No. 9 Who do you say I am?
What think you of Jesus Christ? This is a question that Catholics seldom ask themselves because the answer is so obvious: “Jesus Christ is truly God and truly man.”
The Opinion of the World
Today, this foundational Christian tenet remains doubted and denied, even by many who call themselves Christian. The thought and cultures of our times, say about Jesus of Nazareth, “Human? ‘Yes!’ Divine? ‘No!’ Just a man, although quite extraordinary. A most worthy teacher with ennobling values and principles.” For, to say that Jesus was and is divine is an astounding assertion. Here was an obscure son of a humble Jewish carpenter, born in a manger, seen as a threat to the existing religious social order, and was executed for it, and a failed messiah in the eyes of his friends. How could he have possibly been anything more than a dreamer?
To the world, now as then, Jesus must be cut down to size, our size. Not by crucifixion, but subtly. Yes, call him a good man. Patronise him. Treat the gospel as a fable. Feel sophisticated and go with the flow. This would justify moderating or glossing over those aspects of his teaching which challenge ‘my’ view, and cut too close to the bone. To a mere man one could say ‘no’ quite safely. But to accept that Jesus is indeed the Son of God, and then ignore him, would be to turn one’s back upon God Himself. To deny that Jesus is the Word of God, would also be to keep God at a safe distance, in ‘unapproachable light’: God the unknowable, or God as that which human philosophy and conjecture would portray him. There would be so many caricatures of the One that no one would know the truth, and ‘Glory!’ we could do our own thing, with none to tell us otherwise. Precisely what the world of self does today.
Jesus Christ is Divine
For those who would really want to know, evidence is there, simple and clear. In the Old Testament we learn of God’s promise to send a Messiah to save and guide his people. Not a political or temporal Messiah or a prophet who would speak God’s words, but someone far greater, far more; someone on whom the Spirit of the Lord would rest (Isaiah 11:2); Wonderful Counsellor, (and note) Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9: 6), and the Lord Our Righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6). This was the amazing promise made hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth and fulfilled in him: the Godhead would enter human history as a child, born of a virgin, and who would reveal, as none else could or would, the Father to us, because he alone knew the Father, and was one with Him. No pretender, sage or guru could make such a claim, although some would try.
Contrary to worldly expectations of what the messiah might be like, God incarnate would be a man of sorrows and suffering, of love, mercy and forgiveness, as Isaiah’s poignant foreshadowing of Jesus Christ, as the Suffering Servant showed. No one else, past or present, could imagine God-man this way. And from the New Testament we obtain a picture of Emmanuel, God with us, in Jesus of Nazareth, who not only fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament, but who revealed God’s plan and purpose and identified with him. That the child in Mary’s womb was divine was joyfully recognised by Elizabeth when her cousin visited her, “Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord?” she exclaimed (Luke 1:43). The infant Jesus was treated as divine by the wise men who worshipped Him and brought him gifts (Matthew 2:11). Were the Christ Child not divine, this Gospel passage would have condoned idolatry! Later, Jesus even allowed people to worship Him (eg: John 9: 38). Then, after the Resurrection, Thomas greeted Jesus as “My Lord and my God” (John 20 : 28). Jesus accepted this without any hesitation, objection or correction, which as a teacher he would have been obliged to correct, especially if it was a blasphemous error.
Jesus’ Admission and Declaration
Although Jesus was reluctant to publicise his divinity because people were not ready to accept it, he said he was the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28), and greater than Solomon and even the Temple (Matthew 12:6). He also showed he had the authority to forgive sins, which only God could do, and performed a miraculous cure to prove it (Mark 2:5 -12). Claims as these are quite extraordinary for someone who is “humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29). Then, in response to the teachers of the law and Pharisees asking him who he was, Jesus answered, “before Abraham ever was, I Am!” (John 8:58). Again, in the Book of Revelation Jesus declared, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End (Rev. 1:8, 21:6, 22:13).
Jesus identified himself with God: “I am the Way; I am Truth and Life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father too (John 14:6-7). “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son.
Jesus is the Eternal Word of God
Jesus is revealed by St. Paul in all truth and beauty: “In him, in bodily form, lives divinity in all its fullness” (Colossians 2:9), and “He is the image of the unseen God… in him were created all things in heaven and on earth: everything visible and everything invisible… all things were created through him and for him (Colossians 1: 15 – 16). Of this Jesus it is written: “In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things came into being, not one thing came into being except through him….The Word was the real light that gives light to everyone….The Word became flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1- 3, 9, 14). Jesus is the one who reveals his Father to us and the Father’s will, as St. Paul declares (Ephesians 1: 3, 9-10). In his humanity, Jesus of Nazareth was proclaimed by God to be His beloved Son, whom we must listen to, both at his Baptism (Matthew 3:13-17) and at his Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9: 28-36). Even the devils recognised Jesus as the Holy One of God (Mark 1: 24). 2nd-century Roman graffiti shows a Christian praying to a crucified figure: “Alexamenos worships his god.” In 111 A.D. Pliny the Younger in a letter to Emperor Trajan about Christians said it was their habit on a fixed day to assemble before daylight and recite by turn a form of words to Christ as a god” (Pliny, Epistle 97).
How much more evidence of the divinity of Jesus could we want? The ultimate proof lies in his glorious Resurrection from the dead. Nothing can beat that!
Awe and Thanksgiving
May we glory in the goodness of the Lord, and be filled with thanksgiving that the Eternal God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became man and dwelt amongst us, and still does so in the tabernacle. For this great grace, may we yearn.