesus-like to sleep with a girl or a man if she or he needs you. As long as you are trying to be human you are being Jesus-like to sleep with the other person, at the cost, be it noted, of breaking the specific morality which Jesus taught. But to these men this does not matter because that is downstairs in the area of rational scriptural content.

We have come then to this fearsome place where the word “Jesus” has become the enemy of the Person Jesus and the enemy of what Jesus taught. We must fear this contentless banner of the word “Jesus” not because we do not love Jesus but because we do love him. We must fight this contentless banner, with its deep motivations, rooted into the memories of the race, which is being used for the purpose of sociological form and control. We must teach our spiritual children to do the same.

This accelerating trend makes me wonder whether, when Jesus said that toward the end time there will be other Jesuses, he meant something like this. We must never forget that the great enemy who is coming is the anti-Christ. He is not anti-non-Christ. He is anti-Christ. Increasingly over the last few years the word “Jesus,” separated from the content of the Scriptures, has become the enemy of the Jesus of history, the Jesus who died and rose and who is coming again and who is the eternal Son of God. So let us take care. If evangelical Christians begin to slip into a dichotomy, to separate an encounter with Jesus from the content of the Scriptures (including the discussable and the verifiable), we shall, without intending to, be throwing ourselves and the next generation into the millstream of the modern system.

Francis A. Schaeffer, Escape from Reason (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2014).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Jesus “Learned” Obedience and Was “Made Perfect” (Vos)

 In Hebrews we learn “because he himself [Jesus] suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (2:18 NIV).  In Hebrews we also read that Jesus “learned obedience from what he suffered” (5:8 NIV).  Yes, it says that Jesus learned something.   Interestingly, the epistle also talks about the Son of God being “made perfect” forever (7:28).  At first glance it might seem that Jesus was lacking something, that he didn’t know something, that he wasn’t perfect.  I like how Geerhardus Vos discussed this:

…the “perfecting” of the Savior, which is made so prominent in the Epistle, has two sides: [first:] it is perfecting in the sphere of sympathy with exposure to temptation and [second] perfecting in the sphere of appreciation of obedience which overcomes temptation. In both respects the perfecting is an ethical process, since it took place by means of an ethical experience through which the Savior passed: He became acquainted with the force of temptation and learned the practice of obedience.

But so far as the notion of τελείωσις [perfection] in itself and from a formal point of view is concerned, the Epistle does not know this as an ethical but as an official conception. The term nowhere designates that Jesus was made ethically or religiously perfect, that His character was developed in either sense; it always designates that His qualifications for the high-priestly office were perfected, that He received the full-orbed equipment which His priestly ministry requires. The subject of the τελείωσις [perfection] is always the priest, never the man. That the means through which the τελείωσις [perfection] of the priest takes place lie in the moral sphere cannot alter this conclusion in the least. The author has nowhere said, and hardly would have said, that in His moral or religious character Jesus was made perfect.

 Geerhardus Vos, Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos, ed. Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001), 149–150.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

He Continued To Be God (Cyril)

A Commentary upon the Gospel according to S. Luke Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444 AD) wrote a helpful commentary on the Gospel of Luke.  Cyril’s stand for the biblical teaching of Christ’s deity comes through clearly in his commentary.  Here’s one example from his comments on Luke 9:47, where it says that Jesus knew the thoughts of his disciples’ hearts:

And now let him who thinks that Jesus was a mere man learn that he is in error, and far gone from the truth. For let him know, that though God the Word became flesh, yet that it was not possible for Him to cease to be that which He was, and that He continued to be God. For to be able to search the hearts and reins, and know their secrets, is the attribute of the supreme God alone, and besides Him of no other being whatsoever. But behold, Christ searcheth the thoughts of the holy Apostles, and fixeth the eye of Godhead upon their hidden feelings. Therefore He too is God, as being adorned with honours thus glorious and divine.

The doctrine of Christ’s deity isn’t a late development in Christian theology.  The early church fathers believed it, defended it, and got it from Scripture.  As we think about Jesus today, it’s necessary for us to follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before us – who have followed in the footsteps of the apostles, and ultimately Christ himself.

