18 And it happened that while He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him, and He questioned them, saying, “Who do the people say that I am?” 19 They answered and said, “John the Baptist, and others say Elijah; but others, that one of the prophets of old has risen again.” 20 And He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered and said, “The Christ of God.” 21 But He warned them and instructed them not to tell this to anyone, 22 saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day.”
We come across Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus. Perhaps the most significant difference between Luke’s account and Matthew’s is the omission of Christ elevating Peter to a first among equals status. I wonder if it had to do with Luke’s loyalties to Paul, who had the occasional disagreement with Simon Peter.
But the scene is during some down time, Jesus is off praying alone and returns and decides to draw out from the disciples what they really thought of Him. He starts by asking what the general opinion of the crowd was. As in our day, there was a lot of debate over the person of Jesus of Nazareth and who He was and what His life meant.
Some thought He was a resurrected John, or Elijah returned to Earth, or a holy prophet. The Pharisees thought He was a blasphemer, an evil man, and a devil. The Romans (or at least Pilate) would consider Him to be a harmless kook, a desert wanderer talking about heaven and angels and invisible Kingdoms.
But Jesus brings the focus to His closest followers. Who do they think He is?
Peter answers without hesitation that Jesus is the Christ of God. Matthew gives Peter’s confession as “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” which goes a bit beyond Luke’s description here, and that is what elicits Jesus’ statement that flesh and blood did not reveal that to Peter, but the Father.
“Who is Jesus of Nazareth?” is one of the questions we all have to answer.
We have a lot of presuppositions with regards to the answer to that question. It is very easy to try and mold Jesus to your own theology and your own ideas of what God should be like. Genesis tells us that God made man in His own image, and we’ve been returning the favor ever since. Whether it was our distant ancestors carving little blocks of wood into crude human figures and calling them gods or tales of gods who were just as petty, selfish, shallow, and screwed up as men, we’ve been casting God in the likeness we prefer. And I think it continues on to this day in our lives and our churches.
One of the reasons why I started this blog was to force myself to honestly examine, as free from my preconceptions as possible, the life of Jesus. Because I could tell you what my church believed Jesus to be and who my church taught Jesus was, but I didn’t feel as if I knew who He was.
Having been through two and half gospels, I have a better picture.
The Jesus the gospels portray is love. Story after story tells of a Man who spends almost the entirety of His public life on other people. He is not lofty and removed from us, our condition, or our suffering. He is not in an ivory tower or cloistered in a church, He is tending to the sick. He is spending time with the forgotten. He is getting His hands dirty helping the suffering. He is showing the outcasts that God loves them and He is doing it with both His words and His actions.
We focus as Christians a lot on what Jesus did for us through the cross, which is important. The cross represents an end to sin and the culmination of Jesus’ giving away of His life. It is through His death that our death is paid and it is through His resurrection that His life becomes ours.
But there is a lot of text written about what Jesus did before the cross and how He lived. And it is a markedly different lifestyle than what comes natural to us and what is taught in our culture where the focus is always on the Self. Jesus rejected that idea. His call to take up the cross and follow in His footsteps wasn’t an encouragement to martyrdom, but a call to put your Self behind you, to wake up, see the world around you, and truly live by doing what He did: get down there with the suffering and the hungry and those in spiritual need and show that by your words and actions that God loves them.
If we all lived that way, the world would be a far better place.
So, who is Jesus to us?
Someone we can cheer once a week? Someone who makes us feel better about our nation and our politics? Fire insurance?
Or is He our Christ? Is His path the path that we walk or try to walk?
Disciples follow their Master so they can be like Him one day. If we want to claim the name Christian, then we better make sure we know the Man we follow, or the very act of calling ourselves such is to take His name in vain.
So who is Jesus?