I had two grandmothers who were polar opposites—one was salty and the other was sweet. But they did have two things in common. They were both named Lillian and they were both indulgent toward me. That really worked out for a selfish kid. I could get model airplanes and comic books just by asking. Over the course of a summer I stayed with one of the “Lillians” and she let me eat only the things I liked—candy, chicken pot pies, and ninety-nine cent frozen pizzas—items whose packaging probably had more nutritional value than the alleged food products did.
For obvious reasons, I was crazy about both of my grandmothers. But years after their passing I wonder, Who were those women? I hardly knew them.
The same bewilderment easily invades the Christian life. We’ve prayed many perfunctory prayers to Jesus over Thanksgiving dinners and a few real ones during crises, but we finally wonder, Who is He, really?
There’s a reason for this sudden curiosity, this spark of interest.
Jesus caused it.
He brings you to this one subject because that’s where the blessing is.
Check out this conversation in progress:
“When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’” (Matt. 16:13). Apparently the disciples weren’t sharp enough to ask this question, weren’t interested, or simply weren’t aware that it was paramount. Jesus had to ask it for them.
“Who?” is how He starts the conversation. We typically begin with What, as in What church should I attend? What profession should I pursue? What person should I marry? All are fine questions, but there comes a time when Jesus seeks to lead us into a different territory where His identity will change everything.
I remember as a baby-faced lad, sitting in the Don Theater watching Star Wars. Onscreen chemistry started to form between Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. Even a thirteen year old boy with no romantic I.Q. knew where it was headed. I said to myself, Kissing’s next. Then love. Marriage. Little Skywalkers.
But in the next installment of the Star Wars franchise, young Skywalker finds that his love interest is actually his long-lost sister. First of all, gross. Second, the trajectory of the subplot changed, based on Luke’s amended view of Leia. Corrected identity can be a huge game changer.
And things will massively transform within your own life plot when your view of Jesus changes. The shockwaves will play out for years surrounding the event.
He knows it. That’s why He brings it to you and gets you thinking about it.
Faulty, confused valuations of Jesus are all around us. The disciples confirmed that word on the street was that Jesus was John the Baptist. John had been a spiritual radical who called for repentance. It was easy then, for onlookers to see Jesus also calling for repentance and then identify Him as John.
Others said Jesus was Elijah, the power prophet from the Old Testament who could control weather with his prayers and call down fire from heaven on the enemies of God. They thought of Jesus this way as they saw Him work miracles of various kinds. But others who listened to Jesus speak imagined they heard Jeremiah, the prophet who had been a voice of conscience to the nation. Various opinions also rolled in naming Jesus as one of the prophets.
No negatives were included in this list, although they definitely existed. Detractors had called Jesus a deceiver and claimed He was demon possessed. Here, the disciples only reported the religiously respectful views (Matt. 16:14). As it turned out though, even these Jesus-friendly opinions were insufficient.
A quick survey of comparative religion will show that other major systems of belief make room for Jesus. Islam calls Him a sinless prophet. Hinduism allows for His being a god. New Age spirituality considers Him an enlightened Spirit guide.
Various stripes of religious thought all offer Him some kind of niche because they’re not comfortable ignoring Him. But none of their hurrahs are sufficient, whether it is “Good man,” “Perfect man,” “Great teacher,” “Holy prophet,” or “god.” As valuations of Jesus, every one of them fall short.
Odds are that as a Christian you’ve probably done something like this in your own way. We’ve called Him Lord, Savior, and many other exalted complimentary things when in actuality, He is “Matchmaker,” “Fitness Guru,” “Vision coach,” or “Financial Adviser.” None of these things are necessarily evil. After all, we should bring our concerns about health and love and money to Him.
None of them are wrong. Just small. They offer blessings less than what God intends for us.
The greatest blessing is always attached to the true identity of Jesus. And so where the spotlight was for a few moments resting upon what people out there say, it now shifts to “them”—the believers. Jesus said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15).
Peter felt compelled to respond, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:16). Jesus answered Him ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!” (Matt. 16:17). The Lord’s excitement can’t be overlooked here. Blessing is upon that confession and blessing follows behind as well.
If you feel moved to enter this conversation along with Peter, do it.
(Part 1 of a series).
Photo credit: Craig Sunter