“What are people saying about who the Son of Man is? ”They replied, “Some think he is John the Baptizer, some say Elijah, some Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” He pressed them, “And how about you? Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter said, “You’re the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Mt. 16:14-16 The Message
I love this exchange between Jesus and his disciples. My question is what did it all mean to Peter? Did Peter understand “you are the Christ” differently before the death than after the resurrection? What did Peter's statement mean to the early church and how did they communicate it in their everyday lives? There was some first-century understanding of the implications of Jesus is Lord, the Christ / Messiah. For Jews, the Messiah was to come to free them from their bondage to the Roman oppressors and set up the theocracy of the Kingdom of God. “Jesus is Lord” as the creed of the first Church would have had some political implication - Jesus is Lord and therefore Caesar is not.
Is He a political figure? The Messiah, a teacher of good behavior? A revolutionary? Is He mostly happy or disappointed and angry? Is He a celestial "santa-god" that simply rubber stamps whatever it is we think is ok? Is He the Jesus who would picket dead soldiers funerals? Burn a copy of the Qur’an? Sexually abuses women and children? Is He the Jesus who advocates war and killing to advance his idea of freedom and justice? Which Jesus? Which Jesus are we proclaiming, not only with our mouths but the way in which we live our lives?
This is an important issue for us to work through in our hearts and minds because how we answer this question has a monumental impact on how we live our faith. Here’s are some example:
- I have a friend who had a lot of struggles. She went from church to church looking for relief and deliverance from her inner demons. One particular pastor convinced her that her having sex with him would bring deliverance for her. It didn’t. How about this Jesus? Believe in this one?
- I have some friends who are homosexual, and when I talk to them about Jesus, the only Jesus they have heard of is one who hates them. Do you believe in this Jesus?
- I work with many people who have been crushed under the weight of religious obligation. Charismatic / Evangelical performance, looking for the right formula to get God to bless them - all in Jesus’ name. How about this Jesus?
- I spent some time with a lady from Bosnia whose friends and family were killed by Christians because they wouldn't convert from Islam. This Jesus isn't so attractive to her.
- I work with people who immediately feel condemned with the mention of Jesus' name. For these church-attending believers - Jesus is just looking for an excuse to throw them into hell. How about this Jesus?
- I also know folks who literally tithed themselves into bankruptcy because they were told Jesus would bless their faithfulness, and they too would reap a financial harvest. How about... you get the idea.
From my experience working with many folks inside and outside of the church, when we speak of Jesus as Good News - many aren’t so sure. Is it any wonder then with the mention of Jesus or Christianity that peoples eyes glaze over or it invokes an unfavourable response? Now hear me - I don’t have a problem if people are offended by what Jesus really says or the implications of what He said and did. The reality is, authentic love can be offensive especially to those who are benefiting from self-centredness and abusing power. My point is, often people are rejecting an unhealthy image of Jesus we (or others) present with our words and the way we live out our faith. Let's face it - with the examples above - which of us would want to accept those Jesus'?
It is worth some time for reflection on who it is we believe Jesus to be and why. Personally, this is why I like to read and re-read the gospels. By reading the gospels over and over, I can get a broader picture of the story of Jesus, and this helps me put certain events and sayings in better context. If we tend to focus on apocalyptic sayings of Jesus, this will flavour our thinking, our relationship with Jesus and others. If we look through the gospels looking for rules to keep, this too will affect the way we experience Jesus. By being deliberate to read the gospels, in context I think we get a more rounded, more full picture of who Jesus is.
Jesus said if you have seen me, you have seen the Father (John 14:9) so doesn’t it make sense Jesus is the best picture in all of scripture about the nature of God? In Jesus, we can see the heart of the Father is not to condemn the world, toss people into hell and establish a simple moralistic society. Instead, we see in the incarnation of Jesus, His stories of hope, the miraculous healings, the feeding of the multitudes, His death and resurrection and more, that the Father is interested in reconciliation and restoration of creation to its full stature. This not the posture of an angry God, who wants to vent his rage on His creation because they won’t behave. Rather a loving God who is very angry at the disease of sin that is marring the object of his love.
I think Peter came to understand "you are the Christ" in a much deeper, profound way after Jesus' resurrection. I think this is demonstrated by a Peter, who before the resurrection rushes to cut a guards ear off and denies his dear friend three times; and the Peter who would preach passionately and fearlessly, eventually being martyred for his Christ. Healthy faith is a constant growing and maturing in our relationship with Jesus. In hand with this, is the maturing of our understanding of Jesus as Christ and this shapes our message and our actions. Regardless, with each step - the witness we proclaim by word and deed reveals the heart answer to the question we started with:
So who do you say that He is?
Prayerfully reflect upon:
- Is your Jesus good news for all people or just some people?
- Is your Jesus mostly angry?
- Think of a recent conflict - how did you respond?
- Think about the last conversation you had about Jesus with someone who may not have agreed with you - how did you respond (inwardly as well as outwardly)
- Ask for the Grace to KNOW Jesus as He really is. Join Paul as he prays for the Ephesian 3
“My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.
God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.
Glory to God in the church!
Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
Glory down all the generations!
Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!” - Ephesians 3, The Message