Who Is Jesus?
Both Services, 27th of August 2017
Christ Church, Stannington
Readings: Romans 12:1-8
Now he may have changed his mind as he got older but, quite a long time ago, I remember Billy Connolly saying he believed that Jesus was a good man. Now we know Him by other names. Here are a few:
1. “Redeemer” (Job 19:25)
2. “the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:13)
3. “the bread of life” (John 6:35)
4. [the] “judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42)
5. “… the good shepherd” (John 10:11)
6. “a great high priest the Son of God” (Hebrews 4:14)
7. “Immanuel which means God with us” (Isaiah 7:1)4
8. “Lord of lords and King of kings” (Revelation 17:14)
I think these names are much more appropriate, don’t you? Reading about the names given to Jesus and where they come from can be really helpful in our getting to know Him better. To that end, the copies of this talk, that I usually put in the Narthex for you to pick up on your way out, have more of these names for you to think about.
Getting back to Billy Connolly, I have to say that, to my mind, the one thing that Jesus couldn’t have been was “A good man”. Why? Because He is either God or the biggest liar and conman this world has ever seen and it has seen a few. Here are a couple of those:
Frank Abagnale on whom the film “Catch Me If You Can” was based. He managed by one trick or another to pass bad cheques to the value of 2½ million dollars.
Charles Ponzi, an Italian immigrant, who arrived in the United States with $25 in his pocket. He used various scams, the most famous of which was the Ponzi Scheme which, although now illegal, can still be found in operation in such places as the Internet, advertising “Get Rich Quick Schemes”. He was the only one who became fabulously rich.
These were the best conmen we know of but, if Jesus isn’t God, then His con completely outclassed these and it has lasted over 2,000 years. There are of course differing opinions on this. People will always have opinions about things.
Such as should celebrities like Dominic Cumberbatch be telling us how to think and act?
Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior. Now that’s an expensive-sounding name. But do we think any footballer can be worth almost £200 million?
Is Richard Branson pro or anti-British?
Even within the small number of people here this morning it’s almost certain that there will be differing opinions on these matters, which are more important to some than to others. But that’s all they are — opinions, not all of which can be true.
In our Gospel Reading, when Jesus turned to His disciples that day on the road to Caesarea Philippi, and asked, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (v. 13b) He was referring to the crowds that had been following Him. The disciples told him what they’d heard.
“Some say John the Baptist” (v. 14a). No doubt these people knew about John. If they hadn’t heard his preaching directly, then they’d certainly heard of him. Yet, here was another man who preached a message that was very familiar.
In Luke we read that, [John] “went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Luke 3:2, 3 NIV)
Straight after His baptism, Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17 NIV) and “Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved (Mark 16:16 NIV). Virtually the same message as John – repentance, baptism and salvation.
Is there any wonder the people were confused? So we’ve heard many of them believed that Jesus was John the Baptist come back from the dead. This was certainly the view of King Herod, who’d had John beheaded. (Mark 6:14). Talk about your sins coming back to haunt you.
“Others say Elijah” (v. 14a). The belief of the Jews was that God would send the prophet Elijah back to Israel to prepare the way for the coming Messiah. This is based on a prophecy by Malachi (Malachi 4:5). We know the fulfilment of this prophecy to be John the Baptist. Their answer showed the high regard they had for Jesus. He was thought of as a great prophet. But they thought He must surely be the forerunner of the Messiah, because He wasn’t quite what they’d expected the Messiah to be or do.
“While others say Jeremiah or some other prophet” (v. 14a). Now I’ve always thought that John the Baptist was more like Jeremiah than Elijah. Jeremiah also was a man who preached God’s Word in all of its truth, that those in authority didn’t want to hear, so he suffered because of it. Jeremiah was held in very high regard so we see a positive view of the ministry of Jesus here. But once again, He wasn’t thought of as the Messiah who saves. Their understanding of the Messiah being their Saviour meant that He would save them from the oppression of the Romans. It didn’t even enter their minds that He was with them to save them from sin. So for the third time, the answer of the people fell short of the Truth.
