Who Do You Say Jesus Is?

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Some years ago, USA Today ran a story of a woman who had just attended a big evangelism crusade.  At the end of the crusade, she went forward just like many others,prayed a prayer, and accepted Jesus into her heart.  She was told that she was saved and she should never doubt that she was saved.  Later, a reporter asked her, “what does it mean to accept Jesus into your heart?”  “I don’t know,” she replied, “But I sure feel good about myself!”

The summer that I graduated seminary, I spent a week as a counselor at our association’s children’s camp.  During one of the services, a little boy came forward in the invitation, and I went to speak with him and pray for him.  I asked the boy why he came forward and he told me that his mother had died and he wanted to pray for her.  I prayed with the little boy and asked God to give him peace and help him through this sad time.  Then he went back to his seat.  Later that night, I was scolded by the camp director for not filling out a decision card for the boy.  I explained that the boy had not made any decision, he just needed to pray about his mom’s passing.  Later, I learned that the camp director filled out a card for the boy.  As far as I know, the boy’s pastor was informed that the boy had accepted Jesus so he baptized him a couple weeks after the camp.

As a youth pastor, I once had a youth group in which every teenager told me they had been saved.  Not a single one could tell me what that meant.

I can go on and on with similar stories.  It seems that people in church tend to make religious statements (like being baptized or accepting Jesus in their heart) without understanding those statements.  Our words seem almost meaningless when we say Jesus is Lord because we rarely stop to consider what that means.

 And it happened, as He was alone praying, that His disciples joined Him, and He asked them, saying, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ Luke 9:18

Imagine it is early in the morning.  Jesus has been up for a while, spending time in prayer.  As his discipled get up and break camp, they begin to gather around him.  It is one of those moments that it is just them and Jesus.  The crowds haven’t found them yet today.  These are times when Jesus would probably answer their questions and ask them questions designed to get them to think and wonder and learn.

So He asks, “What are the crowds saying about me?  Who do they say that I am?”

So they answered and said, “John the Baptist, but some say Elijah; and others say that one of the old prophets has risen again.” Luke 9:19

Apparently the crowds have a lot of opinions as to who Jesus is.  Some think He is John the Baptist.  That seems odd, since Jesus and John the Baptist had been in the same place at the same time once, but we need to see this from the crowd point of view.  John the Baptist had gone from something of an enigma to a local hero on a legendary scale.  John had preached that the Messiah was coming.  John had seemed like a prophet; the kind that had not been around for about 500 years.  Then, John had done something crowds tend to love: He openly criticized an unpopular politician.  Of course, in doing so, he got himself beheaded, but you can imagine how that made the crowds think about him.

It seems a lot of people were enjoying the idea that maybe such a great prophet had come back.  Herod couldn’t keep him down.  For those looking for political salvation, this would be a great story.

Not everyone was into that story though.  Some thought that Jesus was such a great prophet He just might be Elijah.  Now, Elijah (or a prophet like him) was said to come back before the Messiah.  So some think that maybe the ministry of Jesus is letting them know that salvation is just ahead.

Some are not willing to commit.  They think Jesus is a great prophet, like the great prophets we read about in the Old Testament, but not much more than that.

It is interesting to think about what everyone else thinks, but Jesus has a much more important question.

He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Luke 9:20a

Who do you say I am?  Now the question is not just guessing about the crowds, now it is personal.  Not only is it personal, but unlike when you are just in a group of people making guesses, this time there is a right answer and wrong answers.

Who is Jesus?  The disciples probably got very quiet.  You know those tricks you used in school when you tried to make sure the teacher did not see you?  I wonder if the disciples tried a few.  He could be one of these great prophets, but He claims to be more.  He could be making the way for the messiah, but He claims to be the Messiah.  Who is He?

Then Peter has an answer!

