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About six months ago, my prayer journal recorded the following:

I have prayed and asked God to teach me how to love Him and walk with Him. As best I can, I believe that He will answer this prayer, in His own time and in His own way.

Since then, God has been answering this prayer, day by day, in specific ways. This blog is largely about that process, a process in which I am facing my own demons, those things that keep me from God. One of those demons is my opinion of who Christ is. It is a question that Jesus viewed as important enough that he posed it to the Twelve on the way to Caesarea Philippi: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The disciples returned a list of three possibilities. In the modern age, time and vivid imaginations have served to expand our view of Christ:

  • the Christ
  • my Master
  • my God
  • a teacher
  • a moral guide
  • the Beloved
  • a brother
  • a shepherd
  • a friend
  • a prophet
  • just another voice
  • a philosopher
  • a distraction
  • a hobby
  • an idol
  • Santa Claus
  • a fix-it man
  • a magician
  • a crutch
  • one answer among many
  • someone to emulate
  • someone to study
  • a good luck charm
  • a political leader
  • a religious leader
  • a judge
  • an accountability group leader
  • a ticket to heaven
  • a supplier of material goods

Truth be told, depending on circumstances, I believe Jesus fills the role of any of the items in my list, save just a couple. In other words, I must admit that I am not absolutely certain who Jesus is. Of course, I know lots about him. He is the Son of man, the Son of God, the Lamb of God, the Christ, the Messiah, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. I am very good at putting accurate labels on him. But I do not know him.

In asking, “Who do people say that I am?”, Jesus was not expressing concern, for his own sake, about what people thought about him. I am inclined to think that Jesus did not really care about other people’s opinion of him. On the other hand, he was clearly interested in what his disciples thought, for their sake. “But who do you say that I am?” he asked.

If I do not know who Jesus is, I am in good company. At one point, the apostle Peter did not know Christ, either.

When Jesus posed the question of his identity to the disciples, Peter, speaking for the rest, spoke up right away, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Six verses later, Peter chewed out the person whom he had claimed was the Messiah, God’s only Son. Who would knowingly and blatantly rebuke God to his face?!?

Following Peter’s tirade, Christ rebuked him, and purposefully did so right in front of the other disciples. We cannot know how Peter felt about being treated so severely by Christ. Almost certainly, Peter was confused. He thought he was doing a good thing for his friend, but he understood neither Christ’s identity nor his mission. I do not really understand, either. I know what the Scriptures say, but I do not always know how it all relates to my mundane, routine, everyday life, lived out in a world that often makes little or no sense and where most all of us struggle to find the true meaning of life. Often, my lack of understanding manifests in an expectation that Christ will take on a convenient alternative role in my life, depending on circumstances. When I need a friend, he is there for me. When I need safety, he is a good luck charm. When I’ve done something bad, he is a judge.

The question of Christ’s identity is arguably crucial. One would think that Jesus would have been keenly interested that his disciples, of all people, would get this straight as soon as possible. Yet, Christ, in rebuking Peter, said nothing about his identity. Instead, he unexpectedly accused Peter of being Satan! Though Christ knew that Peter’s knowledge of him lacked any useful depth, Jesus did not lecture him or make any other attempt to straighten him out. That does not make any sense, because it is not what we would do. We tell people straight up: Jesus is the Savior. That way, there can be no uncertainty about their knowing the truth. The only problem is that cognitive psychology, as well as extensive experience, informs us that, using this strategy, people will end up knowing like I “know,” and that level of knowledge is frankly pretty worthless. Peter would not learn about Christ the day he was rebuked, or the next day, or the next. It would take him a good while to learn who Christ was, and Jesus knew that. Likewise, I will not learn, today, or tomorrow, who Christ is, either.

Truth, even a truth as crucially important as the identity of Jesus Christ, is not conveyed by a lecture (a.k.a., a sermon or a book). As Margaret Silf puts it, life is a bakery: “truth is delivered to us daily, fresh-baked in the ovens of our own experience.”1 Ultimately, Peter would figure it all out, but only by spending time with Jesus, watching him live out his life while abiding by a set of values that would strike Peter at the time as being at odds with everything he knew. Mark 8:31-33 is case in point. Sooner or later, the truth about Christ would dawn in his soul.

The Spirit of God is teaching me who Jesus is in exactly the same way. All I have to do is pay attention.

1 Margaret Silf, Close to the Heart. Chicago: Loyola Press, 1999.

Ms. Silf does not elaborate on this statement in her book. On first reading it, though, it sounded a lot like “everyone has their own version of the truth” and that she was giving credence to relativistic morality or universalism. Having read a couple of her books, I am certain that this is not what she had in mind. Rather, she holds to a poorly appreciated, but supremely important, theme conveyed in the Scriptures: God does not remain outside our history, but enters into our history and walks with us through it. We experience Him in the context of our individual lives and, therefore, each of us comes to know Him in a very personal way. It is unavoidable. It is purposeful. It is real, one day at a time.