“Who do people say that I am” and “Who do you say that I am?” are two questions Jesus asks his disciples.
These extremely important questions are ones each of us need to think about because our answer to them determines whether we are Christians or not.
Jesus displayed the incredible works and power of God, healing and cleansing the sick, causing the blind to see and the deaf to hear, forgiving sin, setting those bound by demons free, multiplying food and feeding huge crowds, raising the dead, showing power over the natural elements, the wind and the waves and teaching about the kingdom of heaven.
Instead of saying he was able to do all these things because he was God, he left it to people to work out who he was for them, and they were understandably confused.
Some said Jesus was John the Baptist. There may have been a physical resemblance as Jesus and John were cousins.
John the Baptist was the first prophet in Israel for 450 years and caused a stir. The whole region went out to listen to John and be baptized by him in the river Jordan. And crowds gathered to listen to Jesus and receive his healing
They both preached a message of repentance and spoke truth to power
John had been beheaded towards the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee for speaking out against the adultery of the reigning couple. Herodias asked for his head for speaking out against Herod Antipas’ adultery with her.
Jesus spoke out against the scribes and Pharisees, the Jewish religious authorities.
No wonder some thought Jesus was a more powerful version of John the Baptist risen from the dead
Some thought Jesus was Elijah. The Old Testament prophesied that Elijah would return before the coming of the Messiah.
Jews at every Passover meal set a place with some wine for Elijah.
They are still looking for Elijah and their Messiah.
Elijah, like Jesus, multiplied food, healed the sick and raised the dead. Furthermore, Elijah didn’t die but was transported into heaven in a whirlwind by a chariot of fire with heavenly horsemen
Some people thought Jesus was one of the prophets who also spoke truth to power.
Many today think Jesus was a brave, good man and they honour him as a prophet sent by God
It is the way most adherents to other religions view him. Moslems honour him as a prophet nearly as important as Muhammed. However, they do not believe he is the only begotten son of God
Jesus definitely existed. As well as the writings within the Bible, there are many more gospels and other writings about Jesus which were not accepted as canon.
The Roman historians of the day, Tacitus and Suetonius mention Jesus along with Josephus, the Jewish historian.
There is more evidence for Jesus having walked this earth than any other human being that lived at that time.
He wasn’t a figment of the gospel writers’ imagination.
Jesus was human. He was born, suffered and died. He was hungry and tired, he loved and wept and needed time alone to recuperate.
Most see Jesus as a good man who did what he could to make the world a better place.
Some see him as a great moral teacher
Many, including Moslems see him as a great healer
But was he more than that?
Jesus asked these questions in Caesarea Philippi on the boundary of the Gentile world. It was a city predominately inhabited by Gentiles known for its idol worship. The main temple of worship was a shrine to the Roman Emperor Caesar, a self styled god.
In this context Jesus asked, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” The title, Son of Man, comes from Daniel 7, where the Ancient of Days (God) gave to the one like a Son of Man “dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.”
Was Jesus saying he was a human or was he saying that God would give him a more lasting Kingdom than Rome?
Jesus asks each of us the same question he asked his followers, “Who do you say that I am?”
Peter’s response to Jesus question was that he was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
The word Messiah is the Hebrew translation of the Greek word Christ which we tend to use as Jesus’ surname. It is a title meaning anointed one
Jesus was more than someone special. He was the prophet, priest and King of David’s line that all Israel were waiting for.
He was anointed by God to be the greatest King Israel had ever known, a King who would make them great in righteousness and power.
Peter believed the shackles of Roman domination would be thrown off for ever and divine power would achieve what no Jewish army could.
Peter also saw that Jesus was the Son of the living God. This would contrast with the lifeless idols that dotted the landscape.
Jesus is the beloved Son of God who is worthy of our worship.
Roman Emperors called themselves Sons of God. Jesus however is the only begotten Son of God who gave life to all creation. In him is life and he continues to give life to all to trust in him. He is the life giver.
Jesus calls us from the false idols of materialism, fame and power to acknowledge him a King of Kings.
Jesus blessed Simon Peter for his confession, saying that his heavenly Father had revealed it to him.
The truth of Christ and people changed through a relationship with the living Lord are the rock upon which Jesus builds his church.
Jesus named Simon as Peter. Although rock was a play on Peter’s name, I don’t believe Jesus was saying that the church would be built on Peter and the future pope bishops who descended from him in Rome as Roman Catholics believe.
The Church is made up of all who trust in Jesus the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. We are called to build God’s church with his help, upon his foundation.
When our lives are built upon the truth, Jesus says, the gates of hell will not prevail against us. Death and demonic powers will not win.
The Church of our day, in this country may appear to be in decline. We may be suffering as a result of COVID, economic downturn and climate change.
However, if we proclaim truth as Peter did and trust in Jesus our rock, the church will not be destroyed. Jesus is all powerful and Jesus wins.
Jesus asks us all, “Who do you say that I am?”
The answer we give is important because it determines how we live our lives.
If Jesus is God, then we have to decide whether to follow him or not. Following him means putting his will before our own and making him King of our lives.
Paul in Romans describes it as presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice (something painful) holy and acceptable to God.
He says that what we do with bodies that are yielded to Christ is our spiritual worship. Loving action along with prayerful worship blesses are heavenly Father.
Jesus says that whatever we bind on earth will be bound in heaven and what we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
What we do here on earth affects what happens in heaven. We cannot separate what is spiritual from how we use our bodies, or earthly behaviour from what is acceptable in heaven. When our lives are built upon the rock, and we do God’s will there is rejoicing in heaven and when we go our own way there is sadness.
Paul says that when we live Christ’s way and our lives are not conformed to this world and its values. We have different values to most people. Jesus transforms us by the renewing of our minds; we will know what God wants us to do.
We will act in humility, with the other members of Christ’s church. Together, each in our different ministries we will make a difference.
If we like Peter know Jesus as our living Lord and have a relationship with him we are blessed.
May he help us to live his risen life so that we and all God’s people might be built together into a Church which reveals who he is to the world. God of glory,
the end of our searching,
help us to lay aside
all that prevents us from seeking your kingdom,
and to give all that we have
to gain the pearl beyond all price,
through our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen