Who Do You Say He Is?
If I told you to pull out a piece of paper and write on it who you say Jesus is what would you write? We all have some answer; we all have some images of Jesus. Some of them are the images we learned as children in Sunday school which have proved troubling and we don’t’ have anything to replace them with. Sometimes we dismiss Jesus on the basis of what we knew about Jesus at age six. Some of us have never examined the evidence for ourselves.
One of my main goals in preaching is to gain a fresh hearing for Jesus, especially among those who believe they already understand him. I’m sorry to tell you this, but you probably don’t. Because what happens sometimes is that presumed familiarity has led to unfamiliarity. Jesus is sometimes obstructed by clouds of well-intentioned misinformation.
But ultimately, rather than give you my answer to the question I’d rather challenge you to answer the question for yourself because that’s the only answer that matters. Is he Messiah? If that’s what you think, what does that mean? Jesus clearly didn’t’ fit into what a Messiah was expected to be. Messiahs were supposed to have power, were supposed to take charge, were supposed to set things right and free the Jews from political expression. But Jesus refused to stiff arm anybody. He refused to dominate or to take up arms.
Is he Savior? OK. But what is he saving us from and what is he saving us to? Some people clearly had no interest in being saved. When Jesus said the poor are precious and the rich are in big trouble, only those on one side of that equation found it intriguing.
Is he Teacher? Surely, but is that all?
Who do you say he is? Messiah, Savior, Lord, shaman, teacher, friend, prophet, prince of peace?
Now, as you try and answer that question, don’t be too alarmed if you cant’ nail it down. Even those of us who wrestle with the question regularly find it difficult, because Jesus is sometimes downright incomprehensible; he is often enigmatic, ambiguous. From the very beginning, who Jesus was, what he was about, was far from self-evident. There were people who stood face-to-face with Jesus and said, “This is God incarnate.” There appear to be many more who said, “This man is nuts.” Although I think that for most of us, the biggest issue isn’t that we’ve listened to Jesus and found him incomprehensible; it’s that we’ve listened to him and found him too damned difficult.
Herb Miller, Who Do You Say That I Am?
Every photographer knows the importance of having the camera lens in focus before triggering the shutter. You can set the right shutter speed. You can open the lens to its proper setting. But if that lens is not in focus, the picture will be worthless.
Anyone who’s trying to sell something these days knows the importance of having an accurate focus on the market for which a product is intended. Whether you’re trying to sell soap or soft drinks, it’s necessary to know exactly which people will most likely purchase your product. On what age group or sector of the public do you focus your advertising?
So Jesus realized that if people were going to follow him, and if his followers were going to be truly effective Christians in the world, they needed to know exactly who he was. They also needed to know precisely what was involved in being a Christian.
That’s probably one reason why he asked this simple, but all-important question in our Bible reading. “Tell me,” he says, “who do people say I am?” And a little later he refines the question: “What about you?” he asked them. “Who do you say I am?”
Richard W. Patt, Partners in the Impossible, CSS Publishing Company
Many Different Christs Are Offered
Marva Dawn in Reaching Out without Dumbing Down suggests the possibility of different christs today when she writes: At the 1987 Vancouver World’s Fair, the Christian pavilion’s presentation utilized glitzy double-reversed photography and flashing lasers. When I tried to explain my qualms about the production to an attendant who had asked me how I liked their “show,” she protested that it had saved many people. I asked, “Saved by what kind of Christ?” If people are saved by a spectacular Christ, will they find him in the fumbling of their own devotional life or in the humble services of local parishes where pastors and organists make mistakes? Will a glitzy portrayal of Christ nurture in new believers his character of willing suffering and sacrificial obedience? Will it create an awareness of the idolatries of our age and lead to repentance? And does a flashy, hard-rock sound track bring people to a Christ who calls us away from the world’s superficiality to deeper reflection and meditation? [p. 50]
Marva Dawn, Reaching Out without Dumbing Down. Submitted by Brian Stoffregen
There was a certain bishop, in the horse and buggy days, who had two horses named Pride and Prejudice. He said on one occasion that people thought it was awful that a bishop should be drawn hither and thither by Pride and Prejudice, but he reassured them that it was a wonderful thing that a Bishop would have Pride and Prejudice under control.
That’s a wonderful thing for any of us. It is the test of our manhood and womanhood that we are able to deny ourselves. The world says that to be a real man or a real woman we must give in to pleasure, but that’s absurd. Any creature can give in to natural impulses.
King Duncan, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
He Is the Son of God
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Don’t You Know I Am
Hospital waiting room. One rather self-important individual was getting impatient. Unwilling to wait any longer, he barged in and demanded to be seen by the doctor. “Don’t you know who I am?” Shouted the man. The secretary calmly pressed the button on the microphone of her loudspeaker system and asked the waiting patients. “I have a gentleman here who doesn’t know who he is. Can someone please assist him in finding out? Thank you.”
If you were to go around asking your friends, “What do people say about me?” Or “Who do you say I am?” they might take it as an evidence of pride or dementia. But what people believe and say about Jesus Christ will determine their destiny. Your confession concerning Jesus Christ is a matter of life or death.
Stephen Sizer, Who Am I?
On Sunday He Is God
There are very few who in their hearts do not believe in God, but what they will not do is give Him exclusive right of way. … They are not ready to promise full allegiance to God alone. Many a professing Christian is a stumbling-block because his worship is divided. On Sunday he worships God; on weekdays God has little or no place in his thoughts. I want people to place their faith in Jesus and motivate them to live more obediently.
Leonard Bernstein, the celebrated orchestra conductor, was asked, what is the hardest instrument to play. He replied without hesitation: “Second fiddle. I can always get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm or second French horn or second flute, now that’s a problem. And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony.”
Brett Blair, www.eSermons.com
Take up Your Cross
This is a cheerful world as I see it from my garden under the shadows of my vines. But If I were to ascend some high mountain and look over the wide lands, you know very well what I would see: brigands on the highways, pirates on the sea, armies fighting, cities burning; in the amphitheaters men murdered to please the applauding crowds; selfishness and cruelty and misery and despair under all roofs. It is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are the Christians–and I am one of them.
Cyprian, a third-century martyr.
Stop Following Your Shadow
There is a fable about a man who lived in the desert. He would wake up every morning and follow his shadow. So as the sun moved across the sky from east to west the man essentially walked in a large oval. At sundown he ended up where he had started. This continued for years. The man walked in circles day after day, following his shadow. One night the man heard the voice of God in a dream while he slept. The voice told him to stop following his shadow. Instead, “Follow the sun,” the voice challenged, “And you will experience life as you have never dreamed it could be.”
The man thought for many days about his vision of God while he continued to walk around in circles in the desert. But one day he mustered up enough courage to break away from his shadow. Little by little, step-by-step, the man began to follow the sun. And he discovered a kingdom that was, heretofore, way beyond his wildest dreams and imagination. Ultimately, he became friends with the Son.
“For whoever wants to save his own life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for me and the gospel will save it.”
Robert L Salzgeber, Assayings: Theological Faith Testings, CSS Publishing Company.
Humor: Who Do You Say I Am?
When I was in divinity school some student had written graffiti on the bathroom wall. And I’ve never forgotten the humor of it. It went something like this: “And Jesus spake unto Peter saying ‘Who do men say that I am?’ And Peter answered, ‘Thou art, according to Paul Tillich, the very ground of our being. Thou art Emmanuel Kant’s deontological categorical imperative. Thou art the man of the Eschaton, the ultimately determinative one!’ And Jesus looked at Peter and saith, ‘What?’ ”
Stephen M. Crotts, Sermons for Sundays after Pentecost, CSS Publishing
Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost.
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring.
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
The character speaking is Bilbo Baggins in J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, 1956.