Who Is Jesus? Disputed Questions and Answers (Eerdmans) is the question posed and discussed by Carl Braaten in this new book. In response to those who argue the real Jesus is lost to history, the author argues the only real Jesus is the One found in the pages of Scripture. He explores questions such as, “What can we really know about Jesus?” “Why did Jesus have to die on the cross?” and “Was Jesus the founder of the church?”

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Proper 9
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Few questions in life face us with such stark choices and answers as this one: “Who is Jesus?”

We should not imagine that answers are scarce. In fact, they are so abundant as to be overwhelming. But that should not surprise us. From the very beginning, the gospels show us the variety of people’s answers to this question about the identity of Jesus.

I. Consider the Wrong Answer  (Matthew 11:16-19)

Jesus himself asked questions of his listeners, just as they questioned Him. In today’s text, some of the followers of John the Baptist were trying to get some clear understanding about who Jesus really was. John had been put into prison by Herod, and his followers were getting restless. If John really was a great prophet, as they believed, why was he in prison? With John’s blessings, they went to Jesus and asked, in effect, who he really was. “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

As he often did, Jesus did not answer “yes” or “no.” He reminded them that seeing is believing. He had them go back to John and report on the effects of Jesus’ work: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”

This is what the gospel does because this is who Jesus is.

But the people were not satisfied. After John’s followers left, Jesus spoke to the crowd and pointed out that they were never satisfied with reality. The current generation is “like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’”

We are asking, “Who is Jesus?” The wrong answer is, He is whomever we wish him to be. We will make it all about us and squeeze Jesus into our own molds. The greatest tragedy is to try to make the entire universe swirl around us.

II. Consider the Right Answer

Who is Jesus? He is the Son intimately connected to the Father. The prayer of Jesus is, “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one know the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Because Jesus is the Son, he invites us to share the energy of a relationship with him.

J. Winston Pearce tells the story of Baron Rothschild, the powerful London merchant and financier of an earlier generation. On day a young lawyer went to see him for advice. This young lawyer was having a tough time getting settled into his profession. Too little work was coming his way.

Rothschild put his arm abound the young man’s shoulders and walked with him the length of the stock exchange and back to his office. Then he shook the young lawyer’s hand and bid him goodbye.

The younger man felt disappointed because Rothschild had not given him a letter of recommendation or anything else. But by the time he returned to his office, calls for his services were coming in. By the end of the day he had received enough business to keep him going for a long time. What had happened? “They had seen him walking with the prince of merchants and bankers. That was enough recommendation. The young man had to be dependable, trustworthy and capable, or Baron Rothschild would not have walked with him.”[1]

Jesus invites us to came and walk with him when we’ve reached the end of our resources. He puts his arm around our shoulders and gives us “rest for our souls.” In doing so, we find out who he really is.

[1] J. Winston Pearce, To Brighten Each Day (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1983), p. 51.

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Matthew 16:13-20

In today’s world
we are constantly faced with the peril of identity theft. We are cautioned about
how quickly our personal information can be stolen and someone else can take
on our identity, running up thousands of dollars in fraud. Our identity is important
to us. Who we are can quickly be distorted and used against us.

People’s perception
of who we are can also be changed by how we live, act, speak and appear. One
can look gruff and give a false impression that he should be avoided. While
the reality may be that he is very gentle and compassionate.

In this passage
Jesus raises the question of His identity. In other words, what is the perception
of who I am compared to who I really am?

The Perception:
Who do people say that I am?

Jesus raised this
question with His disciples.  He has performed miracles and taught the disciples
and groups of people who had followed Him. Apparently there was much conversation
among the people about who Jesus really was. Some thought He had to be John
the Baptist. Others thought maybe He was Elijah or Jeremiah or another of the
prophets. They were making these assumptions based on their perception from
what they knew of their religious heritage and what they had seen. They were
attempting to discern who He was through their own knowledge and intellect.

The Reality:
Who do you say that I am?

After the declaration
of what the people thought, Jesus narrows the question. “Who do you say that
I am?” Of all the disciples Peter is quick to answer. He recognizes Jesus as
“the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” But, there is something distinctive
about his answer. It is far different than the conjecture of the crowd.

The Difference:
Divine revelation

Certainly, Peter
should have known more than the crowd. He has been close to Jesus as He taught
the crowds, but, he has been even closer in the intimate times with the disciples.
Jesus notes the difference. He tells Peter that he did not learn this through
head knowledge, but through divine revelation from the Father in Heaven. This
revelation comes at a significant juncture in the ministry of Christ, and an
important time in the life of the disciples. In the following verses Christ
predicts His death to the disciples and then experiences the transfiguration.
It is important for them to recognize He came to do more than to teach and to
heal. He came to change the very essence of who they were.

The Reward:
A new name 

Peter is given
a new name to signify the blessing of Christ upon his life. Peter had just declared
the very essence of the Kingdom of God. He had identified the foundation stone.
Just as the disciples needed to recognize that there was more to this journey
than teaching and healing, we too must learn Jesus wants to be all of that and
more to us.

There comes a
time in each individual’s life where he/she must answer this same question.
At that point it becomes very personal. It is one on one with Jesus. We can
assume with the crowd that He is a great teacher or even a prophet. Or we can
listen to the Spirit of God as He reveals Christ to us. To understand with the
knowledge of the head is not enough. One must make the personal assertion that
Jesus is our own “Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  


Sermon brief provided by: John Burke, Senior Consultant
for Church Fund Raising Services with LifeWay Church Resources, Nashville, TN.

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