8. Christ our example

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God – even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.


(I Cor.10:31-11:1)


‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them.  ‘You call me “Teacher” and “Lord”, and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.


(John 13:12-15)




In our thinking about the Incarnate Christ we have been laying the foundation for one of the most important ideas we have yet to negotiate - that of Christ as our example.  Our recognition of the fullness and integrity Christ’s own humanity and of the role of the Holy Spirit in His life ensure a sense of proximity to our own experience of discipleship.


There are of course aspects of Christ’ life and ministry that we cannot emulate, and should not try.  And yet even these create the context for our imitation of Christ in those aspects we can and should.  His substitutionary death, bearing our sin in our place before His Father, is not something we could replicate, even if we wanted to.  But the fact that Jesus has done that means the power of sin in us is at least in principle broken.  Christ bearing our sin paves the way for our bearing His righteousness, and for our beginning to work out that righteousness in the reality of our own experience by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Further, it is the guarantee of our own resurrection and glorification.


There are at least three further restricting features as we seek to follow His example.  The first is that Christ’s humanity was sinless.  Although He took our humanity scarred as it is by the effects of sin, He did not take sinful flesh.  By contrast we continue to live in these lowly bodies of death (see Rom.7:24; Phil.3:21).  Secondly is the fact that Christ’s humanity is allied to His Divine Nature.  This emblazons His genuine humanity as fire glows in metal, and adds a unique aspect to His relationship with the Spirit.  And thirdly, the ‘measure’ of the Spirit seems at least quantitatively if not qualitatively different, and with it a perfect correspondence and co-operation between the Spirit and the Son.  These all create a sense of discontinuity between Christ’s experience and ours, and limit the extent to which we can duplicate His life in our own. But when all is said and done, the continuity remains as well.  There are keys ways in which Jesus in His incarnation provides a paradigm for Christian (i.e. authentically human) living.  In the New Testament we see this working out in a couple of different ways. 


Initially in the brute fact of the incarnation itself.  The reality that our Lord was prepared to, and delighted in, becoming human is itself a model for Christian living.  When the Philippians are struggling with pride, and the contentiousness it brings, Paul takes them back to the humility of Christ in surrendering His rights as God in order to become human, indeed a servant-human, a rejected human (Phil.2:5-8).  When Paul seeks to inspire generosity in the Corinthian Church, he does it by appealing to Christ, who ‘though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich’ (II Cor.8:9)


But there is also those examples drawn from Christ’s life after he has become incarnate.  Peter, encouraging disciples to endure in suffering reminds them that Jesus left an example for them to follow: ‘when they hurled their insults at [Christ], he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly‘ (I Pet.2:21-23). Similarly Hebrews inspires perseverance by calling us to imitate the psychology of Jesus: For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (12:2-3)


With all the qualifications in place, understanding our discipleship as a learning to follow the example of Jesus is a good way to think about being a Christian.  Jesus consciously taught His disciples from His own example (e.g. Matt.20:25-28), albeit in this qualified way.  We are called to follow His example of servant heartedness, especially in leadership, but we are not to give our lives as a ransom for many.  Some things only Jesus can do!



What do you think it means to grow as a Christian?  How do you assess spiritual maturity?  What do you think are the main obstacles to growth?  How can we help each other grow as disciples of the Lord Jesus?


Do you think Jesus could have sinned?  If not what is the point of His being tempted in the first place?  Does Jesus’ sinlessness make it harder for us to identify with Him?


How can we learn from Jesus how to resist temptation?



Read John 13:1-17


Read v.14-15: Do you think we should in fact wash each other’s feet as part of our discipleship? …or as part of our worship service?


Why are the disciples unwilling to serve each other?  Why do we find it so difficult?  How do you know when you have genuinely served someone, and when you’ve done it from ulterior motives? 


vv.6-9: Why does Peter feel so awkward about being served by Jesus? 


What does Jesus mean in v.8, when He says that unless He washes Peter, he can have no part with Him?


v.10.  Many Bible students see here a ‘parable’ of the cross.  If it is that, how can we follow Jesus’ example?  Surely we can’t cleanse people the way Jesus does?


How can we support each other as we seek to follow Jesus’ example - in this and in other instances such as those listed above? 


v.17:  What does it mean to be ‘blessed’?  How compelling a motivation for you is the prospect of being blessed?


Memory Passage:


That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.  You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.




For further reflection:


In our next Jesus-Centred-Life term we will consider much more fully the work of Christ in His life, death, resurrection and ascension.  But He is able to do what He does only because He is who He is, and because He is what He is.  As we draw this term to a close here is a great quote from John Chrysostom who was Bishop of Constantinople at the end of the 4th century: ‘I do not think of Christ as God alone or as man alone, but as both together.  For I know He was hungry, and I know that with five loaves He fed five thousand.  I know He was thirsty, and I know He turned water into wine.  I know He was carried in a ship and that He walked on water.  I know that He died and that He raised the dead.  I know that He stood before Pilate, and I know that He sits with the Father on His throne.  I know that He was worshipped by angels, and I know that He was stoned by the Jews.  And truly some of these I ascribe to the human and others to the Divine nature.  For by reason of this He is said to [be] both God and Man’.


This uniting of His God-ness and His human-ness is not dissolved even in His death (though it does separate elements of His humanity, which are duly restored in His resurrection).  It is in His enduring humanity, His glorified humanity, that Christ reigns, intercedes for the Church, and will return to judge the world.  It is of a glorified Human that Paul writes when He says we will ‘be conformed to the image of his Son’ (Rom.8:29); and whom John says we will be like (I Jn.3:2).  Our future is a human future, and ‘just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man’ (I Cor.15:49).  Our origins and destiny are inexorably intertwined with the Man Jesus of Nazareth.  For this we are truly grateful, and for this we will bow in worship for everlasting ages.

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7. Christ and the Spirit

Come near me and listen to this: ‘From the first announcement I have not spoken in secret; at the time it happens, I am there.’  And now the Sovereign Lord has sent me, endowed with his Spirit.  This is what the Lord says – your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: ‘I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.




Then John gave this testimony: ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.  And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptise with water told me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.”  I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.’

