Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. -- Matthew 16:13-17What if I told you that I am one with God and said, "If you've seen me, you've seen God". By the way, what if I also claimed that I can raise the dead and I will judge all mankind, both the living and the dead, at the end of the age. Furthermore, what if I claimed to forgive sins?
Now keep in mind, forgiveness is a really tricky business. Strangely enough, it can rub people the wrong way. Imagine if someone has hurt you in some way, and I forgive THEM for hurting YOU. What kind of person goes around doing that? Well, that is exactly what Jesus did. As C.S. Lewis observed:
One part of the claim tends to slip past us unnoticed because we have heard it so often that we no longer see what it amounts to. I mean the claim to forgive sins: any sins. Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offences against himself. You tread on my toe and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men's toes and stealing other men's money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did.
He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offences. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history.*
So one thing should be clear; if I said those things about myself, I would be claiming to be God. Those who assert that Jesus never claimed to be God couldn't be more wrong. In John 5, Jesus is clearly asserting His deity, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. We will see much more in the weeks to come. It is also clear that the religious leaders understood that Jesus was claiming to be God (John 5:18, John 10:33). The Bible testifies through and through to the divinity of Christ. Both with explicit statements, as well as implicit (and beautifully pictured) allusions to the deity of Christ. Once again, Lewis is helpful in delineating our options when facing the claims of Christ:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.*
For thousands of years, God sent His prophets to speak to man on His behalf, but they were rejected and persecuted. So finally, God Himself came in human flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). Our God and Creator came to us, not to condemn us, but to seek and to save the lost -- and we crucified Him. We crucified the Lord of Glory because we did not want our rightful King to reign over us.
Although it was God's sovereign plan from eternity past for Christ to die, man is still responsible and guilty for the murder of Jesus (Acts 2:23-24). At the cross we see man's hatred of God and love of sin on full display. But thankfully, at the cross, we also see God's love for man and His hatred of sin on full display as well. It all intersects and collides at the cross of Christ. What man meant for evil, God used for good.
Which brings us back to the question asked by Jesus Himself: Who do you say that I am? Is He Lord, lunatic or liar? That is the biggest question and it demands an answer -- it is impossible to sit on the fence. If Jesus was and is Who He claimed to be, then it really does change everything. And if we really believe it, if we really feel the weight of it, then it will change us as well.
* Mere Christianity - C.S. Lewis