“But what about you?” Jesus asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” Mark 8:29
Caesarea Philippi provides an interesting backdrop for this scene. There was a cavern in the hillside there which was believed to be the birthplace of the Greek god, Pan, the god of nature. There was also a cave in the hillside from which waters came forth that were believed to be the source of the Jordan River. Further up the hillside, looking down over it all, there was a marble temple dedicated to Caesar, ruler of the Roman Empire, who claimed himself to be a god.
There, in the shadow of Greek and Roman religion, and in the shadow of Jewish history, Jesus asked His disciples the most searching question: Who do you say that I am?
People gave various answers. Some said John the Baptist come back to life, others pointed to Elijah, still others to the prophets. They reacted to His authority as they would react to a prophet, a spokesman for God. I think we would hear different answers today. Some say a great teacher, others a healing therapist, still others a tolerant lover who accepts us as we are.
The problem with all these answers, both old and new, is that they fall short, they are deficient. That deficiency also has consequences.
Karl Barth once wrote, “Tell me how it stands with your Christology, and I shall tell you who you are…For here we are standing at the centre” (Dogmatics in Outline, 66). How we answer Jesus’ question stands at the center of everything.
I would suggest it does so in two ways.
First, the core deficiency in all of these answers, old and new, is that they are not in line with who Jesus is. Peter got the answer right, “You are the Christ.” But Jesus still had to explain what that meant. It didn’t mean a warrior-king who would destroy Rome and make Israel great again. It meant being the Suffering Servant promised through Isaiah who would go to the Cross to die as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. Yes, Jesus is the promised Savior, but He comes to save by laying down His life.
That has consequences. To accept the gift of salvation Jesus gives, one must first admit, or confess, the need for it. The problem with all the other answers is that they leave us at the center, they leave us in control, they give us the power over our salvation. But Jesus and His Cross don’t do that. They expose us and our need for the salvation that only He can give.
This is part of Barth’s insight. If we are willing to accept Jesus for who He claims to be, it tells us who we are. If He is our Lord and Savior, then our lives must conform to His will.
Secondly, though, how we answer the question tells the world who we are. If He is our Lord and Savior, we will seek to live in loving obedience and He will transform our lives to become like His. As uncomfortable as it may be, our lives are always serving as a witness to the world. In many ways, then, we should be answering the question of who Jesus is by the way we live. If people only had your life to go on, what does your life say about who Jesus is? Our lives tell who we believe Jesus to be.
So what about you? Who do you say, and show, that Jesus is?