The Forever Haunting Question
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 16:15 (Holman) “But you,” He asked them, “who do you say that
Jesus had asked the Twelve what others were saying about Him. Now He brought the question home. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what others think about Jesus. The issue boils down to what we each believe personally and individually. Thus, Jesus asked His disciples straight-up, “But you, who do you say that I am?”
Lots of notions about Jesus were floating around. The cacophony of sound was making clarity difficult to achieve. Jesus felt a pointed question was needed to force the Twelve to crystallize their thoughts. This is where singing songs, repeating statements of faith, and quoting Scripture can play a pivotal role. We occasionally need to verbalize to ourselves and others, “These things we believe.”
Foggy thinking about essential teachings of our faith leaves us susceptible to strange winds of doctrine flying about us. The garbled opinions of others can unduly sway us. Our vague notions need to be transformed into plain words.
Who do you say Jesus is? It is the question everyone must face, either now or on Judgment Day. None can avoid it. Everlasting destinies hang on its answer.
Jesus remains the most controversial figure who ever lived. The Person of Jesus is an enigma too difficult for the wisest sages of the ages. Understanding the nature of “Jesus is much too hard a nut for philosophic teeth to crack” (Spurgeon).
Most people don’t take time to dig into Scripture, to learn firsthand about Jesus from people who knew Him well. The majority, not wanting to repent, find it more comfortable to follow current opinion, to repeat what others are parroting.
What we do with Jesus decides our eternity. Don’t decide with your head in the sand. Choose with your eyes wide open. In the spiritual, Jesus is everything.
I read of a deaf boy’s mom who would open a hymnal and point out to him songs being sung. While others sang, He read the words. If he saw in the song the name Jesus, he was pleased. If he did not see the word Jesus, he would close the book. Amen. The boy got it. It’s all about Jesus. He is to consume our thoughts.
As saintly Payson was dying he said when he first believed, Jesus seemed as a star far away. But as years passed, Jesus little by little kept advancing, growing bigger, till at the end His light seemed to fill the whole hemisphere. Amen. That’s it. Our life-goal is Jesus. To know Him more, love Him more, serve Him more.
Till we know Him personally, we haven’t entered into saving faith. Our pilgrimage from unbelief to belief begins with knowing about Jesus, but faith is born only if we come to know Jesus, and faith grows only as we know Him more.
I repeat, in the spiritual, Jesus is everything. Eternity swirls around Him. Few assertions more anger people in our open-minded culture than when we claim Jesus is the only way to Heaven. We have to remind those who differ with our contention, Christianity is not a “make it up as you go” religion. Christ-followers are not given the prerogative to change the basic tenets of our faith as set forth in the Bible. Scripture plainly teaches Jesus is the only way to the Father.
If Jesus were not the only way to Heaven, why did the Father let His only begotten Son die for our sins on a cross? Jesus, in His Gethsemane agony, prayed the Father would grant some other way to pay our sin debt. Jesus “began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, “Abba, Father! All things are possible for You. Take this cup away from from Me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will” (MK 14:35b-36). Our salvation is in Jesus’ submissive word, “Nevertheless.” Be wise. Never seek it elsewhere.
Saying we believe Jesus is the only way does not mean we want to stifle religious discussion. Historically, Baptists have been champions of religious liberty. We believe everyone has the God-given right to believe or disbelieve as they choose, and the right to express their religious convictions openly and freely.
We as Baptists and as citizens of the USA must not lessen our fervor for this precious freedom of speech. Our country needs to beware its growing fascination with the heckler’s veto. Just because someone is offended by what they hear does not mean they have the right to keep others quiet. Imposed silence is not liberty.
We seek to make sure government does not show favoritism of one religion over another, but apart from this restriction, everyone must be able to speak their convictions at will, without fear of reprisal. This freedom has been bought by the blood of Christian martyrs, and the blood of our sons and daughters in the military.
Matt. 16:16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”
In a place marked by religious variety, Peter, voice of the Twelve, spoke the ultimate confession of faith for Christ-followers. Believers may have explained it better, but have never changed it. It remains the essential confession of our faith.
Jesus is the Messiah. This confession needed to be made and confirmed, for the first time, away from explosive Israel, where wrong, militaristic conceptions of the Messiah held sway. Jesus was the Messiah, but not the Messiah they expected.
Christians believe Jesus is the Messiah, the One on whom all Israel’s hopes were pinned. He fulfilled Old Testament expectations. He ushered in the new era.
In the Old Testament, prophets, priests, and kings were anointed with oil when they assumed their positions of leadership. This pouring out of oil pictured the fact Israel’s leaders were set apart by a covering from the Spirit of God being poured on them for their tasks. Israel believed Messiah would combine all three positions for not only Israel, but for the whole world. Jesus accomplished this.
Jesus is the Prophet, revealing all of God’s ways clearly. Jesus is the Priest, offering Himself as the final, ultimate sacrifice. Jesus is the King, David’s seed, promised to reign forever, controlling history. Peter was right. Jesus is Messiah.
Peter also said Jesus is the Son of the living God. Only one God lives. All pagan gods are lifeless. With this one and only living God, Jesus shares the same substance, the same nature. Jesus, equal with the Father, is true God of true God, not a lesser God. He is highest God of highest God. No God is above Jesus.
Messiah. Son of God. Did Peter totally understand his own words? No. Do we, two thousand years later, fully grasp what Simon said? No. Here’s what Peter knew, and we know; human categories are inadequate to describe Jesus.
Peter’s confession in our text remains to this day the bedrock belief of Christians everywhere. We would be hard-pressed to find any born again Christian who would not say without hesitation or apology, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It joins us together not like glue, but like concrete.
People belittle the fact Christianity is divided into denominations. This is the price we pay for living in a free society. Denominationalism done right actually reduces conflict. The problem is not our decision to have multiple denominations. Trouble springs from our unchristian attitudes toward each other.
The denominations are not as divided as we sometimes appear. At the heart of Bible-based Christian faith, there is little division. What we Christ-followers believe about the Person and work of Jesus is amazingly consistent.
Believers kneeling in humble reverence before Jesus are very united. We believe He is Messiah, filling the ultimate human positions; we believe He is God.