One day Jesus left the crowds to pray alone. Only his disciples were with him, and he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
“Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other ancient prophets risen from the dead.”
Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Messiah sent from God!” —Luke 9:18-20 (NLT)
Earlier in Luke’s account, he tells us that Herod Antipas, Roman ruler of Galilee, asked his advisors who Jesus was. It’s an odd question, when you think about it. Jesus was Jesus, a Galilean preacher, an itinerant Rabbi. He would have been completely unremarkable except for the things people were claiming he was doing. They said he was healing diseases, restoring sight to the blind, casting out demons, and unbelievably, some said he was raising people from the dead.
Jesus was more than just a simple Rabbi from the sticks. He had power. He exercised authority over the living and the dead. He was doing things not seen in the world since the days of Elijah, and that had been a very long time ago.
What do you do when you see something totally new, something you’ve never seen before? You stop and try to figure it out, or else you just stare at whatever it is in awe. Herod called together his wise men and did just that.
I’m trying to remember having that sort of experience, of seeing something amazing, something almost miraculous by comparison to every other experience of my life.
The birth of my son was like that. Like every couple in history, we were surprised and awed when we discovered that my wife was pregnant. We knew something life altering was happening, but neither of us knew what it would be like to go through pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood. He was born through much labor and pain, and as we each held him for the first time, we were speechless, astonished, overjoyed. From the most common experience the world knows, sexual intercourse, came a crying, breathing, warm and living human being.
And I found that I loved him in a way that I had never experienced before. I found that I wanted to care for and protect him, enjoy him. He brought out desires and capabilities in me that I didn’t know I had, and certainly had never felt or used before that moment in 1980. Our son was a miracle of God’s loving and life-giving craftsmanship.
Where Herod Antipas was puzzled, Peter the disciple was certain. Who do you think I am? Jesus asked.
“You are the Messiah sent from God!” declared Peter.
How could Peter know that? How could he be so certain? What did he know about the Messiah, after all? Peter was no student of the scriptures. He was no theologian. He was a rough and tumble man from a humble upbringing who made a living through sweat and toil.
He saw something different in Jesus. The miracles, of course. Everyone was impressed by the miracles. But Peter lived with Jesus, had heard his sermons, had seen the ways he had bested the Jewish authorities time and again with interpretations of Scripture that were different, fresh, full of life and hope and mercy, not heavy and onerous like the teachings of the Pharisees.
He saw something of God himself in Jesus, and as he followed and asked questions and listened and lived with Jesus, he became convinced that he was in the company of someone Israel had been waiting for since God first introduced himself to Abraham. The Messiah. The one who would rebuild the nation Israel into the nation of God.
But even Peter, at that moment of understanding, couldn’t have imagined that Jesus wasn’t merely there to restore Israel. He was the Messiah sent to redeem the entire world, past, present, and future. And that was something so radical even the wisest minds in Israel couldn’t grasp it.
The Messiah has been sent from God to redeem the world.
Photo credit: Robert W Price