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Hereís THE Question

By David A. DePra

In Matthew 16, Jesus asks His disciples, "Who do men say that I am?" They say, "Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." (Matt. 16:14) But then Jesus rephrases the question. He asks, "Who do YOU say that I am?"

Peter stepped forward from the fray that day and spoke for the disciples. He said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." That was the right answer.

Of course, the name "Christ" means "Messiah." So in one confession, Peter is not only saying that Jesus is the Son of God Ė God Incarnate become man Ė he is saying that Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel.

Jesus applauded Peterís realization. He said, "Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matt. 16:17-18)

Here we see that the revelation of Jesus as the Christ is not received through any "flesh and blood" means." God Himself must take the initiative to reveal to us who Jesus is. This, of course, is GRACE. And Jesus goes on to say that it is this revelation of who Jesus Christ is that forms the foundation Ė or Rock Ė upon which the church will be built. The church will consist of people who make the same confession as Peter. The church will confess that "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God."

Now letís sort this out. Ask: WHO did Jesus say would build His church? HIM. And upon WHAT would He build His church? Upon this Rock Ė namely HIM. And with WHAT would Jesus build His church? With those who confessed and embraced Jesus as did Peter that day. In other words, PEOPLE. And finally, FOR WHAT would Jesus build this church? Well, that gets a bit more involved as the passage continues, with Jesus telling them about the gates of hell not prevailing, and the keys of the kingdom. Letís summarize it: Jesus would build His church as a dwelling place for Himself, and as a witness unto Himself.

What we see here is that Jesus Christ will build His church upon Himself as the foundation, using as material redeemed human beings who have put their faith in Him. He will do it His way and in His time. The fact that we get to be part of it does not negate this fact.

The Church

When Jesus said, "I will build my church," He was not saying that He was going to go on a building project. He was not talking about a building or an organization at all. He often likens the church to the temple of God, or to a building in scripture. But that is not what the church is. The church is people. The word "church" means "called out ones" Ė people who are called out of the world to Jesus Christ. They are those who have not only seen who Jesus Christ is, but who have embraced Him as Lord and Savior.

Now right here we do have to clarify something. Many people give the right answer to the question Jesus asked. But thatís it. And itís not enough. It is one thing to say you know who Jesus is. But until you embrace Jesus as Lord and Savior Ė you donít know it. Or you do know it and reject Him. To truly "say" who Jesus is means not only to confess it, but to embrace Him.

The main reason people donít embrace Christ is that they donít know how much they need Him. In other words, unless I come to Christ knowing that I am a lost sinner, I may be able to SAY He is Savior. But do I know He is MY Savior? If I do, then later Iíll live like it. Heíll be my Lord.

Once Peter made his wonderful confession, and Jesus told him that it was correct, Jesus went on in the conversation to show Peter a little of what his confession meant. Jesus said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. (Matt. 16:24-25)

Notice what is going on here: You canít confess who Jesus Christ is, and then go your own way. If you really confess who He is, you must see that you no longer have your own way. Indeed, if you REALLY confess Jesus, you wonít want your own way! You will see that He alone is Lord, and in Him alone is salvation Ė and you will rejoice in that.

So we come back to THE question. Ask it of yourself: Who do YOU say that Jesus Christ is? But recognize that if you confess the Truth, you have seen the Truth. That makes you accountable for the Truth. You can never again be the same, for now you KNOW.

But wait. Before you answer, read again the question. Iím not asking, "Who does the Bible say Jesus is?" We all know what the Bible says. Neither am I asking, "Who does the pastor say Jesus is?" Nor, "Who does this or that famous teacher say that Jesus Christ is?" Iím asking, "Who do YOU say that Jesus Christ is?"

THE Answer

Jesus isnít stupid. He wasnít then and He isnít now. When He asks a question it is not because He needs us to educate or inform Him. It is because He is trying to bring something out in US. It is because He is pushing us to a confession or admission. He wants to bring us to the place of ANSWER.

When the Holy Spirit asks a person this question, "Who is Jesus Christ?," there is an accountability before God on that person which was not there before. And it is an accountability which is never going to be removed. You are accountable for ANSWERING. You may not be able to answer right away. But you must answer.

We must see this. The fact that God asks us, "Who is Jesus Christ?," puts Christ before us. We have to deal with Him. We have to come to terms with Him. We may try to sidestep the question, or we may try to pretend it was never asked. But it HAS been asked. And it cannot be UNASKED. We must answer one way or another.

