The Deity Of Christ
“And Thomas answered and said unto Him, My Lord and my God.”—John 20:28
In His company of apostles, Jesus chose every type and phase of human character. There was the intense, impetuous Peter; the precise, austere James; the matter-of-fact Andrew; the earnest, loving John; the business man Matthew; the zealot Simon; and also the skeptic Thomas. Now I would not imply that Thomas represents the highest type of character, but I do hold that Thomas represents a very frequently found type. Wherever he is spoken of in the Scripture, it is always with some expression of pessimism or doubt. When Jesus broke the news of His disciples of the death of Lazarus, Thomas exclaimed, “Let us go and die with him.” And then, as recorded in the fourteenth chapter of John, Jesus declared “Whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.” Thomas speaks forth and says, “Lord, we know not whither Thou goest; and how can we know the way?” Those three words “we know not” give us the key to the character of Thomas.
Later when Mary came from the empty tomb and declared that Jesus had arisen from the dead, Thomas doubted. He remained away from the meeting when Jesus appeared to the disciples, and when they told him they had seen the Lord, he still protested and said, “Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails and put my fingers into the print the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe.” Let us note now the kindness of Jesus for the doubter. Eight days later when Thomas met with the other disciples, Jesus appeared in their midst and said to the doubter, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand and thrust it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing.” Then Thomas exclaimed, in the words of our text, “My Lord and my God.”
Organizing A Jury
I wish this morning to organize this audience into a jury and to present to you some lines of evidences regarding the deity of Jesus Christ. The first line of testimony I would present is from prophecy. There are more than three hundred prophecies in Old Testament Scripture relating to the coming Messiah, and these prophecies have been centered and fulfilled in Jesus. It was foretold by Abraham of what race the Christ should come, and by Jacob from what tribe.
The Messiah was not to be of the lineage of the first born son, Reuben, nor from the youngest son, Benjamin, nor from the favorite son, Joseph, but from the tribe of Judah. It was prophesied by Isaiah from what family the Christ should spring, that He was to be from the stock of Jesse. It was foretold by Micah in what city the Christ was to be born, that it was to be in Bethlehem, and it was predicted by Daniel when the Christ was to come.
You as students of history know of the four great world empires which followed in succession—Babylonia, Persia, Macedonia, and Rome. Daniel likens these to four beasts. In speaking of the fourth beast he calls it the fourth kingdom, and then proceeds to describe another kingdom which would arise in the days of this fourth kingdom, that is in the days of the Romain Empire. The kingdom of the Most High is an everlasting kingdom. This is the kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Our second line of evidence we would draw from the teachings of Christ. His recorded utterances occupy but a small volume. They can be read almost at a single sitting, and yet they are the quintessence of truth. Thousands of books have been written with these words as their theme, and yet their wisdom has never been exhausted. There is something in these sayings of Jesus simple enough to interest the youngest child, and some things profound enough to attract and satisfy the wisest sage. No one has ever scaled their highest heights, or sounded their lowest depths. These teachings were true and applicable to the first century; they are just as true and applicable to the twentieth century. In His utterances Jesus made certain definite claims.
What Christ Claimed
First of all, He claimed pre-existence. He said, “Before Abraham was I am;” and again, “What if ye should see the Son of man ascending where He was before;” and later in that prayer, as recorded in the seventeenth chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus exclaimed, “Glorify Thou Me, oh Father, with the glory I had with Thee before the world was.” This fact of His pre-existence marks a distinct contrast between Jesus and every other life which ever trod this Earth. Someone has well said, “Be careful about your definitions.” Note the distinct difference between the divinity of Christ and the deity of Christ. There are many who will acknowledge that Christ was divine. They say He was a Son of God, but in the next breath they will add, “So are we all sons of God.” That is, Jesus, was only one among many. But His sonship was a difference not only in degree, but in kind. His pre-existence really separates Him from all others.
You could not imagine any of the greatest men of history claiming pre-existence. Imagine a Julius Caesar, or a Napoleon, or an Alexander the Great, or a Bismarck, or a Gladstone, or a Washington, offering a prayer like that, “Glorify Thou Me, oh Father, with the glory I had with Thee before the world was.” What with others would seem the rankest absurdity and incongruity appears perfectly natural and right with Jesus.
Well does the Apostle John begin his Gospel with the statement, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God. The same was in the beginning with God….And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
The next fact that separates Jesus from all others who ever trod this Earth is His sinlessness. He said, “Which one of you convinceth Me of sin?” Other men have spoken great truths, but their lives and their words did not correspond. Rousseau, for example, gave many excellent suggestions regarding the training of children, and yet he himself put his own children in an orphan asylum and never went to see them. But with Jesus His words and works were the natural outflow of His life. If He had said He was a sinner, He would have falsified, and then He would have been a sinner.
Moreover, Jesus claimed omnipotence. He said, “All power is given to Me in heaven and on earth.” He declared He could bring to His aid, if He desired, twelve legions of angels.
