Guest contributor: Ed Trego
“Who do men say that the Son of man is?” (Matthew 16:13). Jesus asked the apostle’s this question while on the way to Caesarea Philippi. The apostle’s answered that some said John the Baptist, others Elijah, or one of the prophets. He then made the question specific to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:15-16).
The importance of this question is the fact that Jesus is God. He doesn’t represent God, he doesn’t preach the word of God as a minister or priest. He isn’t a prophet of God. He is God! In order for the new covenant to succeed, people needed to understand that the covenant Jesus would institute was a covenant with God. Just as was Abraham’s and just as was Moses’.
The significance of Peter’s answer is evident in Jesus’ response, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Farther who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 1:17-19) The divinity of Jesus was acclaimed in his proclamation. God had granted Peter the grace to fully understand the true identity of Jesus. He was thus designated as the head of Jesus’ church, to be the continuing force in the church once Jesus had returned to the Father.
Today, we need to reclaim the strength and confidence displayed by Peter. We are too willing to allow others to define Jesus. Rather than defend our faith strongly and confidently, we tend to want to avoid conflict. We’ve been taught that it isn’t polite to “argue” religion. Even when the eternal life of others, and perhaps our own as well, is at stake we still hesitate, and too many times refuse to boldly state what we know to be true: Jesus Christ is our God and Savior!
Have you ever heard someone say that they thought Jesus was a great teacher, a holy man, and even a prophet? They will go this far but aren’t willing to say he is God. I’m sure that we’ve all heard these statements from non-believers or even some who claim Christianity but don’t have the courage to fully state their belief. This is a blasphemous statement that we, as Christians, should never allow to go unchallenged. In fairness, they possibly make these statements in an effort to avoid confrontation or maybe in an effort to not offend their Christian friends by admitting that they don’t believe at all. Whatever the reason, the statement is categorically wrong.
Jesus was either the Messiah or he was a liar, a blasphemer, a revolutionary, and a very dangerous man. There is no other choice, we must either accept him as the Son of God, or condemn him for his lies and blasphemy. In this there is no middle ground and those who claim one need to recognize that fact.
As Christians, we must be willing to stand up for who Jesus truly is. We must have the courage to debunk any definition that denies the divinity of Jesus Christ. We, as believers, must not allow false images and theories about our Lord and Savior to go uncontested. If our faith is not strong enough to stand up for our Lord we have lost the race. We might as well admit to ourselves that we have abandoned the Savior who gave his life for us.
Standing up for the true identify of Christ can be difficult and may result in being seen as a religious fanatic, or old fashioned. Perhaps you will be ostracized and your friends will be uncomfortable with your stand. We are not intended to seek comfort; we are intended to seek the Lord. The disciples suffered for their belief and their courage in preaching it. Saint John is the only one of the apostles who did not suffer a martyr’s death. They did not shrink from their responsibility as Christians. They accepted their fate, knowing that Jesus had prepared a place for them if only they remained true to him.
Peter, when called before the high priest to be questioned concerning the healing of a cripple, replied to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a cripple, by what means this man has been healed, be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by him this man is standing before you well. This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, but which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:8-12).
This is the courage of a man convinced of his salvation and its source. We must strive to have this same courage to stand tall before those who would question the divinity of our Lord, and say with Peter, there is salvation in no one else! This is not faith in a prophet or a religious “leader” this is the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. When the Sanhedrin ordered them not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus, Peter and John answered, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:29-20)
Peter and John were facing the same group of men who had condemned Jesus before Pilate and sought his death by crucifixion. Yet they had the courage to not only stand up for Jesus and his divinity, they told the high priest and his council that they would disobey their order not to speak of Jesus. They had to know that they could have been put to death for their actions, but chose to stand for Christ regardless of the consequences.
Stephen, the first Deacon in the church, was also a man who was willing to risk everything rather than deny the divinity of Christ. When brought before the high priest for questioning he related the history of all of Israel and their continual rejection of God’s prophets and representatives. When the Sanhedrin became enraged at his recounting of the unfaithfulness of the Israelites, he stood his ground, saying, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56). Even as he was being stoned to death for his convictions, he had the courage to plead with Jesus for the forgiveness of those stoning him. “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60)
When Jesus found the money changers and those selling sacrificial animals in the temple, he didn’t hesitate to make a whip of cords and run them out of the temple (see John 2:13-16). The apostles faced imprisonment, torture and death, but chose to stand up for their faith. Martyrs over the years have suffered grievously, yet still clung to their faith. At one point Nero used Christians soaked in oil as street lamps in Rome, but they accepted this death rather that deny Christ.
The history of Christianity is replete with the stories of martyrs who willing went through horrible torture and death rather than deny our Lord. Yet it seems that we have lost that courage in many ways today. Rather than risk being seen as a fanatic we’ve become willing to allow non-believers to dominate the discussion of who and what Jesus truly is. If we continue to deny him, how can we expect him to not deny us before the Father at our judgment”
In today’s society we are not encouraged to stand up for Jesus, but are actually encouraged to not mention him at all. We are not supposed to talk about our faith at work, or even in public. We might offend someone. This idea that religion and faith is off-limits offends me, and I hope you as well. We have a right, guaranteed under our constitution, in addition to our God-given right, to stand up for our faith. We need to exercise those rights, just as those who would silence us exercise their rights to state their non-belief. If not, we risk eliminating faith from our culture. Without faith, our culture will not survive.
We hear repeatedly about the so-called separation of church and state which, by the way, does not appear in our constitution. What the constitution actually says in the first amendment is, “Congress shall pass no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” Maybe we should stop calling this the “establishment clause” and start calling it the “free expression clause”. We tolerate atheists, agnostics and others who wish to denigrate our faith yet fail to allow the faithful their free expression to dispute those statements. As Christians, we must confront those issues and stand our ground.
Jesus asked his apostles to pray to the father for workers to help gather the harvest (see Matthew 9:37-38). We are those workers. However, we must be willing to take a stand for Jesus if we are to be of service. We are his hands and his feet, but we can’t walk the path he lays out for us if we are afraid, ashamed or embarrassed to proclaim, as Peter did, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”