Under the Cross: Who Do You Say That I Am?

By Harrison Goodman
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:13-16)

Three Possible Answers

Who do you say that the Son of Man is? We’re still asking the same question today. We’re past the days where people haven’t heard the name “Jesus.” He still gets a lot of press. The thing is, we all seem to be talking about someone different. Who do people say that the Son of Man is? Some go for the high road and say He is just the example. He’s the guy you follow when you feel bad about being bad, and He helps you be better until you don’t want to be so bad anymore. But most of the time He just ends up being the guy used to bash you over the head when you don’t do what someone else wants you to. Be like Example-Jesus. He’s what you could be, but aren’t. A chance to feel ashamed every time you’re around a pastor who just might maybe know the truth or a parent who might have another lecture to turn you into the kid they wished you were.

Example-Jesus really shines, though, when the grownups use Him to back up both sides of every issue. The Ten Commandments are important to tell you why you’re wrong, but can never be used to make me reflect on my own positions. I know Jesus said,  “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s,” but I’m still pretty sure He agrees with me on every issue of politics and wants you to vote the way I vote. I’ve got some out-of-context Bible verses to prove it, and you should just ignore everyone who disagrees with me but also quotes Bible verses with no context to prove their point. Also, if you really were a Christian you’d care about the social issues I care about more than you do, because Christians are supposed to be loving. You know, just like me--the guy who hates everyone on the other side of every issue I’m passionate about but veils it behind self-righteousness and passive-aggressive behavior.

Who do people say the Son of Man is? Some go for the low road and say He is a bigot, no better than the monsters and murderers of today. That He calls people sinners in a hate-filled book that does nothing but set up the scene for hate crimes in the name of a higher power. There’s no room for nuance, and even less room for mercy. Bigot-Jesus picks the sinners who sin differently than I do and says there’s no forgiveness for them until they change, never mind that you and I have been here confessing the same sins week after week for years.

Who do people say the Son of Man is? Some just say He’s a myth, because how could a loving God let the world look like this? If I were God I’d do things differently, and even though I need help programming the dishwasher sometimes, I’m still pretty sure I’m smarter than any deity who created the heavens and the earth and kept it all in motion for all of time until this moment. And if you go by how most people talk about Him, I’m apparently more loving than He is, too, even though my first act as the one in charge would be to make everyone who’s done wrong suffer, rather than suffer for them myself in order to save them.
Have you noticed a common theme yet? First, you grab hold of a select part of the Law, then ignore the Gospel completely, and finally,  you weaponize religion. It’s what the people wanted from Elijah. It’s what they wanted from John the Baptist and Jeremiah, who were both ridiculed and hated by the world and the religious alike, not because they were wrong, but because they called on everyone to seek mercy in the Lord, who not only calls sin wrong, but loves sinners enough to forgive them.

The Creed Comes into Play

But who do you say the Son of Man is? This is not a what does Jesus mean to you question. That’s where all of those other answers went wrong. Not one of them is a confession of who God is, but rather about how we’d use Him. You can try to use the Law, but you can only receive the Gospel. And if Jesus is something to use, not receive, He only ends up being a God in our own image. Instead we’re given a common confession, a God-given creed. Peter’s answer was not from flesh and blood, but from God. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” We answer the same.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

This is God given, because if it were from flesh and blood, it would just be confessions of what we see in a world of flesh and blood. Ever since Adam and Eve blamed each other over eating some fruit and Cain picked up a rock, we’ve only been looking for weapons down here.

We figure we need weapons because honestly, this world looks like hell. We all see it. Christians and unbelievers alike. From the pain of the standards you know you’ll never reach no matter how hard you try, to the bitterness you hold towards those who stand over you and never seem to be happy with what you’ve done. From the shame of knowing what’s right and falling so short of it yourself, to the hate and suffering and pain brought by sinners against each other. This is our world. Sin, death, and devils everywhere.

The Real Son of Man

As a pastor, I’m given words to speak to you, not from flesh and blood and sin and doubt, but from a Church that cries with the voice of God in heaven. “Who do you say that I am?” From Him, the answer is a sigh of relief, a hymn of hope. “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” The Church was founded on these words to stand right up against the gates of hell, that hell would not overcome it. This Christ, the Son of the living God, is the One who came into this very pit of despair and destruction. He didn’t walk with me on a beach to be my footsteps. He walked into Jerusalem to die instead. For me. For you. For all.

Because of this, it seems at first like everyone who hates Him was right all along. Yours is a God who bleeds. Who died naked and alone. Yet He did it for them, and for you. He did it to forgive. Every standard you fell short of. Every demand of the law. He bore the wrath and punishment for us. He came to call you His beloved, perfect and holy--unstained by sin, and unblemished by the world. Not by what you’ve done, but only by what He’s done for you. By what you’ve received.

Go to your pastor. Hear blessed words. “In the stead and by the command of my Lord and savior Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins.” Hear simple little words that tie you to the victory. And when you can’t see it, you can see that Cross where He makes it the reality. The resurrection where He proves it. Christ gives. We receive. This is yours now. All of it. Yours is the Christ, the Son of the living God. You have life in His Name.

Rev. Harrison Goodman is the associate pastor at Mount Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Texas.

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