(John 1:32-34)




We have already thought about the eternal covenant made between the Father and the Son in relation to creation and redemption (Heb.13:20).  But what was the role joyfully assigned to the Holy Spirit?  He was to anoint and equip the Mediator in all that was required for the work of creation and redemption.  This relationship with the Spirit was emblazoned in the title by which Jesus is known throughout the Scriptures and to this day.  He is the Anointed One (Christ / Messiah); and His anointing was foreshadowed in the anointing of every Prophet (e.g. I Kings 19:16), Priest (e.g. Ex.29:4-9), and King (e.g. I Sam.9:15-16) in the Old Testament.  It is worth noting that in the Gospels and the book of Acts no-one is ever ignorant of the fact that such an Anointed One is prophesied.  The only dispute is whether Jesus was the Christ (see Matt.2:4; Jn.1:41; Jn.4:25 etc.)


The Scriptures testify to this at every step and stage of Christ’s incarnational ministry.   When Mary asks how she will conceive since she is a virgin, the angels simply declares: ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you…’, thus the One born to her shall be holy (Lk.1:35).  It is the Holy Spirit who prepares a body for Christ, ensuring it neither contracts guilt from Adam, nor corruption from the sinful flesh of Mary, and equally ensuring His own righteousness even in the womb (contra the experience of all other humans, Ps.51:5).  Christ is inconceivable (in both senses!) without the Holy Spirit.  It was the Holy Spirit who gave Him all the capacities and gifts necessary for His life and work; who bore His fruit exclusively in the character of Christ throughout the hidden years, enabling Him to understand from the Scriptures a full consciousness of His person and work, to be inwardly aware of His Son-ship, and to grow in wisdom, stature and in favour with God and people (Is.11:2; Lk.2:49-52; I Cor.2:14).  It was the Holy Spirit who confirmed the sinlessness of Jesus’s humanity and who sustained it’s righteousness, enabling Jesus to resist temptation at every point (Lk.4:1 & 14).


It was the Holy Spirit who descended on Him in His baptism, equipping Him for His public ministry, communicating His Father’s vindication and pleasure, and conferring on Him the supernatural gifts which had been promised throughout the Old Testament (Matt.3:16; Jn.1:33).  The Spirit remained on Him to an unprecedented degree (John 3:34), enabling a ministry that is unrivalled in power, consistency and effect (see e.g. Matt.12:28).  Jesus the Man is thus empowered to speak the words of God and to do the works of God, filling His heart with joy (Lk.10:21; Gal.5:22) and an unrelenting zeal for the cause of His Father, and commitment to His call on His life.  And in the end it is by the Spirit that Jesus offers Himself to the Father as an unblemished sacrifice (Heb.9:14); and it is by the Spirit that He is raised from the dead (I Pet.3:18).   


In is critical that we recognise the integrity of Jesus’ incarnation.  As a Man, living a real human life in the reality of this fallen world He doesn’t ‘cheat’.  He doesn’t draw on the power of His deity in order to resist temptation or do the work of his Father in a way that categorically alien to us (Acts 10:38).  Many of the prophets perform spectacular miracles but they did not have a Divine Nature.  But the purpose of ‘their’ miracles was the same as that of Jesus’ own miracles - to testify to the truth of Jesus (Jn.6:35; 11:25).


The recognition that it is by the Spirit that Jesus lives His life and fulfils God’s call on that life raises some profound questions for the Church.   For the Jesus who was anointed with the Spirit, now anoints the Church with that same Spirit (Acts 2:33).  It is the greatest display of His exaltation, for no-one other than the exalted Lord could bestow the Spirit on another.  In fact this was His purpose: He redeemed us … so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Gal.3:14).



Do you think that because we have the same Holy Spirit as Jesus that we should expect to see the same miraculous powers at work in the life of the Church as we see in the life of the Christ?


What do you think Jesus means when He says we will do greater things than He did (Jn.14:12)


Can you think of any miracles Jesus did in His earthly life that are without precedent in the Old Testament? 


Read Acts 2:42-47


What does a Spirit-filled Church look like?  How would we know the Holy Spirit was present in the midst of His people?


What does ‘devoted’ (v.42) mean?  Does that describe our attitude at MIE to the aspects of Church life listed in v.42?


What is the significance of the fact that the wonders and signs were being performed by the Apostles (v.43)?  


Do you think vv.44-45 should be the economic policy of MIE?  Why / why not?  Is it wrong for Christians to retain private property?


Do you think this level of worship and hospitality is realistic?  Sustainable?  Why did they want to spend so much time together?  Do you think that is normal for Churches?  Should we seek to cultivate this at MIE?


Do you think that ‘enjoying the favour of all the people’ is always a mark of a Spirit filled Church?  Why / why not?


What do you make of the evangelistic fruitfulness of v.47?  Would you say that a Spirit filled Church should see people becoming Christians as a regular feature?  What would you say about a Church that wasn’t seeing people saved?

Memory Passage:


The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.


Is.61:1-3, see also Lk.4:16-21


For further reflection:


One of the key aspects of the life of the Spirit in the Apostolic Church relates to the inspiring of the Scriptures (Jn.16:12-14; I Cor.2:10-14).  There is extraordinary resonance and symmetry between the two ‘words’ of God.  In both, the Father is breathing out His Word by the Spirit, and both are revealed in and through humanity.  The Word became flesh and is testified to by a word that is also fully human.  For all their Divine origin, the Scriptures are penned by human authors.   But the humanity of the authors does not call into question the trustworthiness of the words they wrote.  Christ provides a model of how to understand the nature of Scripture.  So B.B. Warfield, writing just over a century ago:


“As in the case of our Lord’s Person, the human nature remains truly human, yet can never fall into sin or error because it can never act out of relation with the Divine nature … so in the case of the production of Scripture.  The human factors have acted as human factors, and have left their mark on the product as such, and yet cannot have fallen into error, because they have not acted apart from Divine factors, by themselves, but only under their unerring guidance”.


Of course we don’t press the analogy too far.  There are important differences, not least that the Word is a Person and the word is a book (albeit a personal book).  But the point of the analogy still stands.  And so we rejoice in our confidence that the Spirit has given the Church a full, reliable and trustworthy testimony to the person and work of Christ.  For Christ the Revealer needs also to be revealed (Matt.11:27).

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6. Christ and Incarnation II

I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar?  It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist – denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.


(I John 2:21-22)


Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet he did not sin.






