Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Recognition: the crowd's view

And it happened that while He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him, and He questioned them, saying, "Who do the people say that I am?" They answered and said, "John the Baptist, and others say Elijah; but others, that one of the prophets of old has risen again." And He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" And Peter answered and said, "The Christ of God." (Luke 9:18-20 NASB)

We are moving into a passage that deals with recognizing the diety of Christ. From Mark's gospel, we know that Jesus and the disciples were near Cesarea Philippi. For those who are familiar with the geography of Israel, it should be noted that this is not Caesarea Maritima, the seaside city built by Herod the Great on the Mediteranian. Caesarea Philippi was a town located 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, in a region dedicated to worship of the Greek god of desolate places, Pan.  

Jesus had gone with His disciples to pray. To be more precise, the verse above suggests that Jesus had gone to pray and His disciples had gone along with Him. While they were there in that solitary place, He began to question them. "What are people saying about me?" He asked. Jesus was not doing a publicity check. He was about to lead them to a profound insight. "What are they saying? Who do they think I am?"  

All the answers indicated that He was believed to be either John the Baptist or one of the ancient prophets come back to life. Not one of the answers they gave that day suggested people thought He was a heretic or a crazy man. The religious leaders were disturbed by Him and His words and they accused Him of heresy, but the general populace understood that He was not just an ordinary man.  They weren't quite sure who He was, but they clearly understood that His presence had significance, and that He was a man of religious importance. 

Jesus heard all the answers, then He brought the disciples to the turning point. "But who do you say that I am?" He asked. Jesus was drawing a line in the sand. "You know what people say, but what do you say?"  He wanted them to understand for themselves who He was, not just follow along with the crowd. Some of them had come to Him on the recommendation of John the Baptizer, some had come at the urging of one of the other disciples, and some had joined Jesus when He called them from their work. Now, they were being asked to choose for themselves. What did they say?

It was Peter who spoke. It was almost always Peter who spoke, perhaps as the de facto leader of the twelve. According to Matthew, he replied, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Jesus often referred to Himself as the Son of Man. Peter had recognized that He was not just human. He was, as the Son of God, also diety. Peter recognized, too, that, as God made flesh, He was also the promised Messiah and the fulfillment of all prophecy. He was the Promised One. 

These twelve men had spent a lifetime hearing about the Coming One, and likely expected a military ruler who would overthrow the Romans and restore the Kingdom to power and greatness. Jesus spoke of turning the other cheek, and commended the widow who gave her last mite. It was hard to imagine this Man leading a military revolution.  Peter's confession revealed an important fact. He was choosing truth over expectation. Jesus was not what people had expected, but He was exactly what we needed and Peter understood that. 

There is a great difference between our expectations of God's blessings and the reality of them. Those of us living in an affluent society have a tendency to expect more affluence, more ease, more recognizable blessings as we follow Christ. Those expectations, though, do not necessarily line up with His teachings. Sometimes He leads us to desert times of less rather than more, and we find even greater blessings in that place of less. We would do well to examine our own expectations about Christ, about faith, about discipleship. Are we expecting a "prosperity gospel" walk of faith or do we recognize that we follow the Suffering Servant Messiah who laid down His life for the sin of the world? We base our manner of following on our understanding of the One we follow, thus it is vital that our expectations of Who Jesus is be replaced by reality. 

Take a close look at both your expectations of Christ and the reality of Him. Look again at the promises He has given. The One who said, "Take heart, I have overcome the world," was the same One who also said, "In this world you will have trouble." He did not promise to help us avoid difficulty. He promised to help us through. He did not promise the results we expected in our difficulty. He promised to take that difficulty and bring something good from it. 

Like Peter, let reality replace expectation and confess with him, "You, Jesus, are the promised Messiah and my God."