A Holy Book Is Not Enough
In an age of many holy books and many religions accompanying those holy books, what makes the Bible and Christianity special? How do we respond when people ask how our holy book differs from the Koran, the Vedas and the Upanishads, or the Book of Mormon? We could certainly respond by explaining the inspiration of Holy Scripture, but we may have a far greater impact by simply responding that a holy bookeven the Bibleis not enough. This season of special remembrance of the incarnation of Jesus Christthe God-manchallenges us to ponder this thought.
The Old Testament: Previews of Coming Attractions
God himself dwells in unapproachable light. While the heavens declare his glory and the firmament shows his handiwork (Ps. 19:1), heas he is in himselfis the invisible God. In his essence, he is too high, too great, and too wonderful for us to comprehend. Our puny minds quickly exhaust themselves trying to contemplate what is infinite, eternal, immense, and unchangeable. And even if we could, we would end up condemning ourselves as unholy beings before this awesome, holy Being. When Isaiah had a vision of the Lord sitting on his throne, his response was, "Woe is me, for I am undone!" (Isa. 6:5). To try to know God in himself is like the mythical Icarus, who flew too high with his wax wings; the sun melted his wings and he fell into the sea. Soon the wax wings of our minds and our hearts melt, and we fall back to earth. This is the essence of all religions that speculate about God.
Yet the theme of the covenants, as the Old Testament unfolds, is "God with us." God himself visited men, during that time, in what are called theophanies, or appearances of God. For example, God appeared to Abraham and Sarah (Gen. 18), to Jacob (Gen. 32:24-30), to Manoah and his wife (Judg. 13:1-23), and to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego (Dan. 3:25). God's glorythe very presence of God himselfwas manifested in both the tabernacle and the first temple (Ex. 40:34; 1 Kings 8:10-13). God himself promisesin ways that are unique to the revelation given in Holy Scripturethat he will come to man. He is and will be called "Immanuel" (Isa. 7:14), which means "God with us" (see Matt. 1:23). His name is "Wonderful" because he is the "Mighty God" (Isa. 9:6). Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets, peeks at what is to come when he promises that "the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple" (Mal. 3:1). These are so many "previews of coming attractions" in the Old Testament. They tell us that this holy book is not enough. Something far greater is to come. The Lord himself will come into human history to be the Savior of his people (Isa. 45:15-25).
The New Testament: God with Us!
In the fullness of time, God brought forth his only begotten son, born of a woman, born under the Law (Gal. 4:4). In a story more amazing than any story in any other holy book, God speaks to a virgin named Mary and tells her that the Holy Spirit will come upon her. The power of God himself will overshadow her, such that the Holy One to be born of her will be called both Jesus and the Son of God (Luke 1:31, 35). Without controversy, this is "the mystery of godliness," that is, how God revealed to man the truth about himself: "God was manifested in the flesh" (1 Tim. 3:16). The New Testament of our holy book, the Bible, is unmistakably clear that the child born to Mary was nothing less than God himself. Not infrequently, the various books of the New Testament begin with an account of this fulfillment of what was promised in the books of the Old Testament:
"In the beginning was the Word [i.e., the self-expression of God], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... And the Word became flesh and dwelt [i.e., tabernacled] among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.... No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared [i.e., exegeted] Him" (John 1:1,14, 18). The God whose glory dwelt among his people under the old covenant and was declared by the words of their covenant books came to this world in the flesh of the one called Jesus. There is no way that the divine Being can come closer to his creation than this! No other holy book declares anything like it.
"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist [i.e., hold together]....For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 1:15-17; 2:9). All of the Old Testament shadows of God's glory dwelling among his people now pass away before the substance, that is, the body, which is Christ (Col. 2:17). The invisible God, whose nature our highest imaginations cannot grasp, is exhibited to man in the incarnate Son.
"God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Heb. 1:1-3). God, indeed, spoke by the prophets, but he did more! He came into history and spoke through the Word made fleshhis Son. And, what is more, he acted in history to do what no words of any holy book alone can do: he himself became the Savior of his people by taking away their sins. Immanuel"God with us"is named Jesus because "He will save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). By him, God himself purchased his church with his own blood (Acts 20:28).
The holy book of the Old Testament was not enough. The fulfillment of all the promises, types, and figures of God appearing to man had come: God was manifested in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. The ministry of the new covenant calls people to behold the glory of the Lord Jesus in all of Scripture and thereby to be transformed into his image from glory to glory (see 2 Cor. 3:18).
For All Ages of the Church: Behold Your God!
He who beholds Jesus beholds the Father (John 14:9). In the words of John Owen, "The Eternal was made in time, the Infinite became finite, the Immortal [became] mortal, yet continuing eternal, infinite, and immortal is that singular expression of divine wisdom, goodness, and power wherein God will be admired and glorified unto all eternity."
Behold in the God-manthe theanthropic Personthe love, mercy, goodness, and kindness of God! Behold in him the repository of all of the truth of God (John 1:17)! To attempt to grasp the truth of God from the Bible without reference to Christ is like trying to drink from a spring that is cut off from its source.
We see here the resolution of the great dilemma faced by all humankind: to attempt to know God in himself is to be destroyed; to behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ is to find life. Jesus prayed to the Father, "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3). By the crucified God-man, justice is satisfied at the cross, so that mercy might flow from the sacrificed Immanuel (see 1 John 1:7, 9). By the resurrected God-man, life is bestowed upon dead sinners (see Eph. 1:19-20; 2:5). By the ascended and reigning God-man, a kingdom for eternity is being established from people of every tongue and tribe and nation (see Rev. 5:9-10; 7:9). Other "holy" books may declare things that flow, ultimately, from human imaginations, but the Bible declares the truths of the God who came into human history so that we might know him and be saved by him for his glory.
The incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is the root of the Christian faith. It is the foundation of everything else that we believe about God and his ways with humanity. It is a call to everyone to behold the true and living God in Jesus Christ.
To the atheist: What C. S. Lewis said about Jesus Christ is true. Either he was a liar, or he was a lunatic (on the order of a man who calls himself a poached egg!), or he was what he claimed to be: "I and My Father are one" (John 10:30; cf. 8:58). There is no place for saying that there is no God when the only begotten Son has demonstrated him and seen fit that this demonstration be recorded in Holy Scripture for all to view. Behold the God before whom you will stand when he judges the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31)!
To the agnostic: You cannot say that we cannot know the truth for sure when Jesus says, "Truly, truly, I say to you ..." There is no doubtthat is, it is "without controversy"that God was manifested in the flesh (1 Tim. 3:16). Behold the God whose very life, as recorded in the four gospels, must dispel your claim to be unable to know God.
To the Christian: Let all the lines of Holy Scripture lead you to Jesus Christ, the God-man, so that you may derive all of the comfort that God has provided for you in the gospel (see Isa. 40:1-5). As surely as the God-man Jesus granted forgiveness, hope, compassion, strength, and life itself during his earthly ministry, he does the same today, for "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Heb. 13:8). Behold your God!
Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, be sure to take time to contemplate, draw comfort from, and celebrate the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. Even the holy book, the Bible, is not enough for you! Do not be like the Pharisees, who searched the Scriptures, thinking that in them they had eternal life, but who missed the fact that the Scriptures speak of Christ (John 5:39). Behold your God in the face of Jesus Christ, and in so doing you will be affected in a way that no other holy book can affect you: you will be transformed more and more into the image of Christ by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:18). Behold your God!
The author is pastor of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Franklin Square, N.Y. He quotes the NKJV. Reprinted from New Horizons, December 2006.