Jesus once asked his disciples about what the people of that day were saying about him and who they thought he was. Here are some of the answers the world has given to that question over the last two millenia:
a created being
merely a good moral teacher
merely a great thinker
merely an example
merely a prophet
one of many ways to God or heaven
one of many gods
a lesser god
the spirit brother of Lucifer
the archangel Michael
a deceiver and false messiah
a counter-cultural, peasant philosopher
an impassive dullard
a pushover pacifist
an enlightened Master
the secret husband of Mary Magdalene
an Arian and enemy of the Jews
a buzz kill
a white republican
a religious taskmaster
a means to prosperity and perfect health
a false hope
a dead man
The list could go on, but the point is that Jesus of Nazareth is not only the most recognized and influential person in all of history, he is also the most controversial, misunderstood and re-imagined. To see why this is, let’s go back to the dialogue between Jesus and his disciples mentioned above:
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 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)
Jesus affirmed that he is the Christ – the prophesied Messiah of Scripture – and the very Son of God. In fact, he is no less than God himself, the creator of all things, come in the flesh (John 1:1-18)…and this is why we have created so many different versions of him: because we can’t live with the implications of his claims actually being true.
If Jesus is who he says he is then we owe him everything: our allegiance, our lives, and our eternal souls.
If he is who he says he is we must heed his command to repent for our sinfulness, cling to his cross, believe in his resurrection, and put our faith and trust wholly in him for our salvation.
If he is who he says he is then our pursuit of wealth, status, and comfort must be replaced with a pursuit for holiness and righteousness in all areas of our lives. We must put an end to our self-centeredness and start treating others as better than ourselves, even to the point of loving those who persecute us.
If he is who he says he is then he is coming back at the end of the age to judge everyone who has ever lived and he’ll determine whether they will enjoy eternal life with him or suffer eternal damnation apart from him.
If he is who he says he is then we must bow to him as Lord and God.
But this is an offense to us. It sounds like foolishness and it feels like a stumbling block. We are far too intelligent nowadays to believe in supernatural myths, we are too self-sufficient to need a Savior, we are too proud to see that we are a broken, rebellious humanity, and we are too busy being our own gods to worship the one who really is.
So we try our hardest to strip Jesus of all that authority, to make him more docile, easier to handle, and easier to ignore. We would prefer a safer Christ, one who doesn’t demand so high a cost for following him.
But that is not the Jesus of Scripture. The Jesus of Scripture tells us that it’s all or nothing. It is as C.S. Lewis once put it, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
And so we must make our choice, because like it or not, Jesus Christ cannot be ignored. He is planted firmly in the middle of our history, he is found in all the major faiths of of the world, he’s in every bookstore and every university, and from the the silver screen to the soup kitchens, from the pulpits to the prisons his voice can be heard, and he is asking us the same question today that he asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”
Let us end by simply reading Jesus in his own words…
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.
Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me
I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
I am the good shepherd, the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep
I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.
Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega…the beginning and the end
I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?