7 Questions God Has for You: Who Do You Say That I Am?
Rev. Michael F. Bailey
July 17, 2016
Matthew 16:13-20. “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am? ’Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. ’And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
We’ve had another tough week haven’t we? Last week we had the awful events in Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Dallas and this week, Nice. Here’s what we need to hear: God is the ruler yet! The Bible promises that ultimately God’s just reign will arrive on earth as in heaven; someday God’s Kingdom of peace and justice will be fully arrived. Someday, every knee will bend and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Let us cling to this hope.
In the midst of all of this, we also had some important events in the life of our tradition, United Methodism; we had the election and appointing of Bishops. I was at Lake Junaluska where this happened for the southeast, and everybody is so happy to have a new bishop sent our way who is actually returning home: Bishop Paul Leeland. Bishop Leeland has served faithfully and well for the past 8 years in southern Alabama but is now coming back to North Carolina where he served for 3 decades as a pastor, as well as a District Superintendent. Everybody is happy to have someone who knows how we North Carolinians can argue over barbecue and the color of blue our favorite university basketball team wears (along with a few who like red). On another note, you may hear in the popular press that the folks in San Francisco elected a gay woman bishop; a first in the United Methodist Church. The powers that be don’t know what this will mean for the United Methodist Church, but I have no doubt we’ll go on being the loving, accepting, out-reaching congregation known as Christ Church and ultimately, personally, I believe, whomever God calls to ministry, well, God calls to ministry and they must respond and evidence of their call will be in bearing good fruit.
Today, we have another sermon in our series, “7 Questions God Has for You.” We’ve looked at, “Where are you?” and “Where is your brother?” Today, we consider Jesus asking, “Who do YOU say that I am?” As usual, the best way to approach questions God has is to hear them personally, for us, today, and not treat them as some long ago query of people in a different culture. With that said, today we hear God, though Jesus, asking us, “Who do YOU say that I am?”
As I considered this question, my mind went back to an occasion where I had to ask that of others about myself – or at least the person I was “playing.” Now, I’ll admit it: I can’t stand those church camp, retreat, seminar mixer kinds of games! If you’ve been to one of these things, you know what I’m talking about! For instance, I’ve been in some where you have to tell everybody what you would do if you had a magic wand; or what you would want with you if you were marooned on a deserted island; or tell two truths and one lie and make others guess which is which. I just don’t like these things. I think it dates back to the 6th grade and going to a church camp and being forced to dance with girls, of all creatures, to the Bossa Nova! One mixer game I experienced in the last couple of years stands out: it had us wearing identifying badges, of categories or roles of famous people on our back, a tag that we hadn’t seen. Others would look at the tag on our back and we had to ask questions around the issue “who am I?’: Am I in entertainment? Am I a government official? Am I a writer? Am I a sports star? Whatever…these things just aren’t my favorite pastimes!
That makes me think, what if someone put the tag “Jesus” on our backs; what kind of questions would help you get to the answer? Think about it! What would you ask: am I a teacher? Am I in the healing professions? Am I a great moral leader? Am I a preacher?
In a way, Jesus turned the tables on such questions when he first asked the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”
In Jesus day, the disciples said folks answered this by saying, “You’re a prophet come back again.”
What if Jesus asked us, “who do people say I am?” We could answer about who people say Jesus is with our day’s general population answers: Christians would answer Lord and savior; some say he was a great moral teacher; others might say he was a rabbi who took upon himself the messianic expectations of his peoples suffering under the Romans; others may say his life ended in capital punishment.
But, Jesus doesn’t stop there. Jesus demands a personal answer of us and the disciples: who do YOU say that I am?
So personally, who do you say Jesus is? Who is Jesus to you?
The answer we give is critical. Who you say Jesus is, reveals where you are in your faith journey. I truly believe that many folks grow in this. Some folks start out by admiring Jesus as teacher, as giver of a way of life. They follow his way of life and then go deeper; that may be you. Thankfully, many come to experience that Jesus is the forgiver of sins. They come to understand that no matter what they’ve done, Jesus wipes the slate clean, and they are forever thankful for that. Because of what he’s done for them, they respond to his grace by living with him as the leader, the ruler, the Lord of their lives. The bottom line is, who we say Jesus is, can lead us to a decision our whole eternity rests on: is he our savior, forgiving us of our sins and our Lord, the number one guide through which we make all our life choices, or is he simply a “good man” and moral teacher? I hope you hear how our place in Heaven rests on our answer to the question “who we say Jesus is.”
