The Ultimate Question.
Matthew 16:13-20; Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:18-21
“But who do you say I am?” – Matthew 16:15 NLT
It had been a long day, and Luke tells us that Jesus left the crowds behind and was on His way to find a place to pray. The disciples were walking along with Him and so He took advantage of the moment and asked them a question. I don’t think this was in order for Jesus to get information He was lacking, because I think He already knew the answer. He was simply engaging His disciples in a conversation that was directed at revealing what their true perception was of Him. They had been with Him for years now and had seen Him do some remarkable things. He had made it clear to them who He was. They had even heard demons call Him the Messiah, the Son of God. But Jesus knew there were still doubts in the minds of the disciples. While they hoped and prayed that he truly was the Messiah, so much of what He said and did was so unlike what they expected from the Messiah. He was not the conquering hero they had long anticipated. He was not regal, kingly, or a warrior like David had been. He was obviously as wise as Solomon, but He had no royal retinue and lacked Solomon’s vast wealth.
So Jesus asks them a simple question: “Who do people say I am?”
The disciples immediately share all the various opinions that were floating out there. “Some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other ancient prophets risen from the dead” (Luke 9:18-19 NLT). In Matthew’s account, they throw in the name of Jeremiah. Obviously, the people were having a hard time coming to grips with Jesus being the actual Messiah, so they had come up with a series of viable options to explain who He was and how He was able to do the things He did. Interestingly enough, all of their options involved someone having to be raised from the dead. John the Baptist had been killed by Herod. Elijah and Jeremiah, both Old Testament prophets had been long gone. So the people didn’t seem to have a problem with Jesus being miraculously sent from God. They just had a difficult time believing He was the Messiah.
But Jesus cuts to the chase and asks the disciples the more revealing and important question: “But who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15 NLT). They had each been personally chosen by Jesus. They had walked with, learned from and lived alongside Him for over three years at this point. They had had intimate communication with Him and heard things from Him that the others were not allowed to hear. He had explained His parables to them. He had given them power and authority to cast out demons and heal the sick. They had seen Him raise the dead and walk on water. They had watched Him calm the storm and feed the multitudes. They had listened as He condemned the religious leaders and easily handled their attempts to discredit Him as a fraud and a lunatic.
Now Jesus was asking them the most important question of their lives. It isn’t surprising that Peter was the first one to speak up. He was the always the first to open His mouth. Most of the time, that habit got him in hot water. But this time, He said the right thing. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16 NLT). Jesus blesses Peter for His answer, but before Peter can get a big head, Jesus lets him know that he didn’t come up with this on his own and he didn’t learn it from anyone else. It was revealed to him by God. In other words, this awareness of Jesus’ true identity was divinely inspired. God had made it known to Peter and the other disciples. If left to their own devices, they would have come to the same conclusions as the people had. They would have rationalized away any thoughts that Jesus was the Messiah. But God had made it possible for Peter and the others to perceive and accept Jesus’ claim to be who He said He was – in spite of any misgivings they may have had.
Even our ability to believe in Jesus comes from God. He must soften our hard hearts and breathe life into our dead souls in order for us to recognize and respond to the priceless gift being offered to us – His Son. Like the crowds, if left to the whims of our own intelligence, we would come up with all kinds of explanations or rationalizations to account for the Jesus as He is revealed in the Bible. We would conclude that He was a good man, a great teacher, a moral icon, and a worthy example to follow, but we would never conclude that He was the Son of God. Only God can reveal that to us. Living with Jesus for over three years was not enough. The disciples still needed God to open their eyes. Going to church your whole life is not enough. You still need God to open your eyes. Jesus made this perfectly clear when He said, “For no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me, and at the last day I will raise them up” (John 6:44 NLT).
God calls. We respond. Jesus saves. God opens our eyes so that we can see His Son standing right in front of us, and He opens our ears so we can understand the offer He makes to us – and along with Peter we say, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” We have nothing to boast about. It is all the work of God.
Father, You made it all possible. You sent Your Son. He died in my place. Then you open my eyes and ears so that I can hear the message and respond. Otherwise, I would never hear. I would never choose Him. But through Your Spirit, You revealed Your Son to me. You did for me what I could not have done on my own. And Jesus paid a debt for me I could never have paid on my own. Thank You. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men