Who is Jesus?
Last week Richard asked you all to think about your answer to a question: why do you follow Jesus? Richard used all of Jesus’s ‘I am’ sayings as a way of exploring why we might choose to follow Jesus, so in some way he’s answered this week’s question already.
Last week’s I Am sayings took ways that Jesus described himself in John’s gospel. And we see that in all of those sayings we are invited into transformation and wholeness through Jesus.
So this week’s question is: just who IS Jesus?
This is the question that Jesus asks of his disciples in Matthew 16: who do you say I am? It’s the question he asked his disciples to answer and it’s one that we all need to answer too. It’s one that people across time have sought to answer, and you can see some of the ways people have sought to portray Jesus, and some of the things that people have said about him.
So today’s talk might seem a little bit like a back to basics Alpha course, and for those of you who have been around the traps for a while I’m sorry but also not sorry about that because it’s really important that we remember and remember and retell and retell who Jesus is until it is engrained in the fibre of our beings and embedded in the depths of our souls and we are so grimy with that engraining that it marks the world around us.
So, let’s dig into this guy that we base our lives around, and refresh ourselves.
Jesus is a man.
He lived in Palestine, in the Middle East, bordering the Mediterranean, 2,000+ years ago. He was born into a place that was marked by Roman occupation, in which many in his Jewish religion were waiting expectantly for God’s promise of a saviour, a Messiah, an anointed king, who was to come and free them from oppression.
We know nothing about what he looked like: but based on depictions and descriptions of men at that time he probably had a short beard, not necessarily long hair, and probably wore Roman style dress of tunic, wrap and sandals. He most likely would have had darker skin and dark eyes, and because the life expectancy of a person of his status and time was around mid-40s, he probably would have looked older than 30, when he began his ministry. He probably didn’t have a halo, or a radioactive glow, hover shoes, or anything that marked him out as any different.
He experienced the things that we did – having a body with physical needs, being part of a family, being educated, having a job, making friends, working out his identity.
And this man claimed that he was God.
How do we know this?
We know this because of what he said:
1. Jesus centred his teaching on himself: instead of other teachers who pointed towards God, he pointed to himself. We saw this last week: I AM the bread of life. ‘Today the scripture has been fulfilled in your presence.’
2. He said that he forgave sins. In his culture, only God does that. It got him into so much trouble.
3. He said so: John 10.30: the Father and I are one.
But hang on. Anyone can say these things. Why should we trust that Jesus is actually God?
Anyone who claims to be God could either be a fraud/liar OR insane nutter (CS Lewis on the same level as a man who thinks he’s a poached egg) OR… taken rationally and evidentially AND experientially as billions of Christians have done - actually God.
You can see some of the labels that are given to Jesus on the pictures in our art gallery.
We can trust that Jesus actually is God because of what he did, and how he did it:
4. He healed, transformed, performed miracles.
5. He fulfilled Old Testament prophecies – over 300 of them – Richard will talk a bit more about this next week
6. He loved selflessly, in the way we would expect God to. He prioritised the broken, the marginalised. He forgave, even when he was under the pressure of torture and dying in the most hideous way.
7. He died. The week after next we’ll talk about why that’s important.
8. He came back from the dead [wut].
Now, I’m a historian, and a terrible cynic, formed and trained not to take things at face value. I’ve learned to weigh up evidence, to test the validity of source material. So, from a historical point of view, can we trust that what the records of Jesus say are true?
Richard will talk more about this next week, but from a historical perspective, the accounts of Jesus are remarkably robust: the best scholarship deems them to be authentic, and having integrity. Even…..the coming back from the dead thing.
Of course there’s one other thing There’s one final thing that answers who Jesus is: the person of Jesus transformed way Jesus continues to change lives today. Without precedent this movement swept throughout history. 2.3 billion Christians who have encountered the risen Jesus Christ, still alive today.
Why does it matter then if the answer to the question of who is Jesus is that Jesus is God on earth in human form?
It matters because if it’s true, then Jesus is at the absolute CENTRE of everything. The sun around which all of us orbit. The ultimate meaning and purpose for all that is, including each of us.
This is a good place to bring in our Colossians reading:
And in this letter, Paul gives us what’s probably the earliest poem about Jesus. In front of you it’s laid out like a poem so that you can see how it works. It’s based on different meanings of the Hebrew word ‘head’. And it gives us a good way of answering that question: who is Jesus.
Use a pan and circle or highlight all the things that the poem says Jesus is? And then we’ll shout them out.
Image of God Firstborn of all creation (at the beginning) Creator of all things The purpose of all things supreme / ahead of all things holds all things together the head of the body reconciler peace maker in heaven and on earth
Can you see how Jesus is totally at the centre of everything? The Jesus through whom the world was made in the first place is the same Jesus through whom the world has now been redeemed. He is the firstborn of all creation, and the firstborn from the dead. He is the head, the centre of everything. He is how we see what God is really like, and by whom we discover what true human identity means in practice.
That’s why I think that when Jesus asked Simon Peter who he said he was, Jesus also responded then with: “This is who I say you are.” He names Peter, the rock, on whom Jesus will build the church. He affirms his identity. In Jesus we receive our true worth.
I have had two lovely Jesus moments this week, in which Jesus has done the same for me: affirmed my identity. They’ve been moments when I’ve heard someone else speak, and it’s like a light bulb goes on, and the words sink into my soul.
The first is just a sense of Jesus saying: You are worth EVERYTHING to me.
The second was yesterday, at my friend Jessie’s wedding, when Tim who was preaching reminded Jessie and her new husband Hamish how Jesus is the only one who truly sees us for who we are. I was reminded of that beautiful verse in Isaiah 43: “I have redeemed you, I have called you by name,” which then, beautifully, was the theme of the first episode of The Chosen, the story of Jesus, which we watched last night.
I think these are messages for each of us too: in Jesus, God in human form, we see God for who God really is, and we are each given a centre for our lives; redeemed, warts and all, given purpose, identity and value. And we are given an invitation to respond.