Scripture: Luke 9:7-9
May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Over the last week we have been speaking a lot about the royals haven’t we, as we, with the nation have mourned the loss of our late Queen. Unlike nearly anywhere else in the world, including those places that also still have monarchies, the royal family still holds a huge place in the heart of our nation. One of the reasons why, I think, and the queen exemplified this entirely, is by staying completely neutral in the political realm. Allowing us to blame the politicians for all the stuff, in the same way everyone in the stands knows exactly how to sort out the football team when they lose. A politician, it seems to me, is popular until the second they win high office, at which point they become the devil incarnate, at least according to the media. The Queen on the other hand, rarely had to deal with anything like that, she floated above it all, so we could all treat her as a neutral. There are, however, very few people who are neutral about politicians. Nearly everyone has an opinion and will explain exactly what they think about that politician without blinking or indeed being bothered about things like facts or personal knowledge of the person they are speaking about.
Another person who has an even larger polarising effect on people is Jesus. If you were to ask anyone on the streets, of any creed or community, who they think Jesus is, you would get a whole set of definite statements not encumbered by fact or logic. Some people think he was a wise man, some that he was a spiritual person, some that he wasn’t real and some that he was deranged. I am sure that if we went on to Cleveleys high street today and asked people what they think, we would get some whacky answers. I have done this before, going on the street and chatting to people – I have had ‘I don’t believe in Jesus, so thank God for all the space aliens I have met’, ‘I think Jesus was a Buddhist, he travelled to India don’t you know?’ and even, ‘I believe in angels so why should I believe in Jesus?’. Nearly all the people you ask, have a concrete view on the person of who Jesus is, often without the unnecessary burden of logic or proof.
The same thing has happened even when Jesus was on Earth during His ministry before His crucifixion. In our short gospel reading we hear Herod, not the same one who murdered the babies in the Christmas story, but rather his son, no one of the co-rulers of the province wondering wo Jesus is. Some say he is John the Baptist raised from the dead, some that he is Elijah, or another ancient prophet. To his credit, although a thoroughly evil man by all accounts, including non-biblical accounts, he want to see Jesus for himself, to work out who this Jesus is.
What is so interesting in this chapter of Luke, is that we then hear of the feeding of the 5000, is that this question of who Jesus is, is raised again. It says this:
18 Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ 19 They answered, ‘John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.’ 20 He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Messiah[e] of God.
Can you see the difference between someone who has heard about Jesus and someone who knows Jesus? The difference is astounding. Herod who has only heard of Jesus through hearsay compared to Peter who knows Jesus. Herod has only incorrect guesses about who Jesus is, Peter knows who Jesus is because He knows Him personally.
Jesus, Peter says, is the Messiah, the Saviour of God. We, who know Jesus personally through the Holy Spirit living within us can say with Peter, Jesus you are the Messiah the Holy one, our saviour. There is a whole Bible study in knowing about what the Messiah is said to be in the Old Testament.
For me this raises two challenges. Firstly, as followers of Christ, do we know exactly who Jesus is? Have we gone to the trouble of understanding just how significant it is when a Jewish man like Peter says to Jesus you are the Messiah of God? For us, we need to be able to understand who Jesus is.
Secondly, are we able to show people we know or people who ask, are we able to point them to the truth of who Jesus is? Peter, who was able to identify exactly who Jesus was said this in one of his letters to the churches ‘in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. Are we prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks? We can only do so well through being prepared by knowing scripture, and through prayer. It can be really scary but a prayer I often use when engaged with people asking about faith is ‘Lord, give me the words. Remember about the guy I told you about who believed in angels but not Jesus? I was speaking to him and getting nowhere, until I prayed that prayer and in words that I am completely sure were not my own said ‘you believe in angels, well so do I. But don’t you want to meet the Man whom angel's worship?’ After that he said he was going to speak to his local vicar. I have no idea if he did.
Who is Jesus is the central question of the gospels and the central question of life. We who gather here each week, know He is the Messiah of God, because we have a personal relationship with Him through His Spirit. A central part of our faith is being bold enough to tell others of the hope we have. So pray, study and be sure so that we can share the good news of Jesus, because there are many Herod’s out there, just waiting to become Peters who know their Lord.