Here’s the plan we used for tonight’s Youth Alpha session – Who is Jesus?
Welcome to Youth Alpha! It’s great to have you here with us. Before we get going, let’s start with an ice breaker game.
Famous Name Game
Stick a label with a famous name on it onto each person’s forehead. Then everybody should mingle, introducing themselves to each other before asking a question in order to try to figure out who’s name is on their forehead. Each member of the group can ask only one question of each person, and it has to be a question with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer (eg, ‘Am I male?’, ‘Am I dead?’, ‘Am I a singer?’ etc). The first person to guess their name wins, but you should keep going until everyone has figured out their name.
Hopefully that game has helped you to get to know each other. Now let’s talk about the reason we’re all here today! Over the next few weeks we’re going to be looking at some of the big questions of faith and life. There will be some short talks given from the front, and there will be loads of time for you to chat together and discuss what you really think about what we’ve said. I’d encourage you to be open and honest with each other – that’s the way to get the most out of Youth Alpha. So, to kick off, we’re going to look at the question, ‘Who is Jesus?’
To get you thinking we asked members of the public share their views on who Jesus is?
Christians follow Christ – hence the word ‘Christian’ – CHRIST-ian (obviously). It’s about having faith in this man Jesus – but not blind faith, faith based on evidence. Can we prove it beyond any shadow of a doubt? No. But the evidence is good
Some of you might be thinking wait a minute – is there any point in looking at Jesus, as we are now, if we don’t believe in God? Many believe that. But I would argue that without looking at who Jesus is, we can’t find out who God is, or if there even is a God
POINT 1 – DID JESUS ACTUALLY EXIST?
Yes. Most scholars, Christians and non-Christians alike, agree that the following points are true about the life of Jesus Christ:
- he was a Jewish man, born in Bethlehem in Judea around 4 BC
- he was famous for being a great teacher and miracle worker
- he was cruciﬁed by the Roman authorities
- his followers believed he was the Son of God and that he rose from the dead; they spread the good news
Professor F. F. Bruce, from the University of Manchester in the UK, is an expert in the field of what’s known as textual criticism – a science that can determine whether the copies of ancient texts we read now are the same as when they were written
There are two main questions to ask in order to find out:
- How quickly after the original was written was the earliest copy made?
- How many copies are there?
So let me give you a few examples:
- Herodotus and Thucydides were both written in the 5th century BC. The earliest copies that we have are from around AD 900, so there’s a 1,300 year gap. For each of these works we have only eight copies, and yet no classical scholar would doubt their authenticity.
- Tacitus: 1,000 year gap between the original and the first copy – a total of twenty copies
- Caesar’s Gallic War: 950 year gap between the original and the first copy – a total of nine or ten copies
- Livy’s Roman History: 900 year gap between the original and the first copy – a total of twenty copies
The New Testament: written between 40 and 100 AD. The earliest copy we have is AD 130, and we have full manuscripts at AD 350. So, at most, there’s a 300 year gap. And we don’t just have eight or even twenty manuscripts – we have: 5,309 Greek manuscripts, 10,000 Latin manuscripts and 9,300 others.
You can see that the New Testament stands absolutely and unapproachably alone amongst ancient writings – and no serious historian would disagree with that conclusion.
POINT 2 – WAS JESUS MORE THAN JUST A ‘GOOD MAN’?
Two big questions to consider are: who did Jesus think he was? And, of course, was he right?
TRUTH OR LIES
In small groups, each person must say three things about themselves, two of which are true and one of which is totally made up. The others have to guess which of the facts is false. Try to make them as grand as possible – ‘I like cornflakes’ as your false fact doesn’t quite work. So, if you’ve met Justin Timberlake or done a parachute jump, make those your true facts and think up an equally improbable one as your lie!
It is easy for us to deceive each other, isn’t it? But was Jesus deceiving his followers? Many would say that some of his claims were so outrageous that he must have been playing games
So who did Jesus think he was? Let’s look at what he said about himself. Jesus was humble, yet he said some outrageous stuff. He said:
- ‘I am the bread of life’ (he can satisfy our spiritual hunger, John 6:35)
- ‘If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed’ (John 8:36)
- ‘I am the light of the world’ (John 8:12)
- ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ (he will overcome death and give us eternal life, John 11:25)
- ‘I am the way, truth and the life’ (we get to God through him, John 14:6)
- ‘If you have seen me, you have seen God’ (John 14:9)
He also made some pretty big claims that show he thought he was God:
- he claimed that he could forgive sin – in Mark 2:5 he said to someone, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ People knew that only God could forgive sin. It was this sort of comment that annoyed the religious types and led to Jesus being killed
- he claimed to be the one who would judge the world (Matthew 25:31–32, 40, 45)
- he claimed to be the Messiah (Mark 14:61–62)
- he claimed to be Son of God (Mark 14:61)
- there’s the story of Jesus appearing to ‘doubting Thomas’ after his resurrection (John 20), and Thomas says, ‘My Lord and my God’, and Jesus basically says, ‘Yeah, that’s me’
But of course it is possible that Jesus’ claims were wrong. There are three logical options:
- Jesus wasn’t God, and knew he wasn’t, so he was lying: he was a fraudster, an evil, deceptive person (BAD)
- Jesus wasn’t God but thought he was: he was genuine, but deluded – insane (MAD)
- Jesus was telling the truth: he is GOD!
