This event in the life of Jesus is recorded in all four of the Gospels. What is happening is a discussion, a discussion about two questions. The first question asked for a report, “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus does not ask this question because he is going through an identity crisis or because he feels insecure of how he is being perceived. Jesus ask this question to allow the disciples to gather their thoughts, bring together what they have discussed, heard, or imagined concerning the true nature of Jesus in light of his miraculous actions and authoritative words. This question is a set up for the next question, a very personal question, “Who do you say that I am?” This question is the critical question. Why, because God wants the disciples, God wants us to deal with this issue, “Do you really know who Jesus is?”
This question is the most important question we will ever be asked. Every human being is asked this question in some way and is offered an opportunity to answer on the bases of what their heart tells them. It is a answer we dare not get wrong.
The setting of this passage takes place with Jesus gathering his disciples together for this discussion. Jesus brings it up. Who do people say that I am? This discussion was being held throughout the land. Jesus actions, his preforming miracles, his insightful and impactful teaching, in fact his very presence could not be ignored. Something amazing was happening. Who is this man?
If it were today, the evening news shows would be asking the question, “Who is Jesus?” All of the afternoon celebrity shows would be trying to get him to be on their show. The late night hosts would be competing to see who could do the best jokes, monologues on “Who is Jesus?” There would be background checks, theories, speculation and experts brought in. Everyone would want to know “Who is Jesus?”
At first the disciples give a list speculations. Some say you are John the Baptist reincarnated. Others say you are Elijah or Jeremiah or some other prophet.
Now they knew that he could not be John the Baptist because they were with him before John had been killed. He did not act like a prophet because he did much more than any prophet had ever done. He knew the Spirit of the Law as well as the letter of the Law. The disciples knew that speculations were wrong. Each of these individuals had made a decision to follow Jesus when he called them. Each responded to him not because of speculation, but because there was a reality about him which went far beyond the power and presence of this world. But still there was the question.
I can just imagine Jesus looking at them (you can picture the seriousness of the moment). It was time to move beyond hearsay, beyond rumor. Now it is time to deal with the real issue. Jesus speaks. Who do you say that I am? It is decision time. A choice must be made. This is still the critical question everyone must answer and must continually answer by the way we live our lives. Who do you say that I am?
Some might think that this is just a passage for reaching out to people who do not know Jesus. No so. This is also a message for the church, a decision to be made by the church and we need to be careful and reflective how we decide. Who do you say that I am? Some would say you are the liberal Jesus who makes me feel good with moral teaching about love. Some would say you are the fundamentalist Jesus who makes things black and white, right and wrong, fire and brimstone. Some would say you are the political Jesus of my particular political persuasion who supports my political agenda, my idiomatic idealism. Some would say you are the Jesus of convenience, a mythical, mystical master whom I find useful in times of crisis or conflict, a kind of God when I need one. Who do you say Jesus is?
In our passage it is once again Peter who is quick to speak. Peter, the common everyday guy who seems never to be at a loss for something to say, stands up and says, you are the Christ, the son of the living God. And for once, Peter got it right the first time. This is who God revealed Jesus to be. The only way this could be known, the only way it can be experienced, the only way it can be lived is through the power of God. John 6:44 states: No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.
Here is the irony, everyone who encountered Jesus had the same chance to make this decision. They all had the evidence of Scripture, the opportunity to witness Jesus miraculous power, to encounter the same sense of Jesus’s authority, but they would not accept this revelation. Why, because they closed their minds to the truth. God does not force, God reveals.
Have you ever heard of the parable of the foolish fish? Not a biblical parable. A fish swims up to another fish and asks him where he can find water. The other fish replies, “It’s all around you!” The first fish replied, “You mean this wet stuff?” Yes the other fish responded. That’s silly the first fish retorted and then swam away in his quest to find the water he was swimming in.
God wants people to know who Jesus is. The reality surrounds us in God’s prevenient grace. It tugs at our hearts and pleads with the depth of our soul. Even before we know his name we sense a need for him. We may learn to ignore the need, to close off the revelation, but it is there. God wants us to know Jesus is the Son of the living God. He is God incarnate. He is our resurrected Savior. He is the one who was and is and will always be. He is our blessed hope. Our chance. Our only opportunity to transcend the power of death and enter the assurance of life.
And when we know him, really know him then (verse 18) the gates of hell cannot prevail against us. Jesus is not a teacher among teachers, a preacher among preachers. He is not just good, not just moral, not just a man of justice, He is God. His life has been given to us in word and in witness of this reality. When God gives you the chance to know this is true and you are willing to make this truth the foundation of your life, the anchor of your heart then you can make the declaration Peter made and begin to grasp the promise implied by the proclamation.
Peter’s journey with Jesus was rather profound. From their first encounter in which Peter said to Jesus, “Leave me Lord for I am a sinful man” to this magnificent profession of faith the Lord was with Peter. This is a journey, an understanding we all must come to if we are to respond to the question of Jesus correctly. There is an ancient prayer I pray and teach to people who want a closer walk with the Lord that is founded upon Peter’s confession and profession. It is called the breath prayer, or the Jesus prayer. Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Jesus responds to Peter by declaring the truth of Peter’s profession. He states this is the rock, the foundation, the meaning of life that eternal life is built. With our understanding of this meaning comes purpose, with purpose responsibility.
Remember, who do you say that I am is an ongoing question for the church. It needs to define our direction. It tells us that our identity is rooted in the confession of Jesus as the Savior, the anointed of God, the Son of the living God who has come to be part of us. It tells us that we will be in conflict but we will win. The gates of hell are there, but so is the power of God. It tells us we are trusted with the keys to God’s plan for eternity. We are the ones who unlock the door for others. We open the way for our friends, families, and others to come to God. If we seek to be effective we will be effective. If we become burdens, then we will be a great stumbling block. We have a great responsibility. Who do we say Jesus is? People need to know. Look at our world, at people’s lives, at our churches, at the future. People desperately need to know who Jesus is. Let us joyful tell them with our words and our deeds.
If Jesus were to come to certain theological schools today and asked the professors who do you think that I am some of them might reply, “You are the eschatological manifestation of the kerygma in which we recognize the ultimate significance of our interpersonal relations.” And Jesus would probably replay, “Do What!” If he came to you what would you say? This is the answer that counts.