One day, Jesus left the crowds to pray alone. Only his disciples were with him, and he asked them, “Who do people say that I am?” “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other ancient prophets risen from the dead.” Then he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Messiah sent from God!”Luke 9:18-20 NLT
The name of Jesus is heard often in conversation these days. The same was true for the first disciples. Everyone was talking about Jesus, and there were few who hadn’t wondered, “who is this man?” Jesus asked his disciples what people were saying, what people thought. Then he asked them what they thought. Today he asks us what we think.
Peter said that Jesus was the Messiah. But what is a “messiah?”
When I hear the word I tend to think of it as another word for Saviour – one who saves. But the footnote in my Bible says that “Messiah” is the Hebrew for “Christ,” a Greek word which means anointed one. So Peter was saying, “You are the anointed one, sent from God!” Anointed means chosen, set apart, nominated, appointed. But what was Jesus anointed for?
Luke has already answered that question earlier in his book, when he recalls something Jesus once said when he was asked to preach in the synagogue. In describing himself, Jesus had referred to a passage in the Old Testament writings of Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favour has come.Luke 4:18 NLT
By applying this Old Testament prophecy to himself, Jesus seemed to be saying that he was ushering in a new era, the “time of the Lord’s favour.” He described this era in number of ways: in particular, as a time of release for the captives, sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed. Jesus was introducing a way of thinking that was different to the world’s way. At that time, much as today, it was the wealthy, the successful, the beautiful, who were seen as the favoured ones, the “blessed ones.” Jesus announced a “time of the Lord’s favour” for the poor, the imprisoned, the blind, the oppressed. For anyone who felt themselves to belong to one of these categories, this was indeed good news.
Jesus didn’t say in that first sermon how all this was to come about, what would be the process by which this new era, “the time of the Lord’s favour,” would go from vision to reality. What followed: his life, his teachings, his death and his resurrection, would provide the potential for this idea to be realised. But right there in the beginning of Luke’s gospel Jesus was providing a heading for his life, the title of his story: “Messiah.” He was summarising his anointing, providing fundamentals of his job description. This was what Peter said that he and the disciples had come to believe about Jesus. This was what Peter and the disciples had signed up for. A new era, with a new leader. Jesus the Messiah.
Like Peter and the first disciples, we have a choice as to whether we will accept this view of Jesus, and by implication, this view of the world. When we do, when we put our faith in Jesus, it becomes the defining act of our lives. It identifies us with those early disciples, for whom this belief about Jesus directed every decision they made from that time on. It defines what we say, what we do, how we think, where we go, who we spend our lives with. It places Jesus – knowing him, understanding him, following him – at the centre of our existence. It identifies us with him, so that we adopt his worldview, his mission, his strategies, his attitudes, his words, his actions, as our own. We become “Jesus people,” the people who are nowadays known as “Christians” (and if Christ means anointed one, Christians must surely receive by their faith something of that anointing).
Jesus asks every one of today, as he asked his disciples then: Who do you say I am? Have we taken the step that Peter took that day, decided that Jesus is who he says he is, the anointed one of God? Do we proclaim Jesus as the “Christ,” have we become “Christians?” Is Jesus the focus of our faith, or something else? When people ask us who Jesus is, what do we say?
To be a disciple of Jesus is to say, “Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed one, sent from God.” That will have profound implications for our lives.