13 When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”
14 So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”
Simon Peter had come a long way since his days as a common fisherman. He had performed miracles in Jesus’ name, had healed the sick and cast out demons. He had shared the gospel of peace and encouraged people to return to God. And here the Master asked him a crucial question, one that would have repercussions in these apostles’ further ministry. Jesus and His disciples were on the downhill slope toward the Crucifixion, and it was time the apostles truly understood who their Teacher was.
This was a sort of make-or-break moment for the disciples, a test of whether or not they’d been paying attention. More than that, it was a test of whether or not God the Father had moved these men’s hearts to understanding. The others made guesses based on their own intellect and experience, but good ol’ Simon-bar-Jonah spoke from his heart.
“The Christ.” Those are important words for a Jew to use at that time and in that context. Of course, Simon Peter still wasn’t entirely sure of what those words meant. Yes, in his heart he knew that Jesus was the “Christos” – Greek for “Anointed One” – and the Son of the living God. But we can be pretty sure that in his head Peter recalled the fate of previous men who had claimed to be “Messiah” – Hebrew for “Anointed One,” a title claimed by at least eight men over the previous few generations. All eight of those men had tried to lead rebellions in Judea, and all eight had been killed for their efforts, a few even crucified by the Romans.
Did Peter understand that this Christ in front of him was different? Did Peter know that the kingdom this Son of David was bringing was NOT simply a political kingdom of Judea but the very reign of God in the hearts of men? Did Peter perceive that the death of this Messiah was to be the defining moment of His ministry, the beginning of something extraordinary, and not the disappointing end of something mundane?
We know from later events that Peter still didn’t quite “get it.” But here, in this dialogue near Caesarea Philippi, Simon Peter made a breakthrough. It was a seed planted by God Himself in the hearts of these twelve men. It would take time for that seed of the gospel to truly flourish into fruitful faith. In fact, it would take Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection to really bring these men to where God needed them to be. But here, in this place and at this time, Peter said the words that would forever alter his life and the lives of nearly everyone in the world.
• “You are…” – Peter didn’t guess and say “You could be…” or “I think…” He didn’t repeat what others had said, “Some say…” No, Simon Peter made a plain statement of fact, “You are…”
• “The Christ” – Not just any man, and not just another Messiah in a long string of failed Messiahs. This Jesus was THE Christ, the Anointed One foretold in hundreds of places in Scripture. Simon-bar-Jonah was not the most well-versed in God’s Word, and yet he saw what the studious Pharisees and Saducees did not. Jesus was the Christ, and although Simon Peter may not have understood all that implied, he still knew it for a fact.
• “Son of the living God” – The Anointed One was not just a savior, but Son of the God of Israel, something never seen before in the world. Jesus was the very flesh-and-blood divinity among men, Emmanuel – “God with us.” And this was not just any God, not like those pagan idols on the street corners of the Romanized cities of the Decapolis. No, this is the LIVING God, the God who had handed down the law to Moses, the God who had lead the Israelites through the desert as a pillar of smoke or fire, the God who had given Elijah and Elisha the power to raise the dead and bring armies of angels to fight for God’s people, the God who had promised Joshua that He would never leave nor forsake Israel. THAT was the God Peter referred to, a God whose faith was still active and strong among some few people, a God who was moving even then to bring His kingdom on earth.
Jesus isn’t just a Messiah, nor just the Son of God, He is THE Christ and THE Son of the LIVING God. When Jesus told His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), He was telling them the same thing Peter was saying here, that Jesus is the one and only genuine Savior, the very Lamb of God who would die for the sins of the world.
However, we have to remember that Simon Peter still did not understand all that this implied for his own life. He didn’t realize the radical changes that were coming: the flight from the soldiers who arrested Jesus, the denials, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and even Peter’s own rebirth into the rock upon which Jesus would build His church. Peter didn’t know those things, didn’t foresee the evangelism and the healings he would do, the persecution and imprisonment he would face, and certainly not his own crucifixion in Rome. Peter had just taken a first and inevitable step toward truly knowing his Lord more completely than he had ever known Him before. And that is a step we all must take.
Today, as we reflect upon this simple confession of the Christ, let us see if we truly understand that statement in our own lives. Do we see the profound influence that Christ should have on our lives, or are we still basically the same as we were before? Are we ready to face all that Peter would face – the grace and power, the disillusionment and enlightenment, the persecution and imprisonment, the death and the life? Do we acknowledge not just Jesus as the Christ but also know God the Father as the one true and LIVING God of our lives?
Brothers and Sisters, we are called by God to fellowship with His Son, that we ourselves would become adopted sons and daughters of the Most High God. That is not an easy thing, and it should affect us very profoundly. We know that even Peter, who spent so much time with Jesus, was still growing in his faith, that this same Peter who confessed Jesus as the Christ would later deny his Lord three times. But the inexorable will of God is working in our lives just like it was in Simon Peter’s. The living God is calling us to greater faith. While we are still grappling with the WORDS to state our faith, God is waiting on our ACTIONS – the miracles and healings and liberation from evil which He will gladly empower us to do. He knows we can read and recite Peter’s declaration of the Christ, but He wants us to LIVE those words.
Today, let us go forward into the world with three points clearly in our minds:
1) Jesus is THE Christ, the only way for us to gain our salvation. He alone brings us peace with God, which in turn can bring us peace in our own lives.
2) Jesus is the SON of the living God, and as such His words are truth. God cannot lie, nor can the Son. And so we must heed ALL that Jesus AND the Father say.
3) Jesus is the Son of the LIVING God. This God we worship is not a petty idol of metal or wood or stone, and He is not some personification of elemental nature. This is the living and merciful God, whose loving desire is that we all come to repentance and salvation. This is a God whose Spirit lives in the hearts of those who believe in His Son.
Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. He is the way, the truth, and the life. Peter knew that. Do we?
Most precious God, Lord and Savior, we praise Your holy name and we desire to know You more. Jesus IS the Christ, Your dear Son, our Risen Lord. Show us what that means, lead us down paths where we can live that confession and bring You glory. Forgive my sins, Lord God, and teach me the depths of Your grace. Amen.