Liar, Lunatic, or Lord?

“When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? 14 And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. 15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? 16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. 17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. 18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 20 Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.” (Matt. 16:13-20)

Sometimes, after an emotional encounter, it is good to be able to go somewhere to think. Life can become very stressful when people disagree over an important matter. A pleasant conversation can suddenly take on a very unpleasant atmosphere when words that wound are spoken. Some of the most stressful conversations are those in which a person’s course of action is challenged or called into question. It is not pleasant to try and defend one’s position. We all want others to simply re-affirm what we say and what we do. We do not like probing inquires in a course of conduct. Jesus had just been through a stressful situation with His encounter of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. These religious leaders had not come to re-affirm the Lord, but to seek a sign of Him from heaven. No ordinary sign would do. They wanted the clouds to bring sudden rain. They wanted the stars to fall from the skies. They wanted the sun to stand still as it did for Joshua.

But Jesus refused to give the religious leaders any sign except that of the prophet Jonah, and He went away. Still, the time spent in this encounter was emotional, and it was electrifying. The Lord was so disturbed by it that later in the day, He brought up the situation again in order to instruct His disciples (16:4-12). If difficult conversations cannot be resolved, at least a spiritual lesson should be learned from them. And the disciples learned to beware of the doctrine of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Now that the confrontation had ended, Jesus wanted to go away and be alone with His friends. A man is very fortunate in life if he can find even ONE truly faithful person to stand with him, and by him, in times of controversy. For the moment at least, Jesus had twelve friends. He sought comfort from them, and He sought comfort for them, as they all moved towards the district of Caesarea Philippi.

Philip the tetrarch had enlarged and beautified the place to which Jesus and His disciples went. The area had been named in honor of Caesar Augustus. A beautiful Temple had been built to the pagan god Pan. In the background of the Temple, rising 9,232 feet high, was the majestic, snow capped, Mt. Hermon. In this place of beauty and serenity, Jesus would closely question His disciples to see if they at least comprehended what the Pharisees and Sadducees did not. The Lord began His search for understanding with a general question.

“Whom do men say that I, the Son of man, am?” By calling Himself “the Son of man,” the Lord was referring to His state of humiliation. There was a time when Jesus dwelt with the Father in heaven. He was once high and lifted up and His glory filled the temple. He knew about the mansions there. He knew what it was like to walk on the clouds and ride the wind as a chariot. The Lord enjoyed the worship and the service of the angels. He called the stars by name. And He gave all that up, and more, in order to dwell on earth as “the Son of man.” In His state of humiliation Jesus had no permanent dwelling place (Matt. 8:20). He would be subjected to cruel suffering (17:2). Finally, after betrayal, the Lord would be put to death (26:24), and buried (12:40). In light of this, Jesus wanted to know whether or not the disciples could realize in Him something unique. He asked the question, “Whom do men say that I, the Son of man am?”

For a moment, a hush fell over the disciples. The question was not all that easy to answer. The disciples knew that some harsh and unkind things had been spoken about the Master. It was said of Him that He was Beelzebub, the Lord of the Flies. Only a few really believed that, but it had been reported widely.

Finally, one of the disciples replied almost timidly. “Lord, some people say you are John the Baptist.” One person in particular, who believed that, was Herod Antipas (Matt. 14:1). Herod believed that Jesus was really John the Baptist risen from the dead. For Herod, there was something familiar about the way that Jesus spoke and acted. The guilty conscience of Herod made him cringe when he heard Jesus preaching, just like John, saying, “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It is not easy for anyone to repent. It is not easy for a person to say they are sorry and have made a mistake and sinned. But it must be done. Somebody has said that the six most important words are, “I admit I made a mistake.” More times than I care to remember I have made this confession to God and to men. The Bible tells us that if we try to conceal a matter, it will be exposed anyway. Proverbs 28:13 says, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whosoever confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” Had Herod Antipas confessed his sins, he would not have been alarmed at the preaching of Jesus.

Another disciple spoke up. “Lord, some say you are Elijah.” You remember Elijah. Like John the Baptist, Elijah was a rugged individual. He wore a garment of hair, and a leather belt (2 Kings 1:8). He liked to tuck his cloak into his belt and outrun chariots (1 Kings 18:46). Elijah was able to go for 40 days and 40 nights on very little food. He lived in caves (1 Kings 17:3; 19:9).

But most important of all, Elijah preached a message of uncompromising loyalty to the Lord. In a day when belief in many gods was normal, Elijah called upon Israel to be faithful to the One true God, Jehovah. Elijah’s call to holiness and faithfulness caused conflict. That was not his intention, but conflict comes when bad behavior is challenged. Elijah challenged the false prophets of Baal to a duel on Mt. Carmel. Once there, he mocked them, and finally, he put them out of the land forever.

In Christ, many people discerned something of the spirit of Elijah. The Lord challenged the behavior of the Pharisees, scribes, and the Herodians. And the Lord’s message included an uncompromising call to love God with all one’s heart and soul. As some thought that Jesus might be John the Baptist or Elijah, others thought He might be Jeremiah.

Jeremiah was the major prophet during the decline and fall of the southern kingdom of Judah.

His ministry began about the year 627 BC under King Josiah.

Jeremiah was a reluctant prophet (Jer. 1:6). He claimed that he was too young to preach, and too inexperienced. But God had put His word in Jeremiah’s mouth (1:9).

His ministry was not popular. Jeremiah was to tear down, and to rebuild what was torn down (1:10).

The prophet was forbidden to marry (Jer. 16:1-13). A prophet cannot be a happy man. Jeremiah was not a happy man. Tears filled his eyes as he preached of the judgment to come (Jer. 20:7).

At times, Jeremiah tried to hold back from preaching (20:9). But because of his love for God, and for the people of God, he could not keep silent.

Just as the prophet predicted, Jerusalem was torn down. The nation was sent into captivity in 586 BC.

In Christ, many Jews saw a reflection of the prophet Jeremiah. The Lord came with words of warning and tears in His eyes. As interesting as all of this was, the greater question for the disciples was more particular. Jesus asked the most personal of all questions. “But whom say Ye that I am?” Of every man, woman, and child, this question will be asked. “WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?”

We must be able to answer. Other people may have an opinion, but we,as individuals, must respond as well. Salvation is personal. All of the disciples were asked this question by Christ, including Judas Iscariot. Not surprisingly, it was Peter who first answered the inquiry, saying “Lord, thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

By declaring that Jesus was the Son of the Living God, Peter was stating, that in a unique way, Jesus was the Living One. All other, so called gods, were dead. Christ alone is the way of eternal life. But how did Peter know these things? There is only one way, and that is through divine revelation. GOD THE FATHER revealed to Peter spiritual knowledge. It is important to understand this. God the Father must reveal His Son to the soul directly. Any other form of knowledge will be superficial and short lived.

Have you ever known someone who has turned away from the church? Perhaps they were a Sunday school teacher. They might have been a preacher, but now they are gone out of the ministry. Perhaps they grew up in church, but no longer attend. What is wrong? It is possible that the Father has never revealed to them a true saving knowledge of Christ. Such people are more like Judas than Peter. And like Judas, eternity will prove that they are of their father the devil, and the lust of their father they will do. They may, like Judas, be religious. They may be intimately associated with the things of Christ, but the Father has not revealed Christ to them directly. They are so close, and yet so far away from the Saviour, and eternal life.

When we ask our evangelistic questions of others, let us also ask ourselves, ”What do we think of Christ? Has the Father revealed Him to us so that we love the Lord, and believe on Him? What do you think of Christ?”

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