 Cyril of Alexandria. (1859). A Commentary upon the Gospel according to S. Luke. (R. P. Smith, Trans.) (p. 242). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

The Christian Religion and Facts (Machen)

 The Christian faith is not based on feelings and emotions, but facts and truth.  The Christian religion is historical in that its main doctrines and teachings are part of history.  The Christian faith is a historical faith.  Scripture is a what we call a record of redemptive history, things that God did in history to save his people.  Of course, the centerpiece of redemptive history is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God’s Son.  The overwhelming witness of the Scriptures is that Jesus died on the cross to save sinners and three days later rose from the grave.  J. Gresham Machen commented well on this fact:

…If the Christian religion is founded upon historical facts, then there is something in the Christian message which can never possibly change.  There is one good thing about facts – they stay put.  If a thing really happened, the passage of years can never possibly make it into a thing that did not happen.  If the body of Jesus really emerged from the tomb on the first Easter morning, then no possible advance of science can change that fact one whit.  The advance of science may conceivably show that the alleged fact was never a fact at all; it may conceivably show that the earliest Christians were wrong when they said that Christ rose from the dead the third day.  But to say that the statement of fact was true in the first century, but because of the advance of science it is no longer true – that is to say what is plainly absurd.  The Christian religion is founded squarely upon a message that sets forth facts.  If that message is false, then the religion that is founded on it must of course be abandoned; but if it is true, then the Christian church must still deliver the message faithfully as it did on the morning of the first Easter Day.

J. G. Machen, Selected Shorter Writings, p. 95.

Shane Lems
Covent Presbyterian Chruch (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

How Far Can We Trust Him? (Machen)

When the Christian says “Jesus is God,” he does not mean Jesus is a god, or that Jesus is god like we are all gods.  “Jesus is God” does not mean Jesus is an avatar of some deity, it does not mean that Jesus had the spark of the divine in his bosom.  It means that Jesus of Nazareth, the man who lived and died in and around Jerusalem in the 1st century, is God the creator and sustainer of the world.  “Jesus is God” means that the man who rose from the dead and ascended into heaven is Lord of all, King of kings, eternal, infinite, and holy.  J. G. Machen defended this truth well around 100 years ago as he faced the liberalism of his day.  Here’s the ending of a radio address he gave on the deity of Christ:

“The Bible from Genesis to Revelation presents a stupendous view of God, and then it tells us that Jesus Christ is all that God is.

What interest has the Christian man in all that? What interest has the Christian man in knowing that Jesus Christ is very God, what interest in knowing that it was through Him that the worlds were made, what interest in knowing that He pervades the remotest bounds, what interest in knowing that He is infinite in knowledge and in power?

No interest, say modern unbelievers; these things are mere metaphysics.

Every interest, say Christians; these things are the very breath of our lives.

We have trusted in Jesus. But how far can we trust Him? Just in this transitory life? Just in this little speck that we call the earth? If we can trust Him only thus far we are of all men most miserable. We are surrounded by stupendous forces; we are surrounded by the immensity of the unknown. After our little span of life there is a shelving brink with the infinite beyond. And still we are subject to fear—not only fear of destruction but a more dreadful fear of meeting with the infinite and holy God.

So we should be if we had but a human Christ. But now is Christ our Saviour, the one who says, “Thy sins are forgiven thee,” revealed as very God. And we believe. Such a faith is a mystery to us who possess it; it seems folly to those who have it not. But if possessed it delivers us forever from fear. The world [creation] to us is all unknown; it is engulfed in an ocean of infinity. But it contains no mysteries to our Saviour. He is on the throne. He pervades the remotest bounds. He inhabits infinity. With such a Saviour we are safe.”

J. G. Machen, The Person of Jesus, p. 27-28.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Impossibility of Preaching Jesus Without A Creed (Vos)

A church without a creed is a church to avoid.  Why?  Because a big part of the Christian’s faith includes knowledge of biblical doctrine, factual truth-statements to which faith clings.  Geerhardus Vos said it quite well:

“Faith presupposes knowledge, because it needs a mental complex, person or thing, to be occupied about.  Therefore, the whole modern idea of preaching Jesus, but preaching Him without a creed, is not only theologically, not merely Scripturally, but psychologically impossible in itself.  In fact knowledge is so interwoven with faith that the question arises, whether it be sufficient to call it a prerequisite, and not rather an ingredient of faith.”

“The very names by means of which Jesus would have to be presented to people are the nuclei of creed and doctrine.  If it were possible to eliminate this, the message would turn to pure magic, but even the magic requires some name-sound and cannot be wholly described as preaching without a creed. …To be sure, mere knowledge is not equivalent to full-orbed faith, it must develop into trust, before it is entitled to that name.”

Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology, p. 389.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015