Matthew 16: 13 - 16
Who is Jesus Christ? Before you answer that question – imagine you’re walking with a few friends in Clearwater Mall when a camera crew stops you for a spontaneous interview. To your surprise, their questions have nothing to do with Jacob Zuma, politics, the economy, or even the World Cup. The interviewer wants to know what you think about Jesus Christ. Who is he?
While you fumble for an answer, the camera records your discomfort. You weren’t prepared for this, much less dressed for it, and now you’re being quizzed on theology while your friends watch from a few feet away. The seconds pass as various answers flash across your mental screen: “A good man. . . The Son of God . . . A Prophet . . . A Galilean rabbi . . . A teacher of God’s Law . . . The Embodiment of God’s Love . . . A Reincarnated Spirit Master . . . The Ultimate Revolutionary . . . The Messiah of Israel . . . Saviour . . . A 1st century wise man . . . A man just like any other man . . . King of Kings . . . A misunderstood teacher . . . Lord of the Universe . . . A fool who thought he was God’s Son . . . Son of Man . . . A fabrication of the early church."
Which answer will you give? You can find people today who will give every one of those answers. Does that surprise you? After 2000 years, we still wonder about the man called Jesus.
It’s nothing new. When Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” they replied with 4 different answers. Even when he walked on this earth, people were confused as to his true identity. Some thought he was a prophet, others a great political leader, still others thought he was John the Baptist come back to life. One question with many answers. One man with many faces.
1. Modern Versions of Jesus
A. The Good Man
This is no doubt the most popular “face” of Jesus. Ask any 10 non-religious people on the street who Jesus is and 8 of them will say something like, “He was a good man who lived a long time ago.” People who say such things do not pretend to be Bible scholars in any sense of the word nor do they mean to be offensive. They simply are reflecting the common wisdom most of us learned as children: When in doubt, say something nice.
Of all the modern versions of Christ, this one is both the closest to the truth and the deadliest error. Jesus was a good man. Acts 10: 38 “He went around doing good,”referring to his miracles. But to stop there is to miss the central truth of his divine personality. He was a good man - yes! But only because he was also the Son of God from heaven who came to be the Saviour of the world.
B. The Misunderstood Rabbi
People who hold this view see Jesus as a talented Jewish teacher who never meant to start a new religion. They see him as someone who wanted to reform Judaism, but ended up being crucified for his efforts. They don’t believe he rose from the dead, but that his disciples believed he was present with them after his death so the legend of the resurrection arose in order to keep the dream alive.
C. The Revolutionary Jesus
This view was very popular in the 1960s when left-wing radicals appropriated Jesus as the Messiah who came to overthrow the unjust power structures of his day and to bring in the kingdom through protest and non-violent action. Some theologians even used the image of the Revolutionary Jesus to support the establishment of Marxist governments around the world.
As many people have pointed out, Jesus was indeed a revolutionary, but not in the sense intended by those who used the term. Jesus came to start a revolution of love on planet earth. He wasn’t concerned about overthrowing governments but about overthrowing sin in the human heart.
D. The Ecumenical Christ
This is the option for people who like Jesus but don’t want to worship him exclusively. They lump him together with other notable religious leaders, such as Moses, Confucius, Gandhi, Buddha and Mohammed. When they look up, they see 4 or 5 faces peering down from heaven. Jesus is one of the faces they see. Pick the one you like and worship him. Many people believe in the Ecumenical Christ because it’s a convenient way to call yourself a Christian and still be open-minded about other options.
If those answers are wrong, what is the right answer and how can we be sure?
2. The Great Question of History
The NT is the only reliable source of information about Jesus Christ. It’s true that we do have some information about Jesus in extra-biblical sources from the 1st century, but it is limited and scattered. The only way to get an accurate picture of Jesus is to study the record of his life found in the gospels. 5 important facts emerge that form the answer to history’s greatest question.
Fact #1: Fulfilled Prophecy
Galatians 4: 4 - unusual phrase to describe the moment of Jesus’ birth - “the fullness of time” or “the right time.” Refers to that one chosen moment in history when God arranged all the circumstances perfectly so that his Son would be born in just the right way at just the right moment at the precisely-chosen location. Also refers to all the circumstances of his life, including his death and resurrection. All of it was perfectly planned by God and predicted in writing before it happened.
The Bible predicted this about Jesus Christ before he was born: born of a virgin, born in Bethlehem, born into the tribe of Judah, ministry would begin in Galilee, work miracles, teach in parables, enter Jerusalem on a donkey, be betrayed by a friend, sold for 30 pieces of silver, accused by false witnesses, be wounded and bruised, his hands and feet would be pierced, crucified with thieves, his bones would not be broken, his side would be pierced, buried in a rich man’s tomb, rise from the dead.
These are only a few of the prophecies about Jesus Christ in the OT. This list is striking in the amount of detail surrounding the death of Christ. Even a casual onlooker must admit that either this is an amazing coincidence or it is the result of divine planning.
Fact #2: Amazing Claims
This is not often appreciated by the non-religious person. Jesus made absolutely astounding claims concerning himself. In fact, if you catalogue his own words, you must conclude that either he is who he said he was or else he is a liar or a madman. The people who say, “Jesus was a good man-nothing more” have never read the gospels because you could never come to that conclusion if you actually read what Jesus said about himself.
*He claimed to be the Son of God. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son" (John 3:16).
