The following three lessons present three steps that each of us need to take in order to receive new life in Jesus. This first lesson focuses on who Jesus is, and our need to recognize that he is the Savior.
The focus verse for this lesson is Matthew 16:16: Jesus asked,
“’Who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’”
The popular Jesus
People generally like Jesus, at least what they think they know of him. And Jesus is one of, if not the most famous person to have ever lived. So people like to have Jesus on their side. And what they typically do is take a part of Jesus that they like, and then make this to be who Jesus is for them.
Here’s some examples of popular versions of Jesus:
- Jesus was a great philosopher – a teacher who taught love. You find this among some historians and philosophers.
- Jesus was a prophet – a man who challenged injustice and died for his cause. You find this among some political activists as well as people of other faiths who try to make a place for Jesus in their belief system.
- Jesus was a spiritual mystic – a charismatic person with wisdom and healing powers. You find this among “new age” folks, or in Eastern religions, where Jesus is one of many manifestations of the divine.
People make out of Jesus whatever they want. And you find this stuff in book stores, on TV and all over. But what we want to do is . . .
Meet the real Jesus
We do this by looking at what Jesus actually said and did as this is recorded in the Gospels, not just a piece here or there. And let me just say at the beginning that the real Jesus was very controversial. (If you were raised in a Christian environment, you can easily miss this). After all, what he said and did was so radical that it got him killed! He was executed by the State.
Let’s look at the real Jesus:
1. Jesus did mighty works of power. Jesus healed people. He healed, “every disease and every affliction among the people” – Matthew 4:23-24. God’s power worked through him to do this.
Jesus also did other kinds of miracles: multiplying food (Mark 6:30-44); calming a storm by his word (Luke 8:22-25); walking on water (Mark 6:45-52); and raising the dead (Luke 7:11-17). Jesus did amazing works of power.
2. Jesus cast out demons with a word. He had amazing power and authority over evil spirits. As just one example, Luke 11:14 recounts, “Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled.” Jesus did this time and again.
3. Jesus forgave sins, something only God can do. Mark 2:3-12 tells this story:
Mark 2:3-12 (ESV)
And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.  And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.  And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”  Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts,  “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts?  Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—  “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.”  And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”
“And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘My son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, ‘Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the paralytic— ‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.’ And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!'”
4. He taught that with his coming God’s promises are all coming to fulfillment. He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand . . . believe the good news” – Mark 1:15. Jesus is saying, ‘God’s purposes and promises are being fulfilled through me, believe it!’
5. He said that he is now the teacher who tells us what God’s will is. Speaking of himself, he said, “You have one teacher” – Matthew 23:10. He is saying is that he is now the interpreter of God’s will for us.
And, in fact, he changes Moses’ teaching – the one who was the supreme teacher of God’s way. He changes it by raising it to a higher standard. For example he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” – Matthew 5:43-44. Moses taught you this . . ., but I am now raising the standard.
6. He demanded that with his coming each one of us should now begin to live our lives differently. His message to all was “Repent” – Mark 1:15, that is, fundamentally change how you are living your life. Jesus is saying, ‘I’m here, God’s purpose is at hand, now everyone has to change how they live.’
7. He called for a higher allegiance to him than to our own families. He said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” – Matthew 10:37. Think about your family. If you have a good relationship with them, this is an amazing statement! And this would include the “extended family” of our country, wherever we may be from. Jesus calls for an allegiance to him that exceeds all our earthly connections.
8. He called us to love him more than our own lives. He said a disciple of his must “hate . . . his/her own life” – Luke 14:26. What he is saying is that, when you have to choose between being faithful to him or losing your life, you choose him. And this isn’t just talking about life or death situations. It means that you are willing to sacrifice for Jesus on a daily basis, to give up what you want and like, if that’s what it means to be faithful to him.
