OPINION: In Matthew 16, Jesus posed a question to his friends.
He asked his disciples, “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.” – Matthew 16:13-19
I’d like to share with you two points from this text. But in order to do this justice, I need to set the landscape of this story.
It needs to be understood that Jesus was not asking this question because of any personal insecurities or needs. He was not looking for any affirmation from the people he was trying to save. Nor was He on any quest, to compare his popularity with that of any other scholar or teacher of his time. Neither was he trying to see if people had recognised that he was the Messiah sent by God, like Moses had hoped with his people (Acts 7:25).
In fact, the question was not for his sake – rather, it was for his disciples!
Likewise, we should note that this conversation was between Jesus and his friends, not Jesus and the crowds.
Jesus was never swayed in any way by the opinions of men, and he wasn’t about to start now. So, it’s important to see that this question that was put to the disciples, was in fact, for them.
This question from Jesus sits in the heart of every person, influencing the decision of all mankind throughout the ages. King Solomon tries to articulate it in a meaningless way. Explorers have sailed many continents in pursuit of it. Radical extremists have given their lives because of it, misguided as it is.
Philosophers have wrestled with this question in their quest for absolutes and morality. Preachers have sought to bring messages of hope to their parish from it, while youth workers have tried to bring direction and meaning for all young people who have come face to face with this question.
At some point we have all faced this question in one form or another, and while the words may differ, the question is nonetheless, the same.
Now Jesus is addressing this same question to his disciples. But please, follow me a little further as His question reminds me of another story I once heard:
At the turn of the century, a rabbi in a Russian city found himself disappointed by a lack of direction and purpose in his life. He wandered out into the chilly evening, aimlessly walking through the empty streets, questioning his faith in God, the Scriptures and his calling to ministry. In his despair, he wandered onto a Russian military compound off limits to civilians.
The silence of the evening air was shattered by the bark of a Russian soldier: “Who are you? What are you doing here?” After a brief moment, the rabbi, in a gracious tone so as not to evoke anger from the soldier, asked, “How much do you get paid every day?”
“What does that have to do with you?” retorted the soldier. The rabbi replied with a tone resembling that of someone who had just made a new discovery: “I will pay you the equal sum if you will ask me those same two questions every day: ‘Who are you?’ and ‘What are you doing here?’”
Those two questions stir in the heart of every person, ‘who am I?’ and ‘what’s my purpose here?’ These questions drive the heart’s quest for Identity and Purpose. They are our pursuit for Significance in life (knowing that our lives Matter) and Purpose (knowing that our lives have Meaning)
We search for identity in the threads of our genealogy, our island, our village our family. We hope to find it in the areas of our passions or our contributions to mankind, or the empires we build! It’s the need to know that ‘We Matter’ that we make a difference to others, and that we are loved, at least by our family and friends.
We need to know that we have purpose in life, that we’re not just an accident, that regardless of our situation, there is still purpose and meaning to our lives no matter how dire or desperate our circumstances.
In this one interaction with his disciples, Jesus addresses this deeper question with them, and for Simon the answer came when he received the revelation of who Jesus was!
Firstly: when Simon received the revelation of who Jesus was, in turn, Jesus revealed to Simon who he was. He said to him, “blessed are you Simon son of Jonah …. I tell you that you are Peter!” Jesus revealed his identity to him, no longer as Simon, but now as Peter.
Secondly: Jesus said, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom, what you bind and loose on earth has already been loosed in heaven.”
In other words, along with purpose to bind and loose on earth, Peter’s purpose in life was to bring God’s kingdom onto our earth!
In this one account both his identity and purpose were revealed to Peter. But did you notice when it was revealed to him? It was when he received the revelation of who Jesus is.
Perhaps, in pondering these deeper questions, you may have been asking the wrong question? Perhaps the questions of your identity or purpose lies not with you as the focus. Perhaps the answer to your quest lies in this question, “who is Jesus?”
I’ll leave you with a quote from my daughter:
“You were created by God, for God.
Until you understand that, nothing really makes sense”
– Talitha Koum Horn