Reference: Luke 9:18-24, Galatians 3:23-29
Once again, we are now entering the long period of shared national suffering known as the presidential campaign. The media portrays this as a horse race, with a focus on who is ahead, who has stumbled and is falling behind, and who is the “frontrunner.” Polls will be eagerly anticipated to tell us how all the candidates are doing in the race, and the voter perception of each one. The candidates themselves will commission polls to discover what the citizens are thinking, especially in regard to themselves and their “image.”
It is not a new idea. There are many medieval stories of the king disguising himself and wandering among his subjects to hear what they thought of him. And Jesus also had the same need; “Who do the crowds say that I am?” It was important to know, because his ministry strategy depended on a fine balance. On the one hand, it was important to educate people, and especially the disciples, regarding his purposes and actions on earth, and what their consequent responses should be. On the other hand, if he proclaimed himself too forcibly or too prematurely as the Messiah, he risked execution before he could explain his message. The disciples, with their ear to the ground, could be trusted to know what the public opinion was.
Public opinion was divided. All appeared to think he was a reincarnation, one way or another, of a great prophet, but they differed on which prophet. From the feedback, Jesus knew that his message was resonating at some level with people, but they did not really understand what was happening. What would the results of this “poll” be if the same question were to be asked today? Who do we say Jesus is?
The spectrum of answers is certainly wider. Jesus is still regarded as a great prophet fairly universally, even among non-Christians. When it gets to three areas, though, the consensus disappears.
The first is the Incarnation. Many are prepared to believe that Jesus was a wonderful and wise man, but cannot accept that he is also divine, God himself among us, come to fulfill a plan to save us and restore creation as originally intended. A problem with this viewpoint is that Jesus states very clearly that he is , while obviously human, also divine.”Before Abraham was born, I am” (see John 8:54-59). His hearers immediately understand him, both from his statement that he is older than Abraham and his “I am,” the term used to identify God. In making this and other statements, Jesus leaves no choice; either he is the divine incarnation and Messiah or he is a liar or out of his mind. That he can be both a great prophet but not incarnate God is not an option. That many persevere in this oxymoron is a witness to the power of selective hearing.
The second area is the Resurrection and its consequences. It is important to understand that it is the action of God which is central. God has long sent prophets to teach us and Jesus adds his voice to those teachings. But without the saving action of Christ, we are still lost. As Paul notes succinctly, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17), but goes on to point out that Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. Paul is astounded that anyone in the Christian community would not accept the Resurrection, and considers such people objects of pity.
The third area is in taking seriously the ethics Jesus proclaims. If you love him, you will follow his teachings, he says (John 14:15). It is well understood that we fail in avoiding sin. But at least acknowledging those ethics as serious, desirable goals is not too much to ask for those who say they follow Jesus.
One example will suffice. Jesus absolutely rejects killing and serious violence. In interpreting the commandment of Moses, “You shall not murder,” he extends it to include even being angry with another (see Matthew 5:21-22) and tells us to “turn the other cheek” (Matt. 5:38-39). In the Beatitudes, his ethical proclamation, he mentions “blessed are the peacemakers,” so that beyond avoiding violence, we should try to actively encourage peace among others.
Contrast this with the Crusades, wars of conquest, violent by definition, not defensive actions and done in the name of Christ. Somebody (Pope Urban, for starters) obviously did not get the memo. Countless wars since then have been led by Christians, waged by Christians, often against other Christians (although Jesus does not make that distinction; his rejection of violence is total). Individual Christian groups have committed to non-violence (Mennonites, Dukhobors, Quakers, for instance), as have many Christians within non-pacifist denominations, but the majority of Christians apparently see no ambivalnce in being violent God-loving Christians. If, as appears not unlikely, the United States again goes to war in the Middle East, it will no doubt have the blessing of many Christian leaders to do so, as happened in 2003. It causes controversy to even point this out as a problem.
“Who do people say that I am?” The poll continues to this day, the answers are many and varied. Then Jesus asks, “Who do you say I am?” (John 9:20).
Before you answer, you might want to review two things;
1. Does your view coincide with his view of who he is?
2. Once you have resolved who Jesus is, what are you going to do about it in your life?