We saw in our last study that the Church has often struggled to grasp in its entirety what the Bible teaches about Christ becoming flesh.  He takes to Himself our humanity, but in such a way that it remains without sin.  Such a humanity could only be produced by a miraculous new creation by the Holy Spirit.  It could never have resulted from a birth like that of other people (see Jn.3:6).  It requires something utterly beyond the restrictions of normal biological process; indeed so far beyond them that the Lord suggests it is at the very margins of possibility, in ‘the deepest depths … the highest heights’ (Is.7:10).  We have seen how difficult it is to conceptualise something that stretches the limits of creation!


The Incarnation is a sign of God’s redemptive intent, but it is also a sign of God’s judgement.  It is the cosmic declaration that humanity needs a Redeemer, but that it cannot produce one from within itself.  We will never evolve to a point where we can redeem ourselves.  There must be a decisive intrusion from outside, a fundamental new beginning.  This is what the ‘Virgin Birth’ achieves. As He is conceived by Mary through the Holy Spirit, Christ is able to enter with integrity into the history of humanity (Lk.1:35).  It is critical that Christ takes our humanity.  As the ancient theologians of the Church taught: what is not assumed cannot be healed (John of Damascus, The Orthodox Faith III:6; see Heb.2:14-17).  Yet He must also stand apart from our sin and guilt.  He must remain holy in the deepest sense of the word (Heb.7:26; Lk.1:35).  If His humanity is breached by His sinning, we can only shudder to think what this would mean for the unity of His Being.  The Man who is God would have sinned.  Could the Holy! Holy! Holy! God survive such violation?  All reality would implode!


Yet while we must maintain the purity and righteousness of Christ in His humanity, we must also recognise that the Incarnation is deeply connected with the fact of human sin (Matt.1:21; Lk.1:68; Matt.20:28; Jn.1:29; Gal.4:4-5).  His wider ministry of mediation has been continued since before the creation, but in the incarnation that mediation takes on a specific redemptive form, that will be inevitably connected to sacrifice.   Jesus takes on a human life so that He can die a human death.  In this sense too, the Incarnation is both a sign of judgement and of God’s redemptive intent.  For in Christ, He bears that judgement against the sinfulness of humanity, that we might become the righteousness of God (II Cor.5:21).  Only the incarnation could allow for such a deep transaction.  ‘If He is not fully God He is not able to deal with sin; but if not a Man, He has no blood to shed (Acts 20:28)’.  Only through the incarnation could the gloriously righteous Lord of Creation be crucified for that creation’s redemption (I Cor.2:8).  Here is the wisdom, grace and power of our God displayed.  Here we bow in worship, and offer our bodies in turn as a living sacrifice holy and pleasing to God, which is after all our true and proper worship (Rom.12:1).


While the Incarnation of the holy God is a sign of judgement, but it is also a sign of hope.  As a human Jesus re-calibrates the destiny of this creation of which He is now a part, hauling it back from the brink of chaos and destruction, drawing it through judgement and into a future that is already inaugurated in His own resurrection.  We see in Jesus not only what we are, but what we will be.  As the 19th Century Scottish theologian John Duncan puts it: ‘the dust of the earth is on the throne of heaven’.  In His glorified humanity we are confronted with our destiny, for as we were created in such a way that Christ might participate in our human nature, so we were created in such a way that we might participate in His Divine nature (II Pet.1:4).  It has led some to wonder whether the Incarnation should best be understood as the humanisation of the Divine, or the divinisation of the human…  The incarnation might be central to our vision of God, but it must also be central to our vision of humanity.



Do you think it matters how we envisage the relationship between the God-ness and the human-ness of Jesus?


Read I John 4:1-3.  Why does John make the Incarnation the test case for authentic Christianity?  Do you agree with Him?


How should our vision of the future shape our life here and now?  How can we help one another to make sure it does in fact have that effect?


Read Philippians 2:5-11


Paul is using the experience of Christ in His incarnation to provide an example for Christian life and relationships (v.5).  What do you think he is encouraging in Christian living?  How does Jesus’ example compel us?


What does it mean to say that Christ made Himself nothing (v.7)?  Some translations (e.g. ESV) speak here of Jesus emptying Himself?  What is Paul getting at?


Why is Jesus made ‘in human likeness’, and found ‘in appearance as a man’?  Is Paul suggesting that Jesus isn’t quite ‘fully’ human?


How do you feel about the Christian life being framed in terms of ‘obedience’?


Is there anything in our own experience of Christianity that corresponds to Jesus’ exaltation?  If you think there is, what is it?  How does the prospect of it impact you?


Hasn’t Jesus always been exalted?  How can this be seen as a ‘new’ experience for Him (v.9)?


What is the significance of Paul’s citing Is.45:22-24 in this section of Philippians?



Memory Passage:


His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

II Peter 1:3-4


For further reflection:


Over the centuries Mary has attracted a lot of unwanted attention.  In spite of her confession of her own need for a Saviour (Lk.1:47), some have insisted that she must have been sinless herself if she was the ‘God-bearer’. Over the centuries legends grew up, and there was increasing confusion about Mary and her role in bringing Christ into His world.  As with everything, the key is to make sure that what we believe is actually what is taught by the Apostles - no matter how plausible it might otherwise seem!  That is what Mary would have wanted.


Ignatius was the first Bishop of Antioch (as in Acts 11:19-27) toward the end of the first century.  Many Christians we read about in the NT were still alive, including Mary.  Ignatius, deeply captivated by Jesus, writes a letter ‘…to the Christ-bearing Mary:  Please comfort and console me who am a novice ... For I have heard things too wonderful to tell respecting your [son] Jesus, and … I desire with my whole heart to obtain from you information concerning these things [for you] were intimate with Him, and were acquainted with [all] His secrets…’.


Mary’s response is gently but firmly to direct Ignatius back solely to the Apostle’s teaching: The lowly handmaid of Christ Jesus to Ignatius, her beloved fellow-disciple.  The things which you have heard and learned from John concerning Jesus are true. Believe them, cling to them, and hold fast the profession of that Christianity which you have embraced, and conform your habits and life to your profession. Now I will come with John to visit you, and those who are with you. Stand fast in the faith … do not let the fierceness of persecution move you, but let your spirit be strong and rejoice in God your Saviour.  Amen. 


This is wise pastoral counsel, and we do well to listen to it even today.

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5. Christ and Incarnation

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.


(II Cor.8:9)


Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:  He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.

(I Tim.3:16)





And so ‘when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman…’ (Gal.4:4).  The Holy God of Israel… YHWH who had been worshipped throughout the long ages of the Old Testament…  and who before that was the Word through which all creation was called into being…  the Son who had for everlasting ages delighted in fellowship with the Father through the Spirit - this God who had always been became what He had never been.


