It was my first trip to Israel, and our itinerary was full of places that before the trip were, to me, only names on the pages of Scripture. I was excited because this journey held the assurance that we would learn much, see much, and feel much over the course of 10 days.
Before departing, the pastor who was leading the trip asked me if I would be interested in teaching from one of the locations. As a budding theologian with a passion for all-things Jesus, I jumped at the chance to teach from a place where my Lord and Savior taught the disciples over two thousand years ago. When the pastor asked me where I would like to teach, I poured over the itinerary and discovered that we would visit a place called Caesarea Philippi.
What I knew about this place was found in the Gospel of Matthew (16:13-20) where Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ. It is one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture. Because of this passage, I knew what I needed to teach, and I began to formulate, with the help of the Holy Spirit, a lesson that would impact our group.
Let us now fast forward…
Understanding the Question
The Bible has so many questions! In fact, there are approximately 3,294 questions in Scripture. There is so much to know and to ponder! I am grateful to God and to the men of my small group for helping me answer some of these questions and holding me accountable to hold fast to the redeeming power of God’s Word. As my men’s group was studying the Gospel of Mark, we came across what is arguably the most important question in the Bible.
Mark 8:27-30 states,
And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.”And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.”
As we finished reading this passage, I couldn’t help but think of Matthew 16 and made the pronouncement that there is no more important question in all of Scripture than the one contained in these verses.
Can you understand the importance of every person answering this question correctly?
The most important question in all of Scripture comes from Jesus, and he asks it very simply: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answers the question correctly by stating, “You are the Christ.”
The location where this conversation took place was called Caesarea Philippi, and it was a Gentile town, a pagan town that did not fear the one true God. The city of Caesarea Philippi was on the southwestern slope of Mount Hermon and the northernmost extent of Jesus’ ministry. It was a place where travelers would pass through on their way to points unknown.
There, carved in the mountain side beside the town, were grottos which, at one time, held statues of various “gods.” However, these false gods were only relevant for the day and did little more than distract people from worshiping the one true God. In this setting, Jesus wanted to see who the disciples thought he was amongst such gods. It was the perfect place for the most important question ever uttered: “But who do you say that I am?”
Mad, Bad, or God?
Every person must answer this question, no matter their faith or circumstance. So how do we answer the question? Is Jesus the Lord? Is he just a good person with a good message? Is he just plain crazy? What is he?
Author C.S. Lewis in his book, Mere Christianity, points out that the question of Jesus had to be answered in the following way: Jesus was either “Mad, Bad, or God” (or said another way, “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord”).
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. 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 the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon 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. He did not intend to.
Grasping the Gospel
I have always thought that Jesus was the Son of God, even when I did not follow him. But I knew little about him. For instance, I didn’t know that Jesus and God are one and that he loves me unconditionally. What I have learned along the way is that he is much more than I ever imagined:
- God loved the world so much that he sent Jesus into it. (John 3:16-17)
- Jesus Christ came to earth to seek and save the lost. (Luke 19:10)
- He came so that we could have life eternal with him in heaven. (1 John 5:11-13)
- He dwelled amongst us to bear witness about himself. (John 8:18)
- He lived a sinless life so that he could be our substitute on the cross. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
- He went willingly to the cross to die for the forgiveness of our sins and the sins of all mankind. (1 John 2:2)
- He was crucified and he suffered and died so that we could be redeemed. (Galatians 3:13)
- And on the third day he rose from the dead to ascend to the right hand of the Father in heaven. (Luke 9:22)
- He’s coming back soon to claim those who are his. (Matthew 24:30-32)
Do you want to know him personally? “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Believe in the Son of God with a sincere heart, and you will be saved. This is the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.
So, if Jesus Christ was sitting across from you right now and asked you, “But who do you say that I am?” how would you respond?
Asking the Question
To those who have already answered the question and believe Jesus is Lord, perhaps your great challenge is engaging your unbelieving family, friends, or co-workers with Jesus’ question. The world, and in some cases family members, is increasingly hostile towards Christians. Just the mention of Jesus’ name will draw a wide range of responses from uneasy silence to outright rejection of his person and his rightful title.
I can recall the very first time that I told my parents that I was a follower of Jesus Christ, and their response was surprise and confusion at my newfound faith. I was very clumsy in telling them that they needed to make a decision about who Jesus was sooner rather than later, for hell is the destination of those who do not proclaim him as Lord.
This is the most important question in all of Scripture, and time is running out for those who don’t know him. So my encouragement to you, my fellow believer, would be to carefully introduce Jesus into your daily conversations with others to help them discern Jesus’ identity. Find a way to get them to understand that Jesus’ question “But who do you say that I am?” must be answered and will be answered as they stand before Jesus Christ on Judgment Day.