Years ago I had a chameleon for a pet. It wasn’t one of those little green anole lizards that pet stores commonly label as chameleons. True chameleons have eyes that work independently of each other, tails that wrap around branches and tongues that shoot out to instantly snag their next meal. My chameleon looked like a cross between a prehistoric animal and an alien. The amazing thing was that I would put him on his little branch, and while he didn’t move a lot, his eyes were always moving. I would catch moths and put them into his cage, and because he could blend in with his surroundings, the moths never knew what was about to hit them.
A lot of times Christians are like chameleons: We want to blend in with our surroundings. We don’t want to stand out and speak up for what we believe. But at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus posed a very important question to his disciples and was essentially saying, “Make your stand.” And it is a question that is still being posed to us today.
It is also significant to consider where this question was asked. Caesarea Philippi was named after the Greek god Pan. If you were to visit the ruins of the city today, you could see where various images had been erected to this god. It was a place of full-blown idol worship. So it was in this place that Jesus asked, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”
This is the most important question anyone ever will respond to. And there really are only four options, four responses: either Jesus was a legend or a liar or a lunatic or the Lord.
Some people say they don’t believe the man Jesus Christ ever really existed. But to hold that view is absurd, because there is more than enough historical evidence to clearly confirm the fact that Jesus Christ lived and died at a marked point in time. We even divide human time by his birth and death.
There are others who say he was a liar. They assert he was lying about everything he said and who he claimed to be. Some say he was a lunatic, that he was stark raving mad and didn’t know what he was doing. And then there is the final option: that he is the Lord.
Yet many people aren’t comfortable with those options. They will say, “Well, I believe he lived and died. And I wouldn’t say he was a liar. And certainly he was not a lunatic. But I am not really comfortable with saying that he is the Lord, either. I think that Jesus Christ was a great moral teacher.” But Jesus did not offer that as an option, because he made unique claims and promises.
So why did Jesus ask this question? Was he oblivious to what people thought about him? Obviously not. Jesus could read the thoughts of people, and he did so on many occasions. Jesus knew exactly what people were thinking about him, so he was not asking this to obtain information. He was all-knowing. Rather, Jesus wanted to see whether his disciples were getting it. They had seen him calm storms. They had seen him walk on water. They had seen him cast out demons, feed multitudes and even raise people from the dead. Did they know who he was?
They told him, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
Jesus said, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter went out on a limb. He said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Peter nailed it. Jesus told him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”
At this point, all of the other disciples probably thought, Doh. Why didn’t I say that? Meanwhile, Peter was thinking, That’s right! Did you hear what he just said?
But Jesus wasn’t done. He said, “Blessed are you, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”
A word of clarification: Jesus was not declaring that was he building the church on Peter. Otherwise, he would have said, “Upon you I will build my church.” Jesus would not build the church on Peter or on any other man for that matter. He would build the church on what Peter said: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The church is built on Christ, the Son of the living God. Paul said, “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
The church is built on Christ.
Sometimes people get upset with the church. Maybe they were mistreated. Maybe someone representing the church didn’t do a good job of that. Maybe they did a horrible thing in the name of the church. And there is no excuse for that. But then again, it may be that people who are supposedly bitter at the church feel that way because they did something wrong and have faced the repercussions of it in the church.
The church has its strengths and its weaknesses. Every church has hypocrites, because every church is made up of human beings who fall short. But no matter what, Jesus Christ established the church.
We live in a culture in which the church is under attack. Our values are mocked, laughed at and in some cases, even outlawed. Our belief about the family, about what matters in life, is being challenged by an increasingly secular culture. Sometimes we wonder, Are we going to lose in the end? Will evil prevail? No. Jesus said the gates of hell would not prevail against his church. So we just keep marching forward.