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The Person of Christ

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
July 12, 2022 12:01 am

The Person of Christ

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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July 12, 2022 12:01 am

The Bible identifies Jesus by many different names and titles, each of which provides a unique glimpse into what sets Him apart from every other man. Today, R.C. Sproul explores the rich meaning of the various titles attributed to Christ.

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When we recite the Apostles' Creed, we declare that we believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord. There is a sense in which this title, Christ, is pregnant with meaning that draws its meaning from the various pages and chapters of Old Testament biblical history.

And all of that is fulfilled in Jesus. For centuries, Christians have stood in their churches and recited the familiar words of this great confession of faith. The earliest version of the Apostles' Creed dates back to the middle of the second century.

The version we use today came into use sometime in the middle of the fifth century. It affirms belief in God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This week on Renewing Your Mind, Dr. R.C. Sproul is using the Apostles' Creed to explain the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. Let's join R.C.

now. We're going to start now with that section of the creed that moves our attention from God the Father to God the Son. And though the creed is brief, the biggest section of the creed focuses, of course, on the person and the work of Jesus.

That's why it's called Christianity, because at the heart of our faith is the person and work of Jesus. And so the creed reads, after the statements of Maker of heaven and earth with respect to God, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. Let's just look at that segment of the creed, Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.

Now, a lot is being said in those words. Now, we have a separate series here at Ligonier that goes into detail of the meaning of the titles that are ascribed to Jesus in the New Testament. But I will just mention in passing a couple of the significant aspects about this part of the confession, that when the church says that they believe in Jesus Christ, the word Christ is not understood here simply as a person's name. But in the New Testament, we find numerous titles given to Jesus. And in terms of the frequencies of titles that are ascribed to Jesus, far and away the most frequent, number one in numerical occurrence, is the title Christ. And we have to keep in mind that Jesus is His name and Christ and Christ is His supreme title. If you were to ask in antiquity what Jesus' full name was, you would hear something like Jesus bar Joseph or Jesus of Nazareth. His name is not Jesus Christ, but this title is so important, so preeminent to the New Testament teaching about Jesus that we often think of the title Christ as if it were the last name of Jesus.

But we must remember that when the church made that confession, they were reiterating the confession that Saint Peter made at Caesarea Philippi, thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. The word Christ in the New Testament comes simply right directly from the Greek word Christos, which translates the Old Testament word messiah, which comes over into English as what word? Messiah. The meaning of the term Messiah, the meaning of the term Christos, or Christ, is the anointed one.

But when we say that we believe in Jesus Christ, we are making a confession of faith at that point, saying Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, and the title Christ is a loaded title. Because in the Old Testament, we don't have one unitary, simple portrait of what the Messiah, who is promised to Israel, will look like. But rather, we have different strands of messianic expectancy in the Old Testament. There are those prophecies of the Messiah who will come, who will be like Moses, the mediator of a new covenant. And so you have that strand of the portrait of the Messiah, the one who will come like Moses. Or you hear in Isaiah's prophecies of the prediction of the one who is the suffering servant of Israel, the servant of the Lord, the one who will bear the sins of the people, who will enter into humiliation. And so you have all of those prophecies about this Messiah character who will be a suffering servant. And then you have the messianic promises of the Old Testament that talk about the restoration of the kingdom of Israel to the days of glory like it was under David, and out of the seed of David, out of that lineage of David, and out of the tribe of Judah, the royal King will come to usher in the new dimension of the reign of God. So you have the whole concept of the Davidic King that the people look forward to.

And we could go on. How about in the apocalyptic literature in the Old Testament, particularly in the book of Daniel, which talks about a heavenly being who is sent to earth from the throne of the Ancient of Days, whose function is to be the judge of the world. And his title is called The Son of Man. And so you have all these different viewpoints or perspectives or nuances to the portrait of the Messiah. And if you were just reading the Old Testament and looked at all those different strands, the second Adam, the one like Moses, the Son of Man, the suffering servant, the Davidic King, all these different strands that you're looking for, how could all of those converge in one person?

It's incredible. It's unthinkable that you could have one born of the seed of David, a human being who is a king, and yet at the same time a judge that's sent from heaven try to put those two together. And if that's not complicated enough, add to that the idea of a suffering servant. How does that suffering servant square with the portrait of a royal king or a Mosaic law giver? Yet what we find in the New Testament is that every one of these individual strands converge in the symmetry of the life and the work of Jesus Christ.

It's incredible, particularly if you study the details of those different expectancies and see how they all come to pass. Again, the high priest, add that motif, makes it all the more complicated. And yet Jesus comes and He exercises the role of the prophet. He exercises the role of the king. He exercises the role of the great high priest, prophet, priest, and king. Not only that, He is the sin bearer. He's the suffering servant. You remember John's vision in the book of Revelation when he's allowed to peer into the judgment seat of heaven? And the scroll is there and the book of Revelation is there, and the book of Life is there, and the announcement comes, who is worthy to open the book?

And nobody is worthy. And then finally the angel announces that, behold, the lion from the tribe of Judah has prevailed, and he will come in and open up the book. And you're all waiting there for the lion to come roaring out on the center stage and rip open the scrolls, seals, and reveal this book.

