The Big Question
Regardless of what age or part of the world you live in, one of the most central questions of the Christian faith is this: ‘Who is Jesus? Is he really God? Does the New Testament really teach that?’ While every orthodox believer quickly and heartily affirms that Jesus is in fact divine, many believers struggle with how exactly to prove that to friends & neighbours.
While the New Testament does at times simply refer to Jesus as God (see the list here), frankly, it can be hard sometimes for many Christians to find passages that express as clearly and succinctly as we would like that Jesus is God. That’s in large part because the writers of the New Testament simply were not writing a systematic theology. They were writing to real people with real life problems and real church problems. So what we find is that more often than not the New Testament authors are addressing life’s issues in such a way that presumes the deity of Christ, without necessarily spelling it out for us.
The Basic Truth
So it’s kind of like me writing to you about how to play hockey. I may write about learning to shoot, pass, block shots, throw body checks, win faceoffs, and maybe even skate, but all the while I might not explicitly state that ice is actually frozen water. It’s understood. It’s the basis of all that we’re doing. You can’t play hockey without ice (at least not real hockey), and you can’t live as a Christian without knowing that Jesus is God.
All that being said, on every page, behind every line, this majestic truth stands: Jesus is the promised incarnation of God, the Son of God, the one who reigns. He himself is to be worshiped and served as God, because he is God. And that truth is everywhere, upholding and undergirding everything.
Here’s one little example from the passage we studied last week at GFC (1 Pet 5.1-4). In that passage, Peter admonishes elders to ‘shepherd the flock of God that is among you’ in a way that honours and pleases God, since all will be called to account. In particular, those who shepherd in this way will ‘receive the unfading crown of glory’ at the end of all things. Why? Because they have represented the true Shepherd, the ‘chief Shepherd,’ Jesus Christ.
You can read that quickly and move on, or you can stop and ponder what it means that Peter has just called Jesus the ‘chief Shepherd’ when he thought about the ‘flock of God.’ Those images are loaded with meaning from the Old Testament.
The Necessary Background
Psalm 78.52 says that, in the Exodus, ‘[God] led out his people like sheep and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.’ As you follow the Bible’s storyline it’s not long before you get to passages like Jeremiah 23-25 and Ezekiel 9 which speak words of condemnation on those who were supposed to be shepherds of God’s people (cf. Zech 10.3). Because they failed, the flock was scattered in exile. When the prophets speak of a return from exile, notice the language that is used:
I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob; I will gather the remnant of Israel; I will set them together like sheep in a fold, like a flock in its pasture, a noisy multitude of men. (Micah 2.12)
Like the first Exodus, this return from exile will be an expression of God’s deliverance, bringing his people, like a flock, to himself. But here’s what’s so significant: It is always Yahweh himself who will come as Shepherd. It is clear that when this great Shepherd comes to gather God’s people, it will be none other than God himself who brings the deliverance.
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labour has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. (Micah 5.2-4)
Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:9-11)
“Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.’ (Jer 31.10)
As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. … And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord GOD.” (Ezek 34.12; 31)
So behind Peter’s simple statement that the ‘chief Shepherd’ is Jesus lies a whole theology of the deity of Jesus, the Promised Divine Shepherd, the one who brings the deliverance of God’s people in the true Exodus. It’s on every page, in every line, behind every thought. Jesus is God.
Our Big Problem
But perhaps, in light of this example (and so many others like it), the reason why we don’t see the deity of Christ in the New Testament as clearly as we ought is not because we do not know our New Testament, but because we do not know the Old Testament like we ought. So here’s a suggestion: If you want to get to know Jesus better and see him more clearly, as the New Testament authors saw him, maybe you need to read your Old Testament more.