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Dear Christian friends,
It took a couple of years in the ministry to do so, but I finally found a couple a few years ago that didn’t have a clue who Jesus is. They were not from foreign country and grew up under a pagan god, but both husband and wife said that neither had ever been to a church in their lives. I was stunned. I had a lot of trouble speaking to them. Almost everyone, in my early years in the ministry, had gone to church somewhere along the line, particularly in the middle of the Bible belt. That doesn’t mean they were going to church at the time. In fact, the sad part is that when two people get married and are from different denominations, they often “resolve” the situation by not going anywhere. Now we are seeing the results. The children don’t have any background even though their parents did.
Many, and the number seems to be growing, can’t answer the question that Jesus asked of his disciples “Who Do You Say that I Am? This question demands that 1) We need to answer who Jesus is; 2) We need to answer what Jesus did; 3) We need to answer what Jesus means to us.
Students in the present generation are no different than when I went to school. It is still true that students don’t like tests. Yet tests are necessary. They measure how much students have learned. Jesus seemed to be testing his disciples when he asked the question, “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples gave feedback from what the scuttlebutt they had heard and observed. “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
Aren’t the opinions that people had of Jesus while he lived on this earth interesting? People pointed to the past. Some thought he was John the Baptist who was raised from the dead. John the Baptist had been wildly popular. Most recently he had been martyred because he stood up against King Herod. He was caught in a Monica Lewinsky type scandal. Instead of an intern the scandal involved his own sister in law, the wife of his own brother. While John boldly and relentlessly pointed it out and called on Herod to repent, Herod rather lopped off John the Baptist’s head. Many people thought that God raised John the Baptist from the dead.
Others said he was Elijah. It had been centuries since Elijah walked the face of the earth. He had been taken up into heaven in a fiery chariot. But he was a real I-will-stand-up-for-the-Lord-under-all-circumstances kind of a prophet. In his faithfulness to the Lord he tangled with two of the greatest spiritual losers of all time – the royal couple King Ahab and his wife Queen Jezebel. While he had been taken into heaven alive, there was a prophecy that the people of Israelhad probably misunderstood. The prophet Malachi (400 years before Christ) said, “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.” They thought that Jesus might have been Elijah. This was in reality a prophecy about the Elijah-like John the Baptist who would prepare the world for Jesus.
The point is that people had all kinds of opinions about Jesus…just like today. Many have a pretty high opinion of him – “the Teacher of teachers,” “The Greatest Moralist who has ever lived,” “The One born before his time,” “The Genius,” “The Master.” In my days in college he was “Jesus Christ, Superstar.” A rock opera by that name with some very memorable music went with it.
But what others say about Jesus is not nearly as important as what you say about Jesus. Ezekiel, the Old Testament prophet of God, once wrote “The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.” A relationship with the Lord is individual. Faith is individual. No one goes to heaven on the basis of someone else’s faith. A child doesn’t go to heaven because Mom and Dad believe. A husband doesn’t go to heaven on the basis of his wife’s beliefs. All will be held accountable individually. That’s the point behind what Jesus says, “But what about you? Who do you say that I am?”
Peter answered that question and he answered it spot on. “You are the Christ.” Jesus, you are the Christ, not just a Superstar or genius, or the master teacher. Jesus, you are the Christ.
I know I have said this before that when I was a kid, I always thought that Christ was Jesus’ last name. If you were looking in a phone book for his name you would need to look under Christ as family name and then go down the list – Aaron Christ, Bill Christ, ah there is Jesus Christ. But we know better now. “Christ” is Greek and “Messiah’ is the Hebrew for the same thing – “the Anointed One.” Prophets of the Old Testament were anointed with oil to publicly be a prophet. Jesus came to be our eternal prophet to share with us his Word and promises with all people for all time; Priest were anointed with oil to specify that they could work in the temple to sacrifice animals to atone for sin and intercede for God’s people, Israel. Jesus came to be our priest to be our once for all sacrifice and the one who intercedes for us in before our Father in heaven; Kings were anointed with oil to be the king ofIsrael. Jesus was to the king to rule over heaven and earth now and always. He is the Christ!
