It takes God to know God
It’s been quite a few years since Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, an Indian guru, made headlines here in the U.S. You may recall that he settled near a small community in Oregon. He and approximately 40,000 of his followers gradually took control of the political and economic life of the town. During the height of the Bhagwan’s rule, he kept in stock a fleet of no fewer than 85 Rolls Royce automobiles. He was eventually deported from the U.S. and returned to a community near Bombay in India. Continue reading . . .
It’s been quite a few years since Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, an Indian guru, made headlines here in the U.S. You may recall that he settled near a small community in Oregon. He and approximately 40,000 of his followers gradually took control of the political and economic life of the town. During the height of the Bhagwan’s rule, he kept in stock a fleet of no fewer than 85 Rolls Royce automobiles. He was eventually deported from the U.S. and returned to a community near Bombay in India.
At the time this happened, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Bhagwan was suffering from an identity crisis. He told his followers that he no longer wanted to be called Bhagwan but preferred that they call him “Buddha,” claiming that the spirit of Gautama Buddha was now dwelling inside him.
A few days after that the Bhagwan, excuse me, the Buddha, suffered another identity crisis. Since the Buddha evidently objected to his fleet of expensive automobiles, his large harem of women, together with other luxuries, he had to go. “I am Zorba the Buddha,” he loudly proclaimed. Zorba, it appears, is more open-minded when it comes to certain worldly pleasures.
Can you imagine the confusion had the Bhagwan asked his followers: “Who do men say that I, the Bhagwan, am?” I can well imagine their response: “Are you kidding? Who do they say you are? For heaven’s sake, Bhaggy, you don’t even know who you are!”
Of this one thing we may be entirely certain: Jesus of Nazareth knew exactly who he was. Although there was some confusion among the crowds that followed him, there was no doubt in his own mind.
So, why, then, did Jesus ask this question in Matthew 16:13 – “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” I don’t think Jesus was insecure and needed to boost his own ego. He wasn’t lacking in self-confidence and didn’t need to reassure himself of his identity and calling in life.
Don’t ever think that in asking this question Jesus is saying something like:
“What are they saying about me? Do they like me? Are they tracking with my message? Please tell me they’re saying nice things. I just don’t think I could handle the rejection.”
Jesus is not like a frightened politician, whether the President or a Senator or a local mayor who first thing each morning asks his chief of staff for the latest polling date so he can check his approval ratings.
Of course, on the one hand this question makes perfectly good sense. Crowds have responded in diverse ways. The people he has healed or set free from demonic spirits are more open to his claims and rate his performance quite high. I suspect the people in the city where Jesus was responsible for the destruction of 2,000 pigs are going to consider him a disaster on the economy. The religious leaders are going to have a decidedly negative opinion, as Jesus is clearly responsible for their downturn in popularity and authority among the people.
So why does Jesus ask this question? The answer is obvious: he is looking to tease out and bring into the open the beliefs and faith of his disciples. He wants to provoke an affirmation of faith that he can use to teach his disciples even more about his identity, his work, and his determination to build the church, the body of Christ.
Lest you leave thinking Jesus did all this as a publicity stunt to make himself more widely known, “he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ” (Matt. 16:20).
The answer his disciples give reflects a wide array of public opinion: some say (1) John the Baptist, others say (2) Elijah while some believe he may be Jeremiah or one of the other prophets. But note that evidently no group was willingly and openly speaking of Jesus as Messiah.
Jesus responds: “But who do YOU say that I am?” “You” is both emphatic and plural. Peter’s response, therefore, is on behalf of all 12. He is the spokesman, representing the group.
Other questions in life are important and must be answered: “What is your opinion on abortion?” “For whom are you going to vote in the Presidential race next year?” “Do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?” “Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”
But this question that Jesus asked is altogether unique and paramount in importance. Unlike all other questions, the answer you give determines your eternal destiny. You, personally, must answer it. Jesus isn’t asking Peter, nor is he asking you and me, “Tell me who your mom and dad think I am,” or “Who does your pastor say I am?” Rather, he asks each of us: “Who do you say I am?”
