C.S. Lewis has a famous argument called the Trilemma in Mere Christianity that prepares us for this morning’s sermon. Roman Catholic philosopher, Peter Kreeft, calls Lewis’ Trilemma “the most important argument in Christian apologetics.” US President, Ronald Reagan, used the argument in reply to a Methodist minister who didn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God (I use the term ‘minister’ loosely).
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Since the Son’s incarnation, there has been a tendency to view him as nothing more than human. He might have been a talented speaker and gifted leader, but that’s all he was. It was his followers who divinized him beginning with the false account of his resurrection.
C.S. Lewis simply reflected upon what Jesus said about himself to make his case. Jesus said he always existed, that he had the authority to forgive sin, and that he would return to judge the world at the end of time. Lewis argued that the only reasonable conclusion we can draw from these statements is that Jesus was either a lunatic, a liar, or he was Lord.
Some have argued that a fourth option should be added making it a tetralemma. They rightly point out that the accounts of Jesus’ claims could be legend. Jesus didn’t really make claims about his divinity that the NT assigns to him. Granting that, Lewis’ point remains valid. You must worship or reject entirely the Jesus of Scripture. There is no middle path available.
I’ve been arguing that the author of Hebrews is elevating Christ in the view of his audience so that departure from him becomes more difficult. A robust Christology is an anchor for the soul. The more we understand of his greatness, the more satisfied we are in him.
Everyone faces the ultimate dilemma of accepting or rejecting Jesus based upon eyewitness testimony.
If Jesus is divine, as the New Testament affirms, then we must submit to him.
Read Heb 1:1-4.
We have considered three aspects of the identity of the Son so far:
1. The Son as Heir of All Things
2. The Son as Agent of Creation
3. The Son Radiates God’s Glory
› This morning we will look at the next description, which is the central phrase of this opening sentence. The Son who radiates God’s glory…
The Son Represents God’s Nature
Once again we meet a hapax legomena, which is a word that only occur once in the NT. Last week, that word was ‘radiance’. This week, it is the word translated “exact imprint” (χαρακτήρ). It also occurs twice in the LXX. In the first instance it is referring to the “scar” or “scab” that remains on the skin after it is burned (Lev 13:28). The Hebrew word (צָרֶ֫בֶת) is found twice in this passage, the other time in reference to a boil or inflamed skin. Obviously, the author is not speaking of the Son as the scab of God. It has to do with the mark that is left.
The other instance is found in the Apocryphal book of 2 Maccabees 4:10 which is translated as the Greek “way of life.” In context, it is referring to a corrupt arrangement between Antiochus Epiphanes and the high priest Jason. The king appointed Jason as high priest, and in exchange, Jason encouraged the people to acclimate themselves into the Greek way of living. In other words, they were to accept a Greek persona (χαρακτήρ).
The early church fathers use the word in similar ways. Clement spoke of God forming man in the “impress of his own image” (1 Clement 33.4). Ignatius used it as an illustration of the stamp that is placed upon man, like the image on a coin (IMag 5.2). We are either stamped by God or we’re stamped by the world. Ignatius uses the term again in his salutation to the Trallions, referring to “the apostolic fashion” of his salutation. Finally, the author of the Shepherd of Hermas refers to women who were “most beautiful in form” (S Herm, parable IX). There it seems to describe an external beauty.
It is found most frequently, by far, in the works of the first century quintessential Jewish philosopher, Philo. Philo was a contemporary of Jesus who died in AD 50. He used the word more than 50x in several ways. χαρακτήρ may refer to:
• A ‘record’ or ‘reproduction’ of text.
• The ‘image’ of a city impressed upon a wax tablet.
• Our imagination imprints upon our outward senses its own ‘character’.
• Man is created in the image and likeness of God, not regarding the ‘characters’ of his physical body, but regarding his mind.
• Adam represented certain ‘characteristics of the nature’ of both the world and God.
When the church began to carefully define her Christology, ὑπόστασις referred to “person”. The King James Version translates the phrase “the express image of his person.” But during the first and second centuries, the term was specifically used to describe the nature of a thing (it’s substance, being, reality). The Epistle to Diognetus, written in the second century, speaks of the ‘substance’ of foreign gods as idols made of stone, bronze, wood, and silver (Diog 2:1). It has to do with the true nature of the thing.
