Jesus Part One: Who Do You Say I Am? (Jon Fryer)
Read Matt 16;13-17.
Often our attitudes towards God are coloured by pagan philosophy. Wrong images in our minds, wrong ideas and concepts, lead to wrong beliefs and wrong attitudes about God. The thing is, wrong attitudes and beliefs in the end almost always lead to us taking wrong actions. To hold a wrong image of God in our minds is just as much idolatry as is worshipping a statue – a false image is a false image, and it leads us to sin.
This is certainly true in the gospel stories – people who held a wrong image of Jesus ended up doing the most terribly wrong things. People thought that he was a trouble-maker, a rebel leader, whatever. The Zealots, the Jewish terrorists who resisted the Roman Occupation, looked for a chance to use him or his name as a rallying cry against Rome – Simon Zelotes, one of the disciples, must have thought that Jesus was the King come to restore the Kingdom of Israel, as did many people of the time. By a few decades after Jesus’ death this belief that Israel should be restored led to most of the Zealots being slain by the Romans in AD70 when they destroyed Jerusalem, or to them committing mass suicide during the Siege of Masada.
Judas obviously had some strange ideas about who he thought Jesus was. No one knows why he did what he did. He may have been trying to manipulate Jesus into confronting the Romans, or he may have been trying to silence someone whom he sawing drawing too much attention from the Roman authorities in the same way as the High Priest – read John 11;45-53. We do know that Jesus disagreed with Jesus over the use of the disciples’ money – see John 12;1-11. Maybe that was all it was – a petty disagreement over cash? Read John 8;31-52 and John 12;12-43.
As you can see, almost everyone involved in the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus was acting upon wrong ideas and wrong motives. We tend to think of them as villains, but that is an over-simplification – John makes it clear that they were all normal, everyday people who simply were very, very wrong.
SO WHO DO PEOPLE SAY HE IS NOW?
Today people still perpetually misunderstand who Jesus is, whether they are Christians or otherwise. Who do the people on the street, or indeed in the church, say that Jesus is today?
The simplest misunderstanding is to say that Jesus is fiction, that he never existed. This view is usually held by people who have only the tiniest knowledge of Christianity, who have heard a few wild stories about miracles from a few thousand years ago and dismiss it all as fairy tales. It is not a sensible view to hold, since there is more historical evidence to prove the existence of Jesus as a real human being than there is to prove the existence of Julius Caesar, and no one ever questions his existence as a historical personage!
Following on from this some people say ‘Oh, he’s just some religious leader who got killed two thousand years ago’. True enough, but that is definitely not all he is when his message still reaches out to change people’s lives today. Some say that Jesus was just another cult leader trying to build his own power base – but in which case why didn’t he let his people fight for him? Going quietly to his death whilst there was still a chance gained him nothing, which is not the typical strategy of a power crazed cult leader or greedy conman. Others say that he was just a good man, whose teaching is a nice way to live, but that he is nothing more important than that… but he claimed to be the Saviour, the Messiah, the Son of God. If he isn’t any of those things then he was either a liar or a madman, so how can he be a ‘good’ man, or any kind of ‘good’ teacher of lifestyle and morality?
These are the most common misunderstandings held by those outside the church about who Jesus actually is, and their consequences are obvious – they miss out on a relationship with Jesus, upon a life of blessings, and upon salvation itself.
The misunderstandings about who Jesus actually is that are held by many Christians are more subtle, but just as damaging in the long run. One of the most common is to think of Jesus as the world portrays him in Hollywood films, Christmas cards and stained glass windows, a gentle Jesus meek and mild, a little baby in a stable, a blond haired blue eyed alabaster saint, a clean stylised saviour who is there to be looked at on Sundays and Christmas but who has no impact upon real life.
