The Goodness of Jesus (2)
Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, “Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?” The Jews answered Him, saying, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.” John 10.31-33
Got that right
That Jesus did many good works during His time on earth no one could deny, not even His enemies. Indeed, they were well aware of His good works, and the great attention those works garnered, and they feared the goodness of Jesus would win the loyalty of the people, leaving them without place and perks (Jn. 11.45-48).
His opponents knew they would not be able to silence Jesus by accusing Him of good works. Still, they were determined to kill Him, even, as appears in our text, without the permission of Rome, if need be.
What grated on the religious leaders who opposed Jesus was, as they noted, that He made Himself God. He said He was the Son of the Father, that He and the Father were One, that They thought the same thoughts and worked the same works, and that He had come from the Father and would soon be returning to the Father. These were not the claims of a mere prophet; they were the claims of One Who insisted that He was God, come to earth in the form of a Man, to do a work that only a God-Man could do.
And for this, for declaring that in Himself Jesus united both God and Man, they resolved to kill Him.
But it is precisely this union of Natures in one Person that made Jesus so very good, and so capable of such extraordinary good works. And it was also this union that has been so difficult for people to accept.
Debating the Person of Christ
Even before the New Testament had been completed, groups of religious thinkers attacked the orthodox teaching about Christ and tried to make Jesus more agreeable with certain existing religious views. Thus the docetists, a “Christian” offshoot of a popular mystery religion, attacked the Manhood of Christ, saying that Jesus didn’t really come in the flesh, but only appeared to (Greek: dokeo). This is the false teaching John addressed in the opening chapter of his first epistle. It would take a century and a half before Christian leaders like Irenaeus of Lyons finally silenced this attack on the unity of God and Man in Christ.
During the fourth century, once Christians received the freedom to worship, publish, and debate openly, differing views of Jesus surfaced trying to explain away the unity of His Being by one means or another. Some said Jesus was not eternally God, but was begotten in time and became God by His obedience and suffering (with the implication, of course, that so can you). Others argued a subordinationist view of the Son of God, making Him now quite equal with God, even though they affirmed that He became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was like God, but not the same as God. Yet another false view insisted that two distinct Natures existed in the one Jesus of Nazareth, but they remained separate and unmixed – no true unity between them.
Pastors and theologians addressed themselves to each of these views, in writing and preaching, and by participating in general councils where these and other issues were debated. It took more than a hundred years to expose and dismantle the inconsistencies and inaccuracies of each of these views and, at the same time, to articulate a definition of the unity of God and Man in Christ that has stood the test of nearly 1600 years. In the Formula of Chalcedon (451 AD) the assembled Fathers declared their united view concerning the uniqueness of Jesus and the existence of two Natures in one Person:
Wherefore, following the holy Fathers, we all with one voice confess our Lord Jesus Christ one and the same Son, the same perfect in Godhead, the same perfect in manhood, truly God and truly man, the same consisting of a reasonable soul and body, of one substance with the Father as touching the Godhead, the same of one substance with us as touching the manhood, like us in all things apart from sin; begotten of the Father before the ages as touching the Godhead, the same in the last days, for us and for our salvation, born from the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, as touching the manhood, one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way abolished because of the union, but rather the characteristic property of each nature being preserved, and concurring into one Person and one subsistence, not as if Christ were parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son and only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from the beginning spoke concerning him, and our Lord Jesus instructed us, and the Creed of the Fathers has handed down to us.
What good is it?
The debate about the unity of Natures in the Person of Christ has continued to this day. Over the past 200 years, certain liberal theologians have raised the issue again, denying either the historicity of Christ or His deity, or reducing the work of Christ to some realm of “salvation history” existing above or alongside “real” history as we know it.
Anselm, 11th-century Bishop of Canterbury, explained why all this fussing about the unity of Natures in the Person of Christ matters. In his book, Cur Deus Homo (“why the God-Man’), Anselm explained that God became Man in Jesus because men had incurred a debt they could not pay, one that only God could satisfy, but only in the form of a Man, like those who had rebelled and fallen into sin. His argument was ably summarized in a B. C. comic strip of some years back. In four spare panels, the late Johnny Hart had his poet Wiley explain what good is entailed in and accomplished by the unique Person Jesus Christ:
Panel 1: Wiley writes, “Who can call Good Friday good?”
Panel 2: He continues, “Who can call Good Friday good?”
Panel 3: Bearing down now, “They who are bought by the blood of the Lamb…”
Panel 4: With evident satisfaction: “They can call Good Friday good.”
Jesus’ work was good because He is good, and the unity of God and Man He embodies entails a goodness that fulfills the righteousness God requires and satisfies the justice He must have if we are to enter His goodness and know and enjoy His salvation.
1. Why does it matter that Jesus is both God and Man? What do we lose if we deny either one of these?
2. Only the unity of God and Man in Christ could accomplish the ultimate good work of redeeming the world. Why is this so?
3. How would you explain the Person and Natures of Christ to an unbelieving friend?
Next steps – Preparation: Spend some time in prayer, thanking God for all the good that arises from Christ being Man and Christ being God.
T. M. Moore
If you’d like to learn more about the debates in the early Church and the formation of Christian doctrine, order a copy of our book, Kingdom Documents, by clicking here. Three additional resources can help you to begin considering Jesus more consistently and fruitfully. Download the free PDF, Glorious Vision, (click here), and take up a 28-day journey through Psalm 45, and all the glorious images of Jesus embedded there. Then, order our books, Be Thou My Vision (click here) and To Know Him (click here), and carry your contemplation of Jesus to new heights of insight and worship.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.