We love welcoming new people here from all around the world. So if that's you – we're glad that you're with us this morning. We want you to feel at home here, whereever in the world your actual home may be.
One of the things that we enjoy most here is that we have people who belong to this church who come from all over the world. We are part of a worldwide family of brothers and sisters that reaches into almost every nation on the earth.
You can't help but be aware that we're all very different in many ways. We speak different languages (though it's very convenient for those of us who are native English speakers that you've gone to the trouble to learn English – it saves us a lot of hard work, so thank you for all those hours of learning vocabulary). We like different food (no unkind remarks about the quality of English cuisine please). Our cultures are very diverse. We are used to different climates (we may not have Mediterranean summers here but at least we don't have Siberian winters).
So we're different. But the truth is that what unites us is far greater than our differences.
One reason for that is that we're all created by the one God who made everyone in his image. Mind you, between us the human race has so damaged what God made that conflict is now built in to human nature. And you don't have to come from different nations for that to be true. It's just as true in one little family. So our shared human nature doesn't necessarily make for deep unity.
But there is another reason for the unity that we experience here – the way that we belong to one worldwide family – and that reason is a person: the person of Jesus Christ. It is Jesus who makes us one family.
The story is told of a Dr Stanley Jones. Dr Jones often gave evangelistic lectures to Hindu audiences in India, having Hindus as chairmen of the meetings. One such chairman, who was chief minister of a state, during his opening introduction said, 'I shall reserve my remarks for the close of the address, for no matter what the speaker says, I will find parallel things in our own sacred books.' At the close of the meeting he was at a loss for words. Dr Jones had not presented 'things'; he had presented a person, Jesus Christ; and that person was not found in their sacred books.
It is Jesus who unites us here. But who is Jesus? That is the question that I want us to think about this morning. I don't know what your own answer would be.
Christians say that Jesus is the only Saviour and Lord of the world. And I am well aware that if you are not yet a believer in Jesus, that is an astounding claim to make about him. Why do Christians say that?
Well to give you all the reasons would take a lot longer than we have time for this morning. And one thing I want to do today is to invite you to think further about these things by taking some time to go back to the original sources of our knowledge of Jesus. Those documents have been collected together here – in the Bible. So you can see the evidence for who Jesus is for yourself, by getting together with some other people to read the Bible together and to see for yourself what it has to say.
What I want us to do now is to look at just one short passage. It comes in Matthew's Gospel. The passage is from Matthew chapter 16, verses 13-23. It's the section headed 'Peter's Confession of Christ'.
Let me read the start of that passage, from verse 13:
When Jesus came to the region of Caeserea Philippi, he asked his disciples, 'Who do people say the Son of Man is?'
Jesus used to refer to himself as 'the Son of Man', so he's asking his followers the question, 'Who do people say I am?'
Now, what's happening here? This is a key moment in the three year period leading up to the death of Jesus. Jesus had spent thirty years living quietly. But then he began to teach and to do many healings and miracles that amazed the people who saw him.
He gathered a group of followers. They saw all that he did. They heard all that he taught. And now he wants them to make up their minds about who he really is. So he asks them: 'Who do people say the Son of Man is?'
Well, what do they answer? Listen to what they say. This is verse 14:
They replied, 'Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.'
So some thought that Jesus was John the Baptist. John the Baptist had been executed without trial for daring to criticise the King, Herod. Some people thought Jesus was John back from the dead. But John had known Jesus before he died. John had said that his purpose in life was to prepare the way for the coming of one far greater than him. And he said that Jesus was the one. Jesus could not have been John.
Others thought that Jesus was a prophet – but only a prophet, a messenger of God.
And in fact there were other ideas about who Jesus was, that perhaps understandably the disciples didn't mention. Some people thought he was mad. Some thought he was evil.
So that's what people were saying about Jesus then, 2000 years ago. What about now? What do people say now? What have you heard people say?
Some people know nothing about him. One student said, when asked about Jesus, 'Yes, I've heard of Jesus. He's an American isn't he?' No, he was a Jew from Bethlehem in Judea in the Middle East.
Some say that he was a good teacher and a wonderful man, but no more than that. Mahatma Ghandi said,
"The gentle figure of Christ, so patient, so kind, so loving, so full of forgiveness that he taught his followers not to retaliate when abused or struck but to turn the other cheek – it was a beautiful example, I thought, of the perfect man."
Ghandi would not accept that Jesus was unique. But the things that Jesus said about himself do not allow us to think of him as a great teacher only. He claimed to be far more than that. It cannot be enough just to admire Jesus as a good man. The Christian writer Ajith Fernando says:
"A friend of mine in Sri Lanka, a retired school teacher, was reared as a Buddhist. He was a voracious reader, and one day he borrowed a book on the life of Christ from the public library in his hometown. On reading it he concluded that the life of Christ is unparalleled in human history. He knew a response was required of him. He could not simply admire Christ. He had to yield to his Lordship. He became a Christian."
Then there are many still today who think of Jesus as a prophet – a messenger of God, but no more.
One young man who thought that way was a Muslim. One day he read a leaflet that was posted to the company that he worked for in the Middle East. It was about the prophet Issa – or Jesus. It pointed out that Jesus was actually both God and man and the only way to happiness. He threw it away thinking, 'How stupid can you get!' But he began to read other such leaflets about how Jesus was the Messiah who had died for the sins of mankind, how he loved all men and offered them free salvation. He wasn't convinced by what he read.
