First Mennonite Church
October 28, 2018
“And He Is . . . .”
Here is a sample of today’s response to the question Jesus made to his disciples, who to people say that I am?
“I have always heard the name Jesus so I’ve never really had a Jesus-is-my-Savior epiphany. However, I’ve always been taught that he died on the cross for my sins (whatever that means). Personally, I’ve always thought of Jesus as a close friend who I can’t see who watches over me but it’s sometimes hard for me to make that distinction between Jesus and God.” – Maggie
“Oftentimes we depict Jesus in the manger and we don’t take Jesus out of the manger. But Jesus is a person of action, caring and love. He makes demands on us to be faithful, to be caring. He comes by without condemning but standing alongside of and affirming the dignity of every person. He says to us, ‘You are my body, you are my child and I love you no matter what.’ That’s the Jesus that I serve. That’s the Jesus that has become real to me in so many ways. Jesus was a man of action. He didn’t just spend His time in prayer. He spent His time among the people, working among the people.” John
There are others who see Jesus with contempt. Someone wrote: Jesus’ divinity is a convenient absurdity for those who believe in him. Another person wrote: I only use the name of Jesus when I want to curse. Yet, another wrote: The story of Jesus is fascinating, so much so that even after 2000 years it is still. But reality is, no one knows if Jesus was an historical figure or not.”
I am sure each of you, too, have heard what people say about Jesus.
Jesus was in Caesarea Philippi. This city had a rich history. Originally it was the center for the worship of Baal and after that, to the god Pan of the Greeks. Later when Herod the Great built a temple to Caesar Augustus the city’s name was changed. But it was Philip, the son of Herod the Great who gave the name Caesarea Philippi in honor of the Roman Caesar Tiberius and of himself.
It seems as if Jesus took the opportunity of being away from his main turf of ministry to find out what people thought about him. He asked the disciple, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
And the answer the disciples gave showed people were all over the place about Jesus’ identity. They all got it wrong. All those mentioned were dead men of God. John the Baptist was first in the list. This response evokes a deep the conviction some people might have had about John the Baptizer. If you remember Jesus had said earlier, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” (Matthew 13:11) Those who thought John had come back to life in the person of Jesus could not envision anything greater than who John the Baptist was. They believed no one will ever out-do God’s presence and power as revealed in John. The names of Elijah and Jeremiah came out as possible reincarnations in the person of Jesus. Yet, others simply concluded Jesus might be one of the prophets of old.
Confusion about who Jesus is continues even today. The other day I was talking with a gentleman and when I offered to pray for his family situation he had told me about, he said that he is not a believer of a higher power or being. He said, “Religion and God are matters only of the head. I am not superstitious. I know Jesus was a good guy and that’s it. We need to do good.” I, nonetheless, offered to pray for his family situation and encouraged him to continue taking time to be with his children.
After Jesus heard what others say he was, he pointedly made the question to his disciples: “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” The question may have taken the 12 disciples by surprise. After a moment of silence, possibly, Peter, on behalf of all the 12, gave a response. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” We should be mindful that Peter’s confession was not based on that moment’s divine revelation. Nor was it a revelation given only to Peter. All the 12 disciples had come to that knowledge of who Jesus was. In Matthew 13, verse 33, those who were in the stormy sea and who saw Jesus quieting the storm also confessed, “Truly you are the Son of God.” In that regard, Peter’s words reflected the conviction of the whole group of disciples. They all had come to believe Jesus was indeed the Messiah and the Son of the Living God. They had witnessed a greater power operating in Jesus than there had been in John the Baptist. They had been told that the signs Jesus had performed were things even the prophet had wanted to see but could not. They had been told that the righteous men and women of the past had longed to hear the teaching they heard Jesus give. (Mathew 13:17) The 12 disciples were convinced Jesus was the Messiah as promised by the Lord God. They were fully convinced that Jesus was the Son of the living God as attested by the voice from heaven. But most of all, the disciples’ conviction about the identity of Jesus was demonstrated by their commitment to follow Jesus every day and everywhere he went. Even though, that does not mean the disciples understood everything Jesus said.