Peter’s response is quick and emphatic and probably loud: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”
You are the Christ, the Messiah, the long-awaited and anointed one who has been sent and set apart and endued with power to fulfill everything the OT promised. “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name! “Christ” is a title. The word “Christ” = anointed one, that person on whom oil was poured as a way of indicating he had been consecrated and set apart by God for a special purpose. In the OT only prophets, priests (Exod. 29:7, 21), and kings (1 Sam. 10:1,6) were anointed in this way. In Jesus all three converge!
You are the Son of the Living God, not by physical reproduction but by spiritual representation: you are the incarnation and express image of God the Father. In you we see and find him.
And how did Peter come by this insight? Was this just a good idea that popped into Peter’s head as he reflected on what Jesus had said and done up to this point in time? Was it a matter of logical deduction? Or was it a wild guess that just happened to hit the mark?
Jesus tells us precisely the source and cause of Peter’s confession: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 16:17).
“Simon, Bar-Jonah,” or Simon, son of Jonah is Jesus’ gentle way of reminding Peter that although he has spoken profound words of eternal truth, he’s still only a man. He is the son of another man, unlike Jesus who is alone the Son of God.
Negatively: “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you” (v. 17a). Positively: my heavenly Father has “revealed” this to you. The words “flesh and blood” are used 5x in the NT, one here in Matthew 16 and the other four in 1 Cor. 15:50; Gal. 1:15-17; Eph. 6:12; and Heb. 2:14. In each of these texts “flesh and blood” simply means ordinary human nature. By “flesh and blood” Jesus means human nature apart from divine enablement; flesh and blood refers to mere mortal prowess; who and what we are as creatures in all our limitations; human beings without the supernatural presence of God.
This is stunning! Flesh and blood, just plain old human beings in the strength and ingenuity of their human nature, have come up with some pretty stunning and breathtaking ideas: the invention of the wheel, writing, the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, the artistic and literary geniuses of the Renaissance, Johan Gutenberg and the printing press, Michelangelo’s David, the Industrial Revolution, the automobile, the airplane, genetically altered food, penicillin, nuclear power, a man on the moon, computers, and the list could go on.
So why can’t “flesh and blood”, on its own, drawing from its own insight and ingenuity, figure out who Jesus is? And of what significance is the fact that it takes God the Father to make known the identity of God the Son?
The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that apart from the Spirit of God, what God has done in and through Jesus strikes us as absurd and foolish and outlandishly ridiculous. Apart from the work of God in our hearts and minds we find the incarnation and sinless life and atoning death and bodily resurrection and second coming of Jesus Christ as silly.
People to whom God has not yet revealed his Son scoff and bristle and chafe at the suggestion that they are under a divine curse and subject to God’s wrath; they regard it as excessively judgmental to suggest that all people are spiritually and morally unclean and need the cleansing power of God’s grace; they regard it as arrogant and intolerant that we would insist that there is one and only one way by which a man or woman can be reconciled to the Creator: through faith alone in Christ alone!
The Bible calls this reaction of the unbelieving heart “blindness”. So when you ask, “Why can’t flesh and blood see the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” the answer is given by Jesus himself in John 3:19 - "Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." The reason we can’t see the light of Jesus is because we love the darkness of life without him! Fallen flesh and blood human beings hate the light: they hate what it shows them about themselves; they hate how it makes them feel; they hate the idea that they are called to submit to the Lordship of Jesus.
And so when Peter exploded in this glorious affirmation about who Jesus is, he didn’t get there by his own efforts or his own education or by his own exploration of facts and his own evaluation between competing religious claims. Something more than what human beings and human nature can produce is needed to account for why Peter or any human being suddenly sees and hears and feels about Jesus what before they despised.
We must never forget that our knowledge of God is a gift, not a given. What I mean by this is that we all too often presume that what we know of God is either something we gained by self-exertion, dedication, and study, or it is something we deserve, perhaps something that is our by right or entitlement. We should never treat the knowledge of God as a given. It is something he gives, and he does not give it universally. This is nowhere better seen in our Lord’s words in Matthew 11:25-27 –
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him (Matt. 11:25-27).
The “things” which the Father has “hidden” from some and “revealed” to others would probably include the significance of Jesus’ miracles (vv. 20-24), the content of his teaching, who Jesus is, and especially the knowledge of the Father himself (v. 27).
