Who is Jesus? (Jon Fryer)
Who is Jesus? People around the world have very different ideas about who Jesus is, or who Jesus was.
One thing that a sensible person can not say is that Jesus never existed. The evidence for his existence in history is overwhelming. The four gospels are our first piece of evidence about who Jesus was and what he did. Matthew, Mark and John are all eye witness accounts written by people who knew him, and provably written within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses. If you say that these may be biased, ‘cos they were written by his friends, then the Gospel of Luke is slightly different. Luke is written by a reporter who has been given the job his Greek boss to collect all of the eyewitness accounts about Jesus into a single story, again within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses.
But lets say that the whole Bible is biased. Even if you throw away the Bible and discount what it says, you still can not deny the historical existence of Jesus. Jesus made such an impact on the regional politics of his day that he is mentioned in dozens of other historical documents from the time. Roman historians mention him when they talk about Pontius Pilate or the various Herod’s. Josephus, the great Jewish historian of the time, mentions his life and ministry in some detail. These sources are viewed as accurate by historians around the world, and therefore some facts about Jesus can not be denied by any rational person – we know he was a Jewish man born in Bethlehem in Judea sometime between 4BC and 6AD; we know he was famous at the time as a great Rabbi or teacher, and that many eyewitnesses at the time believed that they had seen him perform miracles; we know he was crucified by the Roman authorities at the request of the local Jewish authorities. These are facts.
But Jesus is bigger than these facts. History itself is split into two by his existence, at least in here in the west – we measure time in BC (Before Christ) and AD (The Year of Our Lord). Why is this? We know that Jesus was a real human being from the historical documents, and indeed the Bible describes Jesus as a human being who got hungry and tired just like everybody else. Why is Jesus special? Why, 2000 years after his death, do billions of people, still follow his teaching?
The question that Jesus forced the people around him to ask, the question that he forces every single person who comes across him today to ask, is ‘Who is Jesus? Who do you say I am? Am I more than human? Am I God?’
Jesus was a wise man and a great teacher – the historical sources make this clear – but our records of his teaching leaves us with some big questions. Jesus made some outrageous claims about himself. He claimed to be able to forgive offences against God. He claimed to be the judge of the world, and have authority over every human being. He claimed to be God’s chosen one. He claimed that God was his father. All of these things were shocking or even offensive to people at the time, and indeed to us today, but they could just be metaphors. Jesus was renowned for making people think by telling funny, clever stories with a sting in the tail. These claims could just be pictures to make us think about the world in a different way. Jesus didn’t leave us that option. He went on to claim that He was God.
Jesus didn’t leave us with the option of believing that he was just a good man. A normal man who claims all these things is not good at all. If he believed he was God and wasn’t, then he must be a mad man. He if he claimed to be God, and didn’t believe it, then he was a liar or con man. If you want to believe that Jesus was a good man, if you want to say that his teachings are true, then you have to believe that he was God come down to Earth! Your only other options are to say that he was either evil or mad.
What evidence is there to prove that Jesus was who He said He was? You have to go to the whole Bible… you need a bigger Jesus than human history alone can show you. Firstly, you can look at what Jesus did. Throughout the Old Testament God told His people that when he came to visit them, when He sent His chosen one to save them, they would know Him by certain signs – that he would have power over sickness and death, that he would command the sea and the wind, that he would be born and die in certain ways. The miracles that eyewitnesses swore that Jesus did in their sight fulfilled all of these hundreds of different promises that God made over and over. Everything that God had said thousands of years before came true in Jesus’ life, often down to the day that had been prophesied.
Secondly, you look at what Jesus taught and how He acted. Jesus said that if you saw him, you saw what God was like. Jesus’ life and teaching were consistent with the way God described Himself. Jesus was always loving, always merciful, always just. Jesus acted as God would act if He were a human being.
Finally, Jesus rose from the dead. Around seventy eye witnesses at the time swear to seeing him after his death, over fifty of them at one time in a single place. It was in the Roman’s interests to disprove that Jesus rose from the dead, but they, the most powerful empire on Earth, failed to do so. The disciples could not have stolen the body to fake Jesus’ resurrection – they were unarmed fishermen, and the tomb was guarded by heavily armed soldiers. They could not have bribed the soldiers – they were poor fishermen, and even if they had a secret stash of cash, the Roman soldiers would not have tken it – the punishment for failing on guard duty was crucifixion. The soldiers would not have fallen asleep for the same reason. The only logical answer anyone has ever come up with is that the Bible story happened the way it said it did, and that Jesus rose from the dead.
So if we believe this, who is Jesus? The Bible says many things about what Jesus the Son of God is like, and as Christians we believe all of them. It would take me hours, if not days, to read to you everything that the Bible says in answer to the question ‘Who is Jesus?’. Instead, listen to one of these – this mini sermon by Dr. S.M. Lockridge is called ‘My King’ or ‘The Seven Way king’, and is one of the most famous sermons of the Twentieth Century. It sums up what the Bible says about Jesus far better than I ever could:
seven-way-king.mp3 / seven-way-king_younger.mp3 / Or you can find a download of the sermon set to dance music here!
