“Who do the crowds say that I am?
“But who do you say that I am?”
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.
Jesus questions to Peter first ask who the crowds say I am , and then who do you say that I am. The crowds opinion of Christ is a consensus, a survey, a compromise, and even an impartial reporting. For Peter to answer that question he only had to be diligent in his observation, and was neither required to agree or disagree with his contemporaries opinion. The second question though was personal. It was not their opinion but his own. Answering that question required truthfulness on his part, and likely much deliberation. For that personal question Peter had to come to terms with who Jesus was to him. Isn’t that the same question Christians must ask themselves today. Of course to answer who Christ is one can simply read off the doctrine of catechism or coldly recite the Nince creed: both could give the doctrine of Jesus Christ. Those formal doctrines would fail the second question though, they can not answer that personal relationship that defines the more personal question of “Who do you say that I am?” Doctrines can help to define our basis for answering that question, and even serve as an introduction to Jesus, but the answer to the “who do you say that I am” is the response to a culmination of experiences with Jesus. It is the assembling of all the aspects of Christ a person encounters both in scripture and in life. They are the experiences that relate to the Son of God and Son of Man. They are the understanding of true God from true God. They are understanding Christ as Messiah, while also trying to understand just what a Messiah is. It is understanding Christ while trying to understand the first century, and understanding that same Christ in the twenty first century. In Peters response Jesus was the “Christ of God” and in his world Christ was the anointed one. Anointed ones were typically Kings or leaders of armies: following them usually meant picking up your sword and not a cross. The Messiah of a first century Jew was understood differently from that of a 21 century Christian. Their expectations were rooted in the traditions of that day; do people today view that Messiah as a military leader?
If answering Jesus question of “Who do you say that I am” causes one to contemplate all of who Jesus of Nazareth is, isn’t his instructions to the disciples also worthy of profound thought? Can “taking up ones cross “in this century become something of a cliche? To some is simply means quietly bearing ones burdens with out complaint, but is that what Jesus truly intended? Were not the folks of the time of Peter already taking up their crosses? Were their lives not already a series of endless crosses? Occupation by a foreign army, poverty, an imbalanced society, and even crucifixions. Have they not already been caring around their crosses before Jesus came on the scene? The twist to taking up ones cross though was the second statement of “follow me.” This Messiah did not ask them to take up their swords and follow him, which was their hope in a Messiah. This Messiah asked that they bring their cross to him, not so that they could continually bear that burden but rather that they might be set free from it. Peter had lived in a world of crosses, had not yet experienced that cross at Easter. I wonder how Peter would answer that same question after encountering that Easter Christ? It is those encounters with Christ that breathe life in to our answer of who do I say that Jesus is.
“Who do the crowds say that I am?