“Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (verses 15-16)
This is a central moment in Matthew’s Gospel. Simon Peter, by revelation, has insight to see for himself what Matthew has been telling us ever since he started his Gospel account, ever since his introduction of Jesus’ genealogy – namely, Jesus is the Christ.
The setting for this statement is no coincidence. Jesus has led his disciples to the region of Caesarea Philippi. This was likely the location of the community of Baal-Gad in Old Testament times, deriving its name from the Canaanite god, Baal. Later, it came to be associated with the Greek god, Pan – a grotto in the vicinity of the city, at the base of Mt Hermon, was believed to be his birthplace. More recently, Herod the Great had built a white-marbled temple in honour of Caesar Augustus, who was viewed as divine in his own right. Later, Herod’s son, Philip, having rebuilt the city, renamed it in honour of Caesar, designating it Caesarea Philippi to distinguish it from the city of the same name situated on the Mediterranean coast.
This was a place that had layer upon layer of competing claims to divinity emanating from it. No coincidence, then, that this is the very location of Jesus’ pointed question: “Who do you say I am?”
The disciples have already offered varied responses from the Jewish community – perhaps John the Baptist, come back from the dead, or Elijah, returned from the past, or Jeremiah or one of the other eminent prophets. Clearly, Jesus was respected and honoured, as far as it went.
But, “Who do you say I am?”, he pressed. Amid this full range of Jewish and pagan perspectives of the spiritual world, Peter, with piercing insight, gets it. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”
This rock of his confession, foundational, given by the Father’s revelation, is central to the whole story that Matthew is recounting. We’re meant to “get it”, just like Peter, the rock himself. In the midst of our present world of competing deities (from religious to financial to physical to leisure to pleasure), the words ring out to us, too. Here is the One – the only One – the Christ – the Son of the living God. Will we put aside all other competitors and focus eyes on Jesus alone?
The challenge, of course, is to keep our eyes focused there. The Gospel story helps us realize afresh our own frailty, for even Peter, with such keen, divinely-prompted insight, will falter, often. He’s already done so, jumping out of the boat on to the surface of the water in response to his Lord’s voice, then finding himself distracted by wind and waves, sinking under his own weight into the abyss. He’ll do so again, immediately, as he rebukes Jesus for his forward march to Jerusalem and the cross, eliciting Jesus’ own sharp rebuke of his misguided passion. And he’ll do it again, painfully, on the night of Jesus’ betrayal, denying the Master, while warming himself at a fire, face to face with a servant girl.
Lord Jesus, I embrace this revelation: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” I speak it out in my soul. I grasp it with eager hands. I choose to live under its clarity.
Yet I know, as Peter himself discovered, that it is all too easy to be distracted from this bedrock truth. Lord, prompt me often this day to remember. Let me lean into the reality of your Person. Strengthen me by your Spirit in my inner being that you, Lord Jesus, may dwell in my heart by faith. In your name I pray it. Amen.
Reflect: Memorize the words of Peter’s revelation: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” Set a timer on your smart-phone. Recite the statement often this day, pressing into Jesus.