What’s in a name? Everyone has one. They tell something about us. Some denote importance while others denote insignificance. You hear the name Henry Ford and you automatically think Ford Motor Company. George Washington and you think President of the United States. John Doe and you could care less because it’s clear that the name is insignificant.
As we hear in our Gospel account from St. Mark, Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” The fact that Jesus asks the question infers that people know something about Him and they talk about Him. And of course, the people do know of Jesus and they have been talking about Him. They know Him to be a prophet, a teacher, a healer, a miracle worker. Some have attributed Jesus as being more than that: “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.”
What do these responses indicate? It shows the people have great esteem for Jesus. He’s not your every-day, run of the mill carpenter’s son. He is more than that, much more than that. To be herald as John the Baptist, Elijah or another of the prophets indicate that Jesus is important. He is someone to be listened to. He is someone to whom the people respect.
All of that is good and proper. But there is an even more important question that Jesus then asks the disciples: “But who do you say that I am?” That seems to be an odd question, wouldn’t you think? Jesus has been baptized and the voice of God the Father spoke, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Granted, this takes place prior to the calling of the disciples. Even if the disciples didn’t know what God had said, John the Baptist did. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long after Jesus was baptized that he was arrested by Herod and later beheaded.
Regardless, Jesus has now called His disciples. They have been witness to the miracles and healing work of Jesus. They have heard His teaching and seen first-hand what He is capable of doing. And so the question is asked to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Clearly Jesus is not John the Baptist as he is dead. Clearly Jesus is not Elijah for he has been dead for generations. Clearly Jesus is not just a run of the mill prophet because the prophets could not do what Jesus had done up until this point. And so there is only one, logical response that can be given: “You are the Christ.” That’s Mark’s description of Peter’s answer. Matthew records Peter’s response as being, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Luke’s account records Peter’s response as being, “The Christ of God.” All three accounts have something in common: Jesus is the Christ, a title which means, the Anointed One.
Now, given Peter’s answer, we have to ask the good Lutheran question, “What does this mean?” Peter rightly calls Jesus “the Christ,” what the people of the Old Testament would have called the Messiah. He is the One who had been expected for so long. He is the One who would bring about salvation to mankind. Jesus is more than just mere man. He is the very Son of God in flesh. The Messiah, though truly human, was also God the Son, and His assignment as the Anointed One was clearly stated back in Genesis – He would be the One to bruise the head of Satan; He would be the one to earn salvation for us sinners.
Even though Peter made this confession, there were many of Jesus’ day who could not or rather, would not. Messiah meant something different to the people. Messiah meant an earthly king. Messiah meant the one who would rescue Jerusalem from Roman rule. Messiah for the people meant only earthly terms. Messiah did not mean what the Scriptures had spoken of regarding the Messiah.
This answer of the disciples given by Peter is the very answer that Jesus had hoped for. It is the only answer that can be given. Jesus is the Son of God and Jesus is the Son of Man, our Christ, our Savior, and our Redeemer.
But that is not the popular answer. “God” is whoever we want him or her to be. “God” can be whatever you want it to be for that matter. “God” becomes a generic name for every deity we worship under the sun. Whatever you want to call your god, it’s all the same god in the end. Your god is my god and my god is your god. That is the age in which we live.
Here is the problem with all of that. “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Only one God was able to do that, not many gods. Only one God can fit that description, not many gods.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again because it bears repeating: if you get Jesus wrong, then you get everything wrong. If you get Jesus wrong, then nothing else matters. What exactly do I mean by that? If you do not have the right understanding of who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for you, then everything that follows after that is wrong also. If you do not accept that Jesus Christ is both God and man, that your salvation depends solely upon Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection, then everything else you believe about salvation is wrong. Salvation can come from no other source than Jesus Christ. The moment that we start to think, or even worse, believe, that our salvation comes from someone or something other than Jesus, that is the point when everything means nothing.
After chastising Peter, Jesus gathers the disciples and the crowds and tells them that salvation is in Him and Him alone. Listen again to the stern words that Jesus says: “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” In this brief moment of Peter’s anti-confession, he shows that he is ashamed of Jesus because of the words that Jesus has spoken. Peter didn’t like Jesus’ words. But just because he didn’t like them didn’t make them any less true.
We may not like Jesus’ words at times either. Though we don’t like them, that doesn’t make them any less true. We may not like hearing that Jesus Christ is the only means of salvation because it takes the focus off of us. We may not like hearing that we must repent and return to God, especially if we’re justified in our actions because I’m not as bad as that person. However, one thing remains the same: it is by Jesus Christ that you have everlasting life. St. Paul says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” I didn’t die for you. You didn’t die for you. Your actions are not what save you. It is by Jesus Christ and Him alone that you have salvation.
By Jesus’ death on the cross, by His blood shed, we have salvation. When the question is asked to us, “Who do you say that I am?,” may we be bold to confess as Peter did: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.