The Son of God March 17 and 18
Matthew 16: 13-20
Today we continue The Story as we make our way to God’s final act in getting us back to the Garden. You know, we were always meant to enjoy an intimate life with God, but due to our sin, the story God was writing took an unexpected turn. And today we begin to put all the pieces together. We’ve listened and talked about a whole narrative of stories, some we’ve understood, and some we haven’t. And sometimes it’s felt as if we’ve been lost in unnecessary details. But today, this entire story begins to come into focus as we wrestle with a common question, “Just exactly, who is Jesus? “ If you have your Bibles…
Have you ever tried to figure someone out? Like, have you ever wondered if someone really is who she or he says they are? We do this all the time, whether we know it or not. We do it when we date; when we meet our child’s teacher for parent-teacher conferences; or even when we’re sitting in the Wal-Mart parking lot. We like to try to get a handle on people. I used to play this guessing game in college when I’d prepare for my first exam in a new class. I would spend the first couple of weeks trying to “read” the professor and guess how or she would quiz us. You ever do that? I’d try to discern what was important to them in their lessons and hope they would test us in a similar fashion. Sometimes I was spot on, and other times, well, let’s just say I had to play catch-up on my next assignment. We spend time trying to figure out people because we want to know if we can trust them. And whether we know it or not, we do this with Jesus, too.
We don’t know much about Jesus’ childhood, but it seems as if he was fairly normal. He probably helped out with chores around the house, played outside with friends and joined his family for prayer time. Nothing seems to have stuck out about his young life. But boy did that begin to change when he began his public ministry. From the moment he began to teach and preach, Jesus seemed to raise either eyebrows or suspicion, and most everyone had the same question: Who IS this guy? Is this the same guy who grew up just down the road from us? Isn’t that the boy from Nazareth? And over time, opinions began to form. And everyone had them. The powerful had them- and their opinions weren’t flattering. The government had them- and big brother was always watching. Even those closest to him tried to figure him out. I can picture the disciples huddled together after spending a long day with Jesus, asking aloud, “So what do you think?” Is he the one? Is he gonna save the day? Is he the king we’ve been waiting for? But one day, Jesus does something completely unexpected. He turns the tides. And with one question, he moves their conversation from speculation to declaration. In other words, Jesus says, “The time has come for YOU to decide.” Who do you say that I am? You’ve heard enough about me from history, from others, from what you’ve seen…but now I want to know who you say that I am. And that becomes one of the most important questions you and I will ever answer. Exactly who is Jesus?
Throughout history, there has been no shortage of opinions about Jesus (and there’s still no shortage). Some of these opinions paint Jesus in a positive light, while others question the man’s sanity. Even in our Bibles, we see Jesus playing different roles and taking on different characteristics that shape our beliefs. So, who is this man? Well, that’s a question worth considering. And every thoughtful person must wrestle with an answer. So let’s take a look at some of the ways people have talked about Jesus through the years.
Some have answered Jesus’ question in this way: Jesus was a tremendous human being. He’s a good guy. Now, not many people would argue this one. I certainly wouldn’t argue it. Jesus was most definitely a good person who created and lived by “the golden rule.” Other than a few emotionally driven moments when he sort of lost his cool, Jesus was a great model for “do to others you would have them do unto you.” And Jesus didn’t just talk about this idea; he actually lived it. He did the things that everybody should probably be doing anyways. He was a friend of the poor, a dependable advocate for the downtrodden, and he was everybody’s best friend. He’d be the neighbor you’d never have to call the cops on. Jesus was an all-around good guy, a champion of humanitarian causes, who made others around him even better. He’d be a great friend!
Others have said that in addition to being an all-around great person, Jesus was also a great teacher and philosopher. And truly, we really can’t argue this point either. If we were to follow Jesus’ teachings, if we were to truly put them into practice in daily life, I think our world would have less suffering, less poverty, and less war. Love God. Love neighbor. Be humble. Consider others better than yourselves. Those are some great words. But Jesus wasn’t the first teacher to offer this type of counsel. Moses offered it; Solomon wrote an entire book called “Proverbs,” and most of the great prophets voiced similar thoughts. And what’s more? Jesus’ teachings are not all that different from the great teachers and values of other religions. Gandhi speaks similar words. Buddhists lift up similar values. So is Jesus any different than them? Some say yes, some say no. But it’s clear that Jesus was a powerful teacher who inspired others.
