When people encountered Jesus, many sensed that He was no ordinary man. Then Peter realized that Jesus was the Man long promised in the Old Testament. Today, Sinclair Ferguson begins to reflect on Peter’s declaration.
Yesterday on Things Unseen, we started talking about knowing Christ, and I was saying at the end that our access to that knowledge is really through the pages of the New Testament. Well, we can’t handle the whole New Testament in a week. We need a focus. So, here’s a focus that our Lord Himself used to help His disciples. Do you remember His questions at Caesarea Philippi? Here’s the way Luke puts it: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” And the disciples answered, “John, or Elijah, or one of the prophets.” And then Jesus asked them a more direct question: “But who do you say I am?” (Luke 9:18–20).
I think it’s interesting, isn’t it, that the crowds didn’t say, simply: “Well, He’s Jesus. He’s Jesus of Nazareth.” That would’ve been true, and they knew it. But there was something about Jesus that made people look for a different category of answer. It seems that everyone Jesus encountered during His public ministry felt that. His name was Jesus, but there was something bigger about His identity. His opponents wished He could have just been described as Jesus—Pontius Pilate probably thought that. But remember, he felt compelled to ask, “Tell me who You really are.” Everyone who met Him sensed they needed to reach beyond their ordinary ways of describing someone if they were to discover who Jesus really was. They were intrigued by Him. He was like one of His own parables. There was a mystery about Him, a puzzle about Him, that many of them were trying to solve but couldn’t.
But back to Jesus’ question to the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Remember how Peter blurted out the right answer? “Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” True, it almost immediately became clear that Peter himself didn’t understand his own answer very well. But we know he gave the right answer because Jesus said to him, “Flesh and blood does not reveal this to you, Peter, but my Father who is in Heaven” (Matthew 16:17).
What’s interesting here is that while the crowds were struggling to identify Jesus by thinking in terms of specific individuals from the Old Testament—maybe one of the prophets of the old covenant, or you remember how King Herod wondered if Jesus was the prophet he had actually heard but executed, John the Baptist—but Simon Peter identifies Jesus by using names that are not personal names but titles. And he didn’t make up these titles. Whether these are ideas about Jesus that had been slowly germinating in his mind, or whether they simply came to him like a light bulb being turned on in one of those aha moments in life. What he had come to realize was that Jesus was someone about whom the Old Testament had already spoken. He didn’t need to make up new categories that would help him to understand Jesus. Those categories had already been given to him in the Hebrew Scriptures. And we could even say that when Peter blurted out his answer, and maybe he was still reflecting on it, he was at last discovering the meaning of some very important passages in his Hebrew Bible. It was as though now that he was face-to-face with Jesus, he could at last say: “Oh, that’s what these passages really mean. That’s who they were talking about. That’s who Jesus is.”
Well, who is Jesus? What are these titles? “You, Jesus, you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It’s really wonderful, isn’t it? Wonderful when someone says that because their eyes have been opened to discover who Jesus really is. They’ve known about Him, but then the heavenly Father, through the Holy Spirit, works in their hearts, and they recognize at last the truth about Jesus: “Now, I know who you really are.”
I wonder if you’re one of those people who has known about Jesus all your life, but it’s only recently that the Father has revealed His Son to you. If not, then please begin to ask Him to do that. And I hope you’ll join us tomorrow on Things Unseen to reflect further on who Jesus really is.