Is Jesus really God?
Passage: Mark 2:1–2:12, Mark 10:45, Luke 15:11–15:32
God forgives us by taking our place.
Thus far in my life, I have had the privilege of officiating several weddings. The first one I was asked to officiate was while I was still in seminary. Since I was still in school, I wasn’t licensed or ordained as a minister yet so I had to check into whether I was actually able to officiate the wedding. Because at a certain point in the wedding ceremony I am going to say: “By the authority vested in me as a minister of the gospel and by the state, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” I can’t make that pronouncement if I don’t actually have the authority to do so. They are just meaningless words. It’s because I am a licensed minister that I do have the authority.
I’m also a chaplain for our police department so I frequently go on ride alongs with the officers. But just because I am with the officer, doesn’t mean I can walk up to someone and say: “Don’t do that or I am placing you under arrest.” They would probably just say, “And who are you? Are you a police officer?” I don’t have the authority to place someone under arrest because I am not a police officer. Haven’t you ever seen someone doing something wrong and you wished you could arrest them? But what do we do? We call the police. We don’t arrest them. The words “I’m placing you under arrest” are meaningless unless I actually have the authority to do so. That’s because what someone is able to do is determined by who they are.
This evening we are continuing to Explore God by tackling the question “Is Jesus really God?” Now, if you have grown up in church, this can feel like one of those questions where you know the answer you are supposed to give but you don’t why. Maybe you know passages that tell you why we believe Jesus is God but you don’t know why it’s important. Why does it matter? What’s at stake?
Last week I shared a quote by Christian author C.S. Lewis and he has another great one that gets at the heart of tonight’s question. Almost anyone who knows about Jesus will pay some sort of respect to him. It’s rare to find someone who doesn’t like Jesus. Some people admire him for his teachings. Some people admire him for being a good person. Some people admire him for being spiritually enlightened. But C.S. Lewis didn’t think any of these are an option when it comes to Jesus. Here’s what he says: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher” (Mere Christianity, 55-56).
Lewis goes on to give us three options: Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. Jesus said he was equal with God and he claimed to be the Savior of mankind. That’s some crazy stuff. So either he was a liar, knowingly lying and deceiving people. Or he was a lunatic who not right in the head and that’s why he said this stuff. But if he is a liar or lunatic and not really God, then he should not be considered a great moral teacher or a good person because he has led millions of people to believe the lies of a liar or the delusions of a mad man. But if he wasn’t a liar or a lunatic and was telling the truth, then the only option left is that he is the Lord of all. If he was who he said he was, then we should bow at his feet.
But today, people add a fourth option. They say, “No, he wasn’t a liar or a lunatic. But he also wasn’t Lord. He is a legend.” They claim he never existed or that the original Jesus was simply a good moral teacher and the stories about him became more grand and exaggerated as time went on. We will cover this claim next week.
In line with our C.S. Lewis quote from last week, ff Jesus was a liar, lunatic, or legend, he is of little or no importance. Maybe we can learn some lessons from him just like we can learn lessons from anyone else but he isn’t someone we should devote our lives to. But if he is Lord - if he is who the Bible claims he is - then we must give him nothing short of our undivided trust and worship. But what he cannot be is moderately important to us.
As we consider the question about whether Jesus is really God, we are going to consider the question of authority. What someone is able to do is determined by who they are. There are many things that Jesus did which are things that only God can do. We are going to focus on one thing that Jesus did which is central to the gospel message: forgiving people. Forgiveness is at the heart of Christianity and it’s only when we understand that Jesus is really God that we can really see how amazing the message of Christianity is.
Here’s our big idea for this evening: God forgives us by taking our place. God forgives us by taking our place.
We are going to look at two passages of Scripture this evening. The first is Mark chapter 2 verses 1 through 12. It’s on page 837.
Jesus’ Authority to Forgive (Mark 2:1-12)
In Mark chapter 2, Jesus is teaching some people in a house when some friends bring a paralyzed man to him. The house is so crowded that they have to lower him down through the roof. Their desire seems to be for healing but they get more than they bargained for. Look at verse 5:
5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:5-7)
They are exactly right. God alone can forgive sins.
In order to understand this scene, we need to see it in the flow of the entire story of the Bible. The Bible is the story of how God is repairing a broken relationship: the broken relationship between humanity and himself. How do you repair a broken relationship? A broken relationship is repaired by reconciling the two parties and reconciliation can only happen with forgiveness. But in our relationship with God, we are the only ones who need forgiveness. God doesn’t need forgiveness because he has done nothing wrong. We are the ones who have tried to live without him and do things our own way. This is called sin.