Now it is true that some people might honestly say, "I donít know who Jesus Christ is." That is possible. But they are accountable for finding out. Why? Because the question HAS been asked. It is on the hearts of those who have heard the gospel.

In this day and age, with the background of Christian history we have, this is especially true. Almost everyone has heard of Jesus Christ. Almost everyone has heard that Jesus claims to have died for them. The gospel message, in some form, is everywhere. Even those who scoff and mock His name, and think they know that Jesus is a myth, have heard. The question has been asked of them as well. They are responsible for seeking the Truth.

If the presentation of Jesus Christ was merely in words, and in rhetoric, then we might say that there was little to compel people to answer the question about Christ. If all conversion consists of is an argument to which people must concede, then perhaps there is an excuse for not answering the question Jesus asks. We could blame our brains for not coming up with the right answer. But the Bible reveals that there is a POWER Ė the power of God Ė in the message of Jesus Christ. Paul writes:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. (Romans 1:16-17)

The question, "Who is Jesus Christ?," carries with it power because it strikes at the heart and core of what makes us tick. It speaks to manís basic nature and to his relationship with God. It penetrates into the conscience, and into the heart. It is a question which, ultimately, is not possible to ignore.

If we had nothing else but the law of God, it would be enough to get our attention, for Paul writes that the law is a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ. In other words, the law teaches us our need for Him. Paul also wrote:

Now we know that whatever things the law says, it says to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:19-20)

The law shows you that you are guilty before God and without hope. This should get you on your knees before God. That, in turn, will lead you to Christ for grace. But what if there is someone who doesnít know the law? Or care about the law? Or have a sense of conscience to which the law can appeal? The Bible says there is no such person.

For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel. (Romans 2:14-16)

There may be many people who do not know Jesus Christ. They may not have had an upbringing in a culture where Jesus was preached. Perhaps they are mired in false religion. But they could not be any worse off than these people about whom Paul speaks Ė for the gospel had barely been introduced at that point. Paul is saying that even if you donít know Jesus Christ, you do at least know one thing: You are guilty. You may deny it and try to use any number of things to appease that guilt, but if you are honest, you know it.

It is this condition of guilt that the law brings us to, and to which the gospel speaks. For while the law cannot provide the solution to our sin and guilt, the grace of God through Jesus Christ does.

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: (Romans 3:21-22)

The moment God asks me, "Who is Jesus Christ?," I am no longer able to claim ignorance. The law of God which is able to penetrate and appeal to every heart will at least tell me I need SOMEONE. If there is any morality in me this will be so. I might answer, "I donít know, but I want to know." I might say, "I donít know, or care." I may say, as did Peter, "The Christ, the Son of God." But the question HAS been asked, and the issue has been posed. There is no turning back.

Of course the good news is that if God is asking the question, He wants to provide Ė if He has not already provided Ė the answer. Thus, if we open our hearts for the Truth, we cannot miss it.

The Foundation

God is obviously ingenious. His Word portrays His brilliant mind in a way that is almost too bright to face. Such is the case with the events in Matthew 16. The order and wording of the questions Jesus asks hold great significance. First, He asks, "Who do MEN say that I am?
Then, once that is out of the way, He asks, "Who do YOU say that I am?" Once Peters gives the right answer, Jesus says, "It is upon this Rock Ė the Rock of Myself as the Christ Ė that I will build My church. It is upon this Rock Ė the Rock of YOU seeing who I am Ė that I will build My church."

Notice that. Jesus asked TWO questions. The first, "Who do men say that I am?," was answered correctly. Men WERE saying that He was this or that person or prophet. But He never says He will build His church upon what other people say about Him. No. His church is built upon who YOU say He is.

What Jesus is telling us is that He is going to build His church with individuals who have seen and confessed who He is. Not by proxy. Not because their favorite teacher says so. Not because the Bible says so. Not because they are fascinated with miracles. Not because church is fun. Not because of any other reason than the fact that THEY have seen who He is, confessed it, and surrendered to Him as their personal Lord and Savior.

The trouble is, of course, that man has built churches upon all of those other things. Many churches have been built upon what "someone else" says about Jesus Christ. We take the teachings of a man, build a shrine around it, celebrate those teachings, but never get around to answering the question, "Who do YOU say Jesus Christ is?"

