In one of the best-known passages in the Bible, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is? What are you hearing about me?”
Today his disciples might have said, “Let’s Google it.”
I just did that, and in 3.4 seconds I got about 668,000,000 results. Two-thirds of a billion! But the disciples didn’t have cell phones and social networking. Just word of mouth, and they replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
In others words, there have always been opinions about Jesus, and most would agree that he was a great man who taught great things, a man of influence, a religious man, a prophet.
But here’s the real question: “What about you? Who do you say I am?” And Simon Peter blurted out, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Where did that come from?!
Jesus responded, “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” In other words, Jesus wasn’t just one more notable guy. He was and is the son of the living God, and everyone who believes in him—not just follows his teachings—will have everlasting life. And that’s not just an idea you’ve thought about. Knowing Christ is a work of grace, a transcendent moment in which your need for Jesus and his forgiving presence come together to change you forever.
Jesus is the God-man. Jesus is God, man. He’s not just another religious option, or the bearer of some really good, really helpful teaching about life. Jesus is a Person we encounter, we enter, and he enters us.
I was listening to a devotional on www.pray-as-you-go.org, and this narrative of Jesus and Peter was the text of the day. I’ve been a Christian my entire life. Been in full-time ministry for decades, and I’d never thought about Jesus’ question so personally. The narrator asked the question to his listeners, to me: “Who do you say Jesus is?”
It took my breath away.
Pause. Reflect. Search your soul: “Who is Jesus to me?”
Who do you say Jesus is?
Jesus is many things to many people. Just ask around. Everybody has an opinion. Some would be clear. Some would be muddy. Some might be heretical. But you? What do you think? When I say, “Jesus Christ,” what comes to your mind? To your heart? An idea? An opinion?
Or is Jesus the Son of the Living God, the One whom you’ve met personally and to whom you’ve given your life?
I’ve done that, but I’ve also drifted. I think that most of the moments in my life are godless. No, I’m not bad person. I just live so much of life with my eyes fixed on other things. In black and white contrast, the writer of Hebrews tells us, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.”
A couple things here stand out to me. First, others have lived the life. We are surrounded by witnesses, that is, all the men and women who’ve made the faith journey before us. They were faithful when their prayers were answered—and when they weren’t.
Second, two things always stand in our way. Between us and God. Between now and our future: the everyday things that hinder us and the spider web of all the stupid and sinful stuff we do to ourselves and others. It’s “everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.”
Jesus himself put it this way, “The worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” Sounds like the Mall of America.
Years ago I heard a Chinese pastor tell a group of American students, “I’ve only been in your country for two weeks, but I’ve found that it’s very hard to be a Christian here.”
What? A Chinese pastor, for whom at that time living for Christ was a daily risk of persecution and imprisonment, told us that it was difficult to be Christian in America?
After pausing for effect, he told us why: “You have so many distractions here.”
So many things to turn our eyes away from Jesus.
Getting use to the blisters
My adorable grandniece just celebrated her sixth birthday. She left a voicemail for her grandma. We laughed till we cried as we listened over and over: “Hi grandma. I got some pretty awesome presents for my birthday. Thank you, grandma, for the shoes you gave me. I love them. I’m getting used to the blisters. Goodbye grandma. Amen.”
It made me think maybe we should end our prayers like that. Instead of saying “amen,” it might be more accurate to say “goodbye.” After all, at the end of every prayer we just get on to other things and often don’t give another thought to God for the rest of the day.
So many distractions. Everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. The worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things. Here’s the only alternative: “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
And the Rock of Ages.
“You are the Christ, the son of the Living God,” declared Peter. “Yes,” said Jesus, “and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
To know Jesus is to receive life—and the power and perspective to live it well and forever. But life is never easy: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
God the Father revealed to Peter the exact identity of his Son. But when Jesus started talking about sacrifice and death, Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Can you imagine?! Rebuking Jesus?!
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Not the Jesus we thought he was
So who do you say Jesus is? Who is Jesus to you? Is he ever someone other than who you thought he was? Has Jesus ever troubled you? Disappointed you? Angered you? Has he ever taken you beyond what you thought about him, believed about him?
He gives us children, but they’re not the kinds of children we asked for. He gives us a job we prayed for, but we didn’t ask for the difficult people we have to work with. He provides a new home but kept silent about the dysfunctional neighbors. He gives us new shoes, but now we have blisters.
In the last book of the Bible, the apostle John wrote, “I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour.”
After rebuking Peter, Jesus turned to his disciples and said, and I paraphrase, “Most of life is pretty much out of your control, and when you face the death of your dreams, or worse, the death of your child, you have to give up on yourself and totally trust God.” Actually, Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”
In dying we find the resurrection life of Jesus.
Who do you say Jesus is? Is he enough? Can you pause for a few moments of prayer and ponder that question?