When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”Matthew 16:13-16
In a couple of weeks time I start a new job teaching History and RE in a prep school. I’ll be teaching children in years 6, 7 and 8. Whilst I have enjoyed teaching these year groups before, it’s always been in the context of a secondary school, where I have taught pupils of these ages as part of a more balanced diet that has included GCSE, A Level and International Baccalaureate students. What has always set these younger students apart for me in the past is their tendency to ask questions, pretty much non-stop. Questions have ranged from the highly admirable, such as, “but surely Harold Godwinson should have left some of his troops in the south?” to the practical, “how much detail should I put in my answer?” to the just downright infuriating, “should I start a new page, Sir?”
One of the joys of teaching pupils at this age is spending all day answering the many questions that are thrown at me. I do find, though, that answering questions all day does take its toll. By the time the evening comes and my friends ask me even the simplest questions, my answers tend to come out as grunts.
In today’s verses, Jesus asks his disciples probably the most important question that they will ever answer: who do you say I am?
By this point the disciples had witnessed Jesus do plenty of amazing miracles and heard him teach and preach. They had spent time with him and would have begun to form a view on who this man was. Was he a teacher or a prophet? Was he a good man or a deluded fool? Was he nuts? Or was he the Son of God?
Many of the people in the area had come to the conclusion that Jesus was a prophet, but Simon Peter went considerably further in his view; Jesus was the messiah, the son of the living God. At this point he hadn’t fully grasped the implications of that statement, but he nevertheless recognised that Jesus was not simply a prophet, but the person who had been the focus of prophecy for generations.
The question that Jesus asks his disciples in this passage, “who do you say I am?”, is not just the most important question the disciples ever had to answer, but is probably the most important question in the world. Most of us have an opinion on that question, even if we might not have given it a great deal of thought. The people who do not follow Christ have decided that, whatever Jesus was, he was not the son of the living God. Christians have usually decided that the answer to that question is much the same as Peter gave.
Having answered the question, though, we need to consider whether we’re in a similar position to Peter in today’s verse; we know who Jesus is, but we have yet to grasp the full implications of our answer, and don’t allow our understanding of Jesus’ identity to shape our lives. Others may have fully grasped those implications, and strive to follow Jesus closer and closer day by day.
Why not reflect on that simple question today and over the weekend: who do you say Jesus is? How does your answer to that question impact on your life?