Christian theology in a Sudanese context. God's chosen Saviour - Jesus!
Khartoum is famous for its bridges. The bridge over the White Nile to Fittihab, Omdurman, was built while I was in Sudan. Watching it at the different stages of building was interesting. The pillars were sunk firmly to the river bed. The spans were connected one by one. Eventually, all was finished. The Chinese built it for the Sudanese. Unfortunately, when it first opened, traffic going to the bridge from either side had enormous bumps and ridges to slowly struggle across before actually joining the new, fast, smooth road. Someone from the Chinese embassy once apologised to me at an embassy function, pointing out that his Chinese government were only responsible for the bridge itself, and not for the adjoining roads!
Imagine for a moment, a bridge with a piece missing. If the White Nile bridge had a gap on either the Khartoum side or on the Fittihab side, it would not be possible to cross. A bridge broken anywhere, is no longer a bridge.
Jesus is the bridge between God and humankind. If He is not God, then the bridge is broken at the far end from us. If Jesus is not man, then the bridge is broken at the end nearest to us. In either case, no-one can cross over the bridge. The disciples who lived with Jesus for about three and a half years, saw many things in His life that showed He was a real man. He was connected to humanity! The Gospels record Jesus being tempted to sin (Matthew 4:1-11), sleeping (Matthew 8:24), being hungry (Matthew 21:18), being angry (Mark 3:5). He is seen in emotional agony (Luke 22:44), being physically tired (John4:6), crying sadly (John 11:35), being thirsty (John 19:28), and physically dying (John 19:33). Luke, who was a doctor, records Jesus’ natural birth (Luke 2:6,7), His human growth and development (Luke 2:52), and His physical death (Luke 23:46). Even after the resurrection, Luke notes that Jesus had ‘flesh and bones’, and could eat food (Luke 24:39-42). Many of the people who did not agree with what Jesus was saying and doing emphasised His manliness. It was as if they said: ‘He is not God, he is just a man’. The people of His home synagogue at Nazareth knew the family Jesus was part of (Matthew 13:53-57). His brothers did not believe He was anything more than a man seeking to be famous (John 7:1-5). These people who had seen Jesus living and working among them for about 30 years, saw Him as an ordinary man, with some rather extraordinary ideas.
Over the centuries people have reacted differently to Jesus. Many believe He was only a man. In so doing they acknowledge half of the truth! He was a genuine man. He was one hundred per cent a real man. But that is not all he was! We should think about two key points in Jesus’ life, which are both denied as truth by some who think He was merely a man: 1. The incarnation of Jesus involved God the Son, Who lived from eternity past, becoming a human being. (See chapter 31). Until the miraculous conception happened, God was not man. When the human baby was born, God the Son was given flesh. God the Son was sent from heaven and He arrived as the baby Jesus. (Isaiah 9:6; Galatians 4:4-5). The incredible fact of the incarnation is that God took on to Himself the complete experience of life as a man. 2. The crucifixion of Jesus shows us the reason for the incarnation. No human being could ever be free from sin, since Adam our representative turned away from God’s will. God wanted people to be free from sin. Therefore He Himself became the One and only perfect human being. Living as Jesus He gave that human life over to death on the cross. It was the ransom payment made to the justice of God. It, and it alone, brings salvation from sin. “God wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, Who gave Himself as a ransom for all men” 1 Timothy 2:3-6. God the Son was born as Jesus in order to die as a man on Calvary’s cross.
In Sudan I learned what being a mediator meant. As a pastor I was asked to speak to people I knew, on behalf of others I also knew, about different things. The situations ranged from marriage proposals, to job opportunities, even the repayment of debts.