Others have basically concluded that Jesus was a great leader and public servant who occasionally did some profound, even miraculous, things. Somehow, in spite of all the outside pressures and voices, Jesus was able to maintain a devotion and conviction to those things that really matter- like people instead of tasks. And on top of that, Jesus seemed to have the type of power that only comes around once in a lifetime. He wasn’t easily distracted from his mission, and he was able to start a revolution with only 12 people. That’s the making of a great leader!
So, those are just some of the ways people think about Jesus. But one thing stands out about all of these conclusions: they all point to the things Jesus does, not who he is! I mean, have you really taken time to consider who Jesus is, because that’s what Jesus asks! And let me tell you, this has the potential to change your life! Throughout his life, Jesus kept dropping hints that he was more than the stuff he does, and more than a good guy, or a great teacher and or a good role model. One of the favorite titles Jesus uses for himself is “Son of Man.” You might recall from our time in the Book of Daniel that the “Son of Man” is a reference to a divine being. Jesus is trying to show us something about himself, something divine. In the Gospel of John, Jesus takes this assertion even further! At least seven different times, Jesus used the words “I AM” to describe himself. I am the Bread of Life. I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. I am the Good Shepherd. Now, that might not mean much to us, but to those who walked with Jesus, this was unthinkable, maybe even blasphemous. Remember the story of Moses and the burning bush? God has just told Moses that he’s supposed to go to Egypt and demand the release of the Israelites. And when Moses asks, “Who should I tell them has sent me?” God replies, “Tell them ‘Yahweh’ has sent you,” which means “I Am.” Jesus wants us to know that he’s more than just a good guy. Jesus wants us to know that He is God. And finally, the light bulb goes off, and a man named Peter, gets it.
I’m sure Peter felt lot of pressure that day. I mean, he was just like any of us, trying to figure out how he was fishing one day and then following Jesus the next. But on this day, something clicked in Peter’s heart. And after his friends give a few typical answers, Peter boldly says, “I’ll tell you who you are, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” You are the One we’ve been waiting for. What a watershed moment. To be honest, I don’t know the steps Peter went through to get to that conclusion. I don’t know how he wrestled internally with all of his questions. But as far as I can tell, something was coming alive in Peter’s heart, something he had never felt before. He was beginning to trust Jesus and he just knew Jesus was somehow changing his life and purpose. And Peter would spend the rest of his life trying to tell others about him.
When I was a junior in college, something was coming alive inside of me. I can’t fully explain it to you. All I call say is that Jesus was becoming real to me in a way I hadn’t known before. I had read about, studied him and tried to obey him, but that year God’s Spirit was prodding me, poking me, wooing me. It was as if Jesus was asking me what I thought about him. Not my parents. Not my pastor. Not my friends. But me. And one night, I got out of bed, got on my knees and said, “You are more than a teacher; more than a good man; more than miracle worker; You are who you say you are. You are the Son of God, and I give my life to you.” And that moment changed the course of the rest of my life.
Today you’re going back into a world that doesn’t know what to do with Jesus. If you’ve paid attention to the news, especially up north at IUP, you’ll know that there are some wild opinions out there. But that’s the world we live in, one with many gods- materialism, atheism, secularism, Mormonism, Buddhism. We might even say that “opinionism” has become a new god. But Jesus doesn’t ask you what they think of him. He asks you what you think of him. Who do you say that I am? The great scholar C.S. Lewis puts it this way: “Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or he was a madman or something worse.” The choice, Lewis says, is yours to make.
Maybe you think all this Jesus talk is kind of crazy. Maybe you find yourself wanting to know more. Maybe you’re not sure what to think about the man. I can’t answer that question for you, but I can tell you what Jesus thinks of you. With everything in my being, I believe Jesus thinks the world of you. And if you think you’ve left him down or failed him, you need to know that he loves you. And he loves you so much that he willingly left behind heaven to get you back to where you were always meant to be. And he did this by offering his life on a cross, facing the fear of death and abandonment and rising again three days later. What does God think about you? Just listen to these beautiful, old words: “For God so loved the world that He sent his only Son, that whosoever might believe in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Amen.