WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?
"One time when Jesus was off praying by Himself, His disciples nearby, He asked them, 'What are the crowds saying about me, about who I am?' They said, 'John the Baptizer. Others say Elijah. Still others say that one of the prophets from long ago has come back.' He then asked, 'And you -- what are you saying about me? Who am I?' Peter answered, 'The Messiah of God.' Jesus warned them to keep it quiet. They were to tell no one what Peter had said." Luke 9:18-21 (The Message).
Luke said nothing about the circumstances and environment of this event -- it happened at Caesarea Philippi, the "red light" district of Israel -- or Jesus' altercation with Peter because of his misunderstanding of what He, as God's Messiah, had come to do.
Jesus, it seems, wanted His disciples to be clear in their minds about His identity. They needed to distance themselves from the opinion of the people around them because, without the absolute conviction that He was the Messiah, they would not have the strength or perseverance to stay with Him when the going got tough.
The crowds who thronged Jesus were dazzled and enamoured by His personality and His miracles but they still fell short of their understanding of who He was. He was a prophet, yes, even one of the great prophets of history come back from the dead -- that was a possibility -- but not the Messiah. They could not rise to that, especially as their spiritual leaders repudiated His claims and were bent on annihilating Him because He was a threat to them.
It was imperative that His disciples get it. It must have encouraged Him to know that they, probably through discussion among themselves, had at least recognised that He was more than just a prophet. Whatever their understanding of Messiah was, was yet to be revealed. It turns out that they were set on believing that He would deliver them from Roman occupation and restore the glory of David's kingdom and nothing more than that.
Although He repeatedly tried to get them to understand what His messianic role was, it was only after all the horror of His crucifixion and the miracle of His resurrection that they came any closer to understanding that the deliverance of which He spoke was more than political and that God's kingdom was broader than Israel.
It's a great pity that there are large parts of the church today that have just as narrow a concept of who Jesus is as the disciples and the people of Jesus' day had. Many denominations narrow God's kingdom down to their particular theology or way of doing things. Some preachers insist that it's all about "faith and prosperity", while others go so far as to declare categorically that there is no salvation outside the boundaries of their "church". They have removed Him from the throne and put themselves in charge.
But Jesus refuses to fit into anyone's mould or to be anyone's servant. He does not belong to anyone's denomination or subscribe to anyone's theology. His criterion for participation in the kingdom of God is far simpler and less regulatory than that. He said, 'Follow me.' Those who don't do that, immediately disqualify themselves from being His disciples.
As simple as that instruction is, it will take a lifetime to understand and carry out His command. Following Jesus implies watching, listening, learning, practising, falling, getting up, starting again, going on, imitating, obeying, repenting, relearning, over and over again, like an infant learning to become a responsible adult.
Anything less than, or other than that, is just not Christian. As He said, 'If you don't do that, you are disqualified.' It's time for us, who call ourselves believers to get back to the Word of God and stop inventing our own brand of Christianity. The measure I use, which helps me to stay on course, and especially when I see and hear what goes on in the name of Jesus, is to ask the question, "Is that why Jesus came?"
It is the Bible, not popular preachers, that gives us the answer.
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