The Bible says my King is a seven-way King:
He’s the King of the Jews – that’s a racial King.
He’s the King of Israel – that’s a national King.
He’s the King of Righteousness.
He’s the King of the Ages.
He’s the King of Heaven.
He’s the King of Glory.
He’s the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
That’s my King.
… Well, I wonder: Do you know Him?
David said, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth His Handiwork.”
My King is a sovereign King
No means of measure can define his limitless love.
No farseeing telescope can bring in the visibility, the coastline of His shoreless supplies.
No barrier can hinder him from pouring out his blessings He’s enduringly strong.
He’s entirely sincere.
He’s eternally steadfast.
He’s immortally graceful.
He’s imperially powerful.
He’s impartially merciful.
… Do you know Him? He’s the greatest phenomenon that has ever crossed the horizon of this world.
He’s God’s Son.
He’s the sinner’s Saviour.
He’s the centrepiece of civilisation.
He stands in the solitude of Himself.
He’s august and He’s unique.
He’s unparalleled, He’s unprecedented.
He’s the loftiest idea in literature.
He’s the highest personality in philosophy.
He is the supreme problem in higher criticism.
He’s the fundamental doctrine of true theology.
He’s the core and necessity for spiritual religion.
He’s the miracle of the ages, He’s … yes, He is.
He’s the superlative of everything good that you choose to call Him
He’s the only one qualified to be an all-sufficient Saviour.
… I wonder if you know him today? He supplies strength for the weak.
He’s available for the tempted and the tried
He sympathises and He saves.
He strengthens and sustains.
He guards and He guides.
He heals the sick.
He cleansed the lepers.
He forgives sinners.
He discharges debtors
He delivers the captives.
He defends the feeble.
He blesses the young.
He serves the unfortunate.
He regards the aged.
He rewards the diligent and
He beautifies the meek
… I wonder if you know Him. Well this is my King.
He is the King!
He is the key to knowledge.
He’s the wellspring of wisdom.
He’s the doorway of deliverance.
He’s the pathway of peace.
He’s the roadway of righteousness.
He’s the highway of holiness.
He’s the gateway of glory.
… Do you know Him? Well, His office is manifold.
His promise is sure.
His life is matchless.
His goodness is limitless.
His mercy is everlasting.
His love never changes.
His word is enough.
His grace is sufficient.
His reign is righteous and
His yoke is easy and
His burden is light. I wish I could describe Him to you.
But He’s indescribable – Yeas! Yea! Yea
He’s indescribable – Yes, He is! He’s God.
He’s indescribable – Yes!
He’s irresistible. Well, you can’t get Him out of your mind.
You can’t get Him off of your hand.
You can’t outlive Him and
You can’t live with out Him.
Well, the Pharisees couldn’t stand Him, but they found out they couldn’t stop Him.
Pilate couldn’t find any fault in Him.
The witnesses couldn’t get their testimonies to agree.
Herod couldn’t kill Him.
Death couldn’t handle Him and
The grave couldn’t hold Him. Yea!
That’s my King!
That’s my King! Yea! And thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory
Forever and ever and ever and ever.
How long is that?
And ever and ever.
And when you get through all the forevers, then Amen! Good God almighty! Amen! Amen! Amen!
So who is Jesus? That’s the question everyone has to answer for themselves. Jesus asked His disciples ‘Who do you say I am?’ All of that stuff from the Bible about what Jesus is like is fantastic and beautiful and true, but it’s a bit abstract. Its very impersonal. Its very easy to say that we believe that God is just and pure and righteous and so on and so forth, and then walk out the door and let him down by our lifestyle – that is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable. So who is Jesus to you? I’ve said that we needed to know a bigger Jesus than the cold bare facts of history, but I believe that we also need to know a smaller Jesus than the great Cosmic Christ who is King of the Universe. You see, Jesus didn’t only show us what God was like, He also showed us what a human being would look like if that human being knew what God was like! We need to know the Jesus who is God in order to worship Him, but we also desperately need to know the Jesus who was a human being in order to know how to live like him.
The Bible says that there was nothing special about the Jesus the man in Isaiah 53 – ‘He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him’. We can rule out the blond hair and blue eyes – Jesus was Jewish! And yet, he was irrestibly attractive to hundreds of people at the time who swarmed around him, hanging off his every word. He told funny stories, he wasn’t scared by the authorities, he worked miracles – and yet none of these really explain why people wanted to be with him. The real reason that people wanted to hang out with Jesus, I believe, is that he loved passionately. We know how how he cared for the crowds around him, wanting to heal, and to feed, and to forgive, and to teach. We know how passionately he cared for his friends – what’s the shortest verse in the Bible? John 11;35 – ‘Jesus wept’. When his friend Lazarus died, Jesus cried. We know how much he cared for girls in his group, for example leaping to Mary Magdalene’s defence whenever the disciples criticised her actions. We know that Jesus lived thirty years in his family home before beginning to teach, with mother, brothers and sisters, and that he cared for them too – even as he was dying on the cross he made arrangements with his friend John that someone should look after his mother when he was gone. Everyone in his life Jesus reached out and touched and loved passionately. This is the Jesus we need to get to know, because it is easier to love others when you know that you are loved yourself. Who is Jesus? Jesus is the one who loves you so much that he even died for you. If you have trouble finding this Jesus by reading the Bible, then watch ‘The Passion’, or ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’, or the film version of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ – some of the theology may not be great in all of these, but they do a better job of showing Jesus as a human being having real relationships with the people around him than the film versions traditionally acclaimed by the Church such as ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ which show Him as an alabaster saint.
