RECOGNIZING JESUS AS "THE CHRIST"
27Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, "Who do people say I am?" 28They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." 29"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Christ.[a]" 30Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
31He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."34Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35For whoever wants to save his life[b] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.
(NOTE: The terms "Christ" and "Messiah" mean the Anointed or Appointed One. Portions of this sermon have been adapted from one written and published by Rev. Siegbert Becker, now deceased, in a book entitled The Word Goes On, Northwestern Publishing House, copyright 1992.)
A person doesn't have to be Christian to recognize that Jesus has had a major impact on the course of this world and its history virtually everywhere. Hindus, Muslims and pagans of every sort admit it. Even people who only use the Name of Jesus as a curse word to vent frustration testify to His greatness in a left-handed sort of way, because you don't find them expressing their anger by blurting out a name like "Buddha."
What makes the universal recognition of Jesus even more remarkable is that His whole public ministry only lasted about three years! The earlier years of His life were spent in the obscure village of Nazareth working in a carpenter shop, so hidden away from public view that the world and even the church know almost nothing at all about those years of His life. - But today all over the world countless millions never go to bed without praying to Him. They have never seen Him but love Him and have set all their hopes for eternity on Him.
What kind of Man could affect the world so profoundly in such a short time? - From early on in His ministry Jesus performed many miracles, and the Gospels show us that His activities caused a great deal of discussion. People often asked who He was! After He once stilled the stormy sea, His own disciples asked, "What sort of Man is this, that even wind and sea obey Him?" It was natural for them to wonder, but it was also a question being asked by a lot of other people. Many saw Jesus with their own eyes, heard about His miracles and listened to Him teach, yet they still had no clue as to who He really was or why He came.
In the text Jesus asked His disciples, "Who do men say that I am?", then, "But who do you say that I am?" He obviously expects His followers to give a different answer from other people!
MORE THAN A GREAT MESSENGER FROM GOD
We can see from the disciples' answers that people can say some very nice things about Jesus and still not really know or understand who He is. Just because they say complimentary things about Him -(even if what they say about Him is true as far as it goes)- that doesn't necessarily mean they've given the kind of answer with which Jesus would be satisfied.
Some people of that time thought Jesus was John the Baptist. Even Herod, who had once issued the decree that John's head was to be cut off in order to satisfy his step-daughter Salom , believed that Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead. - If Jesus had been just any other man, it would have been a most flattering thing to identify Him with John. John was one of the greatest messengers from God this world has ever seen! Crowds of people traveled from far and wide to see him. To put Jesus in a class with John was meant to be an honor, but it didn't go nearly far enough.
While people today no longer identify Jesus as John the Baptist, for all practical purposes they can still basically express the same sort of opinion in different words. Some may flatly deny the Lord's miracles and Virgin Birth. They might never mention His death for our sins. They may call His resurrection a myth, and yet at the same time they can speak in the most glowing terms about things Jesus said in teaching people how they ought to live in this world.
Thomas Jefferson was an example! He openly rejected some of the most basic doctrines of the Christian faith and deleted whole portions of the Bible that didn't suit his personal opinions, but he deeply admired Christ's Sermon on the Mount (Matthew's Gospel, chapters 5-7) as a kind of "blueprint" for the life of any model American citizen. - When we visit other churches, even, we need to be aware that preachers may extol Jesus and a lot of things He said and did during His earthly life, but, if that's all that comes through, they haven't done Him full justice. For Jesus to have kept pressing His disciples about His identity makes crystal clear that He Himself isn't satisfied with that kind of opinion.
MORE THAN A PUNISHER OF EVIL
Then other people said Jesus was Elijah, who had also been a great worker of miracles like Jesus. Again, maybe they were expressing a high regard for the works of Jesus, but which also fell short. - When you read accounts about Elijah in the Old Testament it soon becomes obvious that he was a man whose mission from God was to punish wickedness and remove it. Many of his miracles were done for that specific purpose!
Elijah called down fire from Heaven on his water-soaked altar and sacrifice in order to demonstrate to the people that "Baal" was a false God (1 Kings 18), and then he ordered the execution of hundreds of the false-prophets of Baal in accordance with Old Testament Law. He denounced the King and Queen of Israel and correctly predicted their violent deaths as punishment for their sins. Then later on, when King Ahab's son ordered Elijah's arrest, the Prophet called fire down from Heaven twice to destroy the soldiers who had been sent to take him prisoner.
By Christ's time, many perhaps quite naturally supposed that the Messiah promised from God would deal with wickedness in the same way Elijah did. They expected the Messiah to use miraculous powers to punish and destroy all the wickedness in the world by force. To do that, though, they had to ignore other Old Testament prophecies that included other things about the Messiah, - like His suffering. (e.g., Psalm 22 & Isaiah 53.)
Even the disciples were full of misconceptions about how the Messiah would deal with evil and wickedness! (See about James & John in Luke 9:54 or about Peter in John 18:10.) Rather than mercilessly destroy sinners and evil-doers, with great mercy He would die for them! - Peter, who had personally seen the power of Jesus in calming storms and healing and feeding thousands, just couldn't imagine how such a Man could be arrested and killed by His enemies. The Lord gave a plain prediction about His suffering in the Mark 8:27-35 text, and Peter vehemently objected in spite of his inspired confession identifying Jesus as "the Christ" just shortly before.
Jesus set the record straight when He indicated that those who ignore His suffering are actually guided by Satan. - No, He had not come to be some great earthly punisher of evil, but a Cross-bearing Servant. Many both in His own time and today haven't thought that sounds like much of a Savior, and that's exactly why He ended up being rejected and put to death!
JESUS IS "THE CHRIST" (MESSIAH)
With his limited faith and understanding, Peter nevertheless at least did identify Jesus correctly when he confessed Him to be "the Christ." - By grace it's also our privilege to know and proclaim Jesus as "the Christ" (or "Messiah" as He was called in Old Testament prophecy).
Those prophecies spoke of Him as God, coming into the world to redeem it;- as a great King who would come to save His people from their enemies;- as a Prophet Himself who would proclaim Truth and Good News;- and as a great Priest who would give His own Soul as an offering for the sins of all men. All that and more could only happen through His death, though! He was appointed by the Father way back in eternity to be the One to accomplish it all. And only He could!
No one else could suffer for our sins but God's own Son whom He selected. No one else could die in our place but the Anointed One. No one else could take away the guilt of the world but the One targeted for it:--> "the Christ."
That's not a last name, but a Title. And there's no separating the Title from the mission! In fact, in each of the Bible's three Gospel Books that record Peter's confession, Jesus immediately followed-up His being recognized as the Christ by connecting it to His mission to suffer and die (and then rise again). - God originally created us with the intention of our enjoying eternal life with Him, but God's only-begotten Son is the only One who was born with the specific purpose that He die.
And He did it for you and me as well as for the rest of the world! - Sometimes preachers can perhaps leave an impression that we're all just the hapless, helpless victims of the sin-nature with which we're born, so that we ourselves don't really bear any of the responsibility for our sin. But, while it's true that we are victims and are helpless on our own to escape sin and being sinners, we also all too often and easily give in to sin's urges and temptations. Our very wills have conformed to the sin-nature in us, so that we haven't just passively but aggressively and actively rebelled against God and His Law (Romans 8:7 & the 1st Epistle of John, chapter 1 verse 8). And yet it's in spite of such a hostile attitude on our part that Jesus still has loved us and fulfilled His assigned role as the Christ. He is "the Christ" for me. He is "the Christ" for you. And His being "the Christ" means the absolute forgiveness of our sin-and-hatred towards God and the breath-taking prospect of His gift of eternal life for us!
Matthew's Gospel (Chapter 16, verse 17) indicates that, as Jesus responded to Peter's confession of Him as the Christ, He claimed His Church would be built and centered on that God-given Truth. And then Jesus added that "the gates of hell will not prevail against it." The very fortress and all the powers of Satan himself cannot withstand God's true Church and her one Foundation, Jesus (the) Christ!
Jesus Himself attacked the stronghold of evil as He "descended into hell" and announced the triumph He clinched by the Cross, and as He claimed back His life with power, rising on the third day and ascending to Heaven and glory! - Jesus shares such invincible power with all who have been graced with the faith to know Him as "the Christ," who was assigned with the mission of suffering and dying on our behalf. The hell-storming power of that singular Truth is His gift and legacy to us as we await our own translation into glory!