13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
Have you ever met someone who claims they’re not the competitive type? I personally don’t believe anyone who says this. I think we all have a competitive streak in some areas whether it’s in having the nicest yard in the neighborhood, or making good grades, or baking the best apple pie or having the best-behaved dog. We all want to be the best at something. We all want to be number one.
It’s no surprise that Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Corp., was a hugely competitive person. In the early days of Apple’s founding, employees knew each other by name. Because collaboration is an important part of Apple’s success, the leaders wanted to ensure that employees wouldn’t become alienated from one another as the company grew. So, someone suggested that they all wear name tags. If there were two employees with the same name, then their tag would list their name and a number based on which employee was hired first. If there were two Julias, the first Julia to be hired would be assigned the name tag Julia 1. And the second Julia would get the tag labeled Julia 2.
There was only one problem: the founders of Apple were Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. And they both wanted the name tag labeled Steve 1. Steve Wozniak was officially recognized as the first employee and given the coveted name tag, but Steve Jobs didn’t want to settle for being Steve 2. He argued that 0 comes before 1, so he wanted his name tag to read Steve 0. And since no one wanted to argue with this “logic,” Steve Jobs was assigned the employee’s name tag Steve 0. Was Steve Jobs competitive? I guess you could say that.
A woman named Kathy talks about the day she gave birth to her first child. Coincidentally, one of her colleagues was at the same hospital giving birth that day too. Kathy and her husband had prepared for this day with natural-childbirth classes, and she was determined that they would follow the protocol and deliver the baby without any pain medicine. Kathy’s colleague, on the other hand, requested pain medicine not long after she arrived at the hospital.
As Kathy was being wheeled out of the delivery room, she noticed a chalkboard at the nurse’s station with patient stats on it. Next to her name was a B+; next to her colleague’s name was an A-. Kathy complained to her husband that her colleague took pain meds and got an A- while she had delivered her baby naturally and only got a B+. Kathy’s husband rolled his eyes and said, Kathy, that’s your blood type.
We all want to be at the front of the pack, don’t we? It’s human nature. Fortunately, Jesus didn’t have that problem. In our lesson this morning, Jesus and His disciples have traveled to the region of Caesarea Philippi. This city was primarily a Gentile region. In Jesus’ day, this area was known for its shrine to Pan, the Greek god of fertility. It also had a temple in honor of Caesar, who was treated as a god. There was also a cave in the region out of which flowed an underground spring whose water was so deep that it was rumored to come from the underworld. Everywhere Jesus and His disciples looked, they saw evidence of idolatry, of competing gods.
I’m wondering if that motivated Jesus to ask His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Was He feeling competitive? No, not at all. The King of kings and Lord of lords isn’t threatened by anything. This question wasn’t for His benefit, but it was for theirs and ours.
The disciples answered, some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. But what about you? He asked. “Who do you say I am? How would you answer that? What if you could see with crystal-clear, unmistakable clarity the truth about Jesus? What would you see? What would you say?
We don’t know if Jesus’ other disciples weren’t paying attention, or if they were staring at their feet, because Simon Peter was the only one who responded: You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
The difference between Christianity and all other world religions, is in every other world religion, the Word becomes just, a word, or a set of laws or beliefs or rituals that were expected to follow. It is only in Jesus that the Word became flesh. In seeing the truth of Jesus, we see the heart and mind of God. We see the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, the promises, and the covenants of God. We see the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We see God in the flesh.
Crowds of people followed Jesus throughout His three years of ministry. Plenty of people spoke with Him, debated Him, were blessed by Him, hung out with Him. But did they see Him? Did they recognize Him as the Messiah, the Anointed One sent to bridge the gap between heaven and earth?
Because there’s a risk in seeing the truth, there’s also a responsibility. It’s easy to debate the truth, evade the truth, run from the truth. That’s why people were so quick to label Jesus a prophet. If Jesus is a prophet, we can discuss or debate or ignore His message. But if Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, then ignoring Him is not an option. His Lordship demands our obedience. His life becomes our example. His promises become our foundation. His commands become our calling. We can’t claim that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, and not be changed by that truth. The minute we acknowledge Jesus as Lord, we’re challenged to step across a line, die to our self, and live for the rest of our lives as His disciples.
There’s no such thing as partial commitment. When the pilot of a giant airliner is speeding down the runway, there’s a certain point where he can’t decide to remain on the ground. When he crosses that line, he’s committed to the air, or the plane crashes disastrously. That pilot can’t change his mind when the plane is two-thirds of the way down the runway. Unfortunately, our churches are filled with members who have never left the ground.
Those are hard words. What does it mean that our churches are filled with people who have never answered Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” It means we’re missing the joy and peace and hope of knowing the God who so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
We can learn from this lesson, we can see the truth of Jesus, we can discover our identity and our calling. After Simon Peter’s declaration, Jesus blesses him by affirming his identity as a “Rock.” Simon Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah, Son of the living God, would become the confession of Jesus’ church. When we declare that Jesus is the Messiah, we’re joining with believers in heaven and on earth, from every tribe and nation and tongue, over the span of the last 2,000 years. By the power and authority, He gives us, we become the Church universal and triumphant. And Jesus promises that not even the gates of hell will overcome us.
You might be interested to know that in 2020, the Times of Israel reported that one of the earliest Christian churches in Israel had been uncovered in the region once known as Caesarea Philippi. It was built on top of a temple dedicated to the Greek god Pan, the place where Jesus told Peter He would build His church. According to the archeologist who excavated this site, one of the first clues that this was a Christian church was the little crosses formed by mosaic tiles on the floor of the building.
Jesus is who He says He is. He will do what He says He will do. He is the image of the invisible God, made visible to show us the heart and mind of God. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. So, who do you say He is?
When was the last time you told anyone your family or in our congregation what Jesus means to you? Or, answer the question posed by the words of Jesus, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?”
We need to realize that we talk about Jesus regularly, but we have never shared with Jesus means to us. Maybe this should be the topic of every sermon at this church.
I’ll start here. I’ll share some closing thoughts as I am about to finish, because there’s something I want to tell you. I want to tell you what Jesus means to me. I want to share my belief that everything depends on Him. I want to urge you to learn from Him. I want to assure you that you can lean on Him in times of trouble. I want to ask you to listen to His words of challenge. I want to tell you that I believe that you can entrust your life to Him. I want to affirm that He is Lord of this church and that in His name you are free to love one another and empowered to share that love with a hurting world. I want to profess that, though at one time people couldn’t look at the face of God and live, now we’re invited to look at the face of God in Him, in Jesus, and live as we have never lived before. He is Emmanuel, God with us, God with us all, whether we’re together or apart. That’s what it’s all about. That’s all I know. Amen.
Who is Jesus to you? Maybe it’s time to confront that question. Maybe it’s time to discover the truth about God. The truth about who God made you to be and what purposes God has for your life. And then it’s time to tell others about Him, so that the truth of Jesus Christ will continue to transform lives and enlarge the Church until the day we are made complete with Him in His heavenly kingdom.