Will the real Jesus please stand up?

The Christian church celebrates on January 18th the Confession of St. Peter. On this day, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And we hear the Apostle confess to Jesus, “You are the Christ.” Exactly right! Jesus is the Christ, or if you prefer, in Hebrew, the Messiah, or simply the Anointed One. This refers to the anointing of oil God prescribed for priests, prophets, and kings. And Jesus fills all those offices and fulfills them, too. 

Wrapped up in those offices is the hopeful expectation of a Savior. But it’s clear from the Gospel accounts that there is disagreement about what kind of saving we need. Is it from earthly tyranny like Rome and the Herods and Caesars? Jesus says to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Okay, is it to save from poverty, inequality, and injustice? Again, Jesus says, “The poor you will have always with you.” And “Submit to your earthly masters.” And “To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either.”

To Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ,” Jesus responds with exactly what this means. “He 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. And he said this plainly” (Mark 8:31-32). To say Jesus is Christ is to say He is your Lord, who redeemed you through His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. He offers up Himself as the once-for-all sacrifice for sins at the cross of Calvary. This Word proclaimed is the content and goal of all Christian preaching. All this He does to make you His own royal subjects and He your King. 

But “And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” This is not the Christ that Peter expected or wanted. We, too, try to impose our expectations and wants onto Jesus rather than receive Him as He is. Author Matthew Richard, in his book “Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?” lays out twelve false Christs that are unfortunately prominent today: The Mascot, The Option among Many, The Good Teacher, The Therapist, The Giver of Bling, The National Patriot, The Social Justice Warrior, The Moral Example, The New Moses, The Mystical Friend, The Feminized, and The Teddy Bear. These false Christs come as the result of our lack of Biblical literacy, idolatry, and postmodern relativism. Perhaps some of those false Christs sound familiar?

If you don’t know who the real Jesus is, you’ll find a brief but complete summary in the Apostles’ Creed: “And [I believe] And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.”

This is why it is fitting for us to remember the whole account of the Confession of St. Peter. While many rightly declare Jesus the Christ, Messiah, or Anointed, what do they mean? “Who do you say that I am?” It could be any of those false Christs listed above or even newly created falsehoods. But Jesus won’t have it. He tells you exactly what the title Christ means: to be rejected, suffer, die, and rise on the third day for the forgiveness of sins. All this He did for you and gives you now through the Gospel preached and the promises of Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. Jesus is the sinner’s hope, the sinner’s future, and the sinner’s eternity because He is the sinner’s forgiveness. That’s the real Jesus, the Christ for you.

Originally published in The Sounder, January 18, 2024.