I’ve recently been asked to share some content at a Youth / Young Adults group at church.
After much thought, and not knowing the level of understanding each of the people have (I have since learned at least one is not a Christian), I decided to start my talk with the key focus of the Christian faith: Jesus.
My talk was drafted, “It all begins with Jesus”, but on the night I think I used the title “Who is Jesus?”
Here is a copy of the notes I used to deliver this talk (about 20 minutes, with some group engagement to work together to answer some questions). Perhaps they will be of some small benefit to you at some point also.
St Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians said the following, “I had not thought of bringing you any other knowledge then that of Jesus Christ, and him as crucified.”
The center or heart of the Catholic faith then is Jesus Christ, who should be our primary focus. All of history before his coming leads to him, everything since his coming points back to him and awaits his second coming.
But to begin our focus on Jesus we need to ask ourselves, “Who is Jesus?”
In order to answer this question, we need to look at many things:
- First, we need to know that we have no records written by the hand of Jesus himself.
- Second, we are asking a question about a man that lived 2,000 years ago, meaning that we can’t go back in time and interact with the people alive then and talk with them as we are talking now.
- Third, Jesus is pivotal to the Christian faith, it is claims about him that make or break our faith.
So, how can we learn about who Jesus was?
First, we can assess the historical records at our disposal. This includes:
- The writings of the Gospels
- The writings of the rest of the New Testament
- Non-Christian writings from the time, including the Jewish historian called Josephus, and the Roman historians including Tacitus and Suetonius
- Prophecies fulfilled by Jesus as the Messiah according to the Jews in the Hebrew Bible
- Other Jewish sources about Jesus life (I.e. the Talmud)
- Early Christian records about Jesus outside the Bible.
What can we learn?
- Non-Christian scholars today conclude that, based on the historical records at our disposal, one can affirm that:
- Jesus was a Jewish man born around 4 BC
- He was famous for being a teacher and miracle worker
- He was crucified by Roman authorities
- His followers believed that he was the Son of God and rose from the dead.
Assessing the reliability of the New Testament allows us a great trust in these.
By way of comparison:
- The historian Livy’s writings are available in 20 manuscript copies, with the earliest being 900 years after the original writing.
- The New Testament has 24,300 manuscript copies (5,000 in Greek, 10,000 in Latin, 9,300 in other languages), with the earliest available manuscript fragment being 30 years after the writings of the New Testament, and the earliest full manuscript dated within 250 years of the completion of the New Testament.
- As an aside, when I travelled to Patmos, I was blessed to have seen a portion of the Gospel of Mark written on papyrus dating to the 400-500s, which was copied from the original Gospel of Mark.
What did Jesus disciples claim about him?
- Jesus asks them in Matthew 16:13-20 who people say that he is, and who they say that he is: “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
- Who did Jesus claim to be?
- Matthew 16: He didn’t deny the claim of his disciples.
- Claimed to be Son of God: Mark 14, John 14
- Claimed to have power to forgive sins: Mark 2
So, who is Jesus?
C.S. Lewis proposes three options:
- A liar, pretending to be something he was not.
- A lunatic, thought he was something he was not.
- Lord God, telling the truth about himself.
Proofs of Jesus being God, and of his resurrection from the dead:
- Fulfillment of 300 Old Testament prophecies about the Jewish Messiah.
- His resurrection:
- Absence of his body from the tomb
- Claims were made to explain this included:
- He did not die
- His body was stolen by disciples
- His body was stolen by robbers
- His body was stole by the authorities
- All these claims are attempting to justify the fact that the body was not found.
- Presence with the Disciples after he rose from the dead:
- Paul in 1 Corinthians 15: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
- 11+ appearances, 500+ witnesses to the resurrection
- His resurrection’s affect on the lives of people:
- Historical impact
- 2.3 billion Christians today
- Growth of the church throughout the ages.
Objection: Richard Dawkins:
- Claims there is a fourth option to C.S. Lewis’ proposal – the disciples were mistaken about Jesus claims
- Of the 12 Apostles, 11 went to their death, the fourth according to tradition was thrown into boiling oil and after unsuccessfully dying was exiled to Patmos
- Deaths included crucifixion, beheading, stoning, being skinned alive, etc.
- Ask yourself, would you have been prepared to die for something you thought there was a possibility about which you may have been mistaken? It’s highly unlikely that you wouldn’t reconsider beforehand.
- Ask yourself, “Who is Jesus?”
- Commit to the 5-minute a day challenge for the next fortnight: Spend 5 minutes per day reading a chapter of one of the gospels, asking yourself “Who is Jesus?” as you read. Regardless of which gospel you choose, you will have more insight into being able to answer this question in a fortnight if you commit to this challenge.