One of the best places to start if you want to examine 'who Jesus is' is a gospel, they are the accounts of Jesus life gathered from eyewitnesses. I should make a couple of things as I start, firstly the gospels don’t focus on what any one church believes but on the facts about Jesus; who he was and what he did and taught, and secondly they are historical – in that they are based on real events in history, a person who lived, acted and taught.
Luke's gospel is a good place to start, it is very practical – it asks questions like: so who does Jesus say he is and what does he say he has come to do? What difference does the Christian faith make in those who follow it in facing life’s challenges?
If you could ask any question about Christianity or the Bible what would it be? Some of the most asked questions are these:
• God if you’re there why don’t you prove it?
• Isn’t the Bible just a bunch of made up stories?
• Do all good people go to heaven?
• If Jesus was really God’s son why did he die?
• If I can be forgiven anything does that mean I can live as I like?
• How can anyone be sure there is life after death?
• What about other religions?
• Isn’t faith just a psychological crutch?
• Why do you allow suffering?
We will answer some of those as we look at Luke.
What is Christianity?
Let’s start of with what it isn’t:
• It is not a complex philosophical system.
• It is not a set of religious rituals.
• It is not about keeping a set of laws.
Christianity very simply is ‘responding to Jesus appropriately’. It is not about religion but about relationship. As Jesus is the starting point we’re going to think about what we know about him and how we know it.
One of the big questions that is often asked is can I trust the Bible? Answering this question is foundational to exploring who Jesus is – can I trust the Bible to tell me about Jesus?
Our information about Jesus comes from a number of sources. Some of them were written by those who were Christians who believed in Jesus, they are found in the Bible. Others come from people who clearly didn’t believe in Jesus.
One of those is from Josephus, a Jewish historian who twice mentions Jesus. Here is one quotation:
‘Now about this time there lived a wise man called Jesus...Indeed, he was a man who performed startling feats. He was a teacher of the people... and he drew in many from among both the Jews and the Greeks. And those who were devoted to him from the start did not cease their devotion even after Governor Pilate, on the basis of charges laid against him by our leaders, condemned him to a cross. For [it is reported] he appeared to them alive again... And the group of ‘Christians’, named after him, has still not disappeared to this day.’
Flavius Josephus ‘The Antiquities of the Jews’ (Book 18 ch 3, 80AD.)
Tacitus was a Roman historian much of what we know about the Emperors Tiberius, Claudius and Nero is from his Annals of Imperial Rome. He writes:
‘Christians derive their name from a man called Christ, who, during the reign of Emperor Tiberius had been executed by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate. The deadly superstition, thus checked for the moment, broke out afresh not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but also in the City of Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world meet and become popular.’
There are others who mention Jesus in their histories of the time. To sum up what we learn from non-Christian sources before we even turn to the Bible is this:
• When and where he lived
• That he was Jewish
• That he was a public teacher
• He attracted great crowds
• He engaged in activities thought to be supernatural
• He was executed, when and by whom
• He had a brother called James who was executed
• People claimed to have seen Jesus alive after his death
• He was widely known as the Christ – a prestigious Jewish title
But to really find out who Jesus was you need to turn to those who knew him best and wrote his biographies. There are 4 and we are going to think about Luke. Scholars agree these are incredibly reliable and there is extra information about how they test that in various books.
Luke was a medical doctor and spent a long time researching his account. He didn’t know Jesus personally but spoke with those who did.
If you can read Luke 1:1-4, there Luke tells us his methodology and his motive.
He doesn’t write for a publisher to make sales and he doesn’t write to make himself popular. Christianity was a minor religion and was shortly to be persecuted as a threat to the Empire. Luke writes so that Theophilus would come to understand who Jesus is, but also so that Theophilus having understood who Jesus is would get what it meant to the way he lived, how it was to affect him.
Christianity is not about religion or rules or ritual it is about relationship. Why not ask someone you know who goes to a church why they believe in Jesus?