Monday, February 10, 2014

Mark's thoughts: Jesus Christ asks, "Who you say that I am?"

We hear about the first confession of Jesus Christ in Matthew chapter 16.  There we read:
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.” 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 16:13-17 ESV).
Jesus began by asking what people were saying about him.  The answers that were given had all described Jesus as some kind of prophetic figure: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.  Then Jesus followed up with a different question as He asked, “But who do you say that I am?” The fact that Jesus asked in this way indicated that these answers weren’t correct.  

Jesus’ second question shifted the focus.  In an emphatic way (text uses the pronoun “you” and places it first for emphasis;Ὑμεῖς δὲ τίνα με λέγετε εἶναι) he directly addressed the disciples with the question about who he was.  Peter replied that Jesus was Christ, the Son of the living God.  Jesus’ response immediately affirmed that this was the correct answer.  Then our Lord went on to comment about how Peter had been able to confess this.  The credit didn’t go to Peter or any other person.  Instead, it was the Father who had revealed it to him.

In this brief text we learn three crucial truths about the confession of Jesus Christ.  The first thing is that confession is prompted by Jesus Christ and his word.  Jesus addresses the question to the disciples: “Who do you say that I am?”  This is the same question that Christ continues to address to every person through the proclamation of the Gospel. The question about Jesus is one that God the Father continues to address to every person through the Scriptures. It is a question that cannot be avoided.  Instead it demands a clear and unambiguous answer.

The second truth is that there is a correct answer about who Jesus is and there are incorrect answers.  This is not a popular way to speak in our world today, where everything is a matter of “my perspective” and “your perspective.”  Like the answers listed by the disciples, people in our day continue to describe Jesus as a prophet.  That is the answer to the question provided by Islam.  There are those who describe Jesus as a wise man and an inspiring teacher.  Yet every answer like this is wrong.   They are wrong because they fail to confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  They fail to confess that Jesus is God.

The third truth is that this is not a confession that people can make on their own.  Instead, it is something that God must reveal through the work of his Spirit.  Martin Luther described this in the Small Catechism when he wrote in the explanation of the Third Article of the Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”

The recognition of these truths guides the way we talk about Jesus.  When we speak about Jesus to others, we will encounter wrong answers to the question of who Jesus is.  It is to be expected.  It is not however to be accepted without comment.  Instead, in a winsome way we need to say that this is the correct answer: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

When we do this, we can know that it is Jesus who is confronting the person and demanding an answer.  It is God the Father who confronts them with the truth.  In their fallen sinfulness they may reject this truth.  But when they do so they stand condemned before God.  John wrote about this:

If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave 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   ESV)

Finally, we know that even as God confronts the person through his word, it is God alone who can create faith in Jesus Christ.  It is only God through his Spirit who can enable a person to confess in faith, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”  And therefore we have only one job. We are to bear witness to Jesus. We are to speak the word about Christ in the confidence that it is Christ who confronts the person through that word. In the mystery of God’s own working, he works faith where and when it pleases him even as people are able to reject Him.  The how and the why is not for us to understand or even worry about.  Our job is simply to speak in the confidence that no matter what the outcome appears to be, God is at work through his word.

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