I've been reading John Dear's book, "The Questions of Jesus," and realising how good it is for me to wrestle with Jesus' questions. It's not even all that important to always find the "right" answer since the benefit for me is in wrestling with the questions themselves. Too often when we discover the answer we stop thinking while Jesus' questions are meant to keep us thinking. So for the next while I'm going to wrestle with some of Jesus' questions here. The first question I've been wrestling with is "Who do you really say I am?" a really good question because it forces me to think about who I really believe Jesus is and then I have a decision to make, will I allow that to shape who I am.
Before Jesus asks the disciples who they say he is, he asks them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” There’s a variety of answers, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah, who was one of the most powerful prophets from their past, and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” Prophets were fascinating to the people, seen as different; always calling the people back to God’s way of doing life and leaving status quo behind.
It’s only after Jesus hears from his disciples what other people are saying about him that he asks them, “Who do you say I am?” It’s interesting that this question comes after Jesus first asks who the crowds say who he is. The underlying question is whether I’ll be swayed by what the crowd believes. Jesus asks me the same question, “Who do you say I am?” Think about this question for a moment, “Who do I say Jesus is?” Jesus asks me this question with respect, he wants to hear me identify him and choose him; he wants to know who I really think he is and he puts me on the spot by asking it straight out. I need to spend time with this question.This is the heart of my faith and life, who I say I believe Jesus is and how am I going to respond.
Good old Peter immediately speaks up, “The Christ of God.” I love Peter because like him, my own mouth often runs off before my brain filter kicks in, but this time, it's a good thing. Peter has seen what Jesus has done in giving them power when they were sent out to preach the kingdom of God, Peter saw Jesus take the bread and feed the hungry crowd, and he has no doubt who Jesus is, though he doesn’t necessarily understand what being the Messiah or Christ means. Peter rejects the crowd’s claim of Jesus as a prophet, confessing Jesus as more than just a prophet, accepting, confessing Jesus as the promised Messiah, the one from God. Peter’s words are right, but his understanding of who Jesus is, is influenced by what he wants instead of who Jesus is showing himself to be. Peter wants a king on a throne. As with many people, there’s a lot of self interest in Peter’s confession.
I have to ask myself how my own understanding of who Jesus is influenced by my own wants or society’s picture of who Jesus is? Do I really placed my complete trust in Jesus, following Jesus as closely as I can or do I follow at a distance, waiting to see if the direction Jesus is taking me is the one I want to go in? Jesus lets the disciples in on what it means that he’s the Messiah Peter confesses him to be. I know I have to keep going back to the Bible to keep my image of Jesus in line with what God says and not who I want Jesus to be.
It’s not enough to simply confess Jesus as Messiah. Even the demons confess that Jesus is the Messiah. Luke shares the story of the man possessed by an evil spirit that Jesus meets in the synagogue. When the spirit sees Jesus it cries out, “Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” I can say the words, “You are God’s Messiah,” believe it and still not be a follower of Jesus just like the demons. This is harsh, but truth. Jesus doesn’t promise changed circumstances in my life as a reward for confessing him as Messiah and following him, instead Jesus asks me, “Who do you say I am,” and then warns me that following him is going to be costly and even painful.
Jesus warns that the cost of following him is high. Suffering and sacrifice doesn’t just happen because God wants me to suffer, it comes because I start to live counter-culturally and my values, morals and priorities change and come into line with Jesus'. It's about becoming less self-centred and more Jesus-centred; opening my eyes to what is going on around me and taking seriously who Jesus tells me I need to be then and there, and sharing respectfully with others who Jesus is, what he expects, and why.