What do you think? Was he bad, mad, or God? Let me share with you a couple of quotes from others:
C.S. Lewis (author of the Narnia books)
‘A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn’t be a great moral teacher, he’d either be insane or else he’d be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God or else insane or something worse. But don’t us come up with any patronising nonsense about him being a great human teacher. He hasn’t left that open to us. He didn’t intend to.’
Bono (lead singer of U2)
An interviewer asked: ‘Christ has his rank among the world’s great thinkers. But Son of God, isn’t that far-fetched? Bono replied:
‘No it’s not far-fetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christian story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy … but actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off that hook. Christ says “I am God incarnate” … So what you are left with is either Christ was who he said he was or a complete nutcase. I’m not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilisation for over half the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside down by a nutcase, for me that’s far-fetched.’
POINT 3 – IS THERE ANY EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT JESUS’ CLAIMS?
Jesus’ teaching supports his claims – ‘Love thy neighbour’, ‘Love your enemies’, etc, is generally accepted as the best teaching ever, and no one has ever spoken any wiser words since.
His life and works support his claims – people sometimes say Christianity is boring. Jesus was never boring! Imagine going with Jesus to a
- party (he turns the tap water into wine!)
- picnic (five loaves and two fish become a feast for thousands!)
- hospital (the sick and lame get up and go home!)
- funeral (the dead man gets out of his coffin and walks out!)
His character supports his claims:
- living for others, a selfless life
- courageous – dying for others
- so perfect, his enemies couldn’t find anything to convict him of
His fulfilment of prophecy supports his claims:
- He fulfilled 300 Old Testament prophecies – 29 in a single day!
- Could he have made some of these happen so it looked like he was the promised Messiah? Maybe – but only if he could have planned his birth, birthplace, mother, death and burial with perfect accuracy … no easy feat!
His resurrection from the dead supports his claims:
- If true, it is proof he is God. The physical resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone of Christianity
As the writer and atheist, Richard Dawkins, was quoted by Matthew Parris as saying this: ‘If the resurrection is not true, Christianity becomes null and void’, and he’s right! The resurrection is the foundation of Christianity.
POINT 4 – IS THERE ANY EVIDENCE FOR JESUS’ RESURRECTION?
Let me run through four quick bits of evidence before we finish:
Jesus’ body wasn’t in the tomb
- did his followers take it? No, they all died for Jesus; would they have died for a lie?
- did the authorities take it? No, as they could have simply shown his body to stop rumours about Jesus rising again (think how quick the Iraqi authorities were to prove that they had executed Saddam Hussein by showing his body)
- did thieves steal it? No, because all that was left in the tomb were Jesus’ grave clothes (the most valuable item, and the only thing grave robbers wanted in those times)
Jesus’ presence with the disciples
- in the Bible he appeared eleven times after his resurrection, once to over 500 people. It’s hard for 500 people to have the same hallucination at the same time!
The immediate impact afterwards
- when Jesus died, the disciples were scared and went into hiding. Their leader, who they thought was going to fight the Roman authorities on their behalf, had just died. Yet just days later, they were ready to change the world!
Christian experience over last 2,000 years
- millions, even billions, have followed Christ over the years and have experienced a relationship with him
And that is my experience too. So to sum up what I’ve talked about today:
Jesus is real.
- He is a real figure in history, he existed
- He claimed to be the Messiah – God’s son
- He died on the cross and rose again
- Trusting Jesus is a step of faith – but there is proof to help us make that step
Check out what these guys said:
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (author of the Sherlock Holmes novels)
‘When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbably, must be the truth.’
C.S. Lewis (author of Narnia books)
‘We are faced, then, with a frightening alternative. The man we are talking about was and is just what he said or else insane or something worse. Now, it seems to me obvious that he was neither insane nor a fiend; and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that he was and is God.’
Jade Goody (the late British celebrity, weeks before she died)
‘I’m absolutely exhausted but I’ve got to keep going for my boys. I want them to believe in Jesus and God.’
We’re going to have a quick break and then go into our small groups. I want to encourage you to be really honest and say what you really think about what I’ve said.
Check out the pdf files for our small group time: