Since the region we know as the Holy Land was nowhere near Rome, a city was built so the people in Jesus’ day could do as Romans do—and that place was Caesarea Philippi.
To be a Roman meant offering sacrifices to the gods of the empire—and Caesarea Philippi was the place to do that. Strangely, Jesus chose this place to ask his disciples:
Who do people say that I am?
This question was like the game show Family Feud. Jesus was asking his disciples for the most popular answers. So they tell him “some say you’re John the Baptist, you’re Elijah, you’re Jeremiah, and you’re one of the prophets.”
But the second question was no quiz. He asks them, “who do you say that I am?” Answering it wasn’t as easy as it may sound. It was true that they had witnessed Jesus’ miracles; they heard his teachings, and Jesus told them many things that he didn’t tell everyone else. But Jesus never told them in black-and-white terms who he was. And on top of that, we can’t forget their surroundings. It had to have been difficult not to be overcome by the sight of thousands of people worshipping the Roman gods in the mighty temples and shrines. Jesus could not have chosen a more intimidating place for his disciples to testify to who they believed him to be.
So Peter steps up and answers, saying “you are the Messiah, the son of the living God.”
Peter didn’t take a shot in the dark and give the right answer. Peter knew who Jesus was because God had revealed that to him. God gave Peter the faith to believe that Jesus was the Messiah.
So as Jesus asks you “who do you say that I am?” what would you say?
Chances are that we’d have no trouble answering the question. Most people can say that that Jesus is the Messiah—including people who’ve never set foot in a church. It’s common knowledge. But Jesus isn’t after the most popular answer. This isn’t a pop quiz.
Jesus’ question for us is “who am I for you?”
Or to put it another way, “who is your Jesus?”
Today’s Gospel is calling all of us to pause and consider the works of Jesus Christ in our lives. It calls us look back upon our days and give thanks for all of the things he’s done for us. We remember that Jesus gave his life for the forgiveness of our sins. We remember that we have eternal life in his resurrection. We remember that Christ is not a distant Savior, but a present Savior.
But today’s Gospel also calls us to consider all of the ways that we need him… We sin daily and always need his forgiveness. We always need his strength and comfort amid the trials and temptations we face. We always need his new life in the wake of our failings and disappointments. We need him to nourish and grow our faith so that we can live the life he wants us to live. We need him to save us from the powers of evil and death.
The good news is that your Jesus reaches out for you in your most desperate needs. Your Jesus gives you the faith to trust in the promises of the Gospel. And your Jesus brings those promises to life.
Since we need him so much, we need to constantly be receiving him in Word and Sacrament. Those who are hungry must come to Jesus to be fed.
Yet we are also to tell others about our Jesus. The mark of a disciple of Jesus Christ is testimony. Testimony isn’t just telling people that Jesus the Messiah. Testimony is telling the story of a Messiah who does great things for us. Your Jesus should not be kept secret. And that is one of the greatest challenges this Gospel presents to us.
We’re inclined to do as 21st century Americans do. 21st century Americans don’t talk about their faith to others. For 21st century Americans, faith is a personal matter to be kept to ourselves. So we do just that. If you talk openly about your faith, you may get labeled a ‘Jesus freak,’ as if to say that something’s wrong with you. But how often do we talk about our relationship with Jesus here in church? How often do we share our testimony of all that Jesus does for us? If we’re not, we aren’t ministering the Gospel to one another as effectively as we could be. We are called to testify to the work of Jesus Christ in our everyday lives. Our personal testimony of Jesus makes the Gospel all the more real. God uses our testimony to create and build up faith in other people.
At the same time, we must be honest and open in sharing our faith struggles—because everyone struggles to trust in the promises of Jesus Christ. Our lack of faith is not a failure in our part. It’s a hunger for new life. If, right now, you feel as though there is nothing you could possibly testify about Jesus Christ, there is good news for you… Come to the table today… Keep feasting on his Word, and you’ll see… Your Jesus will give you plenty to talk about.
Jesus is not a silent presence in our lives. So why should we be silent about him? Where is the joy in knowing Jesus if we never talk about him?
The Christian faith is not strictly a personal matter. We cannot allow the surrounding culture to intimidate us and silence our witness. God created us to be in community with one another. God gave us relationships so that we can better know Jesus by knowing one another. There must be a time and place for testimony in our church. We need to be telling one another about all that Jesus is doing for us. We cannot be a strong church unless Jesus Christ is the subject of our conversations. We cannot be a growing church unless we testify to the work of Jesus Christ in our own lives.
Jesus asks us “who do you say that I am?”
The time for us has come for us to testify.