JESUS IS THE CHRIST
“I Believe in Jesus Christ….”
Matthew 16:13-23, Acts 17:1-4.
Jesus from Nazareth was the most astounding man the world had ever encountered. Twelve men met him by the Sea of Galilee. His impact upon them was so great they quit their jobs, and left their homes and followed him.
And for the next two or three years they followed in amazement. Throughout the four gospels the exclamation marks can be heard.
• “No man ever spoke like this man!”
• “Behold what manner of man is this that even the waves obey him.”
• “No one can do these miracles, except God be with him!” (Nicodemus)
Throughout those days miracles followed in his wake. The dead were raised. The demon possessed found deliverance. The diseased were healed. The guilt ridden were forgiven. The morally bankrupt found courage to begin a new life.
He left the entire nation bewildered by his passage.
• The religious leaders, such as the Scribes and Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians were left in shambles after their arguments with him.
• The Political leaders, such as Herod and Pilate did not know what to do with him. Everywhere he went the world was strangely altered.
The First Question
Pretty soon people began to ask the question. WHO IS THIS MAN?
For some months Jesus had been traveling with his 12 closest disciples. They have crossed over into the Gentile area of Caesarea Philippi. The disciples did not yet know it, but an issue has been coming to a crisis. They sit down for lunch, when Jesus asked them the question, “What are people saying about me?”
All Israel had been debating that question, trying to slot him into a category. There had already been some very negative assessments.
• Some have presumed him to be allied with the Beelzebub, the devil.
• Some have considered him a dangerous heretic leading the crowds astray.
• Some said he was beside himself, suffering delusions of grandeur.
• Others considered him a firebrand who would get the nation into trouble with Roman authorities.
There were, thankfully, other people who thought well of him. The disciples shared some of the more positive assessments.
• “Some say Elijah” – Elijah was the ancient prophet who had escaped death and had been taken away in a Chariot of fire. According to the prophet Malachi he was expected to return at the end of the age. In Jewish tradition Elijah was invisibly present at every Passover and every circumcision. So some thought Jesus might be Elijah returned in the flesh.
• “Some say John the Baptist” – John was the first prophet in centuries to arise in Israel. He had been beheaded by Herod at about the same time that Jesus begun his public ministry. The rumor went out that perhaps Jesus was John the Baptist returned from the dead. That was Herod’s fearful supposition.
• “Some say Jeremiah” – In Jewish tradition Jeremiah was expected to return at the end of the age. They said that Jeremiah had hidden the Ark of the Covenant along with other temple treasures during the Babylon captivity, and that one day he would return to reveal the location of the long lost treasures. (Shades of Indiana Jones & The Raiders of the Lost Ark!)
• Some say, “one of the Prophets” – There had been a long hope that a prophet like Moses would come to lead God’s people out of their troubles, and would again teach the people the ways of God. But many were glad to settle for the return of any prophet, to reveal to them God’s will for the future.
Those were the rumors out there about this unusual man. There was no consensus. Opinions were mixed. You either hated him or admired him. No one was neutral.
The Second Question
But Jesus did not ask the question because he was curious about popular opinion. He was not conducting a Gallup poll to determine whether to run for presidential office in 2020. He actually asked the first question to prepare the way for his second and more important question. The first question was simply the icebreaker.
For months the disciples had followed Jesus, and had listened intently to his words. He had never told them who he was. He had been calling himself “The Son of Man”, but that didn’t mean much to his hearers. The time had come, however, to find out if they have learned anything from listening to him and seeing him at work. It was the mid-term exam.
The question came, “BUT WHO DO YOU THINK I AM?” I suspect that Jesus held his breath while he waited for their answers. He didn’t have to wait long.
It is Peter that jumps in with the response. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” Jesus responds with delight. “Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah. No human being told you that, but my Father in heaven.”
Peter had struck to the very heart of the matter. “You are the Christ, You are the Messiah, the Son of God!” The Apostles’ Creed picks up Peter’s great confession, and its second line reads, “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.”
Jesus Is The Christ
The word “Christ” is a word full of significance. “Christ” is not the name of Jesus. It is not even his surname, it is his title. It comes from the Hebrew word “Messiah” which means “One Anointed by God.” When God chose leaders for his people to be his agent in the deliverance of his people, they were anointed with oil in front of the people of Israel.
For centuries Israel had longed for the Messiah. They longed for one to come to deliver them from their foes and to set up the Kingdom of God. Judaism was a religion of longing.
