Life is full of questions. Many of the most important moments in our lives are defined by the questions we ask and the answers we come up with. Jesus once presented His disciples with a question that would literally define eternity for them.
Who do you say that I am? The question is of unequaled importance.
Who do you say that I am? It is a question about identity, about Jesus’ identity. The way we understand His identity determines how we relate to Him, our expectations of Him and of ourselves. In the film, Fiddler on the Roof Tevye explains that their traditions made everyone understand, “who he was and what God expected of him.” For the follower of Christ, our understanding of Who Jesus is informs us of these things. For the follower of Christ, all things are defined by our understanding of Who He is.
Who do you say that I am? It’s a question about accountability. It would have been one thing if Jesus had asked, “Who do you think I am?” One can think about Jesus forever and never change a bit in relationship to Him, which is to say in relationship to eternity. When our children ask us for something and we respond with, “I’ll think about it,” they know it’s not very likely to happen. In some instances “I’ll think about it,” is nothing more than a polite way of saying, “no.” This is true because thinking doesn’t make demands. It doesn’t demand a conclusion or a decision. It just initiates a process of indeterminate duration. It doesn’t demand any action at all other than some nerve impulse moving around in our heads.
But saying is altogether different. Saying requires a certain amount of determination. It implies a conclusion. It moves the matter toward definition, towards the realm of the concrete, even action. In so doing, saying something aloud creates some accountability. “I thought you thought,” has little force. In fact it’s hardly rational. But “I remember you said,'' has force. Unless one is comfortable being known as one whose word is of little value, once something is said, we’re committed.
Our public confession of the person of Christ, of His identity, person, purpose and life, is one of the most important gifts we can give ourselves and to those around us. As long as our understanding of His person remains unspoken, it remains philosophical, ineffectual.
Peter said, “You are the Christ!” Nothing was the same after that. In the words that followed Jesus told the disciples about His coming rejection, abuse, crucifixion and death. Soon thereafter He told them about the resurrection. Peter’s confession opened the door to that discussion. Our making that confession does the same for us and for those around us.