Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Messiah sent from God!” Jesus warned his disciples not to tell anyone who he was.Luke 9:20-21 NLT
This seems an odd thing for Jesus to do. He knew people were talking about him. He asked the disciples what people were saying. They told him what they had heard: some thought Jesus was Elijah, or John the Baptist, returned from the dead. People knew about these great men, and Jesus seemed to be like them, a prophet, challenging, uncompromising, not just an ordinary guy.
Jesus wondered what his disciples, his closest followers, thought of him. Who did they think he was? Peter said simply, “you are the Messiah, the anointed one, sent from God.” Did he know what he was saying? He had heard Jesus preach his sermon some time earlier, the one when he quoted Isaiah in describing himself: “the Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, for he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, freedom for the captives, sight for the blind, the time of the Lords favour.” (Luke 4:18-19) Presumably when Peter called Jesus the Messiah sent from God, he was thinking in these terms.
Jesus asks us the same question. “What do you say about me?” I ask myself, “Have I come to the point that Peter had? Am I convinced that Jesus is God’s anointed one? Am I willing to say that openly and honestly to the world? Is that what I should be doing, going around telling people who Jesus is?”
Yes and no, would seem to be the answer. Because immediately after Peter had declared his faith in Jesus, Jesus cautions him not to tell anyone what he had just told him. It’s as if he is saying, “good, you know who I am, but don’t tell anyone what you just told me.”
What could Jesus possibly mean? I think it is simply this. He is saying that there is a time and a place. We need to be ready to speak openly about who Jesus is, but there are times when it is not appropriate. Right then, when Jesus had that conversation with Peter, it was not the right time. There was still too much for Jesus to do, and he knew that if Peter began to speak out this truth now, it could adversely effect that work. So he told him to bide his time. The very next verse says this:
He said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”Luke 9:22 NLT
Its as if he is saying, when all this is done, that will be the time to start telling the world about my identity. But not now.We could say, of course, that Jesus’ work is done, and that we live in the age of speaking up, of always openly witnessing to the true identity of Jesus. There is an element of truth in that, but I think Jesus is asking us to be more subtle than that. Communication of truth must be done in such a way that it doesn’t compromise the purposes of God. God’s purposes in the life of Jesus had not yet been completed, and revelation of his identity at that particular point may have compromised those purposes. Jesus says simply, wait until the time is right before you speak out the truth.
We need to think carefully what we say, in all things, but certainly about Jesus. It is true Jesus calls us to witness about him, to speak up about him, to share the truth about him. But there is a time and a place when it is appropriate and right and a time and a place when it is not. We need to ask God for the discernment to know the difference.
A few verses later Jesus issues a warning:
Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.Luke 9:26 NLT
Are we ashamed of Jesus? Or are we proud of him? Jesus was and is an amazing person, the things he does, the things he says, the difference he makes. We need to soak ourselves in his story, remind ourselves constantly of what he has done and the implications of that, constantly be on the lookout for the evidence of Jesus at work in the world, in the people and events around us. Then, when the time is right, we need to give him the credit that is due to him, and proudly announce our allegiance to this amazing man, who is also our God.
“How great you are, O Sovereign LORD! There is no one like you. We have never even heard of another God like you!2 Samuel 7:22 NLT