The plain fact is that imitation of Jesus, important as it was for Paul, was swallowed up by something far more important still. Not the example of Jesus, but the redeeming work of Jesus, was the primary thing for Paul. The religion of Paul was not primarily faith in God like Jesus’ faith; it was faith in Jesus; Paul committed to Jesus without reserve the eternal consequences of his soul. -J. Gresham Machen
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Col 1:15-20
Larry King had the roles reversed. He was being interviewed. He was asked what famous man of history he would like to interview. He answered, “Jesus Christ.” He was then asked what question he would ask him. He answered, “I would like to ask him if He was indeed virgin born, because the answer to that question would define history.”
Larry King got that one thing right. Who Jesus is not only defines history, but determines our eternal destiny. Every age since his incarnation has tried to take away from his revelation of being fully man and fully God. The Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons and liberal theologians are some of the contemporary adversaries of the revelation of the eternal Word of God made flesh. They take from and add to Scripture’s clear teaching of the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth as their desires determine.
Gresham was engaged in a battle within his own denomination that he saw as threat to the historic Christianity that was rediscovered in the Reformation. Modernists and liberals, who were desperately trying to keep a place of respectability in a world dominated by scientism and rationalism, had slipped into the center of the church. In their desire to placate the culture, they softened the distinctives of the faith, that which was so offensive to the modern mind, the supernatural. The historicity of the miraculous works, the virgin birth and the resurrection of Jesus were reinterpreted or just rejected. What made the liberals so dangerous was that they used the same language as true believers, but gave different meanings to the terms. According to Gresham, these liberals were not just another view from within Christianity. They were advocating different religion!
The argument of the liberals focused upon the nature of faith. Their contention was that the essence of biblical faith was not directed toward Jesus but directed toward the faith of Jesus. Jesus trusted the Father. We should do the same. So, Jesus became the model for us to imitate, not the Savior in whom we place our trust. Their Jesus was a teacher of righteousness, a pioneer of a new type of life, our example, the first Christian, the founder of Christianity.
How radically different is the Jesus we see in the gospels. His own self-awareness is that of the Son of God [“They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God ?” He replied, “You are right in saying I am.”]; the glorious Son of Man [“Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matt 20:28]; Final Judge [“And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.” John 5:27]; one with the Father [“I and the Father are one.” John 10:30]; and the only way to the Father [“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6].
Gresham makes the point that you cannot maintain that Jesus was a “good teacher” and “model” and honestly consider the claims that Jesus made about himself. He writes,
What shall be thought of a human being who lapsed so far from the path of humility and sanity to believe that the eternal destinies of the world were committed into his hands? The truth is that if Jesus be merely an example, He is not a worthy example; for He claimed to be far more.
C. S. Lewis made the same point when he penned,
A man who was merely a man and said the things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic- on level with the man who says he is a poached egg- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up as a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
If Jesus was not fully God, we are not fully saved. If he was not virgin born, then he was born into sin like us. If he was not the perfect man, then he could not impute his righteousness into us and we stand condemned before a Holy God. If he did not perfectly reveal the glory of God, then we have no way of knowing with any certainty, what God is like. If he was not supernaturally raised from the dead, then there is no hope for us when we come to the end of our days.
The Jesus the liberals want is the one who said nice things, loved everybody and never said anything divisive and never did anything miraculous. In other words, they want someone who is a little better than they are but not too much; a little stronger than they are, but not too much; a little different than they are, but not too much. They want someone they can handle and understand and mold into their image. But, that is not the Jesus Christ of the Gospel!
He was our example, but far more than that. He did show us how to live but we need much more than an example, we need a Savior. Our great problem is depravity and sin. “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” [Romans 3:10-12] Even if he was a great example, we would not and could not follow his example. No, the disciples did not follow Jesus to the ends of the earth because he was a good example, but because he took away their sins. He brought them to God. He gave them eternal life. They did not follow the faith of Jesus. They placed their faith in Jesus. Everything depended upon him being who he said he was- the Son of God, the Christ of God, the Savior of the World, the returning King and the final Judge.
To be sure there is mystery in the person of Jesus, but it is mystery in which Christians can rest. Who would expect an eternal God that finite beings could fully comprehend? But the Jesus of the New Testament has one great advantage over the constructions of the modernists and liberals: He is real! Here is how Gresham summed up this glorious truth.
“He is not a manufactured figure suitable as a point of support for ethical maxims, but a genuine Person whom a man can love. Men have loved him through all the Christian centuries. And the strange thing is that despite all the efforts to remove Him from the pages of history, there are those who love him still.” Amen!
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