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Who Do You Say I Am?
When I was preparing for this sermon I started to think about names. I started to think about what names mean, why we are called certain names, and it brought me back to the time that I had a privilege of naming another human being. Alycia and I took naming our soon-to-be born son very seriously and we tried to think of everything, like normal neurotic first parents do. We have a friend who was telling us her story of trying to name their unborn child and how tricky it was. Her last name is Ball. There were certain names she was going to stay away from, such as Crystal, and Harry. The name they ended up going with was still a little suspect, Hannah.
As we tried to figure out names for our soon-to-be child we knew some that would definitely not work. We realized that any name ending in ‘s-o-n’ would not work well with Parsons; Jason Parsons just doesn’t have a nice ring. We also looked into middle names. We knew we liked Dean and we contemplated for a while using the middle name Steel, which is Alycia’s step-mother’s last name. That means our son’s name would be Dean Steel Parsons. Dean Steel screams secret agent or superhero, so we went with Kenneth, which screams accountant. Naming someone is very tricky and a great honor because that person will be called that for name forever (or until they grow up and can legally change it).
My birth name is James Carl, I grew up Jimmie and now I go by Jim. But I was called a ton of other names too. Jim, Jimmie, Jimbo, Jimbob, Jimster, Jimmydean, Jimbober, Jimbobareno, JC, and James on the first day of class with a new teacher. According to the book, 50,001 Best Baby Names, James means dependable and steadfast. Jimbo means cowhand and Jimbob means countrified. I guess I could learn a lot about what people think of me by the name they called me
This is the question Jesus was asking the disciples in today’s text. He looks at them as asks, “Who do you say I am?” Now the disciples had a lot to choose from. In a piece of scripture we hear in Advent a lot, Isaiah 9:6 says “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” So the disciples had at least four names to choose from. They could have called him Immanuel, Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus, son of Joseph, or son of Mary. They could have gone with Son of Man, the gate, the bread of life, Alpha and Omega, the Great High Priest, Last Adam, the Lamb of God, or just Lamb. Billy Sunday, the famous evangelists of the early 20th century, says “There are two hundred and fifty-six names given in the Bible for the Lord Jesus Christ, and I suppose this was because he was infinitely beyond all that any one name could express.” We can refer to Jesus by 256 different names.
Now that we know we have options we do need to realize that this is a very important question that Jesus is asking the disciples. How they answer Jesus tells Jesus, and us, a lot about their faith and their inner being. The only disciple to speak up is Peter and he wins the grand prize. Remember what the scripture says, “Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Peter gives the right answer but how do we answer that question today? Many people have huge opinions on who Jesus is. I know this might come as a shock to you but not all people, even all religions see Jesus the same way. If you are an atheist than you probably see Jesus as an historical figure whose followers made wild claims. He was a good teacher, had good morals, but that is it. If you are Jewish you would say that Jesus was not the Messiah. He is not the Messiah because the time was not right for the Messiah to come according to the Hebrew Bible. If you are Islamic then you see Jesus as one of the Major Prophets God sent to the world but not God. You would believe that Jesus was not killed or crucified and, funny side note, that he didn’t drink wine. Scientologist, yes like Tom Cruise, state that Jesus is classified below the level of Operating Thatan but a shade above the Scientology state of ‘clear.’ (I hope that clears it up for you) If you are a child you might see Jesus as another Santa Clause. You talked to him and he gave you stuff.
C.S. Lewis in his book, Mere Christianity, says, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg – or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”
If Jesus stood in front of you today and asked you, “Who do you say I am,” how you answer that question. How you answer that question says a lot about the state of your faith and soul. Would you call Jesus a liar? If so you would join the many ranks of people that think he is full of it. Jesus was really just a person who was saying things to become famous. He wanted and needed a following and so he came up with these claims but really made it all up. If he wasn’t a liar, would you call him a lunatic? Maybe he was deranged and was mentally ill. He was psychotic enough to think he could walk on water and he pulled 12 other deranged people into his web of hysteria. But if he is not a lunatic or a liar then that leaves only one other option, he is Lord.