We need to be careful.  We often talk about God becoming Man.  In a sense this is true, but in another, He has always been the Man (Gen.18:2; Jdgs.16:6 & 10, see e.g. Gen. 48:15-16 for the Angel of the Lord).  But now He appears in the flesh.  The ancient prophecies are finally fulfilled (e.g. Zech.2:10-11, note that the Lord is sending the Lord to live among His people!).  Born of a virgin (Is.7:16), God becomes one of us, fully human.  Over the years people have wondered if passages such as Rom.8:3 (which speaks of the Son having ‘the likeness of sinful flesh’) are teaching us that He never actually became human…  perhaps He only appeared to.  But Paul is seeking to distance Christ from sin, not humanity.  Christ became fully human.  We are not fully human, because we are sinful.  Christ takes our humanity, defaced as it is by sin, but not the sin itself.  His humanity was real - indeed more real than ours. 


The Church struggled for many years to figure out what the Bible meant when it speaks of God becoming flesh.  Many mistakes were made along the way.  Some thought that He was really just a human who was adopted into the life of God; others suggested that perhaps He took a human body, but not a human spirit or maybe not a human mind (that bit being replaced by His divine nature); or maybe He mingled human nature and divine nature into a third kind of being; or possibly that He became somehow less God in order to fit into humanity?  Was He partly God and partly human?  How did His human nature and Divine nature relate to each other - were they separate so that Jesus had two centres of self-consciousness that could be in harmony or in tension with each other? 


Wrestling through the Bible’s teaching in a way that ensured it was all taken into account and faithfully adhered to, was the subject of many writings, councils and international discussions.  After all, how do you talk about something that is an utterly unique experience in the history of creation?  The debates get pretty technical and nuanced, but the key conclusions can be summarised like this:


The Scriptures are clear that Jesus remained and therefore is fully and truly God, but He is not exclusively God - He became fully and truly human as well.  In order to do justice to the Bible’s teaching, neither of these two natures could be compromised in any way - Jesus doesn’t lose anything of His human-ness or His God-ness in the Incarnation.  When you are talking about Jesus, you have to be able to say everything you can about being truly human (i.e. sinlessly human) and about being truly God.  And those two natures are not blended or mingled with each other, and they are not changed in any way by virtue of their being brought together in the Person of Christ, they can never be separated or divided.  Their difference is not in any way minimised, and the human-ness and the God-ness are both fully present.  And yet they are united so deeply and foundationally that there is in fact only One Person who is Jesus Christ  (not two persons in one body)!  So when Jesus thinks of Himself, He has one self-consciousness (albeit one that operates at two levels).  He is the Word become flesh. God experiences everything it means to be human with integrity, ‘from the inside’.  It means that when Jesus speaks, God speaks, when Jesus dies God dies.


The Bishops of the day wrote a statement which we call the Chalcedon Definition (it was written in about 3 weeks during 451 at a council at Chalcedon, in modern day Turkey).  Having agreed ‘unanimously’ the Church’s belief about Jesus, they simply finished by saying that this is after all what ‘from the beginning the prophets have taught concerning Him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself hath taught us, and as the Symbol of the Fathers hath handed down to us’.



Who was keeping the world going while Jesus was a baby in the manger?


What would you say to someone who suggested that the idea of the Incarnation isn’t unique to Christianity - that there are loads of similar ideas in other religions, and that Christianity was just adopting (copying?) those ideas? 


Do you think Jesus’ understanding of the world was limited to that of a first century Galilean?  Was he culturally blinded by his place in history, adopting for example a pre-scientific view of the world?


Read Matthew 1:18-25


Periodically Christian leaders and thinkers make comments to the effect that the virgin birth isn’t really necessary, that it didn’t happen, or that it isn’t necessary.  What do you make of such statements?  What would we lose if we rejected the doctrine of the Virgin Birth?


Do you think it is possible to be a Christian if you don’t think Jesus was born of a virgin?  How important is the line in the creed: ‘conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary’?


What is at stake in the dilemma Joseph thinks he is facing in 1:19?  Why do you think he decides to divorce Mary ‘quietly’?


v.20: Do you think we should expect God to speak to us in dreams today?  Should we pray for and anticipate such experiences?  How would we judge whether such an experience was authentic?


What do you think it will cost Mary and Joseph to bow to the will of their God?  What can we learn from them about the nature of discipleship?


Why is it important to Matthew that ‘this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet’?


Memory Passage:


Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  This is how you can recognise the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

I John 4:1-3


For further reflection:


The Incarnation was never an ‘add-on’, a hitherto un-thought of possibility in response to the reality of sin and the fall.  It was always in the mind of God.  Just as there was never a time when Christ was not, so there was never a time when He was not going to become fully human. 


We often think of the Incarnation as the high-point of God’s revealing Himself through Christ.  That revealing of Himself was always ‘fully integrated into the reality of God’ (Bavink, Vol.2, p.277).  It isn’t something foisted on God by circumstances outside of Himself, or beyond His control, as if maybe things could have worked out differently and Christ would never have become flesh.  It wasn’t a ‘plan B’.  Rather it is the primary purpose of creation.  Why did Christ create?  Whatever else we say, we have to say: ‘So that He could become incarnate’.  Creation is what it is, so that it can provide the context for the Incarnation, the place where it could take place.  More specifically, man was created in His Image, so that Christ could become Man; Adam was created as a representative of all humanity, so that it could be gathered together under a Second Adam who would take His place and stand in his stead (Rom.5:14)


The God who created and who holds in place the structures of time and space, so designed them that He could enter them, to renew their dignity and destiny.  It is worth pondering that creation isn’t so much the arena in which we can become all that we can be, as it is that in which Christ can become all that He can be.  In a deep sense, God would not have been fully God without the Incarnation, and indeed all that it entailed in His life, death, resurrection and ascension!  

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4. Christ and the Old Testament

He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.  

(Luke 24:44-45)


Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’

(John 1:45)


I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen –  that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.

