It was the end of another busy and extraordinary day.
Finally a time to rest and reflect.
Gathered around the flickering fire that eased the descending chill, the men talked softly on this calm and beautiful star-studded evening.
They were happy and excited. They had never experienced anything even close to this.
The response of the growing crowds, the teachings, the miracles.
What had taken place in Decapolis, near the Sea of Galilee, was incredible. Hundreds of eager people seeking to be healed came to him: the blind, the dumb, and the crippled.
He healed them all.
These men – his closest followers who had left everything to go with him – were amazed in his presence.
Jesus had taken the disciples to the region of Caesarea Philippi. He wanted some quality time with the men who would one day carry his message to the world.
On this hillside, around this fire, on this night, he would ask them. The time and location were no accident.
Caesarea Philippi was a very religious place – and also religiously diverse.
Theologian William Barclay wrote:
“Here was an area where the breath of ancient religion was in the very atmosphere. Here was a place beneath the shadow of the ancient gods.”
A religious secularism, intriguing and sophisticated in its scope, not entirely unlike the religious attitudes of twenty-first century America.
Jesus looked at them intently.
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16: 13).
They were silent.
They looked at each other.
Andrew spoke first.
“Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah.”
Thaddeus added: “But still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16: 14).
Jesus gently nodded his understanding and smiled. He knew there would always be conflicting opinions.
It seems somewhat strange that Jesus would have asked such a question. He had expressed no particular concern about what others thought of him. He was fearless in what he said and did.
He offered no apologies for his controversial and unprecedented teaching. His call was to faith and obedience.
There was absolutely nothing equivocal or tentative about this man. He had no interest in polls but here he takes one.
Like everything else, this was intentional. He was setting a cultural and religious backdrop against which he would contrast popular opinion with personal belief. In the final analysis, Jesus is saying, what others think is quite beside the point.
The confusing differences and ideas of the crowd offer neither clarity nor help. They never have; they never will.
Jesus knew this, of course. He wanted these men to know it too. Jesus wants us to know it.
That everyone had an opinion shows how little things have changed.
Jesus looked at them.
“But what about you? Who do you say that I am?” (verse 15, emphasis added).
Jesus has ratcheted up the conversation.
Here is the intimate emphasis. In the Greek of the New Testament, it may be rendered:
“But you yourselves – who do you say that I am?”
Again there was silence.
Jesus permits no escape from the very personal and central verdict each of us must render about him.
Peter said some wise things. He also said some foolish things. What he said was always bold.
In answering Jesus on this night, the rough and unschooled fisherman spoke with uncharacteristic deliberation, as if startled by his own confidence.
“Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16: 16).
Here is the point – the vital reality – where Peter stakes his life on his belief. It’s the greatest single declaration of conviction and allegiance recorded in the Bible.
We may call it a human insight, except that Jesus, in commending Peter’s faith, says it comes from God.
Peter speaks with definite singular affirmation:
The living God.
So must each of us – individually, for all time and into eternity.
Jesus does not stand crowded among equal and competing gods, conjured-up by Athenian-style sophisticated intellectuals in our politically correct age of relativism.
Jesus Christ alone is God, Messiah, Redeemer, Savior, Lord and King. Beside him, there is no other.
Someday every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess it.
It will be unanimous.
What you and I think of Jesus – what we believe about him – matters. Forever.
In the end, Peter spoke for them all that night. They would march to the ends of the earth proclaiming his answer and lay down their lives for its truth.
“Who do you say that I am?”
This is the question of this Christmas. And of every Christmas.
Jesus is Christmas. Jesus is Christianity. This season is not just some warm glow and eggnog. It is the joyful celebration of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.
Ask the prophets who foretold his birth.
Ask the angels who announced it.
Ask Simeon who held and blessed him in the temple.
Ask Zechariah whose loosened tongue heralded the coming Messiah.
Ask the wise men who bowed down and worshipped him as their King, though he was but a child.
Ask Handel, Watts and Wesley who wrote the immortal songs that triumphed his nativity.
From beginning to end, the Bible’s theme is Jesus Christ.
His birth in Bethlehem is the uniquely orchestrated, impressively detailed, compellingly accurate, beautifully expressed and amazingly fulfilled prophecy of the Old Testament.
He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
“Oh come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.”