Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Whom Say Ye That I Am?

Life of Christ 81

          We are in a critical stretch in the ministry of Jesus Christ, and the Apostles, along for the ride, have run into a whole bunch of turbulence lately. We have seen recently the rejection of Jesus by His people via the unforgivable sin in Matthew 12. We have seen Jesus shift the concept of the kingdom, and postpone the millennial aspects of it in Matthew 13. We have seen Jesus' second and last rejection by His hometown, Nazareth, also in Matthew 13. We saw Jesus feed the five thousand, and then, in His own turn, reject their shallow and carnal offer to make Him a king in Matthew 14. We have seen the Apostles in the perfect storm of despair in Matthew 14. We have seen many so-called believers abandoning the Bread of Life in John 6. Jesus at this point is basically on the run, avoiding both Judea and Galilee, and spending time outside of Israel in Bethsaida, Syria, the Tetrarchy of Philip, and Decapolis. The Pharisees are after Him. The Sadducees are after Him. The Herodians are after Him. The high priest is after Him. Herod is after Him. John the Baptist just lost his head. To put it mildly, things are not going well.
          In this environment Jesus and the Apostles, who had briefly returned to Galilee at the beginning of Matthew 16, leave again, and head this time for the mountainous region to the north of Galilee around Caesarea Philippi. In this crucible of seeming defeat three earth shaking events will take place over the next week that will set the course for so much of our understanding of Jesus Christ, and that will launch so much of what blesses you and I in the 21st century.
          Jesus, as His ministry shifted that spring, began to spend much more time alone with the Apostles. On this particular trip outside of Galilee they found themselves in a mountainous and beautifully green region. It was largely populated by wealthy Gentiles, and was known as a resort area. Today, the rough equivalent is the Golan Heights, which Israel won from Syria in 1967 during the Six Day War and has occupied ever since.
         Jesus, at some point along the trail, poses a question to the group. 'When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?' (Matthew 16.13). When Jesus first burst on the scene two years prior the only rational explanation the Jewish populace could come up with was that He was a prophet. He was great, perhaps on par with Moses, and He could do miracles, similar to Elijah and Elisha. The Pharisees fought all of this tooth and nail, and had made much progress in convincing the people He was actually a heretical and wicked man, but there still remained many people who thought of Him as a prophet. 'And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias, and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets' (Matthew 16.14).
          He then poses another, more personal, and more important question to the group. 'He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?' (Matthew 16.15). Before we look at the answer we must remind ourselves of the context of those days – defeat, rejection, failure, attack, pressure, exhaustion, doubt, fear, and flight. If there was ever a dangerous time for Jesus to ask His disciples this question it was right now.
          Many of us view God through the lens of our most recent life experiences. If things are going well then God is good. If things are going poorly we question our faith. Jesus purposely chose to test the Apostles' faith at the lowest point so far in their ministry. On one side was a long string of recently disastrous experiences. On the other side was two years worth of hearing Him preach, seeing His miracles, and observing His spotless life. Which side would win out?
          Peter, whom some wag has rightly called the mouth of the Apostles, answers for them. 'And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God' (Matthew 16.16). What a wonderful answer! In it, Peter puts his finger on two different aspects of Jesus, and expresses total and complete faith in Jesus' claims to each.
          Jesus' office was that of Israel's Messiah. This messiah had to fulfill the many Old Testament prophetic predictions regarding His arrival and ministry. He had to have been anointed with the Holy Spirit (Psalm 45.7), the word 'messiah' literally meaning anointed one. He was rightly Israel's king, which we have discussed at some length. He would save His people from their sins (Isaiah 53.5-6).
          Peter is here boldly and openly and unashamedly confessing that he believed that this Galilean carpenter fulfilled all of these roles, and was none other than Israel's long promised and awaited Messiah, the Christ.
          Jesus' nature was as the Son of God. Pharisaic rabbinism, hewing closely to the monotheism commanded in the Torah, rejected any God but Jehovah. What it failed to understand was that there is only one God, but that He is eternally existent in three persons. Jesus, along with claiming to be the Messiah, openly claimed to be God Himself. This is doctrinally orthodox according to how we understand the scriptures, but heretically blasphemous to the mass of the Jewish religious leadership and their public (see Life of Christ 80, The Jews Sought to Kill Him). For Peter to freely and fully confess his belief in this cardinal doctrine, the deity of Jesus Christ, meant he understood and believed, not just the office that Jesus held, of Messiah, but the nature of Who He was – Almighty God come in the flesh (Isaiah 9.6).
          Peter's great confession is the exact same confession that every person on Earth must needs make. Not coincidentally, it stands, at its root, in complete contradistinction to every other major religious system in the world.

          Last Wednesday night at our church I left the main service during prayer meeting, and went to spend some time with the children in their Patch the Pirate Club. I do this every week. I joke around with them a bit, listen to their childish prayer requests, pray with them, and return to the main service. Last week a precious little girl, the child of a Christian mother and a Muslim father, raised her hand to give a request. What she said touched my heart very much. In her childish, lisping voice she said, 'Pastor Brennan, pray that my dad and grandma will understand that Jesus is the Son of God.'
          In all of her simplicity, she has grasped the point that has thus far so tragically eluded her father and grandmother. Yes, they believe that Jesus existed, and that He did miraculous things, but they do not believe He was the Son of God. They swallow the line that the demonic angel fed Muhammad in that Saudi Arabian cave six centuries after Christ. 

O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion:  nor say Of Allah ought but the truth.  Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) A Messenger of Allah, And His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and the Spirit proceeding From Him: so believe In Allah and His Messengers.  Say not "Trinity":  desist: It will be better for you:  For Allah is One God:  Glory to Him:  (Far Exalted is He) above Having a son.  To Him (Allah) Belong all things in the heavens And on earth.

          The most important question you will ever answer in the entirety of your life is the question Jesus posed to His Apostles, 'Whom say ye that I am?'. On the flanks of majestic Mount Hermon Peter gave voice to a faith in Who Jesus said He was.
          Have you?

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