*He claimed that the angels obeyed him. “The Son of Man will send out his angels" (Matthew 13:41).
*He claimed to be the ultimate judge of all men. “The Father ... has entrusted all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22).
*He claimed to possess all power in heaven and on earth. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matthew 28:18).
*He claimed the power to forgive sin. “Friend, your sins are forgiven" (Luke 5:20).
*He claimed that he could raise people from the dead. “All who are in the grave will hear his voice and come out” (John 5:28).
*He claimed that he could raise himself from the dead. “I have the authority to lay it down and . . . take it up again" (John 10:18).
*He claimed to be one with God. “I and the Father are one" (John 10:30).
*He claimed to be the only way to God. “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
*He claimed to be the giver of eternal life. “I give them eternal life" (John 10:28).
These are absolutely stupendous claims. What would you do if your neighbour knocked on your door and said, “I am God’s Son and I can raise myself from the dead?” I daresay that you would close the door and call the police because anyone who goes around talking like that is likely to be a danger to himself and possibly to others. But Jesus routinely made such claims about himself. Laugh if you will, but before you dismiss him, consider what he had to say.
Fact #3: Supernatural Power
When John the Baptist was in prison, he sent his disciples to Jesus with a very poignant question, “Are you the one who was to come or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:3). Jesus answered by listing the miracles he had performed: the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the lepers are cleansed, and the dead are raised. No one could fake such miracles as that. No religious charlatan could give sight to the blind. Not even the great Houdini could raise the dead. Only the mighty Son of God could work such stupendous miracles.
Let me highlight some of Jesus miracles: Turned water into wine, Multiplied the loaves and fishes, Walked on water, Opened the eyes of the blind, Made the lame walk, Cast out demons, Stilled a raging storm, Healed an invalid, Cleansed 10 lepers, Raised the dead. Anyone can claim to work miracles. But only Jesus can do it! His life was marked by miraculous power, which is exactly what you would expect from the Son of God.
Fact #4: The Empty Tomb
This of course is the ultimate proof. It is also the ultimate question - Did Jesus really rise from the dead? If he did, then he really was the Son of God. If he didn’t, then he’s not the Son of God. In fact, if he didn’t, he’s not even a good man but the world’s greater fake and we are fools for following him.
Therefore, I invite you to study the gospels with an unprejudiced mind and come to your own conclusions. Read the resurrection accounts in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24 and John 20. Check out 1 Corinthians 15. When you do, I believe you will find the following 4 statements to be absolutely true:
1. Jesus was really dead.
2. Jesus was buried in a tomb on Friday evening.
3. The tomb was empty on Sunday morning.
4. Jesus appeared to his disciples after the resurrection, alive from the dead.
Deny the resurrection and you’ve removed the supernatural heart of the Christian faith. If you don’t really believe that Jesus rose from the dead, you’re not a Christian in the true sense of the term. The entire Christian faith hangs on this one fact: Jesus rose from the dead-literally, physically, bodily, visibly. It is the testimony of the empty tomb that forever sets Jesus Christ apart from all other religious leaders. They are dead. He is alive today.
Fact #5: Transformed Lives
Before you make a final decision about Jesus, there is one additional fact to consider. When Jesus left this earth 2000 years ago, he left behind a few hundred disciples in Israel. That’s all he had to show for his time on earth.
Today over 2 billion people bear his name. That tiny band of followers has spread to every nation on every continent. Thousands more join the ranks every single day. To put matters in perspective, more people have come to Christ in the last generation than in the previous 2000 years. History shows that Jesus Christ continues to change lives 20 centuries after he walked the dusty roads of Galilee and the narrow cobblestone streets of Jerusalem. Yet today he is the single most influential person in all human history. John Lennon is dead, Michael Jackson is dead, Karl Marx is dead, Napoleon is dead. But Jesus Christ is alive!
If you are still unsure about Jesus, let me encourage you to pick up the New Testament and read it for yourself. You don’t have to take my word for it. If what I am saying is true, then the facts ought to be self-evident to any intelligent man or woman. Please don’t make a final decision about Jesus without checking things out for yourself. Pick any one of the 4 gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke or John - and read the story of Jesus for yourself. Make notes. Ask questions. Before you give your final verdict, please take the time to check for yourself. Study the evidence on your own. Then make up your mind about Jesus Christ.
I close by reminding you that after Jesus had asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" he made the question more personal, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” - words that became the foundation of the worldwide Christian movement. That in one short sentence is what Christians believe about Jesus. We confess one revolutionary truth - that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of the living God.
In short we believe something special about someone special. *We believe that a man once walked this earth who was like no other man who ever lived. *He said things no other man has ever said. *He did things no other man has ever done. *He made claims for himself which, if they are not true, brand him as history’s greatest fraud. *He gathered around himself a group of men who believed his claims. *He predicted his own death . . . and then he predicted his own resurrection. *He made good on all his claims. *After He left, his followers took his message and spread it around the earth. *That man is Jesus of Nazareth. *That is what Christians believe.
Questions to Consider
1. How do you account for the continuing popularity of Jesus Christ?
2. How would unbelievers answer the claims of Christ as presented in this message?
3. Why is it impossible to believe that Jesus was only a good teacher or a good man and nothing more?
4. Do you believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Why or why not?
5. If someone were to ask you, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” how would you answer that question?
Scriptures to Ponder