If you want forgiveness of your sins against God, you need to get it from God and you need to do it his way. Forgiveness has to come from the person who is wronged. I can’t grant you forgiveness for wronging someone else. Forgiveness can only be granted by the offended party.
Before Jesus came, God made it clear that the cost of sin is death, condemnation, curse, and separation from him. He made it clear to the first humans, Adam and Eve, and he has made it clear ever since: sin deserves death. Sin separates you from God. Sin brings curse into your life.
God made is equally clear that if we don’t want to die, if we don’t want to be condemned, if we don’t want to be cursed, if we don’t want to be separated from him, then we need forgiveness. We need forgiveness for the sins we have committed, the wrongs we have done, and the good we have left undone.
But forgiveness comes at a cost. Forgiveness requires sacrifice. God set up the sacrificial system in the Old Testament to demonstrate this. In the nation of Israel, in order to be forgiven by God, someone would need to bring an animal sacrifice to the priest. The animal needed to be spotless and without blemish, symbolizing innocence and perfection. The one needing forgiveness would bring their spotless animal to the priest, lay their hand on its head, then it would be killed. Laying their hand on its head symbolized their sin and guilt were transferred to the animal. Then the spotless lamb would die in their place. The one who committed the wrong deserved death, but God accepted an animal’s death in their place. The message was clear: “The cost of sin is death. If you want to live instead of die, you need forgiveness. Forgiveness requires a sacrifice that dies in your place.” Only God can grant forgiveness and forgiveness requires sacrifice.
So if you want forgiveness from God, you needed to go to the temple and bring the appropriate sacrifice to the priest. But now, here is this guy, Jesus, who isn’t a priest and who isn’t in the temple telling someone who hasn’t brought a sacrifice that his sins are forgiven. Who does he think he is? God? God alone can forgive sins.
Jesus notices he has ruffled some feathers. So he responds in verse 8.
8 And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”(Mark 2:8-11)
Jesus recognizes that it’s pretty easy to say, “Your sins are forgiven.” What proof is there that Jesus actually has the authority to pronounce forgiveness? If he doesn’t have authority to forgive sins, then “your sins are forgiven” are the words of either a liar or a lunatic. So Jesus says, “I’ll prove to you that I have authority to forgive sins by healing this paralyzed man.” Then he does so and the people are amazed.
The title Jesus uses for himself is “Son of Man” which is a figure from the book of Daniel in the Old Testament. In that book, the Son of Man is a human being who shares God’s divine authority. Jesus is claiming to be that figure: a human being who shares God’s divine authority. And that authority includes the authority to forgive sins. Only God can grant forgiveness and Jesus claims to be God by granting it.
But forgiveness always requires sacrifice. It requires that someone pay for sin. Forgiveness always comes at a cost, not to the one receiving but to the one giving. Forgiveness is free to the receiver, but always costs the giver.
In the Old Testament sacrifices, the one needing forgiveness brings an animal from their own herd so that costs them something. But really, who is paying the most in this situation? It’s the animal! The animal is losing its life and for what? Nothing that it did. It is dying because the person did something wrong. The person should be the one dying. The person should be the one to bear the penalty. The person should bear the consequences of their sin. But they walk away bearing none of it. Another completely absorbs the penalty in their place.
Of course, animals can’t pay for a person’s sin. When someone grants you forgiveness, they are the one paying for your sin. They are the one making the sacrifice. Forgiveness is the person who has been wronged paying the debt of the one who wronged them. It’s completely undeserved! They have wronged you. They have hurt you. They have sinned against you. They should have to make it up to you! Forgiveness releases them from that obligation and instead you absorb the consequences of their action - the pain, the hurt - and don’t hold it against them. You pay the cost of the wrong they did to you. That’s forgiveness.
Throughout the whole Bible, God said the cost of sin is death, exile, curse, and condemnation. Jesus comes and says, “I am giving my life to free others from all of that.” In Mark 10:45, Jesus says, “Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus claims to be paying for our sins! Jesus claims to be paying for our forgiveness!
Forgiveness can only be offered by the one who has been wronged and forgiveness can only be paid for by the one who has been wronged. Jesus cannot offer forgiveness or pay for forgiveness if he is not God. Because if he is not God, then he is not the one who has been wronged. But because he is God in the flesh, he has authority to forgive our sins and pay for our sins.
Our big idea for this evening is this: God forgives us by taking our place.
