Originally prepared for Youth For Christ (YFC) at Berkeley High School. Please pray for us; God loves these kids. ---
Our world tells us to discover who we are, to be our own kind of man, to make ourselves into the people we want to be — by our knowledge, experience, abilities, plans, friends, accomplishments. No doubt, some of you believe this. It's the reason why you want to get a good education. It's why you do what you want to do, even if your teachers and your parents don't want you to. It's why you say that you will determine your own life exactly as you like it. I took this advice from the world when I was your age, and defined myself, by myself, for myself.
But let me ask you something I wish someone had asked me: How's it working out? Is your life how you want it? I mean, you do what you want; are you happy? I wasn't. I did exactly what I wanted and yet there was this aching, this nagging, this craving that I could not shake. I knew that something, something that I couldn't define nor explain, but something, was very wrong. No matter how many things, or activities, or relationships, or experiences, or feelings, or highs, or lows, or words, or cries I threw into the void I knew was there, it ached. I asked found myself asking these questions: What's the point of this world? Why does it matter? Why does anything matter? Who am I? What am I here for?
No doubt you've asked these questions too. Do you know who you are? Do you have answers to basic questions like where are you from, where are you going, who is God, what is death, what is life? Do you know the ultimate reason why anything matters at all? Do you know anything of truth? If you're like me when I was in high school, you don't. At best, you're making it up as you go, hoping that it doesn't matter too much, or you're ignoring it. Don't make the mistakes I did. Please. It doesn't work. You can't live life that way; you'll destroy yourself. I've found Jesus Christ. He saved me. He is the point. He makes it matter. He defines who you are.
The reason why you are unsure of so much of your life, why the unknown is frankly terrifying to you, why your life seems out of control and you don't know how to get off is because you don't know Jesus Christ. It is impossible to understand yourself rightly until you understand Jesus Christ rightly. I'll say it again. It is impossible to understand yourself rightly until you understand Jesus Christ rightly. He is the most important person to ever walk the face of the earth. Do you know who Jesus is? Please, don't scoff at the question, ignore it, or push it off until later. Do you know who Jesus is?
If the Lord wills, all semester long we'll be answering the question: "Who is Jesus?" The Bible says that He is the Lamb of God, the Savior of the world, the Christ, the Lord and King, the Great High Priest, the Word of God, the Shepherd, the Judge, the Risen and Living One, and God-incarnate. Lord-willing, we'll go over each of these titles, to know more of who Jesus truly is. My hope is not only that you'd know who Jesus is, but that you'd know and love Him like He deserves.
A surface level knowledge of Jesus is insufficient. Most of you know the basics: Jesus was born of the virgin Mary (Matthew 1:18-25) in Israel around the year AD 0. At about the age of thirty (Luke 3:23) He began His public ministry. He traveled Israel making the deaf hear, the mute speak, the blind see, the lame walk, the leper clean, the crippled strong, the hypocrite true, the thief honest, the adulterer pure, the prisoned free, the dead alive. He healed the sick, rebuked the hypocritical religionists, comforted and loved the scum of society, and taught the people of God. Over three years of ministry, He created such an excitement that His disciples thought that He was the chosen one, destined to liberate the nation of Israel from the oppressive Roman Empire. They were wrong. At the age of thirty-three, He was betrayed by one of His closest disciples, condemned to death for blasphemy by the religious leaders, delivered over to crucifixion by His own people, and scorned as blasphemer and liar. Three days later, He rose from the dead, and history has never been the same.
This kind of knowledge is a good start, but is merely historical fact. This semester, I hope to display both the historical fact and the theological truth, and reveal the implications that this truth about Jesus the Christ has for you. If you're not a Christian, He's so much more than you give Him credit for, and He is who you need. If you're a Christian, He's so much more than we could ever exhaust, and we need to learn from our Master. Regardless of what you profess, I hope you'll join us and learn of Him.
To kick off the semester, let's read and understand an account in which Jesus asks perhaps the most important question that you will ever have to answer.
27 Jesus went out, along with His disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way He questioned His disciples, saying to them, “Who do people say that I am?”
28 They told Him, saying, “John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; but others, one of the prophets.”
29 And He continued by questioning them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.”
Context (Mark 8:27)
In the middle of His ministry, in the midst of the miracles and the throngs of people following Him, Jesus sets aside time to train and teach His closest disciples. Passing from city to city, no doubt they had many conversations just like this one; and see how wonderfully He teaches them! He does not merely declare truths to them and then leave them to deal with it. Rather, He lives before them, condescends to their finite level, and draws out their thoughts and understandings.
“Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27)
He begins with a question: “Who do people say that I am?" Of course, whenever Jesus asks a question it's not merely to gather information. He has a purpose. By asking a question, He's initiating something. In this case, He wants His disciples to think about His identity. Inevitably, as they think of who the people say that He is, they will ask themselves, "Who do I say that Jesus is? Who is this man?"
Some of them had already asked this very question. Earlier in His ministry, Jesus and His disciples had gotten into boats to cross the Sea of Galilee. But, as they were crossing, a huge storm rose up and threatened to drown them all. The waves were large, the wind was fierce, and the disciples were terrified.
