At a certain point in human history the Great I AM walked with men, having become one of us. However, this fact was not abundantly clear to all. Jesus said to His disciples on one occasion, “Who do men say that I AM?” His disciples answered, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, but others one of the prophets.” Then Jesus turned to His disciples and said, “But who do you say that I AM?” Peter answered Jesus’ question by saying, “You are the Christ,” (Mark 8:29) and Matthew (16:16) adds, “The Son of the living God.”
There was quite a discrepancy between the answer of the people and that of Peter. The people knew enough to say that Jesus must have been a great person from the past that returned from the dead. They understood that Jesus was not of this world. However, they fell far short in their understanding of Jesus because they did not say that He was the Son of the living God, which is to say that He is of the same substance as God. Jesus was God in human flesh and His humility in doing so was an incomprehensible sacrifice, a fact that is easily taken for granted.
Peter did not stumble over the fact that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah, and that He was more than a person from beyond the grave but God in the flesh. Peter did not come to this conclusion on his own, as recorded in (Matthew 16:17),
“And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”
One of the greatest blessings in this life is to receive from God the knowledge of the truth concerning Jesus’ identity as Peter did.
However, shortly after the great declaration that Jesus was the Son of the living God by Peter, Jesus turned and rebuked Peter in front of the 12. Peter had not yet made the connection, as foretold in the Scriptures (Isaiah 53, Psalm 22), that Jesus had come in the flesh to suffer and die. So when Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must,
“…suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes,and be killed, and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:31)
Peter took Jesus aside and literally rebuked God who had come in the flesh.
Sometimes in the scriptures we are given the most graphic pictures of what takes place in the depths of the human heart. Which born again, repentant, faith exercising child of God would ever take God aside and rebuke Him for saying anything? But Peter did. The fact is, every time we take matters into our own hands and go against the revealed will of God, we do the same thing. We rebuke God when we insist that this life is only for our enjoyment and pleasure, and that suffering is not meant to be attached to it. We rebuke God when we give in to the devil’s wiles. One such wile of the devil tells us that suffering does not come from the hand of a loving God. Jesus understood the true agent of such a lie, which is why we read,
“But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s." (Mark 8:33)
Love demands that we tell people the truth, and Jesus always acted in love because He was loving. The truth is, when we set out affections on our own selfish desires and place them above what God desires we are idolaters. We are all idolaters at heart. John Calvin was right when he said man is an idol factory. We can and do make idols out of everything. There is, however, a remedy for this gross sin, and that is to embrace suffering for Jesus. Jesus taught this great truth when He turned to the crowd and said to them,
"If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34 & 35)
The greatest witness for Jesus Christ is to embrace a life of rejection, to be misunderstood, and to give up things. Following Jesus is not adding Him to an already full and enjoyable existence as if following Him does not have a cost attached to it. Jesus made it quite clear on the occasion when Peter rebuked Him, that to follow Him means denial, taking up an instrument of our own death (the cross) and then live as He did. Jesus cared more about the welfare of others than He did about Himself. Jesus spent Himself in every way, including death, to rescue lost sinners.
The 2 questions that every person needs to answer are these,
“"For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? "For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 36 & 37)
Is the world of more value than Jesus to us? When Jesus was confronted by the devil’s offer to gain the whole world, which would have meant worshipping Satan, He replied, “‘You are to worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’” (Matthew 4:10) O’ but how alluring Lucifer makes the world seem to us. The world is a blessing from God and to be enjoyed, he says to us, and it is. But not at the cost of idolatry and as an exchange for worshipping Jesus and His will for our lives. The Christian must never fall into the trap of setting his mind on the world as if it were more important than Jesus.
Jesus 2 questions are profound in regard to idolatry. We might read the 1st one this way, what does a man value more than possessing his own soul? We think in terms of possessing things, but in idolatry things possess us. If a man does not posses his own soul, what is he? Answer, a slave to his sinful affections. The alternative is to be a slave to God and free to live as God intended us to. To be made in the image of God is to worship God. God understands who He is and He declares it,
“"Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me,”
To serve anything as if it were God is idolatry. Who we serve really is an either or proposition. It is not possible to be a slave to two masters because slavery involves ownership. Who we serve is determined by who owns us. Jesus said,
“"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matthew 6:24)
The word serve in verse 24 literally means in the Greek to be a slave. The Christian ought to see himself as a slave to Christ, and bought with a price (the sufferings of Christ upon the cross). Jesus has all the rights to what we do, where we go, who is allowed to influence us, how we spend our time, etc.
The 2nd question of Jesus can be viewed this way, once a man loses his soul how does he get it back? There is only one thing that can be given as a redemption price for losing your soul to an idol, and that is Jesus sacrificial death on your behalf.
Jesus’ 2 questions were spoken in the context of His identity. “Who do people say that I am” He asked. And so the question comes down to us today, who is Jesus to us? Is He the Lord of our lives? Are we willing to sacrifice everything for Him? Do we value His pleasure over our own? Am I willing to go where He sends me? Am I willing to speak only the words that He puts in my mouth? Am I willing to embrace the disposition that He desires to be in me? Only the right answer to these questions can determine who we think Jesus to be. What we think is not determined by cheap words but by a life that backs them up. When Jesus is Lord over a person’s life, He makes the changes in his/her heart that proves Him so.
We are saved and justified by grace, which is not by works but through faith alone. The other side of justification is sanctification or the act of God in making us holy devoted to Him. We do not see perfection is this life, actually far from it. But neither does the Christian continue as he once was.
“Some of you once lived this way. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
(1 Corinthians 6:11)
Some saved persons used to be very vile but all of us are idolaters from the heart, a sin very harder to detect at times. We are all called to lay aside idolatry and to embrace Jesus Christ as Lord, an admonition that is very difficult in a materialistic and affluent society. However, the society in which we live is not a get out of jail free card. The remedy for idolatry for the Christian is to set his mind on God in Christ. ‘But I can’t live up to God’s standards,’ the devil says. No, but Christ did and He is available to the one who desires Him. Desire Him, set your affections on Him, and then step out in faith and live out your affections by the power of God.
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.”
(2 Peter 1:23 & 24)