Although it isn’t recorded, it’s probably also true that some will have said they thought He was dangerous, as indeed He was to some people. So what we have here is a very old opinion poll. And that’s all they were — opinions. We’re all entitled to our own opinion. In the not so distant past in this country, we could even express our personal thoughts in public without ending up in gaol. But they’re still only opinions and, as in the case of Jesus, it turned out that not one of the opinions about Him was correct, because not one of them thought He was God.
Now you might feel sorry for these folks, who just didn’t seem to get it. You might wonder how they could have missed what was right in front of their eyes. How in the world could they not recognise who Jesus was?
Jesus had asked this question, not out of curiosity but because the answer was so very important. It’s not an issue of opinion, but of reality. It’s a matter of faith, faith (or the lack thereof) in the Messiah whom God had sent into the world. The answer to this question is just as important today as it was over 2,000 years ago. “Who do we say Jesus is?”
Yes, this wondering continues in our day. Many people, like Billy Connolly, have a positive regard for Jesus but, like the Jews of His day, they miss the mark altogether. You can speak openly of Jesus as a prophet, a holy man, teacher or spiritual leader, and few will object. But speak of Him as the Son of God and our Saviour from sin and multitudes of people will queue up to voice their disapproval.
Over a billion and a half Muslims will say: “Prophet? Yes! God? No!” Jews all over the world will say: “Teacher? Yes! Messiah? No!” The more liberal theologians will declare: “Role model? Yes! Divine Son of God? Saviour from Sin? No!” Of each of the above ask, “Is He the only way to heaven?” All will answer, “Of course not!”
Saying Jesus is a prophet, teacher, or a good example are all correct things to say about Him. They are all positive remarks. But if that is the extent of their answer then their answer is wrong. In the time of Jesus, the people got it wrong. Many people of our day get it wrong. They just don’t understand who Jesus really is. So, what is the correct answer? Who is this man Jesus?
We find the answer in today’s text. Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” This is where we lay our cards on the table. Who we say Jesus is makes all the difference! A correct confession of faith in Christ is of utmost importance to our salvation! When Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” (v. 15)Peter (as he often did) spoke up, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!” (v. 16)
It’s been said of Peter that the only reason he ever opened his mouth was to take out one foot and put in the other one; but not that day. That time he got it dead right. He was the one who confessed that Jesus Christ was his Saviour and his God.
How did Jesus respond to Peter? Did He praise him for coming up with the right answer? Did He congratulate him on figuring out what so many people missed? No, Jesus simply stated the truth. He pointed Peter, to the source of his confession. He said, “Good for you, Simon son of John!” answered Jesus. “For this truth did not come to you from any human being, but it was given to you directly by my Father in heaven”
Peter didn’t come up with it on his own. It was a gift from God! No human being can come to faith on their own. It’s always a gift from God Himself. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8 NIV). Jesus then renamed Simon and called him Peter. The word in Greek is petros which means rock. And Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my Church.”
Now here I may be going to go out on a bit of a limb. The New Testament was written in Greek and I’ve said before that I’m not a Greek scholar. So, when I speak about something from the Bible in that language, I’m quoting someone else, who does know Greek. I’ve read the following for the first time and put it to you to think about it the way I did, so here it is: The Greek grammar of what Jesus said makes it very clear that the rock upon which the church shall be built is not Peter, but the confession and faith that God had given Peter. It is upon faith in Christ that the Church shall always be built; Faith that recognises Jesus as Saviour from sin, and Son of God; Faith in the One who is The Rock. I’ve based this talk on the Gospel Reading and this quote from the Greek.