(Acts 26:22-23)


As we have seen, Christ is our ‘Prophet’.  He reveals the character, the will, the plans and purposes of God in the midst of the cacophony of religious opinions and philosophical speculations we have to live with.  We recognise the limits of our knowledge of God (Dt.29:29), but insofar as we know anything truly, we know it solely through Christ.  Like all else about Christ, His role as Revealer of the life of God was established on the basis of His being willingly chosen and sent by the Father.  So an old Dutch theologian writes: ‘He was anointed to be our Chief Prophet from before the foundation of the world, and He began to function in that capacity from the beginning of history’ (Hoeksema, The Triple Knowledge, 490)


This has massive implications for how we read the Old Testament.  It has become fashionable to think of the OT as a non-Christian book, or at best as a book that can only be seen to be Christian in the light of the New Testament.  This is not at all the historical view of the Church.  The mighty Jonathan Edwards, arguably the greatest theologian America has ever produced, wrote in 1739: ‘When we read of God appearing … in some visible form [in the OT], we are ordinarily, if not universally to understand it of the Second Person of the Trinity … He is therefore called the Image of the invisible God (Col.1:15), intimating that, though the Father be invisible, yet Christ is His Image or representation by which He is seen’ (History of the Work of Redemption, 1:I:i).  More recently, Stuart Olyott in an excellent book, ‘Son of Mary, Son of God’, writes: ‘Every visible appearance of God has been an appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ’ (p.64).  It is and always has been Christ who reveals the Father to creation by the Spirit.  It is this that lies behind Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees: ‘You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life.  These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life’ (Jn.5:29-30)


Similarly Flavel (again!), ‘So [Christ] dispensed the knowledge of God to the Church before His incarnation … It was Christ that was with the Church in the wilderness, instructing and guiding them by the ministry of Moses and Aaron…’ (Fountain of Life, p.123).  Any revelation of God either in shadow, in speech or in Himself coming to His people is throughout the OT, as in the ages since, is through Christ by the Spirit.  Even when the is Father speaking directly as at Sinai (so Dt.4:12, you heard the sound of words but saw no form), He is still mediated by Christ. 


This makes sense of how the Apostles (and Jesus Himself) always seem to think the OT is about Jesus (e.g. Mk.12:36; Jn.5:46; Acts 2:25-32 I Cor.10:1-4; Heb.1:5-13; 2:12  etc.).  That is not a distortion of the Scriptures (I Cor.4:2-3).  Indeed, it is remarkable how often the OT is seen to consist of the direct speech of Christ (so Is.49:1-7; 50:5-9; 61:1-3 etc.).  It explains why the Apostles are quite willing to take OT passages about the God of Israel and apply them directly to Christ (e.g. Is.45:23 / Phil.2:10).   And it explains why the Apostles see themselves as saying nothing beyond what was taught in the OT.  They do not see themselves as teaching anything new or different - they are simply ‘proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.’ (Acts 18:28).  The Scriptures of course being the Old Testament.


The basic dynamic of God’s revealing Himself hasn’t changed from the beginning of creation.  The Father reveals Himself through the Son by the Spirit.  Whether the date is pre-incarnation, or post-Ascension, it has always been the same.  This is what it means to speak of Christ as our Mediator.  He is the One who brings us to the Father (Jn.14:6), and significantly He is the One who brings the Father to us (Jn.14:9).  Christ is and always has been the faithful Prophet who reveals God, and who speaks by the Holy Spirit in and through all those He in turn chooses and calls to be His faithful prophets.





What do you think of the idea that in Allah, Muslims are worshipping the Father without realising it?  Could we worship with Muslims? What would you say to someone who wanted to stress the similarities of the three Abrahamic religions?


Do you think Christians have more in common with monotheistic religions such as Judaism or Islam (one God)?  …or with polytheistic ones such as Hinduism (three Persons)?


Why do you think so many Christians struggle with the idea of the Trinity featuring in the OT?  Do you think it is right to say people in the OT didn’t ‘have’ the Holy Spirit?  Do you think they believed God was Trinity?


Read Hebrews 1:5-14


Why is it so important to show that Jesus is superior to the angels (v.4)?  How would you go about proving Jesus is superior to angels?  Do you think there is any evangelistic potential in this today?


How do you think people in the Old Testament were brought into relationship with God? 


Do you think the author of Hebrews is reading stuff about Jesus into the Old Testament passages he quotes that isn’t really there?  Did the Psalmist, or Moses, think they were writing about Jesus?


Do you think we can take these passages as case studies and use them to interpret the whole OT in a similar way, or is this just something we can do with passages quoted in the NT?


Do you think the OT is really a Jewish book that Christians have taken over? … or is it as much a part of the Christian Bible as the NT?


How does this change how you think and feel about the OT?

Memory Passage:


But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.


II Tim.3:14-17

(remember: Scriptures here are substantively the OT!)


For further reflection:


How did Christ know who He was?  It is tempting to think that He was granted some innate awareness, perhaps through His relationship with the Holy Spirit?  Or that it was ‘downloaded’ from heaven in some way?


The evidence would seem to point elsewhere.  There are 30 years of Jesus’ life, prior to His public ministry that receive almost no attention in the Gospels.  It would seem that all we need to know is found in the one snap shot of His childhood (Lk.41-52).  As a 12 year old Jesus is delighting to stay in the Temple, sitting with the best theologians in the world, and to study the writings of Moses and the prophets.  Why would He ever want to leave?


And He has already grasped who He is.  ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ (2:49). I don’t think it is incidental that the first time Jesus articulates His own understanding of His identity is in the context of His study of Scripture.  Jesus learns who He is and what He has come into the world to do because His Father is teaching Him by the Spirit, through the Scriptures that bear witness to Him.  Indeed some have argued that the Scriptures were written primarily for Jesus, and that they are only for the Church in a derivative sense!


Either way, the point is simple.  If Jesus studies the Scriptures to discover who He is, then how much more should we?  Let us never assume that what we believe about Jesus is accurate, unless we are sure we can show it from those Scriptures.

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3. Christ and creation

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  

(John 1:13)


The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.   




One of the most striking elements of the life of Jesus in the Gospels is His self-evident authority over the structures of creation.  After He rebuked the wind and the waves - and they responded with calmness (!) - the disciples were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’ (Matt.8:27).  There is something almost understated about the relationship between Jesus and Creation that is betrayed during His earthly life.  He evidently feels it is entirely natural to bend any and all aspects of the created order to His will.  Natural it may be, unique it certainly is.


