Prayer and Confession
Part 6 in a Series on Prayer by Tim Bias
“Christianity, if false, is of no importance and, if true, is of infinite importance.
The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
-C. S. Lewis
For me, it is infinitely important that we know and understand who and what we believe about the Christian faith. If we are clear about who we are following, then we can, without fear and with great hope, live out our faith in everyday situations.
Remember, I started this study with the conviction, “to raise up a new generation of Methodists who will do for our day what John and Charles Wesley did for their day.”
With that conviction in mind, what does it mean to say, “I believe in Jesus Christ?”
- Is it a confession of faith?
- Does “believing in Jesus” make a difference in your living?
- As Christians aren’t we supposed to say, “I believe in Jesus?”
- What does it mean to make such a statement?
Let’s go one step farther. What are your expectations of believing in Jesus? Your expectations directly affect how you understand what it means to be a follower. A suffering Messiah means that disciples are called to suffering and self-sacrifice as well.
“Who do the crowds say that I am?”
In the Gospel according to Luke, we see Jesus praying at particular points in his life and ministry. It was his pattern to desire what God desired by engaging in ministry and retreating to a lonely place to pray.
In this story, following the feeding of the 5000, Jesus is praying by himself when the disciples join him. He has been in engaged in ministry and then retreats to pray. It is while he is off by himself praying that he takes the initiative to ask his disciples a question about the crowds who have been following him.
His question is, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
He asks this question in the context of prayer. Why? What does prayer have to do with it?
Confession that Jesus is the Christ
Once when Jesus was praying by himself, the disciples joined him, and he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They answered, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others that one of the ancient prophets has come back to life.” He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Christ sent from God.” Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell this to anyone.
This story of the confession of Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, is also found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In Mark, the confession is “you are the Messiah” or “the Christ.” In Matthew, “you are the Christ, Son of the living God.”
In both Mark and Matthew, Jesus begins to talk of his death and there is a conversation in which Jesus rebukes Simon Peter. In Luke, Jesus talks of his death, but there is no conversation and no rebuke.
While Jesus is Praying
The focus is different in Luke. Luke is interested in alerting us to the importance of the confession. “Once while Jesus was praying by himself” is a clue to its importance.
Neither Mark nor Matthew mention prayer. Remember, in Luke, Jesus is praying at particularly important points in his ministry. Here is one of those infinitely important points of prayer.
He has been ministering in Galilee. The crowds have been following him as he has been helping people, teaching lessons, preaching sermons, healing people, and exorcising demons.
He reaches the point where he asks, “What is the public opinion?” “What do people say?” Is he asking to discover how effective his ministry has been? What impression has he put across? How he is viewed in public?
The disciples answer, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others…one of the ancient prophets…” The public opinion is, like John the Baptist, Elijah, an ancient prophet, Jesus is the forerunner of the Messiah, the Christ. The crowds who have followed Jesus, who have been benefactors of his ministry, do not think of him as the Messiah but as one getting everyone ready for the Messiah.
So Jesus then asks, “What about you? Who do you say that I am?” And Simon Peter responds, “The Christ sent from God.”
The Messiah of God
Remember, this is a critical point in the ministry of Jesus. Has he laid an adequate foundation to continue his work? Did they get the point? Has anyone understood? What is the public opinion of Jesus? Prophet? Preacher? Political leader? Then Jesus asks, “And you? What do you say?” Simon Peter replies, “You are the Messiah of God.”
Luke, in his story, adds “of God” to “Messiah.” In Luke, the angels had announced the birth of the Messiah. Simeon had lived in hope of seeing the Messiah. People had wondered whether John the Baptist might be the Messiah. The demons had recognized Jesus as the Messiah.
But, Simon Peter’s confession is the first time any human being confesses Jesus to be the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed one of God. At the time of Luke’s writing, the title of Messiah was the primary confession of the Christian faith.
I Believe in Jesus Christ
So, what do you mean when you say, “I believe in Jesus Christ?”
Are you just bragging on Jesus?
Saying what you are supposed to say?
What does it mean to say, “Jesus is the Christ?”
We don’t know what Simon Peter was thinking. But we do know this, when Jesus began to talk about his death, Simon Peter and the others did not relate a suffering and dying Jesus to the Messiah.
They took it as being a contradiction of who and what they understood the Messiah to be and do. If he is crucified, hanging on the cross with criminals, can he be the Messiah?
How is he going to be like Moses and lead us out of the wilderness?
How is he going to be like David and be our king?
The images of Messiah were many: great teacher, great prophet, great king or leader. We don’t know what Simon Peter meant, but Jesus knows that Simon Peter did not understand. So, Jesus tells Simon Peter and the others to be quiet about it.
“He gave them strict orders not to tell this to anyone.” Why?
Misery & the Messiah
The popular understanding of the day was wherever the Messiah was there would be no misery. That is what the Messiah does, gets you out of the troubles you face. So, wherever the Messiah is, there is no misery.
The truth is, wherever there is misery, there is the Messiah.
See the difference?
Jesus is not the one who gets us out of these difficulties, but the one who sends you into human difficulties. Wherever the Messiah is, there is no misery should be reversed to, wherever there is misery, there is the Messiah.
The question you and I need to ask yourself is this, “Is Jesus the one I’m expecting to get me out of trouble? Or is Jesus the one who sends me into places of trouble?
Take Up Your Cross Daily
Maybe this will help. Jesus, in his teaching, says, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me.” This teaching is found in Mark and Matthew as well, but Luke adds the word “daily.” He is reinterpreting the teaching for his own context.
In both Mark and Luke, the cost of discipleship is the same: your whole life.
But in Mark, written just after Nero’s persecution of Christians in Rome, where Christians had been killed and Simon Peter himself had been crucified, “taking up one’s cross” was understood literally as the cost of discipleship.
For Luke’s, there is no direct persecution. By adding “daily” to “take up their cross,” Luke interprets the demand of Jesus for his context. The cost of discipleship is not given all at once, in one dramatic act. But it is given one day at a time, as the followers of Jesus give their lives away in service to others.
What Does Prayer Have to Do with It?
So, what does prayer have to do with it? Jesus was off praying by himself when the disciples joined him. It is while he is off by himself praying that he takes the initiative to ask his disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
Is he seeking a way to get people to quit looking for a Messiah and to get them engaged in kingdom work?
It is through prayer that you and I put our confessions of faith into action.
Just as Jesus, as the crucified Messiah, reverses our expectation of what the Messiah should be, it is while we are praying that we are confronted with the crucified Messiah who shapes our values of a “successful” life. It is through putting our prayer into action, one day at a time, that we give our lives away in loving service to others.
So, what does it mean to say, “I believe in Jesus Christ?”
What are your expectations of believing in Jesus? Your confession is more than words. It is of infinite importance that the suffering Messiah marks your path of discipleship every day.
How will know the path without prayer?