In various surveys, about 80% of Americans say they are Christians. But a significant chunk of those folks also say they don’t believe that Jesus Christ was God come in a human disguise to redeem us from sin and death. Rather, they call him a great moral teacher, a wise prophet or a religious agitator but certainly not someone who was divine in any way – how could a mere mortal possibly be God?
I once had a friend who thought like this. He too called himself a Christian because he believed in God and agreed with Jesus’ rules for living – do unto others, don’t covet or steal or kill people or commit adultery. But this friend was adamant that Jesus couldn’t possibly be the actual Son of God and anyway, he didn’t need “this Jesus” muscling in between him and his relationship with God. For my friend Jesus was just an unnecessary go-between – a meddling middleman. He rejected Christ as God, yet he insisted he was a “Christian.”
It never fails to astound me that an ordinary person, someone who would never presume to tell a doctor which scalpel to use, and never dare to school a rocket scientist on the best route to reach Pluto, actually thinks it’s well within his personal expertise and pay grade to tell the Author of the Universe how He should run things.
People like this become annoyed and even irate if you calmly try to tell the truth: sorry, you can’t be a Christian if you don’t believe Jesus is God. That’s just the way God set it up. He planned this whole redemption process to bring us at long last into harmony and favor with Him through the power of His Son’s sacrifice. Without Jesus to pay our price, there’s no sacrifice, no redemption, no eternal life. Jesus is not an option, He’s the whole deal.
Still, many can’t accept He was who He said He was. But how could anybody believe that Jesus was one of the wisest most perceptive moral thinkers who ever lived, and at the same time think He simply invented some crazy story about His true identity?
Jesus said many times, as clearly as words can express, exactly who He was. Most famously in John 14: 6, 7: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.”
To recap: Look at me and you see my Father. I and My Father are one and the same: I am God and God is Me.
For those who still don’t get it, in verse 9, Jesus spells it out for Philip and also explicitly answers my friend and anyone else who questions the Heavenly Who’s Who: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” To recap: the Father = Jesus; Jesus = the Father.
Jesus also very clearly said that God has given humanity only one option: belief in Him. In John 6:28, 29:
“Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”
Again, John 6:40: “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”
And the stakes? Our very lives.
John 5:21-23: “For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will. For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.”
To recap: the Son gives life, just as the Father does. The Father has even given His Son authority to judge us and give life to whom He will – to whoever believes in Him.
Nowhere does Jesus say “Hey, you can believe in me or not – I am just one option among many.” No. He says very explicitly it’s Him or nothing.
The word “Christmas” comes from the old English Cristes Maesse, or Christ's Mass. On Christmas we honor the Son and at the same time honor the Father. It’s a package deal that’s the most sparkly, lovingly wrapped present under your tree. Open it first...and Happy Jesus’ Birthday!