My latest homework assignment:
The Jesus Paper. In a 700 to 750 word essay, respond to the questions Jesus asks his disciples in Mark 8:27-29, “Who do people say I am?” and “Who do you say I am?” (Another account of this incident is recorded in Luke 9:18-26.) The questions require you first to discuss who Jesus is from the perspective of others. Then, provide your response to the question of who Jesus is and provide support for your answer… Does your response solicit more than an intellectual response? Explain.
I had planned on saying more, but ran out of space. Personally, I think that what I did come up with, while certainly an incomplete picture of Jesus, is as complete a picture that I could draw from the text I was told to use and the space I was given. I don’t quite meet the exact letter of the assignment, but I think I exceeded the expectations for it. I briefly thought about expanding it to cover everything I’d intended, but alas, I have another paper due in five days. I am, of course, indebted to others for their thoughts, both written and oral. In the completion of this assignment I had in mind various bits from John Piper, Mark Driscoll, and Mike Shea. All passages are from the NIV.
Who is Jesus? Matthew, Mark, and Luke each contain an account commonly known as “Peter’s Confession of Christ”. Each writer records Peter’s belief that Jesus was the Messiah and the belief of the crowds that Jesus was John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets. The response of Jesus to each tells us a lot about his call to the lost.
After Peter’s confession, Jesus replied, “Blessed are you… for this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven” (Matthew 16:17). Peter knew the secret identity of Jesus because it was revealed to him by God the Father, not through human efforts. The other people did not know because they only possessed the wisdom of man. Lacking God’s revelation, they had no choice but to rely on man.
Their ignorance wasn’t caused solely by their reliance on the wisdom of man, it was also a consequence of the Father’s concealment of Himself (see Romans 1:28). Luke 10:21-24 tells us that “Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure… No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’ Wow! Jesus reveled in the fact that the Father would elect to reveal Himself to some, and hide Himself from others. Paul confirms that it is God’s good pleasure to destroy wisdom and frustrate intelligence (1 Corinthians 1:19).
This is good news to me on many levels. It provokes my soul to praise God that I have been made an object of mercy. It promotes humility because despite the esteem given to intellectuals, my best efforts aren’t good enough. It also provides comfort in my frustrations. Even since childhood I have been vexed by people who say things that are, in my understanding, untrue. I find solace in knowing that God hides truth. I find myself dismayed and angered (and undoubtedly in sin) when encountering those who diminish the glory of God. I am saddened when fellow believers profess a puny God. My God is an awesome God, and his words bring the universe into existence. He does not call us to himself with a plaintive “Here kitty, kitty”. He calls out “Lazarus, come out!” with all power and authority to not only reveal the truth, but to raise the dead, because it pleases Him “that you may believe” (John 11:43, 15).
While Luke 10:21-24 does an amazing job of speaking to Peter’s answer to the question, Matthew contains a parallel passage that speaks to the answer of the crowds. After Jesus delighted in the Father’s revelation to “little children”, He invited the crowds to “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
The response of Jesus highlights the need to deliver the invitation. As Paul writes in Romans 10:14, “how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Paul didn’t preach using words that his audience didn’t understand. He became “all things to all men so that by all possible means [he] might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).
Like Paul, I need to understand my audience. I need to contextualize it to the culture. If I’m in a culture that contains no concept of an afterlife, I need to be sufficiently literate to relate the Gospel in the concepts that they have. If I’m in a culture that denies absolute truth, I need to communicate how the Gospel is relevant even while seeking to show them that their denial of absolute truth is an absolute lie.
It is interesting to note that Jesus didn’t comment on the beliefs of the unbelieving. He praised the Father’s sovereign will and then presented an invitation that was meaningful to His hearers. This affirms my conviction that it is not profitable to dwell on untruths. I need to do little more than to proclaim the gospel in a sensible way and trust Jesus to reveal the Father to those He has called to understanding.