Who Do You Say that I Am?
Something must have happened to the disciples after that Easter morning. Only the gospel of John mentions that any of the disciples were there at the time of Jesus’ death. Luke has Peter denying Jesus three times and pictures the eleven in a locked room away from the dreadful events of the crucifixion. But after the ascension and the moment of Pentecost, those same cowering followers are transformed into powerful witnesses who even the threat of death cannot silence. The book of Acts, Chapter 4, beginning with verse 19, records this bold voice in response to the threats of the Sanhedrin, “But Peter and John replied, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Notice the difference? As we experience the “truth,” it can transform us. After an epiphany or revelation, we are no longer the same; we change hopefully for the better.
I think our society has had an epiphany of sorts; a kind of revelation that Time magazine describes as one that says our way of living will never be the same. It says that we not only “ran a good long road testing the premise that more is better: we built houses that could hold all our stuff but were too big to heat; we bought cars that could ferry a soccer team but were too big to park; we thought we were embracing the simple life by squeezing in a yoga class between working and shopping and took and extra job to pay for it all.” The “Great Recession,” as history will call it, has caused what people may refer to as the great “wake-up” call to the “hallucination that debt would never need to be paid, that values only rise, and that bubbles never burst. This collective epiphany may not have affected as broad a base of people as the “Great Depression” – but the effects are widespread and the results are both positive and negative. Some are recycling our grandparent’s wisdom: “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” and “buy it only if you have it.” Did you know that libraries have experienced record circulation? On the other hand more are buying guns in fear of the personal safety, and the usual staples of depression such as the purchase of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs seem to be recession proof. Whenever the recovery, the amount we save, the people we trust, the assumptions upon when we build our happiness may have experienced an epiphany and never be the same. But maybe in the end, the epiphany we discover is what we already know and have learned to be “true” through the hard lessons of those that have gone before us. Perhaps a review of history is our best teacher and what the future has to offer as wisdom is the “truth” of what is already known from the past dressed-up in new clothes.
To the disciples, the death of the one that they had followed for three years, witnessed miracles, seen lives transformed, heard and understood or misunderstood Jesus’ teaching, was traumatic. Doubts about what they had given up; doubts about the future of Israel, doubts about what was really true about what He had said and taught – that love will win out in the end, was all being challenged by the death of the one they had called Jesus, the one Peter called “the Christ” (Matthew 16: 16) in response to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” Only days before, the same Peter had denied Jesus on the evening of Jesus’ arrest. Had they forgotten that Jesus said to them before on the road to Jerusalem, (Mark 10:33-34) "and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise." And then, two men, one named Cleopas, (based upon the Luke 24 story about the “Road to Emmaus”) burst into room where the disciples were hiding and said three words that would change their lives and the lives of all who would follow, “It is true.” Just three words would be the epiphany that would transform the disciples from a band of depressed and lost followers to a bold set of witnesses to what Jesus had taught them. Sure there was some doubt, but even that would be brushed aside when Jesus would appear to them in person. Yes, the resurrection changed everything, and what they remembered he had said about whom He was and what would happen was now the “truth.” The veil against their understanding had been lifted, and as per John 8:32, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." The epiphany of the truth of Jesus identity and the message of salvation through grace had been confirmed. Their fear had turned to boldness; their doubt and turned to assurance; and their lack of understanding had been transformed to truth – “of what they had seen and heard.”
George Macdonald said, “God hides nothing. His very work from the beginning is revelation-a casting aside of veil after veil, a showing to men of truth after truth. On and on from fact divine he advances, until at length in his Son, Jesus, he unveils his very face.”
The Exodus story tells us that Moses had asked the reverse question of God, (Exodus 3: 13 “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?’” The “I am” told Moses to tell the Israelites that “I am the Lord your God….” The confrontation with Pharaoh, and the deliverance of the people were Moses epiphany for at the crossing of the Red Sea he told the people (Exodus 14: 14-15) “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance of the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Yes, the epiphany of Moses was a series of exposures to the Almighty Who had revealed the truth to Him and all that God had told him had come to pass. Moses would now the answer to God’s question “Who do you say that I am? Long before he would ask Peter.
But, but, but the people of Israel, like the disciples who ran from the cross, would not by being exposed to God, accept the truth of God’s identity until each would have their own individual epiphany when the they would accept the reality of God and say for themselves, “It is true.”
The question Jesus asked the disciples is the one he asks each of us “Who do you say that I am?” It is the question of baptism, the question of confirmation, it is the most important question we will ever answer, and for each of us the answer is based upon the “truth” that transformed our lives into the children of God.
Now to say the “truth” of Peter’s witness that Jesus is the Christ is different from saying that Jesus is my Christ, my Savior. You see the Israelites witnessed the power of God yet did not claim God as their Lord. While this would be resolved in the wilderness, and they would finally claim God as their God, they had to first claim the “truth” as their own.
Now the Times article goes on to say that “no one wishes for hardship. But as we pick through the rubble, we may find that our riches have buried our treasures. Money does not buy happiness (my, where did that historical truth come from?); Scripture asserts this, research confirms it. Once you reach the median level of income, roughly $50,000 a year, wealth and contentment go their separate ways, and studies find that a millionaire is no more likely to be happy than someone earning one-twentieth as much. These are truths that we already knew, yet we went searching for a new reality, a “richer” life based upon greed and false assumptions, “a golden calf” made out of the ruins of the truths that we know to be true yet set aside. To avoid the trap the world would have us seek that disputes the realities we know as truth, the path the Israelites followed, we must base our lives upon the truth that has already been revealed to us –that riches don’t buy happiness. We must claim the truth and set ourselves free of searching again for another idol of our making. We must not do what society seems to do every other generation – reinvent the truth, the wisdom of history, the reality of experience.
I am sure that God will continue to reveal himself to us in new ways and that our current understanding and experience of God will add to “truth” for future generations. But most importantly for now is that we have accepted as our own personal reality who “Christ is for us.” What does Christ mean to us, and to what purpose does Easter serve to create our own personal reality, and to what extent does Easter level the playing field of our lives?
Each of us must answer God’s question, “Who do you say that I am?” Is the God you worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Is the God you pray to the one Jesus prayed to in the Garden when he said, “…yet not my will, but yours be done (Luke 22: 42). Is the God you trust with your eternal destination the God that Paul described, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (Romans 6: 4).” Have you claimed for yourself the Easter message that “It is true!” Or, are you like society in general reveling at the chance to reinvent the truth of the Great Depression and now the Great Recession by saying their must be a way to prove that money does buy happiness. Or like the Israelites, despite God having provided their every need, making your own “gold calf,” and molding God into your own image, one that will fit your own reality.
You see, if your answer is the reality that the disciples found to be true, that Jesus was God, and was their God, and is your God, then you accept the truths of the Bible that will govern your lives – the truth that has and will continue to transform your lives into the image of Christ. Each day will be like sitting in the presence of one who has lived the wisdom of the ages – like a product of the Great Depression/World Wars/ and all the hard knocks that have followed, and gleaning the truth of life. Only then, if you accept was is true, with the truth of who God is set you free.
Walter Hilton said, “Every revelation of truth felt with interior savor and spiritual joy is a secret whispering of God in the ear of a pure soul.
I close with that question God asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?”