During all the time spent in Caesarea Philippi, Jesus continued to instruct His disciples. The time now came for a test. How well had they learned what He sought to teach them? It is only a two-question test; however the questions are important questions.
The first question can easily be answered wrong by the disciples and won’t cause them to fail the test. The question is this: “Who do people say that I am?” The answers of the people varied. Some said Jesus was John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others said He was one of the prophets. They all had one thing in common: these were answers that the Sadducees would not have given. They were answers given by those who were taking a serious look at Jesus. For them, He was more than just another teacher; He was clearly bringing a message from God Himself. Yet all these answers made Jesus out to be a man and no more. They were inadequate answers because they failed to recognize Jesus as who He truly was.
Often times today when that question is asked, there are many definitions of who Jesus is. Some will say that Jesus was just a man, albeit a really good man. Some will say that He taught good things or that He told really good stories. Others will say that Jesus is an example that we should model ourselves after, that we should aspire to be like Him. When we look at these definitions, one thing is missing: Jesus is the One who grants to us salvation.
As far as the disciples go, they can’t help what others think of Jesus. Jesus had done all that He could as far as teaching the people who He was. If they did not want to believe or accept Jesus for who He was, then the disciples nor Jesus Himself could change their minds. But now Jesus moved on to the question which directly affected the disciples. “But who do you say that I am?” This should have been an easy question to answer, a no-brainer, so to speak. Since they had lived with Jesus on such an intimate basis, they knew He was a true man. He needed food; He needed rest. However, they had also seen Him perform miracles no man could ever do by his own power. They had even heard the demons and the demon possessed speak of Jesus as the Son of God. They had heard Him claim the authority on earth to forgive sins.
This was the disciples’ time to shine. Jesus had put them on the spot and it was time for them to answer and finish their test. Peter steps up to the plate and hits one out of park. Peter gives the answer that Jesus was looking for: “You are the Christ.” In Matthew’s account, Peter adds that He is the “Son of the living God.”
Now, given Peter’s answer, we have to ask the good Lutheran question, “What does this mean?” Peter rightly calls Jesus “the Christ,” what the people of the Old Testament would have called the Messiah. He is the One who had been expected for so long. He is the One who would bring about salvation to mankind. Jesus is more than just mere man. He is the very Son of God in flesh. The Messiah, though truly human, was also God the Son, and His assignment as the Anointed One was clearly stated back in Genesis – He would be the One to bruise the head of Satan; He would be the one to earn salvation for us sinners.
Even though Peter made this confession, there were many of Jesus’ day who could not or rather, would not. Messiah meant something different to the people. Messiah meant an earthly king. Messiah meant the one who would rescue Jerusalem from Roman rule. Messiah for the people meant only earthly terms. Messiah did not mean what the Scriptures had spoken of regarding the Messiah.
This answer of the disciples given by Peter is the very answer that Jesus had hoped for. It is the only answer that can be given. Jesus is the Son of God and Jesus is the Son of Man, our Christ, our Savior, and our Redeemer.
It is unfortunate, though, that Peter’s answer is not always our answer. We even see that in just a few verses, Peter’s answer isn’t his own answer. All too often, we are quick to downplay the work of Jesus and focus on the work of man, on what it is that I do to earn my salvation.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again because it bears repeating: if you get Jesus wrong, then you get everything wrong. If you get Jesus wrong, then nothing else matters. What exactly do I mean by that? If you do not have the right understanding of who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for you, then everything that follows after that is wrong also. If you do not accept that Jesus Christ is both God and man, that your salvation depends solely upon Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection, then everything else you believe about salvation is wrong. Salvation can come from no other source than Jesus Christ. The moment that we start to think, or even worse, believe, that our salvation comes from someone or something other than Jesus, that is the point when everything means nothing.
Salvation for you and me would come at the expense of Jesus. After Peter makes this grand statement of who Jesus is, “[Jesus] began to teach them 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.” That is how salvation would be earned and Peter wanted nothing to do with it. In fact, he went so far as to rebuke Jesus for even speaking like this. This boggled the mind. Why go to Jerusalem if this was in store? Head back to Galilee while there was still time. Of all people, the religious leaders should accept God’s Messiah, but instead, Jesus told the disciples that instead of receiving Him, they would crucify Him. As far as Peter was concerned, if Jesus had the ability to not face His passion, then Jesus should have taken advantage of it. It is far better to live than to die, especially dying the way that Jesus had described.
But Jesus counters with something that is much more important. After chastising Peter, Jesus gathers the disciples and the crowds and tells them that salvation is in Him and Him alone. Listen again to the stern words that Jesus says: “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” In this brief moment of Peter’s anti-confession, he shows that he is ashamed of Jesus because of the words that Jesus has spoken. Peter didn’t like Jesus’ words. But just because he didn’t like them didn’t make them any less true.
We may not like Jesus’ words at times either. Though we don’t like them, that doesn’t make them any less true. We may not like hearing that Jesus Christ is the only means of salvation because it takes the focus off of us. We may not like hearing that we must repent and return to God, especially if we’re justified in our actions because I’m not as bad as that person. However, one thing remains the same: it is by Jesus Christ that you have everlasting life. St. Paul says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” I didn’t die for you. You didn’t die for you. Your actions are not what save you. It is by Jesus Christ and Him alone that you have salvation.
By Jesus’ death on the cross, by His blood shed, we have salvation. When the question is asked to us, “Who do you say that I am?,” may we be bold to confess as Peter did: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.