All of these ‘nice’ images of Jesus distract us from who he really is, and what it is that he calls us to do. The real Jesus wants us to be deeply, sweatily, bloodily involved in the real world, just as he was – with people who are not ‘nice’, with the sick and the grieving and the sinful, not hiding in white middle class ghettos where we never talk about life’s problems except as gossip, and never care unless it costs us nothing and doesn’t get messy. The other drawback to a Christmas card Jesus is that it makes it hard for us to believe in all of the ‘not nice’ stuff that he said – such as the urgency of evangelism because Heaven and Hell are both real and both nearby. Such as the fact that he does notice sin and it is important and he does care how we live our lives. ‘Gentle Jesus meek and mild’ makes us think that what we do is not important because there is no judge over our actions. Gentle Jesus, nice Jesus, plastic Jesus makes us think that ‘Sunday attendance, leather cased Bible and fake smile church’ is all there is to Christianity. We really need to get back to thinking of the Son of God in terms of the Christ, and not in terms of ‘Christianity’ – there is a big difference:
Quoted from ‘Escape from Christendom’
by Robert Burnell
In my dream I see the lone figure of a man following a road. As the sun sets beneath the hills, a city comes into view. Nearing it, the traveller sees what appears to be a large group of churches. Spires and crosses pierce the skyline. His pace quickens. Is this his destination? He passes an imposing structure, a neon sign flashing "Cathedral of the Future." Farther on a floodlit stadium supports a billboard boasting that fifty thousand people crowd into evangelistic meetings there three nights a week. Beyond this, modest "New Testament" chapels and Hebrew Christian synagogues cluster together on the street front.
"Is this the City of God?" I hear the traveller ask a woman at the information booth in the central square.
"No, this is Christian City," she replies.
"But I thought this road led to the City of God!" he exclaims with great disappointment.
"That's what we all thought when we arrived," she answers, her tone sympathetic.
"This road continues up the mountain, doesn't it?" he asks.
"I wouldn't know, really," she answers blankly.
I watch the man turn away from her and trudge on up the mountain in the gathering darkness. Reaching the top, he stares out into the blackness; it looks as though there is nothing, absolutely nothing, beyond. With a shudder he retraces his steps into Christian City and takes a room at a hotel.
Strangely unrefreshed, at dawn he arises and follows the road up the mountain again; in the brightening light of the sun he discovers that what seemed like a void the night before is actually a desert—dry, hot, rolling sand as far as the eye can see. The road narrows to a path which rises over a dune and disappears. "Can this trail lead to the City of God?" he wonders aloud. It appears to be quite deserted and rarely travelled.
Indecision slowing his steps, he again returns to Christian City and has lunch in a Christian restaurant. Over the music of a gospel record, I hear him ask a man at the next table, "That path up the mountain, where the desert begins, does it lead to the City of God?"
"Don't be a fool!" his neighbour replies quickly. "Everyone who has ever taken that path has been lost… swallowed up by the desert! If you want God, there are plenty of good churches in this town. You should pick one and settle down."
After leaving the restaurant, looking weary and confused, the traveller finds a spot under a tree and sits down. An ancient man approaches and begins pleading with him in urgent tones, "If you stay here in Christian City, you'll wither away. You must take the path. I belong to the desert you saw earlier. I was sent here to encourage you to press on. You'll travel many miles. You'll be hot and thirsty; but angels will walk with you, and there will be springs of water along the way. And at your journey's end you will reach the City of God! You have never seen such beauty! And when you arrive the gates will open for you, for you are expected."
"What you say sounds wonderful," the traveller replies. "But I'm afraid I'd never survive that desert. I'm probably better off here in Christian City."
The ancient one smiles. "Christian City is the place for those who want religion but don't want to lose their lives. The desert is the territory of those whose hearts are so thirsty for God that they are willing to be lost in Him. My friend, when Peter brought his boat to land, forsook all and followed Jesus, he was being swallowed by the desert. When Matthew left his tax collecting and Paul his Pharisaism, they too were leaving a city much like this to pursue Jesus out over the dunes and be lost in God. So don't be afraid. Many have gone before you."
Then I see the traveller look away from the old man's burning eyes to the bustle of Christian City. He sees busy people hurrying hither and yon with their Bibles and shiny attaché cases, looking like men and women who know their destiny. But it is clear they lack something which the old man with eyes like a prophet possesses.
