It’s probably not an exaggeration in the least to say that Jesus of Nazareth is the most influential person in human history. He founded one of the three major monotheistic faiths (Christianity) that has thrived for the past 2,000 years. The calendar we use is centered on the birth and life of Jesus of Nazareth (despite recent attempts to de-Christianize the calendar into BCE and CE). His very name is so well known that it is used (blasphemously) as an epithet in our language. Whether you follow him or not, believe in him or not, worship him or not, the influence of Jesus of Nazareth is undeniable.
The question that needs to be answered by us here in the 21st century is the same question Jesus asked of his disciples. Right before the end of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus asked his disciples who did people think he was. After running down some of the more popular answers, Jesus asked them, “Who do YOU say that I am?” This is what is all boils down to. Who do you say Jesus is? This is a question of utmost importance. If Jesus is who he said he was, then he is to be believed and worshiped. One’s eternal destiny hangs in the balance. However, if he was either deliberately lying or completely mistaken regarding his identity, then Christians are bearing false witness about him and have wasted their time following a lunatic, or worse, a liar.
What are some of today’s common answers to the question “Who do people say Jesus is?” Some, a small minority of skeptics and atheists believe Jesus is a myth; that the man, Jesus of Nazareth, never existed and was deliberately fabricated. Some just believe that Jesus of Nazareth was an itinerant Jewish teacher; one of many during that period. The Jews believe that he was a prophet and a rabbi who was executed for making outlandish and blasphemous claims. Muslims believe that he was the last of the prophets prior to Muhammed. Others simply believe that he was a great moral teacher. Finally, you have orthodox Christians (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant) who believe that he was the very Son of God; God in human flesh.
Clearly what one believes about Jesus is either a matter of vast importance or not important at all. If Jesus is simply a great moral teacher, then there may be some value in following his teachings, but one’s eternal destiny (if one even believes in an eternal destiny) surely doesn’t hang in the balance. If he is a prophet (Jewish or Muslim), then there is great value in following his teachings because as a prophet he is a spokesman for God; but worshipping him AS God is clearly blasphemous. However, if he is truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, then he is not only worthy of our worship and adoration, but he is our only hope for salvation!
Famous atheist turned Christian apologist, C. S. Lewis, boiled down the question this way: Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or the very Son of God, but don’t make the error of faint praise by calling him a great moral teacher or prophet because he didn’t leave that option open to us. Think about this, if the Christians are wrong and Jesus is not the Son of God, then how can he be a prophet or a great moral teacher? Consider the claims he made in the gospels. Many times the Jews wanted to kill him for blasphemy and making himself equal with God. He received worship and didn’t correct Peter when he called him the Christ. If the Jews, Muslims, and skeptics are correct, and Jesus is not the Son of God, then he is either a liar or a lunatic. He’s a liar if he made these claims knowing they were false. He’s a lunatic if he made these claims thinking they were true. Either way, how can a liar or a lunatic be a great moral teacher? How can a liar or a lunatic be a prophet from God?
If Jesus is a liar or a lunatic, he should be dismissed completely. His teachings would hold no more weight than the claims of the tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy nuts. However, if he is truly the Son of God, and proved it by resurrecting himself from the dead, then not only are his teachings to be obeyed, but he himself is to be worshiped and praised! He is the Christ, the one who saves his people from their sins!
Bottom Line: In the passage of Scripture before us today (Matthew 16:13-20), the Apostle Peter makes the confession upon which the church to this day is being built. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” is a confession of faith that was revealed to Peter by the Spirit of God, and it is one that only those within whom the Spirit of God dwells can make. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is building his church. He is building it one confession of faith at a time.
Soli Deo Gloria!