“Who do you say that I am?” Part 1
by Robby Higginbottom
September 11, 2014
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:13-16
“Who am I?” Whether we’re consciously thinking about it or not, we’re always facing this identity question. That’s true for everyone, not just college students. When we meet new people, when we walk into a room, whether life is noisy or quiet, the question is there. “Who am I?”
Social media has made answering the question even more difficult. More than ever, we can broadcast to the world who we are, or at least who we want people to think we are. Look at my Instragram feed and you might conclude: Robby is husband to Ann, father to Will, works at a church, plays guitars. But who am I…really? And who are you?
John Donne famously wrote, “No man is an island.” We can’t live all by ourselves, so we never answer the question in a vacuum. In our teens and 20s we construct an identity through our connection to people, schools, organizations, causes, and careers. We long to be part of something big that gives us meaning and direction. We would love to answer the “Who am I?” question once and for all, but for some reason, that’s hard to do.
In Matthew 16 Jesus flips the question on its head. We walk around asking, “Who am I? What do people think about ME?” But Jesus forces us to consider: Is there an even bigger question than the one that consumes us? All of this happens in Caesarea Philippi, a place full of idols and shrines to other gods. It would be like Jesus taking his disciples to your city or campus, showing them all the things that people are pursuing, and then asking, “Now that you’ve seen all this, who am I compared to all these things?”
Jesus actually asks two questions. The first one is easy. “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” In other words, Jesus asks, “What are other people saying about me?” That’s not too difficult. All we have to do is listen and report. The question doesn’t demand anything of us. It doesn’t change our lives. The disciples tell Jesus that people are comparing him to John the Baptist, Elijah, and other great men of God from the past. That’s a compliment. The statements are true as far as they go, but do they go far enough?
Sadly, many people never get beyond what other people say about Jesus. You know that your mom has a vibrant faith, or your friend really loves Jesus, or your pastor has a close relationship with God. And part of you feels like that’s enough. “At least I know these people! They’ll put in a good word for me.” But Jesus is not content with a second-hand faith, not for his disciples and not for us. He asks the second question: “But who do YOU say that I am?” Now the question is personal. It’s no longer about parroting what others have said; now it’s about searching our hearts and being honest about what’s there…or not. If you’re honest, how are you answering Jesus’ question with your thoughts, your affections, and your life?
Really, the question is unavoidable. We can try to ignore Jesus, but if we do, that’s our answer. We may believe that he is who he says he is. We may not. But we all have to answer this question, and we all are answering this question. The way we answer it will impact every moment of our lives. You’re asking and answering a lot of questions during these college years, but if Jesus is right, no question is more important than the one he asks in Matthew 16 – “Who do you say that I am?” If you haven’t been taking Jesus’ question seriously, I invite you to get this question on the radar.
So why is this question so important? Notice that Jesus doesn’t ask the disciples, “Who are you?” He essentially asks them, “Who am I?” In his choice of question, Jesus reminds us of what the Bible teaches from cover to cover. If we really want to know who we are, we have to figure out who God is. We can’t truly know ourselves unless we know God. “Who is Jesus?” is the bigger question, and the way we answer shapes who we are and who we will become.
In response to Jesus’ question, Peter declares, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” What is he saying? Jesus is more than a great prophet or godly man. He is the long-awaited King, the Messiah, the one who has come to save people from their sins. All the idols of Caesarea Philippi and the college campus are dead, but Jesus is the Son of the living God. For Peter, Jesus is one-of-a-kind, and his identity demands a response. Peter’s confession represents the beginning of any Christian’s journey with Christ.
How are you responding to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” Have you really answered for yourself or are you still attempting to live off the answers of others? Are you dodging the question, assuming that you can figure out who you are without dealing with Jesus? Next time, we’ll take a look at how different people have answered Jesus’ question and why there are really only a few valid answers that we can give.