Who is Jesus?
Confession of St. Peter
January 18th/19th, 2015
Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI
Who is Jesus? According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, Jesus is “the founder of the Christian religion.” That’s it. That’s all you get. To me, that’s like saying Michael Jordan was a minor league baseball player or Bill Clinton was a famous saxophone player. The statement may be factual, but it misses the point. There is so much more to be said. Almost anyone, Christian or not, has heard of Jesus. Ask almost anyone in America today if they believe in Jesus and they know exactly who you mean. People certainly know of Jesus, but do they know who he is?
The identity of Jesus is the topic of conversation recorded for us in the Gospel reading today. While travelling with his disciples, Jesus poses the question: “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples, probably recognizing that this is a rhetorical question designed to teach them something, answer with what appear to be the popular theories of the day. Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah. But when Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter’s answer is the right one. The simple truth is that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Word become flesh, the one who came into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. But this simple truth isn’t really so simple to see. Sin has blinded the world to the truth. Many have missed the point of who Jesus really is.
So, who is Jesus? The answers vary among those outside the Church. Some will tell you that Jesus was a prophet of God, a remarkable teacher who demonstrated how to live a moral life. They are willing to give some respect to the teachings of Jesus, or at least those teachings that they are comfortable with, but they don’t believe any of that nonsense about those so-called miracles, and definitely nothing about resurrection. They’re willing to admit that some of the things Jesus taught are ok; they tend to take those and leave the rest of the Scriptures behind. Others will tell you that Jesus was a man whose name was abused by his followers, that his memory was manipulated by a corrupt organization known as the church to force millions of people into submissive obedience. There are some who claim that Jesus was a man whose legacy has been perverted by those who are supposed to be his followers.
These sad statements are unfortunately common coming from the voices outside the Church. But we Christians know better, right? We Christians know better because we know what is in the Bible. We Christians know better because we know the story, right? But then again, look at the disciples. Not only did they know the story, they lived the story. Yet somehow even they got Jesus wrong. When Jesus began to teach them plainly that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again, Peter’s response was to rebuke him! Peter actually rebuked Jesus and told him that he was wrong! Can you imagine the nerve? The arrogance? Who would actually think so much of themselves and their own understanding that they would take Jesus aside and rebuke him? Certainly we would never be guilty of such pride! Certainly we know that Jesus came into this world to suffer and die. Certainly we understand who Jesus is!
And if you believe that, I’ve got some ocean front property in Arizona to sell you. The truth is, even with all the facts, we still miss the point of Jesus even today. Who do Christians say that Jesus is? In some cases, our answers don’t really sound all that different from non-Christians’. How often do we hear that Jesus is the ultimate example, clinging so ardently to the teachings of Jesus that we miss what he actually accomplished as a person? It seems to be everywhere you look in the Christian book store. Jesus has been turned into a moral magic eight-ball, just shake him up and ask yourself: What Would Jesus Do? Jesus has been perverted into a mere template, a how-to manual, by those closest to him, those who know the facts, by those who should know better. It seems that no one knows who Jesus is anymore.
The sad truth is, if we were one of the disciples in the region of Caesarea Philippi that day, we wouldn’t have understood Jesus any better than Peter. Even in our own lives today, left to ourselves, we can’t know for ourselves who Jesus is. Our sinfulness blinds us, and we don’t recognize Jesus even when he is standing right next to us. Just like Peter, we look at him and proceed tell him how he should act, how he should not go to the cross. Jesus says that any who would follow him must pick up their cross to do so. We brazenly reply “Come down off that cross, Jesus, and show me how to live. Show me how to save myself.” We scold him for not knowing how a Savior should act, and then we proceed to tell Jesus that the way to our salvation is through decisions we make, lifestyle choices we adopt, or other holy works of some sort.
But thanks be to God that Jesus is not swayed by our misunderstandings any more than he was by Peter. He continued on to the cross, completing the purpose for which he came. He offered himself as the perfect sacrifice to cover the sin of the world, and because he has completed that sacrifice, there is no other name under heaven given to humanity by which we can be saved. Today is the day in the Church calendar that we remember the Confession of Peter. It is a day we set aside to remember Peter’s statement that Jesus is the Christ. But it is also a day we remember exactly what it means to be the Christ of God, to remember what he came to do: to free us from the power of the devil.
