The three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) tell a very important story about Jesus. (You can read it in Matthew 16:13-20, Mark 8:27-30, and Luke 9:18-21.)
Jesus asked his disciples, “What are people saying about me? Who do they think I am?” Their answer was that the public seemed to be comparing him with other great preachers. John the Baptist and Elijah were the top two mentioned.
“But who do you say that I am?” he asked.
The question recedes quickly into the background because it prompts Simon Peter’s “Great Confession”: “You are the Christ,” he says, “the Son of the Living God.” And we love that passage because those words comprise the great Christological declaration of our faith.
Lately, however, I have felt a strong compulsion to answer the question, “Who do I say that he is?”
As of this summer (2021) I’ve been his disciple for 50 years. I’m tempted to say to him, much as Peter said to him later in the story, “Lord, you know I love you. You know I have served you. You know…”
I have blogged about him, written books about him, preached about him, taught classes about him. But lately I’ve felt myself uniquely addressed by the question. For whatever reason or reasons, I feel I must answer, in all honesty, who I think he is. (And more importantly, who I say he is, here in this public space where anyone can see it.)
I feel it is time for me to answer the question – honestly and publicly. So over the next several posts I’m going to share my answer with you. I have avoided other people’s pious phrases and definitions, including Peter’s. I’m going to tell you exactly what I believe, after all my philosophical training and pondering, and after knowing him for 50 years.
I hope you won’t be scandalized by what I am going to say, because I’m not going to follow the well-worn paths and just repeat what others before me have said. This will be a deeply personal response, but it will also be a reasoned response. It will, in other words, be a response to all that he has taught me about himself.
If I were to tell you about the people who are closest to me, I would find it difficult to do it briefly. If you were to ask me about the teachers or mentors who have most influenced me, you should be prepared to stick around a while. If I were to talk about some of the great figures in the history of the world, it would take me hours. (I know this from experience. I do it in the classroom all the time.)
Why, then, do we think it’s a simple matter to confess who Jesus is? For he is all these things: the Person closest to me, the Teacher and Mentor who has most deeply influenced me, and the greatest of all historical figures – indeed, the one historical figure who transcends history. I feel myself called upon to answer his question: “Who do you say that I am?” but I simply cannot give a short, simple response to this question of questions. I have many things to say, and I will do so over the next several blog posts.