The opposite of the ‘Gentle Jesus’ image is of course to see Jesus as nothing more than a stern judge who gave us a list of rules and then left us to try and keep them and punishes us when we do not. Many Christians have this image of Jesus and live their lives by law. It seems to me that this just makes you hard, judgemental and dismissive of people who are too weak to keep to the rules that you do. Seeing Jesus purely as a stern judge and taskmaster prevents you from loving and causes you to attack others so that you never have to face your own sin and lack of relationship with Jesus. When you love a list of rules more than you love other people then you no longer really love God, and this was the sin of the Pharisees – read Matt 23;1-39. I’m not saying that we all do this all of the time, but it is a trap in our thinking that we all fall into when whenever we judge another person or find ourselves accusing someone. When we criticise someone else we rarely think of our own faults and so have compassion on them. Jesus hates this, but within the church we do it frequently – read Matt 7;1-5. The Celtic church had a more healthy attitude in this area than we do – they taught that one should be strict and harsh with the sin in one’s own life, but to view every brother and sister as if they were a perfect saint and to treat them as if it were so. In this way we learn to love and imitate their good points without tearing them down over their faults.
Another false image of Christ often held by the church is that he is God. Don’t get me wrong – Jesus is God, the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God sent to Earth to save us – but to see Jesus solely as God tends to make us forget that he was totally human as well. When we see Jesus as ‘God’ then we tend to sacrifice some of the closeness of our relationship with him – we see him as distant, someone who can’t relate to us, someone who doesn’t understand what we are going through. That’s simply not true. Jesus went through everything that we do because he became totally human – see Philippians 2;5-11. Jesus knew hurt, and loss, and loneliness, and grief. He didn’t know what to do at times. His only ‘advantage’ over us, if you will, is that he chose to spend more time with God, and so knew Him better and knew what He wanted better than we do. Even then it was sometimes a struggle for him – in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus knew that he was about to be betrayed by one of his closest friends, that he was to be humiliated and friendless and tortured and then killed, and the only reason he had to go through with it was because God had told him to. He didn’t want to do it, he couldn’t know the future and what the results would be, he only knew that God had asked Him to. the decision to go to the cross was a decision made in weakness, and in doubt, and in blind faith in God that he was doing the right thing… the same way that we make our own decisions – read Luke 22;39-44 and Matt 26;36-46. It is only because Jesus is totally human that we can have a true relationship with him, and have him shape our lives – if he were ‘just’ God no relationship could really be real, on our part at least, any more than a pet dog is truly a ‘real’ friend to its owner – there is no equality, no commonality of experience, nothing of value in common upon which to build a relationship. In fact, it is only because of Jesus’ humanity that we can have a true relationship with God, because when Jesus ascended back into Heaven not only did he wipe away our sin and take his place at His Father’s side in order to intercede for us, he also took his humanity with him into the very heart of the Godhead – he ascended in his body, and where one man can go, others can follow. This idea is at the heart of the Rublev icon showing the hospitality of Abraham. The picture should really be called ‘The Hospitality of the Trinity’ for the three persons of the Trinity leave an open space at the fourth side of the table for us to join them, an open space in their relationship where we can join in.
Who does he say WE are?
Read Matt 16;13-19 again. Having challenged our conception of Jesus, we should remember that what we believe about Jesus has a knock-on effect upon how we view ourselves. We have already seen that if you see Jesus as a judge, for example, then you yourself tend to become judgemental. It therefore follows that if you have a correct idea of who Jesus is in your heart then you become more Christ-like. If we truly want to become more like Jesus then a correct idea of who he is and a relationship with him is absolutely vital – notice from the passage in Matthew that as soon as Peter accepts who Jesus truly is, both a man, his friend, and Messiah, his ‘God’, then it allows Jesus to affirm who Peter really is, and to reveal Peter’s destiny as the ‘rock of the church’.
