21st Century Discipleship Resources

Teaching Extra 04 - Who is Jesus?

Jesus, the way to God

An opening reading: Acts 10:34-43

A. Jesus at the centre

1. It seems obvious to say that Jesus Christ is at the centre of the Christian faith. In the last session, it was emphasised that God has communicated with us in Jesus. We now need to go further than this and say that God has come to us in Jesus. We call this 'the incarnation'. God has made his way to us in Christ: 'The Word [Jesus] became flesh and lived for a while among us' (John 1:14).

2. To this we need to add the complementary truth that Jesus is now 'the way' in which we ourselves come to God. We speak of Jesus as a 'mediator' between God and human beings: 'For there is one God and one mediator between God and human beings, Christ Jesus, himself human' (1 Timothy 2:5). Through Jesus there is two-way traffic: from God to us and from us to God. He is like a bridge or a ladder between God and us. This is why Jesus is so central.

B. Who Jesus was

1. There are certain things that are fairly obvious from the four Gospels which speak about Jesus' earthly life. He was a man. He was a devout Jew. He was a carpenter. He was brought up in Nazareth, in Galilee, in northern Israel. At about the age of thirty, he took to the road as a preacher and teacher. He told wonderful stories (parables), and healed those who were physically and mentally ill. He gathered a group of disciples around him and taught them to do the same. For a time he was very popular, but then powerful religious people turned against him and decided to get rid of him. He was betrayed, tried on false charges, handed over to the Roman occupation forces and crucified as though he were a common criminal or rebel leader. Some days after his death and burial, his disciples were claiming he had come back to life and that they had seen him.

2. Christians believe this summary, but they believe more. They believe, for instance, that Jesus is:

  • a 'prophet'. He spoke words from God. Jesus believed this about himself as is clear from his words (in reference to himself): 'Only in their own homes are prophets without honour' (Mark 6:4). However, it was not just Jesus' words but his whole life that spoke of God. If Jesus is a prophet from God, then he should be listened to.

  • a 'king'. When Jesus was crucified, a written notice was fixed to the cross which read, 'The king of the Jews' (Mark 15:26). The Jewish people were expecting a king, a liberator, to arise whom they called the 'Messiah'. This is the same word as 'Christ', and means 'one who is anointed by God'. Jesus once said to his disciples, 'Who do you say I am?' Peter answered, 'You are the Christ' (Mark 8:29). The freedom Jesus brings, when he rules over people, is not from political oppression, but is first of all spiritual and inward. He offers freedom from the power of sin.

  • a 'priest'. The role of a Jewish priest was to 'mediate' - to act as a go-between between God and people. Jesus does this between God and us. The priest also offered sacrifices to God to open up the way to God. Jesus did this also, but the sacrifice was the offering of his own life. 'Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess' (Hebrews 4:14).

  • the Son of God This means that Jesus had an intimate relationship with God as his Father which began before all time in eternity. It is possible to say therefore that the Son of God 'came down' and became a part of our human existence. 'No-one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no-one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him' (Luke 10:22).

C. Jesus is the way

All of this helps us to understand that Jesus is the way to the Father. 'I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6). This is the truth we need to grasp. To know God as Father means coming to God through Jesus Christ. This involves two things:

1. Jesus has opened up the way into the Father's presence by dying for us. He has, so to speak, built a bridge from the Father to us.

  • Jesus died upon a cross. We are told that at the moment at which he died, 'the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom' (Matthew 27: 51). The curtain in the temple in Jerusalem separated the people from the presence of God in what was called the 'Holy of Holies'. When it was torn in two, this was a symbol of the fact that through his death, Jesus was opening up the way to the Father. He did this by taking upon himself the penalty that we deserve because of our sins, and bearing it in our place.

  • This can also be thought of as Jesus paying a price to set us free. He himself said, 'For even the Son of Man [Jesus] did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many' (Mark 10:45). A ransom is a price paid to set somebody free. Jesus' death was the price paid to set us free.

2. Jesus is alive now and is the living Lord who mediates between us and the Father. To know him now is to know God through him.

  • Jesus was raised from the dead. He is still alive today and so, by the Holy Spirit, can become real to those who put their faith in him.

  • Friendship with Christ now is the way in which we come to God and benefit from what Christ has done for us. 'Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him' (Hebrews 7:25).

Final reading: John 14:1-14