Day 13: Jesus as God
Illustration: Juliana Crownover
Daniel is…an exemplar of Christian prayer here, particularly under duress…nowhere is this clearer than…where Daniel confesses his people’s sin and prays for mercy…It has been normative for Christians both (1) to believe in God’s providential care of history and in his gracious and sovereign electing will and (2) to exhort its members to pray for forgiveness and to intercede for their needs.
George Sumner, Bishop of Dallas[i]
Heavenly Father, mercifully assist us as we pray to you. You have enabled us to put our trust and confidence in your mercy. Let the goodness of your compassion work effectually in us. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Old Testament Lesson
Daniel sees the sufferings of those in exile and confesses their collective guilt. They have broken their covenant relationship. Acting as a representative of the people, Daniel offers up a corporate confession on their behalf. The people have incurred a huge debt because of their sin.[ii] Yet Daniel recognizes God as merciful. He pleads with God for forgiveness. They may not have acted righteously, but God always does. Daniel’s basic argument is that justice has been served. The diaspora, which was supposed to last seventy years, continues on.[iii] They have paid their debt yet still find themselves estranged from God.[iv] Daniel’s plea is for that to change.
15And now O Lord our God, who brought up your people from the land of Egypt with great might, you made your name famous even to this day – we have sinned and acted wickedly. 16O Lord, according to your righteous deeds, please turn your wrath and indignation away from Jerusalem and your temple mount. On account of our sin and the wrongdoing of our ancestors, Jerusalem and your people are a reproach to everyone around us.
17So now, pay attention to the prayers of your servant and to his supplications and, for your own sake, O God, let your face shine on your devastated sanctuary. 18Incline your ear, O God, and hear; open your eyes and see our desolation and that of the city called by your name. We ask not on account of our righteousness but on account of your great mercy. 19O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, be attentive and act! Do not tarry, for your own sake, O God, because your people in your city are called by your name.
New Testament Lesson
The tragedy of unbelief is on display in this passage. Jesus reveals himself as “I AM,” the same language God used to reveal himself to Moses at the burning bush. There is not much time for those who hear Jesus to turn in repentance. Note that John refers to sin in the singular in verse twenty-one and the plural in verse twenty-four. To John, there is only one terrible sin which all other sins flow from – unbelief.[v] For John, it is not enough to just “believe” in Jesus. His hearers must also believe that Jesus bears the Divine Name, I AM. Put more simply, his hearers must believe Jesus is truly God.[vi]
21Then Jesus said to them again, “I am departing and you will seek me, but you will die in your sin. Where I am going you can’t come.” 22Then the Jewish leaders said, “Since He said where I’m going you can’t come: He’s not going to kill Himself, is He?” 23Then Jesus said to them, “You are from below; I am from above; you are of this world; I am not of this world. 24So I say to you, you will die in your sins. For, if you don’t believe that I AM, you will certainly die in your sins.”
25Then they said to Him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “I told you at the beginning what I’m also telling you now.”[vii] 26I have many things to say in judgment concerning you, but the Father who sent me is truthful, and whatever I’ve heard from Him I speak these things into the world. 27(They didn’t realize he was telling them that God was his Father.) 28So Jesus said to them, “When you see the Son of Man lifted up, you will know that I AM and that I do nothing of my own accord, but as the Father taught me, I say these things. 29The Father who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone because I always do what pleases Him.”
Questions for Reflection
- In what ways are you a reproach to others? Does anyone despise you for your Christian beliefs? How do you deal with that? If no one finds you a reproach for your beliefs, why is that?
- How do you experience God’s presence in your life? Are you aware that God is with you as you go through the day? Would you like to experience his presence more than you do? Have you prayed for this?
- Do you believe that Jesus is fully God and fully man? Could Jesus save us without the Incarnation?
- What is the source of hard-heartedness? Why do some people refuse to believe that Jesus claimed to be God?
Reflection by Kevin Dodge (email)
It is typical to hear in popular discourse that Jesus never directly said he was God in the Bible, that somehow the core Christian claim that Jesus is “fully God and fully man” is a pious absurdity that the Church just made up to cover up the embarrassment of Jesus’ death. Yet, as the Apostle Paul put it, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, neither has Christ been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching futile and your faith is futile.” (1 Cor 15.13-14). Translation: If Jesus wasn’t God and wasn’t actually raised from the dead, we’re all wasting our time.