This informed the Trinitarian debate where all three persons of the godhead are “the same in substance” (WSC 6). However, things can get confusing. William Gouge notes that the Greek fathers called ‘substance’ what the Latin fathers called ‘person’. John Calvin agreed that the ὑποστάσις should be interpreted as ‘person’ and that it is threefold unlike the singular essence (οὐσία) of God.
The author of Hebrews will use the word two more times. The second occurence is Heb 3:14 translated as ‘confidence’. Then again in Heb 11:1, which is translated ‘assurance’. Faith is portrayed as confidently resting in spiritual realities. In other words, faith is grounded in the substance of our hope. In this sense, the Son is the revelation of what God is really like (Jn 14:9).
The Son does not physically reveal God—who is an invisible spirit (Col 1:15)—but he perfectly represents the character of God. As Paul writes, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col 2:9).
Just as a stamp is pressed into a soft wax, the stamp is distinct from the imprint, but the imprint corresponds precisely to whatever was stamped into it. In this case, the stamp is the very substance of God that corresponds perfectly to the Son.
There is both consubstantiality as well as distinction between the Father and the Son. Much like John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). While we must admit this is mysterious and difficult to define with simple language, we must likewise preserve a view of God that upholds its three-in-oneness. The orthodox understanding of God maintains that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are:
• Coeternal—No person existed apart from the other persons.
• Coequal—There is no hierarchy involving superiority or subordination (referring to the preincarnate Son).
• Consubstantial—They share the same substance.
A proper understanding of these terms will safeguard us against falling into heretical views:
• Sabellius (Modalism)—Denied distinction in the Godhead.
• Arius (Arianism)—Denied the consubstantiality of the Father and Son.
Just A Spoonful of Heresy
Who doesn’t love Mary Poppins? You might think of the amazingly talented Julie Andrews dancing alongside the equally competent Dick Van Dyke. But did you know that P.L. Travers was so appalled by Andrews’ portrayal that she left the theater weeping? As usual, the movie was nothing like the books. She hated the movie because it stripped Mary Poppins of her ideals, which is why a sequel was never made until almost two decades after her death.
P. L. Travers quoted C.S. Lewis claiming that God gave her the concept of Mary Poppins. “There is only one Creator, we merely mix the ingredients He gives us.” But her concept of God was actually quite unlike that of Lewis’. Having become interested in Buddhism in her youth, she admits to writing the Mary Poppins series as “essentially Zen stories.” I’ll give you just one example from her first book:
“We are all made of the same stuff, remember, we of the Jungle, you of the City. The same substance composes us—the tree overhead, the stone beneath us, the bird, the beast, the star—we are all one, all moving to the same end. Remember that when you no longer remember me, my child.”
In other words, her concept of god was just a spoonful of heresy.
Unfortunately, it’s not just children’s storybooks where we find such heresy. Ligonier has been conducting a survey of Americans and Evangelicals every two years called “The State of Theology”. The results from the survey in 2020 are discouraging:
• 52% of Americans agree that Jesus was a great teacher, but not God. 30% of Evangelicals also agreed!
• 42% of Evangelicals agree that God accepts the worship of all religions!
And, if you want to be challenged further, read James Dolezal’s All That Is In God for some examples of modern theologians who unwittingly teach what is beyond the bounds of the classical doctrine of God.
Know the Son to Know God
Although I have been making an argument for the doctrine and relevance to each of these clauses, the author has not done so. He simply states these magnificent truths with the assumption that his audience will both understand and assent to them. As the statements compound, they provide us with a compelling picture of the divinity of the Son.
The author is seeking to build up our faith by teaching us how to know an incomprehensible God. On the one hand, no matter how precisely we navigate Trinitarian theology, we are never going to fully grasp it with our finite minds. And what we are capable of understanding, we must comprehend through God’s Son, which means we must know the Son rightly.
1 John 5:20 ESV
And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
But many will continue to reject the Son…
2 Corinthians 4:4 ESV
In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
It is worth wrestling with this mystery and crying out for the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to receive the truth.
Lenski, “Our poor human tongue and mind, which are occupied so much with the things that are beneath us, strain to rise to the heights of the divine persons. But these mighty expressions form the rock bottom of our Christian faith, the essence of the sweet gospel realities. If the Son in whose person God drew nigh to us were less than is said here…our faith and our hope would be vain indeed.”