The Open Door is a weekly breakfast and community primarily for the homeless and vulnerably housed in the Cardiff area.
I gave a brief talk on Matthew 16:13-16. It’s not intended to be a watertight apologetic argument, more a way to start people thinking about who Jesus is.
Matthew 16:13-16 (NIV) When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
We talk a lot about Jesus here. Back in Jesus’ day, people talked about Him too. He caused quite a stir! Even today, a lot of people have a lot of opinions about Jesus. Let’s look at this passage for a few minutes.
Some people said He was John the Baptist. John the Baptist was a man who baptised people - they came to him and confessed their sins and he washed them with water and taught them. This John was actually Jesus’ cousin, not Jesus himself, so perhaps an easy mistake to make - lots of fake news going around then as well!
Some people said Jesus was Elijah. Elijah is one of the big Old Testament prophets and he was famous for never having died but being taken to heaven on a chariot. There was a prophecy that Elijah would return - that’s a whole other topic, but it’s enough to say that Jesus isn’t Elijah or any of the other prophets returned.
That’s just a few of the things people said about Jesus. You can read more of it in the Bible - if you don’t have one, we’d LOVE to give you one, it’ll change your life if you let it!
What opinions do people have about Jesus today? The most common ones are the 4 Ls:
I’m going to do a very quick tip-of-the-iceberg look at these options.
Firstly, some say Jesus was just a legend, that He was not a real person. They say that Christians made up or changed the stories. Well, there is tons of evidence about Jesus. There is a better record of Jresus’ life than there is of Alexander the Great, and no-one doubts Alexander existed! As for the stories being changed, that’s impossible. I’ll show you why.
The New Testament has been preserved in more manuscripts than any other ancient work of literature, with over 5,800 complete or fragmented Greek manuscripts catalogued alone.
Now, I work in computers. If I had even THREE copies of a file that all had slight differences in them, I could rebuild the original file with very high confidence. Having five thousand copies of the file? That’s an easy day’s work for me! As a result, we can be very confident that the Bible we have is what the original writers wrote. Whether you believe it or not, that’s another question!
Secondly, some say Jesus was a liar. That he made stuff up. Well, that stuff got Him crucified. It’s very unlikely that someone would get executed for a lie! He had plenty of opportunities to back out.
He makes claims that make Him the same as God -
Jesus said to them: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am. John 7:58
The “truly truly” is reminiscent of when Old Testament writers say “so says the Lord”, i.e. God speaking. Saying “I Am” is a special phrase used for God - the eternal God. He’s basically saying, in some sense, “I’m the God of the Bible”!
That’s a massive claim to make. Others have made that claim - cult leaders, for example. They often persuade people that they are divine so they can manipulate them and get sex, money and power. Jesus isn’t like this. Jesus stuck up for the poor, the oppressed, the sinners like me. There was not even a hint of immorality in His life - He didn’t use people as things. The Bible says that He lived His life without even a place to lay His head. He wasn’t greedy and grasping. He wept with compassion for the people.
So, for that and a thousand other reasons, it’s not convincing to call Him a liar. He certainly believed what He said - He and His friends died for it!
We know He existed and we know that He believed what He taught. So the next opinion that people may have was that He was crazy. After all, a lot of men have claimed to be God. It’s something that people with mental health issues often do. This was something some people thought in Jesus’ day:
“there was division among the Jews because of Jesus’ message. Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and insane. Why would you listen to Him?” But others replied, “These are not the words of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” - John 10:19-21
There’s consistency in what He teaches and how He treats people. When I read the Gospels, I don’t see a delusional man. I see the most incredible message that rings true.
This leads me on to our final option, and the one I believe - He is Lord, i.e. God.
Jesus showed power over the earth by walking on water, over sickness by healing people, and over the spiritual by casting out demons. He showed the creative power of God by healing a man’s eyes with soil, just like God is said to have created Adam from the earth. In so many ways, He backed up His claims.
The writer CS Lewis puts it better than me:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
I hope this helps you to think a little bit more about who Jesus is. He claimed to be the only way to God. My belief is quite simple in a way: “Jesus Christ is who He says He is, and what He says is the truth”.
I’ll leave you with the words of Jesus’ friend Peter:
“For we did not follow cleverly devised tales (literally, myths) when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Pet. 1:16)
Christianity starts with accepting who Jesus is and how much we need Him. If you’d like to come on that journey, we’d love to help you along the way