He has freed us from the power of the devil by freeing us from bondage to sin. The power of the devil is first found in fear and despair. The devil is a master deceiver. He whispers temptations into our ears, planting the seeds of lust and greed and pride that lead to actions of the same. He tempts us to take those hateful thoughts in our hearts and turn them into hateful words. He tempts us to take the pride in our soul and turn it into contempt for the people around us. He tempts us to view the tasks of each day as burden, an unreasonable demand on our precious time and attention rather than seeing the relationships we have with our spouse, children, and family, and friends as gifts from God. He tempts us to act out in sin, and then when we do, he holds that sin before our eyes. He accuses us with it. “You call yourself a Christian?” he asks. “How can you call yourself a Christian and then do terrible things like that?”
But Jesus is the Christ. He has destroyed the power of the devil. Where the devil would hold our sins before our eyes in an effort to drive us to despair, Jesus holds the nail marks in his hands and the spear hole in his side. Where the devil would drown us in despair Jesus reminds us that we have already been drowned in the water of baptism. Where the devil would have us taste the bitterness of our failure to live as God demands, Jesus gives us the taste of our forgiveness in the bread and wine of his altar. In these things we have confidence, for in these things we are given the righteousness of Jesus himself. Jesus has undone the power of the devil because he has taken away the devil’s ability to accuse us in our sin.
But the devil doesn’t just work through fear and despair, he also works through pride. Once he sees that we will not fall victim to his frontal assault against our conscience, he attacks from the rear. He fosters smugness in our hearts as we begin to believe that maybe we have done enough to keep our Heavenly Father happy. He tells us that the most important question we can ask of Jesus is simply, “What would he do if he were in my shoes?” And then he convinces us that whatever answer we arrive at is the one Jesus would have chosen too.
But his goal remains to take our eyes off the cross. Jesus came to destroy the power of the devil, so the question we should be asking is not, “What would Jesus do?” but rather “What has Jesus done for me?” The answer is the cross, an answer that destroys pride and despair alike. It destroys pride because it holds the reality of my sin before my eyes. My sin is real enough and serious enough that God himself had to die to fix what I have broken. But despair is overwhelmed too, for in the death and resurrection of Jesus we have hope – hope for deliverance, hope for resurrection, hope for restoration. That hope is in what Jesus alone has done, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we can be saved.
That is why we take time to remember the Confession of Peter. That is why we pray that the Lord would give us the gift of faith to make it our confession too. For the simple question remains: Who is Jesus? But as the simple question remains, so does the simple answer: He is the Christ. He is the one who came to this earth to suffer on the cross in our place, to be our substitute under the weight of God’s judgment and to pay the debt we ourselves owed.
He is the one who continues to come to us today not merely to give us an example for godly living, but to give us the gift of purity and cleansing through his death. He gives it to us through the proclamation of his Word of forgiveness, when the pastors of his church stand before you and announce unto you that Jesus is the Christ, and that by his command your sin is forgiven. He comes to you in the very body and blood that was given and shed for you all those years ago. He comes to you to strengthen you in the gift of faith unto life everlasting.
That is what the unbelieving world just doesn’t understand. We are not here simply to talk about morality. We are not here simply to pat each other on the back for being good people. We are not here to commiserate about the decline of society or the sinfulness of our culture. We are not here simply to help people realize their full potential by unlocking their hidden power. We are here because Jesus is the Christ, the one who God our Father sent into the world to undo the works of the devil. We are here because this is where the Christ continues to come to us for our forgiveness, life, and salvation. We are here because the gifts given in this place, God’s Word proclaimed in this pulpit, God’s Word joined to bread and win at this altar, can’t be found anywhere else.
That is why we will never give up gathering together around God’s Word, for here is our life and hope. Peter’s Confession is certainly worth remembering, for it is our confession too. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and there is no other name, under heaven, given to men by which we can be saved. May our Lord keep us faithful to this confession unto life everlasting.
In Jesus’ Name,