Scripture : Luke 9:18-22
It would be fascinating to go out onto the streets of Kirkcaldy and ask the general public who they think Jesus Christ is. Actually, that has been done in different parts of the UK many times. I looked at a recent survey. Here are the results: 9% I don’t know. 22 % a mythical or fictional character. 29% said a prophet. 17% a normal human being. 21% said God in human form. This tells us that today in 2021 there is a wide variety of views about Jesus. Of course, they cannot all be right. Either Jesus is a real historical person or he is not. Either he is God in human form or he is not.
What if you asked some of your friends the same question – who is Jesus? They might just say, ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t care’ or ‘He was just a good man’ or they might even say, ‘He is the Son of God’. Perhaps we ought to be asking more people this question. It’s certainly a good way to find out where people are at. I would argue that this question is the most important question that we will ever face. Why do I say that?
‘We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.’ (1 John 5:9-12)
In order for us to have eternal life, we must know who Jesus is and entrust ourselves to him. That is why this is the most important question we will ever be asked – our eternal destinies hinge on it. We must not avoid the question; it is too important for that.
Darrel Bock : “There is no greater tragedy or error of judgement in life than to underestimate Jesus. To miss the one who possesses the gift of life is to miss life itself.”
Jesus is asking each one of us listening today: ‘Who do you say that I am?’ The Bible is God speaking directly to us. It’s easy to discuss generally what the popular opinions are regarding Jesus’ identity. But it is more uncomfortable to come to a conclusion ourselves. But we must do so. Jesus begins asking the disciples who ‘people’ say that he is. Jesus is asking about the opinions of the man on the street and the woman on the street – Jo or Josephine Hebrew. But then Jesus personalises things. He says: ‘Who do you say that I am’? This is the question we all must have an answer for.
We want to come to the right conclusion based on evidence. We want to reject those answers that don’t make any sense. C S Lewis understood that when it comes to Jesus, either he is a liar, a lunatic or he is the Lord. That is absolutely true. Either Jesus is bad, mad or God. Why do we say this? It is because Jesus claimed to be able to forgive sin, and claimed that he would die, be raised to life, go back to Heaven, and then come back again to Judge the world. These claims are enormous. Either he was trying to deceive people (a liar) or he was insane (a lunatic) or he was telling the truth and is God.
C S Lewis : “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Jesus: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who is 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.”
1. Who do the people think Jesus is?
Jesus has taken the disciples to a remote place in the highlands – Caesarea Philippi. This stage in his ministry is drawing to an end and Jesus wants them to be prepared for the horrors which lie ahead. In order to be prepared, they must grasp more of his identity and the job he came to do. In verse 18 Jesus asks this remarkable question: ‘Who do the crowds say I am?’ Can you imagine any of us asking this question? Who do the crowds say John Johnstone is? That would be ridiculous. Even the most famous politicians and sports starts would not ask this question. Sure, they might want to know what public opinion is about them, but they wouldn’t ask, who do people say Nicola Sturgeon or Boris Johnson is?
The disciples answer Jesus in verse 19: They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.’ These replies are fascinating. They suggest that most people thought there was something supernatural about Jesus. The people had heard hundreds of teachers in their time, but no one who taught like Jesus. Thinking about all the miracles which were being reported, he has to be some kind of prophet from God! There were so many miracles in the time of Elijah; perhaps he has returned. Here is someone unique. Here is someone who could not easily be fitted into normal categories. In one sense, the people have a high estimation of Jesus, regarding him as a great prophet. But they are wrong. Jesus is far more than a prophet.
So, Jesus had made a huge impact on people. They were talking about him. There were many views about the identity of this untrained, unqualified carpenter from Nazareth, but they were all wrong. Their best guess was that he was a prophet, which is the view of many Muslims today. They are so near and yet so far. For Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. class=”blu”‘Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.’ (1 John 5:12)
The ‘30AD survey’ has been taken, and the disciples relay the answers to Jesus. But Jesus already knows what people are saying about him. Jesus is not asking to obtain information. He is asking in order to help the disciples crystalise their thinking and increase their faith. He is asking because the cross lies ahead, and if the disciples are going to survive, they must understand more about who he is and what his mission involves.
2. Who do the disciples think Jesus is?
Now Jesus asks a far more important question. ‘What about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?’ (verse 20) Peter, as so often is the case, acts as the spokesman. Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”
What a wonderful answer! What a statement of faith this is. Jesus looked like an ordinary human being. He didn’t own his own house, far less a palace. He had no crown or sceptre or political power. And yet, when Peter saw him, he saw with the eyes of faith, and knew that he was the long-awaited Messiah, the hope of Israel and the world.
The Christ or Messiah was the one God’s people had been waiting for from the time of David. He would overthrow Israel’s enemies and establish the Kingdom of God. Jesus is the promised Deliverer and the hope of the world. How Jesus must have relished hearing Peter voice that truth. There were many opinions about Jesus, but the disciples understood the truth about Jesus. What a bold confession of faith Peter makes here. It is the confession we all must make if we are to have eternal life.
Next, we read (verse 21): ‘Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone.’ That might seem strange to us at first. But we must recognise that although the Jews had been waiting for the Messiah for hundreds of years, most misunderstood what his coming would mean, thinking mainly in political terms rather than spiritual ones. They looked for the Romans to be thrown out and for Israel to become the dominant force in the world. They had wrong expectations of what the Messiah would do. Knowing this, Jesus keeps his identity hidden at this point, so that he doesn’t incite a political movement from people more interested in material wellbeing than the forgiveness and peace of God.
John’s gospel gives us a useful window into this kind of thinking. Jesus has just fed the 5000 and we read: ‘After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.’ (John 6:14-15)
The disciples also lacked understanding about why Jesus had come to earth. This is exactly why Jesus begins to prepare them for his death by crucifixion, something not on their radar at all.
‘And he said, The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.’ (Verse 22)
Note the word ‘must’ here. This speaks of a divine necessity. There was no other way for God to save sinners like us, unless our sins were paid for by another. It had to take place. The Messiah was the great prophet, priest and king, but the people did not appreciate his priestly role, laying down his life for us. They should have, as the Scriptures speak again and again of the servant of the Lord being the lamb who was slain for us. Either there would be the death of the sinner or of a substitute.
This brings into focus for us how wrong the people were about Jesus and how wrong their own priorities were. They want a king who will bring them earthy comfort and prosperity but what they actually needed was a substitute for their sins. Jesus has come not to give us what we think we need, but what we really need.
3. What do you believe about Jesus?
Who do you believe Jesus to be? I truly hope that none here will underestimate Jesus, thinking of him as merely a prophet or a good man. A good man can do nothing about our moral guilt before God. A good man can do nothing for us when we leave this world and enter the world to come.
Campbell Morgan : “If we ever consent to place Jesus in the company of others, we insult him and degrade him. The Christ of God is out of the realm of comparison with all others. The Prophet bringing the final revelation; the Priest providing perfect redemption; the King, ruling absolutely.”
So, who do you believe Jesus to be? We need to be ready with an answer, as what we believe makes all the difference in the world. One day, we will all stand before God on our own, and it won’t matter then what other people thought of Jesus. All that will ultimately matter is how you responded to Jesus when you heard about him. Did you reject him, saying he was a myth or just a good man? Or did you accept him as the Messiah, the Saviour, and as your Saviour?
‘Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.’ (1 John 5:12)
I urge you all to confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead. He is no liar. He is no lunatic. Just read the gospels. He IS the Lord. And as Lord he demands our allegiance and worship and trust and love.