That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life… – 1 John 1:1 ESV
The very idea that God became a man is a difficult one to reconcile. From the earliest days of the church, there have been those who have attempted to discount it as nothing more than a myth, dispute it as an impossibility, or simply rationalize it away through various man-made explanations. Even the Jews of Jesus’ day, who were desperately awaiting the coming of the Messiah, were not expecting God to come in human flesh. They were looking for a human savior, a warrior-king in the same vein as David. Their greatest conflict with Jesus was not so much that He claimed to be the Messiah, but that He claimed to be God. That concept was unfathomable and unacceptable to them. In fact, it was His claim of deity that led them to seek His death. “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18 ESV).
Yet, at one point, Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13 ESV). Peter’s response was most revealing. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). And Jesus commended Peter for his answer. “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17 ESV). Jesus went on to say that the very essence of Peter’s confession would be the foundation on which He would build his church. Rather than deny or dispute Peter’s statement, Jesus fully agreed with it and acknowledged the indisputable necessity of it. In yet another confrontation with the Pharisees, they sarcastically said to Jesus, “So the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am’” (John 8:57-58 ESV). Jesus knowingly used the very words that God spoke when revealing Himself to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3:14). And His words did not escape them, because they immediately picked up rock with which to stone Him.
The Pharisees could not reconcile Jesus’ claim to be divine. They could not make it work within their understanding of God, so they wrote Jesus off as a blasphemer. He was little more than crazy. But there are still those today who would deny the divinity of Jesus. The late Robert W. Funk, founder of the Jesus Seminar, once wrote, “We should give Jesus a demotion. It is no longer credible to think of Jesus as divine. Jesus’ divinity goes together with the old theistic way of thinking about God.” His rejection of Jesus as divine was clear. “A Jesus who drops down out of heaven, performs some magical act that frees human beings from the power of sin, rises from the dead, and returns to heaven is simply no longer credible.” But Funk and his fellow members of the Jesus Seminar are not alone. Unitarians and Universalists reject the deity of Christ, teaching that He was merely a man. Over the centuries, there have been countless attempts to either rationalize away Jesus’ deity. What we cannot explain, we tend to reject. But the gospel of Jesus Christ hinges on the deity of Jesus Christ. He was not just a man sent by God to live an exemplary life and die a martyr’s death. He came to live a sinless life and die a sacrificial, substitutionary death as the unblemished Lamb of God. But even with this Robert W. Funk and others take issue. “The doctrine of the atonement—the claim that God killed his own son in order to satisfy his thirst for satisfaction—is sub-rational and sub-ethical. This monstrous doctrine is the stepchild of a primitive sacrificial system in which the gods had to be appeased by offering them some special gift, such as a child or an animal.” At the core of man’s rejection of Jesus’ deity is the notion that we don’t need a savior. Either we reject God’s assessment of our sinfulness or we somehow think we can fix the problem ourselves. We can be our own saviors. But God knew the only solution to our problem was to send His Son to do for us what we could never have done for ourselves. “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3 ESV). God entered time and space in human flesh. Unbelievable? No doubt about it. Inconceivable? From a human perspective, yes. But God became visible so that salvation might be made possible. Sin required a sacrifice. That sacrifice had to be a man. The righteousness of God required that man be without sin. The unbelievable, inconceivable, inexplicable nature of Jesus as the God-man, made it possible for Him to meet that requirement and satisfy the just demands of a holy God. He came. He lived. He died. He rose again. God became visible and made man’s salvation possible. I don’t have to explain it, but I do have to accept it.