Hyde & Denton Methodist Circuit

What is a Christian?

Jesus said, "This is the work that God requires: to believe in the one whom he (God) has sent". (Gospel of John, chapter 6 verse 29).

Thus a Christian is someone who believes in Jesus, whom we believe is the one whom God sent. Notice carefully; a Christian is not someone who does good, behaves in a particular way. It has nothing to do with behaviour! BUT someone who believes in Jesus will want to follow his teaching. And that does involve trying to do things according to a moral code. There is no written code, so there is debate over exactly what is involved. The one overriding consideration is love - thinking what is best for other people and not insisting on ones 'rights'. One cannot separate the attempt to live a loving life from the belief in Jesus. They are two sides of one coin (You must love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deuteronomy ch 6 v5); you must love your neighbour as yourself (Leviticus ch 19 v 18). (quotes from the Revised English Bible.)


So if a Christian is someone who believes in Jesus,
Who is (or was) Jesus?
What did he do?
What did he teach?
We find out from the Bible near the end in four 'books' called the Gospels.

To make any sense of Jesus we must assume the existence of "an all-powerful personal, spiritual Being who is beyond our understanding, but who has shown Himself in His work of creation and in His continuing creative activity in history", whom we call 'God'. Alternatively He might be described as the instigator of the Big Bang.

In the first few years of the Common Era there lived a man called Jesus. There is plenty of historical evidence for this so very few people would dispute it.

There is no need to argue that around 26 CE he became a wandering preacher. He attracted a band of followers. He gained some popularity with ordinary people but upset the authorities, who thought he was a terrorist who wanted to overthrow them.

Like many others - for example Martin Luther King - he was murdered for his beliefs. But Jesus followers said he came alive again.

Some people say Jesus was not a man - but his followers were Jews and would not have started a new religion worshiping a dying-and-rising god-figure.

Jesus was a teacher - he taught that people should love one another. He taught people to follow the religious law, but to interpret it in a different way, one which was more loving. He said people should look at what the law really meant. For example, murder is wrong. But people murder when they get angry. So getting angry is wrong because it may lead to murder.

Jesus welcomed people which society labelled as bad such as prostitutes.

Jesus was a healer and exorcist. He healed people no other doctors of the time could heal. He performed miracles - feeding 10,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish - did he persuade everyone to share? That really was a miracle!

Jesus upset the authorities. They had him tried on doubtful charges and in questionable circumstances and passed the death sentence. But the occupying power held the rights to the death sentence. The charge of offending religion would not do for them, so they claimed he was a king - something they would never have acknowledged otherwise.

36 hours later Jesus followers claimed he was alive again.

Did he really die? The Roman authorities would be unlikely to have made a mistake.

Did Jesus followers remove the body? There had been a guard on the grave because Jesus had predicted he would come alive again.

Did the disciples make up a story? If so, why are the four accounts so different? Surely they would have tried hard to be more convincing?

40 days after the resurrection Jesus left his followers and was never seen again. The Bible says he went into a cloud, a symbol of God to his friends. We call this the Ascension.

A few days later, instead of being in hiding in case the authorities came to arrest and kill them as well as their master, the disciples started preaching Jesus' message in the streets. Something had happened. They were no longer afraid. We say they had received the gift of the Holy Spirit, the power to do things they didn't think they could do.

It cannot be proved scientifically that Jesus came alive again. But if he didn't, why have so many people followed him? And why are people still following, people from among all races, all professions, including scientists and technologists and all walks of life?

Why was Jesus called 'Christ'?

Christ is the Greek word 'Christos' which means 'anointed'. The Hebrew word is 'Messiah'. Just as the queen was anointed at her coronation, so Jesus was anointed by God. Many people who knew Jesus thought he might drive out the colonial power, the Romans, and become king. That was not his way, so he was reluctant to claim the title for himself.

The early Christians called themselves 'The Way'. But soon they were called Christians by other people as a term of derision - and the name stuck.

Christians soon began to think of Jesus as 'so close to God that he is God'. The power they had to do wonderful things was known as the Holy Spirit, and that is the power of God so is also God. As a result, many people thought Christians worshipped three gods. But that is not so. NO CHRISTIAN WOULD ACKNOWLEDGE MORE THAN ONE GOD. It is a bit like me being father of my children, husband to my wife and lecturer to the students I used to teach. I am just one person, but can be seen in different ways.

The Church

The Church is not an assembly of perfect people. It is an assembly of very 'normal' people who believe Jesus is the Son of God and that he has given them the power to be released from the guilt of their mistakes (sin). They also try to follow the teaching of Jesus. Jean Vanier says

"The Church is the assembly of believers,
those who have been called
out of a world full of sin and hate and fear,
but also to remain in it as a witness of love
and a sign of the resurrection.
The Church is those who trust in Jesus,
who recognise in him the Lamb of God
who saves and heals, and frees us from guilt.
But it is also a Church of pain,
because it is a Church of sinners
who believe and do not believe,
who trust and do not trust,
who walk in the light but also in the darkness.
The secret face of the Bride, the Body,
is full of light.
But the visible face of the Church is clouded.
Yet we should not be disturbed by the clouds;
there is sun shining behind them".

Jean Vanier; The Broken Body; Darton, Longman and Todd 1988

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships,
so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice...
so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain...
so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world,
so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

From a Fransiscan Blessing (source unknown); from 'Pray Without Ceasing' Methodist Prayer Handbook 2005 - 2006, with permission.

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