But Who Do You Say that I Am?

Jesus in stained glass

What Is the Most Important Question You Have Ever Been Asked?

What is the most important question you have ever been asked? The one that had the greatest impact on your life? The one you are either very glad you answered a certain way, or have long regretted your response to?

If you are married, perhaps it was something like, “Do you take so-and-so as your lawfully wedded wife (or husband)?” Or maybe, if you are a married woman, it was a question that preceded the wedding…when your boyfriend got down on his knee and asked, “Will you marry me?”

Was it some other question? Perhaps when somebody asked you to do something unwise, immoral, or illegal and you said, “Yes”?

Something else?

The Most Important Question Ever

Today we are going to try to look at the most important question ever asked…one that everyone has to answer. One whose response decides the fate of the responder.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke capture the question, but we’ll focus on the first. Let’s turn to Matthew 16:13-15:

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Within those words we have some options for who Jesus was:

  • John the Baptist
  • Elijah
  • Jeremiah
  • One of the prophets

[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. (During the sermon the Bible Alan was mostly reading from was the New International Version. ]

All pretty impressive choices…but all very far off the mark. In fairness to them, Jesus’ disciples were just being honest about what they’d heard from others. However, it doesn’t seem to me that Jesus really cared about who others thought He was. Instead, I think He was laying the groundwork for a query that was far more important for those hearing His words.

But who do you say that I am?

Who cares what they think…what do you think?

Who cares who they think I am…who do you think I am?

Other Options for Jesus

Now…wait…although it is clear that I want you to answer that question…don’t quite yet.

While He was here on earth there were more options offered than just John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. Let’s dive back into the Bible and look at some of them.

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds” (Matthew 11:18—19).

Well, that didn’t start off so well, eh? Our previous choices…albeit wrong…were positive…but who did “this generation” (verse 16) say Jesus was?

  • A glutton!
  • A drunkard!
  • A friend of tax collectors and sinners!

And remember that a tax collector…a thieving colluder with the hated Romans…was one of the lowest things to a first century Jew.

But who do you say that I am?

We’ve had an inauspicious start to our answers to “But who do you say that I am?”…but it has to get better than that, eh?

Let’s take a look at John 8:39-41:

39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.”

Did you catch the implication of their final statement?

That’s right! They appear to have called Jesus a bastard!

Glutton, drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners, and a bastard.

But who do you say that I am?

Now let’s turn to Matthew 12:22-24:

22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.”

Ack!

After hearing about Jesus’ amazing, kind miracle…who did the Pharisees say Jesus was?

A person in league with the devil!

Glutton, drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners, a bastard, and a person in league with the devil.

But who do you say that I am?

Hmmm…perhaps we’ll have better luck if we get out of John and Matthew. Let’s turn to Mark 3:22 instead:

22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.

Now we have gone from a person in league with the devil to a person possessed by the devil! I’m not sure which one is worse…but this sure isn’t an improvement!

Glutton, drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners, a bastard, a person in league with the devil, and a person possessed by the devil.

But who do you say that I am?

Let’s try again in Matthew…this time when Jesus was promising His disciples they would be persecuted:

25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household (Matthew 10:25).

Egad!

In league with the devil wasn’t enough.

Possessed by the devil wasn’t enough.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:25 indicate that some were actually calling Him…”the master of the house”…the devil!

Glutton, drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners, a bastard, a person in league with the devil, and a person possessed by the devil, and…the devil!

But who do you say that I am?

Okay, okay. Clearly Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees were like oil and water. We can’t expect those whose positions Jesus’ very existence threatened to say good things about Him, can we? So, instead, let’s look to Jesus’ family to find out who Jesus was. We can locate that in Mark 3:20-21:

20 Then he [Jesus] went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”

Well, I suppose that’s better than most of list up to now…but did “his family” say Jesus was?

A crazy man!

Glutton, drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners, a bastard, a person in league with the devil, and a person possessed by the devil, the devil, and a crazy man.

But who do you say that I am?

And…by the way…Jesus’ family weren’t the only ones who thought he was nuts. Take a look at John 10:19-20:

19 There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. 20 Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?

Possessed and insane!

But who do you say that I am?

Lunatic, Liar, or Lord?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had quite enough of the negativity about Jesus! If you think about it, “‘dems fighting words”…perhaps we should react like two of the original twelve:

54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:54)

Yes, that’s it! When people today make similar comments and accusations about Jesus we should get a prayer circle together and start fervently petitioning the Lord to “tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them”!

Or, maybe instead we should read the next verse in Luke, eh?

But he [Jesus] turned and rebuked them (Luke 9:55).

Oops.

But, Jesus, they called you a glutton, a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners, a bastard, a person in league with the devil, and a person possessed by the devil, the devil, and a crazy man!

But who do you say that I am?

But who do you say that I am?

Don’t get me wrong, it is an extremely unwise thing to rebelliously defame the Son of the living God. However, no member of the Godhead gets His feelings hurt when ignorant people say ignorant things.

No member of the Godhead gets his feelings hurt when ignorant people say ignorant things.

And sure, sometimes we will need to be forceful in standing up for God, remind people just how imprudent their words and actions are…but ultimately what is important for you is…

Who do you say that Jesus is?

C.S. Lewis, my favorite Christian author outside of the Bible, had something to say in Mere Christianity in reference to that question (which is often referred to as the “Lunatic, Liar, or Lord?” trilemma):

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

If it weren’t for the handy alliteration in “lunatic, liar, or Lord?” I’d suggest a better summary of Lewis’ thoughts is “lunatic, devil, or Lord?”…and doesn’t that fit, in many respects, to what we read together earlier?

In today’s pluralistic world however…outside a “new atheist” context…we try to be softer than that and go the “great moral teacher” or “great human teacher” route. However, as Lewis notes, that is patronizing nonsense and Jesus “has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

So, which is it folks?

Glutton, drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners, a bastard, a person in league with the devil, and a person possessed by the devil, the devil, or a crazy man?

Or Lord?

Who do you say Jesus is?

Back to Peter

Let’s head back to the verses that started off this sermon…this time reading a couple further:

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 16:13-17).

Who do you say Jesus is?

I’m not sure exactly how we each interact with God once we die or when Jesus returns, but, for the sake of this sermon…

Let’s assume at the judgment seat Jesus looks into your eyes and says, “But who do you say that I am?”

What is your answer?

Now, you may think to yourself, “Well, it’ll be obvious then…so of course I’ll answer Lord!”

It was obvious that Jesus was Lord when He was here on earth. People had ample evidence in prophecy…His actions…His words…His indisputable miraclesyet they rejected and crucified Him.

No…you cannot wait until Judgment Day to answer this question that decides your eternity.

Jesus is looking at you right now.

Don’t look away!

You cannot avoid answering. A non-answer is the same as saying, “I reject you as Lord.” Doesn’t matter whether you illogically try to say He was just a wise moral teacher…a liar…a lunatic…or any other way you can marginalize the Son of God.

The Son of God who did not come “into the world to condemn [you], but in order that [you] might be saved through him” (see John 3:17).

The Son of God who came to earth to suffer and die for you.

For you…

There may be a million wrong answers, but there is only one right answer.

Jesus is looking at you right now.

Don’t look away!

He does not care what anyone else says about Him.

Don’t look away!

He is is asking you…right now…

But who do you say that I am?


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