There are other ways of making this same mistake. Building a shrine around a pet doctrine is one way. Essential doctrine should never be debated among Christians. There can be no compromise with these Ė for they all have to do with who Jesus Christ is, and what He has done for us. But in many places, Christians take doctrines and build a shrine around them, and turn them into a list of "things" we must believe in. In doing so, they forget the One to whom the doctrine points: Jesus Christ. We think that Instead of the question, "Who do YOU say that I am?," God is asking, "Who does the doctrine say Jesus is?"

Such is the case with statements of faith and confessions of faith. We need these, and every church ought to have them. But I can give complete assent to even a TRUE and BIBLICAL statement of faith without ever answering the question God asks of me, "Who do YOU say that I am?" I might only know what the list of doctrines, and my statement of faith, say about Jesus. I may not know for myself.

Of course, the way it ought to work is that my statement of faith ought to represent who I say Jesus Christ is. THEN it is really personal. But too often we, as professing Christians, simply "sign on the dotted line" of a statement of faith about Jesus, yet never talk much about Jesus Himself. Jesus is a PERSON, not a list of doctrine.

Christianity did not emerge out of a list of doctrines Ė not even Biblical ones. Doctrine emerged out of Christianity. Doctrine was a way of putting down in an understandable form, what people found to be the Truth of Jesus Christ. Of course, it is all in the Bible, and must agree with scripture one hundred percent. But that is because it is all about HIM.

The foundation of the church is Jesus Christ. HE is the Rock. He is the only foundation God is building on, has ever built on, and will ever build on. As Paul says, "No other foundation can any may lay than the one that IS laid Ė which is Jesus Christ." (I Corinthians 3:11) And Isaiah writes, "Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation. (Is. 28:16)

The Mistake

Peter has such a way of going quickly "from the penthouse to the basement." As the spokesman for the disciples, he had just made this grand confession as to the identity of Jesus. He has just been told he was "blessed" to have received such a revelation from the Father. But almost before the euphoria of that day had worn wear off, Peter starting veering off the track.

Why? Because seeing who Jesus Christ is only begins our walk with Him. As mentioned, we still have to surrender to Him as Lord. The disciples had a ways to go on that point Ė as we all do. On the one hand, the disciples were ecstatic that they had been chosen by the One they realized was the Messiah. But on the other hand, they began to direct traffic based on that information. They began to want to use it for their own purposes. They had yet to learn that Jesus was Lord.

Now, donít think Iím saying that they wanted to disobey God, or do anything bad. No. They wanted to be a part of, indeed, DO Godís will. But they wanted to do Godís will for Him THEIR way. They did not yet grasp what it meant to surrender to Him as LORD.

We see this immediately after Peter had confessed Jesus was the Christ:

From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savour not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. (Matt. 16:21-23)

What a stunning rebuke this must have been to Peter! But it was necessary. Right from the start the disciples wanted to make a Messiah out of Jesus Ė on their terms and their way. But God had other ideas. The way to become the Messiah was through Calvary and the Resurrection. The way Peter wanted, at this point, was through human effort for human purposes.

Christianity has always committed this mistake. People have taken what God has said, and they have "acknowledged" that Jesus Christ is Lord. But instead of personally and individually surrendering to Him AS Lord, they have used the FACT He is Lord for their own purposes. We see this in things like the crusades, and really, in the Roman church. But we also see it today in many Protestant churches. Churches are filled with people who talk about Christ, sing about Him, call themselves by His name, but who have never surrendered to Him as individuals.

Jesus said, "Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do what I tell you?" (Luke 6:46) He also said, "Not every one that says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." (Matthew 7:21-23)

Jesus is not saying that our works will save us. He is simply pointing out that if we "say who He is" Ė the Son of God Ė and proclaim Him our personal Lord, we will obey Him. If we donít obey Him, we are proving by our actions that we are honoring Him only with our lips, but our hearts are far from Him. (see Matt. 15:3) If He is our Lord, we WILL obey Him.

Who Do YOU Say?

Jesus doesnít want to know what other say about Him. He wants to know what you and I say about Him. He wants to know if we have seen the Truth, believe the Truth, and will submit to the Truth. The question, "Who do YOU say that I am?," is still out there. God will never withdraw it. It is the question each of us must answer Ė must come to terms with. How we answer will determine our eternal destiny.

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