"JESUS, THE SON OF GOD"
There is one question that echoes down the halls of history. Who is Jesus? Every serious student of life has raised and pondered that question. Millions of people have asked this question. The identity of Jesus has been discussed & debated. Many conjectures have been made and many opinions have been offered as to who the son of Joseph & Mary really was.
People asked this question in Jesus' day. The disciples asked this question when Jesus calmed the storm at sea when they were in the boat with him-"what kind of man is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?" The common, every day people asked, "who is this man"? Even the religious leaders of Jesus' day debated his identity and they demanded that he tell them who he was.
It is a question that even Jesus' asked in this form-"who do people say I am"? Jesus asked this question of his disciples. Jesus wanted to know what people believed about him.
The place where Jesus asked his disciples the question- "who do people say I am?" was a placed called Caesarea Philippi. Geographically, Caesarea Philippi stood at the headwaters of the Jordan River in Northern Israel.
But the spiritual landscape of Caesarea Philippi was quite interesting. Caesarea Philippi was to religion what Sam's Club or Costco is to shopping. It was one stop shopping for religion.
Baal worship had once occurred in Caesarea Philippi. There was an area close to Caesarea Philippi called Ponnino, which was the home of the Greek god Pan. Caesarea Philippi was a place where Caesar was worshipped as a god. Syrian gods were worshipped there. The area was a spiritual haven where religious shrines and temples were erected to the worship of various gods. It was at this cross-section of ancient religions that Jesus asked his disciples- "who do people say that I am?"
And it was against this backdrop where many gods were worshipped, that Jesus would be identified for who he is- the Christ, the Son of the Living God. But, as we can see from the responses that the disciples gave Jesus to his question that there was a lot of.......
1. CONFUSION ABOUT JESUS
The disciples shared some of the various rumors that were floating around about Jesus. They told him that some were saying that he was John the Baptist. Others said that he was Elijah or one of the other prophets. Many people considered Jesus a prophet.
The disciples tactfully do not report some of the rumors about Jesus. The negative ones. They refrain from telling him that he had been called, among other things, a troublemaker of Israel, a blasphemer, a false teacher and a traitor.
Some considered Jesus to be a political revolutionary. Others thought that he was a demented fool with delusions of grandeur. One rumor that would not go away was that Jesus was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier.
There was a lot of confusion about who Jesus was in his day. There is still much confusion about Jesus still today, some 2,000 years later.
Some people believe that Jesus was a good man, a good moral teacher or a prophet. The religion of Islam, which claims that their god Allah is the same God as that of Noah, Abraham and Moses, teaches that Jesus was a prophet but that Mohammad was a prophet greater than Jesus.
In Newsweek magazine, Jon Meacham writes that 81% of Americans claim to be Christians, to be followers of Jesus. But of that 81%, 78% believe that Jesus rose from the dead and 75% say that Jesus was sent to earth to absolve mankind of sin. So even some people who say that they believe in Jesus do not believe in his atoning death and bodily resurrection; so how can they claim to be Christians?
There is a lot of confusion about who Jesus is. The greatest area of confusion about Jesus is that many people believe that Jesus isn't the only way to heaven. Just as people did in Jesus' day, as illustrated by the religious landscape of Caesarea Philippi, today people embrace many religions.
I'm sure that you have probably seen the co-exist bumper stickers on cars. The bumper sticker promotes the idea of religious tolerance. The word co-exist is spelled out by the symbols for various religions and political ideals along with the symbol for Christianity- a cross.
The idea being communicated by the co-exist bumper sticker is that the spiritual playing field is level. It communicates in the opinion of some that all religions and ideologies are on a par with Christianity.
It embraces the politically correct concept that all religions lead to heaven. But, truly, when you stop and think it through, how can all religions lead to God since they are so vastly different?
Jesus answered the question do all religions lead to heaven and cleared up the confusion surrounding him. We'll look at 3 passages of Scripture here. First, Matthew 7: 13 & 14:
"Enter through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.
"But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." - Matthew 7:13 & 14
Jesus stated that the gate to hell is wide enough and the road that leads there is broad enough for many things, including all the false religions of this world. Jesus said that there is only one gate and one road that lead to heaven. Who or what is that gate? Jesus answered this for us in the Gospel of John:
"Therefore Jesus said again, 'I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved." -John 10:7 & 9
Jesus declared that he is he gateway to heaven. Jesus also made this claim about himself when Thomas wanted to know how to get to the place that Jesus was going to go prepare in heaven. Jesus said:
"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." -John 14:6
Christianity is both inclusive and exclusive at the same time. It is inclusive because whosoever will may come. The tent of God's kingdom is large enough for everyone and anyone who will believe.
But, it is exclusive in that all religions don't lead to heaven. There is only one way to heaven for everyone and that way is Jesus. Jesus said that NO ONE will go to the Father in heaven except through faith in him.
There may be a lot of controversy over Jesus' claim but there is certainly no confusion over what Jesus is saying. Let's move on to the 2nd thing we see from our passage which is the....
2. CHALLENGE BY JESUS
Jesus now gets more direct with his disciples. His 2nd question to them is more personal. He asks them- "but what about you? Who do you say I am?" Against the back drop of religious choices, Jesus asked his disciples, what do you believe about me?
It's the same question that each of us must answer. Against the back drop of our own Caesarea Philippi, where there are many spiritual choices from atheism, Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, Buddhism and other religions and philosophies, you must answer the question, who do you believe that Jesus is?