So how about you? Do you know Jesus as the one who forgives your sins? Who in grace meets and accepts you where you are and loves you with no strings attached? Do you know Jesus as the one who loves you too much to leave you where you are, but helps you grow to a new and better place? Is Jesus the ruler over all your life? Do you make your choices by what you want or what Jesus wants for you?
This leads to the fact that our answer demands more than a rote response. Marcus Borg, who died last year, was a well-known Lutheran Biblical Scholar of the last 20 years, once wrote something that I find very compelling when it comes to pondering this question from Jesus, Who do you say that I am? Borg wrote this:
“For those of us who grew up in the church, believing in Jesus was important. For me, what that phrase used to mean, in my childhood and into my early adulthood, was ‘believing things about Jesus.’ To believe in Jesus meant to believe what the gospels said about Jesus. That was easy when I was a child, and became more and more difficult as I grew older.
But I now see that believing in Jesus can (and does) mean something very different from that. The change is pointed to by the root meaning of the word believe. Believe did not originally mean believing a set of doctrines or teachings; in both Greek and Latin its roots mean ‘to give one’s heart to.’ The ‘heart’ is the self at its deepest level. Believing, therefore, does not consist of giving one’s mental assent to something, but involves a much deeper level of one’s self. Believing in Jesus does not mean believing doctrines about him. Rather, it means to give one’s heart, one’s self at its deepest level, to the post-Easter Jesus who is the living Lord, the side of God turned toward us, the face of God, the Lord who is also the Spirit.
Believing in Jesus in the sense of giving one’s heart to Jesus is the movement from secondhand religion to firsthand religion, from having heard about Jesus with the hearing of the ear to being in relationship with the Spirit of Christ. For ultimately Jesus is not simply a figure of the past, but a figure of the present. Meeting that Jesus, the living Jesus, who comes to us even now – will be like meeting Jesus again for the first time.” You see, “answering who Jesus is,” isn’t just a fact or facts to be affirmed but to believe in him as Lord and savior means our heart, our entire being is given over to Jesus.
So how about you? Do you simply give assent, saying, “yes I believe in Jesus” meaning facts about him or do you give your heart, your whole being to Him? Do you know about Jesus or do you know Jesus?
And here’s what might be most important: the answer we give changes how we live now and forever.
We might all like to think we behave exactly the same with all folks. That would be our aspiration wouldn’t it? But realistically, doesn’t the person we’re encountering in life change our behavior? For instance, my children always have laughed at me when traveling, because they claim when someone speaks English to me with an accent, I start emulating the accent! Or, in my life I’ve been privileged to meet a couple of US presidents, as well as President Mandela of SA and the archbishop of Canterbury; don’t you know I was minding my p’s and q’s when I met them! How we respond to who we say Jesus is, will affect our lives. If Jesus is the ruler of our life, if we know we’re in the presence of Jesus through the Spirit, don’t you think that will affect how we treat people? But not just the famed people, but following his in his footsteps, how we treat the rejected, broken, people? I think so. But the Good news in naming Jesus as our Lord doesn’t apply just to this life, but also to our life eternal. Jude 1:24 is crucial: “To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.”
To answer Jesus when he asks, “who do you say that I am?” with “you are my Lord, the one who guides my every decision, my attitudes, my life and my savior, the only one who can forgive me of my sins”, is to gain life abundant and eternal. What a gift of grace it is for those able to answer Jesus this way. I hope that is how you’ve answered either today or in your past and will answer in your tomorrows!
Discussion Guide for July 17: Who Do You Say That I Am?
- Share what you have heard people say about the identity of Jesus.
- Share something you learned from the sermon about the identity of Jesus.
- Share who Jesus is to you. What titles resonate with you (Christ, Lord, Savior, King)?
- Share your story of claiming Jesus as the Messiah.