“Peter answered and said, “The Christ of God.” Luke 9:20b

You are the Christ!”  That means Messiah.  Peter is saying, “you are the one!”  This is a bold move of Peter.  Do not think that this is a guess based on everything that Jesus had done.  Jews believed that the Messiah was going to redeem them; save them.  It was safest to wait until this one in process before you decided someone might be the messiah.  Peter very definitively says that Jesus is the Christ!

And He strictly warned and commanded them to tell this to no one,  Luke 9:21

Just when Peter gets the right answer, Jesus tells them to keep quiet.  That strikes us as odd.  It seems that when you learn something as monumental as this, you want to make it known.  Yet, Jesus tells them not to say anything about it.  Why?  There are many theories as to why, but one I consider is that people did not understand what the Messiah was to do.  Many expected a Moses who would lead them out of bandage, or a Joshua who would reclaim their land, or a David who would establish them as a great nation.  However, the Messiah had to do something completely different.

saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.’ Luke 9:22

The Messiah had to suffer.  The Messiah had to be rejected.  The Messiah had to die.  The Messiah had to be raised again on the third day.  To say that Jesus is the Christ, would mean to accept these things.

Can you imagine being in this conversation.  I don’t mean in the crowd with the thousands listening to Jesus teaching.  Can you imagine being in that small group, seated around Him as he begins to ask you questions?

And He asks, “who do people say I am?”  Well, people say a lot of things.  Some think Jesus was a great teacher.  Some think He was inspired by God.  Some think He showed a great example with His life.  Some think He is nothing more than a fairy tale.

Then Jesus asks, “Who do YOU say that I am?”  Suddenly, the room gets very quiet.  Apparently Jesus didn’t learn the Sunday School teacher rule that if you call on someone it makes them uncomfortable.  We wonder, what is the right answer?  Suddenly someone get’s it.

“You’re the messiah!  You are the Christ!  You are the son of God!  You are the one that will save us all!”  Hey!  That is it!  That is the right answer!  We all nod in agreement, maybe even say a few ‘amens.’

But then, we have to get quiet again.  “Do not say anything” because there is something you need to know.  If you think Jesus is the Christ then you need to understand that along with that comes suffering, rejection.  It may cost your life, and He will be all you can hope for.  It is one thing to say that Jesus is the Christ or that Jesus is Lord or that you believe in Jesus.  It is another to follow Jesus even at the expense of your own life and say your only hope is Him.

When you declare Jesus as Lord, you are placing your comfort, your reputation, your life, and your hope on Him. That is the choice before us.  We have watered this down because it seemed impossible to accept.  After all, if I have to choose between two things and one of those will mean my life, I don’t make that choice.  When Peter made this statement, other Gospel writers tell us that Jesus said that Peter knew that only because the Holy Spirit told Him.  That is why we should never think of this as an impossible choice.

When the Holy Spirit reveals to you who Jesus is; when you see His love, His greatness, His truth; when you see that your sins were paid at the cross then you realize that there is nothing worth having that could keep you away.  Then when someone says, “but you might suffer,” you say, “ok.”  When you someone says, “but people will not accept you,” you say, “I only care if Jesus accepts me.”  When someone says, “this will mean your life.” You say, “I only want a life with Jesus.”  That is what it means to have your hope in Him.

So today, seek Him.  Ask Him to reveal Himself and when you see Jesus for who He really is, you will say “He is the Christ!” and follow Him with everything you have.


He Is Alive; Believe!

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Today, it is easy to go through the motions of church and Easter.  But let us imagine what it was like that first morning.  There were plenty of things to be done, but everything was turned upside down by one event.

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. (John 20:1)

It was the first day of the week, and it was time to mourn.  Anyone who has ever lost a loved one knows how this would feel.  There was that initial shock and sadness at the time of death, but now a few days later, it is time to mourn.  They were going to prepare the body and mourn.

In order to mourn properly, they needed things to go as planned.  Their main concern was how they would get that big heavy stone moved from the tomb.  However, when they arrive the notice two things.  The stone is already moved, and the body is not there.  Jesus was not in the tomb

This throws everything off.  Now they will have to find the body before they can get on with the process of mourning.

Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”(John 20:2)

The women go to get Simon.  They needed to tell the others that something was wrong.  No one knows where the body is.  We do not know what Peter was thinking.  Did he remember that Jesus had promised to raise from the grave?  He may have remembered this and it probably terrified him.  Peter had last seen Jesus as he was telling everyone that he did not know Him.  Now, if it were true that he could rise from the dead, what will that mean for Peter?

Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. (John 20:3-4)

So Peter runs.  John runs too, and makes a point to tell us that he outran Peter.

Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed. (John 20:6-8)

They go in the tomb.  That’s when they see what is going on.  The body is not there, for sure, but what is there is startling.  The grave clothes are wrapped neatly in its place.  This isn’t the work of someone moving the body.  They would have taken the body still wrapped up.  This is not the work of a grave robber.  Anyone trying to steal the body (as hard as that would be) would not have taken the time to fold the clothes.  It becomes clear:  Jesus is alive.  They see this before them and believe.

For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. (John 20:9)

Scripture teaches that Jesus must rise from the grave. They did not understand everything yet, but they knew Jesus was alive.  They knew this would change everything.  They would later understand that this was always part of the plan for God’s glory, but now, they just knew that Jesus was alive and that changed everything.

Then the disciples went away again to their own homes. (John 20:10)

They didn’t stay at the empty tomb.  They had to return to their lives, but their lives were never the same again.  No one could have imagined what lay ahead.

Just like Mary, John, and Peter, we have our own expectations.  Many of the concepts of this story have become just an expression for a holiday.  We approach Jesus as though He was just an idea in our head, a wild hope for something else.  When we really take time to consider the death and resurrection of Christ, we react with confusion, some with fear, but face to face with a risen Lord, the reaction is belief.

Since Jesus is alive, believe!  When you hear of resurrection, you may be confused.  When you think of death and meeting Jesus, you may be afraid.  Yet, when you see the reality of a risen Lord, you will believe.  Today, you can go through the motions of celebrating Easter.  You can do the church thing, you can visit family.  And tomorrow you can be the same.  Or, you can come to terms with the fact that Jesus is alive and never be the same again.  See your risen Lord and believe!

It Can’t Be Done!

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I recently heard a pastor talk about his golden retriever.  It is a great breed with a glorious reputation.  The golden retriever is bred to wait by a winter river; to leap into the icy waters and catch game to bring back to its owners.  Now this pastor’s dog never did any such thing.  The instincts were there, however, and each day the dog would go off in the woods and come back with a box turtle.  The pastor said it was always so proud of what it caught, that they didn’t want to tell the poor dog that there is nothing special at all about catching a box turtle.

I begin to think about that.  As a Christian, I meant for great things; miraculous thing; things that will bring glory to the One True God.  Yet, in much of my life I am satisdied doing what is most comfortable; what is easy.  I find my niche and enjoy myself.  There are times when I step out on faith and it is those times where I find myself amazed at the Lord.  It is those times where I feel like Isaiah as he stood in God’s throne room.  Still, when called to step out on a limb, I am likey to worry and say, “I can’t do that!”

10 And the apostles, when they had returned, told Him all that they had done. Then He took them and went aside privately into a deserted place belonging to the city called Bethsaida. 11 But when the multitudes knew it, they followed Him; and He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who had need of healing. (Luke 9:10-11)

The twelve returns from being sent out.  They have been healing and casting out demons.  They are amazed at everything they have been able to do.  Jesus takes them aside to deal with them.  This is a normal part of the Christian life.  There are times when we must be out on mission, but we must also regroup.  Jesus would often spend time alone in prayer.  Other times, he would gather just his immediate followers to minister to them and fellowship with them.  Still, other times he would minister to the masses.

As Jesus gathers with His followers, the masses come.  So He begins to teach and to heal.

