Like many people, I’ve spent the last few days pondering over the news regarding the need to re-open for economics sake and the data regarding testing and cases of COVID-19. Tennessee is about to re-open; in fact, some counties are planning to re-open even before the state does (Hawkins County for example); the news that TN will re-open has led to confusion, frustration, relief – and – well – a whole range of emotions, speculation, and questions. In fact, over the last few days, I’ve spent some time responding to questions from folks within my community and the churches that I serve.
I understand the range of responses because I feel the topsy-turvy nature of our days as well. But, to be honest, I don’t want to be overwhelmed by the knowns or unknowns or by the different perspectives that keep circulating like bits of paper and dust in a tornado. But it is difficult not to get sucked up into the whirlwind – especially when it is all around us and impacting every part of our lives. And so, I’m trying to use at least a portion of my tiny brain to come up with practical ideas for Christian folks for such a time as this. Last week I mentioned writing letters – like Paul did; I also mentioned being like the Bereans and really making sure that the information we pass along is solid before endorsing it. Today, I’d like to take a different tack altogether. I’d like to ask you to consider a question – a very important question and one that I think may help give shape to the way we live in the days ahead and one that may help in our topsy-turvy world.
How well do you know Jesus? Before you rush to answer that question, I’d like to ask you to sit with it just for a few minutes and really think about it. It might even be good to consider how you know what you know about Jesus. I say that because of a question and answer series that comes out of three of the four Gospels.
In Matthew (16:13–16), Mark (8:27–29), and Luke (9:18–20), Jesus asked his closest friends – the folks he had spent an incredible amount of time with – “Who do people say that I am?” Bear in mind that Jesus and his friends had been in a variety of places together – they had traveled – and they had encountered any number of people. In fact, the Gospels consistently say that large crowds were drawn to Jesus and rightly so. So – it isn’t difficult to surmise that Jesus’ friends had heard people talking about him from within the crowd.
But the folks in the crowds had all sorts of ideas about Jesus. In fact, when Jesus’ friends answered him they, in essence, said it depends on who you ask. Some of the folks said he was like John the Baptist and others said like Elijah, and others simply thought he was like “one of the prophets of old has risen.” I get that, don’t you?
The folks in the crowds had been around Jesus but they really didn’t know him – not really. So, they were just trying to answer the question based on what they thought they knew. They got their answer based on things they had heard and perhaps what they had experienced, and they came up with the idea that Jesus was a great prophet. There really isn’t anything wrong with that answer. Jesus was a great prophet – it just not the whole answer – which is why Jesus’ follow up question to his closest friends is so important.
Jesus asked his friend, “who do you say that I am?” Of course, Simon Peter is the one to chime in first and his answer sounds spot on, “you are the Christ – the Son of God.” Wow! Bang! Spot on! Even Jesus commends Peter for getting it right. And all is good and right, except it’s not – at least not yet. Not too long after affirming the Jesus is the Christ, Peter actually tries to rebuke Jesus when Jesus talks about the fact that He will suffer and die.
In Matthew 16:21–23 it says, “ From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”  But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (ESV).
But I thought Peter knew Jesus. After all, he said the right thing just moments before. How is it that Jesus is now putting Peter in his place? Well, without getting in the weeds too much, Peter – like a lot of others in his day – had expectations about the Son of God – about the Messiah – that were formed more out of culture and context than out of reality. Peter – like many others – probably expected Jesus to lead them in overthrowing the Romans – and establishing some sort of kingdom like David or even like Moses. What’s strange is how often Jesus tried to tell his disciples what he was about – and they still missed it. Turns out, even the ones who should have known Him best were clouded by what they thought they knew.
So, even Peter, a person who had spent a lot of time with Jesus, who’d seen and heard him first hand, even Peter was a bit wonky. And, it wasn’t until Peter’s world went topsy-turvy that he came to know Jesus. Remember? Peter had some ideas about who Jesus was but it was only after Peter denied Jesus three times and saw Jesus suffer and even suffered himself that he recognized how much he needed Jesus and for who Jesus really is.
So, I’d like to invite you again to consider the question again: how well do you know Jesus? And what are you basing what you know about Jesus on? I’m asking because a lot of us, like Peter and like folks in the crowd have ideas about Jesus that may not have the full picture of who He is. And the thing is, it is usually not until the world around us is topsy-turvy that a solid understanding of who Jesus can come to the forefront of our lives. Again, how well do you know Jesus?