Colossians 1:15-20 and Matthew 16:13-20
(Quoted scripture is New International Version)
Jesus had been traveling through the countryside, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, teaching the good news of the love of God. Large crowds were gathering to hear him preach. Still more folks were coming to him seeking healing, physical and spiritual. He had become the person everyone wanted to see and listen to. If you were ill, Jesus was the person you wanted to touch and heal you. He was popular with the people and many followed him from place to place. The religious leaders of that day were also following him, however it was for a different reason; to catch him in something they could condemn Jesus for.
In spite of his apparent popularity, we get a sense that Jesus was troubled about something. He knew that he was not exactly the kind of Messiah the people wanted and expected him to be. The very ones he had been sent to save totally misunderstood his purpose in coming.
That’s not an uncommon occurrence. People see things differently all the time. For example, three people – a minister, an archaeologist, and a cowboy – were getting their first look at the Grand Canyon. The minister exclaimed, “Truly this is one of the glories of God!” The archaeologist commented, “What a wonder of nature this is!” And the cowboy said, “Can you imagine trying to find a lost steer in there?” People see things differently.
The hope of Israel was the Messiah would reestablish the supremacy of Israel among the great nations of the world. The assumption was this would be accomplished as King David had done it; with the forceful overthrow and total destruction of the current ruling powers.
Jesus had to somehow communicate to his disciples that what he was offering was something completely different from what they expected. Jesus’ followers did not and could not understand that to be the Messiah, God had sent him to be, he would have to sacrifice and suffer and, ultimately, die a cruel death.
Jesus invited his disciples to sit with him in a quiet place; and rest and pray with him. (Luke 9:18). Perhaps he came to this secluded place to prepare himself for the difficult days that lay ahead. It would not be long now until he began the final journey to Jerusalem and Calvary and the cross. It was time to ask the questions which would reveal what the disciples understood. Perhaps even a time of self-evaluation for Jesus, a time of wondering if he were accomplishing what he had set out to do.
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others say Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:13-14)
By answering John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-17, Mark 1:1-6, Luke 3:1-17) Elijah (1 Kings 17 – 2 Kings 2), and Jeremiah (the OT book of Jeremiah), the people paid Jesus compliments of the highest order. These three, along with Moses, were highly regarded as prophets of the One True God of Israel. Prophets through whom God communicated with his people. Could Jesus of Nazareth be one of the great prophets reincarnated? He certainly was not another King David, the great warrior of old. Who was this man?
In Colossians 1:15-17, the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Colosse and to us what God has revealed to him about who Jesus is.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
This is one of the strongest declarations about the divine nature of Jesus Christ found anywhere in the Bible. Jesus is not only equal to God, he is God. As the visible image of the invisible God, he is the exact representation of God.
In John 14:9,11 Jesus says to his disciples, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father!—Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me–”
As supreme over all creation, Jesus has all authority. He came from heaven, not the dust of the earth. Even with our amazing human gift of thinking and reasoning, it is hard for us to wrap our mind around this Jesus the Son of God, “For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)
The disciples’ answer to Jesus’ question gave him some idea of what the people think. Now Jesus, gets personal. He asks his disciples, “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)
Jesus wants to know what the disciples believe in their heart. In other words, you have told me what other people think, but I want to know what you think, what you believe. Who do you say that I am?
Throughout the ages various individuals have attempted to answer this question posed by Jesus. Ernest Renan, a French writer, answered it by saying that Jesus was a sentimental idealist. Bruce Barton, an American businessman, said that Jesus was the greatest salesman who ever lived. A musical drama attempted to answer this question by saying that Jesus was a Superstar. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the-German theologian, referred to Jesus as the “man for others.”
The Gospel writers also attempted in their own fashion to answer this most fundamental question. They bestowed upon him numerous titles and claims: Son of David, Son of Man, Son of God, Divine Physician, king, prophet, bridegroom, Light of the world, the door, the vine, high priest, the firstborn of creation, the bright and morning star, and the Alpha and the Omega. All of these were attempts to answer this question posed by Jesus.
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis addressed the inclination of saying nice things about Jesus, but stopping short of calling him God.
Lewis wrote, “I am here trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things that Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. 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 of that patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. Nor did he intend to. *
Martin Luther, the German theologian, wrote: “I care not whether he be Christ, but that he be Christ for you.”
When Jesus asked his disciples “Who do you say that I am?” Peter responded: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:16-17)
From this moment on, Peter’s life would never be the same. His confession of Christ would be the rock on which the Christian church would be built.
One of my favorite morning devotionals is Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling. Sarah writes as if Jesus is speaking directly and personally to the reader each day of the year.
As I use it every year, I find that many days, what Jesus says to me is just what I need.
On July 1, as I was wondering how I was going to be at Camp Michigamme for a week, entertain the Bishop and his wife on Saturday, host them in both churches on Sunday, prepare for the visit of our daughter and family from California, and try to be everything to everybody in both churches, and do that with patience; I opened Jesus Calling to read, Jesus saying to me, “I am Life and Light in Abundance. As you spend time “soaking” in my Presence, you are energized and lightened. Through communing with Me, you transfer your heavy burdens to My strong shoulders. By gazing at Me, you gain My perspective on your life. This time alone with Me is essential for unscrambling your thoughts and smoothing out the day before you.
Be willing to fight for this precious time with Me. Opposition comes in many forms; your own desire to linger in bed; the evil one’s determination to distract you from Me; the pressure of family, friends, and your own inner critic to spend your time more productively. As you grow in your desire to please Me, above all else, you gain strength to resist these opponents. Delight yourself in Me, for I am the deepest Desire of your heart.” **
On August 25, as I was writing this message, I opened Jesus Calling to read, “I am the Eternal I AM; I always have been, and I always will be. In My Presence you experience Love and Light, Peace and Joy. I am intimately involved in all your moments, and I am training you to be aware of Me at all times. Your assignment is to collaborate with Me in this training process.
I have taken up residence within you; I am central in your inner most being. Your mind goes off in tangents from its’ holy Center, time after time. Do not be alarmed by your inability to remain focused on Me. Simply bring your thoughts gently back to Me each time they wander. The quickest way to redirect your mind to me is to whisper My Name.
There is a wonderful contemporary Christian song Just Say Jesus, by the group 7enth Time Down. The focus line of that song is, “When you don’t know what to say, Just say Jesus.”
Today I have a pop quiz insert in your bulletin. Your answers to these questions will not be another person’s answers. Remember the minister, the archeologists and the cowboy who were looking at the Grand Canyon? Each one had a different perspective on what they were experiencing.
Please, do not take this lightly. God does not want spectators, who just come to church on Sunday because it is the Christian thing to do. God wants each of us to experience our faith each and every day. God came to us in the form of Jesus that we might know Him, and understand how much He loves us.
For me, Jesus is God with skin on. He looked his ‘created in his image’ human beings in the eyes, touched us and offered healing. He taught us that to have faith in Him would not be easy, and the reward for our faith would be eternal life. God with skin on showed us how to love and serve one another, and said, in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Then Jesus proceeded to do just that; lay down his life for you and me.
Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I Am?”
I then ask, ‘Who is Jesus to you personally?’ Search the Bible. Search your heart. Be in prayer and take your time with the answers. Spend time with Jesus, getting to know Him and getting to know yourself and your faith as well.
May the Holy Spirit reveal to each of us the answer to the question Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I Am?”
Pastor Rosemary DeHut
References: *C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, MacMillan, 1943, p. 55-56.
** Sarah Young, Jesus Calling, Thomas Nelson, 2011, p. 103.