What of Less Beautiful Scenery?




Whenever we speak of confessing “Jesus as Lord,” our minds inevitably go to
Matthew 16 and what is commonly referred to as Peter’s “Great Confession.”
Sometimes commentators call it the “Caesarea Philippi” confession, making
reference to the place where Simon spoke those courageous and enduring
words, “You are the Messiah the Son of the Living God.”
The cross was little more than six months away when Simon spoke the luminous
words that were more than he knew. The Twelve have been with Jesus
approximately two and a half years by now and yet still He must ask them who
they think He is.
All of the Synoptics record that it was in the region of Caesarea Philippi
that the exchange took place. Most commentaries mention the beautiful
setting, with snow covered mountains that can be seen in the distance. (Few
mention that the ancient city was called Paneas, after the god Pan who was
worshipped there in a series of caves. In Jesus’ time there was a temple to
Augustus there as well. So it was a thoroughly pagan as well as a
picturesque place.)
They had reached a crucial place in the ministry. Luke tells us that Jesus
prayed all night before the encounter with the disciples. It is a momentous
moment. He is about to attempt to “undeceive” them all.
Out of the blue the question comes, “Who do men say the Son of Man is?”
There is no word that Jesus’ query rattles the disciples in any way
whatsoever. They respond with the same rather lame list we heard back in
Mark 6:14. Clearly people in general are confused about just who Jesus
really is. But that is not what is really at issue now. Jesus asks the
infinitely more significant question, “Who do you say I am?”
As usual, it is Simon Peter who answers for the Twelve. Listen carefully to
his response. He does not answer the question as Jesus asked it. If he had,
he would have responded, “We say you are.” But those were not the words he
chose. No, without hesitation Peter confesses, “You are the Son of God.”
Jesus had asked who the people said the “Son of Man” was. Peter is clear.
The Son of Man is the Son of God, and He is standing before them in His
simple worn out sandals with the beautiful mountains behind Him.
If Jesus had been looking for an indication that it was time to start the
building of His church, this was the sign; the full confession from the
mouth of his first true follower. It was a glorious moment for the church.
It was the long awaited spark.
When we think of confession it is this moment, recorded in all the
Synoptics, to which our thoughts fly. But this is not the only such
confession we have in the gospels. And for me it is not even the most
significant one.
John is famous for leaving significant stories out of his gospel only to
replace them with other, more significant, stories. He leaves out the
Nativity and replaces it with the Incarnation. He leaves out parables and
replaces them with the parable of the life of Jesus. In this case, he leaves
out the confession of Peter at Caesarea Philippi and replaces it with a
confession that not only takes place at a different location but more
importantly, under completely different circumstances.
They were back home in Capernaum. Only the night before they had seen Jesus
walking on the water and mistook Him for a ghost. The day before that He had
fed the five thousand and the people followed them back across the lake
hoping for another picnic on a green lawn. Jesus will have nothing to do
with it.
There is a discussion with the crowd that grows in both tension and
intensity. Jesus reveals that He is not just the bread provider, like Moses
was, but is Himself the Bread that must be broken and consumed. His
sickening and scandalous words cause an argument to erupt among the crowd,
“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” they hiss. Of all the places to
have said it, Jesus spoke these appalling words in the synagogue, just one
door down from Peter’s house.
The real turning point comes a few verses later when John reports that from
that point many of the disciples left and followed Jesus no longer (7:66).
This, for me, represents the real moment of truth. And if the truth is to be
spoken then Peter will speak it.
His response, like the earlier confession, was occasioned by a question from
Jesus which grammatically expects the answer “yes.” “You do not want to
leave too do you?” He asks as a number of His disgruntled disciples slink
away. In what can only be called loyal despair Peter responds for the
others, “Lord, to whom would we go?” At this moment, if there were someplace
else to go, some other messiah to follow, Peter would probably leave with
the others. But the Spirit in his heart tells him otherwise and just as in
the other confession, the Spirit placed the words on his lips. There is no
place else to go. That is the simple truth. Jesus is Lord in spite of the
scandal, or perhaps because of it. That would have been enough for the
moment, but Simon says more and these words make up the other significant
” We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
It is one thing to confess Him in private, in a setting where all is well
and the view is pleasing. It is something else entirely when the specter of
scandal has raised its’ head and others are leaving in droves. When
confession has a cost, it somehow means so much more. Later on Simon will
indeed fold under such pressure in the courtyard of Caiaphas, but that dark
moment is months away for now. And in the familiar setting of his own home
“church,” Simon has been given the courage to confess in the face of
rejection and scandal.
The point, if there must be a point, it that you and I will also someday
face just such a situation. What will you do? What will I do? Leave with the
disgruntled crowd? Or stay in the thick of paradox and mystery? For now most
of us have only known beautiful scenery on our walk with Jesus. What will it
be when the situation becomes otherwise?
From the Study is a monthly syndicated column by Michael Card. For more
information about Michael Card please visit www.michaelcard.com.


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