Who do you think you are?

30 12 2011

There’s something surprisingly emotional about finding out about our ancestors, as evidenced in the popular TV programme Who do you think you are?

Many people begin with a vague curiosity and end up with a compulsion to find their roots. The programme researchers help them find out who they are.

Matthew is our researcher about who Jesus is.

Jesus’ roots go right back to Abraham, the accredited father of the Jewish nation. Matthew establishes Jesus’ connections with everything that has gone before and alludes to the Old Testament more that any other gospel writer. His original readers are primarily Jewish – he doesn’t need to explain Jewish customs and he uses Jewish terminology. He, like Paul, wants to provide evidence that Jesus is the promised Messiah. But Matthew also makes it clear that the good news of Jesus is for everybody – he begins with the Jews and ends with “all nations.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

In Matthew’s opinion Jesus, the Saviour, is Emmanuel – God with us.

But there is doubt about Jesus’ identity and his credentials even amongst his followers (16:13-16) and strong emotions amongst those who listen to him, which in the end lead to his death (26:65 and Luke 23:6-12).

If you listen to the song you will hear Herod’s verdict – “Get out of my life.”

It’s a common response.

I’m haunted, however, by Jesus’ question to his followers -“But who do you say I am?” The answer carries life-changing implications.


Identity crisis?

11 08 2011

I’ve just been watching a TV programme in which the boss of a company went undercover to find out what life was like for his employees on the shop floor.  He had to pretend in order to get honest information from the workforce, but at times it was difficult to keep up the act. Towards the end of the programme, he called in the people he had worked alongside and revealed his true identity.  One worker was acutely embarrassed – a real “open the ground and let me disappear” moment; another expressed appreciation for the boss’s efforts to understand the workings of the company.  For all, what had happened slowly began to make sense and change resulted.

The question of Jesus’ identity is raised a number of times in Luke chapters 8 and 9 by different people playing for high stakes –

  • The disciples ask – “Who is this man?” (Luke 8:25)  They have been following Jesus for some time, but they still don’t really know who he is or what they’ve let themselves in for
  • Herod Antipas asks the same question – “Who is this man?” (Luke 9:9) He feels threatened by this miracle worker who has appeared in his vicinity
  • The demon doesn’t ask; he knows who Jesus is, “Jesus, Son of the most high God” (Luke 8:28)

By chapter 9, some of the identity issues are beginning to make sense so when Jesus asks the question, Peter at least is ready.  Here’s the context –

“One day as Jesus was alone, praying, he came over to his disciples and asked them, ‘Who do people way I am?’ 

‘Well,’ they replied, ‘some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other ancient prophets risen from the dead.’

Then he asked them, ‘Who do you say I am?’”

It’s the big identity question – bigger that our 21st century obsession with the individual’s, “Who am I?” 

And how we answer changes everything.

“ Peter answered – ‘You are the Messiah sent from God!’”

King of the Jews – ha ha!

22 04 2011

In 1971 a youthful long-haired Andrew Lloyd Webber launched the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar.  One of the most catchy tunes is Herod’s Song.  (Click the pic to listen on Youtube – but beware, the song will stay in your head!)

OK, so it’s not exactly a historical representation of Herod. (Check out the story in Luke 23:8-12) but the persistence of the tune in my head draws me into the scene.  Catch the tone – the mockery, the humiliation, the silence of the accused.

And now the painful question – do I mock Jesus like that?

Mockery can take many forms – my prayers that demand that God acts in the way that I think he should; my lack of prayer when life is going well; the posture of my heart that is arms-folded-across-my-chest in disobedience; the unwillingness to help someone even if it won’t inconvenience me; my persistent opinion that I am right. 

Add your own now.

Epigraph, preface and acknowledgement

6 04 2011


“For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” (Luke 19:10)

If Luke had provided an epigraph* for his writing, I think this would have been it.  Strange that it comes such a long way through the book I know, but it does summarise his theme very neatly.  It identifies who Jesus is,  describes his target audience, and presents his mission statement all in one sentence.

The beginning of Luke’s gospel, his preface, declares his intent to present a truthful and orderly account.  He is the only Gentile in the cast of Jewish New Testament writers and so may have had personal reasons for identifying and championing the outsider, the “lost”.  He shows how Jesus includes those who are typically treated as outsiders by the religious establishment – women, shepherds, Samaritans, tax collectors, the poor.

Now all this rattled the cages of the religious leaders –  “But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?” (Luke 5:30).   They wanted the outsiders to be left outside; they, the insiders, were the ones who were living God’s way after all.  But, once again, Jesus challenges assumptions – “Jesus answered them, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.'” (Luke 5:31-32)

Zacchaeus is one such “scum” – “The people were displeased. ‘He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,’ they grumbled.”  But Zac recognises that he has been out of sorts with God and that he has cheated and defrauded the citizens of Jericho. When he meets Jesus, he determines to change and live out his new life in his community.  The lost has been found.


*Acknowledgement – I would like to thank my Ceefax friend TA who reminded me of the word I was looking for.

Who do you think you are?

11 02 2011

Genealogy – researching previous generations – takes patience, perseverance and lots of searching around in different places.  The celebrities who feature in the BBC series trace their ancestry, discovering secrets and surprises from their past.  It’s often an emotional journey and those who approach it as a fact-finding exercise are often knocked sideways by the strength of feeling that is evoked by their discoveries.

Genealogies in the Bible are usually an excuse to skip a chapter, but they hold interesting details if we are patient, persevere, and consider different parts of the story.

The genealogy in Luke 3:23 and following is a long list of names tracing Jesus’ ancestors back to King David and finally back to Adam.  Why does Luke tell us all that?  My guess is that he wants his readers to know that Jesus was a real human being, not just a spiritual entity.  But more interesting to me is the snippet of story that Luke records just before the genealogy –

“One day when the crowds were being baptised, Jesus himself was baptised. As he was praying, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove. And a voice from heaven said, ‘You are my beloved Son, and I am fully pleased with you.'”

These sentences identify Jesus not only as a man but as the Son of God.  Jesus knows who he is and lives with confidence. 

God was pleased.

But what of his followers?


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