And what happens? Does a lion come? No, a lamb that was slain steps on the center stage. So there is a sense in which this title, Christ, is pregnant with meaning that draws its meaning from the various pages and chapters of Old Testament biblical history. And all of that is fulfilled in Jesus. So the church confesses its faith that Jesus is the anointed one, the one promised beforehand to Israel, the Messiah of the people of God, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son. Here the creed calls attention to the uniqueness of Christ. Jesus is called the only begotten of the Father in the Bible, that the sonship that He enjoys, the relationship that He has with the Father is one of a kind. In fact, I'm searching in the English language for a word that will capture the concept that we find in the Scriptures of the New Testament. We use the term unique, or we use the term only, but they don't really cover the waterfront adequately.

The Germans have a word for it, einmalikkeit, once for allness. Now Jesus, as what the Bible calls the monogenes, the only begotten Son of the Father, is what we call sui generis, that is, in a class by Himself. There is none like Him.

There is no one who has repeated it. We are called sons of God, but only by virtue of our adoption in Jesus Christ. So Jesus is uniquely the Son of God.

That's one of His titles. But more often, the New Testament refers to Jesus as Son of Man. I forget the exact number, 82 or 83 times in the New Testament, Jesus is called the Son of Man, and all but two or three of those, Jesus does. This is Jesus' favorite title for Himself, Son of Man. So since the church confesses both the humanity of Jesus and the deity of Jesus, and we have two titles, Son of God, Son of Man, it would be natural to assume that the title Son of Man has primary reference to what? Humanity. And Son of God, primary reference to His deity. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.

Okay? Because in fact, the figure of the Son of Man in the Old Testament is a heavenly being, and the Son of Man does not refer to Jesus' deity exclusively. There is an element in the title Son of Man that calls attention to His humanity. But predominantly, the emphasis in the title Son of Man is on His heavenly nature. So there's a sense in which they are almost reversed, but not quite.

We would be equally in error if we said they're just the opposite. Son of Man emphasizes deity, but contains humanity. Son of God actually emphasizes humanity because again, sonship is defined by obedience, and angels are sometimes called sons of God, kings are called sons of God, so that the title Son of God in and of itself does not necessarily imply deity. However, when we look at the title Only Begotten Son, when the New Testament works over that theme of the monogenes, the only begotten of the Father, I think it does incorporate more than that relationship of filial obedience and calls attention to the divine character of Christ. Okay, we have the title Christ, we have the title Only Son, and we have the title Our Lord. Remember I said at the beginning that the very first confession of faith of the early church was the simple statement, Jesus is Lord.

The word for Lord in the New Testament, the Greek word that is applied to Jesus here, is the Greek translation of the Hebrew title Adonai, which in the Old Testament is virtually exclusively relegated to God the Father. You remember the Jews didn't like to speak the name of Yahweh. It was the ineffable name, the unspoken name, and so the Jews sought means of what we call circumlocution. What's circumlocution? Walking around something or talking around something. Circumlocution is the Latin way of saying it, I guess, and paraphrasis is another word that means the same thing, just comes from a different language.

The idea of walking or talking around something without actually saying it. And so in Jewish worship, in order to avoid desecrating or blaspheming the sacred name, the name that they most frequently used for God was the title Adonai, the Hebrew equivalent to the New Testament word Lord. And so the concept of the lordship of Jesus had a majestic imperial meaning to it. The Lord is one who is sovereign, and sovereignty in the absolute sense to the Jew is reserved for God. One of the reasons why the Christians became human torches to illumine the gardens of Nero and so on is because as part of their loyalty oath to the Roman Empire, they had to make this simple affirmation, Kaiser ho curios. Caesar is Lord. And the Christians say, hey, we'll pay our taxes, we'll obey the magistrates, we'll do everything you tell us to do, we'll say that Caesar is Caesar, but one thing we will not do is take the title Lord and render it to Caesar. We will render to Caesar the things that are Caesar, but unto God the things that are God. And the title curios in its supreme sense, Lord, is to be applied only to God. And so when the Christian church confessed that Jesus was Lord, and not just Lord, not just curios, but curios curion, the Lord of Lords, it was clearly an ascription of deity to Jesus. Remember the kenadi kim of Philippians 2 where Paul says, Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, took his equality with God, not as a thing to be grasped or tenaciously held on to, jealously guarded, but he emptied himself, not of his deity certainly, but he emptied himself and took upon himself the form of a servant, became obedient even unto death, and so on. Wherefore, hath God highly exalted him and given him the name that is above every name? That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess what?

That he is Lord, that he is curios, to the glory of God the Father. Now the question is, what is the name that is above every name? On the surface it may appear in that text that the name that Paul is saying is above every name is the name Jesus, but Jesus had that name before he perfected his work of obedience. That's the name he has from his childhood. It's only in his ascension really and his exaltation that he is given the supreme name, the name that is above every name.