I know you have had ministers in the past who have gone through the ordination process. I finished the process two years ago and look back with not so found memories. The ordination process, if done without any hiccups, will take 10 years to finish. Bishop Will Willimon once said, “We could have made 2 brain surgeons in the time it took to make 1 Methodist Pastor.” During this long process you have to go in front of the Conference Committee of Ordained Ministry twice. Once after you receive your Masters of Divinity and then three years later. In the Western North Carolina Conference the CCOM has three committees, Preaching, Call and Discipline Life, and Theology. Each committee has you write papers and then you go for an interview. I’m telling you this because in the Theology committee, each time you are asked the question Jesus asks the disciples, and if you don’t answer it right you are sent home to wait to for another year until you can try again.
Each time I was in front of the board I was asked the importance of this statement, Jesus Christ is Lord. This is basically what Peter tells Jesus when he is asked, who do you say I am? His answer is Jesus Christ is Lord and that is what my answer was and would be if Jesus asked me here today. But what does this mean to claim Jesus Christ is Lord?
The phrase Jesus Christ demonstrates who we believe him to be. Jesus is his human name. It points out that he is 100% human. Christ is his divine name, the Christ, as Peter puts it, naming that he is 100% God. That is what makes us different than any other religion in the world, Judaism, Islam, Hindu, Buddhists, and all the others. What makes us different is that we look at Jesus and we see God incarnate, the God/Man who is both at the same time, 100% God and 100% human. This is best represented when we call the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
The term Christ also speaks to his purpose on this earth. Jesus Christ came here to do one thing, to be the perfect sacrifice. He lived a perfect life, teaching us by example and by words how to follow in his footsteps. Only God incarnate could right the wrong that Adam and Eve started with their original sin. Jesus, the Son of God, was sent to do so. While Jesus was here on earth he held many offices. He was the high priest, a King, and a prophet. He was high priest by offering himself up on the cross. No priest on earth could create the perfect sacrifice God needed, so God came and did it. Jesus Christ was also king, but not of this world but of the Kingdom of God. He gave us sneak peeks into this kingdom through his love and miracles. He was a prophet because he told others of his resurrection and told of a time that he would come back again.
Jesus Christ is Lord because he is the master and the ruler of all. His ability to defeat death proves his authority on this earth. When we say he is Lord, it is slightly different than the human notion of lord. It is a redefinition of that term, because Jesus Christ is over all things human. There is no lord of this earth above Christ and the result is that a Christian needs to reaffirm and live by that truth. To name Jesus Christ as Lord means you are affected by this in every decision you make, from the bank you use, to the car you drive, to the way you treat others and the way you think. Believing Jesus Christ is Lord is not simply adhering to a set of moral standards or grasping a set of great ideas, it is deciding to walk hand in hand with our Savior. It is a journey. It is a relationship. When Peter says, “You are the Christ”, he is claiming all this about the person standing in front of him.
I know there are people who disagree with what I have told you. They will live life simply comfortable thinking about Jesus as a good ethics teacher, a good guy, or even a radical. This is why books and movies like the Di Vinci Code and the Golden Compass are so popular. People are so hesitant to give the answer Peter gives because they are sacred. They are scared of the truth. If Jesus Christ is Lord, if he is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, then everything he said is true. The way he told us to live, the way he told us he will be with us always, the way he died for our sins, is all true. That scares people because they don’t know how to live with that type of realization. They are scared because if they admit that Jesus Christ is Lord, than everything in their life has to change. Reinhold Niebuhr has been thought to say, “Conversion happens when the God whom you thought was your enemy to be feared is really your friend to be loved. We love God because, we believe, God first love us in Jesus.”
Jesus will ask you, “Who do you say I am?” He is asking through the scripture today. Your answer will have great insight into your faith and your soul. You have plenty of names to choose from but they all point to the answer Peter gives today. “Jesus, you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus Christ is the Lord of my life and may he be the Lord of yours as well.
And all of God’s people said…Amen.