Who Indeed? So far, Luke has made it crystal clear to His readers who Jesus was. Gabriel told Mary, the angels proclaimed it to the shepherds at His birth, the prophets Simeon and Anna lauded Him as the promised one in the temple at His dedication, the Father and echoed it across the sky as the Holy Spirit descended like a dove for John the Baptist when Jesus was baptized, Satan sniffed it out during the temptation in the wilderness … even the legion of demons in the tombs cried out His identity as the Son of the Most High God as they cowered in fear.
Why would Luke share with us that Jesus asked that question now? Was it because Jesus doubted Himself? I think not. Jesus knew, and spent hours alone in prayer to reinforce His manly nature’s understanding of His equally divine substance. He knew, and we can be sure of that.
Was it because God was worried about His own reputation, like a politician obsessed over His approval ratings? Not in the least -- Jesus could not care less what the crowds thought of Him, as we shall see in coming passages.
The Lord’s interrogation of the twelve is not to convince Himself of His identity, but to instruct them regarding it. He needs no convincing. They need all of it. They, after all, are the feeble men that He has chosen to turn the world around when He is gone, and He is beginning His final approach to the cross at this time. He wants to make sure that their seat backs and trays are upright before He arrives at Calvary. He is making sure that THEY understand what Gabriel, Mary, the shepherds, Simeon, Anna, John the Baptist, and even Satan and all the demons of hell understood: this is no mere prophet we are dealing with; Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
And so Luke records that Peter answers correctly, and MAtthew records that this proclamation of truth spoken by Peter is the Rock upon which the Church is built - that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ of God is the cornerstone of the church, the imperfect but perfectly loved bride of God. Jesus was not saying Peter the man was the cornerstone -- that was reserved for Jesus --but that the truth Peter confessed was the foundation.
Ground Control, we have a problem.
Now, we have a problem here. Why silence the Apostles on this point for now? I see two reasons: a premature announcement of Jesus as the Messiah at this time would first lead to practical problems and second create more serious problems of perception. Practically speaking, if word got out that someone was claiming to be the messiah, there would be nothing but trouble. The already unmanageable crowds would multiply exponentially. The Jewish Leaders would have to act immediately to suppress Jesus, and He would be silenced before the time was right. And if the Jewish leaders did not suppress Him, the Romans would. Caesar’s troops would be bound by their law to put him down as an insurrectionist immediately. This was not what Jesus the Christ of God desired - yet.
So that is the practical and logistical reason Jesus told the twelve to keep it under wraps for the time being. But there is another, more important problem it would create: a problem of perception. Ideologically, the declaration of Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ of God would lead to grave misunderstanding -- at this time, few really understood what the Messiah was to do and who He would be. While the Jews prayed and hoped for the Messiah to come, they were asking for the wrong thing. They wanted a conquering King, but the Messiah was to be a suffering servant.
“You keep using that word…”
Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ of God, the Anointed messiah. That word, the Christ, or Messiah, was loaded. It was overloaded -- used by just about everyone, but understood by just about no one. It was a mold Jesus refused to be pushed into. It came from the scriptures, but like many pictures in scripture, it was dreamlike; vivid, true; even accurate - but not necessarily precise. They kept using that word, but I do not think it meant what they thought it meant. Jesus says the Christ must SUFFER, be REJECTED, and ultimately be KILLED - but also be RAISED. That was the opposite of the folk understanding of the Messiah. The popular notion of the Christ is that He would make the Romans suffer, that the Christ would reject fake leaders, and that the Messiah would kill anyone who stood in his way. Resurrection was the last thing they thought of when they though of Christ, the Messiah. But for the real Christ, the resurrection, not death and damnation, was the pinnacle of the Messiah’s mission. The people, with their misguided opinions, expected a Messiah who would furnish them with a temporary clay brick and mortar victory. Jesus the real Messiah was here to give them an eternal home on streets of gold.
The people would attempt to press Jesus into the mold of an insurrectionist and a military leader. And Jesus knew their mold was wrong. That is why silence and instruction about the true nature of the Messiah’s mission (“the Son of man must suffer”) were what Jesus called for at this time.
Do you have a mold for Jesus? Are you trying to mash him into someone you want him to be. Or can you see past your preconceptions and accept as he is, not as you want him to be. We all abuse Jesus in one way or another. We see him as too nice, or too harsh; too gentle or too angry. We all forget that he calls us to join him in surrendering ourselves to the will of our Heavenly Father, to let go of everything that weighs us down and drags us to the bottom of the sea of our human weaknesses, to SUFFER for just causes, to willingly face REJECTION in the name of love, to choose to be KILLED rather than to stoop to the devil’s work of killing.
But, after all is done, to be raised to life on the last day.
Who do you say He is?
This is the crucial question that every soul will eventually have to answer. What do the crowds say today? Wise man? Fool? Magic man? Con man? Good luck charm?
There are really only three viable options. CS Lewis put it this way:
“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)
Is He a mad man - a lunatic? If so, why didn’t anyone see that before they followed him to their own deaths? How could so many educated people be duped? And why would so many people call Him such a wise teacher today? No, this is no madman. When you examine the evidence, that option is closed.
Which leaves us with only two other viable options: that He was a sinister, self-serving devil, or the Son of God as He claimed to be.
Is He the devil of hell - a con man out for personal gain? If so, why would he allow himself to be slaughtered like a lamb when he had every chance to escape? Moreover, why would so many people throughout the ages testify, time after time after time, that in Jesus they they have been set free from the chains of addiction, the prison of pornography, the depths of degradation? That doesn’t sound like the work of an evil spirit to me. The devil only wants to steal, kill and destroy. Yet Jesus gives life, and to the full. The evidence i overwhelming on that point. No, Jesus could be no devil of hell.
Then we are left with only one viable option. Is Jesus of Nazareth who we claimed to be: the Son of God - the Messiah come to save us? That is who Jesus said he was. That is who Peter and the rest of the Apostles said He was, even as they were led to crosses and executioner’s stands themselves. Every one of the twelve except for John the Evangelist was executed for refusing to simply say that Caesar was Lord. They did not want to betray Jesus Christ, they did not want to betray what they knew to be true. And they were willing to place their lives on the line for it. Jesus alone was Lord. That is what the angels said and the demons acknowledged. This is no mad man. This is no devil. Jesus is the one and only Son of God, sent to seek and save you and me, sent to suffer when we were the ones who deserved to die for our sins. He is the one who wiped away your tears when no one else could. Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ of God, our Messiah, our only hope, our rescue and strength.
Jesus of Nazareth is the only begotten Son of God, the King of every king, the Rock on which we stand, the Savior of the world, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning an the End, the great I Am.
When Jesus says “I am” He says to you:
“I am the light upon your path When you have lost your way
I am the footprints in the sand The ocean's tide can't wash away
I am the shelter from the storm That rages on and on
The incorruptible foundation That the wise man builds upon
I am the bread that feeds A starving man upon the street
I am the bounty on the table In the palace at the feast
I am the rain upon the earth After a scorching drought
I am the quenching of the thirst You never thought you'd be without”
(Theocracy,” I Am”)
What do you say?
Can you hear Him at this moment? His Spirit is alive and well. And he has been asking you for a long time, “Who do you, ______, say that I am?”