But what is that name? Lord. And that's the name we are called upon to express on our knees and on our faces before Jesus. So that when we say that Jesus is our Lord, we say He is our sovereign. He has authority over us. He's not only our Savior, but He is our sovereign. Okay, now after this brief confession of titles with respect to Jesus in very rapid fire synopsis, the creed goes over the skeletal outline of the life of Jesus. Now in theology we distinguish between the person of Christ and the work of Christ.

Now notice I said we distinguish them, but you can't ever separate them because there's a sense in which how do we know the person of Jesus? By what He did. And how do we know the significance of what He did? By understanding who He was.

So that the two have a relationship of reciprocity and mutual connection between them, person and work. Notice that in the beginning of the creed we have a confession about the person of Jesus, His identity, who He is. He's the Christ. He's the only Son of God. He is our Lord. Now what about the work of Christ, which now calls attention to what He did as Messiah, Son, and Lord.

And what He did is incorporated in His life. And it's interesting to me at least that the creed begins with an affirmation of His virgin birth. In the Roman symbol that we've mentioned before, it simply said He was born by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary.

There wasn't any mention of conception, but that detail is added later. But from the earliest days in church history, the affirmation of the virgin birth of Jesus was central to the church's confession. I was just reading again in G.C. Berkhauer's work the other day called The Work of Christ. He said that from the first century through the nineteenth century it's been virtually a monolithic, non-negotiable article of confession of the Christian faith. And even in the second century, the church fathers of the second century considered the virgin birth as an essential item of Christianity. That is, if you didn't believe in the virgin birth, you could not gain admission into the Christian church. And Berkhauer said that it is interesting that it is only in that period of church history where the integrity and trustworthiness of the Scripture has been under attack that the church has ever had to defend within its own membership its ancient confession of the virgin birth of Jesus. And as I go over in the book Basic Training, I try to go over briefly at least some of the major issues that have emerged in the last hundred and fifty years that center on this question of the virgin birth. But I want to look at something here for just a moment that maybe you haven't thought of, and that's why did the theologians of church history regard the virgin birth as being important? Not merely because the integrity of the apostolic witness is at stake, you know, Luke's trustworthiness in recording it and Matthew's trustworthiness in teaching it, but is there any theological significance to the virgin birth?

Now as soon as you ask that question, you do embark upon something of a highway of speculation, which can become a little bit dangerous. But some say, was it necessary for Jesus to be born of a virgin in order to accomplish the work that God sent him to carry out? Well some argue, I'm sure you've heard this argument, that it was very important that Jesus not be born tainted by original sin. And it was axiomatic in the Scripture that everyone that is born to the natural progression of birth brought into the world with the fallen human nature. That which is born of the flesh is flesh.

It's in a state of fallenness. Now the Redeemer is like us in every respect but one. He is sinless, and that doesn't just mean actual sin, but He's also without original sin. So some just simply see the explanation, the rational explanation for the virgin birth as being focused strictly in the whole question of Jesus being born with or without original sin.

Now there are some other nuances to that that could get us into some parentheses that may last forever. But the other dimension that is often overlooked is that in the church's understanding of the Trinity and in the church's understanding of the person of Christ, the church has declared that in the Trinity we have one essence, three persons. And that's the classic and traditional formula for the Trinity, that God is one in essence, three in person. But how has the church confessed her faith in the mystery of the incarnation, in the person of Jesus?

It's just the opposite. In Jesus you have how many persons? One person, two natures. Now to understand that theologically, how can you have one person and two natures? It's not that God stops being God and starts being a man, or a man is suddenly deified. But the idea is that the second person of the Trinity, the eternal Son of God doesn't lose something of His own nature, but He takes upon Himself a human nature so that the second person of the Trinity adds to Himself a human nature, not a human person.

Otherwise you have two persons. You've got one person with a divine nature and a human nature. The second person of the Trinity, the divine Logos, assumes a human nature, and he gets that human nature from the woman. He gets the flesh, or the humanity, from Mary. The divine person, however, comes and acquires that and is born into this world so that you have one person, two natures.

And again, it's speculative, but the speculation is that is what God did to avoid having two persons, or a mutation of the divine nature, or a deification of a human nature. That's Dr. R.C. Sproul exploring the rich meanings of the titles of Jesus. Thanks for listening to Renewing Your Mind on this Tuesday.

I'm Lee Webb. This week Dr. Sproul is using the Apostle's Creed as a framework for explaining the basics of the Christian faith. For your donation of any amount, we would like to send you the DVD that contains all six lessons. You can make your request online at, or you can call us. Our number is 800-435-4343. And let me express our gratitude for your generosity.

It's only through gifts like yours that we can continue producing teaching series like this one. You'll find many more helpful resources when you download the free Ligonier app. Hundreds of videos, audio messages, and articles are available to you there. Plus, you can follow a daily Bible study plan.

Just search for Ligonier in your app store. R.C. said today that as Christians we center our faith on the person and work of Jesus. We'll continue exploring that tomorrow, and we'll look at why Pontius Pilate's name is included in the Creed. I hope you'll join us Wednesday for Renewing Your Mind. Thank you.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-25 22:34:52 / 2023-03-25 22:43:35 / 9

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