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.” (New International Version)
In my work as both a church pastor and hospital chaplain, not to mention just being a regular guy, I rarely encounter people who characterize Christians as setting self-interest aside to follow Jesus completely with humble ministry which is willing to suffer on behalf of others.
Instead, I daily interact with folks who have long left the Church with stories of Christians squelching genuine questions about God and faith; being judgmental toward others who are not like them; having a hypocritical double-standard approach to most issues; and verbally abusing individuals who don’t conform to their cultural ideas and biblical interpretations.
We need Christians who make a difference in this world. We need Jesus.
A right and real confession of Jesus by his Church speaks a relevant word into the culture; proclaims the gospel of grace (not judgment); and consistently and lives what it believes.
Confessing Jesus as Lord makes all the difference.
After interacting with a lot of people on their ministry journeys, Jesus asked two questions of his disciples: “Who do people say I am?” and “Who do you say I am?” Out of all the questions we can ask people, these are two good ones: “Who do others say Jesus is?” and “Who do you say Jesus is?”
The disciples gave a variety of answers, which is to be expected. Today, you will also get variegated answers, such as, Jesus is a good teacher, a model humanitarian, a myth or a legend. A few times I’ve been told that Jesus was an alien from another planet. My all-time personal favorite response is that Jesus was a nudist and that if we all just took off our clothes, there would be peace in the world.
Although the disciples are sometimes clueless, Peter as the spokesperson, gave an insightful answer: “You are God’s Messiah.”
Messiah or Christ literally means, “The Answer.” Peter confessed Jesus as being The Answer, the person for whom it all comes down to. Peter may not have fully understood what he was saying, but he said it, nevertheless.
Being called by God makes all the difference.
“The Answer” was revealed to Peter by the heavenly Father. Faith in Jesus Christ is a gift given to us by God.
“My Father has entrusted everything to me. No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Matthew 11:27, NLT)
Peter was blessed – not because he did anything to deserve it – but because of sheer grace. It was revealed to Peter who Jesus really is, The Answer. We know who God is and who Jesus is by revelation, by God’s gracious self-revealing to people. Scripture is God’s revelation, a self-disclosure. It is through Scripture that we know.
Revelation isn’t just a matter of waiting for some spiritual zap to occur, in which God bonks me in the brain and deposits the knowledge and understanding of who Jesus is.
Peter put himself in a position to know by obeying the voice of Jesus to follow him. Then, Peter got to know Jesus over time.
Since it took years of being with Jesus for Peter and the other disciples to make a right confession of faith, then we need to have a great deal of patience for others, as well as ourselves. Others need time to get to know us, they need some time in the Scriptures, and they need some time with Jesus, too.
People do not typically come to a right confession of Jesus without having spent a good deal of time around us and within Holy Scripture.
Denying self, taking up our cross, and following Jesus makes all the difference.
God chooses to use you and me. The Lord only knows why. We are most certainly an imperfect people. Yet, it seems that our imperfections are the very thing God keeps using to reveal Jesus to others. Another way to put the matter is this: Genuine openness and vulnerability is needed, and not perfection or keeping up a tidy appearance.
Most people aren’t crazy about the word “vulnerable.” We might expect openness in others yet have no intention of being vulnerable ourselves. If you have ever poured out your heart to someone or a group of people and only got blank stares in return; sincerely loved someone and they did not love you back; shared your genuine thoughts on something important to you and received only criticism; well then, we may believe vulnerability is a bad thing and not worth the emotional effort.
However, Jesus became vulnerable – descending from heaven, submitting to the machinations of evil persons, and exposed on a cruel cross. (Philippians 2:5-11)
In the Gospel of John, Mary displayed vulnerability in pouring expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiping them with her hair, all the while exposing her true feelings for her Lord. In return, Mary got pushback and criticism from Judas. But Jesus upheld Mary’s actions and told Judas to leave her alone. (John 12:1-8).
In the Psalms, even a cursory reading reveals a boatload of vulnerability on the part of the psalmists. They were unafraid to explore the depth of human emotion, misery, joy, and praise of God.
Maybe we need the person who will stand up and say they are finally learning patience by being among a group of really annoying co-workers. Perhaps instead of laboring so hard to keep our thoughts and emotions in check, we need a church environment that lends itself to a person bawling their eyes out, while others just sit and cry with them.
That kind of vulnerability won’t happen unless we ourselves are real with God, who is never fooled by our deceitful hearts. Our evil-radar might be carefully attuned to others’ sin, but we are woefully inept at identifying the blackness within ourselves.
Jesus became completely exposed, naked, abandoned, alone and vulnerable on a cruel cross. Yet, instead of being shamed by the whole thing, Jesus scorned the shaming power of his crucifixion and embraced the suffering as the means of victory for our salvation.
Vulnerability might seem ugly, but it turns whatever it touches into beauty. God can change our weakest, worst, and most shameful places into incredible strength and newfound love.
The broken and despised, the struggling and the lost, are the ones worthy of God’s kingdom.
Whenever we are too afraid to walk into the mud of people’s lives, including our own, and are enamored instead with every spiritual shiny thing that comes along, we may have lost sight of our Lord, whom we are to imitate in his vulnerability.
Christians don’t have all the answers. But we do know the One who knows all things.
Methinks people will be drawn to Jesus when they observe Christians forsaking the path of the self-righteous prick, in favor of the humble servant who loses their life, only to find it.