38 [They] said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”
39 And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm.
40 And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? How is it that you have no faith?”
41 They became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”
Indeed, who is this? Who is this, who has power over the storms and the waves? Who is this, that even the wind and sea obey Him? Jesus was obviously no ordinary man. No one taught like He did. No one performed miracles like He did. No one spoke with authority like He did. Although He looked ordinary, by no means did any one think He was. Instead, they were very much afraid and said to one another, "Who then is this?"
False Identities (Mark 8:28)
Jesus' disciples weren't the only ones who weren't sure who He was. In Jesus day, the people were saying that Jesus was one of these three: (1) John the Baptist, (2) Elijah, or (3) one of the Old Testament prophets. But, Jesus was not any of these three. Rather, Jesus is the Christ. John the Baptist, Elijah, and the other prophets of old were not the Christ. Jesus is the only Christ. Unfortunately, we don't have time to go into depth about each of these three false answers.
But, because we'll learn more about him later in the semester, let's investigate John the Baptist just a bit. According to the angel that prophesied his birth, John the Baptist was "the prophet of the Most High [God]. For [he would] go on before the Lord to prepare His ways" (Luke 1:76). Scripture says that he was "the voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight!' " (Matthew 3:3). And indeed, he did. He baptized in the wilderness, called all the Jews to repentance, and proclaimed the One who was greater than himself (John 1:30). As he himself said, "I am not the Christ" (John 1:20). John the Baptist was a great man. But Jesus is greater.
Today, who do people say that Jesus is? Who do your friends say He is? Who does the media say He is? Was He just a good moral teacher? A victim in the wrong place at the wrong time? A Jewish hippie who loved peace and goodness? Or maybe, just another religious fanatic? Or, perhaps a man become a god or some type of spiritually powerful guru? Nope, nope, nope and nope. Interestingly, Jesus provides no commentary about what the people thought of Him. Instead, He gets to the original intent of His question.
“But who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29)
Jesus gives His disciples a chance to come to the right answer. They've lived with Him and know Him better than any other people. But before we go to Peter's informed and correct answer, I want to ask you, "Who do you say that Jesus is?" This is the question of all questions, for the answer sums up everything that a man or woman is. I said earlier that it is impossible to understand yourself rightly until you understand Jesus Christ rightly. It is also true that if you do not understand Jesus Christ rightly, your entire perception of reality, the world, yourself, other people, past, present, future is marred, skewed, and distorted — and ultimately destructive. Your answer to this question shows how you live your life. Your answer to this question determines your eternity. Your answer to this question determines whether you will worship the Creator God or worship man-made, fake gods (Romans 1:22-23). Who do you say that Jesus Christ is?
If you say that He is the Son of God, do you know what that means? If you say that He is the Savior and Lord, do you know what that means? Or, are they just religious phrases? Believe me, it is not enough to say the right words without knowing what it means. Jesus is the Son of God and is the Savior and the Lord, but I ask you, is He your God, your Savior, and your Lord? Are you His slave, His disciple, His own like, He demands? Don't fool yourself like I did. You cannot trick God just by saying the right words. If your mouth says it, make sure you know it to be true in your mind and your heart (Romans 10:9-11).
If you say that Jesus is just a good moral teacher, how do you explain His teachings on heaven and hell (Mark 9:43-48), about judgement and the coming kingdom (Matthew 24), and all His miraculous deeds, especially His resurrection (Acts 1:1-3)? If you say that Jesus was just a victim at the wrong place at the wrong time, how do you explain His courage and resolve to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51), knowing that crucifixion awaited Him (Matthew 20:19)? If you say He was just a hippie who loved peace and goodness, how do you explain His scalding rebuke against religious hypocrites (Matthew 23) and His promises to bring division and strife on earth (Matthew 10:34)? I could go on, but you get my point. Jesus cannot be called just a teacher, a victim, or a hippie.
"You are the Christ" (Mark 8:29)
Peter answers wonderfully here. Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word "Messiah." It literally means "anointed one." So, Jesus Christ means Jesus, the Messiah, Jesus, the Anointed One. But, what does Anointed One mean? The Old Testament tells how there were three types of people that God chose and anointed: prophets, priests, and kings. Prophets declared the word of God to men, priests offered sacrifices for men to God, and kings ruled over God's people. Jesus Christ is the perfect and full realization of all three of these positions. He is the Prophet, the Priest, the King. He came as the Prophet, and declared God's word to us: that we should be perfect as He is perfect (Matthew 5:48). He came as the Priest and offered Himself as the sacrifice (Hebrews 7:27), to be crushed under the wrath of God (Isaiah 53:10) for our failure to be perfect, for our boundless sin (Romans 3:9-18), and now brings those who trust in Him to God (1 Peter 3:18). And He is coming again, as fully-realized King, to reign over the whole earth and establish a perfect kingdom (Revelation 22:7).
This is what it means when Peter says to Jesus, "You are the Christ." He is my Prophet, my Priest, and my King. He is the Christ, the only Messiah, the only Rescuer and the only Savior. Join us this semester as we sit at His feet, and learn about Him from His Word.