Jesus: Son of God
Genesis 6:1-4, Hebrews 1:1-9, John 1:1-18
The first line of the Apostles’ Creed that speaks about Jesus introduces him this way, “I believe in Jesus Christ, His Only Son, our Lord….”
Jesus is his name. He is a man among men. Fully human.
Christ is his title. He is the Messiah that Israel had longed for over the centuries.
But the creed adds a third descriptor. “God’s Only Son”
The Apostles’ Creed has picked up that phrase from the New Testament. In the gospels and the epistles we hear the word “Son”, “His Son, “The Son of God” repeatedly. Almost every book of the New Testament uses this word as one of the preferred terms in referring to Jesus.
Listen to the summary of the Gospel of John, “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that believing you might have life in His name.”
Listen again to Peter at Caesarea Philippi making his great declaration, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
Hear the words of Paul to the Galatian churches, “In the fullness of time God sent forth His Son.”
Yet that term has caused some consternation. It has been at the center of a controversy. The debate goes something like this. “Aren’t we all the sons and daughters of God?
- Luke tells us that Adam was the son of God.
- The Old Testament repeatedly calls the Nation of Israel the son of God.
- The Kings of Israel upon their coronation were called the sons of God.
- John the Apostle says “Beloved, now we are the sons of God.”
- In the Fourth Gospel the writer says: “To all who received Him, who believed in His name, he gave power to become the sons of God.”
- Or listen to Paul, “God has sent the spirit of His son into our hearts crying ‘Abba. Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then also an heir.”
So it is obvious that all who are Christians are the sons and daughters of God.
Then the argument proceeds, Jesus is also a son of God. He may be our best brother, but that’s all. He is one of us. He is our older brother. He is as fully human as we are, and no more.
But the creed and the scriptures are not content to leave the matter this confusing. So there is usually a significant word or two added to the words “Son of God” when referring to Jesus.
- Jesus is called THE Son of God. Not “A” son of God.
- The creed reads “I believe in Jesus Christ, His ONLY Son”
- It is for the same reason that the New Testament will add the words “only begotten Son” when speaking of Jesus.
You and I are sons and daughters of God. But he is a Son in a very different way than we are. How so? Let me share a few of those differences.
1. Son of…Indicates Character
The word “son of…” has an interesting usage in Hebrew thought.
- Barnabas was called “the Son of Consolation“
- James & John were called the “Sons of Thunder“
- The sons of Eli were called the “Sons of Belial“, or, “Sons of Worthlessness“
- The Anti-Christ was called “the Son of Perdition”
The word “Son of…” indicates character likeness. James & John were as boisterous as thunder. Barnabas was the opposite. He brought comfort wherever he went. And in this sense Jesus is the Son of God, in that he is just like God in his character.
If you want to know what God is really like, look at his Son. Jesus is the “spitting image” of His Father. They look like identical twins! Like 2 peas in a pod! Like one is a clone of the other.
Jesus can say, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” Which adds the most important feature to the Christian portrait of God. Some of us have trouble with God as Father because of our own experiences with our own fathers. But the Christian Church has offered another image.
God is just like Jesus. Let me say that again. Jesus is not like God. God is like Jesus. The world of Jesus’ day had a picture of God in their minds, and Jesus did not at all look like the God they had in mind. When the ancient church claimed that God was just like Jesus, it was a scandal! St. John says, “No one has ever seen or understood God at any time, but it is God the Son who comes from the very heart of the Father, who has fully revealed him to us.”
If we can trust Jesus Christ, then we can trust God. The one is the very image of the other. That is good news!
2. The Ideal Son
But there is a second meaning to the word “Son of.” In the church’s mind, Jesus is related to God as the True Son. He is the prototype of all that sons and daughters were meant to be. He is the Ideal Son.
In Hosea 11:1 there is a sad passage about the nation of Israel. “Out of Egypt I called my son, but the more I called them the more they went astray.” But when Jesus came, listen to the words of the Father, “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.”
The parable of the Prodigal son is about a father who had two sons, neither one of which was a true son. One was profligate. The other was pharisaic! They were both sons who went astray.
Jesus tells us about two other sons who were asked by their Father to work that day in the vineyard. One says, “I will not go.” but then later on he does. The other says, “I’ll go” but then doesn’t. They are both sons who cause their father grief!
But Jesus was different. He was a true son who was intent upon being about his Father’s business. Jesus then is the spitting image, not only of the Father, but also the spitting image of all that sons and daughters were meant to be. He is the Son of God because he is just like God and just like we were meant to be!
3. Son of God by Nature
But there is a third meaning to the words “Son of God.”
Genesis chapter 6 tells a story when “the sons of god” come down to the daughters of men near the dawn of history. They came with seduction on their minds. No one knows for sure what that ancient story means, but it is placed at the apex of the moral decline of the earth that led to the great flood.
In the Oriental and in the Greek & Roman world that the early apostles faced, the term “Sons of God” were used of the supposed divine beings that were supernatural in origin and were seen as the Sons and Daughters of Zeus. When the gentile audiences of Paul heard the words “Jesus is the Son of God” they would have thought of him as a supernatural being. And the church agreed with them, but only in part. Supernatural? Yes! But He alone is Divine. No other so-called-deity is.
The Church has declared Jesus to be the Son of God by nature. He is not only Godly in his character. He is not only the portrait of true sonship in his behaviour. He is the Son of God by very nature. It is spelled out in that great creed called “The Nicene Creed.” Listen to its bold affirmation.
I believe in One Lord, Jesus Christ,
the Only-begotten Son of God,
begotten of His father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light,
very God of very God,
begotten not made,
being of one essence with the Father,
by whom all things were made,
who for us people and for our salvation,
came down from heaven.”
We are the children of God by adoption. He is the Son of God by nature! Jesus was a man. But he was more than a man, more than even a great man. In some unfathomable way He was so related to God that the only fitting term is “The Only Begotten Son of God”. God was in Christ in a way that transcends the way that God is in any of us. His relationship to God was and is unique! He shared the very nature of God himself. As we share human nature, he shared that same nature, and yet at the very same time was as divine as he was human.
Now here is the scandal in these words. To believe in God is one thing. It is what we have in common among with Jews and Moslems and many in our world who believe in God but who do not wish to believe in Jesus. But it is with these words where we part company. Judaism and Islam may concede that Jesus was a great teacher or a great prophet. But the New Testament says, that is not enough. He is the Divine Son of God. It is on this claim that the church takes its stand.
- Mark begins his Gospel with his Baptism.
- Matthew and Luke begin with his conception by the power of the Holy Spirit & his virgin birth.
- But John begins his gospel this way, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God and all things came into existence through him, and without him nothing was made that was made.”
So what does all this have to do with you and me?
1) If the phrase at least means, “he was godly in character”, we too are intended to be Godly and Christ-like in our characters.
Have you heard the story of the woman who worked with children in the ghettos of a large city? As she was helping a child who was hurt, the question was asked, “Ma’am, are you God?” She quickly answered, “Oh no. I’m just one of his children.” The child responded, “Well ma’am, I knew you were related to Him somehow.” We are called upon by our Father to exhibit in our characters His character.
2) The second meaning is to become true of us as well. We are also are to become true sons and daughters. Not wandering or wayward, and above all, not pharisaic. We are to be sons and daughters who do from the heart the Father’s bidding.
3) But there is a third response we need to make. Jesus is unique among all mankind, and in all creation. For that reason we worship Him. It is why we gather and sing songs of adoration and praise, and take his instructions for our life with all seriousness.