Pentecost 17 – (October 1st, 2006)
Questions and Answers. The basics of communication. Asking for information and giving it. There are good questions and there are better questions, but there are no dumb questions. Or are there? Often the student asks the teacher questions, but sometimes the teacher asks the pupil.
Here, Jesus the teacher, asks his students a poignant question. And it’s such a good question that it has been asked (and answered) for thousands of years. Jesus asks, “Who do people say I am?” Today let’s consider the question, the answer, and Jesus’ expanded answer. What a good question. What a good answer.
Have you ever pondered the really important questions of life? Most of us do at some point or another. What is the meaning of life? What was I put here to do? When will I die? How will I die? How will I be remembered when I am gone? How do I raise my children right? What do I do about my rocky relationship? Why is there so much suffering in the world, and in particular, in my life? Why does it seem like the most important questions are the hardest to answer?
And here’s a question: What is the most important question? Perhaps, “What must I do to be saved?” or some variation. Scripture tells us that answer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ”. Which might lead us right to Jesus’ question, “Who do people say I am?” Or, less formally, “who is this Jesus, anyway?” It’s a good question. It is, perhaps, the most important.
They all had their answers. The people, that is. Some say John the Baptist come back to haunt them…. Or maybe someone from further back, Elijah! A great man reincarnated or reappearing to do something great! It seemed rather foggy though. They knew he was someone important, someone special… but just who was he? No one seemed sure.
People are still confused about Jesus today. Everyone has heard of him. Most believe he existed. But how many see him for who he is? Was he a great teacher? A good example? A regular guy who’s been made into much more? How many see him as the Son of God, the Divine man, the Christ?
“Who do people say I am?” But that wasn’t the only good question Jesus had. He wanted to know more, more personally, who do YOU, my disciples, say that I am? This is not an opinion poll. This is not just to test the waters of Jesus’ popularity and reputation. He was putting his own students on the spot. What had they learned? What was their answer? Would it be the right one? What was their confession?
A Good Answer
And after what I imagine was a long pause, with the disciples looking uncomfortably at one another, hoping someone else would be the first to speak, finally Peter is bold to say, “You are the Christ.” And perhaps Jesus paused for another uncomfortable moment before he answered. We know from Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus said, “
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church,”
Good answer, Peter. But it wasn’t Peter’s answer. He was just repeating (confessing) what he had been given. And we confess the same:
That Jesus is the Christ is the only answer. He is not John the Baptist, or Elijah, or any other great man. He alone is true God AND true man. He alone is the one whose coming was promised for thousands of years. He is no mere teacher, no simple miracle worker. He is not just some moral example or ideal for holy living. He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
But who Jesus is – his person – is connected with what he does – his work. So the next question: “What does it mean to be the Christ?”
Unpacking the Answer
Many would have had a Christ who would lead them in battle against the Romans. Some looked for a political Christ who would save them from foreign rule some other way. Some saw Jesus as a dispenser of healing, a giver of bread. But being the Christ is not about these things.
Jesus tells us what it means that he is the Christ. He unpacks and expands on Peter’s answer. He is the Christ, yes. But a Christ of the cross. He spoke plainly about his work, what they could expect from him. They would go to Jerusalem. He would be rejected, he must suffer, he would be killed, AND he would rise again. This is what the Christ does. This is the meaning of Peter’s good answer, whether Peter liked it or not.
Who do you say that Jesus is? Of course, he is the Christ. But what does that mean to you? Do you want a Jesus for anything other than what he is? Are you looking for Jesus the healer? Who will always cure your diseases? Are you looking for Jesus the therapist? Who will help you work out all your “issues”? Are you seeking Jesus the job-provider, Jesus the child-rearing-advice-giver, Jesus the marriage counselor, a Jesus who comes to simply solve your problems and answer your questions? Then you will not find him.
But in his word, and in his sacraments, you will find Jesus who is the Christ. And a Christ of the cross. A Jesus who suffered and died, for your forgiveness, a Jesus who rose from death to guarantee you life, a Jesus who ascended to heaven to rule for you there, and a Jesus who will come again to bring final victory and peace. A Jesus on his terms, not ours. A Jesus who deals with sin, the root of all our other problems. A Christ that we need, not that we think we want.
Nor do we come to this answer on our own. It is God who shows us, leads us, brings us to faith by his Spirit. He gives the answer that we confess. We confess, like Peter, in our words, who Jesus is and what he has done. “Jesus Christ, God’s only Son our Lord… who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, died, was buried, descended into Hell, rose on the third day, ascended into heaven, sits at God’s right hand, and one day will come again to judge the living and the dead”.
Asking the right question is important. So is getting the right answer.
“Who is Jesus?” “He is the Christ.” “What kind of Christ?” “A Christ of the Cross – a Savior from sin – your savior and mine.” Good questions, and good answers – all given by God.