As we saw in our previous Jesus-Centred-Life term (on Sin & the Fall), the loss of dominion over creation was part of the consequence of the entrance of human sin into that creation (Gen.1:26 / 3:17-19).  But even in Eden Adam never held the kind of sway over creation that we see assumed by the second Adam in Galilee.  That is, in part, because Jesus’ relationship with creation is of a fundamentally different order to that of any other human, fallen or otherwise.  For Christ was there before creation began to be, and was deeply involved in the process of bringing it into being.  ‘…there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live’ (I Cor.8:6).   


For every other human there is a relationship of dependence on creation.  We need creation to live.  But when it comes to Christ, the dependence runs in the other direction: creation needs Him.  Without Him, nothing was made that has been made (Jn.1:3).  He is indispensable both to its being, and its continuing to be.  It has its origins in Him, relies on Him for its sustaining, and finds its fulfilment and purpose in Him (Heb.1:3 & 10-12).   We often read or hear something about Jesus, and ask: ‘But how is that relevant to my life?’  It’s an odd question when you realise there is no purpose for creation - indeed, there is no creation - outside of Christ.  The much more obvious question to ask about anything we learn of Christ would be: ‘How is my life relevant to that?’  When we grasp the utter centrality of Christ to the life of creation, He becomes the sole standard of relevance - if it isn’t related to Him, it is irrelevant, cosmically so (II Cor.1:20).


At Christmas we can become so focussed on the way in which in His humanity Jesus enters into creation, that we forget how creation has its life and being within the life and being of Christ (Col.1:15-17).  We’ll see in a later study that this is not diminished in His becoming human.  His relationship with creation is unique, not only from the perspective of humanity (i.e. no other person in humanity has the same relationship with creation as Christ does), but also from the perspective of Deity (i.e. no other person within the Godhead has the same relationship with creation as Christ does).  Creation is never spoken of as being ‘in’ the Father or the Spirit in the way that it is ‘in’ Christ.  This is the reason why Jesus is the Mediator between the Trinity and the creation, and in creation as much as redemption; and why the Son has become part of creation in a way that neither the Father nor the Spirit do, although all Three remain deeply united and involved.


In every generation, the Church faces the temptation to ‘downgrade’ the God-ness of Jesus.  The fact that He becomes human carries for some the inevitable suggestion that He is in some deep sense less ‘God’ than the Father.  The reason why it is the Son who ‘became flesh and made His dwelling among us’ (Jn.1:14) is not that He was somehow less ‘God’ but that within the infinitely dynamic and multi-faceted life of God, His relationship with creation is distinguishable from that of the Father or the Spirit.  But even as He becomes part of that creation He remains distinctly the Lord of it.  And as Lord of it, He becomes part of it, fully part of it.  As we shall see, this is the grounds of its redemption and its reconstitution.  Here, in the life of this Man, is the re-dignifying of creation, and the sole source of its hope for the future.  Insofar as Christians are ecologists at all, they are Christ-centred ones!



Do you think creation can teach us about God?  Why do you think that is? Can you think of any passages from the Bible that support your answer?  How does this fit with the idea that only Christ can reveal God to us?


Do you think that you could prove intellectually from the evidence of and in the world that there must be a creator, so that whether someone was a Christian or not, they could agree that ‘God created the world’?  Would this be a useful evangelistic method?


Read Col.1:15-23


What does it mean to say Jesus is the ‘firstborn’ over all creation (v.15)?  How does this connect with Him being ‘firstborn’ from among the dead (v.18)?  How does this affect your vision of Jesus? 


What does it mean to speak of Jesus as the ‘head’ of the Church (v.18)? How should that affect what we do at MIE?


Why do ‘things in heaven’ need to be reconciled to God (vv.19-20)?  Why does there need to be a ‘new heaven’ as part of the new creation (Rev.21:1)?


What is the significance of Jesus being Lord (and therefore Reconciler) of both the physical and spiritual dimensions of creation (v.20)?


Do you think Paul is teaching that in the end everyone becomes Christians when he says that through Christ, God reconciles all things to Himself (v.20)?


Is it legitimate to say people who aren’t Christians are ‘enemies of God’ (v.21)?


What difference does it make to know that God’s ambition for you is that you are to be presented ‘holy’ (v.22)?  Is this how you think of being a Christian?


Do you think Paul is overstating his case when he says that the Gospel has ‘been proclaimed to every creature under heaven’ (v.23)?  How does this affect the often heard question: ‘What about those who have never heard of Jesus?’

Memory Passage:


In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

Hebrews 1:1-3


For further reflection:


Creation was not simply the moment when God created the world out of nothing (Rom.4:17).  In that moment, He also created its purpose!  Creation has an integral purpose and destiny… and it is critically interwoven with the reality of Jesus Christ.  Without Him there is only chaos, darkness, death and meaningless incoherence.  This is the meaning of the opening moments of Scripture. 


To ask how there can be light in Gen.1:3 when the sun, moon and stars are not created until Gen.1:14-16 (Day 4), is to monumentally miss the point!  The Apostle John’s commentary: ‘And God said…’ (In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God); ‘Let there be light…’ (The light shines in the darkness).  Only now can there be life.  Christ is the Word through whom all things were created, and it is the Word that would become flesh and dwell among us.  Both creation within Christ, and Christ within creation are key to understanding the purpose, the fulfilment of creation.  Without Christ creation collapses back into chaos and non-being.  ‘It were not worthy of God’s goodness that the things He had made should waste away’ (Athanasius, On the Incarnation, p.6).  In His incarnation, Jesus would ensure that His creation would not fail to achieve its original and true destiny as conceived in the loving heart of the Father. 


Christ is not only the means, He is the end, the culmination of all things.  There is a deep unity and continuity between Christ’s role in creation and in His role in redemption.  As we’ll see in a later study, there would never have been one without the other.  You simply can never overstate the centrality of Christ to the life of creation, or it hopelessness and meaninglessness without Him.