But can we prove with “scientific” certainty that Jesus rose from the dead? Well, no. There will likely never surface any knock-down, drag out proof that definitively shows (by skeptical modern standards) that Jesus was resurrected.
But we’re not supposed to either. St. Anselm, who served as Archbishop of Canterbury in the early twelfth century, echoed Augustine by writing that we employ a method of discerning truth known as “faith seeking understanding.” We begin with faith, but we go on to buttress our faith with reason. We seek understanding by searching the Scriptures, receiving the Sacraments, listening to preaching, studying, praying and experiencing God as we walk through life.
Thus, even if such “scientific” proof for the resurrection surfaced, it’s likely that few would believe it because the Christian faith is just that, it’s lived by faith. The Christian faith is spiritually discerned. Subjecting everything we do to doubt is simply not a Christian method for discerning truth.
That being said, the circumstantial evidence for the resurrection is very strong. Think about it: All the Roman government had to do to stop the Christian movement was to produce Jesus’ body. Why didn’t they? It was certainly in their interest to do so. Further, to the best of our knowledge, all the apostles died as martyrs, some gruesomely. Do we really believe that if the disciples knew it was all a hoax, they would have gone to their deaths for it? Perhaps a few, but twelve, not to mention countless others that the Emperor Nero persecuted in Rome? This seems highly unlikely.
But what we learn in our NT passage today is that unbelief is common, not uncommon. We live in an odd time, when the old flames of Christendom and a Christian culture are slowly dying. Something much more secular is trying to take its place.
Yet this only returns Christians back to the beginning. Christianity started as a tiny, persecuted minority religion. It has been constantly under threat for centuries even when it was culturally ascendant. For anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles, the survival of the Church and the survival of the Jewish people are two historical facts that cannot be easily explained with historical data. It shouldn’t have worked out that way, but it did.
Despite God’s providential care for his people, Daniel shows us how very necessary ongoing repentance is. God’s threats of judgment on those who depart from Him are not abstractions, but have very real consequences. The part of Daniel’s prayer that is often forgotten is its corporate orientation. There’s power in corporate prayer. There’s power in corporate confession. There’s power in coming together as a parish and taking Lent seriously.
Daniel is looking back and realizing that the Jews have paid mightily for their sins with an exile that had gone on far longer than the seventy years it was supposed to last. Daniel laments this terrible state of affairs and cries out to God for justice.
Could it be that the Church plays a central role in God’s plan to redeem the world? What we do know for sure is that our own sin has incurred a huge debt and we’re living in our own kind of exile. Lent is the time for us to pray like Daniel, to pray that we might not fall into the unbelief of the Jewish leadership Jesus encountered. We should pray that we would recognize Christ in our midst, in the Eucharist, in prayer and in service. We pray for restoration because we desperately need it. We pray for the Church because it is the body of Christ.
The Christian life was never meant to be lived alone. We need to be nurtured within a Christian community. One of the best ways to do this is to be in a small group. Consider joining an existing group or starting one with some friends. This will add an element of needed accountability to your spiritual practice.
One of the best ways to interact with Scripture more closely is to memorize some of it. Instead of memorizing individual verses, try to memorize a section of Scripture like John 1.1-14, Rom 8.31-37 or Isa 53.4-9 (this will be easy for those who love Handel’s Messiah).
Find a description of the seven deadly sins on-line (pride, envy, greed, lust, sloth, gluttony and anger) and contemplate how you’ve sinned according to these categories. Ask God for forgiveness.
[i] George Sumner, Esther & Daniel, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Downers Grove, Il: Brazos Press, 2013), 187.
[ii] Gary A. Anderson, Sin: A History (New Haven: Yale Press, 2010), 81.
[iii] Stephen Miller, Daniel (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Reference, 1994), 248.
[iv] Anderson, Sin, 82.
[v] Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII, Anchor Bible (New Haven, CT: Yale Press, 1966), 350.
[vii] I am following P66’s rendering of this disputed verse. Cf. Ibid., 347.