“Who do you say that I am?” Part 2
by Robby Higginbottom
September 17, 2014
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.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 16:15-17
Last time we looked at Matthew 16 and the two questions Jesus asks his disciples. He starts by asking, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The disciples report back that people think Jesus is a great man of God, a prophet like the famous prophets of old. Then Jesus makes the question more personal: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter makes his bold confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
That is Peter’s answer, but what is yours? I’ve found it helpful to hear how other people have responded to Jesus’ question. Here is a brief sampling from history of how people have thought about Jesus.
• Napoleon, French Emperor. “I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and myself founded empires; but upon what foundation did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded an empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.”
• Roger Garaudy, Communist Philosopher. “I do not know much about this man, but I do know that his whole life conveys this one message: ‘anyone at any moment can start a new future.’”
• Leo Tolstoy, Russian Author. “For thirty-five years of my life I was…[a] nihilist, a man who believed in nothing. Five years ago my faith came to me. I believed in the doctrine of Jesus Christ and my whole life underwent a sudden transformation. Life and death ceased to be evil. Instead of despair, I tasted joy and happiness that death could not take away.”
• H.G. Wells, British Author. “I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.”
• Albert Einstein. “I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene. Jesus is too colossal for the pen of phrase-mongers, however artful…. No man can read the gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life. Theseus and other heroes of his type lack the authentic vitality of Jesus.”
Though very different, these five men share a common belief that there is something unique about Jesus. For 2,000 years, believers and unbelievers have agreed that Jesus is a polarizing figure. When he asks us, “Who do you say that I am?” we really don’t have a lot of options. C.S. Lewis understood this. Listen to what he writes in Mere Christianity:
“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic…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 up with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
What is Lewis saying? Jesus is different from other teachers and philosophers. They say, “Believe this…this is the way to salvation…this is how life works.” Jesus says, “Believe in ME…I AM the way to salvation…I AM life.” If Jesus made it up, he’s not a good teacher. He’s either a liar, or he’s crazy. As you wrestle with who Jesus is, C.S. Lewis is calling you to intellectual integrity. If you don’t believe that he is Lord, you need to explain why you think he’s a liar, or why you think he’s a lunatic. If you ask millions of believers past and present, he doesn’t seem like a liar or a lunatic.
It’s easy to think that we can figure life out on our own. That mindset is pervasive on a college campus. We’re growing up. We’re becoming independent. We’ve got this. Our passage reminds us that, when it comes to answering Jesus’ big question, we actually don’t. Jesus tells Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” Peter didn’t figure it out on his own; the Lord revealed it to him. God’s Word says that the devil “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor 4:4). But God is the one who shines “in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).
The one who asks the question – “Who do you say that I am?” – is the one who reveals the answer. As you wrestle with who Jesus is, I encourage you to pray. Ask the Lord to reveal himself to you. Open his Word and pray that he would speak to you. May the Holy Spirit shine his light in our hearts that we might see (and reflect) that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.