Imagine a crowd of people. It's a cool day in the mountain city. Woods are given life by springs that began the journey of the Jordan river. You'd never guess who's about to make an appearance. In fact, you'd probably miss him entirely.
As Jesus and his twelve disciples walked into this city called Caesarea Philippi, they passed temples and sanctuaries built to Greek gods. People went about their business with no idea the One who created them was in their midst.
I sometimes wonder what Jesus' expression must have been like as he meandered through crowds of people. I imagine him with a knowing smile, remembering what it was like to carve the fingerprints on the hands that held clay pots dripping with well-water and pushed heavy carts on cobblestone roads. Did the youngest of children stare at him in wonder, knowing there was more to this man than what they could see?
Jesus, the Son of God, walked into the city with callouses on his feet and dirt under his fingernails, body odor mingling with the twelve other men who walked into town with him. I imagine him smiling, curiosity mixed with already knowing, as he looked up at a giant temple built toward a god that didn't exist.
"Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" he asked his disciples. The Son of Man was a name given to the coming Messiah; a name referenced more than a hundred times in the old testament Hebrew.
Some of his disciples shrugged. Some spoke. "Some say John the Baptist, other say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." It was a simple question. One that had no concrete answer.
At this point I'd like to think that Jesus stopped walking and faced the twelve men who committed their lives to following him. With the hustle of the city around him, his brown eyes looked each man in the eye as he asked, "But who do you say I am?"
I believe Jesus is looking all of us in the eye with the same question. He wants all of us to know him, but he cares most about who you say he is. Who I say he is. He cares about the personal relationship more than the crowd.
Your answer to that question determines your walk with him. Who you say Jesus is, who you believe he is, determines your every day. Your relationship with him, and your relationship with those around you, will be entirely different if you think he's a distant teacher or an intimate friend. Is he like your father, or is he the Father he says he is?
Every day he's asking us, "Who do you say I am?"
Simon Peter, looking into the eyes of a man he loved and respected, realized the truth. "You are the Christ, the son of the living God."
Jesus must have grinned. "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven."
Peter was not an A-student. A few verses later in this chapter (Matthew 16:13-23), Jesus calls Peter Satan because his thoughts were focused on things of man, and not of God.
One moment we can nail it. We can know exactly who Jesus is. The next, our flesh and soul get in the way and suddenly we don't have it at all.
What I love about this is that Jesus isn't keeping score. He just loves Peter. He doesn't hold Peter's sin against him and kick him out of the intimate circle Jesus wanted him to be part of. Six days after calling Peter Satan, Jesus brings Peter up on a hillside with James and John to witness the transfiguration.
Who do you say Jesus is?
He's asking us this question every day. When you wake up and look in the mirror, the worries and tasks of the day running through your mind Jesus asks, "Who do you say I am?" Is he Lord over your day? Is he in control? Is he able to make a way through the busy list you've created for yourself?
When your spouse says or does something that cuts you to the heart and you wonder if you're even loved anymore. Jesus asks again, "Who do you say I am?" Is he your everything? Is he love? Is he in you? Are you complete in that love if he really is love as he says he is?
Who do you say Jesus is? If you can let go of who you think he is, you'll find the truth.
Look into those eyes of perfect love and peace, see the One inviting you to know him so intimately that no other relationship could ever take away from you again. That truth really will set you free, and you really will be complete.
So. "Who do you say I am?"