No one can answer that question for you. You have to know for yourself who Jesus is. I want you to take a look at a verse of Scripture with me from 2 Timothy 1:5. Here Paul is writing to Timothy about Timothy's heritage of faith:
"I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also." - 2 Timothy 1:5
Paul reminded Timothy that he had a couple of great Christian role models in both his mother and his grandmother. Both women were women of faith. I'm sure they both taught Timothy to believe in Jesus. But Paul rejoiced that Timothy's faith was his own. He had a personal faith in Jesus.
The same has to be true for each of us. Our faith in Jesus has to be our own. We can't borrow it from our parents or grandparents. You can learn about it from them, but you can't borrow their faith in place of your own. You cannot ride into heaven on the coattails of someone else's faith. It has to be your own.
There is no salvation by association. I've heard people say, "I'm not a Christian, but my mother is. My grandmother is. My wife is." Another person's faith isn't going to get you into heaven. You have to believe for yourself. It's like someone once said- "God doesn't have any grandchildren. He only has children."
Who do you say that I am? Everyone has to answer that question for themselves. And Peter did. Let's turn our attention to his.....
3. CONFESSION OF CHRIST
Earlier, when Jesus asked his disciples, who people said that he was, they were all chatty. But when Jesus asked them who do you say that I am, Peter is the only one who answers. Peter makes his profession of faith- You are the Christ the Son of the Living God.
There we have it. Jesus is the Christ. The title of Christ is the NT equivalent of Messiah. Jesus is God's anointed one; the one he had appointed to come and save us from our sins.
Jesus is the Son of God, a statement of his Deity. This is a claim that Jesus would make about himself.
Jesus' favorite designation for himself was the Son of Man. He refers to himself that way 79 times in the 4 Gospels. And it is a claim to divinity.
This phrase has its origin in the OT Book of Daniel. There Daniel wrote- "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed."
In Daniel, the Son of Man is a divine person. By calling Himself the Son of Man, Jesus was claiming to be divine.
Jesus did so on another occasion. He told the Jews- "before Abraham was born, I am!" When Jesus said that, the Jews picked up stones to stone him. That's because they knew he was claiming to be God and they thought that was blasphemous of him to do so.
This designation "I AM" was one that God used to describe himself to Moses. So when Jesus said, before Abraham was, I Am, Jesus was saying, I am God.
And all of this God revealed through Peter when he confessed of Jesus, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." At this moment, Peter spoke more than he knew. The fact that Peter does not fully comprehend what he is saying in that moment comes directly on the heels of his confession.
Jesus informs the disciples of the type of Messiah he would be. He would be a suffering one. He would suffer many things, be rejected and ultimately killed. At this, Peter took Jesus aside to "rebuke" him. "Perish the thought" was Peter's thinking. But Jesus rebuked Peter at that point. He sternly told Peter- "Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."
Here's what we can take away from that. Jesus is the Christ but on his terms, not Peter's and certainly not ours. C. S. Lewis once wrote- "God has no desire to be God on your terms."
It is not good enough to call Jesus Lord if we then insist that He be the Lord we want him to be instead of the Lord he must be and he is.
But, in Caesarea Philippi, surrounded by the relics of false gods, God through Peter proclaimed that Jesus is his one and only Son. There is no hint of religious tolerance in Peter's confession. There is no- "it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you are sincere." Later on, during the early days of the church, Peter would make this clear declaration of salvation through Jesus and Jesus only:
"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." -Acts 4:12
Peter's remarkable confession at Caesarea Philippi is the foundation upon which Jesus would build his church. And it is this confession of faith that ushers a person into the kingdom of heaven. Paul wrote about confessing Christ in Romans 10:
"That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
"For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved." - Romans 10:9-10
Who do you say that I am? Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God? If you need to make your confession of faith and be baptized, you will be offered the opportunity to do that in a moment, but we need to finish up this passage by looking at this....the....
4. COMMANDMENT FROM JESUS
At the conclusion of Peter's confession, Jesus tells his disciples- "don't tell anyone who I am." That seems odd, but it was only for the time being. Jesus wasn't ready for his identity to be broadcast just yet.
But that all changed following his resurrection. It is then that Jesus reverses his order. He tells his disciples:
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." -Acts 1:8
At Caesarea Philippi, Jesus said, don't tell anyone who I am. But now, just before Jesus ascends up to heaven, He tells his disciples, tell everyone about me.
Jesus' commission to the disciples is still our mission today. But sadly, some believers still believe and act like we are under the gag order that Jesus gave to the disciples. We don't tell anyone about Jesus.
Is it because we have drank the cultural kool-aid that says it's ok to believe as long as you don't force your beliefs on anyone else? Is it because, even though we believe in Jesus ourselves, we think it is ok for someone else to try to find their way to heaven through another religion or spiritual philosophy?
But if we truly believe what Jesus said about himself that he is the one and only way to heaven; if we truly believe what Peter said about Jesus that there is salvation in no one else; then we will be compelled to tell everyone we know who doesn't know Jesus all about him.
The bottom line truth from today's lesson is this: The only people who have the hope & promise of going to heaven are those who believe in Jesus, that he is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. That's why we need to obey Jesus' final earthly command to be his witnesses.
Sharing your faith is simple. Sharing one's faith has been summed up this way- "I'm just a nobody who is telling everybody about THE SOMEBODY who can save anybody."
Who do you say that I am? You have to answer that question for yourself about who Jesus is. Jesus showed you what he thinks of you by dying on the cross for you and rising from the dead.
If you believe in Jesus and need to make your confession of faith and be baptized, I want to invite you to come forward to act upon your faith as we sing our invitation song.......If you have already made your commitment to Christ through faith and baptism but would like to join our church, I would like to invite you at this time to come forward to place your membership with Lebanon.