He is also the One whom the prophets predicted was coming. He is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. The Christ is God. But at the same time he is the Suffering Savior. “He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquity.” He is Mighty God and yet he suffered. He was Mighty God and yet the Son of man. While doing anything he wanted- the impossible- he also got tired and ate and needed water like all of us.
While he was indeed the Messiah, the one who was to come, as time passed people’s concept of the Messiah changed. It became more selfish; it became more secular. People didn’t consider him as the pierced for transgressions one or the crushed for iniquities one; they saw him more like a political figure instead of Mighty God and their Savior. That too is not unlike today. People don’t warm up to the blood of Jesus saving mankind
I read an editorial recently from a major news magazine written by Lisa Miller. She said that “believers are refocusing their attention away from creeds and practice – to making the activity of faith meaningful in daily life.” I am not against making faith meaningful for our daily life, but listen to where she says the church is going. “Christians are turning away from salvation to giving and helping the poor. Pentecostalism, the fastest-growing brand of religion in the world stresses the gifts of the spirit: healing and speaking in tongues.” She lauds that this “salvation stuff” is being replaced by “doing stuff.” Christianity is getting away from the fundamental, set in stone beliefs like the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and what we believe about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The ‘salvation stuff’ just isn’t that important anymore.
Not important? Let’s let Jesus speak for himself rather than to listen to Lisa Miller. Right after this question that Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” Mark chapter eight continues. “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Look what Jesus had to say about this ‘salvation stuff.’ Did he say it was important? You bet he did. When Peter tried to correct Jesus and tell him to knock off the ‘dying stuff’ – you know the stuff that assures us of salvation – Jesus said, “Get behind me Satan!” That kind of talk is of the Devil.
In the last few weeks we have had three pretty sick people in our congregation. Two had very urgent surgeries. I am not going to tell you things they shared with me, but I can assure you that in the middle of their medical emergencies but I assure you that “salvation stuff,” was and remains pretty important to each of them. When we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, that salvation stuff is what will get us through. That salvation stuff, the stuff that Jesus did brings us assurance and comfort of life and forgiveness.
Now, I want to be very clear on this. I am not saying that the Christian faith is not an either/or but a both/and. It is the salvation stuff and the doing stuff.
When we know who Jesus is, we follow Jesus. That is a kind of a good news/bad news proposition. The good news is that there are all kinds of good things we are blessed with: Forgiveness of sins, the promise of his love for us in all circumstances, the privilege of prayer, the certainty of fellowship with him and his church, life eternal and many more. But there is bad news too. Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”
A radical change takes place in the new life we live as a Christian. He speaks of denying oneself. That means putting aside yourself for the Lord Jesus and for others. Denying oneself means saying ‘no’ to the fleshly pleasures of the sinful self that drives people away from the Lord.
A college student once said to his pastor that he couldn’t go to church. “Pastor, he said, “I live with a four other guys and we like to go out on Saturday night. You know how it is to live with a bunch of guys!” You know that salvation stuff we were talking about a minute ago, he needed it for all the things that he probably did on Saturday night. You know that doing stuff we were talking about a minute ago, he needed to do that too. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Hey, young man, where is Jesus in all this? Deny yourself and follow Jesus.
In the early centuries of the Christian church many faithful confessors died for their faith. The calm fortitude with which the martyrs died amazed people. Especially amazed was a Roman soldier named Adrianus. He once asked one of the Christians that he was guarding and throwing to the lions how they could remain so calm. He heard a quotation that followed some words of the apostle Paul, “We are looking for the blessed treasures of heaven, which eye has not seen, nor ear has heard.” It made such an impression on Adrianus that he by the Spirit’s power embraced Christianity. Finally he too was put to death for following Jesus.
Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” I pray that all of us would unashamedly proudly confess, Jesus, you are my Savior. You are more important to me than anyone or anything. I will follow you no matter where the path will go. I know eventually it leads to heaven.