Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Thanks for logging in on this site and welcome to anyone who is here for the first time. Today I discuss that ‘Big Question’ Who do you say that Jesus is? And you can listen to the audio recording, or simply read the text.
Hope you can find the answer? As always your feedback is welcome and please forward the link of this site if you like it. Hopefully some of the words will reach somebody out there.
Sermon No 71
The Big Question: Who do you say that I am?
16th Sunday After Trinity
A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 16th September 2018 at the 8 & 10 am Eucharist Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on Mark 8:27-38, Isaiah 50: 4-9)
May I speak, and may you hear in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Who do you say that I am?”
Perhaps the biggest question we will ever have to answer in this life is that same one posed by Jesus to his disciple Peter on the road near the city of Caesarea Philippi, as recorded in Mark’s gospel that we heard just a few moments ago.
And the way in which you answer that question, will change the course of your life beyond anything thing that you knew before.
So, for a moment I would like you to imagine if you will, that Jesus is present with us today, in person, just as He was with Peter on that road.
Close your eyes if it helps? And I want you to think honestly and respond quietly just in your heart to that very question that Jesus asked,
“Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8: 29)
Now I don’t know what answer you gave. I cannot see into your heart or mind, which is a good thing I suppose, who knows what you were thinking!
The only person that knows what answer you gave is God Himself.
Now in 1995 I became a ‘believer’ following a prayer to God, and I use that term ‘believer’ because at the time I didn’t understand the full nature of God. My understanding of the bible and all it contained was very limited, but I knew deep in my heart that there was a God and that He had responded, to the prayer that I had made.
So, there may be some of you here today that are not sure either about who God or Jesus are and that is fine, because we are all on different stages of our own personal spiritual journeys.
I remember my early days of going to church after having that life changing moment and listening to a man called Alan Bolding leading a service I was attending, and he explained that prior to his acceptance of Jesus as Lord, he had gone to church for over thirty years, week in and week out, listening to sermons, but he never believed or knew who God was during that whole period. Yet, eventually faced with that same question that I posed at the beginning. Alan went onto become a reader and later a priest and is still serving God today.
Now my own story of faith is not unusual, as we have all in some way, for those that claim to be a Christian, experienced something in our lives that has caused us to commit ourselves to Jesus, as none of us were born Christians, we have to be re-born and you can read all about that in John 3 (John 3: 1-8)
Now for some this may be an event that is recognisable and memorable, or we may not be conscious at all of the change, but somewhere and somehow change occurred.
Now there are many men and women over the last two thousand years that have had to answer that question “Who do you say that I am?” And I was thinking about what number that might actually be? Well, by doing some research, it quickly became apparent that there are no official estimates on that, but on one web site, a man called Dave Benedict, a pastor from northern Minnesota estimates that between 3-4 billion authentic Christians have responded to that question since Jesus walked on this earth and gone on to follow Christ in a whole variety of ways. (accessed 14/09/2018 bemidjicovenant.com/filerequest/3783.pdf 2017)
So, out of perhaps the four billion Christians I would like to just look at just three this morning, because their stories of conversion all resonate with my own story of faith in some way, and some aspects of their lives may also offer similarities with yours.
The first is St Augustine of Hippo, probably one of the most compelling figures in Christian history, he came to faith later in life after spending his younger years as he describes, ‘inflamed with desire for a surfeit of hell’s pleasures.’ In other words, he lived a life full of sex, good food and plenty of drink to wash it down.
However, apart from this life of fast living, Augustine was also a scholar of Latin and Greek and an expert in rhetoric, and a notable academic philosopher to boot. Yet still, with all the worlds niceties to enjoy and an unenviable intelligence he was unsatisfied with life and conscious of being unable to find the strength to live a sinless life, something that many of us struggle to do!
Then one day after being influenced by a preacher called Ambrose, Augustine simply collapsed beneath a fig tree, where it was said he heard the voice of a small child repeatedly say, ‘Take it and read, take it and read’ And with that Augustine picked up his bible, and the first passage he came to was from Romans which said, ‘Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil its lusts’ (Romans 13: 13-14) Augustine was baptised a year later and went onto be come one of the most influential voices in Christian literature.