Some one says, “But what difference does it make who Jesus was, as long as He spoke great truths, and performed wonderful miracles?” Now let us see about that. A few years ago an explorer returned from the Arctic regions, declaring that he had discovered the North Pole. When he arrived in Denmark the people accorded him great honors, and when he reached New York, he was greeted with great enthusiasm. Afterward he stated that it was a matter of doubt whether he discovered the North Pole or not.
No Middle Ground
Suppose a man would come to this city claiming to be the crown prince of Germany and the German-American citizens would receive him most hospitably and give him a royal welcome and a great banquet in his honor. This man might utter many great truths and present lofty ideals of conduct. But supposing after he left the city they would find that he was the son of a blacksmith down in southern Missouri. How long could he hold the confidence and the admiration of the people? Do you not see that it is impossible to separate the personality of the man himself from his words and deeds?
Now either these claims are true, or else they are false. If they are true, then Jesus is no mere man. He is indeed and in truth very God of very God. But if He is not what He claims to be then He is one of the worst humbugs and impostors the world has ever seen. Between these two positions there is no neutral ground.
Note furthermore that Jesus claimed unity with the Father. He said, “I and My Father are one.” Philip had uttered a universal longing of human hearts when he exclaimed, “Show us the Father and it sufficeth us.” We can detect a tinge of sadness and surprise in the answer of Jesus “Have I been so long with you and hast thou not known Me, Philip? He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” Could you imagine Shakespeare, or Bacon, or Victor Hugo, or Emerson, or any other person who ever lived, saying “He that hath seen Me has seen God Himself.” The thought would be so unreasonable as to be ridiculous. Yet with Jesus it appears perfectly natural and right. If you hold to the hypothesis that Jesus was merely a man, by that you are not going to satisfy the demands of reason, for you will find yourself confronted with a hundred difficulties and problems where you would meet but one in accepting Jesus, according to His own claims and terms.
Proof From Miracles
The next line of evidence of the deity of Christ which we would bring is from His works. Every great miracle which Jesus performed in the material world has a spiritual significance and also has a beneficent purpose. Each act is a type of some great work of grace which He performs in the inner life. For example, as He stilled the tempest on the sea, so Jesus calms the storm of the human heart. As He fed the hungry with the loaves and fishes, so also He gives to men the bread of life. Each act of physical healing is a clear type of some form of spiritual disease, which illustrates how He heals the maladies of the soul.
There are three instances recorded where Christ raised the dead to life. The first was the daughter of Jairus, the second was the son of the widow at Nain, and the third was Lazarus. In the first instance the breath had just left the body. This was typical of those who have only begun the life of sin. In the second instance they had already started to the cemetery when Jesus met them, laid His hand on the coffin and said, “Young man, I say unto thee, arise.” This is the type of those who have started and proceeded some way on the downward career. In the third case, that of Lazarus, the body had been dead and in the grave four days. This is an example of those who for a long time have been dead in trespasses and sins. Jesus healed and raised them all.
Now we come to the greatest miracle of Jesus. His own resurrection. Paul throws down the challenge and is content to rest the claims of Christ’s deity upon this one fact. He makes a belief in the resurrection the basis of true Christian faith. Said he, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in thine heart that God has raised from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” No matter what other great works Jesus wrought, if He remained in that tomb in Joseph’s garden, and did not come forth from the dead, then He was not in the completest sense what He claimed to be.
There is no fact of history capable of such abundant proof as the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is not a weak link in the chain of evidence. You can call to the witness stand if you please, His enemies. Every lawyer will admit that the strongest evidence that can be obtained in any case is that which he can elicit from the witnesses called by the opposition.
You will remember that the chief priest, after the death of Jesus, went to the Roman governor and said to him, “This deceiver said when He was alive that after three days He would arise from the dead. We fear that His disciples will steal away His body while we sleep, and then give out the report that He has arisen, and the result will be that the second condition will be worse than the first.”
In response to this the governor gave orders to seal the tomb of Jesus with the Roman seal, and also that a guard of soldiers should be placed on watch at the tomb. As students of Roman history, you know that for anyone to break the Roman seal without authority meant death, and of one thing you may be sure, Rome always enforced her laws. A Roman guard consisted of four soldiers, who remained on duty for three hours, then were relieved by another guard who remained on duty four hours. Each guard had nine hours for rest and sleep before they came on duty again.
You know also that for a Roman soldier to go to sleep at his post meant the certain punishment of death. You might imagine of one soldier going to sleep on duty. You might even imagine of two soldiers going to sleep, or even of three, but to suppose that all four soldiers of the guard would go to sleep at their post under penalty of death, and on duty only three hours, would be to stretch your credulity to the breaking point. Moreover, with the great cataclysm of nature that must have occurred when that stone was rolled away would awaken any soldier, if this were done by human act. When the stone was rolled away and Jesus had arisen, the soldiers went to the chief priests and told them what had happened, and they gave them money and told them to give out that Christ’s disciples stole away His body while they slept.
Renan, the French infidel, said that the faith of Christianity was centered about an empty tomb. We accept the challenge. Not until the fact of that empty tomb in Joseph’s garden has been accounted for, has any one a right to claim to be an unbeliever.
A lawyer, when a crime is committed, always looks in a suspected perpetrator for a sufficient motive. The disciples of Jesus had no motive for stealing away His body. They did not comprehend as clearly as His enemies did, what He meant when He said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will build it again.” No one was nearer to Jesus than Mary Magdalene, and yet she was overcome with surprise when she went down to that tomb that first Easter morning to anoint the body of Jesus, and found the stone rolled away and the grave empty.
We are told that Nicodemus and Joseph spent a large sum of money, equal to thousands of dollars in the values of our day, to purchase costly ointments to embalm the body. If they had had the least idea that Jesus was going to come forth from the grave on the third day, they never would have spent that sum; neither would they have wrapped the body in a hundred pounds’ weight of ointments, for in place of being a help to resurrection, all those wraps and weights would naturally prove a hindrance.
We are told that when the disciples came and inspected the empty tomb they found the grave cloths…, and the napkin which was upon His face folded and laid in a place by itself. Did this look like the work of body snatchers, when right there by the tomb were the Roman soldiers eager to thrust a spear through any one who would dare tamper with that tomb?
Let us cite just another proof of resurrection, among many which might be stated. When Jesus was crucified, all His disciples forsook Him and fled. Their hopes were shattered, they were disheartened and discouraged. What power and influence could have been strong enough to have brought together again that band of scattered disciples, and inspire them with a faith and give them strength and courage to go out during the first century to testify for Christ?
In the first chapter of his epistle, the Apostle Peter reveals the secret when he says, “There has been begotten in us again a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” You can challenge any skeptic to find any other act or motive strong enough to have accomplished these results. And the central message of their testimony, after the disciples went out during the first century, was to witness the first resurrection of Jesus. Paul declared in the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians that after Jesus arose from the dead He appeared to as many as five hundred people at one time of whom many were living when Paul recorded this statement.
Two great English lawyers, West and Littleton, were both unbelievers. West said to his friend, “Littleton, if we can destroy the faith of Christians in two beliefs, that of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, and also the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can overthrow Christianity. If you will take Saul’s conversion and disprove it, I will do the same with the resurrection of Jesus.” They agreed. Months afterwards when they came together, West said, “Littleton, how did you come out?” He replied, “I did not come out at all, as I expected to. I thought I could write a treatise on the conversion of Saul, who became the Apostle Paul, that would disprove it entirely. I said to myself, ‘As I begin this investigation, I must disabuse my mind of all prejudice and face the facts as I find them.’ I proceeded to the work with that policy. I am convinced that Saul was converted on the Damascus road, as it is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, and moreover I have received Paul’s Christ as my Christ.”
“How did you come out?”
“It is strange,” replied Mr. West, “that our experiences would be so similar. I have devoted much time and thought these months to making a careful investigation of the evidences regarding the resurrection of Jesus. There is not a single weak link in that chain of testimony. Not only am I convinced that Jesus Christ arose from the grave, but also I have received Him as my personal Savior and Lord.” These two lawyers wrote their books, which are still extant in English libraries, but in place of being arguments against the deity of Christ and Christian faith, they are strong witnesses in its support.
If time would permit, I would like to introduce a line of evidence which is even stronger yet, and that is regarding the life of Jesus. Greater than anything that Christ ever said or did was what He was. You cannot classify Him among the great historians and statesmen and philosophers. He is in a class by Himself. He has no second. He is the universal man. He is the most ancient of the ancients, and the most modern of the moderns. It is the glory of Jesus that He can be everything to everybody. Paul expressed it well when he said, “It pleases the Father that in all things Jesus should have the pre-eminence.”
But the evidence and argument which seemed to me even more convincing than all these was regarding the influence of the words and works, the life and death of Jesus Christ upon the centuries since. Our faith in Christ rests not only upon what He was, but what He is. Eliminate everything from the history of the last twenty centuries that pertains to Christ and His Gospel, and you would have left but a poor emasculated remnant. Take out of music and art everything that relates to the religion of Christ and what would remain? Take out of literature all that deals with Christ and Christian faith and the remainder would be pitiable for its poverty.
Well did Lowell say, “Show me a spot on this Earth ten miles square, where manhood is respected, where womanhood is honored, where civilization has advanced, and I will show you a place where the religion of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has first gone and paved the way.” The idea of Jesus being merely a man has never sent its messengers around the world to uplift heathen and savage peoples.
“Oh,” says some one, “if I could have been in that upper room when Jesus entered, in the presence of His disciples, if I could have thrust my finger into the nail prints and my hand into the wounded side, then I would have believed.” My friend, you were not there, but you had an attorney on the ground. Thomas went to the limit of unbelief. He doubted that you and I might not doubt. If the evidence was strong enough to convince him that Jesus had risen and caused him to go forth with an earnest testimony to this fact, even as tradition says, to a martyr’s death; if the evidence was strong enough to convince that supremest [sic] of skeptics, Thomas, it ought to be strong enough to convince you and me. Shall we not then this morning acknowledge our allegiance to Him, before angels bow in homage, and from our hearts exclaim, with Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”