February 17, 2015
Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.”
Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”
Easy believism. That’s the biggest obstacle to real faith. The test as to whether we are actually following Jesus is this: Are we going somewhere? Am I growing? Do I need him more today than I did yesterday? Do I want to be like him? Am I loving those who are hard to love; who are sometimes the closest to me? Does my heart break for the broken hearted? Am I sick of my sin, especially those that still will not leave me alone? Is my appetite for the Word of God and the Spirit of God increasing? Is my disposition increasingly marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control? Am i increasingly discontent with what the world calls “the good life?”
These are the deep inner questions of a person on pilgrimage, those who have fixed their eyes on Jesus and set their hearts to follow him. I’m not talking about being a “religious” person or a more “spiritual” person or even a more “committed” person. Those are all pitfalls of faith. It’s so easy to get stuck in the rut of being more committed to our commitments.
The first thing I like about today’s text is the way it says,
“Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him,”
That’s one of the joyful mysteries of true Christian community; being all at once alone with God and in the company of close friends. If you don’t understand that I can’t explain it, but if it piqued your interest its a sign you are headed in the right direction. An authentic relationship with Jesus will not settle to be a “private” affair. It must move into interpersonal relationships. People cannot grow into mature Christian faith by themselves. It’s why John Wesley said things like, “There is no holiness apart from social holiness.” Until a person is in this kind of personal/interpersonal connection with Jesus and others, they live in the undefined faith of “the crowd.” It’s why he asked his disciples,
“Who do the crowds say I am?”
This was the setup question. What are people saying? How about all those thousands of people we’ve fed; what do they make of me?” It’s like asking what the press is saying. It’s Elijah today and John the Baptist tomorrow, and who knows, the next day it could be Elvis. No one person is responsible for a crowd, which means crowds are not responsible to anyone. Today they cheer. Tomorrow they crucify.
A follower of Jesus must leave the crowd behind and join the community. The community is where it happens. The community of followers creates the context for conversion. It’s an incubator for deep heart change and mind shift; a reorientation with a reality too good to be true and yet truer than any truth this world has to offer. One day in the community of Jesus is better than a thousand days elsewhere. In this community we behold what we are to become. We “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Here we learn the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Here we find the miraculous place where the more we are known the more we are loved.
In this rich seedbed of relationships, Jesus asks us the question of questions,
“But what about you,. . . . .Who do you say that I am?”
That’s the question that makes the Christian. Yes, one may answer it many times along the way and yet one must keep on answering it until one answers it, and after that one must answer it still more. Here’s the response,
“Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.”
It’s not a matter of saying the right words. It’s saying the words right; right in the way that deep calls to deep, right in the way trust looks upon trustworthy, right in the way beloved beholds the Beloved. Right in the way a relationship gets defined and redefined and further defined. Doesn’t need to be a precious moment; must be a gut level movement of will.
Answering this question means giving all that you know of yourself to all that you know of Jesus only to realize the more you know of Jesus the more you will know of yourself and the more you will have of yourself to give.
So here we are, Fat Tuesday, on the eve of Ash Wednesday, at the base of Transfiguration Mountain and the question comes to me and to you,
“But what about you,. . . . .Who do you say that I am?”
Take some time with that today. Don’t be afraid. No matter how many times you’ve done this before or whether you have never done it before, release your grip on yourself and give yourself to the One who gives Himself to you. God’s Messiah!
Let’s be praying for each other. Tomorrow we climb to the summit.
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