The second person I want us to consider is CS Lewis, not only author to the famous Narnia stories, but also like Augustine before him, Lewis was a serious academic. His early life saw him leave Oxford University to serve in the first world war, the horrors of which he witnessed, qualified him to state later, that the war was the basis for his disbelief in the existence of God.’ However, like Augustine, Lewis eventually had to battle with that question about the prospect of a God. And this he describes in his book ‘Surprised by Joy’ where Lewis says, ‘That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.’ (CS Lewis. Surprised by Joy)
For Lewis though, his acceptance of Christ came a little later. Yes, he had accepted that God was real and Sovereign that night that he prayed, but his commitment to Jesus came a little later, just like me I suppose, I had an understanding of God at the point of my conversion but certainly no concept or understanding of the God in three parts, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
For Lewis, that conversion to accept Jesus as Lord happened on a journey to Whipsnade Zoo of all places. Again, from the book ‘Surprised by Joy’ Lewis says, ‘To accept the Incarnation (Jesus) was a further step in the same direction. It brings God nearer or near in a new way…. I was driven to Whipsnade one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did…… It was more like when a man, after long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake.’
Lewis came to a faith in a gradual way, yet there was a realisation that it had happened.
The last one I want to look at is someone called Nicky Gumbel, a Christian priest who has been very influential in promoting the Christian exploration course known as Alpha over the last twenty years. Some of you may have participated in it yourselves. I know I did it as part of my confirmation training. Now Nicky was a son of German Jew and was educated at Eton where he decided through his religious education that he was an atheist and described himself as a ‘logical determinist’ (which if you are interested, is a philosophical stance on truth founded by the German philosopher Friedrich Schlick.) I did look it up and barely understood it never mind explain it! But that’s academics for you!!
Anyway, Gumbel went on to Cambridge University where he studied Law with a view to becoming a barrister. Now when he was confronted with the discovery that his close friends had become Christians, he was deeply upset, for after a year at university he viewed all Christians by now as completely mad, and Gumbel felt that the only way to save his friends from the lunatic asylum was to read about God in-order to give a constructive argument why his friends should relinquish their new-found faith and return to being ‘normal’ again.
And so, he found a dusty old bible on his bookshelf and started reading the New Testament that very night and continued with it for the next couple of days until he had finished. And in it he found something that just ‘rang true’. Gumball recognised that the words of Jesus and the parables of which he taught related to the world around him in which he lived, some two thousand years later.
Within forty-eight hours Gumball became a full on committed Christian and has never looked back since.
Three people, in three different times who have answered that question that Jesus asked of Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” And went on to follow Him
Well as we heard in our gospel reading, Peter the disciple answered Jesus directly, replying, ‘You are the Christ’ (Mark 8: 29)
Peter was quite sure, he had after-all witnessed what Jesus had done and answered with firmness and on behalf of all the other disciples present.
And in saying that word ‘Christ’ Peter had confirmed to Jesus that He viewed Him as the Anointed One, the expected Saviour and Redeemer of the Jewish people. Peter had finally understood who Jesus was
So, if you are thinking well I am no Peter, St Augustine, or Nicky Gumbel? Well I would say, yes you are, really their lives are no different to ours.
Like us, they lived a life that was sinful. Some had argued against the existence of God, or at least were reluctant to consider it. Their journeys to confessing Jesus as Lord were in stages and they had suffered pain and witnessed suffering, yet still were able to see that Jesus exemplified real love.
I suppose the point I am trying to make this morning, is that to answer the question of who Jesus is may not be something that can happen overnight. There may be some of you sat here this morning and nothing what is being spoken is connecting with you at all, just like my friend Alan Bolding experienced for thirty years. There may be some of you that are living lifestyles like Augustine’s that simply have no time for Jesus. And there may be some with whom the arguments against Jesus being Lord appear to be too compelling to warrant consideration at this moment.
Well the good news is that in all cases of faith, it is God who will reveal Himself to us, in His time. There is no one way in which we might come to faith, for only God knows how and when that will take place.
However, as we have seen by the examples I have given today, it has been through the reading and studying of the scriptures that Jesus has become real to those individuals. And I would encourage you all to dig into the bible, for in it you will find the Word of God revealed and everything that will enable you when questioned, to say without fear that ‘Jesus is Lord.’
I would like to end with a prayer attributed to St Augustine which is a petition to the Holy Spirit who ultimately reveals our understanding of Jesus and of Truth. And I pray that one day you all will be able to honestly say that ‘Jesus is Lord’
Breathe in me O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me O Holy spirit, that my work, too may be holy.
Draw my heart O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy.
Strengthen me O Holy Spirit to defend all that is holy.
Guard me, then O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy.