May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable to you O Lord, our God and Our Creator.
“Who do you say that I am?” – this question from Jesus stands at the core of what it means to be Christian and is a question that all those who profess the faith have had to face. How we each choose to answer this question is of vital importance for to know who Jesus truly is is to know the path that leads to eternal life.
In the passage from the Gospel today Jesus aims this question at His Apostles and it’s interesting to see that they give a number of answers of varying nature; they said “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” For those of us who have already accepted the Christian faith, standing some 2000 years from these events the answer of the Apostles seem perplexing. I have to admit that when I first read this passage preparing for the sermon I was puzzled as to why the writer of the Gospel left these incorrect understandings of Jesus’ identity in his account. If Jesus wants us to know who He is then why first tell us who he is not?
However, as I contemplated the passage I came to realise that these incorrect statements hold a very important message for us; Jesus had a purpose in drawing these false notions out from the Apostle. Jesus was showing us two things, firstly that we should not be afraid of false doctrine as the light of truth will always show the darkness found in falsehood, and secondly it points out to us that it’s important to understand falsehood so that we can combat it with the truth. Imagine if you were trying to discuss the truths of the Gospel to someone who was of another faith. How easy do you think it would be to have that discussion with no knowledge of what they already believed? I tend to think that it would be very difficult to have a truly meaningful faith conversation like this without a knowledge and understanding of the false beliefs of the person you’re talking with.
So, now we are left asking ourselves, if Jesus is not John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the other prophets returned who is he? In response to this the Apostle Peter makes one of the clearest statements about the identity of Jesus, he says “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” At first glance this may not seem like a very profound statement, these are words that we here in relation to Jesus all the time. However, for the Apostles this is a pivotal moment, it’s the moment when they come to a realisation of exactly who and what Jesus is, it’s the moment when they realise that He is not just another man, a prophet, but something far more. In the words of Peter we see two aspects of Jesus identity revealed. Firstly Peter refers to Jesus as “the Christ” and secondly as “the Son of the Living God”.
To those of us who are already Christian the word Christ may not hold significant meaning; it’s a word that we use with great frequency and in fact we tend to use as part of the very name of Jesus, like it is his surname. However, if we go back to the root meaning of this word it holds great significance in the faith and by using it in relation to Jesus Peter was making a bold statement. The word Christ mean anointed one and finds its equivalence in the Hebrew word Messiah. So in saying that Jesus is the Christ Peter is declaring that He is the long awaited Messiah. Throughout the long history of Israel there had been a constant message of deliverance from oppression and it was firmly believed that the ultimate deliverance of Israel would come at the hands of an anointed king and saviour, the Messiah. In stating openly and boldly that Jesus is the Messiah Peter is acknowledging that Jesus is the one that was promised by God to his ancestors, that Jesus was the one who would deliver Israel from bondage and bridge the gap between God and man. This is a powerful statement and truly a brave one.
Peter also refers to Jesus as “the Son of the Living God”; now at first hearing this the Apostles may not have thought much of it as every child of Israel was a Son of God, but this is not what Peter was saying. Peter clearly did not say that Jesus was A son of God but rather that He was THE Son of God. Peter was declaring that not only was Jesus that promised saviour and liberator of Israel but that He was in a very real sense something more than the rest of humanity. He was declaring in the best way he knew how that Jesus was divine, that He was more than just a man and that He in fact was directly of God; that He was God incarnate.
It may seem like this is a lot to read into these two simple statements; but when we pray and contemplate these words we can easily see that held within them are the crux of the Christian faith. If we are going to be faithful to Jesus we need to recognise two things about Him. Each and every one of us must recognise that Jesus is the very Son of God, that his substance, that his being and essence is not merely that of a prophet or a man. Instead He is of the very essence and person of God; the Father and Jesus are one and to know Jesus is to know the Father. Once we have come to recognise that Jesus is the Son of God we must know that Jesus has come to save us that it is only through the name of Christ that we may gain eternal life. If we fail to recognise this we fail recognise these two things we fail to be Christians and have fallen short of our inheritance of a heavenly abode.
I would encourage each and every one of you hearing or reading this sermon to join me in the next week in contemplating who Jesus is. Each and every one of us should take this opportunity to search our hearts for what Jesus means to us. If we have failed to accept Jesus as the Son of God and as our personal Lord and Saviour now is the time to do so. If we don’t let Christ into our hearts, if we don’t let Him extend his saving grace to us then how can we expect to be welcomed by Christ and His blessed mother into a heavenly inheritance once we have “shuffled off this mortal coil”?
It is my unending prayer that we may all be strengthened in our faith in Jesus and that all those in the world who are yet to accept Christ as their Saviour may have the true faith kindled within their hearts.
If you are in need of a boost in your faith or if you are seeking faith in Christ please join me in this prayer:
Lord, I wish to believe in you. I ask that my faith may be full and unreserved, that it may penetrate my thought, my way of judging Divine things and human things.
Lord, let my faith be joyful and give peace and gladness to my spirit, and dispose it for prayer with God and conversation with men, so that the inner bliss of its fortunate possession may shine forth in sacred and secular conversation.
Lord, let my faith be humble and not presume to be based on the experience of my thought and of my feeling; but let it surrender to the testimony of the Holy Spirit, and not have any better guarantee than in docility to Holy Scriptures and the Tradition and to the authority of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Faith. Amen.