It was diametrically opposed to his strongly held Muslim beliefs. Yes, Jesus was a great prophet, but he was a man like all the other prophets. God can have no Son, he thought, and it is a great sin to associate a man with him. Jesus didn't die on the cross – God caused someone else to die in his place and took him to heaven. He knew all the traditional Muslim arguments against Christianity, and he used to throw the leaflets away in disgust. But he kept on reading. He did want to know more. He sent off for a Bible, and he began to read that, though at first he didn't really understand it. He got to know a few believers in Jesus, and talked to them about it. Some years later, he found that he too believed in Jesus, and he decided to become a true follower.
'Who do people say I am?' That's the question Jesus asked. People have different views today, just as they did 2000 years ago.
But what about those disciples who were being questioned by Jesus – the people who knew him best? Who did they say he was?
Well, we know the answer to that, because Jesus wouldn't let those disciples get away with just talking about what other people thought of him. Look at verse 15:
'But what about you?' he asked. 'Who do you say I am?'
Now they can't just hide behind other people's views. So what did they think? Verse 16:
Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.'
What does that mean? The Christ is the prophecied Messiah – the King promised by God who would come with the power of God himself to overthrow God's enemies, rescue God's people once and for all and bring them into his everlasting kingdom.
Simon Peter had been watching everything that Jesus did and listening to everything he said for two years or more. There was still much he didn't understand. That's why Jesus goes on to tell him to keep quiet for now. But Simon Peter has come to the conclusion that Jesus was the Messiah. That's what the disciples said.
And what about Jesus himself? What did Jesus claim?
Jesus tells Peter that he is right. And what is more, he says that Peter didn't work it out for himself. God has shown him the truth. Verse 17:
Jesus replied, 'Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven…'
So Jesus agrees that he is the Messiah. And he speaks of God as his own Father. And Jesus tells them more. Look over the page to verse 21:
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
This is not the kind of Messiah that Peter, for one, was expecting. How is Jesus the Messiah going to bring in his Kingdom? By dying at the hands of his enemies. Why?
One of those who escaped from high up in one of the blazing twin towers of the World Trade Center described how, as he was desparately making his way down floor by floor, firefighters were climbing up the stairs. He expressed his admiration for them. Many of them died in that failed attempt to save those trapped at the top.
The death of Jesus was not going to be a useless death. Jesus said later that he would die 'to give his life as a ransom for many'. In other words, his death would be the price that had to be paid so that we could escape eternal death and hell and find forgiveness and eternal life.
But you can see here that, before he died, Jesus said that he wouldn't stay dead. He would be raised from death to live for ever. He would defeat death itself. And that would be God's proof that Jesus really is the Saviour and Lord of the world.
That's who Jesus said that he was.
Well then, we've heard what people said 2000 years ago about who Jesus is. We've thought about what people say today. We've seen what those who knew Jesus best decided. And we've heard what Jesus himself said.
That just leaves us. Who do you say Jesus is?
In the light of what Jesus claimed, and what those disciples who were eyewitnesses of his life, death and resurrection taught about him, Christians have a clear answer to the question of who Jesus is.
We worship Jesus as the only Son of God. We know him to be God come to earth. Mankind put him to death by crucifixion. That shows how far our rebellion against God has gone. But all along it was God's plan that Jesus should die. He died in our place. We deserve death – eternal death and hell, because of our rejection of the true God. But Jesus died in our place. God is right to be angry with us. But he is full of mercy. Because of his love for us, he has turned his anger on to his Son. Jesus chose to die for us so that we could have eternal life. And God raised Jesus from death, and placed him on the throne of heaven to be the ruler of all things.
So now Jesus is in charge of history. And he calls all people to come back to God. He calls everyone to give their lives to him, and let him take charge.
True believers in Jesus Christ are those who have done that. Believers are those who have come back to God, asked for forgiveness from God, and accepted the forgiveness that God offers because of the death of Jesus. Believers have handed their lives over to Jesus. Jesus is now in charge. He is our rightful ruler.
That is what the Bible teaches. That is what Christians believe.
Who is Jesus? That is the most important question of all. If Jesus is who he claims to be, then the way you respond to that question is the most important thing you will ever do in your life.
If you're not clear in your own mind who Jesus is, then please investigate further. The best way to do that is to get together with a few other people and to look together at the source documents that tell us about him, which are collected here in the Bible.
If you're an international student, here are two possible ways.
First, you could come along to the Globe International Café which is here in the hall on Monday evenings. There's always an opportunity there to get together with a few others to look at the Bible if you want to.
Secondly, you could go along to our student group called Focus which meets here on Tuesday evenings to learn together from the Bible. There are always other international students there and you'ld be very welcome.
There are leaflets about both Globe and Focus that you can take away with you to read. If you would like to know more about those groups, or other ways of getting to know people, do introduce yourself to either Alison or Ramzi, our international student workers, or to one of the other staff here, or to a member of the church. As you would expect, we love to help people find out who Jesus is.
Now I'm going to end with a short prayer. Shall we bow our heads.
Heavenly Father, none of us can really know you or your Son Jesus unless you reveal yourself to us. We are blind to the truth unless you open our eyes. Place in all our hearts, Lord, a deep desire to know the truth about who Jesus is. And show us that truth. Amen.