It is hard for us to imagine a time before the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Those events changed history. It took some time for those who followed Jesus, who walked the earth with him, and for those people who followed him afterwards, to make sense of what his death meant. We are still trying to do that today.
Peter takes the first step. First, he puts into words what everyone is saying: Jesus is the messiah. Jesus praises him for voicing this insight, saying it comes from God. Jesus then goes on to describe what kind of a messiah he will be: he will suffer and be killed and rise again.
Peter is aghast; No way! That’s not the way the messiah is supposed to act. The messiah is supposed to gather an army and get rid of the Romans and bring freedom back to the people.
We know it works out for the best, but 2,000 years ago, Peter and the others could not comprehend a different kind of messiah, especially before the resurrection. It always amazes me, even though it probably shouldn’t, that the disciples never hear the third part of Jesus’ prediction. They only hear that he will suffer and die. They never hear the part about rising again.
We know the rising is the most important part. Lots of people were tortured and crucified. But only one rose to life after death. Yet, even today, we struggle to explain and understand what Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection mean for us.
Jesus asked the disciples, Who do you say that I am? Today, we often ask the question of each other and of ourselves. Who do you say Jesus is? Here are some of my thoughts.
… During our lifetimes, Jesus is usually many things to us, depending on what is going on. When we are in good shape, physically, emotionally, spiritually, Jesus is the Christ, the Savior, who promises us eternal life, here and now, and after we die.
… When things are not so good, when our health, or spiritual or emotional well-being is challenged, Jesus is our friend, our neighbor, our sister or brother. At those times, Jesus is the one who puts his arms around us and tells us he loves us and is here with us.
… When we or someone we love are near death, we are sure we will see Jesus and our loved ones on the other side, whatever the resurrected life looks like. We know this is possible because Jesus’ resurrection proves that God is more powerful than death.
… Jesus is God-with-skin-on, God incarnate. From the moment of his conception to his birth, his life as a rabbi, to his suffering and death and resurrection, every second of his earthly life Jesus is human and divine, all the time, at the same time.
… Jesus is merciful, offering us grace even though we are far from perfect. Jesus does not reject us any more than he rejected the disciples or the Pharisees or Pilate or foreigners. Jesus accepts all people for who they are, no matter who they are.
… Jesus is the one who came to earth to help us understand God’s heart, and how much God loves us and cares about us. The best way to demonstrate that love is for God’s only Son to live and die on the cross and be raised for us.
… In our daily lives, we may assume Jesus loves us. Or, maybe we doubt he could love someone like us. This is also part of who we say Jesus is. It is comforting to know that Jesus hung out with people like the disciples, who were people just like us.
The disciples were not wealthy or powerful. They were “regular” people like us, and that’s why Jesus chose them. He did not invite them to help him fish for people because they were perfect. He invited them to follow him because they were just like us.
Perhaps we are most like Peter. We believe, we doubt, we wonder, we are not perfect, we speak what is on our minds, we are impetuous, and we are not always right. We are judgmental, we ignore God, we don’t take time for prayer and study, we want more stuff than we can afford or have space for. We need Jesus to love us just the way we are.
… Jesus is also the one who challenges us to follow him in giving ourselves, our lives, to demonstrate that love to others.
… Who do you say Jesus is? Do you answer that question differently on different days?
How do you respond to the love and mercy offered by Jesus?
How do you pass on the love?
How do you commit yourself to serving Jesus by serving others?
Please pray with me: We thank you, O God for Jesus. We thank you for the way he showed us how much you love us. And we thank you for showing us how to love others. Amen