Who is Jesus? – Luke 9:18-25
If you wanted to prove that a person in history existed then how would you do it? Let’s say that it’s my goal today to convince you that a person named George Washington was alive at one time. Could I prove that he lived by using the scientific method? No, I cannot. The scientific method consists of systematic observation, measurement, experimentation, and then the formulation, testing, and modification of a hypothesis. There is nothing to observe or measure when it comes to determining if George Washington was alive therefore I would use the historical method. This is where historians use primary sources to write accounts of the past. If possible I would talk to people that might have known him when he was alive. Since this is not possible I would see if someone who knew him had written a biography about his life. I would be in luck if that were the case because no person has had more biographies written about him than George Washington. If I really wanted the best information possible I would go to what are called primary sources. This would be information recorded by the people that were with him, that lived, worked, and served our country alongside him. If I were to write a book then these are the sources that would be the most authoritative.
You might be able to make the case that the only person that has had more biographies written about him other than George Washington is Christ Jesus of Nazareth. We have primary source material in the Bible written by those people that lived, ate, traveled with, and learned from Jesus. We also have secondary source material of people that investigated the claims made by those that were with Jesus. The life of Jesus was alluded to by two first century historians, one Jewish and one Roman, Josephus and Tactius. The lives of those that lived with Jesus were also written about extensively. We have coins and archeological remains that reference Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor at the time of Jesus’ death. It’s because of this amazing amount of material that there are very few people who doubt the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. Jews, Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, Christians, and pretty much any historical scholar agree that Jesus existed. In a 2011 review of the state of modern scholarship, Bart Ehrman (who is a secular agnostic) wrote: “[Jesus] certainly existed, as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or non-Christian, agrees.”
Everyone agrees that he existed, but that’s where the agreement ends. Just believing that Jesus existed doesn’t make a person a Christian. It doesn’t change a person’s life at all. In fact, acknowledging one God doesn’t make a difference either. James 2:19 “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.” So what is it? What separates us from really good, moral, upstanding people? What is different about us compared to other religions even those that might call themselves “Christian?” The answer is in answering the question: “Who is Jesus?” Today you will be confronted with that question and you will be forced to respond. You can respond by ignoring it. You can respond by denying his claims. Or you can respond by agreeing with who he said he was in humble adoration, maybe even by repenting of your sins and bowing your knee to Jesus as Lord for the first time in your life.
I would like to speak to this question by seeing how people of Jesus’ time viewed him, then spend time looking at who Jesus is, and finish with why it’s of utmost importance.
In Luke 9, Jesus is traveling with his disciples to a region 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee to visit villages near the city of Caesarea Philippi. In Mark 6 we read that Jesus and his disciples were becoming well known. He was preaching that people should repent of their sins. He drove out demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. It’s natural then that people began to talk…a lot. And Jesus becomes well known. He was a traveling rabbi like many other Jewish teachers of his time, but rumors had begun to spread about this man. It could have been his teaching which was with authority unlike the other religious leaders of their time, or telling people that they were forgiven of their sins, which only God can do, by the way. But it was likely the miracles that he was doing which caused people to take notice, like feeding over 5,000 people at once, and to spread the word about this Jesus of Nazareth. When word reached King Herod he said it was John the Baptist, whom he had beheaded, who came back from the dead. Other people said it was Elijah or like another prophet of old.
In fact in Luke 9 when Jesus’ ministry is about to take a significant turn he begins to teach his disciples in more detail about who is and why he came. A very significant conversation is about to take place and Jesus sets it up with a question for his disciples. He asks them this question, “Who do people say that I am?” It’s like he says, “Hey, what are people saying about me?” “What’s the word on the street?” And they rightly answer, “Some say you are John the Baptist; others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.” The average person on the street that had common sense would know that this guy is not normal. He performs miracles, he drives out demons, he walks on water, he feeds enormous amounts of people with very little food. Obviously, this guy is from God, therefore he is a prophet. They thought he might be John the Baptist because John the Baptist was the first prophet in 400 years. He attracted a following, called people to repentance, said he was preparing for the kingdom of God, but then ended up dying at the hands of King Herod. Maybe he had come back to life miraculously and that Jesus was him.
Or some say he was Elijah or another prophet. I thought about that this week. Why would people think that Jesus was Elijah? And then it hit me…Elijah didn’t die. If you remember in 2 Kings 8, Elijah and Elisha were walking and talking when a chariot of fire and horses appeared and a whirlwind carried Elijah away. And in Malachi we read that the Jewish people were looking for Elijah to return before the promised Redeemer. It says in Malachi 4:5 “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.” So the Jewish people were expecting the “day of the Lord.” They were expecting some type of rescue. At this time in history, they were being occupied by a foreign nation, Rome. Therefore, they probably expected that when the “day of the Lord” came it would mean a restored independent, free nation of Israel with no unclean, Gentile people. Like any complex issue, there were many sides to this issue, which caused division. Some people thought he would be a military leader, some thought a non-violent spiritual leader, some thought a political leader, and some didn’t want anything to change.
