Who Do You Say I Am?“Our answer to Jesus' questions reflects the truth of our experience with Him.”
This year, our Bible studies will center in on questions Jesus asked in Scripture. Jesus asks over 300 questions throughout the Gospels, but only answers eight questions. Therefore, it appears questions are an important teaching tool used by the Lord. As we explore these encounters and conversations with Jesus in the Gospel accounts, we will seek to understand what those questions mean for us today and how we might answer them as we ask them of ourselves, applying them to our own lives and circumstances.
Some of us growing up probably played games that were centered around questions, such as “Twenty Questions,” the game where you ask successive questions to decipher what the other person is thinking of. Another such childhood game is “Guess Who,” a game where two players have a board of pictures of various individuals. Each player selects a character on the board, and then takes turns asking questions of each other to determine which character their opponent has selected. Players win by discovering their opponent’s character first.
Our first study is like a game of “Guess Who.” It zeroes in on identifying who Jesus is and, more specifically, who He is for us personally. As we start this new year, we are taking a look at one of the pivotal questions in Scripture: Who do you say that I am? It is a question that Jesus asked of His disciples in the pages of the Bible, but also asks each of us today in our own hearts: can we identify who Jesus really is in our lives?
The context of this question is recorded in all three synoptic Gospels (Matthew 16:13 – 20; Mark 8:27 – 30; Luke 9:18 – 20). Each Gospel writer records that there has been quite a bit of miraculous activity leading up to this discussion between the Savior and His disciples. In all three Gospels, this important conversation is preceded by a feeding miracle where thousands discover literal bread from the Bread of Life (Matthew 15:32 – 39; Mark 8: 1 – 10; Luke 9: 10 – 17). Jesus asks His question after demonstrating the physical power of God through His ministry. Matthew and Mark tell us that Jesus was in Caesarea Philippi, a Roman city known for its cult worship. Jesus’ question is posed in a physical space that doesn’t recognize the authority of the God of Scripture.
In all three accounts, Jesus poses two questions, the first of which is “Who do people say I am?” (Matthew 16:13; Mark 8:27; Luke 9:18). The disciples readily answer with the public’s perception of Jesus. All three record that people think Jesus is a figure returned from the grave—either John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the ancient prophets such as Jeremiah. Jesus’ second question asks the disciples who they specifically say He is (Matthew 16:15; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20).
It is implied that there is some hesitancy to answer the second question. Peter is the only disciple to have a recorded answer. He jumps to the answer in all three accounts: You are the Messiah! (Matthew 16:16; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20) In Matthew, Jesus tells Peter, “Upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it” (16:18). Peter’s declaration prompts a promise from the Lord. His confession of who Jesus truly is, the Son of God come to save the world, is the foundation of the Church’s spiritual power in this world. All three Gospels record Jesus predicting His death immediately following this exchange. It is from this point forward that Jesus begins to speak directly of His impending suffering and death. It seems that a clear understanding of who Jesus truly is better frames what He came to do on our behalf.
Jesus’ disciples are pushed to acknowledge whether they have been paying attention to Jesus along this journey with Him so far. They have a quick answer for what others are saying. Jesus’ first question demonstrates that they are paying attention to the crowds and the chatter amongst the religious. Their hesitancy at the second, directly personal question is somewhat shocking. These are Jewish young men who have studied the Scriptures their whole lives. They have walked alongside Jesus for countless miles. They have witnessed healings, feedings and other miracles. They have heard His sermons and prayers. They have lived with Him daily. And yet, when faced with testifying to what they know about who He is, many remain silent.
These questions focus on the identity of Jesus. In his book “The Questions of Jesus: Challenging Ourselves to Discover Life’s Great Answers,” John Dear suggests that “the identity of Jesus then is at the heart of his story and our lives.” Jesus’ identity, as the Word made flesh to dwell among us (John 1:14 NIV), is the center of His purpose on earth. Jesus came to live among God’s creation to show a way back to the Creator. Our understanding of that truth determines how we answer the question of His identity for ourselves. Our answer to Jesus’ questions reflects the truth of our experience with Him.
If Jesus were to ask you, “Who do you say that I am?” what would be your answer today? Some might call Him a great teacher. Some might call Him a good example. Some might call Him a legend. These are superficial experiences with Jesus that are reminiscent of the crowd’s answers in our passage. Jesus is inviting each person to live out an experience of faith that boldly proclaims His identity to the world: He is the Messiah! The One who has come to save the world from sin.
Our answers to “Who is Jesus?” are as varied as our experiences: Healer, Friend, Strength, Guide and Redeemer. Peter serves as our example to be ready to answer for what we know to be true about who Jesus is. He writes later in one of his letters: “You must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope, always be ready to explain it” (1 Peter 3:15). As followers of Jesus, we are called to be ready to answer the question of who He is in our lives. We are not asked to share popular opinion about Him, but to share from our own lived experiences of His goodness in our lives.
Today, as we face communities suffering from profound distance from God, we have the opportunity to watch for how Jesus reveals Himself to us. We can choose to see who He truly is by the way we experience His work in our lives. When we understand and acknowledge the true identity of Jesus we will seek to “tell everyone about [His] righteousness. All day long [we will] proclaim [His] saving power” (Psalm 71:15).
Questions to ponder
- Make a list of nouns that describe who Jesus is in your life. (Ex: healer, provider, savior, etc.) Spend time praying and thanking Him for how He has revealed His identity to you.
- If you don’t know who Jesus truly is, is there someone you can talk to who might be ready to explain it all?
An Open INVITATION
You can receive the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ by praying something like the following:
Dear God, know I am a sinner. I need your forgiveness and grace. I believe that Christ paid the penalty for my sin, and He died in my place, and He rose from the dead. I invite Jesus Christ to come into my life as Savior. Thank You for saving me from my sin and making me Your child. Help me to grow and learn how to serve You. Amen.