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2. Christ and revelation

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in the closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.   (John 1:18)


I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips, Lord, as you know.  I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help.  I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness from the great assembly.   (Ps.40:9-10)


While he was still speaking a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said: ‘This is my Son whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.  Listen to Him’   (Matt.17:5)



In our previous study we saw that Christ is fully God, embedded intrinsically in the fellowship of the Trinity as the Son, and fully aware of the infinite immensity of the life and mind of His Father.  One reason why this is so critical is that it establishes His exclusive credentials to reveal and interpret the Father to us.  One of the earliest realisations in the early Church as they explored the reality of Christ was that ‘the finite cannot contain the infinite’; and that which is created cannot contain the Creator (Col.2:9).  Only God can fully reveal the truth about who God is – none other is sufficient.  No other being has the capacity to fully know God, let alone to reveal Him to others - yet it is precisely this claim that lies at the heart of Jesus’ self-understanding:  ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ (Jn.14:9); and even more directly, ‘I have revealed you to those you gave me out of the world’ (Jn.17:6).   It is telling that in the opening of the Book of Revelation, Jesus is styled as ‘the faithful and true witness’ (1:5)


An element of the Bible’s teaching that often proves difficult for people is the exclusivity of Jesus as the source of revelation.  God is not discovered through human ingenuity or speculation, inspiration or reflection.  We can only know the truth of God as far as we know Jesus (Jn.1:18; Matt.11:27 etc.), because the Father is who He is in relation to the Son.  If we don’t know Jesus, we remain utterly ignorant of the reality of God.  As Jesus Himself said: No-one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him (Matt.11:27).  There is no ‘basic’ knowledge of God that is then ‘topped up’ or enhanced, or brought into clearer focus when you know Jesus.  All ideas about God not rooted in Christ are idolatrous.  As one old theologian puts it: ‘Fallen man has become a false prophet’.  There is only knowledge of God in Jesus, or devastating lack of knowledge without Him.  In the final analysis there is only faith or unbelief.


This does raise the question of how we should relate to those who claim to know God, but whose religion or spirituality has either no place for Jesus, or (almost worse sometimes) has a nominal or downgraded vision of Jesus as less than the God He is.  The first thing to notice is that the Bible recognises the reality of other religions and visions of ‘god’, and indeed the reality of other spiritual powers that bear the name ‘god’ (Ex.15:11; Dt.32:15-17).  The Bible’s warning is always unambiguous: ‘Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practises’ (Ex.23:24).  Indeed, there must not be even a ‘root’ of such worship (Dt.29:18).  The Lord is a jealous God and will not share the affections of His Bride with any other pretender to His title or His place in their heart (Ps.95:3 & 6).  We must be careful not to read more into this than is warranted.  There remains no-one who is actually at any level ‘equal’ with the Triune God.  Others who claim for themselves the name of God are subjected variously to mockery (Is.41:21-24); humiliation (I Sam.5:1-5); judgement (Ex.12:12) and calls to repentance (Ps.97:7).  Those who worship them are warned of both the futility and of the dangers of such idolatry (Dt.18:19-20; Ps.115:4-8; Is.44:6-26).  And finally, their true identity is revealed: ‘the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons’ (I Cor.10:20).  Against the bleak and hollow emptiness of such worship, the reality of Christ stands in blistering glory.  Where vacuous idols bring only slavery and despair, Christ alone is the source of life and liberty.  Against the confusion that is the religious landscape of a fallen humanity, Christ alone stands forth as Truth.


And as Flavel (who we have quoted already in these studies) said: ‘[W]hen His will is understood and known, we have no liberty of choice, but are compelled by it, be the duty commanded ever so difficult, or the sin forbidden ever so tempting (Fountain of Life, 121).  The fact that Christ reveals God’s will and character is no academic or abstract realisation.  It has an overwhelming impact on every aspect of our life.  There is no longer ambiguity.  Because we know who God in Christ is, because we understand who He is, we know who we are supposed to be.  And perhaps therein lies the problem.



Do you think we can really say that all religion and spirituality outside of Jesus is false… or even demonic?  Why / why not?  Do you really think there is no truth outside of Jesus?  What would you say to the idea that we can learn from other religions and spiritualties?  How does your answer affect your attitude to evangelism?


If Jesus does in fact reveal the character, person, heart and mind of God to us, what should be our attitude to Him?  How could we encourage that attitude in one another?  What does that look like for you as a homegroup?


Read I Cor.1:18-31


Do you think Paul is unduly pessimistic about humanity’s pursuit for knowledge of God?  What about those who are sincerely seeking God?


Why has God made truth so obscure and elusive?


Do you think God is deliberately frustrating humanity in their search for truth?  Can you show why you think what you do from this passage?  If you think the answer is ‘Yes’, why would God do that? 


If ‘demanding signs’ is a bad thing, what do you make of the idea that people would become Christians if they saw more miraculous signs?


If ‘wisdom’ is a bad thing, do you think we should work hard at explaining what we believe and why we believe it?  What does Paul have in mind when he talks about wisdom?  What might be a contemporary equivalent?


Why do you think Paul is so derogatory about the Church (v.26-27)?


How does this passage affect our approach to evangelism?  When you have answered this question, read I Cor.2:1-5.  Does that change your answer in any way?


Memory Passage:


The Lord said to me: ‘What they say is good.  I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in His mouth. He will tell them everything I command Him.  I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name.  But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.’


Deut.18:17-20, cf also John 6:14 & Acts 3:22


For further reflection:


This vision of Jesus as the Revealer of God is often spoken of by theologians in terms of His role as Prophet.  As we’ll see in a couple of studies time, Jesus adopts this role from the beginning of history, and retains it throughout.  We might tend to focus on His work of revelation, His acting as prophet, during His earthly life recorded in the Gospels.  But He was equally at work in the Prophets of the Old Testament, the Apostles of the New; and He continues to be in those who faithfully fulfil any preaching or teaching role in the life of the Church today (Acts 1:1).  His prophetic ministry did not end with His death, or resurrection.  He continues to instruct us by His Spirit and His Word.  All ‘revealing’ of the truth of God has its origin and terminus in Him, and cannot happen except by Him.


It is Christ who, at the point of His ascension, gifts the Church with those through whom He will continue to teach by His Holy Spirit (Eph.4:11-13).  Through such He continues to open God’s will to our hearts and our hearts to God’s will (I Cor.2:14).   This ongoing ministry of Christ has been seen as so critical that the Anglican Church defines the boundaries of the Church by it: Art.19, ‘The visible church of Christ is a congregation of believers in which the pure Word of God is preached and in which the sacraments are rightly administered…’  Even more breath-taking perhaps is a document from the 16th century Swiss Church called The Second Helvetic Confession (1:4): ‘The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful…’.  Truly it has been the understanding and experience of the Church that Christ continues to speak by His Holy Spirit.

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1. Christ and the life of God

All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.  ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.




‘Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.  He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.  A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.  In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth.  In his teaching the islands will put their hope.’





