by Pastor Bob Miller
As a congregation, we started a journey through Matthew’s Gospel, and we had traveled as far as chapter 16 before taking a break over the summer months. If you will remember Matthew is writing to convince his readers that Jesus is the Kingly Messiah and that He is worthy of our worship as our Lord and King. Now, we return to Matthew’s gospel where we had left off at 16:13.
The disciples have been with Jesus for nearly three years. They have had the front row seats at all of his amazing sermons. They have witnessed His miracles. They have participated in sharing in His ministry. They were with Jesus when He fed the 5000, and then the 4000, with a few small fish and loaves. They heard the criticisms leveled at Him by the Pharisees and had seen the crowds when they wanted to crown Him king.
They could tell you all about Jesus, and yet they still hadn’t grasped the mystery of who He was! There was so much more they had to learn. As we read Matthew’s account of what was taking place, it’s as if we are getting a first-hand view of one of those "ah-ha" moments of inspiration when you see Jesus in a brand new light. When that moment comes, you tend to stand in awe, and wonder, “How did I miss that for so long?” It’s an amazing mystery. The longer we know Jesus, the greater He becomes!
In verse 13, Jesus goes into a region known as Caesarea Philippi. It is a sparsely populated area, away from the crowds. Here Jesus is able to take a break from His public ministry to spend some quality time with his disciples. He was about to enter into a new phase of His ministry. They would be headed for Jerusalem, and the cross awaited Him. He needed to prepare their hearts and minds for what was going to happen.
Jesus is saving the question He genuinely wants to ask them. But first He asks this question, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" What’s the chatter? Jesus wants to know what they’ve heard, what they think. Is there anyone He can count on who believes in Him? Is there anyone out there who gets it? Is there anyone that He can rely on to stick with Him when the going gets tough?
And so Jesus asks this preliminary question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The opinions are flying.
In chapter 12, the Pharisees and religious leaders were of the opinion that he was in league with Satan, that Jesus was in cahoots with Beelzebub, the prince of demons. When Jesus went to his hometown at the end of chapter 12, all they saw was an illegitimate child that had nothing to offer. Jesus’ own family thought he was off his rocker. As Matthew 14 opens, King Herod thought that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead. So many opinions about who He was. Not so different today: some say a good man, a higher power of their choosing; a prophet, a saint, a great teacher.
In verse 14, Jesus’ disciples give Him the news of what they have heard from the crowds: Some say John the Baptist, a forerunner to the Messiah. Others say Elijah, Israel’s greatest prophet who’d been taken into the clouds on a chariot. Others thought Jeremiah. The tradition was that Jeremiah had hidden the Ark of the Covenant and would come back to return it to Jerusalem. Could Jesus be him? Everyone had their opinions.
And these are not shabby answers. Jesus is right up there with the best of the best! It would be like a preacher being compared to Billy Graham, or a golfer compared to Tiger Woods, or a basketball player to Michael Jordon, or a pop star being compared to Elvis or Madonna. They are so popular all you have to say is their first name, and you know who you were talking about and what they are doing!
But the fact was, they still hadn’t gotten it! Who Jesus was remained a mystery. And because they hadn’t grasped the true nature of who Jesus was, their commitment was superficial and fickle. Their involvement was self-centered and mostly dependent upon Him meeting their needs, filling their stomachs, and entertaining them! No doubt, Jesus was gifted and even touched by God, but to follow Him all the way to a cross? No, they didn’t fully grasp the mystery of who He was. They didn’t understand His mission.
As we have been following Matthew’s line of thought from chapter to chapter, he has been painting for us a beautiful scenario. Jesus could be none other than the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior but no one got it. It remained a mystery! No one out there saw it, but what about these 12 apostles? What would they have to say? What would the insiders say? What would the Church people say? This is what Jesus wanted to know. His mission depended upon them to carry on after He was gone! What would they say?
And so Jesus asked them the primary question, "Who do you say that I am?”
And Simon Peter answered for all of them, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”
Jesus must have thought, "Yes! He gets it!" What a great confession. Peter comes through!
Let's take a closer look at verse 15. “But what about you? Who do you say I am?”
There are several things about this question. First, it is a personal question. The question is stated like this, "but who do you say that I am?” In the New International Version, the question begins, "But what about you?" “You” stands as a word by itself and then it shows up again. But the emphasis, while being asked to all those present, is a personal question. It demands an answer from each one. It maintains an individual focus. Salvation is that way. It is a personal matter. Your parents, can’t answer for you. Your pastor can’t answer for you. You answer for YOU! But what do you think?
Others may have their own ideas, but who do you think I am?
A personal question requires a personal answer. And note this. It has a particular focus on a person, the Person of Jesus. Who do you think “I am?”
We can so often get side-tracked when talking about Christianity, about what you believe about the 2nd Coming; or about Baptism and Spiritual gifts, and we forget about what ultimately matters! It is your personal opinion about the person of Christ! Jesus is the central issue! What you do with Him is what manners most.
The question is, “But who do you say that I am?” It is a present tense question. It demanded a present tense answer. What do I think of Jesus right now? These guys had already left their boats and their jobs to follow Jesus. But what mattered was their answer right then. What you intend to do in the future won’t carry you through today. It is what we think right now. It is up-to-date faith that finally matters.
That is what is going on between Jesus and his disciples. He has brought them to this point where their backs are up against the wall. He knows they have the details but knowing the facts isn’t enough! They must come to grips with WHO HE IS and what He is going to be in their life!
It is an individual confession they will make. As Jesus asks this question, it is as if He is looking at them eyeball to eyeball, person to person.
He is still doing that today. It is one of those questions we each must answer for ourselves. But what about you? What do you think? Have you put it all together yet?
Jesus, when He responded to Peter’s inspired confession, said, "Blessed are you. For this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”
With the help of the Holy Spirit, Peter put it together. Jesus is the Messiah! He is worthy of his all and all! Peter came to a place where he internalized it and made it his own. He’d known the facts but somehow faced with the question, he made his reply. Peter confessed Jesus to be his Lord, his Christ, and his Messiah.
Peter made the answer His very own. I don’t care what others are saying. As for me, You are my Lord, my Savior, and my God! I don’t know it all. We’ve journeyed together thus far. But right now, You’re my Lord!
Jesus wasn’t asking this question evangelistically. He was asking it of his insiders, "Today, who am I? Has anything replaced me as Lord? Are you focused on Who I Am and what I can do? Does My Mission have priority in your life?"