Who do you say Jesus is?
Who do you say Jesus is?
The time is here. Every four years, we Americans elect a new President and experience several months of political commercials, news stories about the candidate’s exploits, and political debates which all culminate with the Presidential election. We are experiencing these things now. Sometimes it is difficult to understand what some candidates stand for, because their commercials focus more on discrediting their opponents rather than telling us about the candidate sponsoring the commercial and how they are going to serve the people who they represent. Hopefully, at the end of this political season, we will be able to sift through all the rhetoric and discern which candidates will be the best leaders for our community, our state, and our country.
We may be clear about what characteristics the best leader would have; however, each of us is looking for different characteristics depending on which issues are the most important to us. For some, our economy may be the most important issue, for others, foreign policy may be the most important issue, and perhaps for others social justice may be the most pressing issue.
But regardless which issues are the most critical, we want a strong leader, one who can lead us through the next four years, one who can deal with other world leaders, one who can handle the pressures of leading this great nation into the future.
There is a parallel between the people of ancient Israel and us. We are looking for strong leaders to lead us through uncertain times and they were looking for a strong leader to lead them out of occupation by the Romans.
There is no doubt that whomever America elects as our next President, he or she will face many challenges. I can imagine any one of our presidential candidates walking down a sidewalk on their way to a rally asking their campaign manager what the people are saying about them. This is important for them because they need to be sure the message they are bringing is what people are hearing, and that they are addressing what the people want.
Jesus asked a similar question of his disciples on their way to Caesarea Philippi. He asked, “Who do people say that I am?” His disciples answered him “John the Baptist, Elijah, and one of the prophets”.
Then he asked another question, a much more personal question “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter answered him “You are the Messiah.” In the Jewish tradition, the Messiah or Anointed one would be a human leader, physically descended from King David. He is thought to accomplish predetermined things in only one future arrival, including uniting the tribes of Israel, the gathering in of all Jews to the Promised Land, the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, the ushering in of a Messianic Age of global universal peace, and proclaiming the World to Come. In other words, the expected Messiah would be the strong leader they were looking for.
But then Jesus started teaching them that he would endure great suffering and be killed. This didn’t fit the Jewish idea of a Messiah. The Messiah was to be a strong leader, one who would lead Israel out of Roman occupation. A Messiah who would be killed? What kind of Messiah is that? Peter took him aside and rebuked him. But Jesus turned it around and rebuked Peter, calling him Satan, for he was focused on the human aspect of what was to come and not the divine aspect.
As I said earlier, our next President will face many challenges for we live in a hurting world. One needs only to listen to the news to hear some of the hurts the world is enduring, some of the challenges not only our government, but all of us will face as time goes by.
One of those challenges is climate change also known as global warming. While many people still dismiss this as a non-issue, more and more people are contributing the extreme weather we have been experiencing throughout the world and the natural disasters that have occurred to global warming, and the cause of global warming to human activities.
Another challenge is the violence and unrest in the Middle East, including the war in Syria, a war that traces it’s beginning to a long drought that made water a scarce commodity. More than 200,000 people have died in this war with more than half of those casualties being civilians. 3.9 million people have fled the violence and poverty by leaving the country. The news has recently been showing the crowds of people, risking their lives to flee to safety in Europe, and the many who don’t survive the journey.
In our own country there are also many challenges. There are some police shooting unarmed people. There are people targeting and threatening police officers and killing them in their own homes. In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, there is still poverty, there are still people going hungry, there are still people without shelter. There is still racial discrimination and unrest. There are shootings in our schools. Our children and grandchildren face bullying in our schools. There are still not enough jobs available to people that can support a family.
And on top of all of this, we each have our own personal challenges and even challenges as a faith community. Sometimes it truly feels overwhelming.
But there is good news! There is hope! Jesus did not come to earth as the type of Messiah that the Jewish people expected. He did not come to conquer Israel’s enemies. He came to conquer sin, that which separates us from God, but not just for the Jewish people of ancient Israel, but for all of us in all times. Through Jesus we are forgiven our sin, we are reconciled to God and to each other.
We are called to follow Jesus, to deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow our Messiah. We are called to lose our lives for the sake of the Gospel, and by doing so we will find our lives.
There are indeed many problems in our hurting world, and as followers of Jesus we are called to work to relieve these problems, to care for those who need care, to speak for those who have no voice, and to stand with those being oppressed.
There is a sign in Christiana hospital that says “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service to others” This paraphrases what Jesus told his disciples in todays Gospel reading. There are too many problems for any one person to work on ending all of them, but we can all choose one that tugs at our hearts and work on it, and many of us are already doing that.
Just as there are more problems than one person can solve, there are many descriptions of Jesus. There is no single name or title that can fully describe Jesus and there are around 200 names and titles of Christ found in the Bible. These are some of the more well- known ones.
Head of the Church: Jesus Christ, not a king or a pope, is the only supreme, sovereign ruler of the Church.
King of kings and Lord of lords: Jesus has dominion over all authority on the earth, over all kings and rulers, and none can prevent Him from accomplishing His purposes. He directs them as He pleases.
Light of the World: Jesus came into a world darkened by sin and shed the light of life and truth through His work and His words. Those who trust in Him have their eyes opened by Him and walk in the light.
Son of God: Jesus is the “only begotten of the Father” Used 42 times in the New Testament, “Son of God” affirms the deity of Christ.
Son of man: Used as a contrast to “Son of God” this phrase affirms the humanity of Christ which exists alongside His divinity.
Word: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.
Emmanuel: Literally “God with us.” Both Isaiah and Matthew affirm that the Christ who would be born in Bethlehem would be God Himself who came to earth in the form of a man to live among His people.
Lord of All: Jesus is the sovereign ruler over the whole world and all things in it, of all the nations of the world, and particularly of the people of God's choosing, Gentiles as well as Jews.
Bread of Life: Just as bread sustains life in the physical sense, Jesus is the Bread that gives and sustains eternal life. God provided manna in the wilderness to feed His people and He provided Jesus to give us eternal life through His body, broken for us.
Good Shepherd: In Biblical times, a good shepherd was willing to risk his own life to protect his sheep from predators. Jesus laid down His life for His sheep, and He cares for and nurtures and feeds us.
High Priest: The Jewish high priest entered the Temple once a year to make atonement for the sins of the people. The Lord Jesus performed that function for His people once for all at the cross.
Lamb of God: God’s Law called for the sacrifice of a spotless, unblemished Lamb as an atonement for sin. Jesus became that Lamb led meekly to the slaughter, showing His patience in His sufferings and His readiness to die for His own.
Savior: He saves His people by dying to redeem them, by giving the Holy Spirit to renew them by His power, by enabling them to overcome their spiritual enemies, by sustaining them in trials and in death, and by raising them up at the last day.
True Vine: The True Vine supplies all that the branches need to produce the fruit of the Spirit— the living water of salvation and nourishment from the Word.
Way, Truth, Life: Jesus is the only path to God, the only Truth in a world of lies, and the only true source of eternal life. He embodies all three in both a temporal and an eternal sense.
These are a few of the titles for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus is not the Messiah the Jews expected, he is much more than they expected or could even imagine. When we elect a new President, he or she may not meet our expectations of the ideal leader; I don’t think any human could.
But Jesus is still Lord of all and is with us each and every day to help us through our challenges, to empower us to do the Lord’s will, and to transform us into people who are more like him. But, who do you say Jesus is?