Grab your Bible, and let’s go deeper into Matthew 16.
Read Matthew 16:13-28.
In Matthew 16:13, we read, “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi.” Now, often the Bible’s authors give us location references, but this one is particularly interesting. The setting Jesus chooses for this crucial conversation is surely not a mistake or happenstance: the district of Caesarea Philippi, which lies about 25 miles north-east of the Sea of Galilee.
In Jesus' day, the hills of the Caesarea Philippi area were scattered with temples of ancient Syrian Baal worship. As many as 14 such temples would have littered the landscape. And not only were the Syrian gods worshiped there, but there was also a cavern nearby that was said to have been the birthplace of the Greek god Pan—the "god" of nature. Because of this, Caesarea Philippi was originally called "Panias." In addition, another huge temple would have stood there in Jesus' day, built out of white marble by Herod the Great and dedicated to the worship of Augustus Caesar.
So Jesus is standing in a place that was literally crowded with temples dedicated to the worship of other gods and rulers, and He asks His students, “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus first warms them up with a non-threatening, general question: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” The popular opinion of Jesus was that He was unique but still just another man with a certain set of skills.
Notice something else: This all-important conversation between Jesus and His disciples about who He is doesn’t happen for two and a half years into Jesus' earthly ministry. Talk about the elephant in the room. These guys have spent years together day and night, witnessing unimaginable things, and finally Jesus is going to pick this spot in the road and ask, “So, have you guys figured it out yet? Do you know WHO I AM?”
In the original Greek, this verse emphasizes the word "you." Jesus is cutting right to the chase. There is no safe speculation here, no room for generalities, and no hiding behind what other people are saying about Him. This is the most direct and personal question you will ever be asked.
“Who do YOU say I am?” Now, what is so important about this single question is the fact that it is still, to this very day,
THE most important question you and I will ever answer! Who is Jesus Christ to you? We could quickly agree that we, too, are surrounded by figurative towering temples of things we worship—things we idolize, things we hope will give us status, healing, help, enjoyment, and purpose. Things like our careers, our family, our physical looks and health, our bank account, our place of residence, and our entertainment. Realize Jesus is not just asking you for head knowledge here. He is asking us here today, “Who am I to you—amongst all this?
Now if Jesus was just a wise teacher or prophet, as many still today say He was, it might not matter all that much who Jesus is to you. But if Jesus really is the Messiah—really is God the Son in flesh—then we better dig in, because our answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?” is truly everything!
Stop and think about it: If God truly came here, lived, died, and rose again, then what that set of most historic events means to you and me is EVERYTHING!
Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).
Christ is a title given Jesus that means an anointed royal figure. Christ is also translated in the Hebrew as the Messiah—the redeemer. This title describes a man foretold for all of Jewish history who would come reconcile God’s people to Him. So what Peter is saying here is Jesus is not just a man with a special set of skills. Peter says, “Jesus is the awaited King! Not just a king; He is the King. He is the King to end all kings.”
To the 1st century Jew, the Messiah is the one they have been awaiting for generations. He is the one who is going to come and re-establish the throne of David. So as Peter is saying this, here are the implications: “Jesus is the one who is going to overthrow Rome and establish a throne. And He is going to rule and set all that is wrong with society right. The time of Israel is finally here. You are that KING!”
Now remember all the temples focused on other gods and other rulers that surrounded them right where they stood. This is so significant because it shows us just what the people of Israel where up against. They had been run into the shadows of other religions and rulers who were oppressive and social practices that were not theirs on any level. They were not desperate for the Messiah Himself, but only what they wanted Him to do. The political, economic, and social change they hoped for was far short-sided and too temporary compared to the actual change Jesus was about to bring.
Look with me for a quick moment at one of the Bibles’ best definitions of who Jesus is:
Colossians 1:15-20 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Who is Jesus Christ? He is the one who changes everything! Everything in your life! Every view, every relationship, every crossroad. When you truly understand who Jesus truly is, He re-orders everything in your life so that He is King—not of the local government—but of your entire life. To know Jesus Christ is to know the one who has supremacy over everything in your life.
Who is Jesus Christ to you?
