During the past few weeks, my sermons have dealt with the mysteries that surround the person of Christ. In many ways Jesus was a mystery to his parents. The Christmas story reveals Mary’s question: “How can I have this child since I am a virgin?” When Mary and Joseph met Simeon in the temple, and he told them, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel” (Luke 2:21-35), what did he mean?
Then there was the day when Jesus, at the age of twelve, separated himself from his family. After searching three days for him, Mary and Joseph found Him in the temple courts. When His mother rebuked him for causing them so much anxiety, Jesus said, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s House?” The truth was they did not understand what He was saying .
Finally there was the day when John the Baptist pointed to Jesus, who was now thirty years old, and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” The world did not know Jesus as the Christ then, and it does not know who He is today.
This leads us to the last sermon in this series: Do you know Him? Hearing this question, many would answer, This question is too personal. I prefer not to answer.
The response to this remark is, Yes, I understand this question is very personal, but your answer cannot be private. If you live in a personal relationship with God, your close associates will know it. You cannot keep that relationship a secret. Your language, behavior, attitude, and spirit will give you away. Christ will touch every part of your life. You will stand out as being different in a world that still does not know Him. You are still a sinner in need of daily forgiveness, but you are different, delightfully different. You will be a fresh breeze in a cruel, hard, old world that hasn’t experienced God’s love and grace.
In today’s text, Jesus is talking with His disciples about this very subject Ð their relationship with Him. He begins with the personal question: Who do you say I am?
What if Peter had answered this way: Lord, this is a question that is too personal for us to answer. We are happy to report what others think of you. Many of them complement you. They consider you one of Israel’s great prophets. In the minds of some you are as great as, if not greater than, Jeremiah, Elijah, or John the Baptist. But now you want our testimony, and we prefer not to give it at this time.
Instead of this, Peter answered, “We know that you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” The Holy Spirit had led them thus far in answering the question as to who Jesus was.
Hearing Peter’s testimony, Jesus was thrilled. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”
Now Jesus was anxious to take the next step in revealing His death and the cost for the disciples if they still wanted to be His followers. “He began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
Peter did not understand, so he took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me. You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” The disciples did not understand that Jesus had to die. He added to their confusion by saying he was including them in the suffering and death. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” ).
Peter and the other disciples were beginning to understand that Jesus was the Messiah, but they had a long way to go in understanding that He had come into this world to be the Savior of all who would trust Him as Lord. This understanding did not come until after Christ was raised from the dead and the Holy Spirit had strengthened their relationship to the degree that they could speak up to the Jewish leaders who forbade them to mention the name of Jesus. “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).
This then leads us to our day. The world still does not know Jesus. Here is that personal question: Do you know Him? By knowing Him, we mean, Have we experienced His love, and do we hear His voice speaking to us through the Scriptures as we bring our requests to him in our prayers? There is an old saying: Absence makes the heart grow fonder. That might be true for some people in their relationships with other humans. However, it is never true in our relationship with Christ. In order for that relationship to grow, we must live with Him in His Word, and prayer must be a vital part of our life. As our communication with the Lord grows stronger, our relationship with Him becomes more and more personal.
It can best be compared to our relationship with people. We can know a lot about the President of the United States. Books, newspapers, television, and radio programs bring us much information about him. However, it is only when we live with this leader on a regular basis that we can claim to know him personally. So also with the Lord Jesus. Do you know Him?
On New Year’s Day we were invited to a neighborhood party. I sat beside a twenty-one-year-old young man with whom I hadn’t visited for years. I asked him, “What are you doing these days?”
He replied that he is a junior at the university.
“What happens after you graduate from the university?” I asked.
The young man said, “I am going to seminary. I want to work in some form of Christian ministry.”
This led to my next question, “When did the Lord become a living part of your life?” He told me of being on a youth retreat with some Christian friends. It was during those days that Christ became very personal to him, and he committed his life to the Lord. He was grateful for the Christian instruction he had received in his confirmation class. This instruction taught him about the Savior. Without this information he would not have come to know Jesus personally. And after the teaching experience, the young man was able to say, “I met Christ in a very personal way. Now I know I live in a personal relationship with Him.”
At a morning Bible study two men were conversing. One said, “I have always belonged to the church. I even taught Sunday school. But it was not until my wife and I were attending a marriage retreat that I came to know Christ personally.”
Another gentleman in the group asked, “How does it feel to know Him personally?” It was evident this man longed for such a relationship with Christ.
His friend replied, “Jesus Christ came alive. He came into my life in a new way. From that day on, we have had many intimate conversations as He speaks to me through His Word, and I reply to him in my prayer life. It is a personal relationship.”
This gentleman was quick to admit he has a long way to go. There are still many mysteries about Jesus that he will probably never understand while he is on this earth. But Christ is his comfort, strength, Savior, and Lord. Christ directs his life.
The last illustration was most surprising to me. Another pastor and I had attended the United State Congress on Evangelism. It was the closing day, and we were urged by Billy Graham and Oswald Hoffmann to find a partner, get on our knees, and share our concerns in prayer. When the prayer session was over, my prayer partner said to me, “I have been a minister for thirty-five years. Yet today I met Jesus Christ personally for the first time.”
From that day on, his ministry was different. He was not simply teaching the congregation about Jesus and what He has done for us. He was now introducing the them to the Son of God and Savior of the world who changed his life and could make a great difference in their lives. Although there were still many mysteries, the relationship between this pastor and Jesus continued to grow until the Lord called him home.
There is a time when we need to review our relationship with Christ. That was what Jesus was doing with His disciples at Caesarea Philippi. That is what He wants to do with us today as He asks the same question to you and me: Who do you say that I am?