Jesus went out, and his disciples,
the towns of Caesarea Philippi:
by the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them,
do men say that I am?
they answered, John the Baptist; but some say, Elias;
and others, One of the prophets.
he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ.
I do not think that Jesus’
question to His disciples was merely rhetorical, nor exploratory of the public
mood. Rather, in knowing who He is and
the hearts of all men who were created through Him, Jesus knew that how people
understood Him would have a direct impact on their lives. If the Pharisees thought He was a rebel
preacher that jeopardized their religious hold on power, they would work to
discredit and eventually kill Him. If
Herod was losing his grasp on reality in consequence of his guilty conscience
for having killed John the Baptist, thinking Jesus was John’s accusing ghost,
then he might find all kinds of erratic ways to avoid encountering Jesus
directly. If the mob thought Jesus was
one of the old prophets, such as Elijah, who was thought to come before the end
of the world and the restoration of the Jewish empire to prominence, they might
try to make Jesus their earthly king.
But if His disciples understood Him to be who He really is, then they
would confess Him as the Christ—the Messiah, Savior of the World, only begotten
Son of the Father, fully God and fully man—and that truth would lead them to
follow Him even unto Calvary. To know
Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, is to know Him as the source
and summit of all life—the Eternal Word by which they were created, redeemed, sanctified,
and preserved forever in His grace.
What people know and
believe has real consequences in their lives.
For example, people who work for a living know the terms of their
working contract with their employer, and believe that their employer will be
faithful to compensate them according to their agreement. People who drive cars in busy downtown areas
know the rules of traffic lights and cross walks, and trust that others will
respect red or green lights the same way they do. But beyond the superficialities of life, the
way people live reveals what they really believe about who they are, why they
are in this world, what they value, and what they think happens when they
die. The hedonist might seek pleasure and
leisure above all else, while the materialist might seek manipulation of the
material universe for power and prestige.
The fatalist and atheist might seek to allay their doldrums over
believing their life has no transcendent or enduring meaning, pondering the obliteration
of their consciousness at bodily death.
Those who follow dark gods of pagan antiquity might live in the pursuit
of power and sex and magic, hoping to climb into the echelons of demi-gods or
heroic men of renown in the afterlife.
And others might live with the knowledge that the only true God is the
Creator and Judge of all things, before whom they will one day stand to give an
account of how they lived with the resources they were given.
Any way it’s analyzed,
the lives of people reveal what they really believe, because we are rational
creatures for whom mind and will inform action.
A mind surrendered to passion and sentimentality will reveal a life
ordered to the conviction that passions and sentiments are of higher value and
priority than truth and discipline and duty.
Thus when Jesus probes His disciples about who they say He is, Jesus is
getting at the heart of where faith and conviction are rooted, and thus the
place within them from which the actions of their lives would flow. The disciple who knows Jesus is the Christ,
knows that Jesus is God and they are not; that the terms of life are set by the
Author of Life, and that the Word of God outweighs the words of men. This is why Jesus could then explain to His
disciples that a life secure in Him by faith would look like picking up their
respective crosses of duty and following Him even unto death. As Jesus would demonstrate on that first
Easter, death could not hold Him, and His victory over sin, death, hell, and
the devil would be a victory He gave by grace through faith to His
disciples. The Lord of Life submitted to
death, even death on a Cross, so that His life might be given as a ransom for
all who would abide in Him. That
knowledge and conviction has consequences in the lives of those who possess it,
not by their own power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit given to them which
enlightens their minds and empowers their bodies, even as He restores their
In this season of Lent,
it is a good time to pause and examine what our lives declare about what we
really believe. In reality, our lives
often reveal false motives and dark desires, many times at odds with the Author
of Life to whom we know we are accountable.
Where our minds have become lazy, our convictions weak, and our behavior
has followed suit; where our lives have not embraced the duty of our vocations,
the love of God above all things and the love of neighbor as ourselves; where
we find ourselves embracing deceptions rather than truth, and chasing valueless
baubles rather than the treasures of virtue; in these things we find
opportunity for repentance. Lent reminds
the Christian that while we are yet in this world, we struggle as those with
two wills, two minds: the fallen and condemned
flesh which lives at enmity with God by attempting to deify itself, and the
Mind of Christ which is being fashioned in us every day by the power of the
Spirit working through the Word. We are
simultaneously sinners and saints, daily called to drown the inclinations of
our selfish corruption, and rise up in the baptismal grace and righteousness given
to us by Jesus. What we learn in the
lessons of Lent is not solely a seasonal exercise, but a daily demand—to examine
what we know and what we really believe, and how our lives correspond to our
convictions. No fig tree should bring
forth thorns, nor fresh springs poisonous waters, and neither should the
Christian bring forth a life out of harmony with the Lord of Life.
Like faith and good
works, faith and repentance are never really found separate in this world. That we feel the sorrow for our sins, for
lives that do not honor the Eternal Word who sought and saved us, reveals in us
a living faith which by the power of God still strives to pick up our cross and
follow our Savior. The Gospel of Jesus
Christ is for the people of God who strive and seek and suffer under the curse
of the Law, so that we might always find the refreshment of forgiveness, life,
and salvation when we return to the Lord our God in faith. For faith alone clings to the promises of
God, that eternal life is given to all who will repent and believe in Him. Be of good cheer, dear Christian, for the Captain
of the Heavenly Host who has met you in your battles against the darkness of
our age, both within and outside us, has done all things necessary to secure
your victory and your life in Him forever.
Hear Him, abide in Him—repent, believe, and live. Amen.