Do you remember that God made a promise with David in 2 Samuel 7? It’s what we call the Davidic Covenant. It is an unconditional covenant made between God and David through which God promises David and Israel that the Messiah (Jesus Christ) would come from the family line of David and would establish a kingdom that would endure forever. Second Samuel 7:16 is a key verse: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” This is what people back then were looking for. They wanted a Messiah, a Christ, a Savior that would rescue them and who would establish a throne and a kingdom in Jerusalem that would never end. They had different ideas of how it was going to happen, but they wanted their land, and they wanted a king again. They were rightfully expecting a savior sent from God.
And so you had all these people that were looking for a Savior, and they thought Jesus was a miracle worker/prophet like Elijah. Jesus was not Elijah who had come to bring about a revolution. In fact, in Luke 1:17 we read that John the Baptist was this Elijah-like figure prophesied about in Malachi who came “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
And so Jesus was not a prophet come back from the dead. And he was not John the Baptist. And he was not Elijah. So who was he?
And so Jesus asked his disciples…
Verse 20: “What about you (ya’ll)? Who do you say that I am?” Jesus wanted to see what his closest disciples thought about the question. I wonder if they got nervous when he asked them. It would be like if your mom was the math teacher and you were out in public and a math question came up. She might turn to you and say, “What’s the answer?” You start to sweat and you get real nervous. You think, “Is this a trick question? I hope I don’t get it wrong. I know the answer. I should know the answer. Wait, what was the question again?”
Peter answers the question for everyone, “God’s Messiah.” The gospel of Matthew adds a little more detail saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And also adding that Jesus said, you are blessed Peter because this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father who is in heaven.” This is the first time that the Twelve acknowledged Jesus as being the Christ/Messiah. There were a lot of clues. For instance, the name “Jesus” is the way we pronounce it and they would have pronounced it “Yeshua” or “Joshua.” It literally means “Yahweh saves.” In Matthew 1:21, Mary is told by the angel to give him this name because he will save the people from their sins. So she gives him the name “Yahweh saves” because this boy will save people from their sins. Is the angel saying that his baby is the God who will save His people? How is that even possible? And then Peter said he was the Messiah or the Christ, Christ was the Greek version and Messiah was the Hebrew version of the word, which was a title that meant “God’s anointed one.” Kind of like King David was anointed to be King of Israel with an anointing of oil.
So Jesus was his name and “Christ” was his title. But when Peter declared, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” Jesus said you are absolutely right and you don’t even know what that means.
I know this because in the next verse he says, “Don’t tell anyone yet.” And then after Jesus explained in greater detail how this was going to happen, Peter said “I won’t let that happen.” And Jesus looked at his disciples and gave them a tongue-lashing. He was harsher with them than with any of the religious leaders. Yeah, he called the religious leaders a “brood of vipers” and “white-washed tombs” but he called Peter Satan (Mark 8:33).
So what did Jesus say that made Peter disagree which caused Jesus’ hard reprimand? It’s in Luke 9:22. Jesus calls himself the “Son of Man.” We don’t use this title to refer to Jesus. We use “Christ,” but it’s really Jesus’ favorite title that he used for himself. It comes from Daniel 7 and Jesus used it because it best captured his identity and ministry. He claimed to be the promised Messiah that they had been prophesied about and about whom they were looking for. He also came as a humble servant and a suffering servant as prophesied about in Isaiah 52-53. And it shows that he saw himself as the glorious King and Judge who will return again to establish God’s Kingdom on earth.
Jesus says this, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and he must be killed on the third day be raised to life.” Jesus predicts his own suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection. From here on out Jesus begins to tell his disciples what will happen to him. He was trying to get them to fully understand, which they didn’t until after his ascension that his victory wasn’t going to be something on earth, but in heaven.
He came to set his people free, but not freedom from Rome, it was freedom from sin.
And his people weren’t just the Jewish people, but for all people who repents and trusts in Jesus Christ’s work on their behalf for their salvation.
And this victory wasn’t going to be won with a sword, but with his death and resurrection.
Do you know why Jesus had to die? I know he died on the cross to save us from our sins. But like Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, my question is “Couldn’t there have been another way?” I mean really, “why did he die?”
