Mark 8:27-29 “Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, ‘Who do people say I am?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets. But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ.’”
If Jesus asked, “Who do people say that I am?” what would the answer be today? Some people want the practical principles Jesus. By listening to him and watching his example, they find all kinds of useful principles to improve their lives. Following Jesus can help businessmen with their leadership skills and time management. Eating like Jesus can improve your diet. Developing relationships like Jesus did might improve your family or your friendships.
Many of these observations may even be true, but we don’t really think that Jesus came as a business consultant, a dietician, or a family counselor, do we? It’s not wrong to learn these things, but if we don’t see him as something more, then he remains nothing more than a messenger. It is even possible that we will end up using him to turn in on ourselves, to become more worldly.
Then there is the moral police Jesus. In this view Jesus becomes the champion of sobriety, abstinence, celibate singlehood, modesty, and heterosexuality. He is the enemy of getting buzzed, promiscuity, adultery, homosexuality, and anything that denies the sanctity of life. You can’t deny that these lists of virtues and vices all reflect good, biblical positions. Read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and then can you deny that these were Jesus’ morals, too?
But if that is all we see in Jesus–the man with the moral message– then our red hot zeal may easily turn us into prideful, spiritual bullies. Do we find Jesus trying to force himself on those who don’t want to hear him in the gospels? The answer is no. Is the tone of his ministry one of forcing the truth or trying to win people to it? If we get Jesus right, we see that he is not merely a moral messenger, especially not a mean-spirited one.
Still another version of “Who is Jesus?” is “the great humanitarian Jesus.” By word and example, he teaches us to be kind and generous. Isn’t this why Christians have historically built hospitals, shelters, orphanages, and soup kitchens? Isn’t this why Christians volunteer their time to help someone build a house, or donate their money to dig wells in third world countries?
But all our charity will never turn earth into a Paradise. Christian charity, by itself, never got anyone into heaven. If this is all we make of Jesus, a messenger of mercy, something still is missing. If we follow Jesus this far, but no farther, we still are just as lost.
So who is he, really? When Jesus puts the question to the Twelve, Peter gets Jesus right: “Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ.’”
Christ means “The Anointed One.” Among the Jews, the Christ was always understood to refer to a rescuer, a deliverer. The Messiah was coming to save his people, to free them from something they could not escape themselves. Getting Jesus right, then, always means that we keep the idea of delivering us and rescuing us in view–he does for us what we cannot do ourselves.
When the Jews heard “Christ,” they thought first of a king. We also say, “Jesus is my Lord.” It’s not the same thing as saying “I have a boss. His name is Jesus.” As our Lord, our King, Jesus fought to save us. He fought alone. He died in the battle. My King laid down his life to save an ungrateful peasant like me–not from invaders or criminals, but from the traps of the devil and the consequences of my own sins.
Since Jesus is the Christ, he rescues us as our Priest. Does that sound a little odd? “The clergy to the rescue!” There aren’t many action films about heroic ministers. But Jesus is the Priest who rescues us, and this is the heart of getting him right. When Jesus went to work as our Priest, he did more than lead a worship service, offer some prayers, and deliver a message. He offered his own body and soul as a sacrifice. The effect was payment for sin and forgiveness for the world. He rescued us from an eternity of death and hell.
Since Jesus is the Christ, he rescues us as our Prophet. The message he delivers is the message that assures us that he did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. It is the message of grace and faith that gets Jesus right.