• We can go back to Abraham longing for a son, and longing for a land he can call his own.
• Go back to Israel in slavery in Egypt, and there was a longing to be liberated
• We can go back to the time of the Judges. It was the Dark Age of Israel’s life. Twelve times they are subjugated by enemies, and they cry out pleading for redemption, and twelve times they receive deliverers. But the judges were mixed blessings and so Israel cried for a King. They yearned for someone to give them freedom and dignity and victory in their battles.
They finally get an anointed King. But is the longing now over? Oh no.
• Saul is anointed as King, but ends up a grave disappointment.
• Then along comes David. He is anointed in Saul’s place. Surely he is the person to bring the dreams to fruition. But read the story. It is a tragedy. The dreams disintegrate.
• But then along comes Solomon. He is anointed and the hopes of a nation find new focus. But it is not long before that dream starts to unravel and Solomon rules by force and exploits his people and leaves them in poverty.
• And over next several centuries, each anointed King is looked upon as the possible Messiah of his people. But each monarch has clay feet and any redemption of Israel is short lived.
Some gave up hopes of a King and instead longed for an anointed Priest who would be a true mediator between God and Israel. But the sons of Aaron, and the sons of Eli, and the sons of Samuel, all the way through to Annas and Caiphas failed. The priesthood became an embarrassment to God and humanity!
Sometimes their longing focused on an anointed Prophet, one like Moses or Elijah. But the record is clear, they never liked what the prophets had to say, and ignored their counsel and killed them off.
But every time a new King was crowned, or each time a new high priest came to office or each time a prophet came thundering God’s word, the hopes rose and then just as quickly plummeted.
Many gave up the dream altogether. Expect no messiah!
Then Jesus came.
A person with power! But power used now for others. We all know that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, but in him it was not corruptive. And when Jesus asked the question of the twelve apostles, spontaneously, and to his own surprise, Peter makes the declaration, “You, you are the Christ.” “You are the Messiah.” And what he is meaning is: You are the one who has come to satisfy the age-old longing of God’s people! You are the true king, the true priest, the true prophet, the true wise man. You are the Messiah for which we have looked for so long, but looked for in all the wrong places and in all the wrong persons! Wow!
What a great discovery for Peter! But we know “the rest of the story.” The Gospels tell us that Peter fell from that high point of insight to the low point of stupidity. Peter shares the old presumption that when the Messiah comes he will eradicate our enemies and conquer all our foes.. So when Jesus begins to speak about the suffering and death that awaits him in Jerusalem, Peter contradicts him and rebukes him. Jesus has to put Peter in his place. Peter does not understand what God is about to do. He along with all others was looking for the wrong kind of saviour.
His name is Jesus. For, Christ may be his title, but Jesus is His name. When he is about to be born, the angel says: “Call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people – from their sins.”
• Jesus had not come to save us from tough circumstances. He came to share those kinds of circumstances along side of us.
• Jesus did not come to save us from economic penury. He shared our poverty for all of his 30 plus years.
• But he did come to grant to us forgiveness for our sins and freedom from our addiction to sinning. He came to save us from our worst selves. And that was the primary reason for his coming!
We are being told on our 24/7 news channels that Al Quaida is our main enemy. Some are saying that it is Islamic terrorists who threaten us and whom we must fight on every shore. Perhaps so, but I can think of far more terrible threats that lurk much closer to home.
I cannot shake the old cartoon strip of Pogo and his animal friends in the boat. In the river they have seen the track of something large that has cut a wide swath through the reeds and rushes. They believe they have detected an enemy. They follow its wide swath hoping to track it to its lair. But unbeknown to themselves they have been going round in circles following the track their own boat has made. Suddenly it dawns on Pogo, and he stops rowing, and exclaims, “We have met the enemy! And the enemy is us!”
And the enemy is us!
• We need to be less afraid of anthrax and seron gas, and more afraid of what we are doing to ourselves!
• We need to be less afraid of terrorists in our community, and more afraid of being terrible to live with.
• The enemy is the sin that undermines our best selves and makes us selfish and inconsiderate and hard to live with.
• Our real foes are those tendencies towards anger and envy, or avarice and lust that damage our days.
• Our real foes are our sins and our addiction to our besetting sins.
Jesus is the only Messiah that can save us from ourselves! And he has offered to help us in the fight against our greatest foe.