Jesus asks his disciples “Who do you say that I am?”
In the passage we have just read Peter declares “You are the Messiah, the son of the Living God”.
The question of Jesus’ identity is at the centre of history and of politics even today. It is the central question of Christianity. It is the central theological disagreement between Christianity on the one hand and Islam and Judaism on the other.
When Jesus asks the disciples who people say that he is they reply “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets”. Many people have the same view today. This is not really very different from how Muslims perceive Jesus. The Quran describes Jesus as a prophet, but not as the son of God.
In a way it’s the same thing that many agnostics and atheists say. Most accept that Jesus existed – it’s difficult not to, given the supporting evidence, even from non-Christian sources, such as Josephus, Tacitus and Suetonius. However, if they express a view at all on Jesus they may say ‘he was a great moral teacher” but not the son of God.
Who do you say that Jesus is?
When Peter declares “You are the Messiah, the son of the Living God” Jesus replies “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church”.
Flesh and blood does not reveal who Jesus is to us. Philosophers, prophets and wise men and even theologians and clergymen like me cannot reveal who Jesus is to us in a way that we can just accept – it is only God who can reveal who Jesus is to us, so that our lives are changed.
Only when He opens our eyes that we can see.
Only when He speaks that the penny drops.
Only then can we understand that Jesus’ life is the fulcrum on which the history of the world turns.
The most important event in history.
The most important fact in creation.
The most important fact in the story of our lives now and hereafter.
We need to ask him to open our eyes, and he will, if, we do so sincerely.
You see it’s very easy to lose the significance of things in religious jargon. Who do you say that the Son of Man is? We may say ‘Jesus Christ’ ‘the Messiah’ ‘the Son of God’ because these are the expressions that we have learned from childhood.
But do they mean anything to us?
Because if they really mean that Jesus is the physical incarnation of the Creator of the universe, then what this man said and did are the keys to our whole existence, the reason we are here – the destination towards which we are headed and the whole point of it all. Then this is not a Sunday only, let’s take communion and say a few prayers, sort of confession.
This is colossally important.
But God needs to open our eyes to see this.
We need to ask him to do so for us.
And when He does open our eyes, when He does speak to us, in our hearts, then everything is different and our lives our changed.
Indeed, we not only say with our mouths that he is God, but our lives speak of his Lordship also.
In everything that we do, in everything that we say, and in everything that we think.
When we, his followers, behave in this way it is clear that it is on the rock of this confession of his identity, that Jesus can build his church – as he did with Peter and as he can do with us.
But let’s face it; this is not the way that many people in Britain think today; not even every church goer. Many of our friends and neighbours barely think of Jesus from week to week and would rather not mention his name, let alone rely on him and his teaching to guide their lives. You see many of our friends and neighbours are happy to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but do not accept his claim to be God.
But as CS Lewis put it in his book Mere Christianity, there are only three logical possibilities:
“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell”.
Either he is mad – deluded into believing that he is God – or he is bad – knowing that he is not God but deliberately deceiving people. But neither of these possibilities seem consistent with the person who set out in the Sermon on the Mount in Chapter 5 of Matthew for the first time the best philosophy the world has ever known; including the devastatingly challenging and then totally new requirement that we should love our enemies.
The failure to follow that direction is at the centre of the agony of the Middle East, as it has been of so many conflicts throughout history.
So if he is neither Mad; nor Bad; then there is only one logical possibility – that he is God.
As CS Lewis writes: “You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. … Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.”
Who do you say that he is?