9. He said that acceptance or rejection of him will determine our eternal destiny. He said, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” – Matthew 10:32-33. This is a picture of the final judgment. If we, now, deny Jesus is who he is, then he will deny us before God on that day. But if we acknowledge him, we will be acknowledged; we will be saved.
10. He said that his predictions about the future cannot fail. He said concerning his words about the future destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” – Mark 13:31. His words are more enduring than heaven and the earth we walk on.
11. He said that he would be killed and would be resurrected by God. Jesus said that he “must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” – Luke 9:22. And this is, in fact, what happened, as reported by his disciples and by the evidence of the empty tomb.
12. He said that he would return to earth and judge all people on the final day. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he (or she) has done.” – Matthew 16:27.
One thing that is clear from this brief survey is that . . .
The real Jesus is not a popular Jesus
Jesus is so much more than what any of them say, since they just take a piece of him and run with it according to what they like. It’s clear from his own statements and actions that he is:
- much more than just another great philosopher
- much more than just another prophet
- much more than just another mystic
No one spoke like he did. No one acted like he did. Jesus is in a class by himself. He exercised amazing power and authority over sin, demons, diseases, nature and even death. And he claimed authority over every part of our lives.
Jesus’ claim, ‘I am the Messiah’
Jesus put all this together by saying that he was the promised Messiah. He asked his disciples one day (from our focus verse), “’Who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’” – Matthew 16:15-16. And Jesus accepts Peter’s confession that he is the Messiah, as straight from God. “And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.’” – Matthew 16:17. Jesus claims to be the promised Messiah of God.
Well, you might ask, “What is the Messiah?” It’s the Hebrew word for “anointed one” (the Greek word is “Christ”). It has to do with the Old Testament practice of anointing someone with oil when they are commissioned by God to do a task. In this case, there was the expectation among many Jews, based on the Scriptures, that God was sending someone to deliver and save his people and to bring God’s righteous rule to this earth – the kingdom of God. This was not just “an” anointed one, this was “the” anointed one. [For more read – Prophetic Predictions and Foreshadowings of Jesus, the Messiah].
So the claim here is that Jesus is this “anointed one.” Jesus is the one God has sent to save and rule over the earth. Jesus is the one with authority over all creation, including us. Another way to say it, is that “Jesus is Lord.” This is what it means to call Jesus Messiah.
This brings us back to the question we began with . . .
“Who do you say that I am?”
Jesus knew that his statements and actions would be deeply controversial. That’s why he said in Matthew 11:6 – “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” As we have seen, Jesus was a polarizing figure, and that by design.
- Jesus forced those in his day to decide about him. Everyone had to answer the question, “Who do you say that I am?” They had to answer, “Who is this Jesus?”
- And he forces us to answer as well. Jesus asks each of you the same question: “Who do you say that I am?”
And although like others, we may want to place Jesus in some other category, he was a good person, or just a prophet (but not everything that he claimed – a popular Jesus) Jesus himself doesn’t allow us to do this! By the sheer power of who he is, and the extreme way in which he presents himself, as we saw – Jesus leaves us no middle ground! As he said in Matthew 12:30, “Whoever is not with me is against me.” We are either with him or against him. These are the only two options, according to Jesus. We can either accept him for who he says he is, or be offended by him and reject him.
We can acknowledge that he is indeed the Messiah, and then we have to rearrange our lives and start living like this is true. Or, we have to say he is not who he says he is and that something was seriously wrong with him.
This latter option is what the Pharisees chose. They held that Jesus was a false prophet. Yes, you claim authority, but you are really only blaspheming (Matthew 9:3). Yes, you have amazing power, we can’t deny it, but it is really demonic power (Luke 11:15).
Like the Pharisees and everyone else who encounters Jesus, we have to make a choice. Which will it be for us? Jesus’ challenge to each of us is to believe that he is who he says he is; to acknowledge that he is indeed Lord; to confess as Peter did – “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And then Jesus challenges us to begin to live our lives like this is true, which is what the rest of these lessons are about.