All Christians at all times and in all places have one thing in common: we worship Jesus Christ. In His presence we feel compelled to bend the knee and bow the head. We cannot escape the feeling that He is worthy, not merely of esteem, respect, and admiration (as if He were simply the greatest of teachers and humanitarians), but rather of adoration, exaltation, and glorification. We worship Jesus Christ, and we long for the day when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:10-11).
When we worship Jesus, we are tacitly acknowledging that He is God. None but God is worthy of worship. Apostles refused worship (Acts 14:14-15). Angels rejected it (Rev. 22:8-9). Herod was struck down with worms for accepting worship rather than giving glory to God (Acts 12:22-23). God alone is worthy of worship. He alone merits adoration.
Yet Jesus Christ freely accepted worship. He received worship from the man born blind (John 9:38). He accepted the worship of the disciples who were in the ship when He walked on the water (Matt. 14:33). He welcomed adoration from Thomas, who cried out, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28, KJV). The risen Lord Jesus offered no rebuke to the disciples when they clasped His feet and worshiped Him (Matt. 28:9).
In the Revelation, John shows the Lamb being adored along with the Father: “Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever” (Rev. 5:13). This is the very worship that every Christian yearns to offer. We long for the day when, finally in the presence of our Lord, we cast ourselves at His feet and wash them with the tears of our joy. We ache to cry out with redeemed hearts and minds and tongues, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12).
Sometimes people express concern that the over-exaltation of the Son might somehow detract from the glory of the Father. They need not worry. Jesus Himself made it clear that the Father has committed all judgment to the Son, specifically in order that all people would honor the Son just as they honor the Father (John 5:22-23). That is, the Father delights in the honor and glory of the Son. The Father is most glorified when the Son is most magnified. Every bit of worship that is offered to Christ redounds to the glory of the Father. In fact, no one can worship the Father without worshiping the Son. Son-worship is the mode that the Father has given us to worship Himself.
In other words, the way that we worship the Father is by worshiping the Son. This is the case because of the kind of relationship that the Father and Son enjoy with each other. That relationship has no human analogy.
On the one hand, the Father and the Son are distinct persons. The Father blessed the Son at His baptism. The Son prayed to the Father repeatedly. In Gethsemane, the Son clearly distinguished His will from the will of the Father: “not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). Any attempt to erase the distinction of persons (such as the Modalists try) reduces these exchanges to a grotesque form of shadowboxing. Scripture everywhere teaches that the Son is not the Father. They are distinct persons.
On the other hand, the Father and the Son are one God, for there is only one God. They are one and the same being, co-equal, co-eternal, and consubstantial. The Son is of one nature (homoousios) with the Father. He is not ontologically subordinate to the Father, though He did choose to subordinate Himself administratively during His humiliation.
This is the point at which language begins to fail us. We know that Father and Son are one and the same God, and we know that they are not the same person. Yet we have no experience whatever with distinct persons who are the same being. Our finite lives provide no analogue for the relationship of Father to Son. Almost every attempt to reason about this relationship is freighted with the risk of heresy. One tiny misstep in either direction, and we can end up denying something that is essential to the Faith. Whatever we say, we must be careful to maintain both fundamental insights: the Father and Son are not distinct beings, but they are not the same person.
One thing is certain, however. Because the Father and Son are one and the same God, the relationship between them must be far closer and more intimate than the relationship between any two created persons. From all eternity, they share each other’s being. In their infinite wisdom they know each other’s minds with precision. And their relationship is one of infinite, eternal, unsurpassable love.
Scripture describes this relationship by saying that the Father loves the Son. Because of this love, the Father has given all things into the hand of the Son (John 3:35). Because He loves the Son, the Father has completely disclosed His plan to the Son (John 5:20). He publicly declares the Son to be His beloved (Matt. 3:17; 17:5). Therefore, the Son declares the Father, displaying the love of the invisible God and making it accessible to human minds (John 1:18; 17:26).
So close is the connection between Father and Son that whoever has seen the Son has also seen the Father (John 14:9). The Father is like a bright light, and the Son is like the rays that come from the light; the Father is like the image on a die, and the Son is like the image on the coin that is struck by the die (Heb. 1:3). That is why every act of worship toward the Son is also an act of worship toward the Father. The Father desires nothing more than that Christ should have the preeminence because the entire fullness of Deity dwells in the Son in bodily form (Col. 1:18-19; 2:9).
With what words shall we confess this truth? No one has ever improved upon this expression: “[We believe] in one Lord Jesus Christ, 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.” Every lover of Jesus Christ thrills to these words. Every pious heart resonates. When we repeat the Nicene Creed, it is no vain repetition. Rather, we find ourselves exclaiming, “Yes! This is my Lord Jesus Christ!”
So let us bend our knees and bow our heads before Him. Let our hearts rejoice in Him even as our mouths confess Him. Let us glorify Him and magnify His name. O come, let us adore Him!
Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)
A holy, heavenly chime
Rings fullness in of time,
And on His Mother’s breast
Our Lord God ever-Blest
Is laid a Babe at rest.
Stoop, Spirits unused to stoop,
Swoop, Angels, flying swoop,
Adoring as you gaze,
Uplifting hymns of praise:—
“Grace to the Full of Grace!”
The cave is cold and strait
To hold the angelic state:
More strait it is, more cold,
To foster and infold
Its Maker one hour old.
Thrilled through with awestruck love,
Meek Angels poised above,
To see their God, look down:
“What, is there never a Crown
For Him in swaddled gown?
“How comes He soft and weak
With such a tender cheek,
With such a soft small hand?—
The very Hand which spann’d
Heaven when its girth was plann’d.
“How comes He with a voice
Which is but baby-noise?—
That Voice which spake with might
—‘Let there be light’—and light
Sprang out before our sight.
“What need hath He of flesh
Made flawless now afresh?
What need of human heart?—
Heart that must bleed and smart
Choosing the better part.
“But see: His gracious smile
Dismisses us a while
To serve Him in His kin.
Haste we, make haste, begin
To fetch His brethren in.”
Like stars they flash and shoot,
The Shepherds they salute:
“Glory to God” they sing:
“Good news of peace we bring,
For Christ is born a King.”
president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN).