Jesus rarely directly identified himself as the Messiah. For the Jews, that term held a boatload of expectations, some legitimate and others less so. Jesus said and did many things which pointed to the fact that he was deity. Today we call him Jesus Christ (“Christ” is the Greek word for Messiah); however, you almost never hear the word Messiah from Jesus’ lips.
When the Samaritan woman at the well near Sychar started talking about the Messiah, Jesus said, “I am he.”
Jesus affirmed Peter’s confession: “You are the Messiah, the Son of God.”
Then there is today’s text. In the middle of the night, Jesus is brought before the Sanhedrin. After a bunch of self-contradicting testimony, the high priest finally addresses Jesus directly with the central question:
The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”
“You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?”
“He is worthy of death,” they answered.
As in the other examples, Jesus never uses the word Messiah in answering the question of the high priest. Nonetheless, Jesus’ use of scripture left no room for doubt as to his answer. The members of the Sanhedrin would have known well the passage Jesus quoted. Jesus only selected one sentence from the prophecy in Daniel. They would have been able to recite the rest, including the next sentence about the “Son of Man”: “He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14).
This is what Jesus was claiming about himself. There is no equivocation here. Jesus is saying that all nations and all peoples will worship him as they worship God. Without a doubt, Jesus is claiming to be the promised descendant of David who would rule forever over an eternal kingdom. “Yes,” Jesus is clearly saying, “I am the Messiah, and I am God.”
This claim got Jesus killed. He knew it would. He didn’t prevaricate about his identity in order to save his life. In the strongest terms, he stated the truth of his identity and then accepted the consequences. One lie would have “saved” him, but only the truth would have saved us. He chose the truth, not just to save us but because he is the truth.
Jesus died because he claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God. It wasn’t a mistake. It was his plan. And we love him for it. As the author of Hebrews wrote: “Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore” (Hebrews 13:13). In other words, let us identify with him and the truth of his identity, no matter the cost.
Just Like the Father
Did Jesus really claim to be God?
His original hearers seemed to think so. In fact, the Jewish leaders were actively looking for a way to kill Jesus. Why? Because he was “making himself equal with God.” In what ways was Jesus doing that?
It’s no wonder the Jewish leaders wanted to kill Jesus. If they aren’t true, these are obnoxiously arrogant statements. Jesus was claiming to be just like the Father.
But if these statements are true, then Jesus is, in fact, God.
When it comes to this list of claims Jesus made, there are only three options: Jesus is a liar, a lunatic, or Lord.
If these claims aren’t true, but Jesus imagined them about himself, then he was a raving madman. However, Jesus certainly did not act like a raving madman. The teachings of Jesus are the underpinning of western civilization...hardly the stuff of a crazy man.
If Jesus new that these things weren’t true, but he claimed that they were true anyway, then Jesus was a liar. Could Jesus have been a deceiver? Not likely. The moral and ethical content of his teaching is too high for that. Additionally, had he been a charlatan, he would have recanted well before the first whipping. No liar would have paid the price Jesus did just to maintain his chicanery.
The only reasonable conclusion is that Jesus is exactly who he claimed to be: the Son of God. And if that is true, then he is worthy of our complete devotion.
More Important Than...
“There are more important things than walking,” said Joni Eareckson Tada, who has lived most of her life in a wheelchair.
It’s easy to lose sight of the most important things. Suffering can cause us to lose sight of what is most precious. Affluence and ease may be even more potent at distracting us from what is most important.
Peter had just stated the most important thing—belief in and submission to Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. Then he immediately got distracted and went off the rails. How much like us!
Peter knew that Jesus was the Messiah. However, Peter didn’t like the Messiah’s plan. Peter wanted glory, not death. He didn’t understand, yet, that the path to glory always leads through death. Jesus would die physically on the cross before he would be glorified by the Father, pioneering a path for us into God’s presence.
If we are to follow Jesus’ path, we must die to ourselves, not once, but every day. Tom Julien talks about it as “taking ourselves off the throne of our lives and placing ourselves on the altar.”
Jesus said it this way: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”
When Joni said, “There’s something more important than walking,” she meant that her soul and other people’s souls are more important than walking. She had a choice to make. Am I going to be angry with God and reject him because I lost the ability to walk? Or am I going to recognize that that my eternal soul and other people’s eternal souls are more important than walking?
Our choices may not be as dramatic as Joni’s, but they are just as real and just as daily.
Jesus makes clear that Satan is the author of all those things which seek to allure us, distract us, dissuade us, or force us off the pathway of glory that leads through death.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
Think about your life. What are idols in your life which tempt you away from following Jesus first? How would you end Joni’s sentence? “There are more important things than __________________.”
No Fairy Tale
In the fairy tale “Rumpelstiltskin,” the miller’s daughter must guess the antagonist’s name within three days or give up her firstborn child.
Then there’s the tale about the troll that lived under a bridge. Travelers who ventured across his bridge had to correctly answer three riddles in order to pass unharmed.
In the ancient story of the Sphinx, this monster terrorizes the city of Thebes, devouring those who can’t answer her riddle. The hero Oedipus is able to answer the riddle, driving the Sphinx to jump off the cliff to her demise.
Interesting tales. Now for the real story...
Jesus asked his disciples to answer a question (not a riddle exactly) about his identity. Who do people say that I am? The answers to that question were all over the place...and wrong.
Then Jesus asked: Who do you say that I am?
Peter answered confidently and correctly: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus is the Messiah. This truth is the foundation of the Church. Those who believe it are part of Christ’s eternal Kingdom. They live under Christ’s rule.
Jesus is no Rumpelstiltskin, troll, or Sphinx. He is the Savior of the World and wants all people to come to the knowledge of salvation.
Nonetheless, the fate of each person is based on their answer to his query: Who do you say that I am?
The question is more than a test of knowledge, though. It’s also a test of the heart: Do you love me? Later, Jesus would ask Peter this question three times in a row. Believing that Jesus is the Messiah means following him with your whole life.
In the course of life, we are all faced with the question of Jesus’ identity. Who is he? Do I believe in him? Do I love him? These are the most important questions of life. The consequences of getting this question right or wrong are enormous.
Jesus hasn’t sprung the question on us. It’s not a trick question. It’s not a leap in the dark. He has given us plenty of evidence to believe the truth. It’s really a matter of submitting our wills. In the end, believing that Jesus is the Messiah means bending our knee now, and confessing with our mouths now, that Jesus Christ is Lord.
It’s no fairy tale.
Yeast of the Pharisees
To say that there was conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel would be an understatement. Sparks flew almost every time they engaged.
The Pharisees were stubborn in their disbelief. Take today’s text, for example. Jesus had just fed over 4,000 people with seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. That’s not something that happens every day. On the heels of this undeniable miracle, the Pharisees approach Jesus and demand that he substantiate his authority by showing them a sign (preferably the destruction of all Roman soldiers).
Jesus responds by basically telling them that although they’re good at predicting the weather they’re not good at understanding their time. They miss the obvious. In fact, Jesus regularly referred to them as blind guides. It wasn’t an eyesight problem. It was a heart issue. They were so blinded by their own self-righteousness that they couldn’t see their need for Jesus, much less recognize who Jesus truly was.
Jesus doesn’t indulge their request. He had already given them many signs, all of which they had roundly ignored or credited to the power of the Devil. No amount of signs can change a hard heart. Even if he resurrected from the dead (which is what the “sign of Jonah” is referring to), they wouldn’t believe.
Back on the boat, Jesus warns the disciples about the “yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” The disciples weren’t always quick on the uptake when it came to metaphors, parables, and such. They wondered if he were scolding them for not bringing bread along. At times, they could be almost as blind as the Pharisees.
What was Jesus talking about? What was the “yeast of the Pharisees”?
The Bible sometimes equates yeast with sin, but that’s because of what yeast does. Yeast permeates and changes the dough. Sin does that. But so do other things. After a little cajoling by Jesus, the disciples figured it out. The yeast Jesus was warning them about was the “teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
What was that teaching? The text doesn’t say. But we can make an educated guess.
Twice in Matthew (Matthew 9 & 12), the religious leaders claim that Jesus did his signs by the power of the prince of demons. They believed Jesus got his power from the devil.
The Pharisees thought that they were made right with God by obeying the Law. They believed that they were ready for the return of the Messiah and that He would vindicate them at his coming. Because Jesus exposed their pride, hard-heartedness, and hypocrisy, they hated him.
The Sadducees were more liberal-minded. They wanted to keep peace with Rome and thereby retain their lucrative and prestigious positions of influence at the Temple in Jerusalem. Among other things, they did not believe in resurrection and life after death.
The “yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” is the poisonous teaching that rejects Jesus as Messiah. It’s the teaching that always seeks the truth but never finds it, because it doesn’t have eyes to recognize the truth when He’s standing right in front of them.
The “yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” is still permeating hearts today. Don’t let it permeate yours.