Maybe I’m just one of the few who hasn’t looked closely at this in the past and I’m the only one here who hasn’t considered it. But the more I think about it, the more I get to asking myself whether Jesus would have left the fate of the whole of mankind to one, gaffe-prone man. Which would have been more powerful and reliable, Peter as a man, or the God-given faith that he now had within him? Peter would die. It’s traditionally held that he was crucified upside down at his own request, because he felt himself unworthy to be crucified in the same way as Jesus. Yes, Peter would die but the faith he’d been given by God would be passed on, again and again and again, until the whole world knew of it.
What about you and me today? Jesus didn’t just pose this question to the disciples of His day, He asks it of His disciples of this day. The question comes down through the ages and we’ve heard it again this morning…”Who do you say I am?” I would guess that almost everyone here would acknowledge with Peter, that Jesus is their Saviour and the Son of the Living God. This faith isn’t from ourselves; it’s not something we made up on our own. This faith is a gift to us from God Himself. Jesus has called us by name as well. When we were Baptised, either as an adult or child, God called us by name to be a part of His eternal family.
Paul famously wrote to the Romans, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38, 39).
What this tells us is that we were given faith in Him and against that God-given faith and salvation, even the powers of hell will not prevail! What an awesome promise! What a great comfort!
We should thank God that His promises are certain even when we, as sinful human beings, stumble and fall. I mention that, because of what comes in the very next paragraph of this Gospel. Peter, after this wonderful confession of faith in Christ, and after receiving the promises of God, went right back to his old ways. When Jesus told His disciples about His imminent death (Mark 8:31), Peter took Him on one side and told Him that no way was that going to happen. Jesus rebuked him, “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (Mark 8:32, 33 NIV). Peter must have thought he was on a roller coaster ride. One minute riding high in front of his fellow disciples and the next admonished by his Leader in full view of them all. But, at times, life can be like that for us.
We might say, “Poor old Peter!” But aren’t we guilty of the same sin? Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “… because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4, 5). So, as we heard earlier, it’s only by His grace we have a God-given, saving faith in Christ. But, like Peter, when we rely on ourselves rather than God, we fall into the deadly snare of sin. When we say that Jesus is our Lord, and then live our lives by our own rules, we deny our faith. When we claim that Jesus is the Son of God, and then keep silent about Him so we don’t offend anyone, we have committed the same sin Peter did when he denied Christ three times on the night He was betrayed.
Peter, you, me — we’re all in the same boat. Each one of us has been given God’s gift of faith. We have the almost unbelievable hope of everlasting life. And even when we make a complete mess of things, as we will from time to time, God is there, like the father of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-31) His arms wide open. Arms that were once nailed to a cross for us, reach out to us to forgive us our sins as we so often ask Him to do in the Lord’s Prayer.
Going back to the beginning of this talk:
If Dominic Cumberbatch says, “Who do people say I am?” It doesn’t matter.
If Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior says, “Who do people say I am?” It doesn’t matter.
If Richard Branson says, “Who do people say I am?” It doesn’t matter.
If Jesus says, “Who do people say I am?” Now that really does matter. It makes all the difference in this life and, because of what Jesus did, can make all the difference in the next one. Thank You Lord. Amen.
Questions for Home Groups
Names of Jesus in the Bible
Advocate – “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” 1 John 2:1
Son of God – “And behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Matt. 3:17
Bridegroom – “And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” Matt. 9:15
Lamb of God – “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29
Light of the World – "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." John 8:12
Risen Lord – “…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
1 Cor. 15:3-4
Saviour – “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:11
Resurrection and the Life – “Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” John 11:25
The Door – “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” John 10:9
The Way – “Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6
In what way do you think differing opinions affect the Church today?
Which do you think is easier – to convince people about the existence of Jesus or to change their minds about who He was?
How might you go about each of these?
How do you feel about the growth of Islam (worship of a false god) in our country, which was once considered Christian?
On many occasions in the Bible, the twelve were too timid to ask Jesus questions about something they didn’t understand. If you could ask Him just one question, what would it be?