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God’s Word for You

Luke 9:18-19 Who is Jesus?

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Jesus Is the Christ (Matthew 16:13-20; Mark 8:27-30)

18 When Jesus was praying alone and only the disciples were with him, he asked, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” 19 They answered, “‘John the Baptist,’ but others say, ‘Elijah,’ and others say ‘one of the ancient prophets come back to life.’”

Matthew seems to follow a more event-by-event timeline of the Savior’s ministry years. In Matthew’s Gospel, this question comes three or four months later, after Jesus had traveled north to Tyre and Sidon (Matthew 15:21-28) and fed the 4,000 (Matthew 15:32-39). Luke condenses the story by omitting Jesus walking on the water (which happened the night after he fed the 5,000) and by jumping right to the Lord’s question. From a pastoral standpoint, Luke is justified in doing this (1) because Matthew and Mark covered the material Luke omits, and (2) Luke focuses on the very question asked by the disciples after Jesus walked on the water: “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41). Rather than letting the disciples ask, Luke jumps to the point where Jesus asked the question himself: Who am I? Who do people say I am? It was important for Theophilus, Luke’s reader, to address this question now, before Luke tells the story of the transfiguration. If this were not addressed, the reader might be led to think that Jesus was not merely revealed at the transfiguration, but that he was somehow changed. It needs to be established now, before anything else takes place, that Jesus Christ is truly and fully God, the Son of God, in addition to being human, the son of Mary.

Jesus had gone off alone to pray, which we see him doing with regularity. The content of the Savior’s prayer at this point is not given to us, but R.C.H. Lenski says, “We may be sure that he prayed for his disciples that their faith and their confession might be true” (p. 510). The question he was about to ask would test their ability to formulate their faith clearly, which was going to be crucial to their future as ministers of the gospel.

His question is almost trivial. “Who do the crowds say I am?” He already knew, and he wasn’t afraid that they were somehow swayed by public opinion. Jesus wanted to know whether they were listening to the crowds (an important point, for how will we know what to teach if we don’t know where a person’s knowledge ends?), and he wanted to know how they would react.

The three general opinions (there might have been a few even wilder guesses) were: John, Elijah, or an Old Testament prophet. All three would leave Jesus being nothing more than human. This is what many people today think of Jesus, when he is acknowledged to have existed at all.

Like the disciples, we need to listen to people to find out what they think about Jesus. This isn’t so we can stomp on their wrong opinions, but so that we can meet them where their faith is and teach them the truth that the Bible presents. Anyone can come up with some statement about who Jesus isn’t. What we want to do, and do well, is instruct someone about who Jesus is.  One of the best and simplest tools for this is to carefully recite the Apostles’ Creed. Don’t rattle it off to prove you can say it fast. Present it slowly, as if you’re telling a story—which is exactly what you’re doing.

When you meet someone with a distorted opinion about Jesus, treat them as a drowning soul in need of rescue. Hold out your hand; hold out the truth. Hold out Jesus, the Savior from sin.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

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