The “wise and intelligent” are those who, if they had lived up to their reputation for being so learned, should have been the first to acknowledge who Jesus was. The “wise and intelligent” are the self-reliant who are convinced they have no need of divine wisdom. But Jesus isn’t excluding smart people from the kingdom. It isn’t intellectual power he condemns but intellectual pride. Jesus is referring to the worldly wise, those who pride themselves in their intellectual and secular sophistication, who regard belief and trust in Jesus as beneath their dignity.
“Infants” or “babes” on the other hand are those who humbly acknowledge their need for divine mercy. Simply put, the knowledge of God isn’t the product of natural law or human logic or chance occurrence. Spiritual understanding doesn’t depend on human achievement or IQ or social status or political influence or party affiliation or age or gender or race or physical size or beauty. Rather, it is the fruit of divine illumination.
Just as the Father alone reveals Jesus to whom he wills, Jesus also claims that he alone can reveal the Father to others (v. 27c). “Just as the Son praises the Father for revealing and concealing according to his good pleasure (v. 26), so the Father has authorized the Son to reveal or not according to his will” (D. A. Carson, 277). Evidently, one of the “things” the Father has given to the Son is the authority to decide to whom the Father shall be revealed!
When God finally makes sense to us, when we come to know him truly, to the degree that we grasp something of his nature and will and ways, it is because the Son has graciously stooped to reveal him to us. Our knowledge of God does not come naturally. Neither is it ultimately the product of meticulous research or study. It certainly isn’t because we deserve it. It’s a gift from his Son. He and he alone is the mediator of the knowledge of God to mankind.
It takes God to know God!
To make this text and this message very personal today, every one of you should now ask,
• "Has God done this for me?"
• "How did he do it?"
• "What was it like in my experience when God revealed to me that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God?"
• "What difference has it made in my life that God the Father has revealed to me the true glory of his Son, Jesus Christ?"
My guess is that some of you are saying, "I can't answer those questions. I've never even thought of my conversion in those terms." Well, don't panic, because every person who has ever been converted to Christ was converted on the basis of a very limited understanding of what was happening. Test yourself. Search your soul. Ask the tough and penetrating question that Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do YOU say that Jesus is?”
So, precisely how does God reveal the identity of his Son to us? How does he awaken in us not only a knowledge of who Jesus is but a love for him, an affection for him, a desire for him, a longing for him, a passion to honor and exalt him and to make his fame known? How does God do it?
You may recall that after being thrown in prison (Matt. 11:2-6) John the Baptist struggled with doubt about the identity of Jesus. He sends his disciples to ask Jesus, "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?" In other words are you really the Messiah? This was the very question that Jesus says you can only answer willingly if God reveals it to you.
But how does Jesus answer John's question?
“Look at me! Listen to what I say! Watch what I do! Think about the claims I’m making for myself!”
God in sovereign grace reveals Jesus to people who are looking at Jesus, reading about Jesus, listening to Jesus, thinking about Jesus. It isn’t the looking or reading or listening or thinking that ultimately brings revelation. These are simply the means that God uses to open our spiritual eyes and spiritual ears that we might behold his glory. God loves to open the eyes of the blind when they are looking at his SON! Consider then . . .
• His authority over demons (Mark 1)
• His compassion for a man with leprosy (Mark 1)
• His forgiving the sins of a paralytic whose crippled legs he heals (Mark 2)
• His love for Matthew, a Roman collaborator and thief (Mark 2)
• His power over nature in stilling a storm and reproducing a handful of loaves and fish to feed thousands (Mark 5)
• His kindness toward a woman whose bleeding body rendered her unfit for society and a reject among her people (Mark 5)
• And most of all, his sacrificial love and willingness to endure hell on a cross for sinners like you and me.
Can you now see the necessity, the urgency, of each day asking the same question over and over again: Who is Jesus? Do you now understand why it is so crucial to explain his words and to talk about his healings and to explore his personality and to observe how he responds to religious hypocrites and how tenderly he deals with the brokenhearted? It is because it is in gazing on Jesus, in thinking about what the Scriptures reveal about Jesus, that God through his Spirit reveals the identity of his Son and awakens our hearts to love and adore him.
So, who do you say that Jesus is?