Last week we began our new Sanctuary Worship series, “Credo: What Christians Believe and Why,” with the most basic of our affirmations, “I believe in God,” exploring the idea of God as Creator, and our own creative spirit as beings created in the image of God.
As you’ve probably noticed, every affirmation of faith begins by affirming our Trinitarian belief in God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.
This Sunday, we’ll move to the second part of this overarching affirmation of our faith: “I believe in Jesus Christ.”
In our scripture reading for this week, Matthew 16:13-18, Jesus is posing two very important questions to his disciples. The timing and the location of these questions are perhaps as important as the content. The timing: Jesus posed these questions right before he headed to Jerusalem where he would be arrested and put to death. The location: Matthew tells us that Jesus took his disciples north from the Sea of Galilee into the mountains to a place called Caesarea Philippi, which was a center of pagan worship. It was there, surrounded by dozens of niches carved into the cliffs — each containing a statue of a pagan god — near the great temple to the god Pan, that Jesus asked his disciples the first important question about himself:
“Who do people say that the Human One is?”
The disciples replied with a good, more or less footnoted answer to the question: “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” This answer made some sense because it was pretty easy to see in Jesus life aspects of the lives of all the individuals they mentioned.
Then Jesus asked a much more pointed question:
“And what about you? Who do you say that I am?”
To this Simon Peter immediately replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
So, as we continue in this series that examines what we as Christians believe and why, I think it’s that second, more pointed question that calls to us as followers of Christ. In every time and every age since Jesus first posed that question, the question comes to each person:
Who do you say that Jesus is?
I think that question goes much deeper that what we believe. More than knowing an affirmation or creed, our faith in Christ means knowing him as a person and seeking to follow his example as closely as possible.
Think for a moment about the parallels between our world today and that original setting in which these pivotal questions took place. Today we, too, are surrounded by all kinds of images and messages that vie for our allegiance, promising us fulfilled and abundant lives. There are all kinds of ideas about Jesus, too. When you think about it this way, it’s easy to see why Jesus’ question to his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” is quite relevant to us — and our faith — today. This is a question for you and me to answer in the context of our own lives.
How do we do that?
In the Affirmation of Faith we’ll be using this Sunday from the Korean Methodist Church, we find this affirmation about Jesus: “We believe in Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, our teacher, example and redeemer, the Savior of the world.”
What does that mean? Even more important, what does that mean for you? Who do you say that Jesus is?
This Sunday we’ll think more deeply about how we each answer this critically important question and what it means for the lives we lead.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster