Luke 19:18-20 (ESV) – 18 Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” 19 And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” 20 Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”
Yesterday was “Super Tuesday,” and two candidates emerged as the frontrunners: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. These nationwide primaries and caucuses go a long way in determining who the Republican and Democratic candidates will be for President of the United States. Now, I’m not going to comment here on the quality of these two people only to say this: Are any of the politicians running for our nation’s highest office really the people others say they are? Are they the people we think they are? For good or ill?
One of the political games we are all caught up in is answering those questions. We employ common labels to determine their fit and define their candidacy, character and personality. Are they Evangelical? Socialist? Racist? Christian? Humanist? Charismatic? Dull? Incendiary? Honest? Thoughtful? Foolish? Liars? Ultra-Liberal? Ultra-Conservative? Moderate? We look for clues based their speeches, their past, and on who has endorsed whom – all the while we scratch our heads wondering, who are these people, really?
The candidates play this game with us because they certainly care about what we think. They collectively spend millions of dollars conducting public opinion polls about how their messages and methods are being received. If they are perceived as being too stiff or severe, they adapt and are photographed eating cotton candy at a state fair while kissing a cow or something. If they appear to be weak on foreign policy, they conduct a stump speech in which they show off their acumen on geo-political issues. Test poorly with seniors, tour a nursing home and visit the patients along the way. Not doing well with teachers, go to an elementary school and read Green Eggs and Ham (Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss) to a classroom full of kindergarteners.
That’s politics. Not government leadership… but politics… and truthfully, it irritates me to no end… It plays to the opinions of people and little is based on what’s right and wrong, and I truly believe every candidate plays this game.
Now, it’s interesting because in Luke 19:18-20, the Lenten reading from Monday (yes, I’m a bit behind), Jesus seems to be doing the same thing. He asks his disciples, “who do the crowds say I am?” And the disciples dutifully answer. Of course the crowds are wrong – as crowds often are… but Jesus is not concerned with that; at least he doesn’t appear to be. What concerns Jesus is that his disciples, his closest followers and friends, know who he is. At this point, he has spent month after month healing the sick, feeding the hungry, challenging the establishment, praying alongside these men, and he wants to know if they get it. Or are they just like everyone else? Are they dazzled by the miracles and inspired by the teaching but incapable of understanding where this is all headed?
When Peter says, “You are the Christ of God” he is, in no uncertain terms, declaring that he gets it… at least part of it. Jesus isn’t like the ones who have come before him. He isn’t the warm-up act, he is the main event. And in this way, Jesus’ disciples were holy, not perfect, but they demonstrated that they had indeed been set apart for a reason – and that reason was to be his followers and make that public declaration to the world.
Jesus didn’t play to the crowds, because the crowds didn’t get it. Jesus didn’t base his message on public opinion or how well he played to certain demographics. He was the Christ – the Chosen One of God – to serve as the Savior of the World.
The disciples certainly had their moments of failure and doubt. They had moments, especially at the cross, when Peter’s grand declaration seemed to be empty words. Ultimately, everyone of those disciples (save Judas Iscariot) lived, suffered, and died with the full weight of that declaration bearing itself out in their witness.
If we were to ask ourselves, “Who do we say Jesus is?” Would we get it? Knowing the true identity of Jesus is the singly most important thing with which we can wrestle because it’s the only question with eternal magnitude and significance.
Who do you say Jesus is?