“Who Do You Say That I am?”

XIR23264 Martin Luther's Sermon, detail from a triptych, 1547 (oil on panel) by Cranach, Lucas, the Elder (1472-1553); Church of St.Marien, Wittenberg, Germany; Giraudon; German, out of copyright
“Martin Luther’s Sermon” by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553)

Jesus demanded an answer. His authoritative words of forgiveness and marvelous deeds of healing required explanation.Some people responded that Jesus was a great prophet of God–even the return of the ancient prophet Elijah or the recently beheaded prophet, John the Baptist (Mark 8:27-29). Other people hailed Jesus as a warrior-king, a son of King David, who would liberate the Jews from the Romans (Mark 11:8-10). Some Jewish religious leaders said Jesus was an errant, blasphemous teacher (Mark 2:6-7). Some Roman soldiers mocked Jesus as a frail and failed Jewish king (Mark 15:16-20 ).

In the midst of these conflicting confessions about who he is, Jesus asked his disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29). Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” In other words, Jesus is the Messiah. He is God’s anointed servant-king, the one promised by God to deliver humanity (and nature) from its corruption and captivity to evil, injustice, discord, and death (Isaiah 11:11-9). He is the one promised to save us from the eternal consequences of our moral catastrophes, sparing us by taking our due punishments upon himself (Isaiah 52:13-53:12).

This confession of Jesus as Christ was central to the Reformation of the Christian Church in the 16th century. The key confession was that salvation comes solus Christus (by “Christ alone”). By no other name, by no other person, by no other action, by no other word, by no other thought are we saved from corruption in life and the devastation of death. Jesus Christ alone is the way to a restored, good, never-ending life with God and each other (John 14:6).

Tomorrow, October 31, 2017, is the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation, when Martin Luther publicly posted 95 Theses for debate about the true path of salvation. In anticipation of the Reformation’s quincentenary, it’s proper to hear Luther’s own answer to Jesus’ simple, but pivotal, question.

“I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.

This is most certainly true.” (from Luther’s Small Catechism)

“But who do you say that I am?”Jesus directs this question to every generation and each person. What’s your response?

Scott Ashmon is Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Concordia University Irvine