12 When the day began to wear away, the twelve came and said to Him, “Send the multitude away, that they may go into the surrounding towns and country, and lodge and get provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.” (Luke 9:12)

The crowds are there and the day is getting long.  A problem presents itself.  There is no food around.  If anyone is going to eat today, they will need to leave and go into the towns.  The idea is simple, let them go and get what they need.  They can always come back later.  However, if they remain, they will probably expect to be provided with some food.  The disciples see the problem and bring a solution:  send them away.

13 But He said to them, “You give them something to eat.”

And they said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we go and buy food for all these people.” 14 For there were about five thousand men. (Luke 9:13-14a)

Jesus challenges them with the impossible:  “You give them something to eat”

What?  Now this is crazy.  There are more than 5000 people here.  How is it that Jesus would expect the disciples to feed them.  Forget for a moment that it cannot be done.  Is it even fair that Jesus would expect this?  After all, wasn’t this supposed to be the disciples time to refresh and renew themselves?  This should be a rest for them, and now Jesus is telling them to feed 5000 people.

They point out the obvious.  They have no more than two loaves and two fishes.  That will not feed the crowd.  They would have to go buy food, which for 5000 people would be pretty expensive.  In other words.  This is not possible.  It cannot be done.  The disciples are saying, we cannot do this!  You ask too much!  This is not my job!

But the fact is, Jesus called his followers to do the impossible.

Then He said to His disciples, “Make them sit down in groups of fifty.” 15 And they did so, and made them all sit down.

16 Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude. 17 So they all ate and were filled (Luke 9:14b-17a)

Jesus is unfazed by their objections.  He offers no argument, He just continues to tell them what to do.  He acts as though their abilities are not even a factor.  He tells them to prepare the people to eat.  What an interesting moment that must have been.  The people are hungry.  The disciples have no food. Yet, now they have to sit the people down to get ready to feed them.

Then, much to everyone’s surprise, there is food.  Jesus blesses the meal and the disciples begin to pass it around.  There is enough for everyone to eat until they are full.

Jesus commanded his disciples to distribute.  He multiplied the food.

and twelve baskets of the leftover fragments were taken up by them. (Luke 9:17b)

Twelve baskets are left over.  In other words, the disciples finish with far more than they started with.  They will not again be able to say, “we only have…”  It always works that way.  When you step out beyond your ability and act in faith, your faith is increased.

Imagine being one of the disciples.  You have a small lunch.  There are 5000 people.  The problem is simple:  There is not enough food to go around.  It is impossible to feed all of these people.  How can it be done?  Well, you can send the people home.  After all, who says you have to feed everyone, right?  Or, maybe, arrangements could be made; food could be purchased.  Then, maybe, you could feed everyone.  This is really the only way that’s going to work.

And we do the same today.  We look out at our city, our country, and our world and we see that many people need to hear the Gospel and feel the love of Christ.  The problem is simple:  you are not the person to do that!  We come up with the same arguments.  We think, its not my responsibility.  We think, maybe something could be done, but as it is, no it is impossible.

Yet, then Jesus says to do it.  When he asked the disciples to feed the people, He did not even consider what they could or could not do.  He just said, “give them something to eat.”  When He told all of his followers to Go and tell; to make disciples of all nations, he did not consider your ability either.

Thus, we struggle with the fact that Jesus seems to call us to do something that we are unable to do.

Jesus will call you beyond your abilities but well within His.  We do not find in the Bible, men and women of faith doing normal things.  We find them doing great things.  We do not look through history and see people that turned the world upside down for the Gospel by doing the same ordinary things that they always did.  Some will confuse faith and foolishness.  They will say it is foolish to do something you know you can’t do.  They are right.  But it is not foolish to follow the Lord into what we know He can do.

What is is that Jesus is calling you to that you know is beyond anything you can do?  Perhaps it is that first step of faith in beginning that relationship. Perhaps it is making your decision public.  Perhaps you have been living a safe Christian life, and you know you are called to much larger things.  You may be saying, “I can’t do that.”  You are right.  But Jesus can do whatever He calls you to do; and that is what counts.