Let me be specific and ask this: Do you have Jesus in a box? Is He only a part of your life, and therefore He only affects parts of your life? Is He just a prophet who is wise and gives you wisdom for living? Is He just a famous baby born with lots of paparazzi or a famous martyr who you like to semi-annually remember by attending religious services? Is He just a famous teacher who you like to learn from on occasion by studying His best-selling book? Is He just a skilled miracle worker who you call out to once in a while to give you a new beginning?
Or is He God? Is He your greatest treasure, your deepest love, the one you live for and worship? If this is true, it means everything about your life centers around Him! Is Jesus just a “part” of your life; as in, He is over here neatly contained in this or that area of your life?
If you are honest, maybe …
He is a few select prayers in your day (dinner and bedtime)
He is the Sunday morning slot on your calendar
He is a monthly check you write out of your bank account
He is the one you turn to if you are in trouble
Is He just a “part” of your life, or is He your LIFE? Does He literally change everything about your life?
If you are struggling with honestly proclaiming that Jesus is indeed your everything, then what we need more than anything is to understand the good news about what Jesus came to do.
What did Jesus come to do? 1. Die on Friday
Why did Jesus have to suffer and die? 1 Corinthians 15:3 says, “Christ died for our sins.” Theologians call this the atonement. Atonement is what was made for us at the cross of Jesus. Atonement is where God reconciled us to Himself in Christ, making us one with Him again.
Romans 5:8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Luther calls this “the great exchange.” He exchanges my death for His life, my sin for His righteousness, my condemnation for His salvation, my failure for His success, my defeat for His victory.
There is nothing more important than the death of Jesus. It is literally the crux of human history and the crux of our faith. Without Jesus’ death, there is no forgiveness of sin.
What did Jesus come to do? 2. Rise on Sunday
1 Corinthians 15:3-4 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures
Jesus is ALIVE! He is well! He is eternal! He is victorious, and His Spirit has been poured out to all who believe.
How should we respond to Jesus?
If Jesus is the means to another end, then you never really have Jesus. But if Jesus is your end and everything else pales in comparison to Him, then you absolutely have Him.
For those who are ransomed by Christ—forgiven and pardoned from their sin—we follow Jesus, even though it means self-denial and cross-bearing. If you trust and treasure Jesus enough to follow Him even when it is costly to you, it is a sign you truly love Jesus for Jesus and not just for what He gives you.
Matthew 16:24-26 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
The opposite of self-denial is the idol of self-gratification, and the opposite of cross-bearing is the idol of self-preservation.
Jesus says, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” In other words, if you gain the whole world by valuing it above Jesus—by being prouder of your temporary stuff or status than Jesus—it won’t be able to save you in the end.
For many this is exactly what we still do. We deny God and set out to make our own way to joy and success. The problem is when you finally lose your family or your job or your stuff (and you will), you will literally feel dead. People who have denied God in the end really like “the stuff” of God but not God. Jesus is saying, “This will not equal any lasting joy or satisfaction. It only equals inevitable decay and death.”
Again I ask, who is Jesus to you?
If He is the means to an end, then you don’t love Jesus. You love only what He gives you. Now for those who are quick to say, “No, that’s not how I feel about Jesus,” realize that salvation is the means to an end! For many Christians, they love Jesus in the end only because of what He gives them: salvation, a ticket to heaven. They don’t love Jesus for Jesus. He becomes a gate keeper to an anticipated destination. But realize, you won’t love heaven if you don’t truly love Jesus, because Jesus is what heaven is all about.
If Jesus is just a man with special skills, then you are still pursuing your own self-made joy and will try to be your own functional savior. But if Jesus is the Lord of your life, if Jesus is King—if He is your King—then you don’t come to Him with your ideas of what should transpire. Instead, you lay down your agenda, your will, your life at His feet and say, “Command me.”
If Jesus is the joy of your heart, the greatest affection of your love, the one who defines your value and gives you your identity, the one you live for and worship, then Jesus is not just another king on a throne; He is your King, whom you trust with everything and love more than anything. If this is who Jesus is to you, then you will come to Him—laying down your life out of a privilege to serve Him, a joy to pursue His will, and a longing to worship Him above all else.
John 11:25-26 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”