By Hector Llanes
Faculty, College of Theology
When walking with Jesus, every day turned into a learning experience for his disciples. They were learning who Jesus was, his person, his mission and his way. Jesus taught them through parables, miracles, object lessons and sermons. He also taught them through his daily interaction with people, ordinary people, forgotten people and people of power and influence. As a good teacher, Jesus wanted his disciples to have a clear understanding of his person and teachings and to embody those truths in their own lives. All the efforts of Jesus in teaching his disciples would have been in vain if they did not make the truth their own. As disciples of Jesus today, we too are learning to walk with Jesus every day, to know who he is and what is his way. Every day, Jesus has one inescapable question for us.
As Jesus was getting closer to the time of his death, he saw the need to confront his disciples to make sure they knew and understood the truth about him and his mission. Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us that one day, in the region of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus confronted his disciples with the inescapable question. First, Jesus asked the disciples about what other people were saying about him. “They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets’” (Matthew 16: 14). All of these were heroes of the faith whom the people associated with the coming of the Messiah. Any other religious leader would have been delighted with what the people were saying, to be compared to any of these prophets, but not Jesus. He pressed on with a more personal question, “’But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’” (verse 15).
It was Simon Peter who answered, “’You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’” (verse 16). In the politically charged time of Jesus, Peter’s answer was a bold statement that people could take as a declaration of war against the Roman Empire— especially in Caesarea Philippi, named in honor of Caesar, a city where Roman power was displayed with might. It was the place where Herod the Great had built a temple for the worship of Caesar. Peter was not yet the valiant disciple that he came to be, but his declaration of faith was powerful and courageous. As Jesus told Peter, it had been revealed to him by God. Peter’s confession of faith was a foundation sufficiently strong upon which the church would stand against all the powers of hell.
Peter, however, was a work in progress. He had made the boldest statement of faith regarding Jesus, but it is evident that he did not understand all the implications coming from it. A few moments later, Jesus would predict his death as an impending event, an event that Peter did not understand and tried to stop. For which Jesus rebuked Peter, saying to him, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (Matthew 16: 23).
Jesus followed his rebuke with a teaching that is central to the life of a disciple: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it'” (verses 24-25). At this point, Peter was not willing that Jesus would die. Only later was he to learn that Jesus’ way is the way of the cross.
As we walk with Jesus today, he will not let us off the hook as his disciples. He has for us the same demand that he made of his disciples. He confronts us every day with the same question he posed to his disciples, “But what about you, who am I to you?” He expects and demands an answer as he did with the disciples. Like Peter, we need God’s Word to teach us who is Jesus and what is his mission and what is our calling as his disciples. Like Peter, we are a work in progress; we are learning to be Jesus’ disciples. Like Peter and the other disciples, we must choose Jesus as Lord above every other power, learning to die daily in order to live resurrected lives. Today, as we walk with Jesus, he will stop us along the way and ask us one more time, “Who am I to you today?”
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