Who Is Jesus? (Week 1, Back to Basics Series)

The video for this session can be watched at the bottom of this page.
The supporting article for this week can be found here.

I acknowledge during this series that I am assisted by different courses I’ve done through the years, especially Christianity Explained and Alpha. It would be silly of me to ignore what I think is the best of what I’ve met through the years, and dishonest not to acknowledge it.

These first two weeks I’m particularly indebted to Michael Bennett’s Christianity Explained course, as it is the best approach I’ve found for a limited time window.

It may seem strange to start the basics by going straight to Jesus. Why not God? The reason is simple. Christians believe that we get our very best understanding of God and ourselves by looking at Jesus. So here we begin.

We will be using Mark’s gospel today and next week. I want first of all to read Mark’s opening statement: “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God …” (Mark 1:1).

Mark begins by making the key claim that Jesus is both the long awaited Messiah from God, but also the Son of God. Having made that claim, Mark sets out to validate those claims.

He immediately quotes from Isaiah the prophet to get started on the first claim, but really the Messiah claim is subsumed into the Son of God claim.

Especially in the first 5 chapters (roughly first third) of Mark’s gospel, he focuses on a particular aspect of Jesus – that is his authority.

While we may think it very patriarchal and unfair, the Father-Son relationship in their culture was huge. A son (especially the eldest) was considered to have the authority of the Father. If the son gave an instruction to servants, slaves or workers, it was as if the father was standing there giving the order himself.

Mark sets out to show that Jesus demonstrated authority that could only belong to God, authority that could only be passed to a son – hence Son of God. Let’s look at these.

[Mark 1:21-28] – Jesus teaches in the Synagogue and drives out an evil spirit.

In the first instance you see his teaching authority is acknowledged, but it lacks credibility. This particular story is chosen because it provides the credibility.

Here and elsewhere it is assumed that if Jesus is lying, deluded or crazy, he will not be able to demonstrate the authority of God. God would not be with him in that way.

In this case we see an evil spirit react to his presence, and Jesus demonstrates absolute authority over the evil spirit. Such spirits were not unknown them as they generally are to us, and they had other exorcists. But dealing with these spirits was messy and dangerous; Jesus did it with a command. This was astonishing, and demonstrated the power of God. Thus his teaching was validated, so we see here his authority to teach about God and his authority over evil spirits.

[Mark 2:1-12] – Jesus forgives sins and heals a paralysed man.

Here we have another duet. First Jesus claims to have authority to forgive sins – a very big claim, and we’re rightly told this is something only God can do (or his son). Then this claim is validated by immediately and miraculously healing the paralytic – something only God could do.

Again, the first was a claim that needed proving; the second was astonishing and undeniable. If the first were a lie God would not be with him, but then he would be unable to heal the man. So again we see the son of God, demonstrating the authority of God by his own right.

[Mark 4:35-41] – Jesus calms a storm.

This is the first of the nature miracles in Mark’s gospel. That is, no person is involved, just the forces of nature. The other best known stories are Jesus walking on water, and Jesus feeding 5,000 and 4,000 men on two different occasions.

The purpose of telling these is to show us that Jesus authority is over the whole of creation – a creation that God has made, that God sustains, and over which only God has authority – or his son.

[Mark 5:37-43] – Jesus raises a girl back to life.

By this stages there are no surprises – we are here to discover that Jesus demonstrated authority over life itself. More famous is the story of Jesus raising Lazarus, and less famous Jesus raising a widow’s son during his funeral procession, without even being asked.

Only God has authority over life – or God’s son.

That will do us, but for one more. We recently read in church how Jesus called some of his followers from their fishing life. He called another from his tax collecting. In all he called 12, and they left their lives behind to follow him.

In this he showed authority over people, and the way the stories are told we are meant to understand that from them. But unlike the others, these he demonstrated it by offering a choice.

Teaching, forgiving, healing, driving out evil spirits, raising the dead and doing miracles in nature – these he did by his own choice, and without the assistance or permission from any person. But to people he gave the choice. They could follow him or not. Some followed him, and others didn’t.

As we go through this series we will see that what was true of Jesus then is true for him still today. He has all that authority still, since he is (in our best language) the Son of God. And still he exercises his authority over people with an invitation to follow him, and gives them the choice.

This whole series will continue to give you a choice, even if you’ve been doing this for years. It will invite you to move closer, deeper in, if you so choose. Or not.

If you’re new to this whole business, it will offer you a chance to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to Jesus for the first time. But don’t just take on the business of his authority – there is so much more that has to be said.

But our journey begins here by recognising the claim that Jesus is the Son of God – the one with ultimate authority, yet also the one who invites us into a whole new adventure following him.

Video of week 1 of Back to Basics – Who Is Jesus, runs 30:13.

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