This ‘mediator’ of 1 Timothy 2:5 must represent God to humankind, and humankind to God. He must be in touch with both and yet distinct from both. He must be the go-between in the process of reconciliation. The very best go-between would know all about being God and would also know all about being man. He would understand completely the needs of both parties, because of his personal experience of being both parties. No-one except God could be the man in this role. How Jesus Christ is truly human and the true God at the same time is a mystery. Through Christian history, there have been many errors. The explanations which countered the errors form the basis of the Church creeds, but there always remains room for worshipping and wondering. Some have thought Jesus was only a divinely appointed human being. Others believed He appeared to be human, but was not really so. Different people taught that God came upon the man Jesus in a special way, making Him neither man or God, but some ‘half-caste’ being. Arius (A.D. 246-336) taught that Christ was a created being: the best of all God’s creatures, but a creature at best. How the two natures of Christ are complete and yet not compromised in one person, is something only the omniscient God Himself knows. And He has chosen not to explain it to us!
A striking difference between Christianity and Islam can be highlighted at this point. Muslims believe that Jesus Christ was only a man, though an important prophet equal to Adam, Noah, Abraham and Moses. Like them, Jesus is believed to be below Muhammad in importance. Muslims do not believe Jesus was crucified for the sin of the world. The Qur’an states that the Jews thought they crucified Jesus, but somehow it only appeared so to them; in reality Jesus was not killed at all (Qur’an 4:157). The understanding of this passage for most Muslims today is that the Jews actually crucified Judas, although they thought it was Jesus. Christians believe the Lord JesusChrist to be: “the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father; by Whom all things were made; Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the VirginMary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us…”
The NiceneCreed, A.D. 325. We must always remember that Jesus is in a class of His own, yet He is also one of us – and He is God! Jesus is referred to more than eighty times in the New Testament as “the Son of God”, (Mark 1:1). Jesus speaks of God as “Father” fifty-one times in the first three gospels, and more than one hundred times in the fourth gospel. He always addressed God in prayers as “Father”, (for example: Matthew 11:25; Mark 14:36; John 11:41; John 12:27; John 17:1,5). Matthew’s gospel carefully presents Jesus as the Son of God, from the time His birth was announced, (Matthew 1:23), through His baptism, (Matthew 3:17), His temptations – which have no real force if Jesus was not the Son of God, (Matthew 4:3,6),and His transfiguration, (Matthew 17:5). His claim to be the Son of God was challenged again at His trial before the Jewish high priest, (Matthew 26:63-64), and even while He was being crucified (Matthew 27:40,43). Jesus was put to death for simply claiming to be who He really was! Matthew concludes his writing with a clear statement of the three-in-one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, (Matthew28:18-20). Christians are commissioned to disciple, baptise and teach all people everywhere that ‘Jesus is the Son of God’ – and He is in a way that no-one else is. This Son of God is God the Son! Jesus is not theSon of God because He was miraculously conceived in Mary’s womb. The reverse is actually true! It is because Jesus is God the Son that He could be conceived so miraculously. His existence before He lived on this earth raises the important question of why He became a man (John 17:1-5). Jesus refers to Himself more than eighty times in the four gospels as “the Son of Man”. When challenged by the high priest to say if He was the Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus answered: “Yes, it is as you say. In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64). The high priest immediately knew this was a reference back to the prophet Daniel. In the Old Testament book of Daniel “one like a son of man” appears. He stands between the Almighty God in heaven and the suffering people on earth. This ‘son of man’ mediates between God and the people. He is given complete reign over all peoples of the entire world (Daniel7:9-14). So, in His answer to the high priest, Jesus has claimed to be both Son of God and Son of Man. God the Son, from forever in the past, stepped into our world as Jesus. As the man Jesus, He died on a cross: God Himself paying the price of humankind’s sin. And because it was God Who paid the price there is no balance left for anyone else to pay!
If I could re-writeMatthew 16:13-16 as a question for ourselves, it would read like this: ‘Who do people think Jesus, the Son of Man, is?’
‘Some say a prophet. Others say a good, moral teacher. One of the best. But nothing more’.
‘Never mind the others for a moment. Who do you think Jesus is?’ What would your answer be?
My answer is: “Jesus is God the Son in human form – the only Saviour for all people of the world”.
Thinking it through.
(a). What is the best evidence we have supporting the fact that Jesus was a real man?
(b). Why did God become a man?
(c). What difference would it make to the Christian gospel if Jesus was not God?