“But who do you say that I am?”
Jesus asked this question of the disciples in the district of Caesarea Philippi. This
is a beautiful place in the wooded foothills of Mount Hermon. Its significance reaches back to Alexander the Great who established a temple to honor the Greek god of nature, Pan. Later it became a Roman imperial city, an administrative center, renamed to honor Caesar Augustus.
Jesus traveled all the way north from Galilee, to the very edge of Israel, to an historic place that represented creation, pagan idolatry, and political power and only then asked His questions. “Who do people say that I am?” “Who do you say that I am?”
The options haven’t changed much over the years. Some say John the Baptist – an edgy religious teacher, a spiritual revolutionary – others say Elijah – a miracle worker who channels the power of God – still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets – one who speaks on God’s behalf to challenge both the people and their leaders. Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t disagree with any of that. But the real question is the one that follows.
“But who do you say that I am?” Now He gets personal. Standing there, so close to the earthly power centers of pagan religion, emperor devotion, and political power, Jesus draws His line in the sand. He asks His disciples, and He asks us, “Who am I, to you?”
We only hear Peter’s response. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” You, not Caesar, are the chosen One, the Anointed One, the Savior, and Lord of all. You are the Son of the living God, not the ancient gods of nature who were so quick to bless earthly power, to welcome Caesars into their pantheon of divinity. Peter got it right. Jesus quickly affirms Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.”
Today Jesus asks us, “Who is Jesus, to us?” Is He a spiritual sideshow or Lord of our lives? Is He a magician, a miracle worker, good only for our entertainment or perhaps our rescue? Or is He the living embodiment of God, the One who reveals God’s will for all of life?
Martin Luther taught that our god is anything we look to for status, identity, and security. Who will it be? Caesar or Jesus? The gods of culture or the God of Creation? Who am I, to you?
(PASTOR KERRY NELSON)