THE TRUE IDENTITY OF JESUS CONSTITUTES THE ULTIMATE LITMUS TEST
We all know what a litmus test is. That is where one particular criteria serves as a watershed to place people into two opposing camps. The expression is a metaphor based on the litmus test in chemistry — Blue litmus paper turns red under acidic conditions and red litmus paper turns blue under basic (i.e. alkaline) conditions. When someone is trying to be appointed to serve as a Supreme Court Justice, they argue against the tendency to elevate one particular issue to such a litmus test status – preferring that their entire body of work be evaluated. But when it comes to our relationship to God and our eternal destiny, it all comes down to one central issue:
1 John 5:1 “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” – case closed
Rom. 10:9 “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”
C. S. Lewis – famous quote: 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. … Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.”
Scots preacher — John Duncan (1796–1870), around 1859–60:
“Christ either deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or He was Himself deluded and self-deceived, or He was Divine. There is no getting out of this trilemma. It is inexorable.”
Or Jesus should be viewed as a Legend – not one who even made these claims for Himself (power to forgive sins; existed from all time; would rise from the dead and return to judge the world; etc.); but others manufactured these claims.
What did people living at the time Jesus was on earth say about His identity?
What do people today say about His identity?
Don’t forget important connection to previous miracle account of Jesus opening the eyes of blind man
Most important: what do YOU say regarding this key litmus test question
I. (:27-28) CONJECTURE REGARDING THE IDENTITY OF JESUS –
“And Jesus went out, along with His disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi;”
Dr. Steven Lawson: Has been in Bethsaida; headed due north following Jordan River up to its source to the villages [plural] of Caesarea Philippi 25 miles away; already north of Sea of Galilee; he would never go further north than this; near the foot of the tallest mountain in this region – Mt. Hermon; first a Canaanite sanctuary for worship of Baal; much pagan worship here;
Coming closer to the political capital for King Herod; setting up the ultimate contrast between:
– Those who confessed Caesar, the Roman emperor, as almost God
– Those who would confess Jesus as the Messiah
Alan Carr: Caesarea Philippi also contained a gleaming marble temple, built by Herod Philip, to honor Caesar, the Roman Emperor, who was considered to be a god. The citizens of this city were required to enter this temple, at least once per year, place a pinch of incense on a burning altar and proclaim, “Caesar is Lord!”
James Edwards: It is here in the outer regions of paganism and even hostility to Judaism that Jesus is first proclaimed Messiah!
School is now in session; it is Final Exam time – only 2 very simple and direct questions:
A. (:27b) Question Regarding Popular Opinion
“and on the way He questioned His disciples, saying to them,
‘Who do people say that I am?’”
Studying anthropology here
Youtube videos – asking random people on the street who they think Jesus is – you get some typical responses and some really strange responses
B. (:28) Variety of Responses
1. Political Leader – Launching a New Kingdom
“And they told Him, saying, ‘John the Baptist;’”
King Herod thought this when he heard about Jesus – Mk 6:14; had beheaded John the Baptist but saw him as a powerful and authoritative figure
2. Religious Leader — Miracle Worker
“and others say Elijah;”
Known more for his mighty deeds than for what doctrines he proclaimed
Went about doing good – even raising someone from the dead
Likely based on their misunderstanding of Malachi’s prophecy – Mal 4:5
3. Spokesman for God
“but others, one of the prophets.”
Alan Carr: This was a long list that included such luminaries as Moses, Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and others. Like Moses, Jesus declared the Law of God. Like Isaiah, Jesus preached about sacrifice and holiness. Like Daniel, the message of Jesus was a prophetic message of a coming King and His kingdom. Like Jeremiah, Jesus carried out a ministry marked by compassion and brokenness. He was, after all, “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”, Isa. 53:3. Like Hosea, Jesus loved the unlovable and was willing to redeem lost, wretched sinners. . .
Other Voices chiming in:
The Pharisees and other religious elitists of the day said, “…He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him?” John 10:20.
The Scribes, the men viewed as great teachers of the Law, said, “He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils,” Mark 3:22.
The Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jewish religion, said, “…He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy. What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death. Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands, Saying, Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee?” Matthew 26:65-68.
His Own family and friends said, “He is beside himself,” Mark 3:21.
Even as Jesus hung on the cross, giving His life a ransom for sin, the religious elite continued to express their evil opinion of Him. “Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save. Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him,” Mark 15:31-32.
That’s what some of the people in that day were saying about Jesus. What are they saying about Him in our day? Just as it was in the days when Jesus walked this earth, there are a multitude of opinions about Who He was and is.
The Muslim says that Jesus was a prophet, but He was not crucified on a cross. He will return, but He is not God.
The Hindu believes that Jesus is just one of millions of gods.
The Jew believes that Jesus was a great prophet and teacher, but He is not God.
The Mormon believes that Jesus was the first baby born to God in Heaven, when God, in a physical body, had sexual intercourse with Mary, His Own daughter. He is the spirit brother of Lucifer.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus was once the Archangel Michael before He came to the earth. In their view Jesus is not God in the flesh.
