Summary: Easter sermon that focuses on Jesus' question to Peter.
I want you to imagine for a moment that Jesus was standing before all of us here this morning and that He asked us the same question that He asked His disciples on their way to Caesarea one day:
Who do you say that I am?
My guess is that even here in this gathering where most of us have placed our faith in Jesus, we would probably get a number of different answers to that question. And how we answer that question will reveal a great deal about what we expect Jesus to do in our lives.
• If you say Jesus was merely a good teacher or a good man, then you’ll treat Him like Dr. Phil or Oprah or any other self-help guru. You’ll take the things He said that you like and try to apply them in your life and you’ll just ignore the things you don’t like or the things that seem too hard to do.
• If you say Jesus was merely a religious figure, then you’ll probably treat Him like Mohammed or Buddha or Confucius or the latest New Age guru and view Him as just one of many ways to God.
• But if say He is the promised Messiah, the Son of the living God, who came to earth to save us from our sins, conquer sin and death and rule over us as Lord, then that will radically transform every single area of your life.
What I’m going to attempt to do this morning is to show you why the event we celebrate this morning – the resurrection of Jesus – is absolutely crucial if we’re going to properly answer the question that Jesus poses to all of us this morning:
Who do you say that I am?
So let me take you back almost 2,000 years to about a year before the crucifixion of Jesus to a major turning point in the ministry of Jesus. I’ll read this morning from Matthew’s account of this event:
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, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
(Matthew 16:13-17 ESV)
As Jesus enters into Caesarea with His disciples, he first asks the disciples who others believe Him to be. And based on what the people had seen Him say and do – His miracles, His healings, His preaching – they concluded that He was either a resurrected prophet of old or a new prophet of the same kind. So they basically believed Him to be a religious figure of some prominence and importance.
That is actually pretty similar to the way many Americans view Jesus nearly 2,000 years later. According to a survey completed last year right around Easter (Barna Group) 92% of Americans believe that Jesus was a real person who actually lived here on earth. But only about half believe that He is God, with about another quarter who say He was only a religious or spiritual leader like Mohammed or Buddha.
But the subsequent question Jesus asked His disciples, the one we’re focusing on this morning – But who do you say that I am? – reveals that the crowd’s conclusion that He was merely a religious figure fell far short of the reality of who Jesus is.
Not surprisingly, Peter is the first to answer. And from all appearances, He answers the question correctly. He first claims that Jesus is the Christ. I think sometimes we have a tendency to think of Christ as merely being Jesus’s last name, but it was not His legal name at all, but rather a title that described who he was. The Greek word from which we get our word “Christ” is the equivalent of the Hebrew word from which we get our word “Messiah”. Both words literally mean “anointed” which pointed to the fact that Jesus had been anointed by God and given a specific God-ordained purpose.
The Old Testament Scriptures consistently promised that God would send His “Anointed One”, His “Messiah” to deliver and redeem His people. But, as we’re going to see in a minute, not even Peter and the other disciples had a clear understanding of what kind of redemption the Messiah would bring. Many, if not most, of the Jews were looking for a Messiah who would overthrow the Roman Empire and establish an earthly kingdom.