Scripture Reading: Matthew 15:1-39, Matthew 16:1-28, Zechariah 12:10, 2 Peter 1:16-18
I am very good at proclaiming things:
I’m going to run a marathon!
I’m going to take music lessons!
I’m going to write one poem a day!
But these are things that are easier said than done; therefore, I say them, but do not really do them. I ran a half marathon, not a full. I took voice lessons for a few weeks, then quit. I wrote about six poems—over the course of an entire year.
Declarations are good, but in order to follow through with them we must understand their implications.
In Matthew 16, Jesus asks His followers, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter has the right answer: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” he declares (vv. 15-16).
But just a few verses later, we see that Peter doesn’t fully understand the implications of his declaration. When Jesus explains to His disciples what will eventually happen to Him in Jerusalem, that He will suffer on the cross, Peter is upset. “Oh no, Lord!” he says, “This will never happen to you!” (v. 22).
As my IVP Bible Background Commentary notes, “Peter had divulged Jesus’ secret identity yet had retained a faulty concept of what that identity entailed.” In other words, it’s one thing to say Jesus is the Messiah; it’s another to understand the implications this has on our lives.
Jesus proceeds to very clearly explain what it means to believe He is the Messiah, saying, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (v. 24). Three things: deny yourself, take up your cross, follow Jesus. For those of you who’ve been on this Christian journey for a while, you might be thinking what I’m thinking: Easier said than done.
All three of these commands are incredibly counterintuitive to our sin nature. “Deny yourself” implies denying your selfish desires, ambitions, and needs. “Take up your cross” implies being prepared for the ridicule and scorn of others, even being prepared for death itself. “Follow me” implies allowing Jesus to be Lord of your life, laying down your control, and giving it to Him.
I can declare that Jesus is the Messiah all day long, but do my actions reflect that I truly believe this? Have I denied myself today? Am I more concerned with what others think than I am with openly being a Christ follower? Am I allowing Jesus to control my life, or am I still gripping the wheel?
Backing up a little in this passage we see that Jesus first asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (v. 13). He wanted to know what the disciples had observed others were saying about Him. Then He asks, “But you… who do you say that I am?” (v. 15). To me, it feels like the emphasis is on that second question. Jesus is more concerned with who His followers believe Him to be than what other men are saying about Him.
Who we, as Christ followers, proclaim Jesus to be is critical for the world that is looking on. And how we act—much more than what we say—reflects whether or not we believe Jesus is the Messiah.
We can say and not do, proclaiming Jesus is the Messiah but never denying ourselves, never actually following Him. Or, through the power of Christ in us, we can proclaim and do, showing those around us who Jesus is. Pointing them to Him with our lives. Pointing them to the true Messiah.