13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" 14 They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." 15 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" 16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17 Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. (Matthew 16:13-17)
In this fascinating exchange between Jesus and His disciples, I believe he addresses a crossroads issue, one that has implications for us all. His disciples had witnessed Him supernaturally heal many, cast out demons, and more recently, feed crowds of 5000 and 4000 men with only a few loaves and fish. They were amazed when he rebuked the storm in Matthew 8:26, and exclaimed, “What kind of man IS this? Even the winds and the waves obey Him!” In Matthew 14, Jesus walks on water, and when he steps into their boat, they worship Him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God!”
Jesus’ miraculous signs were divine verifications of His identity, and the truth behind His claims. So when he asks His disciples about the rumors they’ve heard surrounding Him, and Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ (or Messiah), the Son of the living God”, Jesus’ response to this is a little surprising. He doesn’t give Peter the credit for his boldness or wisdom in declaring it; rather that he should recognize that even this was a gift from God, and that he was blessed to receive it!
Then, for those around Him who believed Jesus to be the Chosen Messiah that Israel had been waiting for, Jesus casts a new, troubling light on this identity: That “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! (or adversary) You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:21-25)
To a group of men who would end up giving their lives, proclaiming that Jesus had risen, He had to give them a fuller picture of His identity and what it meant for the here and now. To follow the Christ meant a road that led to the cross: a road of difficulty, pain, and even death. This is why I love what comes next! We have to see the glory that comes on the other side of it…and though only 3 disciples were privileged to see it, we are given a brief glimpse into His Majesty and Glory: “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.” (Matthew 17:1-2)
The road to the cross is painful, and most people will elect to forgo the process of identifying with Christ in this way, even though our church has been learning as we’ve been making our way through Romans, that we MUST identify with His death, if we are to identify with His resurrection and eternal life! This April we have another opportunity to draw near to the cross and gain a greater understanding into “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” “Who is this man”, the disciples struggled to answer, and they were “blessed” with the gift of God that enabled them to discover it.
The world continues to struggle with the very same question. I think of Napoleon Bonaparte’s struggle with His identity: “I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him….I marvel that where the ambitious dreams of myself and of Alexander and of Caesar should have vanished into thin air, a Judean peasant—Jesus—should be able to stretch his hands across the centuries, and control the destiny of men and nations.”
Human history stumbles over its struggle with the question. A world that finds Him offensive teeters on the brink of hopelessness and despair.
Your life hinges on the answer.
Will you come and reflect on it with us?