A false image of self is another of Satan’s tricks. If he can’t distort our ideas of Jesus to ruin or distort our relationship with God then he tries to distort our concept of our own value, which can be just as damaging. Sometime we become puffed up with pride and believe that since God is interested in us then we must have some great destiny ahead of us. In the church this is often subtle, but it leads us to think that we have to be preaching to millions, to be leading a vast church, to be living out perfect lives. If we haven’t yet attained these things then we must have wandered off the narrow path somewhere, or have misheard God about his path for our life, and we then spend years looking for the ‘right place where God wants us to be’. Most often, these years are fruitless. There isn’t some narrow path for our life that God wants us to find! God may occasionally ask you to do something specific, but that is the exception, not the rule. Mainly He wants us to make our own decisions – that’s free will. The Christian walk isn't a path, it’s a field. God sets boundaries obviously - don't leave the field! - but within that field the route is up to you. Every now and again God will ask you to do something specific, but more often than not the choice is given to you as a gift. It’s what free will is all about, and what you choose is glorified above and woven into the tapestry of forever. There isn't one career, one true love, one chance... There are no mistakes. There are no bad decisions. How could any choice you make possibly be outside the plan of God, when he determines the dance of every single atom in advance? He makes his plan around our choices, and if we are with Him then every place we are is the right place to be. He wants us to be our own people with our own lives – else there can be no relationship. How do we know if we are doing the right thing? We don’t, not until we try it. Jesus didn’t. We have to trust, and make the best decisions that we can based upon our knowledge of God that we have gained through the Bible and through our relationship with Him. We actually have an advantage that Jesus didn’t have – we can ask ‘What would Jesus do?’ – if we truly know him and have a true idea about who he is then we have a good chance of correctly answering the question ‘What would I do?’! The Bible doesn’t talk of ‘calling’ very often, or of ‘destiny’, or of ‘ministries’ or even of God’s plan for our life – instead it talks of ‘plans’, lots of possibilities, not ‘a plan’. When we start thinking in terms of ‘plan’ or ‘destiny’ then we tend to start to see people as tools to be used, or even sacrificed for the good of ‘the church’, or the ‘ministry’ – we make value judgments about people, about who can be written off and who is worth keeping happy, but Jesus said ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ and ‘greater love there is not than a man should give his life for another’ – not for thousands, not for a ministry, but for just one other person. If we touch just one other person for the better in our life then it was all worth it, and we have truly been the right person in the right place at the right time. That’s all we can do. That’s all there is. If we ever make the ‘church’ or our ‘ministry’ more important than other people then our image of Jesus has truly gone astray.
Trouble is, the rest of the time we have an opposite problem with who we think we are. Many Christians have a ‘wait’ problem! – ‘I’ll be able to do as Jesus says once I sought out this sin, so I’ll wait until then’, ‘I’ll be able to serve God in this once I sort out my life, so I’ll wait until then’. It’s a waste of time. We’ll never be perfect in this life, so if you wait then you’ll never do anything. You just have to do the best you can, live with it, and get on with it. Jesus understands – he’s been here! The Parable of the Talents in Matt 25;14-30 tells us that we can’t just bury what we have for fear of losing it, we have to take risks, get on and live life for God. We can’t just wait until tomorrow to serve God ‘cos there may not be one! All we have is now – and I tell you ‘Now is the Day of Salvation and now is the Day of the Lord.’
Some people say ‘You wouldn’t say that if you knew what I’m really like inside’. Actually, yes I do. Listen, ‘Who is this that appears like the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, majestic as the stars in procession?’ That’s what we’re really like inside – the perfect person that we were made to be and that Jesus restored to us. Everything else, the sin, the failure, is actually on the outside – it’s not part of us. It washes off. Take it to Jesus and he’ll sort it out – he already knows what you’re like, God looks at the heart – and then get on with life. It all comes back again to knowing who Jesus really is. In this context he doesn’t care about your sin, he cares about you.
