Who is Jesus

Who is Jesus?

A missionary in middle eastern country ran out of petrol. She only  had potty to take to filling station for petrol. Whilst emptying the contents of the potty into her petrol tank a passer by said; ‘I don’t share your religion but I do admire your faith!

This is the first in a series of sermons to give us confidence when we face some of the big and sometimes difficult questions that people sometimes throw at us. To reassure us that our faith is considered and rational, not irrational or bonkers. Incidentally most people do not require a learned theological treatise. An authentic answer that can include the words ‘I don’t know’ can be just as effective.

The gospel passage introduces us to gospel – good news – of Jesus. But for many people, as we approach Christmas, Jesus no more real than fairy on Christmas tree.

I had a former colleague, whose nickname was the artful dodger, who was of that persuasion. He thought that:

 Jesus and Christian faith and bible is a fairy story made up in middle ages.

The factual historical evidence for Jesus is strong. Our core evidence is obviously Bible. It speaks of Christ and the disciples – sometimes warts and all. The disciples shortcomings certainly not airbrushed out of NT, and I think adds to its authenticity.

But there were three 1st century Jewish/Roman historians Josephus, Tacitus and Suetonius (the bloke who defeated Boudicca) who directly or indirectly refer to Jesus in their writings.

Josephus was Jewish/Roman warlord/turncoat, who was born in AD37, so quite contemporary with Jesus. He wrote; ‘Jesus …. a wise man – if lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, condemned on a cross, those that loved him did not forsake him for he appeared alive to them again the third day as the divine prophets had foretold and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him and the tribe of Christians so named after him to this day.’

These words are powerful evidence of the existence of Jesus, who he was and what he did, and how he was regarded in the first century.

But there’s more. Historians verify the truth of ancient historical events by the number of documents describing the person or event, and closer they are in time to person or event.

We were taught in school that Julius Caesar invaded Britain in 54 and 53BC. That is based on his book Gallic Wars. Only 10 ancient copies exist, and oldest is dated 900AD, nearly 1,000 years later. Some 25,000 ancient copies or extracts of gospels. Some dating from early-mid 2nd century. There are excellent full NT manuscripts from 350AD – 600 years closer than Caesars. Also there are a mass of early Christian writings from 3rd and 4th century.

All these support the authenticity of gospel record of Jesus:

His life, His teaching and actions, His claims about Himself.

So there is strong factual evidence for the life and ministry of Jesus and the historical authenticity and therefore accuracy of the bible.

 Fair enough say the cynics. But Jesus was just a good man like other great teachers.

 We live in an era of self promotion. Bigging oneself up is the norm; just look at the Apprentice and other reality TV shows! It’s also worked quite well for at least one very eminent current leader!

So it is valid to examine what Jesus says about himself.

Firstly He gave probably highest moral teaching. ‘Love your neighbour as yourself, do good to those who persecute you’, and so on. With all the technological developments over past 2,000 years, nobody has improved on Jesus moral teaching, and many of the precepts of our modern civilisation are founded on Christian principles.

 Most people get that too. Great moral teaching. It’s about the person and claims of Jesus where they often struggle.

The simple truth is that the Christian faith is all about Jesus Christ. He doesn’t just claim to be a moral teacher, although he was that.

He claimed to be the Son of God. Through whom everything was created and has meaning. He makes big claims and big promises. The passage from John 14 used at funerals; ‘I am the way the truth and the life, nobody comes to the Father but by me’.  ‘I am the light of the world’. In other words,  I can and will lead and guide you through life if you ask me. And many others.

But Jesus walked the walk. The proof of the pudding was in the eating. He lived out His teaching in His own life. Reaching out to those discarded by society with powerful teaching and healing. An intensely attractive character and personality.

Modelling gentleness, concern for others and humility.

Most powerfully when he allowed himself to be crucified – hung on a cross. But then rose again from the dead. That sounds literally incredible.

But the contrary explanations put forward by our sceptical friends are even more so. That he wasn’t really dead. The Jews or the Romans stole the body etc.

And would the disciples seriously have paid with their lives proclaiming Jesus is alive when they knew he wasn’t!

The church is also a testimony to Jesus.

This tiny splinter group of Jewish faith could never have survived without the empowering of ‘an alive’ Jesus.

And instead it has, on any view, been one of the major forces in our world over the past 2,000 years.

For us most significantly is the witness of our own personal story, of the help, the support, reality of Jesus in our lives.

So what? What difference does Jesus make to my life.

That’s the killer question. Most folk would say we’re basically good people … everybody has their little foibles. The world is as it is – that’s just life.

And if people seriously believe that, then they wont want to pursue a conversation about Jesus any further.

That was Jesus’s experience. Many folk heard him saw the miracles and just walked away. So we should not be discouraged when that happens to us.

But world clearly has gone awry. And if we’re honest our lives are not as we would like them.

But the Christian message – emphasised at Christmas, is Jesus wants better for us and for a world that will ultimately be accountable to him. He does not come to condemn. He comes to encourage, to bring us ‘life in all its fulness’.

And so the historical fact of Jesus, the authenticity of the bible record.

The example of his life and character.

The existence and witness of the church.

Our own story.

Can all give us confidence that as Bishop Tom Wright once said – this really works.

It is said we live in a post modern age – everything is relative; if that’s good for you OK. But life and the decisions we make does not work like that.

And Jesus does not work to that.

C.S. Lewis, an Oxbridge academic, who was initially sceptical about the Christian faith, but came to faith partly through his friendship with one JRR Tolkein put it like this. If a mere man gave the teaching Jesus gave, we would say they are either mad, like someone who thought he was a poached egg, or an evil deceitful liar or true. But lets have no ‘patronising nonsense about being a good teacher’. He did not leave us that option.

Ultimately the choice is accept me or reject me – and that’s our call.

So the call for us, is are we prepared to accept Jesus more deeply this week, this Christmas and share it with others.

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