During Jesus’ ministry on earth, there were many discussions about who he was, who he said he was, and who others said he was. The Bible is full of the names of God, of Jesus, and of the Holy Spirit– there are descriptive names, prophetic names, genealogical references, allegorical names, sacred names…but one of the pivotal questions Jesus asked of his followers was this: “Who do YOU say that I am”? (Luke 9:18-27; Matt. 16: 13-18)
We can ask ourselves why Jesus might pose this question to the disciples– was it some Socratic technique, or a trick question? The disciples had heard several theories, descriptions, and names tossed about. Was Jesus trying to determine how effectively he had presented himself to the Jewish people– and to his closest followers? I don’t think so. If that were his motivation, he could have asked, “Who to you THINK I am?”, or “Who WOULD you say that I am?” Instead, he asked “Who DO YOU SAY that I am?”
This is still a very relevant question today, and not just as a matter of recognizing him as Messiah. Even when Peter gave an answer, Jesus did not say, “Good job, Peter. You nailed it in one! That’s the right answer, and your prize is that you will become “The Rock” on which I build my church.” That’s how some people might read it, but that’s not the true story– Peter gave a correct answer, an inspired answer, but it was not a definitive answer. Peter recognized who Jesus was supposed to be, but he had not experienced, and did not know, the fullness of who Jesus was. Peter would later go on to deny this same Jesus, and say that he did not even know him at all! Only after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension did Peter fully recognize and live out the answer he gave earlier. His last years were spent demonstrating in words and deeds that he had truly encountered “the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”
How does this relate to a pursuit of prayer in our own time? What we say about Jesus involves more than just a pat answer. To say, “He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God” is a correct answer, but what does that really mean to us? What does it mean as we live as a witness before others? Is he Christ and Savior, and Messiah to me? When I say he is the “Son of God,” is that just another of his many names to me, or do I understand all the richness of that title? When I review the many names of God, do they resonate with personal meaning? Do I pray to the “God who Sees,” to the “God who Provides,” the “God of my Salvation,” the “Almighty”, and the “God who Hears?” Or am I praying to a “God I studied and know a lot about,” a “God I heard about at Church,” or a “God I hope will hear me?” If I pray “in Jesus’ name,” is that just an affectation? Is it just a formality, or does that name, that person, inhabit my prayers and my life? Am I praying in the name of the “Lion of Judah,” “Emmanuel”, “the Risen Lamb,” or just “a great teacher who talked a lot about love?”
These are not questions meant to trigger doubt about my salvation, but questions designed to challenge my commitment and my faithfulness. I bear the name of Christ–what I think I say about him; what I think I believe about him; what I think others see of him in me– it matters. It is of supreme importance. I need to be sure that I’m not taking for granted that what I know about my savior is the same as Knowing Him, and that what I think I’m saying about him is clear, consistent, and true.
What do my prayers say about Jesus? What do my actions say about him? What does my life say about him? Hopefully, like Peter, the end of my story will bring honor and bear truthful witness to the Great “I AM” of scripture, the God of MY salvation, and the God who has heard me, loved me, corrected me, redeemed me, sanctified me, and welcomed me home to be with Him eternally!