Who Do You Say I Am

 

By Pastor Michael Cofer
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 16:13-20

 

We live in a celebrity obsessed culture.  People want to know what actors and athletes, models and musicians, and internet celebrities are really like. Whether it’s an autobiography, a Charlie Rose interview, Twitter, or TMZ, people are fascinated with finding the “real person” behind the celebrity. 

Some are complex, interesting people with colorful lives and thoughtful perspectives.  Others are… less so.  Even so, it’s almost always true that the public persona is only a sliver of who the person really is – or in some cases, it’s a mask to hide who the real person is. 

One of the most compelling questions of our day is, “Who was Jesus of Nazareth?” He was an extraordinarily public person.  But even his public face seemed enigmatic to many.  Even with a wealth of historical evidence and eyewitness reports, there’s a pretty broad spectrum of answers out there. 

Some people think of him as a moral teacher whose highest aim was to teach tolerance and respect.  Others think of him as a fiery preacher who eviscerated the unrighteous with his words.  Still others see Jesus as a gentle friend, who lived a life of love and compassion. 

He’s been called a holy man, a champion for social justice, a feminist, and anti-feminist, a republican, a democrat, a mystic, a fraud, a fairy tale. 

Surely, all of these things can’t be true.  But why are the opinions so varied?  A couple times a year, Time magazine and the History channel and a few other outlets will do pieces on discovering the “real historical” Jesus.  And even these will never reach a definitive consensus. 

The reason is: everybody wants to claim Jesus for his own.  See what you will, He was a remarkable guy.  He singlehandedly changed the world.  His teachings are incomparably wise.  And His name will provoke strong reactions wherever it is spoken. 

So, most of the time, people will bend Jesus to fit their values.  Because if Jesus endorses you, then you must be right. 

The problem with answering the question of who Jesus was isn’t because he lived so long ago.  2000 years ago Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”  There wasn’t much agreement back then either, “John the Baptist… Elijah… Jeremiah… some other prophet.” 

I mean, it’s true that Jesus is a complex guy.  He is a teacher, a prophet, a healer.  He spends his time with the outcasts and the dregs, but he is morally upright and with uncompromising values.  He’s hard as stone at times, and gentle as a lamb at others. 

And, I don’t think it matters how many historians and documentarians try to tackle the question of who Jesus was; I don’t think you’ll ever be able to answer that question if you don’t know him personally.  And for that, God has to reveal Him to you. 

As long as we’re trying to answer “who was Jesus,” we’ve lost a significant part of the answer.  Jesus isn’t long gone.  John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, and for that matter Buddha, Mohammed, Ghandi, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander the Great… they’re all gone.  You can’t befriend them.  You can’t talk with them.  All you can do is put together the evidence they left behind and make your best guesses. 

But Jesus is alive and He is present.  He’s here today.  He’s with you until the end of the age.  Rather than asking who was Jesus, we need to ask who is Jesus. 

Peter, standing before the man himself, answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  You are the one all of humanity has waited for since Adam and Eve.   The one who ends the curse of sin, suffering, and death. The one whose reign will restore this entire universe to eternal glory.  You are the Son of God… and not just any god, but the one true Living God.  The God of Life, the God who is Life, the God who is alive. 

Not a homeless teacher.  Not a misunderstood holy man.  Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  But even so, He isn’t far off and aloof.  The Son of God is also the Son of Man.  He isn’t far off and foreign.  He is close to us.  He became one of us.  All of the majesty and power of Almighty God, but he stoops down to bless little children, sits at the dinner table with sinners, and embraces the leper.  He is so humble that He lays down his own life, to save ours.  So powerful that he bursts out of the grave, never to die again. 

That’s our confession.  That’s who our lips say Jesus is.  But what about our lives?  Are we shy or ashamed of this Jesus?  Is He a private thought in our minds, or have we introduced our friends and neighbors to Him?  Has the Son of the Living God made us bold or are we yet timid?  Are we patient, forgiving, and humble in His presence or are we proud and self-righteous? 

See, Jesus is who He is.  It doesn’t matter who people say He is; He’s not changing.  Once we accept that we can’t change who He is, then we’re ready for what comes next.  “Jesus, who do you say I am?” 

Notice that immediately after Simon confessed Jesus, Jesus told Simon who he would be.  “You are Peter… because you have the foundation of my church.  It is built on who I am, and your name will be a constant reminder of this moment and this confession.  When people ask who you are, you aren’t going to say ‘I’m Jonah’s son.’ You’re going to say, ‘I belong to the rock.’” 

See, when I look at Simon Peter, I don’t think rock.  I think terrier.  I think firecracker.  I think impulsive.  I think about a guy walking on water for a second, then sinking beneath the waves.  I think about a guy saying, “I will never deny you,” and then fearfully denying Jesus 3 times.  The only thing apparently rock-like in Peter is a thick skull. 

But it doesn’t matter who I say Peter is.  What matters is who Jesus says he is.  Because when God speaks, things become true.  The same Word that made the universe spoke over Simon, “You are Peter.”  And that is exactly what he became – a steadfast witness to the world of Who Jesus Is. 

What about you.  Who does Jesus say you are?  He’s seen your mistakes.  He knows your failings and weaknesses. Nothing is lost on Him.  But He calls you friend.  He calls you brother or sister – adopted children of the same Living God.  He calls you holy.  He calls you loved.  He calls you priceless. 

When He looks at you, He doesn’t see a failure or a mistake.  He sees an irreplaceable part of His family.  He sees a person uniquely equipped to glorify God with your life.  He sees what God has made you to be. 

And He calls you blessed. 

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