The atheist denies that Jesus ever existed at all.
The agnostic just doesn’t know what to believe about Jesus.
Society believes that Jesus was a great teacher; that He had some good ideas about loving your fellow man and being good to others, but they do not believe that He is the Savior, or that He is God in the flesh. Most people acknowledge His existence, but they refuse to bow to His authority or give Him the worship He deserves.
Summary: Very famous and significant; but a man and not God
MacArthur: Why could He not be the Messiah? Because they had a very highly developed Messianic concept, political ruler, military power, overthrows Rome, destroys all Israel’s enemies, brings blessedness to Israel, prosperity to Israel, permanent peace to Israel, elevates Israel to be the greatest nation on the face of the earth, all other nations are under the shadow of Israel. The Messiah reigns in Israel and dominates the world, righteousness flows. They took all the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, the desert blossoms like a rose, Isaiah’s prophecies about the character of the Kingdom, all of that, the promises to David all fulfilled, the promises to Abraham all fulfilled, the promise of the New Covenant to Jeremiah, the salvation of Israel fulfilled and the salvation of Gentiles as the gospel extends to the earth.
Where was all this? Their messianic concept was highly developed and so they couldn’t get to the point where they saw Jesus as the Messiah, cause He didn’t fit that. He wasn’t a military leader. He wasn’t the conqueror. He wasn’t a destroyer of armies. He didn’t look like a king, act like a king. So they come up short. John 3:1 to 2, “We know You are a teacher come from God because nobody can do what You do except God be with him.” So we get that…we get it, You are a prophet from God. And that’s what they’re all saying, that’s the popular view…John the Baptist, Jeremiah, Elijah and I’m sure they threw in some others. That’s question number one on the test.
Opinions of men are Vain Speculation – doesn’t matter what men say
II. (:29-30) CONFESSION REGARDING THE IDENTITY OF JESUS –
A. (:29a) Question Regarding Personal Opinion
“And He continued by questioning them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’”
Emphasis on “You” in contrast to the general public
MacArthur: Now look, they’ve had two and a half years of school, it’s time for the exam. “Two and a half years they have been 24/7 with our Lord, two and a half years of divine revelation, two and a half years of thousands of miracles, two and a half years of the most profound teaching imaginable, and unimaginable, two and a half years for them to see everything they needed to see to learn everything they needed to learn.
Hiebert: “But who say ye that I am?” but is adversative and passes to the point of supreme concern for Jesus. Ye stresses the contrast between the disciples and the people. They are personally asked to crystallize their own faith in an open declaration. Say is present tense and implies that He is asking for what they are already saying among themselves or in conversation with others Who . . . I am asks them to identify His Person, not what He did but who He was. Jesus had not previously demanded that they give a direct answer to this question concerning His identity. His method had been to impress upon them the truth concerning Himself through what they heard and saw. He had left them to arrive at the truth concerning Him through personal reflection. But now the time had come to lead them to a positive declaration of faith.
B. (:29b) Only One Adequate Answer
“Peter answered and said to Him, ‘Thou art the Christ.’”
Truncated version of Peter’s confession; Matthew adds: “the Son of the living God”
For Mark, the concept of Messiah included His deity
1. Anointed Supreme King – Ultimate Political Leader — AUTHORITY
2. Anointed Supreme Priest – Ultimate Religious Leader — SAVIOR
The One Mediator between God and Man
Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek – righteous king-priest; stress on His eternality; superiority of His priesthood over the Levitical priests; Ps. 110:4; Gen. 14; Heb. 5-7
Our Advocate before the Father – deals with our sin problem
3. Anointed Supreme Prophet – Ultimate Spokesman for God — LOGOS
Brings our attention back to the famous “I AM” claims of Christ
Peter confesses “YOU ARE”
Summary: More than all of that = the very Son of God
“And He warned them to tell no one about Him.”
Constable: Probably Jesus instructed (“warned”) the disciples “to tell no one about Him” for at least three reasons. First, such an announcement would have hindered His mission. Second, the disciples would not have been able to cope with the questions and opposition such an announcement would generate. They still held many popular misconceptions about Israel’s Messiah that Jesus needed to correct. Jesus proceeded to continue preparing them so they could represent Him effectively. Third, Jesus wanted privacy for predicting His passion and resurrection.
Hiebert: the disciples themselves were not yet qualified to proclaim the whole truth concerning Him as Messiah. His Messianic mission could not be rightly understood apart from the work of the cross. Only when they understood the relationship between His suffering and His glory would they be qualified to proclaim Him adequately as the Messiah.
Dream I had this week: taking a test – could not figure out the first question; under time pressure; woke myself up: I am not going to take this test. Don’t have that option with the litmus test that Jesus sets in front of everyone. Who do YOU say that I am?
Very simple message – yet so few people get it
1 Cor. 1:18-25 “but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Now Christ will begin to openly teach His followers about the cross and the suffering that lay ahead as He set His face to go to Jerusalem