Looking Back, Moving Forward: Who Is Jesus? – Isaiah 51:1-6 and Matthew 16:13-20
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Jesus asked his disciples, referring to himself. They rattled off several different responses that they’d heard…each one different. Then Jesus asks, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter, the disciple who is often quick to open his mouth, blurts out, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus likes this response and says that he will build his church on the foundation of that declaration. We are the church that has been built upon that foundation. Yet I wonder if we understand who Jesus is any better than those of Jesus’ day did. I decided to ask around and see what responses I got. I started by asking some of our own church members. Here’s what they had to say:
“Jesus is creator of life.”
“Jesus is the incarnation of God’s self-emptying into the world, in which we find the truth of God’s goodness and the goodness of creation.”
Then I broadened it out a bit and asked on Facebook. Here are some of the responses I got:
My Lord and Savior, The One who gives life, Rabboni, The fulfillment of all of God’s promises, The one who is coming into the world, A good friend to have in your corner, The Son of God, the chosen One, our Savior, He is the King of the Universe, a hug, the ‘person’ we should aspire to be most like, The great “I Am” God incarnate Who came so the dead man may truly live through a relationship with Him, The love of my life, The human form of God, My Redeemer and friend, Jesus is God with us, walking among us, teaching us, and saving us, God with us
We all view Jesus a bit differently from one another. That doesn’t necessarily mean that one response is more right or wrong than another. But it does show us that none of us have cornered the market on who Jesus is.
Yet Jesus says to Peter that Peter’s proclamation that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” is the foundation upon which Jesus will build his church. So, perhaps we must ask ourselves, “Is that the foundation upon which WE are built?” Is Jesus our foundation? Is “who Jesus is” the rock that our faith is built upon? Or have we built ourselves upon a different foundation? The great preacher Charles Spurgeon, in his first address at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, said this:
“I would propose that the subject of the ministry of this house, as long as this platform shall stand, and as long as this house shall be frequented by worshipers, shall be the person of Jesus Christ. I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist; I do not hesitate to take the name of Baptist; but if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, “It is Jesus Christ.” My venerated predecessor, Dr. Gill, has left a [theological heritage] admirable and excellent in its way. But the [legacy] to which I would pin and bind myself forever, God helping me,…is Jesus Christ, who is the arm and substance of the gospel, who is in Himself all theology, the incarnation of every precious truth.”
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” If we looked around our nation, we could find many different answers to that question. Jesus is whatever we are or whatever we want Jesus to be. Like the people of Jesus’ day, we all view Jesus through our own lenses. The disciples said that some people believed the Son of Man to be John the Baptist or Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets. These responses are perhaps not so different from what people today say about Jesus. He’s a prophet. He’s a great teacher. He’s enlightened. In some ways, we are complimenting Jesus by saying those things. And yet none of them truly encompasses who Jesus is. None of them gets at the full significance of what Jesus means to us. Jesus is a prophet…like John the Baptist or Jeremiah or Elijah before him. But Jesus is far more than that. And it seems that Peter gets that.
Peter, when asked who he believes Jesus is, says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Today, as we consider what this passage might be saying to us about who Jesus is, this is the statement that will provide us with some direction. So, let’s take a closer look. Peter begins my proclaiming Jesus to be “the Messiah.” The Greek word here is Cristos, from which we get the word Christ. Jesus is the Christ. The word Cristos comes from the verb Crio, which means “to anoint.” Jesus, therefore, is the Anointed One. In Jesus’ day, people were typically anointed to three main positions: prophet, priest, and king. For most of the Jews of Jesus’ day, the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One, was to be a mighty king who would overthrow Rome and restore the nation of Israel.
This is probably what Peter had in mind when he made this proclamation in Matthew 16. That would explain much of Peter’s later actions. Like when the Romans came to arrest Jesus, Peter pulled out his sword, ready to fight. He did that, not because he was a hothead (though he may have been a bit of that), but because he believed that eventually Jesus would lead a fight to reclaim Israel’s kingdom. So, even though Peter said the right thing about Jesus, he still did not fully comprehend who Jesus was. Now, we’ve got years and years of theological study about the person of Jesus to draw from, yet we still cannot comprehend the fullness of who Jesus is. He is the Messiah. But what does that look like? What Peter thought it looked like was different from what Jesus knew it to be. How different are our views of who Jesus is from one another and from Jesus himself?
Peter does not just call Jesus the Messiah though. He also says that Jesus is the Son of the Living God. During Jesus’ day, the emperor, Tiberius Caesar was referred to as the Son of God. His father, Augustus, has been referred to as Theos or God. So, Tiberius was the son of God. Jesus was something different. He was not a leader in the line of the Caesars. Jesus was the Son of the living God, the true God, the active and moving God…not of a dead emperor. This statement was a major affront to the empire of Rome, which might explain why Jesus tells the disciples not to spread that information around. Jesus is the Son of the Living God. He’s the son of the God who not only created the world, but remains active in it. He’s the true Son of God or perhaps the Son of the true God. This was treasonous language in Jesus’ day. And if we truly lived out the implications of it, it would still probably be treasonous for us today.
This week we are continuing our series on “Looking Back, Moving Forward” and as I’ve thought about this passage from Matthew 16 all week, the question I’ve kept asking myself is “Who is Jesus?” And then the follow-up thought is “Who have I made Jesus to be?” Today, I think we need to name our preconceived notions of who Jesus is. Then we need to take a hard look at them and determine if they tell us something about Jesus or if they actually separate us from who Jesus really is. If we see Jesus as someone who aligns perfectly with our political positions, we may need to think harder about that. If we see Jesus as someone who gives us exactly what we want all the time, we may want to think harder about that. If we see Jesus as a good guy who gives us an example for how to live and nothing more, we may want to think harder about that.
Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He is the anointed one, chosen to be prophet, priest, and king. Jesus is active in the world that his Father created. We can proclaim and believe those things. But what does that proclamation mean for how we live our lives? My challenge for us this week is for us to really consider who Jesus is. That will require looking at our preconceived notions of Jesus and really delving into what the Bible says about Jesus. But I believe that Jesus is the foundation that this church and every church should be built upon. And in the midst of this pandemic and the current political climate that are threatening to divide us, Jesus is the foundation for us to build our community upon. Jesus is the only thing that can hold us together. Jesus is the only thing that can keep us united. So, let’s proclaim with Peter that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. And, more importantly, let’s live our lives in ways that proclaim that as well. Amen.