‘Who is Jesus… to you?’. That’s the question that every human being is ultimately faced with, and there are no right answers.
To get you started, let me answer that question for myself. Lets come at it from a slightly different angle. Have you ever wondered why the disciples just dropped everything to follow Jesus? I mean, there they were, fishing in their dad’s boat, and this guy they’ve never met before wanders up and says ‘Follow me.’… and they immediately drop everything and go with him for the next three years. We’ve already said that there was no supernatural charisma to Jesus, so why did they go? This has bothered me for years, and I found the answer just a few weeks ago in a fantastic book by Rob Bell called ‘Velvet Elvis’. The answer blew me away ‘cos it matched my own experience of meeting Jesus so much more closely than a lot of stuff that I’ve heard in the Church over the years. Rob explains it this way:
The answer lies in the fact that Jesus was a real human being in a specific place, in a specific point in history. Jesus lived in Israel, in an orthodox Jewish area called Galilee, where the people believed that in the past God had spoken directly to their ancestors and personally told them how to live. Everything about their society was about trying to work out how to live in a way that matches up with what God had told their great great great (lots of greats) grandparents. As such, education was much more important to Jewish society than it was to the rest of the world, ‘cos you had to teach your kids what God had said. And so, between the ages of six and ten, all of the Jewish kids would go to school at the synagogue, taught by the local Rabbi (who was like a vicar and teacher all rolled into one). The Rabbi was the best of the best, the smartest man in the village, the most respected man in the community. Not everyone could be a Rabbi. Anyway, by age ten they would generally have the entire Torah memorised. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy – off by heart. At age ten. At this point the Rabbi would start streaming the students. The brightest ones would continue in school to age fourteen – the rest would leave school and begin learning the family trade with their parents, like fishing, or winemaking, or carpentry, or whatever. Meanwhile the brighter ones would continue learning the Old Testament off by heart – right through to Malachi – thirty nine books memorised by age fourteen. They would also learn how to reason, how to ask and answer questions. At this stage the main objective wasn’t just to know what the text said, by why it said it; to know know just what to think, but how to think – a lesson our education system needs to relearn! By the age of fourteen, only the best of the best was still studying – all the rest had gradually washed out of school and gone back home to learn the family trade... like fishing. The very cream of the crop, often only one student out of the whole town every few years, would then apply to join a well respected Rabbi to be his disciple, to follow him around and learn from him, so that one day, if he was good enough, he too could be a Rabbi, the very best of the best. When they applied, the Rabbi wanted to know something about this teenager – can this student do what I do? Can this kid follow in my footsteps? Can this kid be like me? Do they have what it takes? -–The Rabbi didn’t have time to train failures. And so the Rabbi would question the teenager, and either say ‘Go home, learn the family trade’, or else he would simply say ‘Come, follow me.’
Now when Jesus first comes to Peter and Andrew, they are fishing. This tells us that they have washed out of school. They weren’t good enough. They didn’t make the grade. He comes to James and John who are fishing with their dad – this tells us that they are still young, and learning the family trade. It also tells us that they to had washed out, that they were not good enough. Jesus came to those kids who weren’t good enough, and says ‘Come follow me’. He comes and says ‘I believe you’ve got what it takes. I believe that you can do what I do. I believe that you can be like me’. In that context, can you imagine what that was like? Of course you drop everything. The Rabbi believes that you can do what he does. He thinks that you can be like him. It’s like wanting to be a professional footballer, failing to be good enough, and ending up working with your dad on a building site, only to have the manager of a premier club walking up out of the blue and saying ‘I want you to be my new striker – come with me now’. Of course you drop everything! Someone thinks that you can be the pinnacle of everything your society tells you to aspire to!
For me, at one point in my life, I met Jesus, and he said ‘Come, follow me’. That blew me away more than all of the stuff about love and forgiveness and heaven, although that’s pretty special too! It blew me away ‘cos God trusts me to do stuff with Him. He trusts that I can actually do it. With all of my problems and faults and history and screw ups, He thinks that I’m worth it. Jesus has an incredibly high view of me, and he has an incredibly high view of you too. Jesus believes that we are capable of amazing things.
You need to learn to believe in Jesus. Which is a good thing. But you also need to learn that Jesus believes in you.
You need to learn to have faith in Jesus. Which is a good thing. But you also need to learn that Jesus has faith in you.
The Rabbi thinks we can be like him.
Who is Jesus? Jesus is the most amazing person to ever walk the face of the Earth, and who believes that I can be like Him.
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