By Catherine A. Deddo
"Who do you say that I am?" (Mark 8)
The disciples had been with Jesus well over two years, listening to Him teach, seeing Him perform miracles, living with Him. They had seen Him walk on water, feed a crowd that numbered in the thousands with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, and raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead. They had heard Jesus declare to a paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven, an outrageous statement that set the Pharisees, the religious leaders, murmuring against Him. Now they were traveling around to villages around Caesarea Philippi when Jesus asks them, “Who do you say that I am?” This is the question Jesus wants to have them wrestle with. Now that they have been with Him all this time, seen and heard so much, who did they think that He was?
This is very interesting to me. All this time Jesus has spent with them was leading up to this question. Jesus has been revealing to them His heart, His character, His purposes and now He wants to see if they have a grasp of who He really is. Peter answers, “You are the Messiah,” and Jesus commends him for that. But as soon as Jesus begins to teach them about His coming suffering and death and resurrection, Peter rebukes Him! So, Peter gets the right label, He calls Jesus the Messiah, the anointed one of God. But when this same one goes on to tell of the suffering that awaits Him, Peter immediately rejects what he hears, he resists knowing Who Jesus really is, he resists letting Jesus tell him what it means that He is the Messiah.
Peter, at that point, wasn’t able to see the connection between the words about suffering and the person that he had lived with for over 2 years. I wonder if he had a glimpse of Jesus’ power and authority, but hadn’t grasped His character, His heart.
I think we can be a lot like Peter. We think that because we have the right labels for Jesus that we know who He is. But when we are making decisions in our lives or when we are struggling, we act and live, not according to the labels, but to the content we have consciously or unconsciously given to those labels.
Do we really know Jesus? Or do we just affirm certain statements about Him? When I worked as a campus minister several years ago, I asked one of my students, “What do you love about Jesus?” He was a nice, decent sort of Christian—trying to be “good” but really had no joy in his faith. He gave me the standard answer, “Well, He died for my sins and I can go to heaven…” There we go—the right label—He is the “one-who-died-for-my-sins”. I replied, “Yeah, I know that. But what do you love about Jesus Himself? What do you love about His character, His values and concerns? What do you love about Who He is?”
I could tell this was a question he had never considered before. He rummaged around in his brain for something else to give me, but came up empty.
No wonder he had no real joy in his Christian life. As far as I could tell, his understanding of being a Christian was that we affirm certain statements about Jesus and then we try real hard to be obedient to the commands. Jesus provided forgiveness of sins and an example that he was to emulate. But his immediate situation and the commands he believed he was to obey were more real and present to him than Jesus.
I think we have often answered the Who question about God far too quickly and simply. We answer with His titles, or what He has done in saving us, or by listing His attributes. But none of these are adequate and tend to leave us living as if God is not fully good, not fully active and present in our lives. He remains somewhat abstract and distant to us. And this often comes out in how we live our lives, how we go about the “what “ and “how” of the Christian life. For instance, what we pray and how we pray reflects our assumptions about Who we are praying to. Is our heavenly Father slow to listen, needing to be persuaded, grudging towards His children?
So, what do you love about Jesus?