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.