Audio version read by Cheryl who-do-you-say-that-i-am.mp3
Who do You say That I am?
Jesus asked this question of His closest followers. It was a fair question, as He was an enigma to His own culture like He is to ours. The Jews were expecting a political Messiah who would free them from Roman bondage and restore their national dignity. They were so mistaken about Him that they not only despised Him, but inflicted the most humiliating punishment upon Him they were capable of. The people were recipients of His miraculous healing and meals so they wanted to make Him king. To them He was a welfare program. He debated Scripture with the scholars and they marveled at Him, asking “Who is this guy?” They couldn’t recognize Him because of His lack of proper credentials. He baffled and irritated the religious with authoritative teaching, delighting the common people. His own disciples were often confused by His bewildering answers. Although witnessing countless miracles they didn’t seem to grasp His divinity. To know that He was the Son of the living God required divine revelation. Human interaction and observation were not enough. People filtered Jesus through their agenda, and when He didn’t comply He was dismissed, re-interpreted, or crucified. Don’t we do the same thing today? Yet His influence is so undeniable that historians mark time itself to pre and post Jesus.
We don’t sit on a hillside and listen to him nowadays. We gather in buildings or connect online, read books or listen to our favorite podcasts. Over the years people have both followed Him and used Him. Some sincerely err about His ways. One cannot fault them for that – Jesus’ closest followers were often confused and obtuse. Every follower of Jesus gets it wrong at some point, but the problem is we don’t know when. Others cite His words to promote their own pet doctrines. This is easy because Jesus said so many things that one can isolate parts of His teaching to fit any agenda. And if you are a convincing speaker you can fund it with the backing of ensnared followers. Nothing new here!
Ok – you are probably wanting to throw up your hands in frustration at this point. How can I know? Well, Jesus made it simple when He said ‘to know we must be willing to do’. Oh how we love to intellectualize our spirituality!!Following Him is a journey, an adventure, a call – an uncomfortable commitment. We have to listen first, then do. We have to be willing to be wrong – because we will be – and be corrected. Consider the three years those fortunate men lived in His presence. Think of them actually dispensing miracle food and then hours later worrying about not bringing bread with them in the boat. If there is any lesson to be learned from reading the Gospels, it would be that we must continually be taught the ways of God, and our only hope is to stick close to Jesus.
As confused as the disciples were about Jesus’ teachings, especially the one where He called them to follow Him to the cross (come and die, essentially), they were passionate in their love for Him. They got a lot of things wrong. They left everything to follow Him. They didn’t need all the answers, they just loved listening to Him, talking to Him and serving with Him. When Jesus asked who they thought He was, Peter piped up with an answer that came only by divine revelation. We cannot know Jesus without it (“Unless a man is born from above…”). And the Father delights in revealing his Son to the seeking heart – just for the asking! It has from the beginning been about relationship. Remember God’s very first and very sad question – “Adam, where are you?” It was a revealing question that exposed God’s longing heart.
The mortal error is when we substitute ‘following Him’ with following our convictions, our devotion, our cause, our doctrine, or our political platform. All of these things have a place – but not at our center. Peter replied – Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God. Dead works of our own preference are useless. God’s heart is revealed in Hosea, speaking to a wayward (to put it mildly) people. He announces that He yearns for them them to know Him. “It is true love that I have wanted, not sacrifice; the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6 emphasis mine)
Our pursuit and passion must be for the Man Who is the Way, Who calls us to pick up our own cross and follow Him. Every day. He is more than a ticket into heaven, He is the gateway into living eternally – starting today. His path is our path – which means listening to the Father as He did, waiting on the Father’s will and timing. Even Jesus, the Son of God, asked before He acted. He modeled the command to deny ourselves for the benefit of others, to speak at the proper time with true words, to resist the applause of the crowds, to seek the approval of only One, to live in constant gratitude. Relationship and truth are hand in glove, just like being and doing, faith and works. Separate them at your peril!
So who is Jesus to you? A teacher, a political agitator, a moral ideal, a justice warrior, a savior, a king, a mystery? We can easily relegate Him to a place of honor in our lives without making Him the compass. We can immerse ourselves in doctrine to promote truth, become a humanitarian to promote love and justice, or even an evangelist to save souls. And any of these things can be done without Jesus. Terrifying! He speaks the ominous warning which some unsuspecting souls will (too late) hear: “Depart from me – I never knew you.” ‘What?? But Jesus, I did it for You!!’ Let that sink in! Do I know Him?
Although it seems an unnecessary or annoying question, the contemplation of the answer can be unsettling and awkward. Digging beneath our performance and belief system is uncomfortable, and the dirt has probably been undisturbed for some time. We might react like the guy who hid his talent in fear of his master, or like Adam who hid in shame, or we can openly invite God to search us and reveal our hidden motives, just like David did. Then we can joyfully proclaim:
“… Oh, that we might know the Lord!
Let us press on to know him.”…
“He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn.” Hosea 6
An afternote: I acknowledge the passing of Ravi Zacharias with gratitude for his passion for the truth because it was coupled with compassion for those he shared it with. His thoughts were lofty, his thinking clear, and his influence indelible. His stated goal should be one that church leaders emulate. He wanted to help believers think and thinkers believe. Here is a link to one of his messages.