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A Choice to Make: Who is Jesus?

Everyday we are bombarded with decisions to make. Some say we make approximately 35,000 decisions a day. That’s a lot, and it’s exhausting. Seriously: decision-making requires focus and energy, so that’s why many wisely conclude that the more we can focus our thoughts on important things, the better. Why waste energy majoring in the minors? Some people organize their life and routines around not wasting mental bandwidth on less important maters. Many people who could wear different outfits to work, for example, almost create their own “uniform,” as it were, to eliminate the daily process of having to decide what to wear. Meal planning is another example of such wise efficiency. It cuts down on time spent on decision-making throughout the week.

When I was in high school, there was a certain teacher who would stand in the hallway between classes to talk with students and make sure they behaved. I never interacted with him much, but I will never forget his almost prophetic siren call, as it were, a proclamation of wisdom, and it was certainly the wisest thing I have ever heard him say and the only thing I remember:

“Life is about choices! Life is about choices, students. Life is about choices.”

In many ways, our choices do define who we are. Of course some things are out of our control, and we get no input about what they shall be: our parents, our time period in history, our ethnicity, and our hometown, for starters. These do have great impact on who we become. However, we make very many, seemingly small decisions each day that cumulatively direct our path and shape who we become.

Peter’s Greatest Decision

In a Casesarea Philippi in the first century A.D., a Jewish man named Simon Peter had a decision to make. He had been following this Jesus around for some time now, and tensions around Jesus were growing. The Pharisees, scribes, and other religious leaders did not take kindly to His teaching, which often highlighted the religious elites’ hypocrisy, manipulation, and oppression of those under their watch. Jesus knows His own destiny: that He will be required to give up His life for the sake of many.

As this obvious fact gets closer and closer, Jesus starts a discussion with His disciples, including Simon Peter, who makes one of the greatest choices a person could ever make when asked for an answer in Matt. 15:13-20 Jesus asks:

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.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Of course immediately after that, and numerous times further still, Peter makes bad decisions, but in this very moment, He got the answer right on the most important question a person will ever have to answer: Who do you say Jesus is?

C.S. Lewis’ Trilemma

You may have heard of the British literary giant, C.S. Lewis, who was a professor and at one time, an athiest. After his conversion to Christianity, he wrote numerous Christian books of both fiction and non-fiction. In his famous work Mere Christianity, Lewis presents what has become known as the lord-liar-lunatic argument, a trilemma which essentially says Jesus has to be one of the three; there is no in-between. Lewis writes:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. … Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.

Lewis actually presents the same idea in his famous work of fiction, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Set during the German Blitzing of England in 1940, four young siblings (Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy) are sent to live with an old professor when their father went to war. They play games in the professor’s house, including hide-and-seek, and whilst hiding in an old wardrobe, Lucy actually goes through the wardrobe and to the other side, entering the fantasy world of Narnia.

Lucy’s siblings refuse to believe her that Narnia exists, however. Well, Lucy gets back into Narnia and on this second visit, her slightly older brother Edmund gets in as well. Still, upon their return he tells the eldest two (Peter and Susan) that little Lucy is just making it up, and Peter and Susan start to worry about Lucy’s mental health. They go ask the professor what he thinks. He hears them out very carefully, smoking his pipe, and when he learns that typically Lucy is the truthful one and Edmund is not, the professor answers:

“Logic! …. Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious she is not mad. For the moment then, and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume she is telling the truth.

The professor was right about Lucy, and Lewis is right about Christ: when it comes to Jesus, we have to make a decision, based on all the facts of Jesus’ life, based on all the things Jesus seems to have done and especially what He said about Himself. Either He was and is the Son of God, or He was crazy and just imagined those things to be true of Himself, or He was aware of their untruth and spoke them anyway, which would render Him a liar. We must choose one. We must give an answer.

“Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matt.15:16)

Messiah comes from the Hebrew term we often translate as “anointed,” essentially the same concept as what lies behind the Greek christos. What does it meant to be God’s anointed, to be a messiah or a Christ? As we have noted before, there is an important historical connection with the Davidic covenant (2 Sam 7:14) and God’s promise there to David. This is why so often in the text people refer to Jesus as a “son of David.” This is not peripheral trivia; it is central to the Biblical narrative. God is faithful and is fulfilling His promises to David and the people of Israel.

Unlike Mark’s version of this story, Matthew includes the phrase “Son of the living God,” which is also a phrase related precisely to the Davidic covenent, and this is the literal sense in which Jesus is indeed King. It is not a pretty, metaphorical title; He is actually, in fact, King of Heaven and Earth, as He was anointed by YHWH and post-resurrection, ascended to the throne at God’s right hand (Ps. 110:1). He is a son clearly by Davidic/royal right.

Yet, Jesus is uniquely Son of God in that He was born of a virgin (Mary) and is God’s Word become flesh. Jesus is the Messiah Israel had longed for, the Son of the Living God, who will rule with the Father’s authority until his enemies are made His footstool, the final enemy being death.

1 Cor 15:27-28:

For [Jesus] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

Such is the current, post-resurrection, post-ascension, and post-enthronement role of Jesus, God’s anointed, our Lord, our savior, and our King. Philippians 2:9-11:

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.