The reason the Jesus, the Son of God who is fully God, had to become a human is because God as he is cannot bear the penalty man deserves because God cannot die. He became man to pay the cost of forgiveness - to pay the debt we owe from his own pocket. God forgives us by taking our place. God forgives us by serving our sentence. God forgives us by assuming our debt. God forgives us by absorbing what we deserve. God forgives us by dying our death.
It’s only when we understand this that we can begin to grasp the amazing love of God. God did not say, “Well, these people need forgiving and that means someone needs to die in their place. I’ll send Jesus.” No, God said, “These people need forgiving and I will die in their place. If I am to forgive them, I have to bear their penalty, I have to pay the cost of their sin, I have to absorb the consequence.”
It’s amazing that God forgives us by taking our place, but it’s hard to feel the weight of it and the significance of it. And that’s why Jesus told stories to illustrate it. Turn to Luke chapter 15 verses 11 through 32 on page 874.
11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ (Luke 15:11-19)
Here is a son who has wronged his father. He asks for his inheritance early then moves out and spends it all with reckless living. He wastes what his father has saved up his whole life to give to his son. After going broke, he gets a job but is so bad off that he would eat right out of the big trough if he could.
Then he comes to his senses and realizes that his father’s servants have got it better than him. So he makes a plan to return to his father, admit his sin, and accept the treatment he deserves: to be treated as a hired servant rather than a son.
Put yourself in the son’s shoes. What would you be expecting? How have people treated you when you have done something wrong?
Let’s continue in verse 20:
20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)
The father is not sitting on the porch with his arms crossed and when he sees his son a long way off thinks, “This ought to be good.” Seeing his son returning to him, compassion wells up in him and he runs out to meet him and he wraps his arms around him and showers him with affection.
The son gets his prepared speech out in verse 21:
21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ (Luke 15:21)
His father doesn’t even respond. Verse 22 says:
22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:22-24)
He is so excited that his son is home! He’s come back! He doesn’t rub his nose in it, doesn’t condemn him, doesn’t shame him.
How do you think the son felt to be treated this way?
You can imagine the son saying, “No I don’t deserve this. It’s too much. It’s not fair.” But that’s what grace is. It’s getting the opposite of what you deserve. The son wanted to make up for what he had done. He wanted to pay for it himself. Instead, he gets something better: forgiveness. Forgiveness would not be saying to the son, “You are forgiven of the wrong you have done” and then treating him as a hired servant.
Forgiveness means our wrongs aren’t held against us, don’t come between us, and won’t come up again. No condemnation, no separation, no record. We are treated as if they never happened. That’s what restores the relationship.
This whole story is designed to show us the grace of God. The grace of God is shocking and surprising and overwhelming in its generosity. It seems God overdoes it. He’s too generous. He gives too much.
It’s not just that the we don’t receive the punishment we deserve. God pours out blessings on us that are the exact opposite of what we deserve. The father doesn’t just say, “Ok, I won’t punish you.” He runs out to him, showers him with love and affection, and throws the best party he can for him. The son had already cost him so much but the father forgives that wrong and pays even more to celebrate the the son who just wasted so much.
If you don’t think Christianity sounds too good to be true, then you don’t yet understand it, at least not fully.
If we finished the story, we would see that the father’s oldest son is not happy with this situation. He come sin from the field, sees the party, and asks a servant what has happened. The servant tells him that his younger brother has returned and there is a party. He sits outside sulking. His father comes and tries to convince him to come in. He angrily says, “I have been obedient this whole time. I have done my duty. And yet he is the one you throw a party for? The one who spent all your money?” The father tries to convince him to come in but we don’t know if he does.
The older brother despises the father for showing such grace. He sees it as unfair. He has done his duty and he wants what is his due.
How are you living toward God? Are you living with what the son expected the father to do? Or are you feeling like the son felt after?
Or are you like the older brother? Grace is unfair and we should all have to earn our way to God.
Take a blank sheet of paper. Now write down every sin for which God will hold you accountable when you meet him.
How many did you write down?
If you have trusted in Jesus, that piece of paper should be blank. And that should feel too good to be true. No sin comes between you and God. Forgiveness means our wrongs aren’t held against us by God, don’t come between us and God, and won’t come up again. We are treated as if they never happened. Why? Because God took our place. He paid for them.
Hang that piece of paper somewhere you can see it this week. Or put it in your Bible. Every time you see that blank notecard or find it in your Bible, you’ll wonder why it’s blank and you will remember.
All of what we have said tonight is based on the Bible. So the question is: does the Bible reliably tell us who Jesus is? Or is it just a legend and what we read in the Bible doesn’t give us an accurate picture of Jesus? That is where we will focus next week.