Let me tell you why it’s important that Jesus is who said he was and why it’s of utmost importance to your life. First of all, we need to start with who God is. God is infinite. He is holy and he is righteous. And He is just. There is no sin in him whatsoever. God created mankind in His image for his glory and our good. He created us to have a unique relationship with him. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, did not believe what God said was true and they rebelled against God’s good plan thinking they knew better. Their first act of sin was known as The Fall. It brought a sin nature that is now inherited to human beings. We are now sinners from birth and by choice. And our sin has eternal consequences because we have sinned against an infinite God. The only right and fair thing then would be to sentence us to death for our sins because that is the just punishment that we deserve. “For the wages of sin is death…”
There is a common question unbelievers ask: “If there is a God then why does he let evil happen? Why doesn’t he get rid of child molesters, sexual predators, and the murders?” My response is to ask, “Then you want God to get rid of all evil? Even those of us who have lied, taken God’s name in vain, and had hateful or perverse thoughts?” I am convinced that when Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that we had to take the log out of our own eye before removing the speck from our brother’s eye that he wasn’t saying this might be true of us, but that it is true of us. He says in Matthew 7:3, “do you not notice the log in your eye?!” Can you not see this? Do you really desire justice and not mercy?
I’m not saying we can’t help one another in love. I’m just saying that we are sinners and we deserve to be punished for our sins. We deserve death. But I am so thankful that God loved us and made a way for us to be with him again. It was God’s sovereign plan to save us from our wretched selves. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit eternally existed as three persons. But for a specific time in history (at just the right time Galatians says), God sent his Son, Jesus, to be born like a human being. He was fully God, but he became fully man. They called him Immanuel, which meant “God with us” because that is what he was. God lived among us and his glory was veiled in human flesh. He lived a life of perfect obedience to God the Father with the power of God the Holy Spirit. He didn’t abolish God’s law, but he kept it all perfectly.
It was his plan to seek and save the lost. In Luke 9:22 it says he was planning on being killed at the hands of the religious authorities and being raised to life again. He became our substitution on the cross. He became the propitiation of God’s wrath due to sin. 1 Peter 2:24 says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” He became the sacrifice for our sins. And he was raised to life three days later just like he said it would happen.
Finally, the book of John says we must receive Him. This means that we must repent, or turn from our sins, and trust in Jesus alone for our salvation from sin and death. You must recognize that your good works are not enough to save you and you must trust in Jesus’ good work on your behalf. You stop living life like you are god and because of God’s mercy you offer your body as a living sacrifice to him.
Jesus goes on in Luke 9:23-24 and says that if you want to be a follower of his you must deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow him. Jesus gave his life to offer us eternal life, and we in turn offer our physical life for him. Dietrich Bonheoffer, a German pastor who died at the hands of Hitler in WWII, said the call to follow Christ is an invitation to “come and die.” We die to ourselves and are made alive with Christ.
Some people will try to create an image of Jesus that they are comfortable with in their mind. They will say that Jesus was a historical figure and nothing else. Mormons would say Jesus was a child of God just like Lucifer and just like you and me. That he was not fully God existing eternally. Some people say that Jesus was a good teacher. Many religions, such as Islam, will say he was a prophet and that is all.
What people try to do, and maybe you have done it, is to create a Jesus in their mind that they are more comfortable with. Have you shaped him to fit a certain mold that you like? For instance, when I was in college, there were girls that believed in Boyfriend Jesus. They had kissed dating goodbye and not Jesus was their boyfriend.
-Or how about Good Teacher Jesus who always has wise words to live by.
-Some people believe in Touchdown Jesus who helps Christians win the major sporting events.
-Then there is Free Love Jesus who doesn’t think anything is wrong as long as you have love.
-There is Republican Jesus and Democrat Jesus who promises to make your life better after the election results on Tuesday.
-There is Feel Good Jesus who wants us all to walk out of here with a warm fuzzy feeling.
-There is Smiley Jesus who wants us to give us a pep talk so that we can have our best life now.
-Then there is Good Example Jesus who shows you how to treat people. And then you can feel sorry for him because he died unfairly.
And so I ask again: What will you do now? Will you ignore who He said he was? Will you repent and seek his forgiveness from your sins for the first time in your life today? Will you create a Jesus to suit your own needs and wants?
Peter was right: Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God. The promised Rescuer, Redeemer, and Savior. The one who came as a suffering servant to set the captives free and restore sight to the blind. The one who perfectly kept the law of God and then died a sinner’s death. He lived a perfect life that we didn’t. And he died a death that was meant for us. And by trusting in Him for salvation, we can be saved and inherit eternal life that we truly didn’t earn and don’t deserve. This Christ is not a reflection of our current mood or the projection of our own desires. He is more loving, more holy, and more wonderful than we ever thought possible. He is the one we worship.