I have just started taking classes at Golden Gate Theological Seminary, and one of my first assignments was to write a response to a commonly held belief that Jesus was a moral man but not God. So how can we respond to such a belief? How would you respond?
We could appeal to the Bible and point out all the verses where Jesus tells us that He and the Father are one (John 10:30), or the God claim he made when he said, “before Abraham was born, I AM” (John 8:58). But they might respond by saying the Bible is unreliable. We could appeal to faith, but they might respond by saying that faith is not enough. So where then can we go from there? Is there another compelling argument we could share with them in our effort to persuade them to turn to Christ (2 Corinthians 5:11)?
I believe one of the most compelling pieces of evidence to the deity of Christ is found in the analysis of the behavior of the early church fathers. We could point to their willingness to die for this man whom they clearly believed was God in human flesh. This is documented from external Biblical sources and is not a contested fact. The objector, however, might then say this only requires blind faith. Christians all over the world are willing to give up their lives for what they believe, but that doesn’t mean what they believe is true.
And here is where things get very interesting. Imagine for a moment you are a first-century Jew and an eye-witness of Jesus. You have seen him perform miracles and preach with authority and make claims that only God can make. You have seen him die and rise again three days later in accordance with the scriptures. You have witnessed all of this first hand. Would you be willing to die for this truth? Absolutely. But what if none of it was true? What if you had seen that he did not perform miracles or preach with authority or make claims that only God can make? What if you saw him die and were part of the team that stole his body from the tomb at night? What if you were in on the planning process of how you and the rest of his followers were going to come up with an elaborate theology that claimed he was the Christ? And what if one day you found yourself in front of the Jewish religious authorities and were commanded under the threat of death to come clean and admit to the lie you had been perpetuating?
Would you be willing to die for something you knew first hand to be a lie?
It amazes me how God can put desires in our heart, to where we own them, and it then becomes our desire. When I began the adventure of seminary in the bay area in January of 2007, I had not much of a clue in what manner God would have me serve Him. All I knew is that He was worthy of my life, and in my heart I knew I would be settling if I were to pursue any other vocation.
In my first semester, I was taking a course that was aimed at laying the foundation for our future ministry. One part of this course was to seek, pray and ultimately discover what our personal values were, and what it was that would “make our hearts sing” in ministry. I remember pouring much prayer and thought into those moments, and in those moments arose within me desire. Desire that I believed God had placed in my heart.
The interesting thing is that I didn’t think too much of that activity the rest of my days in seminary. To be honest, it was a fun-filled, busy time. I was a full-time husband, youth pastor, worship leader, Starbucks barista, student, friend, eventually dad, you get the idea. To think again and again about that process and arrival was not something that crossed my mind much, if at all.
I’ve always been curious about what theologians call our union with Christ. Actually, the words ‘in Christ’ occur 242 times in the New Testament. So, what does this ‘in Christ’ mean? What are its implications on our identity? How does our union with Christ impact our daily lives? These are just some of the questions I have thought through in reference to this key theological concept. A few months back I read a book by J. Todd Billings called Union with Christ. In it, Billings uses a parable from Soren Kierkegaard which was wonderfully helpful and illuminating. He states:
“Imagine a day laborer living in a great kingdom. The day laborer never dreamed…that the emperor knew he existed, who then would consider himself indescribably favored just to be permitted to see the emperor once, something he would relate to his children and grandchildren as the most important event in his life. But suppose the emperor did something scandalous. If the emperor sent for him and told him that he wanted him for his son-in-law: what then? Quite humanly, the day laborer would be more or less puzzled, self-conscious, and embarrassed by it; he would think the emperor wanted to make a fool of him, make him a laughingstock of the whole city. In this parable, the day laborer recognizes the high and exalted place of the emperor. An occasional encounter with the emperor would be delightful—enough so that the day laborer could keep his own comfortable life, keep his friends, keep his identity, yet have it embellished by the honor of the emperor. But what if the emperor wants to make him his own son? The prospect of adoption in this sense is an offense. It is too much closeness—it is the sort of closeness that requires giving up one’s own identity. Yes, it is a high and exalted place to be the child of the emperor, but king of the land, that is too high and exalted. Wouldn’t he lose all that is precious to him if he were to ascend to be the king’s son? It would be wonderful if the king would send him some money or a letter to cherish as a relic. But the king is asking for much more. The king is asking to be more than an accessory to his identity. The king wants his full identity, his entire life—wants him to be exalted, the child of the king.”
Have you ever watched someone sculpt? It looks quite random, as each thumbed impression of clay seems like a pursuit in futility. But then over time patterns arise, mosaics become clear and chance gives way to providence.
Our story, the story of The Branch is very much like a piece of clay; not much to look at, but given the right Sculptor becomes a beautiful tapestry of God’s unfolding grace in the lives of His children.
So, in 2011 and as Providence would have it, three families embarked upon a curious journey, ultimately unfolding in the conception of The Branch.
Though the story of The Branch has but merely begun, we take pleasure in knowing God’s molding hands are at work, sculpting an unbelievable story, about an unbelievable Man who redeems an unbelieving world.