Summary: This is a message in a series based on questions that Jesus asked and that were asked of Him.
Who is this guy named Jesus any way? As we journey back over the ages in this series of messages we will explore some of the questions that Jesus asked, as well as some of the questions that people asked of Him. As our journey progresses we will discover that the Bible is not really out of touch with modern society since many of the issues people struggled with in the first century are still issues we struggle with today. The series will also force us to make a decision about who we think Jesus really is. Today’s text takes us to an intimate gathering when Jesus asks a simple question to those that were closest to Him. “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” If we really think about it, this question just will not go away. It forces us to deal with Him, even when we would rather not. “Who do you say I am?” We would much rather debate whether He is an actual historical figure, or what really happened in all those recorded miracles or how He saw Himself. We squirm and break out into a cold sweat when we are forced to say what He means to us. We really are not any different from those who encountered Him in the first century. The disciples were awestruck by the way He calmed the storm, people were amazed as He healed the sick and they were taken back by the way He taught with authority. Despite all this, those from His hometown doubted that anyone they knew could be so extraordinary. So through the centuries people preferred to ask, “Just who does this guy think He is?” It is through the exploration of questions like this the steps that allow people to climb from doubt to faith are formed. Our journey begins with the most basic question, “Who is this guy named Jesus?”
I. The issue of Jesus’ identity is crucial for us to deal with.
A. This passage is written by a person who truly understood the transformation that can happen when someone encounters Jesus.
1. Matthew made his living as a tax collector before his encounter with Jesus transformed his life.
2. These words are more than likely written from the perspective of someone who has climbed the steps from doubt to faith.
3. The disciples had probably been dealing with this question for some time now.
4. The drama builds as this brash young carpenter from Nazareth asks the seemingly impossible, for this group of men to believe that He is the Son of God.
B. The setting for this passage provides us with quite a bit of irony.
1. Jesus takes his disciples about twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee to the region of Caesarea Philippi (so named because it was rebuilt by the tetrarch Herod Philip in honor of the emperor Tiberius).
2. Matthew does not tell us why Jesus and the disciples went here, but he focuses solely on the dialogue Jesus initiates with the Twelve.
3. This is pagan territory; in fact this region was famous for the worship of the Greek god Pan, not to mention the land was covered with ancient shrines to Baal.
4. There was also a very large white marble temple that was built here in honor of Caesar.
5. In the shadow of these monuments to the greatest empire the world had ever known stood this penniless King without a kingdom, whose advisors were fishermen and tax collectors, who would prepare to make a journey that would change the course of history.
6. In this place He questions their perception of the crowds’ views of his identity, not for his own information but to correct the misconceptions that have arisen.
II. Misconceptions about Jesus’ identity have existed for centuries.
A. The disciples in their insecurity undoubtedly were very quick to pick up on the rumors that were circulating about Jesus.
1. The disciples were very quick to answer Him about what others were saying. It takes no commitment to repeat what others are saying.
2. The disciples respond by presenting four viewpoints of popular opinion. Notably the disciples only mention those views which they deem to be complimentary.
3. The idea of Jesus being John the Baptist probably owes its origin to Herod, whose guilt over the execution of John stimulated the notion that Jesus was the risen John.
4. Jesus’ preaching and miracles may have encouraged some to speculate that Jesus may be the returned Elijah, come to herald the arrival of the messianic age.
5. Others found certain similarities that seemed to link Jesus to Jeremiah. It may be Jesus’ many allusions to sayings from Jeremiah or possibly the parallels in their respective ministries stimulated such an assessment.