“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” That is the question that Jesus poses to His disciples. He wanted to ask what they had learned about the people’s attitudes toward Him during their recent travels. Up to this point, Jesus and the disciples had come into contact with a large number of people of varying classes. They’ve encountered the “average Joe”, the sick, the possessed, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the like. Some of the people, like Herod, thought Jesus must be John the Baptist brought back to life. At least they recognized that John and Jesus both proclaimed the coming of the kingdom of God and called the people to repentance. Some thought He must be Elijah the prophet brought back to life. They were familiar with the words of the prophet Malachi: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.” But Jesus had already declared that John the Baptist was the second Elijah. Others, not so sure of themselves, thought Jesus might be another of the Old Testament prophets, perhaps even Jeremiah.
The opinions of the people showed that they regarded Jesus very highly as a man of God, but they did not regard Him highly enough. They did not know Him as the one and only Son of God, Himself true God with the Father and the Holy Spirit from eternity. They were not much different from many people of our own day who praise Jesus as a great teacher but don’t know Him as their Savior and the only Savior of the world.
“But who do you say that I am?” That is the question of the day for the disciples. They had been with Jesus constantly for more than two years. They had observed how He lived and had witnessed His mighty works, and they had heard Him teach about the kingdom of God and about Himself. Did they agree with some of the other people, or did they have more understanding by now? Peter, who often spoke first and often acted as spokesman for the rest, was ready with an excellent answer: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
This is where things get interesting. In Greek, the name “Christ” means “the Anointed.” This would have also been fulfilled in the Old Testament by the name “Messiah.” Peter recognized and confessed Jesus to be the long-awaited Savior of the world. It soon became evident, however, that Peter’s understanding of the person and the work of the Messiah left much to be desired.
For the here and now, Peter recognized Jesus for who He was. That meant that Peter recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah foretold of so long ago. He understood Jesus to be the “Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” Not only was Jesus a teacher, a healer, a miracle worker, He would do something that no one else has ever done or would be able to do: give His life so that we would have life. St John writes, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” That is exactly what Jesus has done. He has given His life so that you would have life and have it abundantly. He gave His life so that all of your sins would be forgiven. He gave His life so that you would be able to stand before the Holy God, not as a person condemned by their sins to hell, but rather as one who has been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and now has the holiness and righteousness of Christ.
That same confession of faith that Peter made is the same one that you and I make. Christ empowers us in our confession of Him today to assault the very gates of hell. He hears the promises made in Baptism and confirmation and in every confession, and He empowers us through the gift of His Spirit to assault hell itself and win. On the rock of the confession, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Christ has built His Church and not even hell’s gates can withstand its onslaught.
It is at the cross that we see what it means to be the Christ. There on the cross is the Christ sacrificing Himself for the sins of the world. There is the Christ, the rock on which the church is built.
With His suffering and death on the cross, Christ has overcome sin. Since death relies on sin, Christ has also defeated death. Resurrection must follow the victory that Christ won for us on the cross. It is with His resurrection from the grave that Jesus finished showing the disciples and us what it means to be the Christ. Through the resurrection, death and hell have been defeated. It is with the complete picture of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection that we have a complete picture of what it means to be the Christ. It is with this complete picture that we begin to understand Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
We cannot make this confession in our own flesh and blood. It is not something we will develop through our own speculation. It must come from outside of us. The Father sends the Holy Spirit to do just that. The Holy Spirit works in us through Word and Sacrament to establish and maintain our faith. It is only by that faith that we can truly make this confession.
The interesting thing is that Peter himself did not understand his own confession. Peter and most of the people who waited for the Messiah were waiting for someone who would
re-establish the Kingdom of Israel as it had once been under King David. They were waiting for a savior from the oppression of the Roman occupation. Even those who looked for a savior from sin were expecting a display of power – a glorious victory over evil. The idea of victory through humility, suffering, and death was not part of their thinking.
A lot of people in our day don’t understand the true meaning of the Christ. Some say Jesus was a great moral teacher, but nothing more. Others see Him as a life coach. Still others see Him as an example. Jesus is more than just a moral teacher, life coach or an example. Jesus is the Savior of the world, the Lamb of God who gave Himself as a sacrifice so that you and I might have everlasting life.
Jesus Christ still asks the question, “Who do you say that I am?” There are many who still do not understand the true meaning of the Christ, but the truth never changes. Peter’s confession is still the right answer to that question. It is on that confession that Jesus is building His Church.
Just as Jesus delighted in Peter’s confession, so He delights in our confession as well. We too made a promise and a confession of Christ. On the days of our Baptism and our confirmation, we too got the confession right. We confessed Jesus with the true and sturdy words of the creed. God loved to hear those promises. He delighted in our words that day and still delights when we confess Him as Lord today.
But like Peter, we have not always lived up to those promises that we made. We have fled the embarrassment of being a Christian, the danger to our careers and our popularity. But like Peter, Christ has sought us out and restored the broken relationship. He has poured out His Holy Spirit on us.
We who have this faith in Jesus as the Christ have a relationship with God that will last forever. Jesus promised that He would always dwell with us while we lived on this earth. He has also promised that we who believe will live with Him forever when we leave this world. The blessing of this confession is way better than anything our speculation can provide. And because this confession comes from God the Father Almighty, we know it is the truth. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.