Who is Jesus?

Approximately 2.2 billion people (one-third of the world’s present population) claim to be Christians. The number of people claiming to be followers of Jesus is growing every day across a diverse range of countries and cultures. Who is this Jesus Christ still so influential in our world 2000 years after his death? In Matthew 16:13-28 (NIV, ESV) this question is very much at the forefront. Let’s notice five things it shows us about who Jesus is:

1. The Son of Man who will return to judge the world (v13,27-28)

Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man in v13. This title indicates Jesus’ real humanity. Jesus is able to sympathise with humans and represent us because he truly is human. However when Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man in v27-28, the language recalls something more – the Son of Man foretold in a vision by Daniel. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14) Jesus is not just a son of man, he is the Son of Man Daniel foresaw. The one to whom all authority has been given, the one whom all peoples and nations should and will worship.

2. The Christ, the Son of the living God  (v14-17)

When Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was, Peter’s answer went far beyond others, who’d thought of him as one of the great prophets returned to life. Peter says in v16 you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Psalm 2, looks forward to the Messiah (The Christ in Greek), and shows us some of the terms used for him, including: God’s Anointed One (v2) God’s King (v6) and God’s Son (v7). When Peter calls Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God, he has in mind this Messiah, who would come and rule all nations and restore things to how they should be. It is a huge claim for Peter to make. Elsewhere we read how the Jews tried to kill Jesus for calling God his own Father, making himself equal to God (John 5:18).

Does Jesus accept this title? It’s clear that he does – v17 Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. Though Peter does not yet understand everything of who Jesus is, it is God who has opened his eyes to understand what he has about Jesus. If you’ve come to the point where you see Jesus is God, thank God for revealing that truth to you. If you haven’t, ask God to open your eyes to see who Jesus really is.  

3. The builder of his church which cannot die (v18-20)

Many are disillusioned with the idea of church. There are various reasons for this…Many Christians feel like the church doesn’t work anymore. They are sick and tired of the church’s failings and impotency. They recognise that [many] churches are not growing…[Others] feel personally wounded or let down by the church. They find the church legalistic, oppressive and hurtful. The leaders are controlling, the people are phony and the ministry is programmed to death….[Others say] the more we can move away from all the man-made doctrines, rituals, and structures of church as we know it, the closer we will be to truly knowing God…[1]

There’s truth in all of these concerns. Perhaps you feel some of them, yet none give us the full truth about church. We see how much Jesus identifies with the church, when he say v18b I will build my church. Notice Jesus calls the church, his church, and says he will build it.  As we get to know Jesus, we see how much he loves his church. Jesus  feeds and cares for the church (Ephesians 5:29). It is referred to as… the church of God, which he bought with his own blood (Acts 20:28), Christ’s body (Ephesians 1:22-23) and…. the Bride, the wife of the Lamb (Revelation 21:9). It is clear that Jesus loves and identifies with his church.

In v18-19 Jesus speaks of the foundational role Peter and the other apostles would have in his church. As Paul says later, all Christians are … members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-20). Peter and the other apostles had a unique foundational role in Jesus’ church. They were his witnesses, through their testimony we now have the New Testament. Yet ultimately this passage is more about Jesus than Peter. It is Jesus who will build his church, and is confident about its future – the gates of Hades will not overcome it (NIV) or the gates of hell, shall not prevail against it (ESV).That claim may have sounded ridiculous 2000 years ago, but today we see that though Jesus’ church has been variously attacked from both inside and outside, it’s continuing to grow.

No church is perfect. In fact there are many false churches. Yet if we want to get to know Jesus, we’ll need to get to know his bride – get involved in a church that loves Jesus and loves God’s word. The church we love is flawed and messed up as we are, but she’s Christ’s bride nonetheless. And I might as well have… a head without a body as despise the wife my Saviour loves.[2]

4.The King who had to go to the cross and rise again (v21-23)

If Jesus accepts that he is the Christ, why in v20 does he tell his disciples not to tell anyone that he’s the Christ? It is because the disciples did not yet understand what the Christ was to be and do. They did not yet see the central importance of the cross to Jesus. Look how strong the language is in v17, Jesus says how he must go to Jerusalem and he must be killed. Jesus has to go to the cross for Scripture to be fulfilled (Luke 24:44), to obey his Father’s will (Isaiah 53:10), to willingly day down his life (John 10:17-18), and for God to be glorified as his love and justice are revealed (Romans 3:24-25).

When we’re wronged, we all want justice to be done, yet when we do wrong we’d like to be forgiven. Can we ever have both true justice and forgiveness? In the cross we see that it’s possible. Justice is done: wrong is punished, yet forgiveness is offered as Jesus takes on himself the sin of all who would put their faith in him. We cannot understand who Jesus is, without looking to the cross. We cannot understand who Jesus is, unless we see him as the one who both died for sin, and was raised to life, demonstrating that sin and death have both been conquered in him.

5.  The One it is worth losing everything to follow (v24-26)

Just as Jesus said he must go the cross, so he tells us (v24), that to follow him means we must deny ourselves and take up our cross. This means denying our own righteousness – recognising we will never do enough good to make ourselves right with God. It also means denying our own agenda for our life.

Denying our own agenda means asking ourselves hard questions. Will I follow Jesus even though it may mean I won’t own some of the things I’d have liked to? Will I follow Jesus even if it means I’m ridiculed by some people, or looked down on? Will I follow Jesus, even if I lose friends because of it? Will I follow Jesus even if it means I’ll live my life in relative obscurity, and never be famous? Will I follow Jesus, even if it means living in an area or country that would not have been my first choice? Will I follow Jesus, even if it means that I’ll never get married, or staying in a marriage that is hard work, when sometimes it seems easier to leave? Will I follow Jesus even though he may allow all sorts of pain and hardship to come into my life?

Jesus says, whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (v25). If we are willing to set aside the things that we thought were important, and accept God’s agenda, we’ll find what we have is better. We find in Jesus both salvation and a joy we can’t know from just living for ourselves.

The things we may want to hold onto are things we cannot keep forever anyway. As Jesus says in v26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world yet forfeits his soul? If we try to hold on to wealth or popularity or life we’ll eventually lose them all anyway. Jim Elliot who was martyred, trying to take the gospel of Jesus to a group who’d never heard, wrote in his diary: He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose.[3]

Is Jesus worth more than anything to you? As you think about who he is: the Son of Man, the Christ the Son of God, the builder of his church, the king who willingly went to the cross and rose again, is your heart filled with love for him? Would you willingly give up anything to follow him? It’s only when you can honestly say yes to that question, that you’ve begun to comprehend the answer to the question of who Jesus is.

(Summary of sermon on Matthew 16:13-28 preached at EHBC on 14 February 2010)

[1] Why we love the church, Kevin De Young, Ted Kluck, 17-18

[2] Why we love the church, Kevin De Young, Ted Kluck, 19

[3] View quote in Jim Elliot’s journal here


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