The question is set before each of us today. Who do we say Jesus is? Who do you say Jesus is? It is not difficult to answer this question in theory, theologically, or confessionally. It is not difficult to say what we hear people say Jesus is, a great teacher, a philosopher, a practitioner of charity and so on. Or we can speak theologically. We can say Jesus is the Son of God, God come in human form, or the one who died for our sins. We can even quote scripture passages such as John one verse one: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. Or if we choose, we can simply affirm or quote the confessions of faith that have been articulated throughout church history. We can say that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, the one who was born of the Virgin Mary and who borne human and divine nature at the same time. But if were to explain who is Jesus to a child or a friend who is not familiar with the Bible, what would you say? Will you only repeat what you know in theory, theologically or confessionally? I doubt how much impact those explanations would have in your friends’ heart regardless of how true those explanations would be.
To claim to know Jesus demands evidence in the way we live. Otherwise, any claim of knowing him would only be theorizing about him. John writes, Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. (1John 2:4). Our familiarity with the Gospels reveals a Jesus who loved indiscriminately. And we know him because we also dare to love as he did. The Jesus portrayed in the Gospels reveal a Jesus who grieved when his friend’s brother died or when he saw the distress of a widow lamenting the death of her only living child. Jesus grieved the senseless death of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:13). And that image of a grieving Jesus prompts us to grieve with the grieving. That grieving Jesus for the senseless killing of John the Baptist causes our heart to break when young black men are viewed as dangerous or even killed simply because of the color of their skin. Our heart also grieves for the innocent who are killed in the houses of worship as the 11 worshipers killed yesterday in the Synagogue in PA or those in Charlottesville, NC. We grieve for the babies who do not get to see the light of day due to abortion. The Jesus we see in the Gospels is one who rejected a religion and the religious leaders who humiliated and condemned the woman found committing adultery, even when her act was immoral. Thus we also are disturbed when women and children are being abused and denigrated. The Jesus we find in the New Testament is one who befriended the outcast, the sinner, and the hated Samaritans. And for that reason we too are moved to compassion towards the denigrated aliens, to those considered immoral, and those who have lost human decency. The Jesus we find in the Bible called everyone to resist greed, and said if you have a loaf of bread to give half to the hungry. And we too do not approve the greedy system that subjects many to hunger wages and at the same time we open our heart to the needy. Ultimately, the Jesus we know is the one who conquered hatred even if it meant he had to die on the cross. This Jesus taught us that love is more powerful than hatred. This Jesus clearly demonstrated that power and authority do not consist in the ability to subdue the enemy, but in submitting to the will of God. And for those reason we do not succumb to the temptation of power according to the world, instead we go the humble way of Jesus Christ. For all of those reasons we invite others to know him too, because he has changed our lives and can change the lives of others.
If and when we tell the world of this Jesus according to the gospels through the way we follow him in our daily lives then our testimony will have the power to convince others that indeed we know who Jesus Christ is. I want to tell you that we might stumble along the way, but that does not mean we should give up. Jesus’ character might not always come out from us, but that should not dissuade from persisting in our attempt. Peter stumbled too, but Jesus came to restore him. Peter even denied knowing him, but again Jesus came to reconcile him into his fold. In the end Peter became a bold messenger of Christ Jesus, even to the point of dying for his sake. It is no wonder why Peter would choose to close his last letter with this word of encouragement: But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2Peter 3:18).
Let us make every effort to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As we grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord, our confession of him will become an irrefutable witness that not even the gates of hell will be able to prevail against it.
Let us take time to know Christ, both by reading the Gospels and by imitating his life. By doing these things we will be able to confess, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Amen
 Ibid (John. England)