This gospel has within it the most remembered question asked by Jesus – Who do you say I am. We, in this the 21st century after his death, know full well who Jesus is. We have studied about him; we have prayed to him; we have sung songs to him; we have fled to him as well as from him.
During first session of the Alpha Course we ask the participants how they would respond to that question if they were asked it by a stranger. They loudly respond with all the known titles of Jesus which confirms we know who Jesus is. Yet knowing his titles is very different than knowing him intimately. I will tell you from experience we cannot truly respond to that question until we know without a doubt who we are in God’s eyes. That is why I am not going to ask you how you would answer that question but I would like you to think of something else entirely – who does Jesus say you are.
Let me use God’s own words to describe what he thinks of you and I. In psalm 139 God gives us a good indication of who we are when the psalmist says God “…formed my [inward parts; you wove me in my mother’s womb. I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Ps. 139:13-14). Those words of God leave no doubt that we are awesome in his sight. Verse 17 of that psalm says “how precious are your thoughts of me O God, how vast the sum of them.” His image of us being precious does not change because of our sin; it remains a constant for God sees what he infused into our very being instead of our actions.
Through the prophet Isiah he calls us his delight. Through the prophet Zechariah he calls us the apple of his eye. God has created us and crowned us with a glory that gave us a heart that is capable of loving, of deep compassion, of great joy and has filled us with a desire to be one with our creator. The truth is we just do not understand how God can love us because we know our inclination to sin and we know our love is imperfect and has conditions.
We remember how we have failed to love others and we remember how others have failed to love us. Our knowledge of love is limited by a human standard that knows love has conditions, is often withheld and can lose its fervor. How can God love us when he knows how often we have failed to love and forgive and how often we have turned to sin instead of turning to him?
How easily we forget the lessons of scripture. Did the prodigal son fail his father? You know he did and according to the Levitical law that son should have been stoned to death for what he did to his father. Did the Father submit him to the law? No instead of having him killed according to the law he allows him to go his own way until he “returns home seeking forgiveness”. The father is waiting to embraces him, to restore him and celebrates his return.
Peter denies knowing Christ but Christ does not deny Peter. Instead of punishing him he offers Peter forgiveness and affirms his promise to make him the head of his church.
You know the stories of forgiveness in scripture are not just stories about some person in the past but they are God revealing his approach to our unfaithfulness. What does God think of us? He loves us and tells us “…for those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified What then shall we say to these things – (we can say)if God is for us, who is against us (Rom. 8:29).
When we hear those words “those he foreknew” they should bring to mind the words from Psalm 139 which say “before I was formed in my mother’s womb you knew me.” God’s plan God’s plan for us is not punishment, condemnation or isolation but it is a plan for us to always feel the love and mercy of God (Jer. 29:11).
If we could accept our destiny to allow the love of God to change our hearts we would have no problem proclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord. If we can get past condemning ourselves for our sins we would like Paul be “…convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
When we remove the barrier of self condemnation we will feel forgiveness washing over us, cleansing us, refreshing us, and renewing us and we will know the reality of Jesus as God intended. We will then we will feel the Holy Spirit changing us into sons and daughters of the living God. Then like Peter we will say “you are the messiah the savior of the world.”