Summary: Who do you say Jesus is? This question is just as important today as it was back then.

“Who Do You Say I Am?”

Matthew 16:13-19

January 18, 2003

Three people have been in the news quite a bit recently. Tell me, what do you think of these folks?

What do you think about the new Nebraska coach, Bill Callahan? Is he the best man for the job? Who do you say he is? Is he a bumbling head coach who last year went 4-12 as coach of the Raiders? Or is he a brilliant offensive mind with plenty of recruiting power, who will raise Husker football back to its former glory?

What do you think about Martha Stewart? Do you buy her products anymore? Who do you say she is? Is she a crooked liar who got caught in an inside-trading scandal? Or is she a wonderful lady with great homemaking ideas who involved in a huge misunderstanding?

What do you think about Pete Rose? Should he be reinstated to baseball? Who do you say he is? Is he a no-good bum who knowingly bet on baseball and should be barred from the sport for life? Or is he sorry for what he has done, and now fully deserves admission into the Hall of Fame?

Everybody seems to have their own opinion about these people. Different people believe different things about them. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. And while we are entitled to our opinions, that fact remains, that’s all they are…opinions. Some opinions may be closer to the truth, some may be completely false, and still others can have a good mix of both. But opinions do not determine the objective reality of who a person is, or what they may or may not have done.

In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus asks his disciples what the people are saying about Him. They report the many different opinions people have concerning who Jesus is. This is the first Biblical “opinion poll”. Jesus asks this question, not out of mere curiosity but because the answer is SO very important. This is not a matter of opinion, but of objective reality. This is an issue of faith, faith (or lack thereof) in the Messiah whom God had sent into the world. The answer to this question is just as important today as it was 2,000 years ago, “Who do you say He is?”

Jesus turns to his disciples that day on the dusty road to Caesarea Phillipi, and asks, “Who do men say that I am?” Jesus is referring to the massive crowds that had been following him. The disciples tell him what had reached their ears.

“Some say you are Elijah.” It was the belief of the day that God would send the prophet Elijah back to Israel to prepare the way for the coming Messiah. This is based on the prophecy of Malachi 4:5. (We know the fulfillment of this prophecy to be John the Baptist.) Their answer indicated the high regard they had for Jesus, He was thought of as a great prophet! But He must be the forerunner of the Messiah because He doesn’t quite “fit the bill” of who they expected the Messiah to be.

“Others say John the Baptist.” No doubt these people knew about John. If they hadn’t heard his preaching directly, then they had certainly heard of him. The manner of his death, how Herod had beheaded him, was no secret. Yet, here was another man who preached a message that was hauntingly familiar. So familiar in fact, that many of them believed that Jesus was John the Baptist come back from the dead! This certainly seemed to be the view of Herod and his house, as evidenced in Mark 6:14. Talk about your sins coming back to haunt you!

“Still others say Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Like Jeremiah, Jesus was a man who preached God’s Word in all of its truth and authority. Both spoke the Word unashamedly and suffered because of it. Once again we see a positive view of Jesus’ ministry here. But once again, He isn’t thought of as the Messiah who saves. For the third time, the answer of the people falls short of the Truth.

Now you might feel bad for these folks who just don’t seem to get it. You might wonder how they could miss what is right in front of their eyes. How in the world could they not recognize who Jesus was???

The answer to that question will come later, first we need to understand that this phenomenon continues in our day. Many people have a positive regard for Jesus, but they miss the mark altogether. You can speak of Jesus as a prophet, a holy man, teacher or spiritual leader, and few will object. But speak of Him as the Son of God, Savior from sin, the only way to Heaven, and multitudes of people will line up to voice their disapproval.

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