Consider the untrammelled, uninterrupted and mutual delight of the Father and the Son in the deep intimacy they enjoyed through the Spirit for everlasting ages past; as they contemplated their love for each other, and planned the overflowing of that love in the prospect of creation; as they celebrated their holiness and untainted purity.  An infinite capacity for joy was stretched to its maximal immensity as it sought to contain the blazing glory shared within the community of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The Father’s declaration over the Anointed One, ‘This is my Son whom I love.  With Him I am well pleased (Matt.3:17), echoes from all eternity.  God’s love is proved beyond all question precisely as He relinquishes that eternally beloved Son to a fallen world.


We need to remember that Jesus as we meet Him in the Gospels, in the flesh as it were, is not Jesus in His historic way of being.  The handful of years covered by the Gospel narratives are a fraction of a breath of Jesus’ life.  Unlike us, His life does not begin with His conception.  It stretches far back into the pre-history of time itself.  He is before all things (Col.1:17).  He is integral to the life of the Trinity, the fullness of God in Himself (Col.1:19; 2:9). ‘I and the Father are one’ (Jn.10:30).  Jesus is, in the words of the Creed: God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God.

The intrinsic and full deity of Christ (and by implication the whole idea of God as Trinity) has been besieged in every generation of the Church.  And yet it remains stubbornly and plainly taught throughout Scripture (e.g. Heb.1:8; Titus 2:13; II Pet.1:1 etc.); the testimony of the Church in their worship of Him (also commanded and modelled in the Bible: Heb.1:6; Matt.14:33; Jn.9:38; Rev.5:12 etc.); and in our confession of Him as Saviour (in the light of Is.43:11-12, see e.g. Acts 15:11).  The divine depths of the Son are so infinitely vast that only that only the Wisdom of the Father can plumb them (Matt.11:27).  And the Son is equally aware that only He can know the Father and reveal Him (Matt.11:27, Jn.14:9 etc.).  If anyone else spoke consistently of themselves in the way that Jesus does, they’d be considered clinically insane, or worse.  Yet as we listen to Jesus nothing sounds more sane or self-evidently true.


This is and must always remain our starting point in our consideration of Jesus.  The phenomena of Jesus simply will not make sense unless we recognise that ‘the Messiah … is God over all, for ever praised!’ (Rom.9:5).  It is only when we have been reconciled to this great, foundational fact of reality that we can begin to make sense of any part of that reality.  A pastor-theologian of a former age, John Flavel, opened his Magnus Opus on Christ, The Fountain of Life, with the claim that ‘all knowledge is but a shadow compared to the light of Christ’; and that all the wisest and ‘most learned philosophers are but children in knowledge compared to the most illiterate Christian’.  Indeed, Flavel condemns ‘all knowledge and study insofar as it stands in competition with or in opposition to the study and knowledge of Jesus Christ’. 


The realisation that Christ is indeed the living God becomes the defining feature of our life.  It radically re-shapes our thinking about being disciples, and dispels much of the patronising nonsense that clutters our spirituality.  It fires our worship and legitimises our adoration and admiration of Him.  It is the lens through which we will interpret everything else that is said about Him, claimed for Him, or revealed to us about Him.  It establishes Him as the spiritual and ethical centre of gravity around which all aspects of our life find their orbit.  It grants Him the prerogative to define us, to shape who we are, and to determine what we should believe.  It demands of us a total orientation of our life towards Him, and a whole-hearted pursuit of Him and of His purposes.


Truly He is ‘God with us’ (Matt.1:23), and that changes everything. 




Do you think it matters whether you believe Jesus is God or not?  Could we legitimately talk about e.g. someone who was a Jehovah Witness being a Christian?  Why / why not?  Could we worship with Jehovah’s Witnesses?


How much do you think someone could get wrong about Jesus before you’d have to say ‘their’ Jesus simply wasn’t the Jesus of the Bible?  Can you think of any passages from the Bible that would back up your thinking on this?


If Jesus really is fully God, then why does He say that the Father is greater than He is (John 14:28)?  And what do you make of passages like I Cor.15:24-28, which talks of the Son being ‘made subject’ to the Father?


Read John 8:42-59


Why do you think there is such a strong link between how people treat Jesus, and how they relate to the Father?  In the light of this, how would you evaluate someone’s claim to know God if they didn’t trust Jesus?


Do you think that we can say that anyone who doesn’t know the Father through Jesus therefore has the devil as their Father?  …or is this something specific to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day?


Why does Jesus start teaching about the devil in vv.44-45?


What do you think Jesus has in mind when He talks of His relationship with Abraham (v.56-58)?  Can you think of any OT passages Jesus might be referring to?


What is Jesus claiming in v.58?   How would you explain these claims to someone who wasn’t a Christian?  How important do you think it would be that someone understand what Jesus was teaching in John 8:58?


Why do the religious leaders react as they do in v.59?  How does their behaviour in vv.48, 52-53 & 59 prove what Jesus said of them earlier was true?

Memory Passage:


After Jesus said this, he looked towards heaven and prayed:  ‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.  For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.  Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.  I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.  And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.


John 17:1-5


For further reflection:


Not much is revealed of life of the everlasting Trinity before creation (Dt.29:29). But when we are given an occasional flash of insight, it invariably focusses on their anticipation of including the Church in their communion.  Paul speaks of a calling and a grace that ‘given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time’ (II Tim.1:9-10); of the eternal life which God ‘promised before the beginning of time (Tit.1:3); and of our being chosen in Christ ‘before the creation of the world’ (Eph.1:4).  It is deeply humbling to reflect on the fact that my destiny was settled within the heart of God before my origins ever came to be.


But we can never divorce our destiny from that of Christ.  As you read such passages, you can’t help but be impressed by the repetition of the fact that everything that was predestined concerning us was done so ‘in Him’, or ‘in Christ Jesus’.  He is archetypally Chosen, and the Church’s being chosen is rooted in the Father’s prior choosing of Him.  ‘He was chosen before the creation of the world…’ (I Pet.1:20).    All that is achieved through Christ (in creation, redemption and renewal) is because He was chosen, and sent by the Father.  It is the command of the Father that gives the Son authority and power to act (Jn.10:18)


It is on the basis of this covenant of grace (Is.42:6), established before the foundation of creation was laid, that Christ was sent and sealed with the Father’s approval (Jn.5:30; 6:27).  This is why to reject the Son is to reject the Father (Jn.5:23), and why you cannot know or relate to the Father outside of the Son.  For the Father loves the Son and has placed everything in His hands (Jn.3:35-6).

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