We all have to answer crucial questions in life. When we’re young, our grandmother asks, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and we can say “A fireman” or “A princess” without following through. But, in time, the “What will you do with your life?” question requires a mature, thoughtful answer. Then there’s the question that changes our lives forever. In my case it was, “Mark, do you take Linda to be your wife?” Now that’s a big question!
But there may be no more significant question in all of life than the one Jesus asked his first disciples in Mark 8:29: “But who do you say I am?” This question came in the context of a conversation between Jesus and his disciples near the northern city of Caesarea Philippi. When Jesus asked, “Who do people say I am?” the disciples offered various answers, “[S]ome say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other prophets” (8:27). Not satisfied with any of these answers, Jesus turned to his closest followers and asked, “But who do you say I am?” (8:29). The structure of this question in Greek emphasizes the word “you.” It could be translated more literally, “And you, who do you say that I am?”
You and I can spend our lives speculating about theology. We can study the Bible and spin out all sorts of fine ideas about Jesus. We can even become a master of “the quest for the historical Jesus.” But, in the end, each one of us has to answer for ourselves the central question of life: “Who do you say I am?” We need to decide whether Jesus is just a good teacher (or, as some prominent atheists have recently claimed, not a good teacher at all). We need to wrestle with Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom of God and its implications. We need to confront the peculiar way in which he identified himself with the Lord, even going so far as to forgive sins. And then we need to grapple with the meaning of his death and the implications of his resurrection. Only then are we in a position to answer adequately Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?”
The way we answer Jesus has the potential to change our lives. If we acknowledge Jesus to be a divinely inspired teacher, then we will pay close attention to what he says so that we might believe it and live it. If we see Jesus as the Messiah, then we will serve him as God’s royal representative who ushers in the kingdom. If we believe Jesus to be the Savior of the world, then we will put our ultimate faith in him. And if we confess Jesus to be the Word of God Incarnate, the very Son of God, then we will fall before him in worship so that we might live our entire lives as an offering to him.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Who do you say Jesus is? What difference does this make in how you live each day? What difference might it make if you took more seriously your confession of Jesus’ identity?
PRAYER: Gracious Lord, you know how much I enjoy studying about you. I love discovering more about what your teaching meant and how the kingdom of God was coming into the world through you. I find it fascinating to chronicle the various ways people thought about you and why.
But, in the midst of my thinking about you, all of a sudden you confront me with the core question of life: “Who do you say I am?” By your grace, I have been able to answer that question. I say you are the Messiah, the one through whom God was beginning to reign on the earth. I say you are the best teacher of all, one whose truth I seek to understand and embrace. I say you are the Savior, whose death brings life to me. I say you are the risen one “who triumphed o’er the grave.” And I say that you are, indeed, the Word of God in the flesh, Emmanuel, God with us.
I can say all of these things, Lord. I believe them. But am I living them each day? Am I speaking and acting as if all of this is true? Help me, by your Spirit, to live each day in light of who you are, Lord Jesus. May my action reflect my confession. To you be all the glory! Amen.
Image courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.