You may have noticed that I haven’t said much about who Jesus is, but only about who he is not. That’s because Jesus asks ‘Who do you say I am?’ It’s between you and him. We all know a slightly different Jesus because it’s all about relationship, a growing knowledge of who he is and who you are when you are with him. Once you know who he is then you can walk with him and talk with him all of the time, anywhere, about anything, and guarantee that you’ll get an answer that you can use rather than one dictated by someone else. Jesus is God, and man, and Messiah, and a billion other things, but most of all he is a friend so close that he was willing to die just for you.
What was Jesus like?
The Character of God
How do we know what God is like?
The Authority of Scripture
How should we obey what the Bible teaches us?
The Wise Mans Tragedy
What can we learn from Solomon?
What can we learn from the mother of Jesus?
Cain and Abel
What can we learn from the first murderer?
Who is Aslan? Who is Jesus?
When the Fire Burns Low
How do we cope when we have grown tired of God's way?
Fix Your Eyes
How do we look for God?
Why should we look after the world God has given us?
How do we know who we are in God?
Lent - Pride, Doubt and Jealousy
What is the period of Lent all about?
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the House of God than dwell in the tents of the wicked...
How do get to have intimacy with God?
Can we feel the breath of God?
Hearing From God
How can I hear what God wants to say to me?
The Story We Find Ourselves In
The Bible tells the story of all creation - what is my part in that story?
What does Passover mean to us as Christians?
What does it mean to say that Jesus is alive?
What is the Fruit of the Holy Spirit?
Teaching for Christmas Eve...
What does it mean to have authority?
What can we do when it all seems like too much?
I Will Be With You
What does it mean to say "God is with us"?
What are angels, and what can we learn from what the Bible says about them?
A contemplative service for Pentecost
A creative/contemplative baptism service
How do we know what we should do?
A creative prayer/worship service
The Holy Spirit
Who is the Holy Spirit, and what does (s)he do?
A Relationship With Jesus
What does it mean to have a 'relationship' with the Son of God?
The Pilgrim's Progress
If we keep our eyes on the prize, what a journey it could be!
Heroes, Promises and Trust
How does our relationship with Jesus realy work?
A liturgy for masculine prayer
Living Life to the Full
How do we get the most out of life?
What is so speacial about the faith of Abraham?
The Presence of God
What does it mean to say God is present?
How Do I Know My Faith is Real?
We all wrestle with doubt, so how can we cope?
Who is Jesus?
...and what does he want from you?
To Act Justly Every Day...
What does the Lord your God require of you?
Sex and Self Image
Don't you know how beautiful you are?
Will you let Jesus be in charge?
Would you know him if he met you on the road?
The Person of the Holy Spirit
Who is the Holy Spirit, and what does (s)he do?
The Passion of the King
What does Jesus really want?
How can we really 'count it all joy'?
More Than Words
"... but words can never hurt me"?
The Armour of God
What tools does God give us to protect us from the Enemy?
The Heart of the Gospel
The Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near to you, therefore...
Do you really want to follow him?
How should I prepare to give a sermon?
The gift of healing comes from the Holy Spirit, but how does it work?
The People of God
What does it mean when we say that the Bible is the Word of God?
Jesus Part 2: The Deity of Christ
How can Jesus be God and Man at the same time?
Jesus Part 1: Who Do You Say I Am?
Who is Jesus, and why does He matter?
How do we resist?
What is holiness and how do we try to achieve it?
The Art of Spiritual Warfare
We're in a constant battle, so how do we try and prepare to fight?
Forgiveness Part Two: Forgiving Others
What is forgiveness and why do we need to forgive others?
Forgiveness Part One: Forgiven by God
Why does it seem so often that God is a million miles away?
Prayer Part Two: Receiving From God
Why does it seem so often that God is a million miles away?
Prayer Part One: The Lords Prayer
We look in detail at the Lords Prayer
It's one of the spiritual gifts, but what exactly is it, how does it happen?
Becoming a Christian
What is a Christian, how do you become one?
Basics of Christianity
Here we delve into the Nicene Creed